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

        Chapter 9 - A Proper Name

        Together they walked the length of the library with small, slow steps. It was a truly massive place, a fantastic four stories tall and an untold number of rows upon rows of anchored bookshelves on the bottom level. Knowing they didn't have much time before Pheta would probably begin the hunt for them, they didn't yet attempt to climb the incredibly beautiful staircases leading to the upper levels.
        Walking back to the entrance, Jack stopped in the dead center of the room and gazed upward. Curious as to what she could be staring at, Julian stood beside her and did the same. Hm, there was something up there at the top. Something of dark colors, though from that distance it was completely unclear what it was.
        Jack looked down then, her foot having caught on something. To her astonishment, it looked like a small square switch of some kind, embedded into the floor and lifted just slightly above the rest. She looked again to the thing above them, and hoped for the best. This will determine how much of an idiot I am... With a deep breath, she stepped on the switch.
        Both of their jaws dropped. A sudden light glimmered high above them, illuminating the thing they'd been staring at. It was a giant, glorious stained glass dome set deeply into the dark wood. The imitation sunlight made the colors gleam in jewel tones, an incredibly intricate geometric pattern laid out in the most brilliant reds, greens, blues, purples, oranges and yellows, dark black lines separating and holding onto the sheer color.
        She'd never seen anything like it. Not a real one, not "in person". Only book descriptions, in the eye of her mind. The "real thing" was a hell of a lot more spectacular than her imagination had given credit.
        "Wow." Julian whispered in dramatic understatement. He'd seen bits and pieces of old stained glass artifacts, but never a whole window of it. And certainly not in such perfect condition.
        "This place is amazing." She matched his amazed tone, unable to take her eyes off of the gorgeous sight suspended above them. Knowing her luck, she was very tempted to side-step out of the way at that very moment, in case the object of her affection should come crashing down to kill her.
        He was silent for a long moment, pondering. When at last he spoke, his voice was normal again, full of humor and a little mischievousness. "I'll vie for captain of this ship, myself..."
        She stared at him evenly, maintaining an almost perfect deadpan. "You really will have to fight me for it."
        "You're on!" Julian agreed, grinning insanely.

        Pheta's arms were folded closely to her chest, staring at the door the captains had disappeared behind more than an hour previous. She was starting to get... impatient. And, frankly, just a little pissed off.
        At last the point had come where she simply had to snap. She uncrossed her arms and took a step forward in one quick, steady movement. At just that instant, the door slid open to reveal two very... satisfied looking ship captains. That did nothing for the level of her annoyance, certainly.
        "We're not that late, are we?" Jack asked very apologetically. She made the attempt, anyway.
        "Not very." Pheta answered in monotone.
        Oh, so not a good sign. Captain Veis cleared her throat softly, allowing Julian to get a little bit behind her. Just in case, y'know. "I, uh... had thoughts about this ship."
        Her defense commander stared quietly for a number of seconds. There was just a touch of her captain loosening up, of anticipation in that statement. She'd have been a blind moron not to have known--the looks on their faces, the calm politeness thrown her direction. "It's clean, as far as we can tell. The engineers have almost gained access to the console. Then we can dock the ships and start moving in."
        Jack had a fascinating moment of completely uncharacteristic insanity: she almost felt like hugging to woman after she'd said that. How the hell did she know? Though, thinking about it, how the hell could she have not known... It didn't matter. She let a very thankful grin pass over her face. "Did I promise you a raise already?"
        "You did indeed, Captain." The woman responded, her body language relaxing drastically.
        "Then we are going to have to pirate every dead ship we come across for a long while."
        Julian quietly let his breath out with relief. Everything seemed... okay. At least, better than it seemed to be turning toward mere seconds ago. That Pheta... she was one scary chick. Even more than Jack, and that was saying a lot.
        "But as for the both of you..." the woman began sternly, "You need more medical treatment. I can take care of the rest in the mean time."

        Sitting in the room off to the side of the medical facility on the Sefirot made them both feel a little claustrophobic after seeing what was waiting for them on the DarkHorse. In fact, it looked downright unsafe after witnessing modern equipment...
        "How are we going to pull this off?" Julian mumbled out loud, bored with waiting. Their vitals had already been taken. Shouldn't they be out by now and well on their way to good health or something?
        A sudden nervous twitch overcame his partner in crime. "What?"
        "This captain thing." He stopped staring up at the utter nothingness of the ceiling to give her a grin. "When do I get to be on the bridge?"
        "When I'm sleeping." She quipped, physically able to feel her blood pressure going down just a bit. He'd really worried her for a bit there.
        Another thought occurred to him, out loud. "This doubles the size of the running crew. They'll be glad to have shorter shifts."
        "Larger ship, though." She reminded him. "I'm not sure they'll like that too much. Not the engineers, anyway. They'll have enough problems trying to figure out the new-fangled devices."
        He shook his head mockingly at her viciousness. Hell, it was true. He knew a handful of great technicians, but.. he also knew way too many to count that were hard-headed assholes. "Engineer" was a title like "King" or "Lord"... or, if they had their way, "God". He wished he could blame it all on the academy.
        "Doctor" was something similar in Jack's mind, the thought brought on by Dr. Carn finally stepping in to get them. He announced with no emotion what so ever, "Time to get healed."
        Joy. She tried to keep her mouth shut, though. Truth be told, she was too utterly thrilled to be brought down so easily. Strange though it was, she had enormous excitement building up in her. A bigger, better ship, and two extras (with cannons, once they got them fixed) for... well, for other reasons. She made a mental note of stopping at the nearest station to get the weapons repaired. That was a must, of course. "Doc, you're gonna love the sickbay on the DarkHorse. It's so comfortable you don't even need to pretend to have a bedside manner."
        Julian bit down on the inside of his cheek to keep himself from laughing. Oh, that was rude. But damn it was funny.
        Dr. Carn tapped his fingernails against the document panel in his hand for a couple of seconds, keeping himself in that quiet, calm place he'd learned he needed to rely on to have survived med school--then surrendered. "I'm going to prescribe some dangerous tranquilizers for when you wake up. I'll leave the dosage completely up to you."
        Even the infamous Captain Veis had to admit that that had been good. Subtle, yet very much sharp and to the point.

        Ah, calm, dark warmth. No one's voice dragging her out of her semi-unconsciousness, no one walking by or making a lot of noise. Now this was a little bit easier to tolerate. Sure she still hated waking up from this unnatural "sleep", but it was quite alright when she could just be allowed to take her sweet time.
        Of course, that was due to be interrupted. Fate alone told her that. Gathering her thoughts to the point where she was able to anticipate something happening, she waited with her eyes closed. All remained silent and motionless--but she knew better. Call it pessimism or call it learned instinct, but something was going to happen.
        She sure as hell hadn't anticipated the sudden, jarring ring of an alarm, however. Someone was flying the ship a little too close to an object in docking mode. She groaned with the effort of sitting up, holding her head in anticipation of the swirling that would occur seconds later. That much done, she finally opened her eyes and made the attempt to think clearly once again. Obviously that new navigator would simply have to be replaced. Either that or Nex needed to fucking wake up in a hurry.
        Amusing though that was, it did nothing for the mild rotation of the room as she got to her feet. Julian was still more or less in an unconscious state, so she balanced herself with wide but slow steps to the other side of the room. Once safely there, she pulled the communication device from her pocket and contacted the bridge. Her question was simple and direct. "What the hell?"
        To her surprise (though perhaps by this point it shouldn't have been), Pheta's voice answered. "One of the engines just gave out on us in mid-turn, Captain."
        Jack grunted quietly. Something else to buy, great. One of those cannons may just have to wait. There was no sense in having an armed ship that could only make left turns. "So what have I missed while I was 'out'?"
        "The Durago has been completely docked." A male voice that she didn't recognize as a regular answered. Hell, she'd been more or less off of the bridge for so long that she didn't even know who her current running crew consisted of. "This girl's almost there."
        She couldn't help a slight smile at that. "This girl." It was amusing, really. That's kind of how she felt toward the Sefirot, herself. It pretty much said it all: "This girl." She made a mental note to find out who that voice belonged to, and to keep him there. "Alright. I should be on the bridge in about an hour. Then we'll go over everything."
        "See you then, Captain." Pheta promised almost... warmly? Shit, no one could read that woman.
        Replacing the device in her pocket, Jack turned and leaned her left side against the wall. The after-effects of the stasis were already gone--it was the weight of the cost of getting all of this stuff fixed that gave her pause. She hadn't bothered to have asked where the closest station was, but she knew it was a ways. More than a couple of days for their tiny little ships, but what about their new addition? Certainly with all of that technology it had impressive engines, too. Just one blast might be enough... if they didn't encounter any asteroids, planets or other ships on the way.
        But then what about food? She wouldn't be able to afford any extras for her crew this time. She hated to do that. The little things were of utmost importance; they made life worth living, and made the crew a hell of a lot happier. Not that she actually thought there'd be a mutiny or anything, but...
        "You just woke up and already you're deep into plotting." Julian mumbled, trying to sit up slowly enough to regain his hold on the conscious world without a splitting headache. It was impossible, however.
        "A captain's work is never done." She stated quietly, so as not to aggravate the head trauma.
        He scrubbed at his eyes gently, trying to get them to focus. "We're going to have to rename the ship registry, you know."
        Ugh. Yes, they would. It was a little matter of reprogramming, really. They didn't actually have to register it anywhere, luckily. That'd be as much of a big fucking "come and get us" advertisement as painting "WE'RE HERE!" on the side of the ship. "You're thinking far too clearly for a man who just came out of stasis."
        He agreed with a grin, still blinking the world into shape and color. "Any thoughts as to a new one?"
        "You mean I get to name it?"
        "Why not?" he stretched, making everything spin just slightly. "I have faith in your naming ability."
        She smirked, finally putting all of her weight on her own legs to walk back over. "Good to know. But I bet you want something in return."
        He nodded "shyly", really without pretense. "A library pass."
        Jack's chuckling was interrupted by a rather large jolt of the ship. All was quiet for a moment. And then, tentatively, an announcement came over the intercom: "Oops. Sorry."

        Jack absolutely insisted upon taking a shower first. She felt so damn filthy after sleeping in a medical facility--nothing against her own ship, of course. Besides, the time spent in the shower would help everyone in the bridge who ought to have been piloting the ship to get their story straight about who hit what and why. Never failed to be amusing that way. Give a person enough time or rope...
        Some flesh was still tender, she discovered while toweling off. Damn, she had some soreness. Nothing too bad, of course, but... uncomfortable. As long as she could fire her Spectre again, all was well enough to not matter.
        Staring into her closet, she found an old problem rearing its head again. Fucking laundry. Of course, she'd forgotten to get her uniforms cleaned of late. But, on the up side, she still had her "civilian clothes". Black jeans and a white t-shirt--not exactly what breathed "style" these days. But screw them all, she liked the simple old-fashioned look.
        Random names for their new ship began popping into her head as she strolled leisurely to the bridge. Wouldn't it be fantastic if she never had to take stairs again? To be able to take a lift without the fear of her very life ending because of it...
        Passing through the door to the bridge, she stopped short. It was abandoned save two engineers who were hooking up a new protocol system, and Pheta, looking on. "Hello, Captain." She greeted, sounding almost relieved. Not even any funny looks or quips about the dated outfit.
        Puzzling. "What's going on?"
        Pheta only grinned a little, arms crossed naturally. "I took it upon myself to go ahead and get the crews moved out. We'll establish running crews and quarters from there."
        Wow. Jack couldn't help but be a bit impressed, here. The woman had taken it upon herself to arrange for all of this with absolutely no fuss. How... wonderfully odd. "You're trying to bankrupt me."
        The commander shrugged. "Maybe I can work on getting more holiday time."
        The captain grinned back at that. "You always take your holiday time on the ship."
        "I know." Pheta admitted. "But it's still holiday time."
        "We're hooked up." One of the engineers promised.
        As if on cue, a communication rang in instantly from the DarkHorse. "Captain Veis," Julian regarded awkwardly, "You have got to see this."
        Jack shook her head, amused. Already he wanted to get her into trouble, huh? "Where ya callin' from, Cap'n?"
        "The hall overlooking the dock." He responded, sounding quite excited. "You've just got to see this."
        "Will do." She promised.
        "Will we be having a naming ceremony?" Pheta asked suavely.
        Trying to shake the feeling that she'd been spied upon, Jack nodded. "We'll meet on the bridge and take it from there."
        Nodding, the woman silently indicated the lesser used door off to the side. "We're connected to dock lifts at both ends of C Hall."
        "You're amazing, Pheta." The captain thanked her. Hell, she could say that much, anyway. With a nod, she turned and walked off to meet up with her partner in crime. So much trouble to be gotten into, after all.

        Appreciating just how immense the docking area was, was made possible by riding the lift to the overlooking hall. Jack counted the seconds, getting a little scared after thirty had passed. It took roughly forty-eight until she stopped, bringing to mind myths of huge caverns in the earth of Centuri. According to legend, they were "large enough to cause a sane man to go mad by looking up". She'd always thought that concept was incredibly neat, if not ridiculous. As the door opened, she found herself getting a little tense just the same.
        She emerged in a completely enclosed metallic hall like the others she'd found, however. Well, nothing to see here... The fast sound of feet thudding against the corridor's floor interrupted the thought. Her hand ghosted quickly over her weapon--but dropped once a form came into view. It was Julian, alright, looking every bit an excited school boy.
        "C'mon!" he motioned for her to follow him back in a leap and a run.
        She found herself amused and appalled. Run? On a ship this technologically advanced, they had to run places? Finally deciding to follow, she was utterly thrilled by the thought having been proven wrong. Just down the hall was what appeared to be a lift like any other--only it was a horizontal mover. What a very nice thing to have around an area so massive. Julian was already inside, having hit one of the buttons. She sped up, darting like a regular track star just inside as the doors closed.
        Her sidekick grinned like a moron, trying to keep his breath under control. Man, he hadn't run in... a long time. A sign to start some physical training again, definitely.
        "What's so damn interesting?" she questioned, feeling a little out of breath herself. Some regular sprinting for her might do some good. No more stairs, though. Never, freaking, again.
        "A really great a view." He responded mysteriously. "I thought you'd appreciate it. We're almost there."
        "This place really is huge." She commented, counting the seconds again.
        "Wait for it." He promised. As they finally came to a stop, he nearly dragged her out the door.
        A few yards before them was an observation deck for the dock. From there were all of the manual panels and emergency systems, but right next to that was a huge window overlooking the entire area. It was immaculate--out that window stretched both of their ships, the Sefirot and the Durago, side by side, with plenty of room to spare. To be standing outside of those huge beasts without light and flare from a station blocking the view... it was completely breath-taking.
        "I told you." Julian whispered, finding himself no less taken by the sight the second time around.
        There was a long, awed silence. The true size of the ship struck, and Jack finally commented, "It's a good thing we have two crews to work on this."
Of course, the downside of this gorgeous view was seeing just how badly both ships needed repair. Come to think of it, maybe they could only afford for one to get the works this time around. Not the most pleasant of thoughts.
        It took a moment for her to realize that her communication device was ringing. Once she did, however, she absolutely knew who it was. "Yes, Pheta?"
        A short silence. "We had better get this ship re-registered before we head to the station."
        "Be right there." She promised the woman, signing off. "Do I still get naming rights?"
        "Depends on what you name it." Julian grinned slightly, turning to walk with her.
        Oh, what the hell. She leaned in closely for just a moment, whispering her idea into his ear.
        His face went blank for a moment. "I know in a sense it's kind of sick... but I like it."
        Jack gave him a proud little smirk. "Well, thank you."

        On the bridge awaited a crowd composed of different running crews, all of which were trying to work out schedules. The work wasn't so bad when you got a leather chair and better controls, after all. When both captains entered, a silence fell over them.
        Jack gave a gleeful little wave, feeling that she really should have been wearing a uniform for this. But, screw that. "For those who don't know or hate me yet, just call me Captain Veis. And this, of course, is the likable Captain DeVierna. But I get to name the ship, so that's all we need to worry about right now."
        Pheta once and for all proved herself to be able to do absolutely anything--she'd found the program panel and what came down to a very fancy reset button. Setting all communications to outgoing, she made sure that everyone on board any and all of the ships would have the audio to this occasion. "Alright. Shut down and restart in three seconds."
        Two, one... Jack counted in her head. All lights flickered off for the fraction of a second, resulting in a complete "reboot" of the ship's systems. On the main screen came the systems checks. The writing was all in Old Russun, terribly hard to make out for the most part. But, it was all in green, so that much was important.
        A surprised look crossed Pheta's features as the next screen came up. "It's asking what language we want the system in."
        Now that was a genuine shock. Asking what language a crew would prefer to use was beyond a mere user-friendly interface. Come to think of it, everything about the ship had been damn user-friendly. It'd been easy to get into, easy to find the panels and files, easy to dock in. It was like a damn crab leaving one seashell for a better one, the one left behind completely free to the next passer-by who stumbled upon it.
        "Well, answer." Captain Veis tried to keep her sense of humor. This was just... creepy. She couldn't shake that feeling, and she wasn't sure she should want to. She rode instinct, and she'd continue to do so... but there was still this... tickle she was getting. And, strangely enough, it had nothing to do with suspicion. It was just... utter creepiness. Like they'd... been expected.
        Pheta set the language, then motioned her captain over. "Time to choose a name."
        Ready and willing, Jack approached. Absolutely astounded, she stared down at the keyboard for a moment. What had once been the almost three hundred pictographs of the Old Russun alphabet was now only twenty-six letters, each of which she recognized. A fully programmable ship... miraculous. She'd never come across anything so... wonderful, before. Slowly, she crafted each letter. Noting her defense commander was peering over her shoulder, she glanced back. "Well?"
        The woman's face was utterly still. "I'll go with that."
        Gee. Thanks. With the tap of the acceptance key, the name was taken into the computer. Instantly, the projection screen lit up with the ship's new registered name.
        Jack saved them the trouble of reading. Hey, what the hell. Might as well make it official, right? "I hereby name this ship, the DarkHorse Vendetta."
        Dull silence met her introduction. But, to her genuine amazement, there was actually and air of... acceptance to it. Well, maybe "acceptance" was too strong a word, but it was close enough.
        "Captain Veis..." Pheta interrupted quietly. The tone of her voice made Julian snap out of his appreciative grin at the reactions of others, turning his full attention over to her. "The ship is asking for codes and clearances. It's completely adjusting itself to a new crew. We don't have to hack anything."
        Again that eerie feeling began to climb up her spine. As if they'd fucking been expected--or someone had, anyway. Why the hell else would such an incredibly advanced ship, housing so much priceless knowledge and who knew what else, be abandoned? This was part of a plan... but of who and for what reason was bothering her deeply. The not knowing would gradually get to her, that was for certain. "I suppose we ought to get that taken care of." She finally suggested.
        "You first, then." The commander invited. "Program a clearance code and a personal authorization number."
        Jack situated herself right in front of the screen--then jerked her hands back. Suddenly everything had gone dark in front of her, only to be replaced with green letters and numbers floating in pure black space. "Holy shit."
        "Personal visual projector ability." Pheta commented to herself, amazed. This was truly fancy stuff. From where she was sitting, both the keyboard and the screen had gone completely black to ensure no one but the person right in front of the tiny projection lenses could see their own code.
        "This is... unbelievable." Captain Veis murmured, passing a hand in front of her eyes. When the beam of the projectors were blocked, she could see her palm--otherwise, it was utterly invisible. "And really freaky." Taking her chance, she inputted her name ("Captain Jack Veis"), then some relatively random bits that she was sure she'd be able to remember. They were letters and numbers that only she could ever really know about, taken from "the old days". Done with both codes, the projection slowly faded back into the "here and now". She was pretty quick to get away from the screen after that. Cool but... too damn creepy.
        Julian was dumbfounded. He'd only heard of such technology, and only in a theoretical sense. He was quick to jump in front of the screen, letting the projection work for him, too. "Hey... there's only space for one captain..."
        He didn't see Jack's grin, but he could feel it. "You can be co-captain."
        "That's not as funny as you think it is." He stated deadpan. "What the hell do you know... there actually is a space for a co-captain..."
        She really couldn't restrain a laugh at that. Jules got the raw end of this deal, alright. She supposed she'd probably owe him for... a long while. Or maybe Commander Girl Wonder would be able to find a way to make them both captains in the eyes of the computer.
        Done with his code input, he blinked several times and rubbed his eyes. "Well, that's my duty for the evening."
        Pheta made a hardly recognizable scoffing sound in her throat, but said nothing. What the hell was she going to do with these two? "Once everyone gets a code input, we'll work on getting to a station."
        "A raise." Jack promised. "And holiday time."
        The commander just shook her head with a very mild grin. "I'll hold you to that. Now you both ought to get something to eat."
        Funny thing about stasis--it somehow suppressed hunger. That's wasn't a good thing when a person is trying to heal, but fucked with the digestive system in a major way. Julian was beginning to agree, however. The effect was slowly wearing off and he'd really like to eat some real food. Seeing as how he was "official co-captain" now... "Thanks, Pheta. Let's go, J-- Captain Veis." Damn he felt weird about that.
        She grinned at his slip, but said nothing. The two of them darted out like excited children to discover the galley.

        There were cafeterias... and there were cafeterias. The DarkHorse's galley was as immense as the rest of the ship. As luck would have it, there was a small kitchen staff there, setting up. Food from both of the smaller ships had just been carried over for storage, so it was really the perfect time. Of course... there was still the slight "blah" feeling that the stasis left. They could probably be presented with real and honest beef steak and not be able to eat it. Not that they could ever afford to worry about that anyway.
        Bread. Fucking bread. And not even real bread. It was a rice and corn combination bread. Definitely a... heavier sort than the wheat. At least it was relatively fresh and edible.
        Of course, as luck, fate or whatever the hell would have it, they didn't get much of a chance for conversation at all. Dr. Carn of all people interrupted in person at their little exclusive table. Jack made the great effort of holding in a sigh at his approach.
        "I'm afraid it's a bit of a severe personal nature." He announced right off.
        Julian and his partner in crime exchanged glances. Well, it was clear the doctor wanted her alone. But, still... Eh, whatever. She wasn't that hungry anyway. "I'll see you later." She promised her official co-captain quietly. No doubt there would be things to talk about.
        Dr. Carn was patiently silent all the way to sickbay. He held a manner of pure seriousness about him, but not in a way that made her feel defensive. And odd combination, indeed. Even on the lift not a word was uttered; not until they'd gotten into the actual hallway. Even then it was only, "If you'll join me in exam room 1."
        Well, that gave her a bad shudder. She could picture some pretty disturbing porno scenarios... but that would just make her giggle, so she tried to wipe the entire thought from her mind. While the door was only partially closed behind them, the fact remained that it was only her and the doc. She let him start.
        "Firstly, about Nex..." his tone was the flattest of the flat. Not a good sign to start off with. "If he doesn't wake up within seventy-two hours... I'm afraid he's not going to wake up at all."
        She took a deep, silent breath between her teeth. "I didn't realize there was a cut-off point."
        For once, Dr. Carn appeared sincerely apologetic. "You have to understand... I didn't either. It was only through the newer brain wave scanners I discovered... well, a time limit." He crossed his arms, looking down all of a sudden. He felt kind of stupid about this, but... "I did have something else to discuss, though."
        Dead serious. He was still being sincere and serious. Now she was worried.
        He continued, hardly oblivious to her reaction. "There is something in a previously hidden room that you might be interested in. It has a lot to do with some of your purchases and reading material." Before she could get defensive, he broke in, "It's got to do with the Tree of Life."
        Instead of continuing with whatever accusations she had planned to throw his way, she stared at him evenly. "Can you tell me, perhaps, what the fuck it is with people suddenly taking an interest in my life and my interests?"
        "You're a charming woman, Captain." He quipped in the best deadpan she had ever witnessed.
        There was an explosion of sound from outside the door, traveling slowly away from it in the direction opposite of where it had first come. When Jack finally realized it was unmistakably Julian's laughter, her face softened a bit. He must have been passing by to "check on her" and decided maybe it wasn't a good time to stop in. She sighed with a little relief, turning back to the doctor. "Alright, so... what about it?"
        "I'd rather show you, if you don't mind."
        She looked him up and down as only an assassin could. That look always made people uncomfortable, but it was necessary for her to get the whole scope of things. She sensed nothing fishy about this--but odd just the same. "Alright."
        He indicated they walk with a turn of his head, and led the way. At the very, very back of sickbay was a long hallway, each side housing two operating rooms. At the very back of the last one on the right was what appeared to be some sort of storage closet. In fact, upon opening it, it housed some pretty expensive equipment. But then there was indeed a curious little catch on the wall itself behind some of the sterile towels. He pulled down on it--the closet itself pulled backward and slowly ran on hidden tracks into the side wall itself.
        She... was utterly astounded. It was like a mystery novel back here. First the almost hidden library, then this secret passage... She followed closely behind into the darkness of the room.
        "I'm not quite sure what activates the lights..." the doctor admitted. "But I did say something along the lines of, 'Holy shit'."
        Some semblance of the "secret words" spoken, the door slid closed behind them with a hiss. Tiny tubes of light fluoresced along the ceiling and floors of a circular room the size of a small bathroom. Only, it certainly was not a mere bathroom--in the center was a lit podium. There were words inscribed on the side that were easily deciphered but not understood: "Ito Okashi".
        The words weren't the centerpiece by a long shot, however. On top of this podium, encircled in what appeared to be glass was... a branch. A tree branch--only it was of glittering silver, supported mid-air. What... the hell?
        Dr. Carn responded to her unspoken question. His usually bored voice was overcome with something resembling awe. "It's... it's like pure, hardened energy. It registers too high on all of the equipment to be measured at all."
        "It's just a branch..." she tried to convince herself more than him. This was much more than a piece of wood just by the look of it. But to believe that... to embrace that idea...
        "It's more." The doctor assured quietly. "It needs nothing. Not the tree it came from, not water, not light, not energy of any sort--it is energy. It even changes shape slowly and almost appears to be growing."
        It was then that the words he'd used to actually get her here hit her. "You're telling me this is a branch of the Tree of Life."
        While the light was quite dim in the room, his nearly embarrassed reaction was clear. "Well, frankly... I think so."
        She... wasn't really sure what to think about this. Let alone where she stood on this whole issue. For years she'd researched the theories behind the Tree of Life, the Sefirot... but coming face to face with a branch of it? "You've got to be fucking kidding me."
        "Well, I'm not, Captain." He assured. "I don't believe it any more than you do on some level, but... the results..."
        Pure energy... She could recall once, in a book that she'd lost a long time ago, a myth in which the dead was fed a leaf of the Tree of Life and came back into the realm of the living. She damn well wished she could remember anything else about that story, but it was enough to go on for now. "Then let's do one more test."
        There was assurance in her voice, he noted. That was a good sign. Maybe she wouldn't throw him into an asylum after all. "And that is?"
        What a stupid, lunatic idea... but no less so than believing a branch of the Tree of Life was housed on a ship, right? "See what happens if Nex were to digest a leaf."
        "He's not getting any better, right? Let's just... see what happens."

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