The Nebula's Tide

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The Necessity of Fear

Kala’s hand seemed to shimmer under the crystal veil of gathered rain. The sparkling cloud of mist that fell gently past her fingertips played with the artificial sunlight in a carefree dance that made her long for home.

She looked up at the wall of vegetation, dripping and rejuvenated from its scheduled shower. Kala could almost cry at the sight of it. How long had it been, she thought, since she had seen so many growing things? The medicinal hanging garden covered the entire back wall of the Monoceros’s med bay. Floor to ceiling it grew, almost overflowing with vines and roots and leaves and fruit, each baring the exotic colors, textures and shapes of the planets they once called home.

Kala was pleased to note that she could quickly identify most of the species here. These were the same galactic plants she had trained with on Ursus, renowned specimens that were shipped across the quadrants for their organic healing properties.

Eagerly her eyes searched the wall for an Ursusian Thistle, or Corpi Nuts from their second moon. When the doctor spotted the familiar curling tendrils of a young Corpi sapling, she nearly ran to it. With delicate care, Kala cupped her hands beneath the hanging roots and brought her nose closer, inhaling their familiar aroma deep into her lungs. She could almost hear the sound of distant thunder, could almost feel the cool carpet of moss beneath her feet and the touch of her sister’s hand at her side.

Despite the countless lightyears of space between Kala and her home world, this glimmer of familiarity was enough to pull her back there, enough to make it real again and not just a distant memory. The connection strengthened her resolve to continue onward, while simultaneously wracking her heart with homesick longing.

Kala pulled her hands away, her blue skin now delicately painted with dirt and water. She rubbed the soil between her fingertips, thinking to herself as she stepped back from the glistening garden.

“Were any of these specimens stolen?” she asked the creature standing behind her.

“All purchased lawfully, so far as I know.” it replied. “But the credits we used to buy them were probably stolen… I couldn’t say for sure, though. That’s not really my area of expertise.”

Kala looked over her shoulder at the alien who had brought her here. She couldn’t tell from its expression if it was joking or not. By its tone, it sounded serious.

“So, you’re just the ship’s doctor then. No pillaging starships for you?” Maybe, she thought, that meant she could trust it.

It came and stood beside her, its thin legs making little tapping sounds as it walked. “I wouldn’t say ‘just’. My role is very important. Like you, I tend to the sick. What the captain and crew do is not my concern, I simply heal them afterward.”

Kala turned to face the fellow doctor, looking again into its enormous, unblinking eyes. The constant staring was a little unsettling, she had to admit. But with its lack of eyelids, it couldn’t be blamed. Lost for a moment in studying her insect-like companion, she struggled to regain her train of thought.

“I, um…Forgive me, Doctor I’m afraid I’ve forgotten how to say your name.” Kala said, stumbling awkwardly over her words.

“Not at all, Dr. Leahy. It is difficult to pronounce with your species’ vocal cord structure. You may call me Dr. Chi, after the sun of my home planet.”

Kala perked up then, “Like the twenty-second star in a constellation.”

Chi’s antenna twitched proudly, “Precisely.”

“Which one?” she asked, a lift of excitement in her voice. “I studied star groups with my father when I was little, I might know of it.”

“Are you familiar with the Biscus Quarry?” Chi asked, his head cocking to the side.

Kala hesitated, her enthusiasm deflating, “…No. I’m afraid not.”

“It is not well known to most sapien species,” it said calmly. “The tail of it hangs just beyond the edge of what the Federation has deemed ‘deep space’, in a star cluster mostly populated by Hexapods, like myself.”

“I see.” Kala was a little embarrassed that she didn’t know more about Chi’s system or its place in the universe. With its general knowledge of her culture, it could extend her certain courtesies. But she, knowing nothing about its background or way of life in return, couldn’t hope to do the same. The imbalance of her understanding, though innocent, made Kala feel inadequate. A feeling she hoped to relieve the best way she knew how: by asking earnest questions.

“Can you please tell me more about your system and your home?” she asked, genuinely curious.

Chi’s transparent wings fluttered suddenly, revealing themselves to Kala’s gaze before again lying flat against its back. “Perhaps,” it said, it’s tone and face unreadable. “But not now. I was asked to show you our med bay. I think we should finish the tour first so you’re ready to work, in case the occasion should arise.”

Kala nodded, tucking her curious thoughts away. Chi seemed… polite, in the very least. She wouldn’t mind learning more about it, before this ordeal was through.

With her hands in her pockets, Kala looked again around the large white room. The med bay was the most modern section of the starship she had encountered thus far. In fact, she was pleased to note, it looked like any med bay on any Federation cruiser might, minus the glorious hanging garden, of course. Flawless white floors met the familiar curvature of the glowing white walls, giving the room that soft, egg-like shape that the doctor knew so well.

Across the galaxies, spanning cultures, races and all walks of life, this architectural design remained the most common for healing spaces. It seemed almost everyone found comfort when inside an incapsulating environment. Federation research assigned the feeling to the fact that most species gestate either inside a womb or an egg, and therefore subconsciously find solace within the protective, organic shapes of round walls and curved ceilings. The theory made sense to Kala. Whether or not it was true, she couldn’t say, but she was certainly comforted by it now.

With an arm as thin as a stick, Chi gestured to the twelve healing pods that crowned the room, six on either side. “We have a fully equipped arsenal. This is the Mach Seven Ygeian Cradle. Each one top-of-the-line and all calibrated to accommodate the unique genetic makeup of each species onboard.”

“How many species do you have?” Kala asked, examining the nearest pod.

“Nineteen…No, wait. Twenty, now counting you. Which reminds me: since you’re here, Doctor, we should input your genetic signature into the Ygeian’s database. Standard procedure and all that, you understand.”

Kala nodded. The Federation had a similar protocol. “Sure. This unit right here?” she asked.

“If you would.”

Removing her jacket, she climbed onto the pod bed. The Mach Seven was unbelievably comfortable but, while laying on one of this size, also made Kala feel incredibly small. She was surprised the Monoceros was able to acquire healing pods so large. All the ones she had seen before were sized for the “average” sapien species. When in those pods, Kala had often been embarrassed whenever her long legs stuck off the end. Now, lying on a surface made to fit a Calian or Asmurian… well, she almost blushed at how little the extra space made her feel. It was…somewhat comforting.

Chi Stood beside her, pressing a few keys on the Ygeian’s holopad to activate the scan. “Are you familiar with the Mach Seven?” it asked.

“I’ve only ever worked with the Mach Six,” Kala answered, her voice low and calm. “I saw one of these at a MedTech conference last year, but it was only the floor model, no bells and whistles.”

“Well, this unit comes with the full orchestra. Sometimes it almost makes the job too easy.”

Kala turned her head, looking between the alien doctor and the growing wall behind it. “Then why the dedication to the medicinal garden?”

“You don’t approve of organic remedies?” Chi asked her, starring at Kala again with those unsettling eyes.

“No, I do!” she hastily replied. “I… prefer it actually. On Ursus, herbal medicine is just as important as scientific healing. For some it’s more so.” Kala paused, debating how much she was comfortable sharing with a stranger and a pirate. “My sister is studying to become a botanist. When I was with her, we would work together, combining her knowledge of plants and my study of medicine. It’s just… I haven’t encountered that practice off-planet until now.”

“It’s not surprising,” Chi said, nonchalantly. “The Federation values technology over all other things and disregards the rest. I prefer to balance the two. When regular skirmishes turn half the crew into limbless cannon fodder, I need at least twelve healing pods just to stay on top of the carnage. But, when my med bay isn’t ankle deep in blood, I’d rather heal them via traditional means. I find one works just as well as the other, if not better, so long as you know what you’re doing.”

A small smile played on Kala’s lips. “I’m inclined to agree.”

She glanced again at the doctor as it readied the machine. The thought occurred to her then that the creature Chi reminded her of was an exotic floral mantis she had seen once as a child. The beautiful bug had been displayed in an ornate glass case, its hypnotic wings fanned out in a dazzling defensive display, attempting to frighten away the watching giants that gazed lovingly upon it. Kala almost shared this with her companion, but stopped herself after wondering if the comparison of the sentient doctor to a tiny insect might be considered…inappropriate. Kala thought better of the idea and decided to keep the memory to herself.

“It will take less than a minute to scan your signature, shorter yet if you hold still.” Chi said, activating the scan.

“Alright.” Kala said. Her eyelids closed as the pod started its quiet song.

Beneath the modern hum of curious particle scanners, the sighing sound of the med bay doors caught Kala’s acute attention. She opened her eyes, and found the deep blue stare of her Asmurian captor gazing down upon her.

Kala Jolted in surprise. Scrambling backward, her hands gripped the side of the pod bed as she tried to push herself up from her defenseless position. Treta and Chi held her in place, their hands pushing gently on her shoulders and arms as they coaxed the disconcerted doctor back to a horizontal position.

“Easy, Kala. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.” Treta spoke softly, his deep voice rumbling around her. Kala’s face flushed purple, her shoulder almost burning where his heavy, clawed hand still held her in place.

“The scan was disrupted, we’ll need to start again.” Chi stated, reactivating the settings.

“That’s fine.” Treta said. He kept his hooded gaze on Kala. “Are you mending your wounds? I would have sent you here sooner, but I wanted to conclude our negotiations first.”

Kala glanced up toward her forehead, realizing he meant the gash she had suffered there, or perhaps the incision on her neck he himself had inflicted. Narrowing her gaze at the captain, she cautiously let her head fall back on the cushioned bed. “Dr. Chi is adding my signature to the ship’s database.” She said, keeping her tone even and her eyes on the predator looming above her.

“We can heal you once the scan completes.” Chi offered. “It’ll only take a moment.”

“I’d rather be in a sitting position for that part, if possible.”

“No need.” Treta, said. He wasn’t leaving any room to argue. “The machine will take care of it in the next sweep. You just need to lay still, Doctor.”

“And you need to take you hand off my shoulder.” she said, a challenging lift to her voice. “I won’t bolt if you don’t scare me again.”

“I can’t promise that I won’t,” he said. She might have thought he was teasing, if not for the dead serious glint in his eye. “Besides, my holding you won’t interfere with the scan.”

Kala swallowed. He had successfully trapped her in another compromising situation, practically pinning her to the pod bed –not with his hand- but with his eyes. She didn’t dare look away. The last time he held her against her will there was a knife involved. This time his touch was soft and his gaze unreadable, and that frightened her all the more.

“How was the turbulence?” He asked. “Did you strap in ok when Dioli gave the call?”

“It was fine,” she lied. “I’m not used to that much movement though. It almost made me queasy.”

“Well the starships you’re used to traveling on are gargantuan compared to a star racer like this. We move with the waves, we don’t barrel through them.”

“Yeah, I think I felt that.”

He smirked, but it quickly vanished when he glanced at Chi. A tone had sounded signaling the scan was complete.

“You’re all checked in, Dr. Leahy,” Chi said. “We can take care of that split on your forehead now, if you like.”

Kala looked again at Treta, his stone-like expression confirming that he wasn’t letting her up. She sighed, shifting under his hand as she attempted to get comfortable. “Sure. Why not.”

“If you would please remove or raise your head wrap so the Ygeian can better mend the area,” Chi requested, its spindly fingers quickly entering a new command on the holopad.

Kala set her jaw and stared straight up at the ceiling. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to work around it. I’m not removing or raising anything while in his presence.”

Chi’s tiny pupils jumped between its patient and its captain. Treta gave it a nod to continue. “Very well,” it said. “But there might be a scar left over if the entire area isn’t exposed.”

“That’s fine.” Kala knew Treta was attempting to intimidate her by being here. The last thing she was going to do was unveil another layer of vulnerability for him to use against her.

A cool, tingling sensation blossomed above her brow as the Ygeian particles cleaned the wound and sealed her flesh. It was hard for her to focus on, however, considering how intently her captor was watching her. By locking himself to Kala with his eyes and his touch, Treta’s enormous presence engulfed her senses and commanded her thoughts. Nervously, she chanced a glance at the captain’s face. Kala resisted the erg to flinch. Treta’s eyes were too deep, his pupils too black, his stare unrelenting.

“Captain, do you mind?” Chi asked, “You’re going to give my patient a heart attack.”

“I’m fine.” Kala said, defiantly holding the Asmurian’s stare.

“No you’re not, your heart rate is spiking. I’ve got it right here on the monitor.”

“Yes, thank you for that, Dr. Chi.” Kala said quickly, looking away as her blush deepened with embarrassment. So much for pretending she wasn’t intimidated.

Treta’s low chuckle only made it worse. He gave her shoulder a light squeeze, releasing her at last, but maintaining his position over Kala by bracing his large arms beside her on the bed

“Did you come here for a reason, Captain Treta, or do you just enjoy fucking with me?” Kala asked, balling her hands into fists at her side. She rarely ever swore, but the moment seemed to call for it. Kala was running out of ways to appear tough and unfazed by this man.

To her horror, he smiled at her, revealing his sharp, white teeth. “My dear, you have no idea.”

“All done!” Chi chirped. With a swipe of its hand, the doctor cleared the holo readings from the air, opening the space above Kala so she could sit up at last. Kala quickly did so, sliding to the opposite side of the pod and swinging her legs over the edge. Catching her breath, she quickly engaged the Ygeian holopad, pulling up her assessment to confirm. Kala was glad that the Mach Seven’s controls didn’t differ too much from the Mach Six she was used to. In the very least she could maintain slight control over something.

Her health readings looked good, and apart form an elevated heart rate, sweaty palms and dry mouth, she was perfectly healthy. Kala pulled up a mirror simulator, noting the soft pink scar poking out from under her turban. She could come back and clear that up later, at a time when the Asmurian Terror wasn’t hovering over her like freshly caught game.

Catching his eye in the reflection, Kala closed the simulations. She slid off the med pod, as smoothly as she could, and slowly turned to face him. Chi wandered off, busying himself with something at the other end of the room.

With his arms still braced on the med pod, Treta maintained his hunched posture and his unrelenting eye contact. The big coat he wore added to his hulking stature, giving the captain a towering effect, even with his shoulders bent. He looked like he was waiting to pounce on her, Kala thought, and if that was the case, the pod between them might as well not exist. It would provide no barrier that the Asmurian couldn’t clear in a second if he wanted to.

Agitated with uncertainly, Kala couldn’t take this unnerving silence any longer. Gone was the charismatic Pirate Captain who, a few hours ago, described his evil scheme with flowery verse. That was a Treta she could confront, meeting his words with her own biting wit. The Treta who loomed before her now was the same pirate who pinned her to his desk, put a knife to her throat and cut the Federation’s protection from her body.

“By the one, what do you want?” Kala finally asked. In the game of resolve, hers had been broken and she folded her hand.

Treta straightened then, a solemn expression on his face. “Just you’re cooperation, Doctor.”

“I’ve already agreed to that, haven’t I?” she asked, wringing her hands.

Captain Treta shrugged. He picked up Kala’s jacked and handed it to her. “Begrudgingly, yes.”

She reached for it but her attempt to take the garment was halted when Treta refused to let it go. She met his eye, and held her breath.

“Are you afraid of me, Kala?” the Asmurian asked. It was an obvious question, but something behind his heavy accent made it seem as if the pirate was genuinely curious.

Kala hesitate to reply. This time she did not look away. “Yes.” She all but whispered.

“That’s good,” he said quietly, studying her minute reactions. When he continued to speak, Treta kept his voice gentle and low. “In certain situations, our fear is the only thing that might keep us alive. I want you to fear me, Kala…but not forever. We don’t trust one another yet, so for now, if I’m going to rely on you, fear will have to do. I want you to know, however, that I hope that might change.”

“I don’t see how it could.” Kala said, trying not to think about the countless times since her capture she had wanted to learn more about his man and his motives. “I can’t trust someone, Captain, who doesn’t trust me with my own freedom.”

Treta held her stare. “If I released you now, would help us with our plan?”

Kala shook her head slowly, responding with a confident and resounding, “No.”

He nodded. “Then we’ll have to work with what we’ve got.” Treta released her jacket and in a single stride drew himself up so he was standing directly before her, almost toe-to-toe. Kala pulled back, holding the coat close to her chest.

He gave Kala a sad smile, making her heart beat a little faster. “That will do for now.”

When Treta offered the doctor his arm, Kala took it as if entranced by some spell. “Come.” He said. “It’s time to put your intel to use.”

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