The Nebula's Tide

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Where One Life Ends...

Kala lay on the floor of her cell with her arms outstretched and her brow deeply furrowed. Surrounded by the muffled clanks and crashes of distant machinery, she felt as if her ears were ripping apart. It was roughly three in the morning -if she had been keeping track correctly- and this cacophony of noise had been going on now for nearly an hour.

The good doctor tried her best to remain calm, alternating at first between different breathing techniques and soothing exercises in attempt to block out the sound. But as the screeching of metal wielding suddenly roared up into full assault, she lost all control.

Her eyes widened and her back arched as Kala let out an exasperated bellow of her own. Flailing her limps, she kicked herself up to a sitting position. Her outburst was enough to startle the still sleeping Bioman next to her. But the monster only drooled a little and after making a low moaning sound collapsed back into his intoxicated slumber.

Kala leapt up and ran to the door of her cell, clutching the bars and pressing her face against them as she shouted out against the clamor of metal and construction. It hardly made a difference, and even when she grabbed the silver dinner tray she had been given and began rapping it back and forth against the walls of her cage, it did little to surpass the noise.

What’s going on?! I can’t take this anymore!” she shouted, the last of her words thumping like sobs from her throat as she slowly slid down the front of the door. Kala sat on the floor with her head against the bars, certain it would be this noise - and not any means of infection or flesh wound- that would kill her in the end.

But after a moment or two she heard something else: a low rumble that managed to sift through the clangs and crashes of the morning’s early work song. Kala realized it was Captain Treta’s voice one deck above her. She could just barely make out his commanding tone, giving orders to his crew above the incessant din. And though she couldn’t quite make out what he was saying, it gave the doctor a moment's pause, her mind temporarily forgetting all that raged around it.

Two thoughts crossed her mind. One that wondered desperately about the man who, even with his voice alone, could dominate the harshest elements. The other, that shuddered in fear of the beast who roared above. Treta affected her so, both sides of his complex nature working together to frighten the doctor as he continued to lure her in.

The machinery's noise faltered then, interrupting the doctor’s train of thought with the sudden and unexpected stillness. Her ears ringing, she blinked and looked up to the muffled thud of the captain’s footsteps.

“Is that the last of it? Good, finish here and then prep the fuel cells. Have her ready to depart the moment I give the word. Senior Dioli, please fetch our guest.” She could follow his steps as they made their way across the ceiling, losing them once he ascended the stairs. Not long after, the machinery started up again, though now it was more concentrated and accompanied by the sound of hurried hands running to their stations.

Kala stood. Pushing away from the door, she straightened her uniform and stood at attention, awaiting the man who would come to retrieve her. A moment later, a pirate came into view, emerging from the shadows as he drew nearer in the 'lantern' light.

Kala studied him, the same jigsaw-faced alien she'd encountered before. This time, Kala stood strong; her arms folded behind her, her legs braced. She sized him up like an opponent in combat; determined, in the very least, to show that she was not afraid.

When he arrived at her cell and took out his keys, Kala addressed him. "Senior Dioli, I presume."

He smirked, an odd gesture considering the cuts in his face.

"You have good ears," he said casually as he unlocked and opened the door. The comment was given without thought of her species, but to a Hantae... Kala frowned. Her hands reflexively wanted to cover her ears, but she fought the erg and held her posture straight.

Dioli didn't seem to notice her reaction, however, and simply beckoned her forward.

“C’mon,” he said taking her by the arm, “Captain wants you. You know the drill.” They made their way to the stairs, leaving the brig and its noises behind.

“What is it they’re working on?" she asked him. "With this much maintenance, they must be building or repairing something. And we're preparing to launch soon? Why would the cells need to be 'prepped'?"

“Don’t ask so many questions.” He said harshly. His grip on her arm tightened in a firm request for silence. Kala held her tongue for now, keenly aware of the phaser rifle on his shoulder and the sword at his waist. Still, her mind was working.

Thinking back, she tried to recall the outside of the vessel, wondering if its exterior design could give her any clues. Kala remembered that the Monoceros, like all ships, had its thruster engines in the back. But, unlike most, it also possessed two additional rockets, suspended below the ship on what appeared to be rudder extensions. This, she assumed, allowed the boosters to pivot and turn independently, removing the need for the ship to shift its entire girth when maneuvering. The ship's primary hyper drive and engine must be located above, its power then channeled from the core, down to the rockets below.

Perhaps that had something to do with it? Of course there was so much more than the basic set up that she couldn’t figure out, let alone where the cells came in and why they weren't already installed. But with luck, those answers would come with time. If Kala’s hopes of rescued failed, and other means of negotiation came to call, she knew she needed to obtain some sort of leverage. Having knowledge on the workings of their ‘secret ship’ just might come in handy.

This time, when they exited the ship’s hull, the use of protective goggles was not required. Now, far from the star, the dense blackness of deep space stretched wide around them, allowing the crew of the Monoceros to move about freely in the ship’s 'open air'.

The activity on deck was even more busied than below, and as they stepped up into the rush of hurrying pirates, Kala was grateful for the pull of her guide as he maneuvered them out of the way and over toward the safety of the starboard railing.

There they waited, surrounded by more alien diversity than Kala had ever seen. Pirates of every shape and color passed the doctor and her guard. Ones that walked on two legs, and others that scurried like insects. A tusked beast thundered toward the gates of the cargo hold, carrying an entire phaser cannon on his back. Perched atop his head sat a spindly creature who carried a small poker and shared dirty jokes with its monstrous companion as they continued on their way. At one point the doctor thought she saw a cluster of static electricity carrying wielding gear, but upon second glance she realized that it was a Shoin, an energy being that had condensed itself to an almost bipedal form.

Her mind was racing. Never before had she seen such a gathering of distant species. Almost all of the crew seemed to originate from the Quarantined Galaxies. These were people who were known to be reclusive and territorial, but somehow, it seemed that under Captain Treta’s command they were all working together.

The Federation, of course, was also known for its unification of planets and cultures, but as she observed the creatures before her and how truly exotic and different they seemed, Kala began to think of just how plain the Federation species were in comparison. The more she thought back on it the more she realized that though the races of the Federation had their differing traits, skin color, eye shape, facial features, they all essentially resembled one another. What she thought had been a diverse environment now seemed extremely exclusive, and that caused the doctor a great deal of uncertainty.

Lost in her thoughts and observations, Kala had wandered into the crowd and was startled when Dioli wrenched her aside, pulling her away from the long striding creature that had come up behind them. Still in his grasp, Kala turned and looked up in awed silence as a towering Calian walked slowly by. On legs like stilts he moved from his hips, shallow and boney cavities that resembled the rest of his starved-looking stature. His long sloping neck, draped in the thick mane that fell in front of his eyes, swayed side to side like a snake tasting the air, and added another two feet to his already looming height.

It was only after the last flick of hair from the Calian’s tail snaked past that Kala found her breath again. Looking after the ghoulish creature she spoke, her eyes dead fixed on his back.

“That Calian is feral.” She said, her words coming more like a whisper to her slightly gaping lips.

“Yes, he is.” The voice that answered her was not that of Senior Dioli, but instead came from The Captain himself. Kala turned when she heard him. Treta stood among his hurrying crew like a stone risen against the river’s wake. As she watched the others dip and scurry around this daunting man, there was no question to her why they called him Pirate Lord.

“By the One, are you insane?” she asked him, her eyes searching his, almost in fear of looking back at what had just gone by -if only to keep herself from confirming it. He stepped closer, tucking his golden walking stick under his arm as he adjusted his spectacles.

“By the many, I should hope so, madness is the only thing that could keep this hodgepodge of pirates and stolen tech in working order.”

“Don’t mock me.” She said. The captain faltered, catching the touch of warning in her voice. He paused, continuing with a less jovial tone.

“Don’t presume to talk to your Captain in such a way, or to question my sanity. Please keep in mind, my dear, that though you are not wearing chains, you are still bound to this ship and are under my rule…” he paused, “And I didn't mean to mock you.” His gaze was kinder than she was expecting. Kala lowered her eyes to the floor.

“'By the One' is a Hantae phrase of expression,” she explained, “it’s rude of you to throw it back like you did.” When she looked at him again, Kala was surprised to be met with a look of interest, not frustration as she might have expected. His large ears turned up slightly and there was a curious glint to his eyes.

“Really? I was not aware. Is it a reference to your people’s faith?”

“… Yes.” She said slowly, not quite sure what to make of the pirate who was now giving her his full attention. “Hantae believe in one universal spirit that supposedly every soul is a part of.”

“Supposedly?” he asked, raising an eye brow as he leaned against the ship’s railing, looking down over Kala as she stood beside him.

“Well, the beliefs of my people are not necessarily my own.”

“And yet you defend the phrasing of it so forcefully…”

Her brow furrowed slightly, but her eyes were wide. She could sense him trying to figure her out, and it felt strange to her that he would do so in such a conversational manor. Kala expected torture and interrogation from him, not simple chats along the deck.

“Well..” she started, then paused to formulate her words, “There’s a difference between respecting one’s cultural beliefs and actually following them. The phrase is used more socially now, but it still has meaning. So I suppose it’s that aspect that I’d like you to respect.” She nodded slightly. When she met his eyes again they were smiling, a glimmer that shone into his expression as well. Treta held a solid gaze with the doctor and when he spoke, she believed him.

“Then I shall do so. Thank you for explaining that for me.” Kala gave another nod and Treta stood up, regaining his commanding posture.

“Now, what’s this about me being crazy?”

The doctor turned back to where the Calian pirate had been but could no longer see him on deck.

“The creature’s tail. It was intact, that’s a sure sign of a feral Calian. All civilized members of their species have their tails docked when they are born to not get in the way of daily activities, but wild ones don’t, the courtesy isn’t considered and they have use of them in killing and battle.”

“You’re very well informed, but that still doesn’t answer my question.”

She looked up at him with a slight mix of annoyance and disbelief, “The answer, Captain, is that you’re crazy to have such an alien on board. You must be! I-I still can’t believe that I saw what I just saw. The only place feral Calians are found, besides the wastelands of their home planet, would be in… I don’t know, death arenas on the asteroid slums!”

“And that’s exactly where I found him.” Treta said with a slight shrug of his shoulders, “But don’t worry, Doctor, we’ve long since calmed the sweet devil. I assure you, Cono is quite safe to be around now.” He leaned down nearer to her then and, using his walking stick, pointed out where the Calian was: standing on the edge of the cargo bay pulling up one of several large crates that was being brought up from below. “Notice how slowly he moves. Now look back into your studies and tell me that isn’t right.”

Kala took in the sluggish swaying motions of the creature and realized that Treta was correct. If anything Feral Calians were supposed to be quick and agile, easily triggered to attack from even the slightest movement around them. But this one looked, in all honesty, stoned out of his mind.

“You’re sedating him? Like the Bioman?”

“Oh no, of course not! This isn’t forced injection, it’s a provided supplement. Cono is given a heaping supply of inhalants, relaxers, upers, downers, something called ‘backseat’s child’, and just a pinch of rocket dust to top him off. He takes them with every meal, and it keeps him calm and slightly out of mind, which for these purposes, works perfectly. If you ever get to talk with him, doctor, you’ll see that he really is a delightful character.”

Kala heard the Captain’s words but they weren’t quite registering in her mind. Still, her eyes remained fixed on the creature and the slow yet twitching movements of his long and snaking tail. Treta turned at her side, addressing a pirate as she ran up to meet him.

“The quantum cells have been raised, Captain," the woman said in her snake like voice. "Bonding was successful and we're ready to depart.”

“Very good. Have the launch crews finished?”

“Just about. They’re wielding down the last of it up front by the figurehead.”

Treta nodded, “Then you await my signal.”

“Aye, Captain.” She said, and bowing her head took off toward the bow.

Kala felt the tap of Treta’s paw against her arm as he signaled for her to follow him. Quickly, she hurried to keep up with the Captain, staying close as he pushed easily through the crowd. Mr. Dioli was no longer with them, and Kala almost felt sorry the loss of his presence. Every alien that passed them took the opportunity to stare her down. So many fearsome faces, and each with a challenging and hungry look in their eyes. Kala was grateful to be free from the wet cling of their gaze as the two stepped once more into the Captain’s cabin and the door was closed behind them.

“So my dear,” Treta began, walking toward his desk and the large window. “We’re about to make way on this bold new adventure. And though the men wait on my word to depart, the Monoceros waits on yours and the promise of your agreement to help us acquire the bounty we seek.” He turned then, slowly and with a glint of mischief shimmering in his eye. For the first time the captain gave her a full smile, showing off his sharp white teeth. “Shall we begin?”

Kala didn’t feel like sitting this time and instead stood behind her chair, gripping the top gently in her hands.

“I suppose.. Though I can't imagine what you expect to gain. I refuse to help you, and that will not change." Kala was nervous standing in this room again. Thinking of their last encounter here, she said, "I’m not sure what you’ve done with my chip but... I’m sure it has something to do with stopping the Federation from finding me?”

Treta tapped his walking stick enthusiastically against the floor, the loud thump startling the doctor as he caught it again in a tight fist. He was obviously very pleased.

“Yes! You would think so, sweet one, but in fact it’s quite the opposite! What would you say if I told you that actually I’ve increased the signal, by adding a sort of… S.O.S to its transmission?” Kala was silent. “Craziness, probably, as you’ve accused me of before, but it’s more genius than that. Come I’ll show you.” And Treta spun around awakening his table monitor as he brought up the doctor’s charts.

All around the Captain’s cabin the walls faded from their wooded camouflage to shimmering screens of blue. As she looked at the tables and health readings that were displayed there, Kala realized they were her own. But unlike the doctor’s actual state, these charts were recording the extreme suffering of someone else. This body was at fifteen percent functional capacity. Its heart rate scattered and flaring, its breaths rapid and shallow, as if they had been screaming for hours on end.

Slowly Kala moved her eyes from the screen to the grinning face of Captain Treta.

“What is this?” she asked quietly, her voice heavy with fear and warning.

“Don’t you remember, Kala? I said this was my gift to you. ‘Your safety line’.” He chuckled slightly, and that deep rumbling laughter was all it took to push Kala over the edge.

“Don’t smile at me like that! Can’t you see that all this will do is put my pursuers on full alert?! Along with whatever anger and vengeance it will cause. Now they will find you for certain and when they do they will spare no reserve in destroying you and your wicked little ship!”

“Oh they’ll follow it just fine, and with all of their Battle Cruisers in tow. But finding me? That, my dear, is where you are wrong.”

“And why is that? What other, great and impossible trick do you think will save you?”

“Easy. We’ll jump before they get here.”

“Ha!” Kala laughed at the captain’s calm confidence. “Then they’ll lock onto your trail and jump right after you.” Such a conclusion was so painfully obvious that Kala could hear the uncertainty quivering through her response.

“Not when we quantum jump. That, is untraceable.”

She paused, frowning as she stared at him. “You mean hyper jump.”

“No, I mean quantum jump. It’s a very different and difficult process, but it’s one we’ve come to master.”

“… The quantum cells? That needed to be prepped and bonded with the engine before take off...”

Treta nodded, looking at her wisely over his glasses. “Quantum cells are unstable to say the least. We submerge them in a nuclear coolant, and raise them into the engine only when the jump is necessary.”

Kala felt like sinking to her knees. Here was yet another complicated and dangerous block added to this already toppling tower. And at that moment it felt as if it all was crushing down upon her shoulders. How did Treta get a hold of such rare technology? Why would he gamble with it so freely, like he did with the Bioman and the Calian? Couldn’t he see how many lives he was endangering, all due to this unbelievably pompous and self-glorified confidence? And why… why involve her like he had, with this torture masquerade? This is the question that bothered her most of all. And as she held tighter to the Kala-sized chair, she asked him.

“And the chip?...Why have you done this? Why play that false message only to keep me here in confusion and fear?”

Captain Treta walked around the desk and placed a paw softly against her arm.

“I already told you. It’s a gift. To spare you from the reality of pain and suffering, whilst hiding you under the intimidation the idea of that pain will cause. This way the Federation will still have reason to fear me, without hurting one so useful and uninvolved in the process.” He spoke slow, each word meant with a dark intent. But he was speaking of sparing her, of innocence. That hardly sounded like the talk of a pirate, and for a moment Kala thought to question the truth of his brutality. But there was still a rumble to his words, and darkness in his stare. Surely, she assumed, there was strategy behind this somehow.

“But what do I matter to you? You’ve killed thousands of innocents before, one more’s blood on your hands shouldn’t make a difference in this fight.”

“True, but as you’ve said, Dr. Leahy, you’re not one to easily fall. And so far you’ve proven that to be true. I’m intrigued, and along with the knowledge you possess, that seemed a good enough reason to keep you alive.”

“So because I amuse you, you’ve decided to keep me imprisoned and confused.” Kala spoke with venom in her words, unable to help the sense of disgust she felt toward the captain, that he wouldn’t just do the job honorably and get it over with instead of toying with her like he had.

Treta shook his head, “Now, now, my dear, no need to view your position in such a negative light. Not when you’ve found yourself under such fortuitous circumstances.” He rubbed her shoulder but she instantly shrugged him off.

“And how is that… in your twisted view of things?” he raised an eyebrow at her and turned again to walk behind his desk. Bracing his strong arms upon it he leaned over the monitor and stared Kala straight on.

“The way I see it, Doctor, is that you have been unbelievably fortunate in your dealings with me. I have not killed you yet, and that alone is unheard of. I have manipulated an unbreakable system of the Federation’s highest security, a difficult and demanding feat, all to ensure your safety while maintaining the ruse of my control. I have held your life in my hand and not only have I given it back to you, but I’ve put up with your uncalled for insubordination and insolence in my presence!” he paused, letting out an exasperated breath. “And though I don’t know why, even now I’m willing to offer you more.”

Kala folded her arms, “And what would that be, Captain?”

“A choice. But before you hear it you might want to sit down.”

“I’m fine where I am.” She said firmly. “Does this concern your ‘offer’?”

“It does.”

“Then get on with it.”

“Very well. Since you’ve found it so hard to find reason in betraying your precious Federation, I’ve decided to help make your decision an easier one.” He leaned back, removing his spectacles as he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket. He took his time cleaning them. Kala’s eyes remained glued to his face.

“You know where I stand. When it comes to endangering the patients at Tractatio, I’ll have no part in it.”

“Yes I know. Picking one life to save over another is often a difficult choice to make.” This of course caused Kala to pause. He couldn’t be threatening to kill her now, not after this big show he had put on to keep her alive. Still, she couldn’t think what else he meant.

“I would die before hurting my patients. There’s no choice there.”

Treta looked up at her, holding his small circular glasses in between the thumb and forefinger of his giant paw. “I wasn’t talking about your life, Doctor. I was talking about your sister.” Kala froze. “Yes, it’s a pity to revert to such blackmailing clichés but I’m afraid it’s the easiest option for both of us. You see, the chip implanted in you held so much more than just a medical record. It also contained your operative files, training reports, and personal history. I know all about young Veska, living all alone on Ursus, working on her botany degree and anxiously awaiting the return of her beloved elder sister. She idolizes you, doesn’t she? Which is not surprising seeing as you’re the only one she has left. Tragic that, both parents lost when you were a child and she just a babe.”

“Shut up!” Kala’s fists were clenched and her eyes burned. “You have no right!”

“And yet I do. Being a Pirate Lord kinda does that for you. No morals, no restrictions. I can hurt and kill anyone I please, though I’d rather it not be innocent little Veska.”

“But the lives of the patients at the center?” her words were spoken through gritted teeth, Kala trying hard to fight against the tears of anger that threatened to fall.

“Oh no, you see that’s the icing on the cake. I’m sparing them too. Your options are simple, and I’m certain once you hear them, you’ll feel greatly relieved at how easy the choice is to make. One: You can either swear your allegiance to me, casting off all ties to the Federation, and thereby promising to provide me with the exact coordinates of the Aceso power-cores inside the center, along with updated schedules of the security patrols. Or two: you can choose to stick to your morals and watch as I murder your sister and shoot down the entire medical station. In exchange for the first, I will of course spare Veska and the terminally ill, taking only what we need and then leaving merrily on our way…But I’m afraid that if you don’t help me...” Treta tapped his screen bringing up video images on all surrounding monitors.

The left side of the room played the security cameras of Tractatio, dutifully recording the peaceful faces of her patients, sleeping in their secure oblivion to the dangerous forces that watched them. But the screens on the right, showed an even more unsettling scene.

The Black Shale Mountains of her home played before Kala’s eyes; their razor cliffs heavily coated in draping mosses and vines that swayed softly above the crystal surface of the bottomless pool she had played in as a child. The wide stretch of grass among the swirling cobbled paths looked so vivid, Kala almost felt as if she could smell the Ursusian soil once more. But this image was not a comforting one, for sitting amid the scene was her sister, legs crossed beneath the shade of the flowered pergola as she worked obliviously among her samples.

Kala knew for certain that there were no cameras near or around her home, and satellites were not permitted in native airspace. So to see someone so precious to her viewed through the eyes of the predator that watched her, silent and waiting… was unbearable.

The doctor walked up to one of the monitors, cautiously reaching out and brushing her fingers slowly over the image of her sister, the only person left in the universe who she truly loved, and the only one who, she now realized, was so very far away.

Captain Treta watched the woman as she touched the screen. A very peculiar gesture, but one that gave him the answer he needed. He had found his leverage over the cunning doctor and knew in that moment that he would succeed.

Though he would have been content to stand and watch her a while longer, a small click sounded in the speakers above and interrupted his thoughts. It was Dioli. Treta took an earpiece from his desk and stepped through the side door.

“Go ahead.”

“Captain, we’ve picked up Federation signatures. Four Battle Cruisers fast approaching, they’ll be here in ten minutes. The cells are hot and if we don’t launch soon they could blow. Do we depart?”

“Negative, we hold for a few minutes more. Alert the crew to take up jump positions, we launch the moment I say so.”

“Aye, sir.”

Keeping the piece in his ear, he strode back into the cabin. Three long steps was all it took to stand behind the doctor where he quickly took a hold of her shoulders and spun her around to face him. Lost in her thoughts, Kala was startled by the Captain’s sudden hold on her, and stared at him wide-eyed as he held her firmly against the wall.

“Kala, we don’t have much time. I need your answer now, and I pray for your sister’s sake that it’s the right one.” He waited, but she only looked back at him with uncertainty in her eyes. He could see her mind racing. Now was the moment when good people like her began to question their morality, started weighing their rights from wrongs. But though he sympathized with her struggle, he couldn't spare the time for this existential crisis.

“I know that right now you might be fearing the consequences of your decision, but let me assure you that once someone becomes my ally, I protect them at any and all costs.”

“As do I, Captain Treta,” she spoke at last, “as I have done for my sister these sixteen years. I have done all I can to protect her, to raise her, to keep her safe-” She paused, sniffing against the tears that had begun to fall. “-from men like you.” Kala hung her head in shame, cursing herself for the decision she was about to make. “That is why, I will help you.”

Treta felt himself fill with pride. His grasp tightened, squeezing Kala’s shoulders in a possessive, yet grateful way. But his triumph could not be voiced before Kala looked up again, continuing her agreement before he could accept it.

“In exchange, you must give me your word that you will keep Veska safe. By betraying the Federation I will lose my means of supporting her. All of my salary goes home to my sister. Without it she will lose our home, her schooling, everything! Please, promise me that you protect her until I might return.”

For the first time he saw desperation in her. In any other case it would have disappointed him, but not here, not where he now saw where her passions were founded… in family. That was an idea he had long ago forgotten, but the memory of it called out to him none the less and he respected her for it.

Treta nodded once and spoke with words that were quiet and intense. “As my hostage, she will be well treated, protected and provided for until the job is done. You have my word.” His hands slid slowly away from her arms, leaving Kala feeling oddly exposed as the security of his grip was taken away. She swallowed and extended her hand.

“Then we agree? My cooperation for Veska’s and the patient’s lives?” Treta gave a small smile and took her hand in his. His grip was firm but gentle, and his soft fur gave warmth to the blue skin of her slender fingers. But he did not shake it, nor did he let her go. Instead he pulled Kala toward him and, walking back to the table, picked something up. He turned her hand over and placed it inside, cupping his paw under hers as she looked at what he gave her. It was her security chip, blinking silently as it rested perfectly against her palm.

“I accept your agreement.” His voice purred from behind her, “But you must make it official. The Federation ships are almost here. They’ve come for the one who wears the chip, to save the life that calls to them. We must eliminate their need for such noble pursuits. Destroy the chip, Kala. Crush it and make them believe that they have lost you to me."

Kala shook her head, “I can’t. I do that and it’s like losing Veska anyway! They’ll tell her I’m dead and…”

“And my men will still be there to tell her otherwise. They will watch over her until you can tell her yourself.”

“Why… why can’t you do it?”

“Only you can do it, my dear. You must be the one to free yourself from that life, so that you may start this one unburdened.” Kala felt him take her other hand as something heavy and sharp was placed in it. It was the dueling knife, the same that had carved the chip from her body.

Treta heard his informant’s voice in his ear. "Two minutes Captain! It’s now or never!"

He leaned in toward her, holding her shoulders as his heart beat began to quicken.“Do it, Kala.”

She stared at the chip in her hand. His eyes jumped to the window. He could see the wisps of condensed blackness curling around them, the quantum drive gradually unraveling the surrounding fabric of space. “Kala, Do it now.”

Slowly, she moved to place the chip upon the table, raising the butt of the blade above it. But her movements were suspended with hesitation, fused with the racing of her heart and the screaming warnings of her mind. Treta almost feared that it wouldn’t happen at all. His fur stood on end, bristling up his back as his eyes dilated with a mad excitement.

Now Kala! Destroy the damn thing!” he roared. And with a sudden burst of her own anger, she brought down her fist in a swift blow, shattering the tiny implant into a scattering of broken plastic and circuitry. Captain Treta’s reaction was instant. In one move he wrapped an arm around the doctor and pulled her into a side room, the door air locking behind him as he shouted the order to launch into his ear piece.

The word was given and from the command deck the ship’s suspension was released. The quantum drive, burning against the elements that had held it immobile, now reared up in roaring excitement. Its computer was locked, the rockets were blazing, and all around the Monoceros the fibers of space were expanding. Like holes stretched through ripping silk, the blur of midnight and stardust parted revealing beneath the white channel that would lead them through. There was a moment of pause, the ship suspended as if at the end of a long tunnel, waiting to see clear to the other side before it was pulled in and the curtain of the universe fell back behind them.

When the Federation vessels arrived not ten seconds later, they were met with the empty silence of deep space. Still and completely undisturbed.

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