The Nebula's Tide

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Taken Aboard

Like most desert planets, this one became terribly cold once the sun went down. Kala shivered in her chains, the cold metal stinging her skin as her breath clouded from her lips. The atmosphere of the docks they were standing on was considerably still compared to the market. Merchants and dock hands shuffled idly by as they loaded and unloaded the merchandise from the ships that crept in one after the other. The torches that were lit on the railings flickered and spat in the wind, and all was illuminated in the pale light cast by the three suspended moons.

Kala had not been allowed a blanket or anything for the cold but at least they permitted her to sit down. She had been standing all day, pulled and pushed this way and that. The moment she met the platform floor, she sunk into it, relishing in the relief it brought her aching feet.

Leaning against a nearby crate Kala started to fall asleep, but a firm tug on her chains pulled the doctor awake. She glared at the slaver but was surprised when she was met by a kinder, tired gaze.

“Don’t drift off,” his gruff voice said. “You’ll fall off the pier in your sleep.” Kala looked behind her, remembering the staggering height of the platform they were on. Sitting right by the edge she returned her gaze to the slaver and nodded.

“Thank you,” she said. Her comment was met with silence as the man walked off, leaving Kala to peer once more down through the darkness.

Unlike water ports, space ports needed to be elevated so that the incoming ships could dock and depart easily without exhausting their thrusters. This one was of regulation height, but it was built on the least supportive foundations Kala had ever seen. Crisscrossing stairs made up the fifty odd stories that Kala and the others had been forced to climb. There appeared to be an elevator shaft built into the spine of the structure, but from the looks of things it had not been in use for many years.

Now Kala waited on the dock, tiredly testing her chains as she had all day. She wondered about the Captain and what would come next for her.

It wasn’t long after that the red lights at the end of their docking station blazed on, signaling the arrival of the next ship. The men took to their positions as the pressure in the air grew, vibrating with the humming bass of the tractor fields that aided in pulling the ship into place. Kala leaned forward as the craft came to settle in its metal cradle, looking in wonder at a vessel that was rarely seen by Federation eyes.

The Monoceros was as legendary as its Captain was fearsome. No one knew exactly what technology the star racer possessed that allowed it to flee so easily, whether it was in speed or cloaking or sheer dumb luck. But what was certain is that the ship had never been caught, was never seen outside of attacks, and never left a trace of where it was going or where it had been.

Kala got to her feet and stepped closer, cast in the shadow of the ship’s mighty figurehead that loomed above her. An alien statue breached from the metal hull. Kala could not determine its gender or race, but she admired the way its arms extended, holding in one hand a burning star and a dagger in the other, poised directly beneath the sun -ready to pierce it like a still beating heart.

A commotion from the other end of the dock caught Kala’s attention. Artemis had reappeared, attempting to coordinate his men as they wrangled with the Bioman. The sedative they had used on the beast was wearing off, leaving the slavers with the near impossible task of corralling the giant into his cage for transport. Artemis shouted a few more threatening orders to his men before turning on his heal and giving Kala a look of surprise.

“You!” he said, having almost forgotten about the second half of his delivery. “Come here! I have enough to worry about caging this monster not to have you standing there watching ships.” Artemis grabbed a hold of Kala’s chains and pulled her toward a hover craft that was waiting to take the cargo into the ship's holding bay.

Sit here.” he ordered, and thrust her down on one of the benches. Kala hardly had a moment to protest before the Bioman was finally thrust inside his cage. This monster was now a mere foot away from her as it roared and raged from behind its bars. The slavers only managed to lock the creature in by distracting him with continuous attacks from their taser staffs, shocking him from every angle.

Kala looked wide-eyed from the Bioman to Artemis. She couldn’t believe that they were trusting their safety on a metal cage that, to a creature of this size and rage, would soon cease to act as any sort of barrier at all.

“You should stop aggravating him, you’ll just make it angrier!” she shouted over the din.

Artemis gave her a sideways look, "Did I ask for your opinion?" Not looking for a response, he pulled a lever on the control panel, launching their platform into the air. Kala's nails dug into her seat, feeling the craft rattle around her as they left the docks below.

The ship was now beneath them, illuminated against the night in the powerful glare of the yellow landing lights that swept over its deck and hull. Kala had just a minute or two to take it all in before they dropped down toward the cargo bay where two large, grate-like doors spread open from the floor of the deck, allowing their platform to descend into the belly of the Monoceros herself.

Once inside everything happened quickly. Kala was pulled up the instant the craft landed. Awaiting crew members spilled from the surrounding shadows as they took to moving the Bioman’s cage. Still, the beast fought his weakening prison and was quickly lead off into the darkness where the cells of the brig were waiting. Kala tried to stand aside so as to not get run over by the hurrying of pirates as they rushed to aid in the unloading. She fiddled with her chains and looked up into the column of light from whence they had descended. The intensity of the glare still shot down into the shaft, blinding her even from five decks up.

Artemis was arguing with one of the crew members, waving an outdated tablet in the man's face. He seemed to claim that the pirate’s tardiness should account for their delivery's lack of sedation. Had they come on time, he shouted, the Bioman would still been compliant. For a while the arguing continued, until a firm inquiry about calling the Captain was suggested. This shut the slaver up and had him hurriedly signing the bill of sales.

Artemis was handed a credit cartridge that held his payment. With his modest treasure in hand he whistled for his men, handed Kala’s chains to the one now holding the tablet, and turned the hover craft on. The platform whirled and ascended, disappearing into the light above. Once the sound of its engines could no longer be heard, the grated doors slid shut, dispersing the light into individual columns that stretched like bars through the darkness.

Kala was lead out of the shaft and in toward the brig’s interior. Her eyes struggled to adjust to the dim lighting cast from what appeared to be old-world kerosene lamps. In stark contrast to the ship’s magnificent exterior, the area where they stood now felt cramped and dated, but in an oddly purposeful way. The lamps, Kala realized, were not that at all, but hologram projectors in the shape of lanterns -set to mimic a flickering fire light. The cells too were modeled in the style of an archaic vessel, its titanium cages made to look like wooden beams with iron cast hinges and frames. There were even port holes to look out at the drifting space passing by.

Thrown into one of these period replicas, Kala would have all the time in the world to examine the impressive recreation of her surroundings -had it not been for the distraction of her neighbor. The Bioman was wrestled into the cell next to hers, and even after their captors managed to inject another dose of Clopixal into the beast’s neck, he still continued to rage.

As the cells locked and the pirates departed, the two slaves were left alone in their imprisonment. One of them roared and screamed and incessantly slammed his body against the cage. The other, pressed herself firmly against the farthest wall of her cell, trying to distance herself from the monster as best she could.

About a half hour after takeoff, the Bioman began to lose his drive. The sedative was taking effect and managed to lull him into an almost drunken stupor. But he was not unconscious, not yet. And to Kala’s discomfort it was at this moment that the creature started speaking, slurring all manner of vulgarity at her through the wall of their cells.

Kala sat in her corner, turned away from the foul creature and trying desperately to shut out the terrible things he was saying. Her heart still racing from his explosive episodes before, she prayed now that his words would eventually die out as well. At least then she could have some peace to think, and try to sort out what she would do to escape and survive this.

But the last of his words caught her ears and she couldn’t help but listen as he slurred out his final jeer.

“You -you blue-fa'aced bitch, I know you ca'an he'er me! Pretend like you can’t, but… Hey! You ca'an make believe this ‘ant real, but you was bought fo' a reason. Fuck-you fuckin' know. And when tha'teh blue devil comes ta get wha he pay'ed fo', you won’t be a'able to fuckin' pretend then. Tha'teh's the realest fuckin' thang you’ll ev'ah know… you’ll ev'ah know.” And with that his voice slipped away, followed by the heavy thud of his head hitting the cell floor in a passed-out slumber.

Kala looked over her shoulder at the Bioman, his hulking form still at last. She shivered as the echo of his words ran around her mind, seeming to reaffirm again and again the unspoken fear that had lingered most since this terrible ordeal began. Nevermind the Captains’ inquires about her medical training and all the sensible hints that would suggest his intentions were otherwise. Still, the other, more upsetting possibilities couldn’t be pushed from her thoughts. She was all alone, prisoner on a ship full of beastly pirates. Anything could happen.

Rising from the floor, Kala went to the port window and peered through. A ghostly reflection gazed back at her, and in the low lighting she caught a glimpse of the gash that split across her forehead. Carefully she ran her fingers over it, wincing when she felt the sting of contact against her untreated flesh.

Kala closed her un-swollen eye and took a deep breath.

The Federation knows you’re missing. They have your location and they’re on their way. I am strong. I am trained. I will escape. If all else fails...I can save myself from this.

Letting the air escape her lungs in a deep, relaxing sigh, Kala returned to the corner of her cell and took up a cross-legged position on the floor. She took the Talas from around her neck and hung them on her turban, securing each beaded strand with the small hooks at their end. Closing her eyes, Kala began her mediation, touching the beads one at a time to reflect on their significance.

The night wore on. All the while the doctor’s mind calculated and planed, trying to think of every possible scenario that could follow, readying herself for each situation to come.

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