The Nebula's Tide

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Captain on Deck

The bridge of the Monoceros was a suspended room of Bavanti glass, flat at the back and pointed forward toward the bow. Its arched dome was a single flawless piece, incredibly thick, beautifully transparent, and damn near impenetrable. The best pirated money could buy. Captain Treta designed his beloved star racer in the romantic style but he knew, for the sake of its innovative prowess, this glistening addition was a necessary exception to the ships décor.

He scaled the left staircase up to the bridge with the swiftness of an Asmurian half his age. Vico Dioli, first mate aboard the pirate ship Monoceros, took immediate notice of his captain’s bright demeanor.

“I take it the negotiations went well,” he said in his sugar-honey tone.

“Terrible actually,” Treta replied, taking his place at the massive helm. “She's agreed to stay, but... she's not cooperating the way I would like.”

“Are you seriously surprised by that? I mean, given her situation -let alone her allegiance to our enemy.”

“I don't know," Treta said, his voice lowered. "It’s been ages since we’ve dealt in hostage situations. I don’t recall them being so difficult.”

Dioli decided not to remind his captain. Why ruin his good mood?

“So why the excitement, may I ask?” Treta smiled then, showing off his sharp teeth as he took the spokes of the helm in his paws. His muscles tightened in the restraint of his coat.

“Because, my old friend, I refuse to dwell in the turmoil of the past. All I see is what lies before me,” his cat eyes locked on the storm of the sky. "And I love a good challenge."

Dioli took the cue and turned to address the bridge. “Captain at the helm! Loose rotary thrusters and lower the cells! Storm station protocol is now engaged!” As Dioli shouted his orders, the jigsaw shape of his jaw unhinged slightly, opening wide enough at times to expose the elastic membrane that stretched between his upper and lower molars.

Dioli was a member of the Devourer species, known for the incredible span to which they could open their mouths. Nowadays, most civilized Devourer's, Dioli included, only used their jaws for defense. But even Treta got chills whenever his first mate happened to yawn in his presence. The site of the gaping void that lead down Dioli's throat, ringed with its four rows of needle-like teeth, would cause any man to loose his nerve. Luckily, for the Captain and crew, Dioli did his best to kept yawing to a minimum.

With a touch of his manicured finger he pressed the ship-wide com and sent out an order to prepare for turbulence. If the electric swell that was twisting up before them was any sign, they were certainly in for a ride.

“Take hold,” Treta called, and spun the mighty wheel.

The Monoceros dove, breaking from the gravitational acceleration of its quantum jump with a sudden burst to the rockets administered by the engineer on deck. The pull of the white dwarf mixed with the previous force of the drive was almost unstoppable. But the Captain had kept his eyes on the waves of the celestial sea, reading the ebbs and flows of the storm clouds as they pulsed and rolled off the surface of the crystal sun. The towering giants of dead hydrogen were almost electric, condensed heat sparking and exploding around their columns. It was one of the most beautiful dwarvan hurricanes Treta had ever seen. But it wasn’t the best, and he knew from that slain beast long ago just how to find the electric heartbeat and ride its pulse out of the swell like a leaf on flowing water.

The ship hit a bump, a hidden mountain range of static energy caught up in the current. They jolted violently, then jolted again and then again. At these speeds just a centimeter in the wrong direction would lose the pull they needed to break free. The ship would be flung to the inferno of the surrounding gasses, torn to shreds before they could realize they had lost their way. But Treta held firm. He fought the spikes and jolts with a wild strength. Dioli and the others stuck to their stations like glue, continuing to make the necessary calibrations needed to keep the Monoceros whole. But where their eyes stared through the transparent dome of the bridge with a live-or-die intensity, their captain continued to smile. In fact he was grinning, almost laughing with the thrill of the ride.

Suddenly, the break revealed itself; a dark spot of calm, black space like a blemish on the face of the churning mosaic.

“Ha! There it is boys! Fun’s over!” The roar of the Asmurian’s chuckling laughter bounced against the glass. Waiting a few seconds for the right moment, he spun the helm, stopped it, and spun it back. Left and right the Captain zig-zaged the ship, carefully slowing them down without losing the power they needed to break through. Every time they turned the competing waves would grab hold sucking the ship back and forth with its own stubborn gravitational pull. But the rockets were hot and blazing and they pivoted with an intensity that would not give. Using their fight against them the Monoceros shot through.

“Brace yourselves lads!” Treta called as the ship began to violently shake. The bridge braced.

“Hold steady now!” The bridge held fast.

“Fire booster ignition!” he yelled with one last thrusting turn of the wheel. The primary rocket’s full power was released, bursting in an eruption that shot the pirate vessel through the final wall of the star’s vicious outflow. Free of the storm the Monoceros coasted out into the still of the night. The dangerous gravity of the white dwarf was left behind.

As the momentum slowed, the blur of stars became a speckling again. Treta let out a comfortable sigh. Nothing like a storm break to relieve stress. His first mate turned to him, significantly less ‘relaxed’ by the experience. Dioli adjusted his hat and coat, straightening the stolen fashion that he loved so much.

“So, Capitano, what now?”

Treta leaned against the helm, absentmindedly cleaning under his long claws, “Call Nyoto and Cono, the four of us will conference in my office and work out the Tractatio details.”

“Should the Hantae be summoned?” Dioli asked.

“Not yet. I want us all to be fully briefed before we get her involved. Her reactions so far have been... unexpected.”

The Devourer folded his arms as he leaned against his station, “How do you mean?”

“The charm approach is making her defensive. That’s not what I need right now. I’ll try a more fearsome intimidation and see if that’ll scare some sense into her.”

Dioli couldn't help but chuckle, “You could always be strait forward and say what’s on your mind.”

At that, Treta let out a loud laugh. “Don’t be ridiculous, Vico! That would spoil the fun.”


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