The Nebula's Tide

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Under Glass

The first thing was the cold. The harsh chill of space had leaked its way into the drifting cabin, and as the unconscious doctor gradually resurfaced from her hazy dream-state, she was soon met with shivering discomfort. Slowly, Kala tried to look around, finding it hard to blink without wincing at the swollen pain that had spread to her left eye. She felt the cut on her forehead, finding it to be clotted and tender. She knew she could clean it herself with her medical kit and the aid of a reflection, but she couldn't self-diagnose any possible brain injury she might have received.

Turning in an awkward somersault, Kala navigated through the freezing air, holding the pilot seat's headrest to steady herself. After flipping a few switches and receiving only the dull clack of moving plastic she confirmed that her shuttle was powerless. Kala checked the air supply next. Five hours of oxygen remained. She shuddered to think about the amount of time she must have spent unconscious in these conditions and wondered how the cold hadn’t killed her already.

In the next half hour the doctor did what she could. The reflective screens were offline and could not assist her. And with the only physical mirror in the shuttle having been broken in the crash, she had to do her best to clean the wound without seeing what she was doing. The MEDwand Kala usually carried was kept behind an electronically controlled panel in the shuttle's wall, un-accessible without power.

The doctor made a disgruntled note that when she got back to a Federation base, she would file a complaint about the severe lack of manual overrides and the safety violations they incurred.

Having done all she could do medically, Kala wrapped herself in the emergency blankets. Making her way back to the pilot's chair, she strapped herself in and waited.

Kala looked out through the cockpit window. It was badly cracked from the accident and now mostly covered in ice, but bits of the stars still poked through. And so the doctor watched them, shivering as her breath clouded in the air around her.

Four hours left. She would probably die out here, Kala knew that now. With no way of sending an SOS, apart from the tracking chip's signal from the implant in her neck, she was left to wait and wonder.

So, she -like any species in her position would- began to ask herself the big questions. Did she believe in the God of her people? Or perhaps one of another planet, if it happened to sound more appealing. As a Hantae, she had been raised to believe in the One Universal Spirit, a stream of life coursing through space that connects every living soul. By these teachings, when she died -if now in this shuttle- her life force would be joined with the One Spirit. She would then wait with all of those who had died before her for the eternity of eternities until every last soul had passed on to complete the essence that, once whole, would be born anew in complete enlightenment. A Universe of One.

Kala had never taken to the idea of waiting for such a long time, and just as she had been a rare member of her species to leave her home planet and question the universe through her medical training, so too had she learned to question her people’s steadfast faith. But so it was with many a young alien in her place. And though she would never admit such blasphemy to her family, Kala was proud of her extended knowledge and felt lucky to be able to contemplate her options after death, a luxury not granted to other, more religious Hantae in her position.

As she waited, many possibilities passed through her mind, but the main thought that kept coming back was that she didn’t want to die -despite whatever glorious spirit world might be waiting for her when she did. And what of Veska? Who would take care of her sister then if Kala too joined their parents in that supposed current of waiting souls?

There were only two hours of oxygen left now. Kala could taste it in the air. It was stale, and carried an awful bitterness to it that hung in the back of your throat. She had experienced the sensation before, whenever an outer airlock would close and leave the taste of outer-space lingering in the docking bay. It made her think of death and the potential emptiness therein.

Her body couldn’t take the cold any longer. She was beginning to go into hypothermic shock, her eyes, the left one now swollen shut, the right struggling against the frost on her lashes, could just barely see the shadows that were moving above the glass of the shuttle windows. In fact, at that moment she could hardly register what she was seeing, let alone identify them as hands that were scrapping away the ice. Thick accents muffled the air, followed by a scratching sound as the frost was gradually hacked away. From somewhere inside her frozen mind Kala sighed to herself.

I guess death will have to wait.’

From outside her shuttle, two men wearing deep-space air helmets and dated cold suits were just wiping the last layer of frost from the cockpit hull. They peered in, leering at the blue-faced woman they had found.

“Think she’s dead?” One of them asked the other, his voice sounding as scaly as his skin.

“No, see the crystals around her lips? She’s breathing.” This one, larger than the first, tapped the glass with his beefy finger. There was no response from the woman inside.

“C’mon,” he said, “help me get the tow set under the port wing. We’ll get her out once the shuttle’s on board.” The other nodded, pressing a com button on his helmet as his partner prepared the coil.

“Captain, we have one Federation shuttle ready for towing, possible merchandise still intact…female. A Hantae….Yeah, one of the blue ones. Copy that. Collection team out.”

The next time Kala managed to open her eyes, she was met with a blinding light. Squinting from the brightness she felt a sting of pain throbbing through her skull. With the still aching weight of mucus built up under her swollen eyelid, it took her awhile to identify her surroundings. Though, once she did she desperately hopped she was mistaken.

Kala was again looking through a window, this time one that stretched from her head to her toe and was placed just inches from her restricted person. Her inability to move her arms and her legs confirmed that she was in a holding pod and, from the smell of it, not a regulation one.

It wasn’t long before a face appeared before the glass; a cut-up muzzle that bore the wear and tear that only smugglers and slavers carried. This one was Legrathian, a beastly race of reptilious creatures.

The slaver gave her a smile full of broken teeth as he straightened his bent posture.

“You are under the possession of Artemis Hind, Slaver of the Outer Rim of the Beta Quadrant. We have stripped your ship and taken everything of value. The remains, like you, will be sold at the slave market to the highest bidder. You’re Sapien, and a Hantae to boot. You will no doubt make profit. Smugglers pay a great deal for interesting breeds -what with your coloring, height and the rumored purity of your race- I’m sure to get top dollar for your foreign flesh.” His eyes raked up and down her body, unwillingly displayed inside her glassy prison. Kala still wore her Federation uniform, though even with its conservative style, she felt as if every inch of her were exposed.

His eyes settled on her face, and the dried blood and swelling that surrounded her wound.

“I’ve cleaned you up enough so that you won’t catch infection and die on the way there. That’s more than most slaves get so consider that the last bit of courtesy you’ll ever receive. You should thank me, my dear,” he said, his face splitting with a monstrous smile, “I did act as your doctor after all.”

Kala stared back at the haggard old lizard. Keeping her voice as steady as she could, she said to him plainly, “As a trained physician, Mr. Hind, I can assure you, You are no doctor.”

He smirked, but before he could respond she continued, saying, "And furthermore, you're a fool if you believe selling me is as easy as this accidental capture that you happened to stumble upon. As a Federation Officer, I am marked with a protection chip that not only pinpoints my exact location but monitors my health and stress readings as well. If my vitals spike to dangerous levels, an SOS is triggered that notifies the nearest Federation cruiser. And when they find you they will do worse things to you than they're allowed to admit on record." Kala held her breath, hoping her confidence was convincing.

The slaver had taken a few steps back from the pod. His previous smugness was pushed away by the realization that he had never caught a prisoner so well-associated as the one he had before him now. The Federation was far from his area of expertise. His familiarities fell on whatever bum species or wild beast he could cage and sell. Aggressive ones his men could put down, but a chipped female that threatened the support of the Federation fleet, that he’d admit, he wasn’t sure how to muzzle.

Still, he would not be intimidated. A slave that talked back would be difficult to sell. He'd have to break her before market.

Let the peckerneck that buys her deal with what comes lookin', he thought, sneering at his prisoner.

“You’re obviously not accustomed to the intimidation of authority,” Artemis said.

She smirked, “I am. But you, slaver, have no authority over me.” He held her gaze, challenging it with his own wicked grin.

“Well, maybe I should assert my power…. You say this chip of yours will alert them if you’re stressed or in pain? And that they’ll come runnin’ to find you when it does? Well let’s say I says I’m willing to test that theory. They an't here yet, afterall.” Some of the confidence faded from Kala's eyes. Her wrists felt the cold cut of metal as she pulled against her restraints, testing to see if she could free herself if she needed to. She could not. Kala swallowed.

The slaver pulled a remote from his pocket and waved it around lazily in his claw-like hand.

“I'm warning you~” Kala started, but before she could finish a button was pressed. Her body went ridged as a surge of electricity pulsed through her from the iron cuffs around her wrists and ankles. It took less than a few seconds but she could still feel every nerve and bone within her convulse as the cruel energy shot through her with intense pain. When it ended, she was breathing heavily, fogging the glass of her pod-like cell. This would not be as easy as she thought, and now the burning sting on her forehead was even worse.

“Let that be your first reminder. You’re a slave now, Federation or not. From this moment on you are nothing but what someone will pay for you. And you have the rest of this journey to accept that.”

“The Federation... will arrive... before we get there.” She said between breaths, glaring at him from inside her capsule.

“Let’s see them try.”

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