The Nebula's Tide

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The Captain's Warning

All eyes were cast upon the sky. Through the projected glass of the central screen, the wide, wandering black peered back at them.

Nothing, there was simply nothing.

Here on the edge of deep space not even the twinkle of distant stars could offer solace. All that lay ahead was the cold presence of the perma-night, and in it only the imprint of something greater that had been here not a moment before.

The absence of the pirate ship took with it all expectation. The ringing silence of the doctor’s emergency system left every crew member reeling, the sting the pirate’s blade almost felt upon their own flesh as they shared the horror of the doctor’s demise. And so they sat, silenced and dumbfounded, surrounded by the panting of their war ships insatiable with blood lust, the terminated SOS of their Hantae comrade still buzzing in their ears.

Fletcher was lost. His eyes searched the empty sky for the ghost of something he knew was no longer there. How could this happen, and so suddenly too?

Without a word to his waiting crew, he rose from his chair. The steady tap of his boots upon the metal walkway lead Fletcher to his Captain’s screen. The officers expected him to give an order, begin shouting commands. He opened his mouth as if to speak, perhaps to free them from this shared suspense. But their leader said nothing, and no one dared provoke him.

His long white fingers hovered above the glass, the swirling icons beneath awaiting the touch that would activate them. But unbeknownst to those who watched him, Fletcher’s hands were shaking. Everything in him was as silent as the waiting Man of War, both gritting their teeth on the bones of this uncertainty.

Was it loss? No… no it was something else. Lost. He had lost her, to…

Finally, Fletcher tapped the screen and began analyzing the computer’s readings, searching desperately for some sort of clue to what they had missed. The officers on board the battle cruiser followed their Admiral’s lead as all turned to their monitors. Gradually, voices began to rise as the division heads called out their findings.

“Readings indicate vast amounts of hydrogen discharge, Admiral. Thruster residue point to an extreme and sudden takeoff.”

“The surrounding density is only at ten percent. Partial interference from leaking deep space particles.”

“The doctor’s readings have been completely terminated, Admiral. Cause of death unknown.”

“There is no detectable broadcast signal.”

“Is that possible?”

“They must have cut it out of her.”

“The navigation system is having a hard time pinpointing our current location, Admiral. Glitches of distant quadrants keep appearing. There must be severe static disruption caused by their sudden departure.”

“Attempting to trace it now.”

Fletcher heard all these things, and yet still said nothing. Each detail was noted and added to the puzzle that was constructing itself inside his mind. When a light blinked in the corner of his screen, he selected it, causing a small visual of Corporal Heinlein to appear.

“Have you transferred the information?” he asked. Heinlein nodded from behind his large horned-rimmed glasses.

Station fifty-nine was connected to a live stream feed from the battle cruisers. Everything that happened on the front lines were broadcasted back to them. Heinlein had watched as the doctor’s life signal was terminated, he had seen the pirate’s strange disappearance and the nonsensical readings that surrounded it. The dangerously solemn tone of Admiral Fletcher was all he needed to know that now would not be the time to say anything more than what was asked of him.

“Link it to me.”

“Yes, Admiral. Link in progress. You should be receiving it now.” As he said it, another icon appeared in the corner of the screen. Fletcher selected it and brought up the multitude of files that Heinlein had collected.

“Received.” He said, and closed the Corporal’s visual without dismissing him.

On the wide arch of his Captain’s station, the screens were flooded with pictures and data. Most of the information seemed more like articles from speculation tabloids than a proper suspect report. There were sightings of the Monoceros, records of some of the more infamous attacks, excerpts from Captain Treta’s past military history before his exile; all of which Fletcher flipped through with a meticulous eye. There was too much information muddled together with fables, horror stories and lies. Looking over it all, Fletcher felt no closer to the answers he sought. However, seeing it all unfold before him, the collective reputation of this one man’s mark on society, the Asmurian Terror, the Predator of the Stars, was gradually burning itself into his mind.

It was approximately five minutes after the Monoceros disappeared that an ‘anchor’ code was activated. Due to its peculiar tuning, once the transmission was sent it was designed to drag behind its source, spacing out its wave lengths and hiding itself at an undetectable level of frequency until its programmed activation; At which point, the regularity of the waves condensed and returned to their fixed radar levels.

At first, when the broadcast was picked up the Federation believed they found something helpful; a bit of stray code the pirates foolishly left behind. But as the command center computers aboard every battle cruiser picked up the stray frequency and ran it through their processors, little did they know they were heedlessly exposing their systems -baring the belly the of the Federation grid-face and allowing the pirate bug to burrow itself deep inside.

The glass tech on the command deck began to flicker suddenly. Data tables and readings shuddered and died as a black wash swept over the white monitors. The officers backed away from their screens as all previous communication was sucked from the room. Some looked to their admiral atop his elevated platform, others kept their gaze glued straight ahead, waiting to see what it would mean. In the unusual silence of the wide room, a message appeared, typing itself slowly across the glass. It read simply this:

Tear Open Her Skin

And The Doctor Bleeds True.

Your Ships Sail Condemned

On The Blood Of The Blue.

For the pale-white Admiral, the words could not have cut deeper. It was as if the damned pirate slit the girl’s throat and then thrust the dagger into Fletcher’s own hand. The screens could not be cleared, the shock not abandoned. He knew that the message would only fade once its program ran its course, though his officers diligently attempted to remove it anyway. They were at the mercy of the words for as long as Treta wanted them to be. Such a position, Fletcher swore, he would never be in again.

“Medical: report the doctor’s time of death.”

There was a pause, the head of the medical division looking back at his Admiral, before pulling up the record on his personal glass.

“Dr. Kala Leahy,” he read aloud, “Acting Federation Starship Surgeon. Ursusian Hantae, galactic age: twenty-five…. Deceased at four forty-seven am, Galactic time. Cause of death, unknown.”

Admiral Fletcher nodded and turned slowly from the Captain’s station, the doors of the command center sighing slightly as they opened and closed behind him.

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