DarkHorse Vendetta by Orin Drake
A completed novel, available as a paperback through Lulu and an ebook (Part One) through e-Quills.

        Chapter 7 - Stranger Than Fiction

        The sheer look in her eyes caused him to lose his balance, letting the wall bear all of his weight for him. He slid, slowly, little by little until he was nearly sitting on the floor; but her grip was still tight, her eyes almost so far away that they fell closer than he cared for them to. Somehow she'd slid with him, winding up kneeled in front of him and still grasping. He had no more assurance left in him, calm or otherwise, so he let his gaze fall. This was just too much to hold on to.
        Her hands, however, shook with the effort of hanging on. There was so much to hold on to that it felt the universe itself bore weight upon her. She knew she didn't need to retain the death grip, knew that there was no danger of him running, or anything abandoning her should she let go. There had just been such a serious emotional explosion that still ricocheted through her head. It was unexpected, to put it lightly.
        "Now what?" he asked no one in particular, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
        It took her a moment to realize it had been a question. Then a moment more to process it and attempt to seek an answer. "Now we go back to the ships... and think about this."
        Her response caused him to make questioning eye contact. "Think about this?"
        "That's what I said." She stated quietly. No fucking way she was going to let him be alone now. Selfish on her part? Sure. But this was a damn good mystery. She was never one not to question the hell out of a good mystery; it was why she never did well in school, talking back to the teachers and all. Pulling the communication device from her pocket, she contacted the Sefirot. "Pheta... we're going to need the medical staff in the docking bay. And no one else, please."
        Only a second of hesitation before the commander of defense's mildly worried voice responded. "Did something go wrong, Captain?"
        What a question. "Don't worry, we're... we're alive. The little fucker is dead and this ship is abandoned, so get a 'raiding party' together. We just encountered a little problem the medical team should be able to take care of." She was too good of a liar sometimes, she thought. "And that engineer who keeps saying he can fix anything."
        "Mark Noyn?"
        "Yes, that's the one. I feel like taking him up on that offer."
        Silence from the other end. No doubt any commander of defense would be a little puzzled, to say the least. At last came a reassuring, "Yes, Captain."
        "We'll be there in a little bit." Jack signed off immediately, before any questions could be raised. Pheta was not naive; chances were she would take to figuring this out. She wasn't exactly a friend, per se... but she did attempt to have her captain's best interest at heart.
        Julian sighed deeply, one hand pressed hard against his damaged cheek, the other against his newly opened arm wound. He didn't feel like standing up, let alone making the entire journey back to the ships. "What happens after this?" he thought out loud.
        She shook her head, dismissing the thought. "Doesn't matter right now. Do you think you can climb back up alright?"
        His stare was blank for a number of seconds. His universe--his very reality--was falling apart, taking part of hers with it, and all she could ask was whether or not he'd be able to climb a ladder alright? Well, maybe it wasn't all that strange, really. She was just looking out for him. Even after he might be... whatever the hell he really was.
        He realized with a start that she was still looking at him for an answer. "I-I... might need some balance help."
        She nodded and stood up, taking one last look at the Solanid remains. What kind of a fucking can of worms did that little bastard open?

        Jack carefully climbed right underneath him, offering her shoulders as extra footholds should he need them--nevermind the fact she was in no better shape than he was. Hell, they both had to climb with only one hand holding on to the rungs. They made it to the top, though. Miracle of miracles.
        The walk back to the Black Albatross seemed a hell of a lot longer than it should have, the uncomfortable silence making everything seem much larger. Not that it mattered; neither of them had anything to say. Just to get back to the ships, to get back "home" was enough for now. Safety in "home", comfort in "home"... even if it did involve taking a ship that, at times, felt perhaps a little less than completely safe. Wounded or not, the belts were still triple-checked.
        Approaching the Sefirot's docking bay, Julian nervously found his tongue. "What do you suppose... I mean... what would they think?"
        She glanced at him only from the corner of her eye, considering her answer very carefully. "Damned if I know" didn't seem to be all that reassuring. "Don't worry about that, Jules." She paused to flip the final switches. "It'll be fine."
        He caught the lack of conviction in those words. "There's that award winning enthusiasm."
        Her smirk was interrupted with a wince as the little vessel caught the hook in the plank that brought it inside. At least he was keeping his wits about him. That was good. That would hopefully prevent shock. Of course... she stopped herself, unwilling to think about the possibility that he may not be able to go into shock at all.
        "Stay here until I get you." She ordered quietly. With his nod, she unbuckled herself and opened the door, stepping out into the bay. As she'd instructed, only the medical team of four and that Mark guy were waiting. This would be a test for all of them.
        They casually soluted, and she nodded back. Before they had the chance to dote over her wounds, she made a quick announcement. "None of this is to be spoken of or recorded in any way. A direct order. Is that clear?"
        The crew before her blinked, glancing at one another uneasily. After a moment, there was a quiet stream of, "Yes, Sir."
        Captain Veis nodded once again, more or less assured of their word. She held up a finger to demonstrate she'd only be a moment, then walked back into the bird.
        Julian glanced at her nervously. He'd heard her words and their promises, but it just didn't make him feel any better about the whole damn situation. Regardless, he was getting rather sick of bleeding. It still hurt, dammit. With a deep breath and another tug to release the last belts, he stood and walked out, knowing she was right behind him.
        Mr. Fix-it Mark Noyn went slack-jawed. He'd never had experience with such an undertaking before. Hell, he didn't even know exactly what he was looking at. He hadn't much of a knowledge regarding science fiction.
        Dr. Carn, the new medical head, stared blankly. He, for one, certainly did have knowledge of a great deal of science fiction works from years previous due to the embarrassing business of comic books and skipping his studies in favor of reading them... among other things It had taken a couple of extra years to get serious and graduate that way, but he was beginning to think those comics were not wasted.
        The other three making up the medical personnel (none of which Jack knew either in name nor had seen enough to recognize) gasped quietly. They'd never seen or heard of anything like that in med school.
        "Just... fix him up, alright?" she insisted quietly but firmly. No need to make a scene. She did feel they needed a little instruction to get them moving, though.
        Noyn and two of the docs moved for Julian with their equipment to take stock of the situation. He gave them a startled animal expression as they moved in, but held his ground. There was no need to be nervous, right? ...Right?
        Dr. Carn gave his captain a very measured expression as he moved to unwrap her arm. "I have to speak to you alone, Captain." He was starting to get the feeling she'd been trying to avoid him.
        Too damn perceptive for a doctor. She glanced to Julian, taking note of his worried stance. She damn well didn't want to leave him to the questions and comments of, for all intents and purposes, strangers. Considering he didn't seem to want her to go either... "You can spill it here."
        The doctor was silent for a number of minutes as he pulled the blood-soaked former pant leg from her arm and took stock of the damage. "This will take a few days for the muscles to heal fully."
        Not quite what she wanted to hear. At least it would heal, but... days? Well, she could worry about herself later. It was time to cut to the chase, regardless of what may come of it. "Is it about Nex?"
        An eyebrow was raised at that question, but only for a moment. His captain didn't often get to know the first names of the crew. Last names, sure; she knew who to call should anyone be in trouble and all that (except for Mark Noyn, of course, who she just referred to in her head as Fix-it Boy). Regardless, he gave her the news as any good doctor would. "The up side right now is that his brain is still active. The waves are in tact. I can attempt a spinal cord regeneration with this kind of progress."
        "But..?" she knew it was far too good to be true.
        "Well..." he looked down, hating to admit what had to be said. "But, without the former head physician... it may be... 'tricky'."
        She felt like groaning. Wait, that wasn't true. She felt like hauling out and punching the guy for saying a thing like that. But it wasn't his fault that Chucky was dead. Sure the act would have made her feel better, but her "hittin' fist" was in no condition to be attempting such acts.
        For a split second it seemed that he'd picked up on that violent thought, glancing down at her wounded hand and tensing. "Should we proceed then, Captain?"
        She swallowed, regaining herself. "Yes. I think it's the best course of action to make the attempt."
        He nodded as though all were dismissed. "I think the both of you need to come down to the medical bay to get full treatment. We can take the secondary route. No one needs to know."

        As they were escorted the "back way" into a private treatment room, Captain Veis began to wonder why the hell no one ever used those hallways. It was almost twice as fast as the standard way, which took one through a part of the quarters and cafeteria. She really ought to have been paying more attention to all of those goddamn maps, she supposed.
        Fix-it Noyn was hard at work inspecting Julian's wounds with a magnifier. Jack watched; half because she was genuinely curious, and half because she needed something to distract her while the pain killers were doing their job. Even with those, she could still feel the wire stitches that laced the flesh together so the healing could begin. It was not a pleasant feeling. Stasis, however, was a bit... unpredictable. The energy flow of the ship itself seemed to determine how well it worked; sometimes there was full healing, and others... well. A new ship would be a nice touch.
        Mark Noyn pulled back, dropping his hands. "There's nothing I can do."
        Julian shot him more of a pissed off look than one that mirrored his nervousness. "What do you mean?"
        "I mean..." he stopped to shrug. "I do mechanics. You're... um... not 'machine enough'."
        Jack blinked at that. "He's... biological?"
        "Obviously not. Well, not exactly." Mr. Fix-it started to put his tools away, done with this thing altogether. "I don't know. I just know I can't do anything. It's flesh."
        "With wires..." Julian added under his breath.
        Mark "I Can Fix Anything" only shrugged again. "Don't know what to tell you. I just can't help. This is where the doctors come in." Aggravated, he simply walked out.
        The captain of the Durago blinked. He'd just been dismissed in an almost disgusted manner. Normally that would condone some sort of yelling reaction. This time, though... it was confusion.
        "Well?" Dr. Carn directed to one of the others. "Sew him up, already."
        The sound of those words were just about as pleasant as the thought of having each wire in his flesh individually tied back together. Though it did give him a little hope. He wasn't entirely some lab creation, some monster. He requested quite a lot of pain killers, in fact.

        As the doctors left them alone to "recover" for an hour or so before they'd be placed in healing stasis, complete silence passed over them. It was just the two of them, door closed, world left behind for a little while. And still neither could think of a damn thing to start a conversation with.
        With each second that passed, Julian became more worried about one little detail in particular. The quiet was so profound that his question at first felt like a scream. "You don't suppose that mechanic... would spout any of this to everyone who'd listen, right?"
        The silence broken, Jack allowed herself relax. "Definitely not. He never talks about the things he can't fix."
        He nodded. No reason to doubt her. Absently, he put a hand to his wounded cheek and flinched slightly as it burned under his palm. The flesh was still too delicate to be considered sealed at that point in time, but with no mirrors in sight he needed some way to assure himself that he was whole. He didn't care for a mirror, anyway; just looking down at his arm where the flesh was shades of purple and red was plenty for his imagination to fill in the rest.
        He may get a scar from this... she thought to herself, trying not to catch his gaze as she glanced at him. It wasn't disgusting or anything--she'd seen a lot fucking worse. You haven't seen shit until you've seen a man walking around after having survived a TAB (Tripse Acid Bomb). She shuddered with the mere memory of the skin and eyes and the thick, liquid scream...
        "I heard what the doctor was talking to you about..." he prodded ever so gently.
        She didn't know how glad she was to be rid of the former pictures in her head until she actually considered Nex's condition to be "better". Well of course you did. She looked him in the eye and tilted her head just slightly, waiting for a question to answer rather than simply spouting out things that would probably only sound stupid.
        "So..." he prodded a little harder, a little further, "Who is this Nex?"
        She found an amused smirk on her lips. It was a hell of a lot better than a blank expression. "He's the ship's navigator. Or, was." She sighed quietly.         "Wounded from the attack... I'm not sure how it happened. I didn't really ask. He's comatose, anyway."
        Julian stopped himself from asking any more about him. He could probably get all of the information he wanted form her, but... strangely preferred not to. Maybe he just didn't want to know.
        There was another long silence, sending them both to stare at the plain walls. After a while, it was Jack that gave in this time. She was curious, dammit, and that couldn't be stopped. Nothing between them had changed, and she shouldn't feel she needed to treat him like a fragile object. "Do you want to... find out more?"
        He swallowed, pondering his response carefully. "Yes and no." He paused to run a finger up his wounded arm, feeling the pain, the temperature of the skin, his own pulse. "I'd like to find my birth records. And then... maybe go on from there."
        She nodded. "If Nex weren't in a coma, he could get to the remaining computers from here. I'm sure of it." Centuri hadn't been completely decimated. Just... most of it. Some of the library computers had been spared from destruction and network viruses. Nex was just patient and resourceful enough to have figured out how to download everything... but, lacking him...
        "So what option does that leave us with now?" he whispered, only half conscious that he'd voiced the question.
        "Us." She let herself grin lightly at that quiet, insane thought. Unfortunately, the spoken answer wiped that away. "Actually visiting."
        He stared at her, disliking that prospect about as much as another round of stitches. But... he really did want to know. Not everything, not now--just his birth. If he was born there, as he'd always thought, always been told, then... there might be another line of information through that. He didn't need to actually look until he was ready. Just knowing it was there was enough. "They won't let us go, you know."
        "Again with that 'us' thing." She joked openly.
        He started just a bit with those words, but didn't appear offended. In fact, there was the slightest sign of a twinkle in his eyes. "I need an alibi."
        "I don't doubt it." She grinned. Dropping her head, she thought about how to go about this. "Maybe we should wait until the stasis healing is over. So we won't both fall apart."
        He nodded agreement, already feeling quite a bit better. "What about the Spectre?"
        "Guess I'll just have to use my other hand for a while."
        It was at this point that Dr. Carn opened the door and walked in. He was silent, expressionless, and completely too perceptive. After a moment of glancing back and forth between them, he sighed. "Stasis first, plot later."
        Simply not as dumb as I assumed. She did her best to hold in any sound or indication of amusement.

        Waking up from stasis always fucking sucked. It was like those dreams of drowning mixed with the ones where you can't run fast enough to get away--only it was real, and you knew it. Annoyingly long process of trying to get your mind and body back together, most times.
        She stretched--and instantly got a painful reminder of why she was in stasis in the first place. Her wounded hand and arm throbbed as the muscles contracted hard, the smaller wounds on her back and ribs burned with the movement.
        "Captain Veis." She heard Dr. Carn above her. "I would suggest taking it easy, but I'm assuming you'll do what you wish regardless."
        Good morning to you too, Sunshine. She made the effort to sit up on her own, but collapsed back into another heap of stiff joints and aching wounds. "You sound like you know me." She joked through a groan.
        "Charles discussed you with me." He announced, catching her completely off guard. "I've come to the conclusion I'm probably better off just waiting for you to come back so I can do my job."
        Maybe it had been Chucky that wasn't as dumb as she'd assumed. Either way... she was kind of glad for that. Making another attempt to rise (successful, this time), she felt a little courage through the pain. "Have you started with Nex yet?"
        The doctor shook his head. "It's set to happen in a little under an hour. I'll need the whole staff, so try not to get into too much trouble." With that lovely bedside manner, he walked away.
        No witnesses. She joked to herself, carefully sliding off of the cot and testing her legs. Just a little fading dizziness, some aches and pains--she'd been through worse. That was always enough to get her through just about anything. Except for those times when nothing had been worse than what she was going through at just that moment, but... she'd found a way. Best not to think about that.
        Julian was in the process of sitting up himself at that moment, so she attempted to walk a straight line toward him. Seeing her through the haze of consciousness, he mumbled, "How do I look?"
        "Like hell." She grinned.
        "Mmm." He commented, swinging his legs over the side of the cot. The sensation of sitting so fast caused one moment's worth of head trauma; he grasped his pounding forehead and tried to remember to never do that again. The Durago hadn't been built with a newer sickbay--and, hence, no advanced stasis.
        She waited for him to recover, gently flexing her still rather torn-up fingers. They didn't look so bad anymore, but they were still rather sore. Come to think of it, Julian wasn't really looking so bad, either. Still had what would probably turn into one hell of a scar across the full length of his cheek, but even that seemed to have healed at the surface level.
        "So what now?" he inquired, finally regaining the ability to think.
        "Yes." Came from the doorway. The captains glanced over to see a not so happy looking Pheta, arms crossed, eyes piercing. "What now?"
        "Uh..." Jack couldn't quite think of anything else to respond with.
        "Both ships have been without captains for over twenty-four hours now." The woman announced sternly. "Am I to assume it will be longer?"
        Her tone made Captain Veis remain quiet for a little longer than she normally would have. Granted Pheta was Defense Commander, but... man, she was getting a little edgy here. Finally she replied, "If you want to be acting captain--"
        "Your safety is a large part of my concern." Pheta cut her off. "If you're getting dangerous or suicidal, I really ought to know."
        "Uh, ma'am," Julian interjected as politely as he could under the circumstances, "I'm sure your concern is appreciated, but--"
        The mere lifting of Pheta's hand shushed his attempt. After all was quiet, she continued to speak. "Look, you two. You're old friends, I get that. Your past is obviously... colorful. But I do have an obligation." She looked down for a moment, debating whether ot not to amend that statement. If only to fill the shocked silence, she felt she needed to continue. "And I'd rather you not get yourself killed, Captain Veis."
        Whoah. Jack was silent for a number of beats, taking this one in. She knew she and the commander got along well, but... hell, this was almost an admission of friendship or something. She was quite hesitant to take her up on it, knowing that just about everyone she'd ever liked was dead or going there quickly. "Well... it's not a suicide mission or anything. Just... information gathering."
        "You want to get to Old Centuri, right?" Pheta was neither swayed nor being overly harsh. Before they had the chance to ask questions, she spilled her guts. "I cornered Dr. Carn and got him to tell me everything he knew. Then I looked up the logs for Captain DeVierna. Unknown origin, but from Centuri; those computers are only assessable from the planet itself--it only makes sense that's where you'd both be headed."
        "Your powers of deduction are god-like, Pheta." The Sefirot's captain commented honestly.
        "I am Commander of Defense." She dismissed, her voice far lighter than it had been. "We'll pass Old Centuri's gravitational pull in just under two hours. I assume you'll want that old trash ship."
        Jack grinned slightly at that. "The Black Albatross never steered me wrong." She paused, thinking that over. "Well, literally it has, but the mashing of buttons got it back on course."
        Julian chuckled, his heart rate falling at the realization everything was going to be okay. He'd thought for a split second that they'd both be hauled off to a loony bin or something. Hell, there was still a chance. But not from the stern woman blocking the doorway, apparently.
        "The ship will be ready when you are, Captain." The woman nodded, opened the door and walked back to her post.
        The remaining two gazed at one another curiously. "I'm just getting more popular by the day." Jack quipped deadpan.

        Julian had stopped dead in his tracks as he reached the threshold of the ship. His partner in crime had taunted him more than made him feel at ease, but it did eventually give him the courage to step inside. It took him several more minutes to sit back in that chair, though. He felt better when he was belted in fully--until he saw some blood stains on the belt fabric.
        Jack had made it a point to look over as they were pushed out of the Sefirot again to see the expression on his face. White knuckled and eyes fully closed, he seemed prepared enough. In her own special way, she tried to relax him by doing a spin and a loop. The good and bad thing about space as compared to roller coaster: no tracks.
        "Dammit, you're not helping." He mumbled.
        "Sorry." She lied, hands on the controls.
        Regardless of her cruelty, the view was absolutely amazing. Between glaring at her and checking the seat belts a million times more, he did enjoy the big window in front of them, showing the true vastness of outside. It was actually kind of... frightening.
        Only when they passed what remained of Tremer, Centuri's moon, did they realize just how much their former home had been destroyed. It had once looked a healthy blue-green globe with small jets of red streaking across the sky from the few active volcanoes. Looking at it from the bird, however... it was quite devastating. There were only patches of green now, with a little blue within them--the rest was either gray or a dim and dying crimson.
        The weight of a guilt she couldn't say she really felt became a physical thing for a moment, causing Jack's hands to slip from the controls. It was partially her fault that this had happened. No--it was all her fault. Lady Astrid's death had triggered this. So many fucking people died. Those that survived the initial attack had already died from the effects of prolonged atmosphere exposure. All that remained were some air and temperature controlled buildings, which by some miracle hadn't been destroyed, that sheltered computer systems.
        Julian felt his chest tighten with the sight. He remembered childhood, and his academy days. Playing in the park, walking through the zoo, watching fellow classmates get drunk... and play in the park, walk through the zoo... The memories seemed both so far away and so recent at once; but looking at that barren planet, he felt as though he couldn't believe it had ever been his home. Jack's reaction was just as clear in his mind as though he'd looked her direction when it had happened, but he wasn't sure exactly what to say. He didn't think she wanted to hear anything, even if it was from him. He could certainly honor that for now. He was suddenly feeling a bit untalkative, anyway.
        It wasn't until the approach that she broke the silence. And it wasn't in a very pleasant way. "There is a precise reason this ship is called the Black Albatross. This landing... you just better hold on to something."
        His eyes widened. "Even with the belts?"
        "Just hang on tight." She confirmed, uncovering a small panel to the right of the standard switches. The sound of old machinery grinding the landing gear underneath them followed, and he didn't wait for further instructions. He held onto the chair like it was the last thing that ever fucking existed.
        Most small vessels come in for a landing at a nice glide, maybe even a gentle touchdown and roll. But the Albatross came down... like its namesake. With a great and resounding WHUMP!, dust sprayed underneath them in all directions. Sand and even rocks thumped hard against the ship, sounding like an instantly passing hail storm. Inside, Julian was madly clinging to his seat in hopes the belt wouldn't give out, not even realizing they'd come to a complete stop so suddenly.
        When the dust cleared, the front window was still absolutely no help; the air outside was obscured by sand and whatever else they had managed to shake loose. With a tap of a couple of buttons, however, she had a rough digital map at her disposal. Just as she thought--they'd made it right next to the library building. Danger averted, for the time being. As long as they were quick getting inside, they wouldn't suffer any adverse effects from the atmosphere. Unstrapping herself, she looked over and chuckled softly.
        The very sound forced Julian's eyes open. That was Jack, alright; alive, as far as he knew. His shaking hands slowly unglued themselves from the seat and began to untie him from what he was certain would be his coffin. It'd been centuries since anyone on Centuri had been buried after their death, but he was momentarily convinced he'd start the trend all over again.
        "It wasn't that bad." She joked, standing up very carefully. She was only pretty sure that the ground underneath was solid--and she sure as hell wasn't going to voice that little factoid.
        "It damn well was." He responded, the pace of the belts going a little faster. Near death experiences were not as fun--nor as interesting, nor as peaceful--as people who never had them insisted they must be.
        "If we run straight out the door, we should be right in front of the library." She paused, waiting for him to undo the last belt so he could place all of his attention on the information. "There's a catch-door there but I'm willing to bet a well aimed bullet would take care of that."
        He nodded very slowly, still not certain he was ready for this. Not that it really mattered, since she was already at the door and prepared to run. Another moment of caution to the wind, the door opened and they took off.
        To their very pleasant surprise, she'd been right about not only where they were, but where they were facing. Even with just a few breaths of the outside air, their lungs began to burn. Taking that into account, Jack wasted no time finding the lock and blowing it to a thousand shiny little pieces in the sand. Julian kicked the door open and they bolted, closing it as well as they could behind them. Granted it wasn't an airtight seal, but they'd have plenty of safe air once they got into the main departments of the building.
        Since the lifts were not to be trusted in a building abandoned for that long, they made short work of the stairs. Unfortunately that meant inhaling enough toxins to make them nauseous, but it proved not to last too very long once they entered the air controlled safety of the record sector. Of course, if the power generators ever went out, they'd be screwed. But they were trying not to think about "trivial" things like that.
        Not an ounce of dust laid on any of the computers. Not the tables, not the lamps, nothing. It was merely eerie to be in a place so long forgotten and not find any dust.
        Jack kept walking past the various screens until she found the main console. In all her years as a corporate assassin, she'd learned a few things about intelligence gathering. Mainly, pretend you're not. The logs would never be in an obvious place, not in the end... but until then, they'd be filed like anything else. Slowly she worked from screen to screen, going into the archives.
        Julian slowly paced around the other computers, each one with a blank screen. If he walked close enough or touched the console, the screens would light up with a welcome message--or one that read "Help!" That was plenty enough to get him to stop wandering in that corner of the room.
        "Shit." Jack commented to herself, amazed. When she felt her alibi's gaze, she answered him without looking up. "Don't mind me. I just remembered the government password never changes."
        "Government?" A dull feeling of panic spread down his spine. "Why are you in government logs?"
        "It's where the information lead me." She summed up almost too simply. "And Centuri never did have a lot of protection with files."
        Several more minutes ticked by. Julian's cheek itched like fucking crazy. He knew better than to scratch it, let alone touch it, but it was aggravating. He walked around again, trying to ignore it--which obviously didn't work. Just as he raised his hand to scratch, healing be damned, the typing spontaneously stopped. Looking over, he saw a sickly, shocked expression on Jack's face. "Did you... find it?"
        She looked up at him, clearly not thrilled with what she'd discovered. Only when his gaze was pleading for further explanation did she give him one. "You're... a 'government function'." She breathed uneasily, bypassing another screen of high level security. "Fuck, Julian... they have hundreds of log entries for you." She paused at the one that they he been most curious about. It was labeled, simply and obviously enough, "Birth".
        "'Government function'?" he rasped, feeling his legs losing strength underneath him.
        "Sit down." She suggested gently. "Turn on the screen where you are. You'll have the information, too."
        Silence followed; far from the comfortable sort. They read. Julian DeVierna was born. But soon afterward, being without disease and a strong infant, his body had been taken away from his real parents for use as a "government function" He was placed in a specialized controlled environment, complete with parents that resembled him and pre-determined neighbors. Over a series of several years, bone, veins, and even organs had been slowly replaced with "manufactured pieces" to make him into what the logs called "a controlled Centuri mega-human for use as a superb under-cover soldier. Code Name: Enforcer." Before he was ultimately assigned to the mission to "co-protect" Lady Astrid, he would have been placed into the "high risk threat" sector, to seek out and destroy enemies of Centuri. Among the threats listed: "Individuals or groups that challenge, or have connection to individuals or groups that challenge, Centuri's control."
built me..." his voice shook--from rage or fear, he wasn't even sure. "God... you were right, Jack..." Centuri... was not... what he'd thought it had been. The word "Enforcer" would not leave him--he couldn't take his eyes off of it. Had he not been called to duty Astrid's ship, chances were that he'd have eventually killed Jack. And Ki'ehr. And who the hell knew how many other people. He just couldn't imagine. He didn't want to imagine.
        He read on, not really wanting to but being unable to stop. The last log on him ended on the day Astrid died, with the words, "Set all Enforcers on self-destruct. The war has already started. We don't need them anymore."
        "Come on, Jules." Jack said quietly.
        He turned and looked at her, too shocked to respond. Only driving that shock further was the fact that she was using the Spectre blade to open the main computer's casing. With a practiced (albeit a bit rusty) sharp downward motion, she split the case open, reached inside, and ripped out the entire memory hard drive unit. There was a short blast of sparks before the main computer announced its death with a mild pfhht!, plunging into eternal darkness.
        "Come on, Julian." She said again, just as quietly. They'd have to figure it out later. When they were safe.
        He didn't even know what she was saying. He couldn't make it out, couldn't quite wrap his mind around anything else. All he knew was that he was following her back outside, something new and metal under her arm. She took his hand and lead him in a run onto the Black Albatross, pushing him unceremoniously into his chair, more tying than strapping him to the seat. She was completely gone from his point of view for a moment, but he didn't have the ability to question it. When she came back, they took off with a tremendous feeling of gravitational pressure, making a slight spiral to climb back out of the atmosphere. Moments later, when his eyes had finally began to readjust a little to the present, he saw a huge fireball erupt from the planet far underneath them. Midway through the time it took to get back to the Sefirot, he realized she'd bombed the building and stolen what might well be the only proof of what he really was.

Content copyright Orin Drake 2011.
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