The Nebula's Tide

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A Number 'Round Your Neck

The slave market was a sea of crooks, beggars, and endless chains of the condemned. It seemed that species of alien from every stretch of the galaxy could be found here. Shackled and on display, the bigger ones were held in cages, while those with sexual potential were placed upon higher platforms, out of reach from the mass of grabbing hands and claws below. Crowds of smugglers and traders swarmed around these helpless captives, calling out their bids for the next beauty or beast they would add to their collection.

Despite her fear at being surrounded by such a foreign and threatening menagerie, Kala couldn't help but be curious as well. For once in her galactic experience, she wasn't the oddest, or the tallest creature in the room. In fact, compared to the crowd around her she felt quite... normal.

A sharp tug on her chain instantly snapped Kala from her musings, causing her to stumble and fall hard on her knees. She gritted a curse through clenched teeth as the sharp, rocky soil sliced into her skin. Kala's trousers weren't ripped but she could feel that underneath she was bleeding. A slaver approached the fallen Hantae with his gun drawn so she quickly picked herself up, refusing him the opportunity to push her around.

The party was lead on through the busy streets at the end of a long line of prisoners. Kala's wrists ached from the metal cuffs that bound her to the others who shared her chain.

The planet they had come to was one that she could not easily identify. It was hot and humid, though the ground cracked underfoot and looked as if it hadn’t ever known the touch of rain. Three moons hung just over the horizon and with the enormity of the sun in the sky -its size implying the planet revolved on a third level proximity orbit- Kala’s best guess was that they were somewhere in the Lejos galaxy. If she was correct then the rescue she was anticipating would be drastically far off.

The slavers halted the group once they reached one of several clearings in the market where larger biddings were held. It seemed that Artemis Hind was a greater master to his trade than Kala first expected, for he had shackled along with her quite the array of frightening faces. Apparently, though she could not see from where she stood, at the front of their line there was a Bioman who once used to be a species of Zoric. Zorics alone were intimidating creatures, Sapien in stature and sculpted from pure muscle. This one, with the addition of his surgical remodel, made for a fearsome specimen. Kala tried to get a good look but was shoved back into place before she could see him.

The day grew hotter as the sun rose to its peak in the sky. Now it was their turn.

After standing there for hours, Kala had watched dozens of slaves pulled up on the wooden platform with signs hung around their neck, their freedoms taken away with the highest bid as they were then dragged off to whatever misfortune their future had become. It was now, at high noon, that she found herself pulled up the same rickety steps to stand on display before the crowd of greedy smugglers and fiends.

Hind addressed the masses as his men walked down the line. They used laser pens to etch starting bids onto wooden signs that they then hung around the neck of each of the slaves. Kala saw that her price was much higher than the others around her but she also assumed she was the only female of the group and, for reasons she didn't want to think about, that played a big part in her worth.

Most of the talk was centered on the Bioman, Hind listing off the great services that such a monster could provide. The crowd was in agreement and seemed very impressed. But Hind’s salesmanship was soon cut off as several voices raised up to inquire about the woman.

“Forget about the beast, tell us about the beauty!”

“How much for the coldface?”

Kala now realized the crowd was focusing on her and gazed out in stilled discomfort. Hind gleamed with wicked pride and slunk down the boardwalk to pull Kala forward.

“Here we have a rare treasure! The only Hantae in captivity, a young female aging between twenty and thirty galactic years. She’s educated and unworked, fresh to be broken. Note by her blue pigment that she’ll add a desirable shade to those of you who collect by color," He grabbed her face harshly between his claws, yanking her forward. "The wrappings around her head, conceal thick aquamarine and emerald hair that can be sold for three times the highest amount of any prime in any market. Her teeth are all intact and besides the cut on her head she is in perfect working order. And gentlemen, let’s not forget what the rumors of Hantae purity has told us! She’s sure to be quite the squeeze for whoever is man enough to claim her!” The air was filled with shouts of prices and exchanges as the platform crowded with bidders trying to get a better look.

Kala fidgeted in Hind’s grasp, getting free as he pushed her back into line and away from the hands and talons that grabbed from below. She was sickened by all of it. The fear of sexual labor was one thing, horrifying to say the least, but the way he talked about cutting and selling her hair. What else might be taken from her? She shuttered to think of it.

Suddenly, something clicked in her mind. Her hair. He'd seen it. It occurred to Kala that while she had been unconscious, Hind must have removed her turban to tend her wound. That meant he'd not only seen her hair but likely her ears as well. Kala's face flushed a deep purple and her stomach started to squirm.

Her race was exceptionally concerned with privacy, never more so than when it came to the covering of their most sensitive organ: their ears, which resembled an inverted, nautilus spiral and were so acute and fine-tuned that they they far surpassed the hearing of any intelligent species in the known galaxies. Some even suspected their hearing challenged that of the Duata.Iill, the universe's most advanced race, though no one dared test the theory.

Kala couldn't help but feel violated. She wanted to put her hands on the sides of her face, but she settled for touching the Talas that hung around her neck. Kala closed her eyes and tried to focus on the familiar shape and feel of the glass beads as they passed between her fingers, each one taking her back to a better place, a better time.

“Shut it!” Hind’s scaly voice called out over the noise, “As usual the top traders will come up on stage and take first pick, then the oral bidding will begin. Gentlemen, please come forward.”

Kala opened her eyes. She had witnessed this with the other sales as well, and watched as a group of about eight or nine finely-dressed individuals ascended the platform and began walking down the line.

They opened the slaves' mouths and poked and prodded their bodies to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Kala too was thoroughly touched and examined. After lashing out at the first trader that grabbed her, she was held back by one of Hind’s men, a phaser jabbed between her shoulder blades kept the doctor at a standstill.

As she was glaring down the trader in front of her, Kala heard the crowd grow quiet. With her face currently held in the filthy grasp of another Legrathian, she couldn’t turn to see what was happening. But she herd the whispers. Someone had arrived, someone who's presence alone seemed to silence the cacophonous mob.

Heavy, silent footsteps shook the boardwalk as the new arrival made their way slowly down the line. When the tremors were only three slaves away from Kala, Hind finally identified the source.

“C-Captian Treta? What an honor sir. I was not aware that you would be in market today.” The booming showmanship from before had all but fled from Hind's voice, which now quivered dramatically as he spoke.

'Treta?! The Captain Treta? It couldn't be. Surely, Kala thought, she must have heard wrong.

But when she felt his presence near her, and the trader released her face and retreated, Dr. Kala Leahy was able to turn, look upon the legendary pirate and confirm, without a doubt, that he was looking back.

The beast of legend stood before her, his presence more imposing and intense than what any rumor could convey.

He was Asmurian. Musclebound, blue-furred, feline-esc appearance. Theirs was a beast species renowned for the ruthless strength of their warrior culture.

When he stood before her, Kala had to look up to face him for he was a good head taller than she. Cast beneath his shadow, she could see why members of the much smaller Federation races feared his species so. Comparatively, he was enormous. The obsidian claws on his paw-like hands and feet looked like Bavanti daggers, and though she could not see his teeth, she knew what weapons lay hidden behind that calm facade.

True to legend, he wore a large feathered hat to hide the severed length of his warrior's mane. The rest of his gilded wardrobe was made to match. Threads of actual gold shimmered in the sunshine. He was practically glowing.

Kala dared not blink, frozen under this predator's gaze, but simultaneously fascinated by his foreign appearance. She'd never encountered an Asmurian before. She was so used to flat faces that seeing the animal-like structure of his- the strong maw, the thick blue fur, the intelligence and emotion within his eyes....something about it was unreal.

The Captain took a hold of her sign and peered at the numbers from over his spectacles.

Hind stood nervously nearby. “Quite the specimen isn’t she, Captain? No doubt a fine prize to add to your bountiful treasure.”

Captain Treta didn’t seem to be listening, instead his hand drifted from the sign around her neck to a spot on her shoulder where the stitched insignia of the Federation had been removed from Kala's uniform. He grazed the spot and sent chills running through her. Kala held her breath, not daring to move.

He looked back at the slaver. “She’s a Federation officer. Where did you find her?” Treta’s Asmurian accent was thick yet rhythmic. Kala had never heard a voice like that before.

“Her shuttle was adrift in the outer rim of the Beta Quadrant," Hind replied quietly. His eyes jumped to Kala's uniform and his hasty attempt to conceal its origin. "But, um..."

“You’re a cheap fool Artey," the Asmurian interrupted, "to think that by pulling a few threads the uniform wouldn't be recognizable?” Treta turned toward the Legrathian, bracing his paws firmly against the golden walking stick that he had been carrying. The lizardman shriveled under his gaze. “Are you trying to hide something, or are you just that dimwitted?”

Hind shook his head, his eyes bulging in his face. “N-no Captain, I wouldn’t dream to-“

“I would advise against you purchasing me, Captain.” Kala’s voice suddenly cut in. The two men turned. Hind looked horrified. Treta's expression was unreadable.

“And why is that?” he asked.

Kala tried to breath normally, her heart was pounding in her ears. “As I’ve explained to Artemis here, as a Federation Officer my position and vital signs are constantly monitored and tracked. No doubt they already know of my disappearance and are on course to retrieve me. Now, I know that your reputation is built on your elusiveness, so I assure you Captain, that by taking me on board your ship it will only be a matter of time before you are found and taken in to custody.”

Kala had no idea where her bravery came from but she was certainly thankful for it now. She knew as well as anyone that it was not just his ability to remain undiscovered that gave Captain Treta his infamous reputation. Greater still was his extensive history of aggression and bloodshed in combat. This man, despite his small round glasses and fancy attire was in fact a ruthless killer, and Kala didn’t know how far she could go before that side of him would be revealed.

To her bafflement, he smiled. His gaze was surprisingly, and disarmingly kind. “Well, it’s sweet of you to take our welfare into consideration. I wasn't aware the Hantae were so considerate."

Kala was taken aback.“No, I wasn’t trying to-“ but she was cut off as one of Treta’s crew members ran up to the group and addressed his Captain.

“The Bioman is eighty-five percent functional, Captain. There’s some program jamming in his medulla oblongata which accounts for his current sedation.” The pirate looked at Hind, “You’re sedating him, yes? What, some seventy round shots of Clopixal?”

Hind nodded, “He’d be tearing off heads if we didn’t.”

The pirate, a Sapien-looking man wearing a visor cap and duster, shared a look with his Captain. “That could come in handy. We can get it tweaked in Sipherous One and then have a functioning Zoric Bioman at the ship’s disposal.”

Captain Treta nodded, “Good. Make preparations then to fortify the cells in the brig. We’ll keep the monster there until we can get him tuned up.” The Pirate nodded and ran off. Hind was grinning ecstatically now.

“So you’ll be purchasing the Bioman then, Captain Treta? Excellent choice! Shall we talk numbers? I’m thinking something in the seven-hundred thousand range, just to start.” But Treta had turned away from the slaver and instead addressed Kala once more.

“Judging by the style of your uniform, it is safe to assume you were a medical officer. Is this correct?”

“…Yes,” Kala said slowly. She was suspicious, and answered the question with great hesitation.

“Level of study?”

“I'm a class five. Starship Surgeon.”

He nodded, seemingly satisfied with her answer. "And, based on where Artey found you, what are the chances that you are familiar with the medical facilities in the Tractatio Nebula?” This question surprised the doctor most of all. Kala was tempted to lie and say that she wasn’t but stopped when she caught the challenging glint in his predator eyes.

“I am, sir.” She said, to which Captain Treta nodded.

Tapping his cane on the boardwalk he glanced at Hind and said, “We’ll take the girl and the Bioman for six-fifteen. Have their documents prepared and delivered to the east dock by sundown. I want the slaves prepped and ready for departure by the time we arrive. That is all, Artey… a pleasure doing business with you as always.” And with that he walked away, slaves and slavers alike parting as he passed.

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