The Nebula's Tide

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Under His Knife

Kala awoke to warm sunlight on her face. Blinking softly, she opened her eyes. She was lying on the hard, wooden floor of her cell. A slanted view of the world showed the soft swaying of ropes and netting beyond her bars as they dipped and leaned with the creaking of the ship. Slowly, she pushed herself up to a sitting position, rubbing her sore neck and shoulders.

The Bioman was still asleep, and probably would be for another day or so. As her memory cleared away the clouds of sleep, she recalled the massive needle they had used when subduing the beast. That syringe had clearly been meant for animal sedation and was loaded with a dose that would have proven fatal to any living thing -save for this genetic abomination. Still, she was grateful for his silence, and took the opportunity to get up and walk around her limited area.

The sunlight that pooled in a perfect spotlight from her window caused Kala to pause. They were traveling through space; the presence of a direct light source shouldn’t be possible…. unless.

Kala went to the port hole and, shielding her eyes from the blinding light, attempted to peer through. When she got close enough to the window, Kala was surprised to hear the small voice of a computer as it calmly stated,

~ Now correcting for eye protection. Window tinted to eighty percent~

And the glass suddenly darkened, allowing the doctor to look out at the view. They were in the orbit of a star, a brilliant sun blazing amongst its nightshade of surrounding space. Kala had never seen a star this close before, in fact she hadn’t thought it possible, not in a ship of this size. What was keeping them from being pulled in, or melted down for that matter?

Kala moved away from the window, realizing as she did that the Monoceros held more secrets than she originally imagined.

“Hey coldface!” a voice suddenly called to her. Kala turned to find a pirate standing at her cell. The door was open and a pair of keys hung from his finger.

Looking at him now, Kala recognized the man as the pirate who consulted with Treta that day at the slave market. He was a hard man to forget. Not because of his unusually tall stature, his unusually long braided hair, or his unusually menacing uniform. What Kala couldn’t help but ignore was the alien shape of his jaw. It was distinctly squared, and where the lines of his lips ended a crease continued to cut and climb towards the corners of his eyes. The path reminded Kala of the lines within a jigsaw puzzle, and as she studied it she couldn’t help but wonder what would happen when the man before her opened his mouth.

He spoke again, his lips moving in a familiar fashion, but this time Kala observed the subtle shifting of his jaws and the slight separation between the upper and lower half of his face. She was thoroughly intrigued.

“Captain wants to see you,” he said, “let’s go.”

Kala blinked. This is it, she thought. Don’t show any sign of weakness. You’ll be fine.

The doctor straitened her uniform and dusted off what she could of the dirt and grime. Holding her head high, she walked out of the cell. He drew a phaser from his coat and tapped it against her back, guiding her forward and up a crisscrossing stairwell to the top deck above.

Before reaching the hatch-like door, the pirate stopped Kala, and thrust a pair of goggles into her hands.

Shouting over the noise outside, he said, “Put these on or lose your eyes!”

She looked at him warily but adjusted the strap and fastened the goggles securely around her head. He did the same with his own pair and without a second word, pushed past her and opened the hatch, spilling the stairway with light.

On deck, all was drowned in silence. It were as if they had been submerged under water, only here in the air shield they were surrounded instead by the thick atmosphere of solar waves that rolled onto the ship like a suffocating fog. Through the tint of her goggles, the Monoceros was a quivering mirage of yellow and orange, and even the sound of her footsteps were taken away as a muffled afterthought to her every step.

Still, the air and gravity shields remained fully functional. So, after accepting that she could still breathe and move normally whilst in this strange ether, the doctor walked on, wondering in silent amazement all the while as her guard kept her moving, the encouragement of his phaser assuring her pace.

Crossing the open deck brought them to the Captain’s office. The door was opened, the pirate moved aside and, after realizing that he would not be coming with her, Kala entered alone.

Once inside, the doctor removed her goggles and cautiously looked around. Just like the brig, these rooms were fashioned in a bizarrely historical style.

Nevertheless, she thought, her eyes sweeping over every immaculate detail, one almost had to admire the Captain’s respect for the traditional.

The room she was standing in was obviously of modern make and yet, it combined the classic “natural” structure of replicated wooden floors, glass paned windows and what appeared to be hand carved furnishings. It was like stepping into an alien painting, Kala thought, where wooden vessels sailed on foreign planets covered in water, and pirates and officers chased one another from ocean to ocean, instead of across the stars.

At the end of this impressive room, a large floor to ceiling window let in the artificial, yet soft light of midday. Before it, a large desk stood, as heavy and imposing as stone. The alter of this pirate's shrine. Two chairs, one massive, the other Kala’s size, were waiting, one facing the other.

Before Kala could take another step, her captor entered the room. Walking in from a side door by the window, he looked over a Glass Pad that he carried with him. The Captain read from it aloud, and when he did Kala knew it must be her slave papers.

“Doctor Kala Leahy. Surgical officer of the United Galactic Federation.” He read the words slowly, each syllable rumbling from deep within his chest. The Asmurian looked at her, glancing over his spectacles. “Quite the title you have here, my dear. Take a seat.” He motioned to the chair opposite his. Kala hesitated for a moment but, after regaining her composure, she walked forward and sat down. She kept her back straight and her hands folded firmly in her lap. Kala never dared look away from his predator’s gaze, though sitting before him while he stood at his already staggering height made it very difficult not to shrink back in instinctual fear.

She swallowed. “Captain Treta, I understand that you have an agenda in mind as to what you plan to do with me, but I feel I must remind you that as a Federation Officer-“

“You understand? You feel? You don’t do any of those things!" he barked, cutting her off. "Not now, not in my presence... Didn’t your Federation training teach you better than to take such liberties with your superiors?”

“You are not my superior.”

“No. I’m higher than that, I am you master. And you are my slave. Or have you still not come to terms with that?”

She was quite for a moment, “It’s a difficult concept to accept… to one who has always been free.”

He stared at her, a glint of amusement shinning in his eye.

“Every slave was free once. They all come to forget that with time.” Treta spoke slowly, testing the waters with cautious intrigue.

“Is that what you expect of me, Captain? To forget and give in to you? If so, I’m afraid you're waisting your time.”

“I don't think so…” he said slowly. The two looked at one another, together Captain and captive sharing the silence of the room. Kala didn’t know why, but she suddenly felt as if she wasn’t in as much danger in his presence as she had originally anticipated. She found herself intrigued and, deciding to risk her own trepidation, she asked him a question. This surprised them both.

“Do you have such a bleak outlook? To believe one could relinquish their freedom so easily?” He raised his head approvingly, as if having found something in her that he was looking for.

“Quite the opposite, little one, as you may come to discover.” The Captain pulled out his chair and sat down, quite unceremoniously. Propping his large legs on the desk, he tossed the glass pad aside and began to speak in a certain, matter-of-factly sort of way.

“My dear, I am not as terrible as all that…well, at least not in this matter anyway. No, I’m simply a universal man who knows the truths of life. And in that mess of pain and anguish, it is quite common knowledge that the weak give up and give in. And they suffer for it. While the strong hold on, they remember, they fight back, and they are rewarded justly.”

Kala gave him a questioning gaze.“It sounds...like you’re offering me something.”

“The girl is clever too!” he laughed. “Yes, my dear, but the offer will come later. At the moment I’m establishing our roles. Now, it’s obvious to anyone that you are not cut out to be a slave, but seeing as you have found yourself under my ownership, we might as well go along with that. But, with that in mind, please know that I do recognize your potential and that, unless you misbehave yourself, we might be able to grant you certain liberties later on… that is of course if everything goes according to plan.”

Kala understood what he was saying but still couldn’t believe it. Was he seriously willing to treat her as an equal here? The murderous devil-dog of the seven quadrants was discussing potential bargaining tactics with his slave? Shocked and cautiously skeptical, she leaned in, “Of which I’m still uncertain. What plan are you speaking of?”

“Put simply, Doctor,” Treta said, folding his massive paws in his lap, “I’m in need of your assistance. Since you so fortunately happen to be not only familiar with the reclusive treatment centers of the Tractatio Nebula, but are also of high enough rank to possess knowledge of their security and clearance codes…You are in the perfect position to give me the information I need, to help on a little… salvaging project we have planned.”

“You want me to betray the Federation?” she said it as a statement, her tone curt and tempered.

“Yes.”

“I won’t.”

Captain Treta smirked as he looked at her, taking in the tiny doctor’s rigid form. “Of course you won’t. But then I didn’t expect you to roll over so easily. No, precious, you’re new to this and though I do admire your strength and resolve, I must say, I'm disappointed in your immediate lack of curiosity surrounding my proposal. Not even a follow up question to learn more?" he asked, cocking an eyebrow in mock suspension. Kala's jaw visibly clenched. "No matter. We'll just have to work on that later on."

Treta swung his legs down and, bracing his strong arms on the table, pushed himself up slowly to his full height. Kala did her best not to move or show any sign of how he intimidated her. Slowly, the Asmurian Pirate Lord made his way around the table, his hands folded neatly behind his back.

“You don’t even know the details of the plan," he continued. "How can you say you’re not interested if you don’t know what’s involved?”

Kala kept her eyes straight ahead, trying to seem composed and unaffected by his presence. “I don’t need to know. I’m loyal to the Federation.”

“Ah, loyalty.” He said, the word rolling like thunder from deep within his throat, “But what is loyalty in comparison to wealth, riches and power?” The distant hint of a sarcastic tone lurked cryptically behind his words. It confused Kala, and she broke her stare with the window to glance at him.

She paused, slightly uncertain, “You’ll find none of those things at the Tractatio Center, Captain. It’s a place for the sick and terminal.”

“But it’s what aids them that holds such value.”

The doctor thought then, remembering back to her time spent in the hospital beyond the white dwarf.

“The Aceso power-cores,” she breathed.

“Exactly.”

“You can’t seriously be thinking of stealing them?! Those cores are the only thing keeping those infected with Pestilentia from dying. They need that constant radiation of energy or else their cells will deteriorate. Do you understand how serious that is?”

The Captain stopped in his circular walk, to meet her shocked and accusing gaze.

“Of course I do. But as I’m sure you know, Doctor, the cores don’t heal the patients they only keep them stable.”

“They keep them alive so that the doctors there can have more time to work on finding the cure to save them! I was stationed there to aid and observe the research and development of this very project. Believe me, Captain, the power-cores are extremely important to that facility.”

“Everything worth steeling is important to somebody, that’s why we take them. Kala, The Aceso cores are a one-of-a-kind, corporately controlled power source, selfishly kept from 99.99 percent of the population that needs it. The energy they produce could stabilize an entire planet of deteriorating patients, and yet the Tractacio Corporation keeps it locked away in a remote station where only their chosen few can benefit from it. Why?"

When Kala gave no answer he continued, saying, "There is a very noble buyer who, in exchange for our taking the cores, has offered enough credits for my crew and I to live a king’s summer for at least three solar cycles. For that kind of swag, my dear, I would gladly steel from the righteous few… and you would be a fool not to agree.”

Kala could only look at him in sheer bewilderment. A thousand possible arguments sprung to her mind to readily throw at him, but not one of them was worth getting into. Sure, she had heard pieces of this argument before. But even if Treta's perspective held some merit, that didn't justify the extremist actions he proposed to take in response. The idea repulsed her and she was completely opposed to it. So, she thought, there was no point in continuing to disagree with him.

“Well I’m sorry, Captain, but I’m going to have to pass on your offer for betrayal. Tempting as it was to know I would be killing the patients I had previously treated, I’m afraid I just don’t share your same material motivation.”

“Not tantalizing enough for you, eh?”

“No. Especially when option B is so much more appealing.” Kala said, and subconsciously rubbed a spot on her neck. Just under the corner of her jaw, a few inches down from the wrappings around her ear, she could feel the small chip beneath her skin. That was her security. That’s how she knew she didn’t have to consider or worry about any of this. Not when they knew where she was. Not when they were coming to get her.

“Hmm, about that.” His voice was quitter now, and came from just over her shoulder. But Kala was too lost in thought to be aware of the Captain’s hands as they softly grabbed hold of her chair. “I’m afraid where you’re concerned, my dear, the Federation must no longer be involved.”

Kala hardly had a moment to consider what he was saying before her chair was suddenly pulled out from under her and her body shoved roughly against the table. Kala shouted and twisted, trying to get up but the Captain had already pinned her. His powerful legs pressed against hers as one hand held her arms behind her back the other pushed her face to the table.

Kala wriggled and screamed at him to get off her but the Captain simply pressed his weight on her back until she couldn’t move.

“Calm yourself, little one.” Treta's baritone voice purred in Kala's ear, his hot breath pooled on her neck and she flinched as she felt his whiskers tickle her skin, “removing your tracking chip is a dangerous process, and we both know just how badly this could end for you if you don’t cooperate.” Using the weight of his chest to keep her arms pinned he pulled a large bowie knife from his side and pressed the razor tip into the wood of the desk, showing it to the doctor in all its polished glory.

You wouldn’t dare!” she growled at him, her teeth clenched.

“Oh wouldn’t I?” he asked. Kala could hear the slight sound of laughter in his voice, and it infuriated her.

“The procedure is impossible without severing a major artery! If it’s removed without deactivation-“

“You’ll bleed out and die, thereby becoming useless to me-I know. Good grief, woman, you act as if I don’t know my enemies at all. I’ve certainly given you the benefit of the doubt, I’d appreciate the very least from you in return.” The two were quiet for a moment, both testing the other’s strength and gall to see if one would combat the other. For the moment Dr. Leahy was silent, her eyes wide with horror as she looked upon the blade.

“Now,” he said leaning in close again, “I know what I’m doing. And really whether this is quick and painless is all up to you. Don’t move. Or your death will be by your own doing.”

“You’ll kill me.” Kala choked out, a ball of fear and restrained tears building up in the back of her throat, her body shaking slightly under his weight. But when he spoke again his voice was gentle, and Kala felt the hold on her head loosen.

“I wouldn’t do that, little one. Have some faith. You’re not the only one with medical training.” And with that the Captain turned her head so it lay flat against the table top, the rough pads on his fingers grazing her soft flesh as he identified the chip’s outline beneath her skin.

Kala squeezed her eyes shut when she felt the sting of the blade. She held her breath, trying to calm her racing heart as the incision was made and a small square of her blue skin was carefully peeled back, revealing the purple tissue underneath and the foreign grey of plastic that was implanted there.

Treta worked quickly and carefully, using the giant knife as if it were the thinnest of scalpels. In a method known only by him, he was able to maintain the appropriate pressure on the small chip’s panel and in one fluid motion he lifted the device from her skin, holding it poised on the flat of his knife.

“Don’t move yet.” His voice was low and serious. Kala stayed where she was. His hand lifted from her head and picked up a small petri dish that had been sitting on the table. The chip was placed inside and set carefully down. Then, using the blade he gently rolled the skin back down to where it had been. The dagger was set aside and a handkerchief pulled from his pocked was applied to the area.

Leaning back, he released his hold on Kala and, placing her hand on the kerchief, instructed her to apply pressure.

Even after the captain stepped away she could still feel his weight upon her. Kala's face was flushed and all she could do was hold his handkerchief against her neck and stare blankly at the desk.

“Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?” His voice cut in, resonating again with its previous joviality.

“I don’t… how did you know how to do that? Removing that chip is meant to be impossible without mechanical aid.”

“Yes, well, it’s sort of a delight of mine to make impossible things possible, especially when it comes to skills that can be beneficial to me.” He smiled quickly before lifting the petri dish to examin its contents.

“…You said you have medical training?” Kala was in a daze, her words spoken as if she had awoken from a dream. Treta’s impromptu surgery, though terrifying, alerted something within her. Kala was skeptical of the Captain. Not about what he could do, but about what he wasn’t telling her.

Treta lowered the dish and gave his captive a knowing look. It said he knew she was curious, but wasn’t going to answer her questions.

“I think we’ve taken enough from each other for today, Dr. Leahy. I have this much from you, I don’t need your inquires on top of it.”

“What are you going to do with that? Is it… still activated?” Kala took a step closer, eyeing the chip that had been implanted inside her just moments ago.

“Oh yes. But don’t you worry about that. Let’s call it a safety line. That’s my gift to you.” A holding pod rose from the table and he placed the dish inside, activating the heat settings to match her body temperature before closing it and sending the pod back into his desk.

“Now my dear, you obviously have a lot to consider, and I have a lot of work to do. So why don’t we return you to your cell and we’ll see each other in a day or so; see how traitorous you’re feeling then.” He started leading her toward the door, but Kala stopped, finally snapping out of the bewildered haze from her unexpected operation, and stepped out of his way.

“No! Wait a minute! I’ve been pushed and pulled around for days now, with hardly a meal to speak of, thrown into a cage with a vulgar animal who hurt and insulted me, then dragged up here to be intimidated and sliced up by you! And now you expect to throw me back down there for another couple of days? I don’t know if you’ve noticed this Captain, but I have a festering gash on my forehead that I have yet been able to properly treat and a left eye filled with puss that needs to be drained! And now! With this open flesh wound on my neck I’ll most certainly catch and die. What use would I be to you then, I ask you? None!” Kala, having worked herself into a frenzy, now huffed and puffed before her silent captor. He kept his expression sly, though inside he was grinning with amusement.

To Kala’s surprise, the Captain agreed, and after opening the door to his cabin he told the pirate that was waiting there that once she was returned to her cell, Kala was to be brought dinner, a mirror and a medical kit to help treat her wounds. The man took his orders and the girl and left, leaving the Captain alone with his musings.

Long after she was gone, his mind still returned to the Hantae woman, as he thought of what it would have been like, to treat her wounds himself.

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