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

        Chapter 10 - The Difference Between Forever and Eternity

        He felt like he'd been staring at his remaining cube-like piece of bread for hours. It couldn't have been that long, he knew, but... well, it sure felt like it. It was hard enough to have eaten the rest of his meal. But that little cube was just mocking him, daring him to try and finish it. He didn't even want to. His stomach still felt volatile, and the rest of the bread hadn't done anything good for him.
        So, he reached out and quickly crushed the cube underneath his fist. The sound made a couple of the kitchen attendants jump, but no one came over. Good for them.
        He looked up suddenly, seeing movement. Apparently Jack had been the sole witness to his crime.
        She didn't let him utter a word before she announced, quickly, "First, let's find out where our quarters are. Then, I've got so much to tell you."

        They were already out in the hall before Julian had the chance to inquire. "What?"
        "Wait until we've gotten to a safe quarters." She responded cryptically enough. She pulled out her communication device as they rounded the corner, paging the bridge and knowing damn well who would answer.
        "Where are our quarters, Pheta?"
        A short pause. "In the 'Captain's Hall', apparently. Are you in a lift?"
        "Just a second." She ducked into the first lift door that opened for her, pulling her companion in after. "Okay."
        "It's on deck 13, front section." As she talked, Jack located the area on the map "You'll need your code to get out there."
        "Thank you, Pheta." Jack said sweetly, ready to hang up.
        "And, Captain..." the woman added. "Nothing from either of your quarters has been moved in yet. But there appear to be clean cots in every room."
        Amazing. An abandoned ship with all amenities and clean beds. Weird. "A raise."
        "And vacation time." Pheta agreed before finally hanging up.
        Julian was getting understandably antsy about all of this waiting. It was concerning, to say the least. "Is this something that might kill us? Because, if it is..."
        "No." She assured him. "At least, I don't think so."
        His expression was utterly blank, as was his tone. "Nice to know."
        She grinned slightly at his reaction. "I promise that it will be worth the wait. We just need some privacy, first."
        Still concerning. He thought, but kept closely to himself. Maybe she knew exactly what she was talking about. Maybe not.
        The panel inside the lift chimed quietly, indicating an input screen. "Turn around." She joked, already typing her code on the miniature keypad appearing on screen.
        Even if he had been paying attention, there was no way he could have followed her fingers. It was clear she was used to this code business... When the chime sounded again, he took his turn, a little glad to see Jack turned away and ready to head right out he door. It was almost embarrassing to type that slowly after her display. A slightly higher pitch chime sounded when he was done, the doors opening onto an amazing sight.
        The Captain's Hall actually seemed to have been designed for "captain and guest"; to one side of a large, open hallway was the official captain's quarters--but it was mirrored on the other side. Strangely perfect for two captains. According to specs, each quarters contained a large front room, separate (working) kitchen, dining room, bedroom, bathroom (that actually did not bring about claustrophobia), and an "office area".
        But that was not what drew them in. Either of them would have been perfectly content with crew or guest quarters--given that they were separated from everyone else in singles, of course. It was this grand structure right in front of them, the focal point of the hallway, that drew their eyes from the very second the lift doors opened--a giant circular window between the two rooms. It peered out into space like a giant eye, situated deeply enough into the outside wall so that one had plenty of room to sit on the sill and look out. It was... absolutely awesome.
        "This is definitely where I want to live." Julian commented.
        "Very nice." Jack added. Granted she had much to discuss, but... she just had to walk up and look out that window for a moment. It was really and truly beyond amazing. "Which room do you want?" she breathed, distracted from her own question by the view.
        "Uh..." he stepped back and looked from side to side, pondering. "The left one."
        That struck her curiosity. "Any reason?"
        "Well, when I get drunk I tend to stagger to the left. So at least I'll find my way home alright."
        She found that more than quite amusing. And good to know, besides. When the chuckling had receded enough, she indicated that they go ahead and enter his indicated room.
        The actual quarters themselves weren't drab gray, as the rest of the ship--they were not only of warm and earthy rust color, but had lush carpet as well. That was just nice. Almost homey feeling. The lighting was also absolutely wonderful, looking not a bit like the fake neon effect of the halls. They situated themselves in the office area, containing a simple flat desk, built-in keyboard and screen, and two chairs. Just perfect for conversation, really.
        "Okay." Julian started, sitting down.
        She took a quick moment to sweep the room with her eyes, finding no devices of any sort that may be recording or broadcasting their conversation. She was pretty well practiced at that, but just in case, she took a second look under the table. "Okay." She finally responded with a nod, seating herself. "I know how this sounds, but take it one step at a time."
        He folded his hands with a grin. This sounded... interesting.
        "Dr. Carn believes he has a brach of the Tree of Life in a secret room in sickbay."
        No reaction. Not at first. The gears had come to a bit of a halt. They finally did pick up again, slowly, recalling the old reading material his partner in crime used to own. "A branch... of the Tree of Life... Uh, proof?"
        "He's working on that part." She admitted, sitting back. "Hell, I'm not even sure if I believe it. But... it's one hell of a branch. Weird silver glittery stuff. Doc insists the energy readings are off the scale, and it doesn't need anything outside of itself to survive. It's been there a while, I think."
        "Wow." He commented openly. "Suppose that it actually is what he says it is. That would be... amazing. And not entirely surprising, given the library."
        "And that makes it very exciting." She agreed. "But where the hell does a Tree of Life take root in the vastness of the universe?"
        He sat back, mind racing, curiosity whetted. "Or, does it? I mean... the Multiverse Theory... maybe someone, or something, turned the great Mobius Strip that is reality. Maybe the branch fell through a gap."
        Silence. And then, tentatively, she responded, "You just blew my poor little mind, Jules."
        He looked proud and amused at that. "I mean... natural wormholes could exist through more than just our space-time... and if so, maybe that just goes to show that there is something to the Mobius theory... Hell, I'm on a roll, here. Paper!"
        Jack chuckled, tapping the tabletop for the keyboard and screen to come up. She waited with utter and extreme patience as his fingers flew over the keys. About ten minutes elapsed before he stopped, peering at her from over the screen. "You understand I can't even show this to anyone."
        "Certainly not." She agreed. "At least not yet. Too dangerous. Everyone will want a piece."
        "I wonder... I wonder if that's why everyone on this ship disappeared. Or if there's any sort of connection." He thought out loud, his voice getting very quiet.
        "I wouldn't doubt it." She admitted. "That's what's giving me the chills. And why I wanted us to discuss this only in private."
        "Are we sure this is 'private'?" the worry started to intervene.
        "That's a concern of mine, too." She took another scan of the room. "With this technology, I'm not even sure I'd recognize a bug."
        "Is it even safe to save this information on the computer system?" he gazed at the screen, hating to have to lose all that time and effort he'd put into writing.
        She only answered by holding her index finger up, indicating he wait a moment. She leaned down and appeared to be removing something from her sock or pant leg, then sat back up, tossing something small across the table at him.
        A data chip. Mini diskette. He stared at her for a moment before inserting it into the side port. "Prepared for anything, huh?"
        "I try."
        He remembered how much he rather enjoyed conversation with her. Shaking his head jokingly, he saved the data and pulled the disk out. "And which one of us ought to be keeping this?"
        "Which ever." She leaned back, getting comfortable. "As long as one of us has it, really."
        He nodded, considering his options. "Maybe you ought to take it, then. I'll just lose it."
        She made a scoffing sound in her throat, but was only glad to hold the responsibility. Things were looking up again, philosophy-wise. It was nice.         Dangerous, granted, but... nice. She missed her books, dammit. Of course, between this crap and the library, there was nothing to miss.
        "Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it?" he asked mostly himself, pressing the keyboard and screen back into the table. "The theory of a creator, or a higher power in general. Why would they create such a thing?"
        "Maybe the Tree is the Creator." She suggested with a shrug.
        Ah, he could feel a headache coming on already. "But it's a tree."
        She grinned. "Hey, we don't know what trees are capable of."
        He crossed his arms, trying to get her to be serious for a moment. "But if there is one ultimate Creator..."
        "Then all creations must have a Creator." She finished quietly.
        "And then it just... goes on forever."
        He stopped dead. "What's the difference?"
        "Just mental, really. Defined by man. Metaphysical." She was struggling to find the proper words to describe her thoughts. "Forever is for ever. Ever ends. Eternity doesn't. It's the stream beyond time."
        "Ow, my head." He tried to clear the thoughts that were causing him pain, taking another shot at this. "Alright. So each Creator is created by another Creator. It never ends. Infinite. What sense does that make to never end?"
        "If something never began in the first place, then it won't end, either." She suggested.
        "Ow, again. What?"
        "If the universe is infinite, there was never a beginning. The Mobius Strip, remember? Who are we, as tiny little bits of carbon-based feces in the grand scheme of things, to say something ever has to begin or end? Our very concept of time could be completely nonexistent to other entities."
        He was struck silent for quite a while. "I see your point."
        "Good." She sighed. "Because now my head hurts, too."
        He smiled slightly, impressed with himself for returning her favor. "What's your personal theory?"
        "You really want to know what I think?" she grinned.
        "Of course. Now I'm very curious."
        "Fine." She sat forward a little bit. "My best theory: 'god' jerked off, came in his hand, wiped it on a sheet, and--splurt--here we are."
        After the tears of laughter were at last removed from his eyes, he took a deep and steadying breath. "I like that. Jack's Theory of the Universe: God Came. And where does the Tree of Life come in, in your version?"
        "Some gunk caught between 'his' teeth. Maybe everything came together in the washing machine or something."
        He chuckled at her overall outlook. "You realize, of course, how disturbed you are."
        "You're here to remind me, Jules." She was just about to add some sarcastic remark to her theory when her communication device went off. She shrugged and answered it, not seeing any reason she shouldn't. "Yeah?"
        "Captain. It's Dr. Carn."
        Oh boy. "Yes..?"
        "Well... Nex is awake."
        Her heart skipped a little. Was that... did that mean that... "As in, alive?"
        "Yes. He's... he's asking for you, Captain Veis."
        Her eyes widened immensely. He was alive? Awake? Coherent? "Okay. I'll be there in a couple of minutes."
        Julian was looking at her intently, even as she hung up. She met his eyes and took a moment to still her breath. There was nothing to say about that, really.
        "Well, that's good..." he prodded. It was good news, but that didn't explain her reaction exactly.
        "I think it may be the proof we wanted."
        He stared at her, instantly getting the gist of what she was really saying. "You are dangerous when you're not being watched."
        "I know. Would you like to follow?"
        "Oh, I wouldn't want to... get in the way."
        "Not to worry. I've got other plans for you." She grinned.

        Upon entering the more or less abandoned sickbay, Dr. Carn looked up from his paperwork with a slightly startled expression. He was well aware that the captains were friends, but he hadn't assumed that Captain Veis would be willing to bring anyone else into this. He supposed she knew where she was going with her decision, however. "He's in Recovery 1. Just down the hall."
        The partners in crime made brief eye contact. It was simply agreed upon. Julian would stay and grill the doc, Jack would go in and see. That was that, easily.
        She passed a couple of unmarked rooms, mostly containing supplies that hadn't been put away yet. Another small twist in the relatively narrow hallway and she came to the one marked "Recovery 1". Taking a breath, she opened the door--pausing before stepping in. This would be a little weird all around. Hopefully, though... hopefully everything was okay. She was still quite familiar with science fiction, after all. Her whole existence was damn well bordering on a cheap novel.
        Quietly she stepped inside, closing and locking the door after her. It smelled of a hospital room, alright. Not that such was a bad thing, for a hospital. (It was a much nicer area than the Sefirot had offered, that was for sure.) The lights were dimmed, and there was the cautious, subtle blipping of medical monitoring devices. Kinda creepy, actually.
        "Captain." Nex greeted quietly from the bed a couple of feet from the door. His voice sounded terribly odd since it had been unused for so long. Not to mention his throat being dry, but that discomfort was the least of them at the moment.
        She was utterly thrilled to see him awake and intact. He looked a bit sickly, true, but he was alive. "How goes it, Nex?"
        He tried to laugh. It hurt too much, though. His head was aching and the room was spinning a little, but he just needed to assure himself he reality was... there. "Kind of shitty. But I think... I'll make it."
        "Did you see 'the light'?" she tried to pick up his mood.
        "No. It's still pretty dark, in fact."
        She snorted softly with amusement. "Well, get some rest. It'll be alright."
        "You're okay?" he asked with a worried sincerity.
        "Yes, you stupid boy." She joked gently. "I guess I sort of owe that to you."
        "What happened?" It was hard to speak, but he had to know.
        She sighed, not exactly wanting to tell him. "Well, a lot of people died. But we've pulled through. Long story short, everyone is doing very well now. But I promise I'll get you filled in after you're better."
        He nodded, feeling drowsy already. "And the ship... the Sefirot's okay?"
        "Perfectly." She assured.
        He sighed, feeling himself breathing a bit easier already. "Okay. Good."
        "Just get some rest." She suggested.
        "Not a problem, Captain."

        She got curious glimpses from both gentlemen when she stepped back into the main portion of sickbay so quickly. What they'd expected, she didn't know. Nor cared to, she assumed. "He's coherent, alright. Remembers what happened before he got knocked to hell."
        "I think he just needs rest." Dr. Carn suggested, placing Nex's file back into a slot in the front desk. "It's... quite the miracle, I think." He had both sets of captain's eyes on him, prodding. With a sigh, he sat back and offered up all information. "I made a serum with a single leaf. Almost as soon as I'd injected it, his eyes fluttered open. It took a few more minutes for him to regain consciousness, but the experiment was obviously successful."
        Jack was careful to make her glance at Julian as subtle as possible. He'd caught it, as she'd intended--but shrugged. He'd gotten no information out of the guy at all in her absence. Granted it had been short, but the doc just wouldn't drop anything. So it was her turn. "And more experiments..?"
        The doctor nodded, getting up and indicating that they follow. They went down the hall after him, once more witnessing the room with the hidden chamber. He pulled the switch and stood back, allowing them first access.
        "Go ahead." Jack invited. "But you have to say the secret words."
        Julian stared at her for a moment. "Which are..?"
        "'Holy shit'." She grinned--but not enough to have indicated the words a joke in themselves.
        He was... uncertain. A little creeped out already, in fact. But he was quite excited, too; he ultimately decided that he'd take her advice and go first. As for the secret words... well, the only thing he saw inside was darkness with little sparkles of light coming from somewhere in front of him. So, he said it with all the conviction he could muster. "Holy shit."
        Instantly the door closed, the lights flickered on, and he was hit with the... unique beauty of the thing. He hadn't expected that. He'd thought perhaps it would look like a branch from a shrub, or maybe a sickly little twig. At most he'd though it would look like any normal foliage--not glittering silver. Not as utterly beautiful as it was. "Wow."
        "Hell yes." The other captain agreed, right behind him.
        Dr. Carn cleared his throat. "I have been trying to get any sort of energy reading on it at all. But the medical facility isn't equipped to handle this thing. So, I got a radiation detector."
        "The engineers aren't going to like that." Julian commented quietly. They were very touchy about their equipment, not to mention their radtecs. How else would they know what was safe to fiddle with or not, after all?
        "Hopefully they won't find out." The doctor continued, picking up the object from the floor at his side. "You've got to see this." He flipped the switch on the side, adjusting the knob to pick up all forms of radiation. Instantly there was a tone coming from the device itself. It was almost like a harpsichord note, long and surprisingly... well, pretty.
        Captain Veis could feel her jaw unhinging a little bit. "I didn't know radtecs made noises..."
        "They don't." The doc delivered quietly. "At least, not anywhere else, at any other time. But look at the screen." He turned the device to let them have a look at the waves. It was... pure. Unmoving. Unwavering. And then he moved it just a touch closer to the branch--the tone changed to a higher note, just as lovely in quality as before--but the waves on the display changed with it, peaking a little sharper, a little higher. He even went so far as to bring the device up to within a foot of the glass.
        Now that changed things. They could actually see whatever clear substance was encasing the branch begin to tremble and ripple with the sound. In fact, the sound was... well, it was music. Pure and simple. Note after note, differing in tone and tempo, but perfectly suited unto itself and within tune. The waves spiked with each note as though it were reading an unknown language of transcribed music.
        He dared going even farther to show them what he'd seen mere moments previous. As the radtec touched the glass, the branch itself began to emit light. The screen that was previously rippling with music waves completely blanked out to the same glowing white light. And the sound... it was like organs, the voices of angels, the very tone of--
        Life itself. Jack shivered, more than glad when the doctor turned the device off before it overheated. It was already getting too hot for him to keep a hold on. He did what he could not to let it freefall to the floor, but it wound up landing with a metallic thud anyway.
        "Holy fuck." Julian commented naturally.
        "My thoughts exactly." Dr. Carn added. "It's all the 'proof' I can come up with so far. I don't think there's any device within our means that can measure this on any level." He turned a curious eye to his own captain, strangely having had nothing to say.
        She continued to be quiet for several seconds, just taking it all in. The phrase "does not compute" came up. Funny considering Julian was supposed to be "cyborg boy". When a thought finally did form, it was only phrasing the question on all of their minds. "What the hell do we do now?"
        The doctor shook his head, turning back to the silvery branch. "I suppose that depends on how much responsibility the two of you want to take."
        Julian saw Jack's internal reaction. To her credit, it really didn't show much on the outside. But he was... well, relatively close to her. He could just sense it, the bitterness she tasted in the doctor's wording. The doc hadn't meant it that way (he was pretty sure, anyway), but it still touched upon old nerves. It was a small pause, also to her credit, but a noticeable one. "I hope you understand that we'll both need a little time to figure this out."
        "Of course." Dr. Carn agreed. "Let me know at your convenience."

        In the lift away from sickbay, Julian wasn't sure if he ought to say anything. What the hell would have been appropriate, anyway? It wasn't like Jack was your "typical woman", so any attempt at discussing feelings would have been met with a brick wall at best. Not that he minded, honestly. But he felt like he should say something. The silence was almost agonizing.
        She spoke instinctively first, if only to prevent a conversation like that from happening. "Would you mind taking over the bridge for the rest of the day?" She didn't bother waiting for a response before touching the lit-up map to give it directions.
        What a question. Though he couldn't really leap at it with as much enthusiasm as he normally would have had. "Sure. No problem." He'd like to play with all of the cool buttons and the leather seats, anyway.
        She nodded, feeling a little bit bad for asking. Really she'd love to go play around on the shiny new bridge with him, but... she wasn't really in the mood at the moment. She hoped he'd understand without thinking her a universal bitch. Not that she wasn't exactly that, but she didn't want him to think so at that point in time. "Thanks." She murmured as the lift stopped at the Captain's Hall, waiting for her code. She just needed... some away time to regain herself.
        "See you later." He offered--instantly thinking that having said that was kind of stupid. Ah well.
        She nodded, stepping out as the door opened.

        Having put in a couple of quality hours on the new bridge was quite good for him, actually. He got to know the running crew, and even gained a touch of favor from Pheta. That was a good thing, he realized. If she liked someone, life got a little better, not to mention easier. He hoped very much that she liked him.
        He yawned as the lift stopped, lazily typing in his code for the Captain's Hall. It wasn't all that late, really, but he was tired. He couldn't help but be, after the mere possibilities of thought he'd encountered earlier that day. The branch was just the frosting on the mind-blowing philosophical conversation of a cake...
        "Jack?" he called quietly as his eyes locked on to a form in the window. He'd started at first--then realized it was her, laying there in the bottom left bit of that giant round window sill, looking out.
        A curious picture. She didn't even seem to have heard him approach. So, he invited himself over to the right side of the window and sat across from her.
        For a few seconds, she simply continued to gaze outside. So close to the end of her life, in a sense... all it would take was a sharp enough fleck of debris coming at them to cause the whole window to collapse, sending them into the vastness of the vacuum outside. Strange thought to be having, for her.         "Strange days." She said, mostly to herself.
        "Yeah." He agreed softly, growing concerned. She wasn't exactly acting like herself.
        But then she didn't really feel like herself, either. She had a small cup of scotch in her hand that hadn't been touched, even two hours later. "Things are going too well, Jules." She warned, half seriously, finally looking over at him. There was a grin on her lips but it didn't reflect in her eyes. "Something is going to happen."
        It was truly amusing, to a point. "You shouldn't think like that."
        "Mmm." Was all she had to respond with.
        "Thinking about Ki'ehr, huh?" he ventured a guess. It was pretty accurate, though, by the way she didn't answer immediately.
        "And more." She sighed after a while, putting the glass down on the floor below her. Alcohol just didn't do that much for her, anymore. Not since she and Jules had slept on the same couch together. It was a silly thought, anyway; they'd discovered a branch of the Tree of Life, which worked, and she was trying to drown out old things that didn't even have any significance at all in the "grand scheme of things", in the intricacies of the universe. Just silly. Maybe it was silly to dwell on either side, though.
        "No one knows." He whispered, intended to be a question.
        "No one knows." She repeated, matching his tone. No one even knew her first name until Julian had spouted it. How different, yet similar the stars look from the sky itself, she thought. "And no one knows about you, either. Well... no one that would be listened to." She let herself joke a little.
        "Yeah." He really couldn't think of anything better to say just then... but he felt he had to say something. "Past is past, though... right? We shouldn't dwell and make ourselves crazy."
        "Too many other things to go insane from." She agreed, looking over at him again. It was his turn to stare out the window, oblivious to her for a moment before she began speaking again. "Many things about this whole situation bother me. It's like... parts have blurred past, and I've missed something. Gotten left behind. I don't like that."
        A cold chill ran through his back and over his spine at those words. It felt as if she were... exposing her soul to him for a split second in time. It was covered, armored and contained an instant later, but... it had been there. He'd swear to it. There was a long and slowly passing silence.
        "It brings about sociopathic thought." She commented offhand.
        Well that sure as hell brought down the silence barrier with a bang. "How so?"
        She lazily waved a hand, dismissively. "The whole 'are we real' debate. Dream within a dream, within the eyes of 'god'."
        "Aaah." He felt a little more at ease, understanding. "I wonder what qualifies as 'real'."
        "I wonder why you stick around for the headaches." She grinned; really, that time.
        It was nice to see. Not to mention a real tension breaker. "Definitely emotionally masochistic."
        She folded her hands over her abdomen and stared out at the eternal night. It... really was pretty, if you took the time to look. Almost relaxing, even.
        If I had any balls at all, I'd be kissing her right now. The thought was sudden and uncharacteristic--that much he understood right away--but he couldn't help thinking it. It wasn't as if he exactly thought of her that way, but... well, he couldn't deny that he wouldn't mind that thought roaming a little further. He was pretty sure he'd get his hands blown off for roaming, however. Should he even be venturing into such territory when he'd seen what had happened to her last love interest? Granted that William fellow had deserved what he'd gotten, but...
        "You ever have a long-term relationship, Jules?" she asked quietly, completely out of the blue.
        He felt... pale. She couldn't be picking up on his thoughts, could she? Of course not, what a ridiculous idea. Still... "No." He admitted. "I found out that they were... uh..."
        "Too much trouble?" she finished for him jokingly.
        "Something like that." He agreed, feeling a bit more relaxed than he had a moment ago. "Why?"
        "Just curious."
        "What about you?" he couldn't help it. He did kind of want to know, after all.
        "Long term?" she laughed shortly. "No. Ki was the closest thing."
        Was she... signaling him? No, she didn't work like that. She wasn't a typical woman in any sense, he reminded himself again--least of all playing those kinds of mind games. It was almost a shame, actually. That may have given him the balls to act.
        Let's be realistic, here. He reminded himself, shaking out of it. They worked well together the way they were. Did he really want to risk fucking that up? Especially with something messy like that... they didn't have romance. Not really. Not what one would consider typical romance.
        "Better get some sleep." She announced quietly.
        He looked at her for a long, silent moment. Yeah, he'd like to have her. Not to claim her, not to drag her along on a length of chain... just to have her. Not for some great romantic reason, or a happy ending with a castle--just because... around her, he felt so... No. She just wasn't that kind of girl. He was kidding himself to think that, even should he have the balls, she'd respond to his advances. "Guess so."
        She let a silent sigh of relief pass her lips as she shifted to stand up, fully uninebriated. She'd had a gut instinct that his thoughts were headed toward something very personal. Very protected. She was in no condition to be discussing such things, no matter what they were. She didn't want to be rude about it, nor thrust him away from her, but if it would have persisted, she probably would have done so. She looked down at the scotch, feeling absolutely nothing for it. How odd.
        He followed her eyes, taking a glance at what she was staring at. "Aren't you going to..?"
        "No." She answered honestly, almost surprised at her own response. "Take it if you want it."
        "Not really." I could use it right now, though...
        She carefully ran a tired hand over the back of her head, straightening the hair that had been mussed by laying down. For a moment she regarded the glass, imagining throwing it out the window. It was kind of funny in a sick sort of way. Instead, she kneeled and picked it up with no clear plans as to what would happen to the liquid. "Well then. Good night, Jules."
        "Night, Jack." He did his best to grin like a madman. After he clearly witnessed the door to her quarters shut, he turned and stared back out the window. He wished very much she'd left the scotch, as he thought he'd probably be there for a while.

        Truth be told, sleeping on the foreign cot wasn't hardly as uncomfortable as she'd thought. She'd had to sleep with her Spectre at her side, which caused a little bit of a muscle cramp, but nothing major. Of course, she realized as she wandered into the bathroom, she had no towel or a set of clean clothes with her. Not pleasant. She wasn't about to show up on the bridge unshowered. And not with slightly spiked hair. Granted her usual messy, pulled-back style hid most of it, but not all.
        With a sigh, she got her boots on to make the journey all the way to the Sefirot just to get some of her necessary possessions. Upon opening the door, however, a fantastic sight met her eyes. She'd shivered at first with the familiarity of it all, but that was abruptly ended by reading the note. Pheta's handwriting was utterly gorgeous, as though she'd studied calligraphy somewhere. It read, "Captain DeVierna gave me code clearance for this deck, so I thought I'd return the favor. You owe me double vacation time now, agreed?" Underneath the note was a small, neatly wrapped parcel containing two sets of clean clothes, a towel, and some bathroom amenities.
        Jack honestly couldn't help but smile at all of this. It was so different from her... previous experience with this sort of thing. She'd promise Pheta her first born. The joke being on Pheta, of course.
        The shower was nice. And warm. And... clean. She wouldn't have been able to stand the thought of using someone else's shower, but... it really was clean. So weird. The rooms were spotless, the beds, the bathrooms--it was like a big flying hotel, just waiting for someone. Fuckin' creepy.
        Also not something to think about at that time in the morning. She dressed and went into the kitchen for a look around. It was quite nice, actually; there was a surprising amount of cabinet space, not to mention a working oven and stovetop. Pretty much nothing else, though. No cups, no dishes, no silverware... not that it mattered too much, really. She was planning on going into the galley for a quick fix of... something. Not much planned for the day as far as she was concerned.
        It was the moment that thought had settled into her head that the comm beeped. She was pretty much ready to accept horrible news by the time she located a panel--in the kitchen, surprisingly. In fact, taking a quick glance into the other rooms, there were little comm panels in every one. How nice. They weren't the large, ugly, obvious kind, either. Just little bits of slightly bulging wall space with little green lights and buttons.
        With a deep breath, she opened the floodgates. "Yes?"
        "Up and running, Captain?" Julian's amused voice greeted.
        "Almost running." The fact that it appeared things were still going well was starting to scare her.
        "I'm in the lift on the way there right now." He seemed somewhat... excited, really. Playing with technology and all--he'd just found out how to contact her via any given comm panel. "Uh, wait for me."
        "Will do." She promised, unable to help giving in to the humor. He seemed... himself. Alright. Happy. How strange. She was sure something bad would have happened by then...
        No matter. She finished dressing with boots and jacket, then... got ready to wait. She was starting to think he had "plans" to be so giddy so early. Or had just discovered something really cool on the bridge. Either way, she was up for it. Probably.
        The chime rang at the door. It was a good chime--not quite a doorbell, not an annoying buzz. She answered, waiting for hell to break loose. It... didn't. Instead, it asked of her, "Ready?"
        Puzzlement. "For what?"
        A slightly apologetic look came over Julian for a moment. "That's what I came in to tell you last night. Didn't get around to it, but, anyway. We'll be at a station in under an hour. Pheta's getting crews together to man the smaller ships so we can get those repaired without bringing the DarkHorse too close. Want to come?"
        What a strange question. "I thought that was a given. I mean, I have to haggle and everything..."
        "No, don't worry about that. I'll do it." He offered all too freely.
        She couldn't help but grin, openly and quite amused. "You?"
        "Yes. It's not that hard to believe." He tried his best to be assertive. "I can be effective! Give me a chance!"
        Well, at least he'd made her feel a little better. As to whether or not that would continue if she left him to his own devices in a station... "Okay, okay. Thanks, Jules."

        With just enough time to grab breakfast, they dropped by the galley. Most things were set up and ready, but that didn't exactly enhance the quality of the food. They each received something resembling potato. It was too puffy and crumbly to have been actual hash browns, but... it looked the part. Hey, it was food. And, ignoring common sense, they even ate it.
        They parted ways for the time being, each going to their own previous ship. It was quite nice to be on the Sefirot again, surprisingly. Sure the seats were torn up and nowhere near leather, but... it was still kinda homey. She sent authorization to divert all funds to the Durago under Pheta's watchful eye, getting Julian good and ready to purchase... stuff. When most of their unnecessary things were sold off, all in all they should be able to afford most parts they needed. And maybe even some small extras for the crew. They'd earned it. And there was the matter of Pheta's raise, of course.
        The DarkHorse itself was under a standard running crew, keeping well outside the range of the station scanners. No one needed to know they were there, after all. As far as anyone was concerned, these were just two random ships looking for repairs before wandering back into space. As long as the DarkHorse stayed out of range and in a relatively unused sector, things should go smoothly.
        Jack responded to an incoming message from the Durago. It was Julian, of course. "Where are you headed?"
        She checked the read-outs. "Dock five-twenty, looks like."
        "Alright." He answered, setting that into his memory should he need to know. "We're in five-fifty. I guess we meet up when we meet up."
        "Sounds good." Captain Veis agreed. At disconnect, she winced a little with the rough treatment the dock was giving the poor ship. The stabilizers were shot to hell, too. Great. Just great.

        She walked through the streets of the station alone, seeing as how someone else had offered to haggle for a price in her place. Everyone else, well... they were doing whatever they normally did, so she was taking some time out to wander a station she'd never been in. Especially the more seedy area. Hey, she had her Spectre. It's all she needed, just in case. The dark underbelly was much more entertaining than the tourist attractions.
        Every bar and strip joint she passed made her want to sigh. She wasn't sure how many extras they'd be able to afford, given the repair needs. They made no money. They were a freaking pirate ship, really. What was sold was immediately put to use for food, medical supplies and work on the ship itself. It was disturbingly completely possible for only one ship to have a completely working canon if the crew was to indulge, even a little bit. And nothing fancy, either; just a little meat, some bread, and some booze. It sucked not to be employed by a federation of some sort. But, obviously, she couldn't really afford to deal with the consequences of that one.
        Thought and motion stopped the instant she saw the haggard "building". It was the seediest bar she'd ever seen in her life, and that really was saying quite a bit. With a smirk, she accepted a nonexistent challenge of surviving that one, too.
        It was a sincere wonder that the door hadn't been boarded up. With a look around, it had been destroyed and left behind quite a bit earlier. Tables and chairs lay in half charred splinters all over the floor, and part of the bar had been blasted clean away. Yeah, it brought back some memories.
        Motion. Of all things, in all places--someone was trying to hide behind the counter. She smirked, taking a few slow steps up to give them plenty of time to understand they weren't alone. Hey, what the hell. She was feeling... dangerous. In fact, she slammed her hand down on the bar and mockingly called, "Barkeep!"
        There was a young thing behind that counter, slowly rising. He looked about as young as Nex, though taller. Larger, more built, more mass in a muscular way--but still, very young. And very much meaning to be there, by the look of things. That last thought already had her on edge. When he began to reach for his belt, she pulled her prized weapon.
        Immediately the young man raised both hands with a wry grin on his face. He was... daring her.
        Well. Interesting. All balls, no brains. Or maybe neither. Only one way to find out. Spectre cocked and ready for action, she asked a single question. "Do you know who I am, mother fucker?"
        He responded immediately with a very bored, matter-of-fact look about him. He even dared to drop his hand enough to take out a bottle from behind the counter, already opened and looking to have been in his hand before. "Jacqueline, of the Candur Orphanage. Product of a one night stand and a too-young mother. Expert with a perfectly preserved Spectre .45. Former personal bodyguard of Lady Astrid, deceased Lady of Virtue. Still listed as         Captain (no first name) Veis of the ship The Sefirot, but recently found the DarkHorse Nedalda and renamed it something far more suiting. Now, is that who you are?"
        Her tongue was too dry to let her swallow, her throat aching with the sudden lack of moisture. Regardless, she attempted in a casual voice, "And you are?"
        "Is that a 'yes'?" he grinned knowingly. "'Bounty hunter' for the Pordethre government. Seems like they learned a thing or two from Old Centuri, eh?" He toasted to himself, taking a small swallow of whatever amber liquid was in the bottle.
        Still she would not lower her weapon; but she wasn't planning on shooting it just yet, either. "Whose bounty are you after?"
        "The cyborg's. The one you're constantly around." He responded as casually as if they'd just shared a night together.
        The moisture still wasn't returning to her mouth. She paused for a moment more, thumb barely but nervously stroking the side of the Spectre. No reaction she could think of seemed... proper, given the situation. "Water."
        "Excuse me?"
        "Water." She repeated, still aimed true. "Glass of water."
        "Or you'll blow my head off?" he chuckled pleasantly. "Okay, water."
        She watched carefully as the water came directly from the tap, from a clean cup in the cabinet on the back wall. It didn't matter if it contained poison at that point, she figured. She could usually smell or taste it. If not... well, she had a damn fine medical team. She hoped. She waited until the cup was out of his hands and on her side of the counter before she reached for it, never dropping the muzzle an inch. "You're too young to be a bounty hunter."
        "Well isn't that the pot calling the kettle a water-holding vessel." He remarked evenly.
        "Haven't heard that one before." Several deep, quiet breaths over the side of the cup, and nothing. Only water. Not great water, but not the worst. At least it was clear.
        "I just thought of it."
        "You're not quite right, are ya?" she allowed herself a mild grin. If he was lying, then he was lying, and she'd see to it that he was the one who'd die when their conversation was over. If he was telling the truth, he'd have no use for her but to follow her. Not kill her. Not unless he was a real moron. Hey, cheers. She swallowed a mouthful, then set the glass back on the counter.
        "You may be surprised by how often peop--"
        She cut him off completely with the slightest shift in her fingers. He'd seen the trigger get a little more snug in her grip, had seen it move in just a touch, the muscles in her hand jumping. Just as she'd counted on--of course, that rather unfortunately meant he was versed in the same sort of shit she was, back in her corporate assassin days. Method of minds probably wouldn't work here. Honesty all the way. "What do you know about Pordethre intentions?"
        "I don't." He sighed quietly, knowing he'd just made the terrible mistake of having the crap scared out of him. Oh well, he'd have to practice that later. "All I know is that I get paid by the day." He consoled himself with another burning swallow.
        "How did you get a hold of my information, Slick?" she wasn't about to give up just yet.
        "How did you know my name was Slick?" he joked, his true level of intoxication showing through. "Pordethre logs. They've got extensive ones on all high risk threats. And I am a bounty hunter for them."
        "Hm." She commented quietly. Well, just one way to go about this one, then. In an almost nonexistent flash of movement, she fired.
        The bullet exploded with a deafening crack! and a burning heat just above his right shoulder. His eyes went wide and he turned to run the fuck out of the place--only succeeding in slamming into the side cabinet and knocking himself cold.
        Jack put the Spectre back in its respective place and went about walking around the side, avoiding the cabinets, and shouldering the dead weight. Yeah, he might have a tracer or two. But Pheta would figure that out for sure on the Sefirot. She may enjoy watching that process.

Content copyright Orin Drake 2011.
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