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

        Chapter 11 - Can't Go Home Again When There's No Home to Go to

        It was a good thing she had a damn good memory. After the events of the morning, it already seemed like the day was about three hours too long.         No matter--she had to find Julian and let him know of the situation. Actually getting to Dock 5:50 was easier said than done, however. The closer you got to the actual docks, the more merchants were trying to gain your attention. She was about to shoot off her Spectre to scare a crowd of them away when she located the proper number just ahead; so she dodged and ran for it. Not her proudest moment, perhaps, but who the hell would see and/or care?
        Reaching the quiet safety inside the dock itself, she ignored the workmen manning the machinery to go straight out the tunnel and into the Durago itself. No one stopped or bothered to question her--they must have read her impatience with all people in general at that point in time. From what she could see from the semi-transparent connecting tunnel, the ship was looking quite a bit better. Hell, the cannon looked like it might actually fire. Whether or not looks were deceiving...
        Inside the Durago, she paused to ponder where its captain might be. The bridge was likely, but not too much so--it's not like a "parked" ship needed a captain at the helm. Therefore, she assumed he'd be in his quarters packing. A quick consultation of the main map just outside of the equipment hall, and she was headed in the proper direction.

        He really didn't have a lot of stuff. But all of it together suddenly seemed very heavy in a box. He didn't collect much of anything, not to mention that he could hardly afford the things he'd have liked to collect, so it all boiled down to one box. One big, heavy box. He actually felt quite relieved when a buzz sounded at the door; it signaled a little extra help, whether they knew it yet or not. Of course, he had a pretty good idea of who it might be.
        Sure enough, Jack was waiting on the other side. "Hey, Jul--" she stopped short. "What the fuck did you do to your hair?"
        "I cut it, obviously." He grinned, running a hand through it stylishly. Really, what the hell else did he have to do while waiting for equipment? "Don't like it?"
        She stopped to ponder that one for a moment. She was just so used to the ponytail that seeing the front cut just above his ears and the back trimmed to his neck was so jaunting. "I like it. But I'm... not used to it on you. It's kind of freaky."
        "Well, that's enough of a compliment." He stepped back, allowing her inside.
        "Any particular reason you decided now of all times?"
        "I was getting sick of conditioning."
        She smirked, making certain that the door had been locked behind her. "Look, we have a major issue here."
        Pieces of the conversation the night before popped up instantly. "Oh great. I guess you were right."
        "Unfortunately. Before anything else, Pheta is taking care of things." She assured him first and foremost. "So now... we've got a Pordethre bounty hunter on our hands who not only knows pretty much everything about my history, but who's after your bounty."
        He took a long, deep breath, wiping his face lengthwise with a palm. A little more prepared to deal with the situation, he nodded. "That is not good."         Understatement of the century... "Did he approach you?"
        "I approached him, actually." How stupid did that sound... not that it mattered. "He seemed to know where I'd end up wandering. And, according to him, he doesn't know why he's after you. He just is."
        Nausea. And lots of it. "Fantastic."
        She mumbled something quietly, feeling a mild pounding in her head. "Just gets better and better, right?"
        He shook his head slowly. "Maybe you ought to take both ships back with you..."
        His line of thought was shattered with a hard stare. "Let's not go down this road."
        He sighed, unable to retain eye contact. "It'd be safer that way. For everyone."
        Uh-uh. No way. She'd have none of this. "Look, dammit. You're staying with me, among us, and you're going to be protected, alright?"
        "But just by being here I could put everyone in danger."
        She threw her hands up weakly. "Join the fucking club!"
        Hm. "Touché."
        "Don't leave."
        Her words were more order, more matter-of-fact than anything, but... It did inspire a genuine response. "Okay."
        She nodded, more or less satisfied with that. "I'm heading back to the Sefirot to see how things are going. Maybe he's woken up already."
        He couldn't help a light smile. "'Woken up'..?"
        "Yeah, well." She left it at that for the time being.

        She abandoned Julian to lugging his things around by himself, needing a little distance from him, anyway. That was... weird for a moment there. Almost... hell, she didn't know. Like, touchy feely closeness. Not quite, obviously, but...
        She shook those thoughts off, narrowly avoiding a line of merchants and darting toward the Sefirot's dock. It was simply that she was fond of Julian. He was her oldest living friend, after all. And besides that, he was like her job now or something. And she was very good at her job. If someone decided to interfere with said job, they were dead. That's all there was to it. Always was and always would be, period.
        Of course, there were Pheta and Nex, as well. They'd pretty much gotten their way under her skin. Not to mention, to a point, Dr. Carn. Nice guy but... a little out there. Certainly something a touch "off"...
        With another brilliant avoidance maneuver, she found her way into the proper dock's tunnel, taking note of how good the ship looked. Well. A little patchwork did it very well. She made sure to look up just before entering; the cannon at the very least looked dangerous. Out of the money they had for both ships, she imagined only one of them would actually fire--and wondered which one that would be a little more seriously than before. What a dangerous game of chicken...
        An amusing enough thought to relax her a bit. She paid little mind to the skeleton crew, passing them all to get to her quarters. These days, she didn't exactly own much, either. Only enough to be a bother to move from one place to another.
        "Don't worry about that, Captain." She heard Pheta behind her as she approached the door to her quarters. Turning to face her, the woman continued, "Once we're back on the DarkHorse, I'll have it taken care of for you."
        "You're just trying to get a bigger raise." The captain joked gratefully. "I take it you've 'assessed the situation'?"
        The defense commander nodded, taking another step forward for conversation purposes. "Only one tracer. It was in a delicate area, but it's been disposed of."
        Jack grinned at how "delicate area" had been glossed over so naturally. "Thank you, Pheta."
        "I suggest you go relax for a little while, as everything is under control." The woman announced gently. "We shouldn't be here much longer, anyway."
        Hm. Relaxing. Didn't really seem to be... proper in the situation. Sure things were under control, but... First of all, her idea of "relaxing" was wandering into seedy bars. And secondly, that last little thing hadn't ended well. Should she chance it? Again? Of course, what the hell else did she have to do anyway... "Alright, fine." She finally agreed, a little uncertain. There was a casino around there somewhere...
        Pheta looked the slightest touch genuinely proud of herself, that her advice was taken. "I'll let you know when we're ready to leave the dock."
        "Don't you ever relax, Commander?" the captain let herself wonder out loud.
        "Raises don't get promised that way."

        Relax, she'd said. Easier said than done trying to get through all of the merchants yet again. Seemed that every time she wandered the docks, the carts and various street shops got thicker and thicker. The closer she got to what was obviously (in all of it's bright, gaudy colors) the station's casino, the thicker the drunks got. Hey, she could deal with them, at least. What really concerned her was the chance she'd get recognized by a high staker. Or, worse--
        That thought made her stop dead in her tracks at the door. It was a stupid idea to have, she realized, but... it gave her a shiver, anyway. What if that kid had others around him? Traditionally a bounty hunter worked alone, sure. There were no guarantees in this game, though. An old "contact" would be bad enough, but easily taken care of. Someone completely unknown, though...
        She found herself inside the doorway of the casino regardless, pressed on by people with too much money and too little sense. Personally, she wasn't the kind that bet money. Played with odds on her own life, fine, but never money. A casino tends to have... different odds than the rest of existence.
        She let herself break from the crowding soon-to-be poor folk, wandering into the darker areas by herself. There were machines of all different types and caliber with buttons and handles--but those were where the boring people were. If you wanted to see the real action, know the real powers behind the place, you wandered into the darkness--where the tables went from friendly group games to dimly lit corners where conversation was made in whispers and grunts. She knew that sometimes payments were literally made in blood. She'd been there to accept some, in her time.
        But Jack was no idiot. She'd learned quite a lot over the years--to move in the shadows, you have to stay as close to the wall and as dark as the shadows themselves. Prey should not see predator until the moment of impact. Not that she was hunting, of course. Those days were over... but the thrill of the hunt was still deep inside her. Yes, she always was suited for assassin work--even if it was ultimately for a corporate giant. She'd never been so thrilled about that part, but they gave her fun jobs and few rules. Ah, memories. She carefully flipped a switch on the side of her communication device so that it wouldn't ring. She couldn't risk giving herself away if she actually did find her way into the depths of the back rooms.
        Unfortunately, this place was a "family event" casino. All that meant was that the seediest of the back rooms were completely unavailable to just about everyone. Damn boring station. She did what she could, but there were absolutely no indications of the better places to be. Obviously the more fun games took place in a different building altogether. All that time wasted, all that adrenaline still thick in her veins. Damn. Maybe she ought to find a gym or something.
        Exiting the building with an unfulfilled sigh, she happened to remember to flip the ringer switch on the communication device just in time. Good thing she was outside. Still, she had to be careful. "Yes?" she responded quietly.
        "Better get back to the dock." Was all Pheta said, receiving the hint to be quiet easily.
        Jack raised an eyebrow. Already? Wow, she'd have to remember this station. As if they'd ever be back this way, anyway. Just in case. She'd learned you can never have too many "just in cases".

        Now she had become an expert at avoiding merchants--just run like there's some extremely important emergency. And knock people clean out of the way if necessary. Of course, sometimes it was less necessary than it was satisfying. Not the point, though.
        Just inside the Sefirot, Pheta greeted her with a nod. "We're ready to go, Captain."
        "How'd the repairs go?" she inquired, walking with the woman to the bridge.
        "Quite well." The commander replied. "We got some quick buyers for most of what we had to sell. Desperate fugitives, I'm sure, but they paid top price. All thrusters are repaired on both ships, and both cannons fire smoothly."
        Jack stopped dead, turning a not quite accusing eye to her defense commander. How the hell had that been pulled off? Certainly they didn't have enough to be able to afford...
        "I have my own ways, Captain." Pheta answered naturally, then started walking on without her.
        I suppose you must. Jack grinned appreciatively to herself.

        So as not to inspire any suspicion, all communication between the sister ships was nonexistent while in the station. They couldn't risk anyone picking up on conversations for fear it might be the wrong person.
        The Durago was the first to pull out of the dock, signaling its departure with a relatively low-tech maneuver--"accidentally" making the canon dry-fire. All that did was create a bit of a loud noise, but it was enough of a signal to anyone picking up on it. The Sefirot waited at the dock for another twenty minutes or so before finally pulling out and going the opposite direction. They looped around when they got far enough out, meeting up with the Durago in the belly of the DarkHorse.
        As much affection as Jack felt for the poor old Sefirot, there was something very comfortable about wandering the hallways of the DarkHorse again. Hell, the ship was simply more comfortable in the first place; but it wasn't just that. Maybe it was that beautiful round window in the Captain's Hall, or the very library that she was becoming increasingly impatient to explore. Perhaps it was just the very mystique of being around a branch of the Tree of Life.         Whatever it was, DarkHorse felt... like home.
        She started ever so slightly with that realization, hoping no one had been watching her. It was unlikely that anyone had seen a physical reaction--it was just that that thought was so... startling. "Home" had always been an assassin's buzz word, like "base" or "H.Q.". The orphanage sure as fucking hell hadn't been "home". Neither had the hundreds of "safehouses" she'd occupied during jobs, or Astrid's shitbox of a ship. The Sefirot had come damn close only because she'd somehow found her way to being in control of it. The Black Albatross had come even closer, but a person couldn't live in that. The DarkHorse, though... she couldn't explain it. Couldn't even understand it. It just felt... right. She had everything she needed, right on that ship. A lovely quarters, a good crew, a window, a massive library, an incredible mystery right out of a science fiction novel, and--
        Julian stood in the last curve of the hallway before the lifts, waiting for her. He noted the blank look on her face as she registered his presence--that wasn't quite blank. Unreadable, yes, but... not blank, exactly. More like masked, something nonchalantly being hidden. Interesting. He didn't dare ask her if she were alright in front of the other wandering crew, but he'd quite desperately wanted to for a moment there.
        Thoughts successfully shaken from her head, the blank look passed into a normally easy-going, amused one. "Spill."
        "What?" he tried to keep a straight face, as though he didn't know what she was talking about. It was clear that he'd failed, however. "Hey, I don't know how she pulled it off. I wasn't there for the whole negotiation."
        Jack grinned, leaning against the opposite wall and crossing her arms. So, Pheta wanted no one to know of her "methods". Smart and dangerous. Good thing she was on their side. "What, she sent you away?"
        "Yes!" he tried to express his honesty in the situation.
        She shook her head. Ah, that woman. She was definitely an asset. "I can't help but wonder if she got her own raise."
        Julian grinned back, indicating that they may as well get in the lift together. "I wouldn't doubt it."
        As the door slid closed behind them, she pondered their very situation for a short moment. "Where are you going?"
        He shrugged. "I really didn't have any plans."
        Nodding, she pressed on the sickbay area of the map. "I was going to check on Nex. Then see if I could steal a little time in the library."
        Hm. He wondered if he remembered how to get there. Well, no big deal, really. He could always page her and have her give directions. If she remembered herself, that was. Ah well, cross that bridge if and when he came to it... "I'll meet you there." He promised, his own plans in mind. He kind of wanted to play on the bridge again.
        "Alright." She agreed, waiting for the doors to open. With a little wave to one another, she walked out into the hall.

        Having seen no one in the main part of sickbay, she cautiously made her way to the recovery room Nex had been in. Surprisingly, there was no one there. Not only that, but it looked as if no one had been there for a few hours at least--the bed was made and all of the equipment had been put away. Hm.
        With a slight tightness in her stomach, she checked another couple of rooms, to no avail. And still no one was looking after sickbay. Weirder and weirder... Taking an ever so slightly nervous stroll down the hall, she finally encountered who she'd come to see, walking slowly but steadily next to Pheta.
"Nex, wow." The captain commented, impressed with his recovery. "Up and around already?"
        "I got bored of staring at the ceiling." He smiled, making his way toward her carefully. It may take a while to be "fully operational", but he was doing his damnedest.
        "And he insisted upon being filled in on the details." Pheta added, still not certain that the kid should be up and around just yet, herself.
        Nex only shrugged. He had needed to know, and that thirst for knowledge, both of what happened and why he had never seen the room he had been laying in before, had driven him to actually getting up and walking out. Dr. Carn had given him little more than a long look and a warning not to over-do it.
        "Everything?" Jack asked, feeling a little concern seep back into her gut. Not that she had wanted to keep anything from him, but... well, she hoped that neither his excitement nor stress level would cause trouble with his healing.
        The commander nodded. "The grand tour will have to wait, but--"
        "I can be on the bridge right away." He interrupted softly.
        While Jack loved his enthusiasm, she couldn't help but be concerned. Sure he was standing under his own power, but his muscles were still weak. The look in his eyes, though, when she didn't respond right away--pleading, almost forcefully, asking so nicely... She sighed, giving in. "You can put in an hour at a time, okay? Whenever you want. But start slowly, or I'll have to remove you."
        He looked utterly ecstatic. "Thanks, Captain."
        Pheta sighed helplessly to herself. It was no secret her captain favored this kid for one reason or another, but... Ah, what could she do. She'd watch him for her, and that was that.
        "And our little prisoner situation?" the captain asked, understandably concerned.
        "Taken care of." Pheta promised. "There is an excellent prison facility on this ship."
        Jack nodded, turning to take the lift to the floor that had access to the library. Before she stepped in, though, she turned to ask, "Did you get a good raise?"
        The woman only smiled. Not a word, not a nod, not a single other indication. That was plenty for an answer.

        At his own absolute amazement, Julian discovered that the bridge got boring pretty quickly when Jack wasn't there to make quips or play along. Not even Pheta was there, glaring at him, waiting for his next mistake so that she could quietly make fun of him with her eyes alone. He knew she liked that. Deep down, he knew.
        Venturing to sickbay, he mumbled to himself something about another damned ship that didn't have any bio sensors. Affiliated with a federation or not, a ship ought to be technologically able to locate its own crew, dammit. Especially one with as much advanced technology as the DarkHorse. Ah, no matter. She was obviously one of two places, so he checked the first.
        Stepping out of the lift, he discovered sickbay in the same condition as Jack had--completely silent and abandoned. No doubt the doctor was in the back room fascinating the hell out of himself with that branch. Hey, he didn't blame him. But what if there was an emergency or something?
        Conversation. Very quiet, but happening. He strained his ears, trying to find Jack's voice among them. It was just too hard to tell. It was coming from the right of the hallway as it curved into another location, so that's where he headed. Either Jack was there or she wasn't, no big deal. Turning the corner, he ran into the element that had been missing from the bridge--Pheta--and a perfectly capable of walking Nex. Wow, fast recovery. Maybe that branch was worth ignoring possible emergencies for...
        "Ah, Captain." The woman greeted as though she'd just been talking about him. "Nex, this is Captain DeVierna."
        The boy nodded politely, holding out his hand. Julian grasped it delicately, almost afraid to shake with any force or he may tumble the boy over and back into a hospital bed. Out of the corner of his eye, he noted that Pheta was watching very closely--perhaps expecting something. Or, maybe just watching the way she always did. He was getting pretty damn paranoid. "Nice to meet you, Nex."
        "And, where is Captain Veis?" the woman interrupted delicately. And a little too innocently.
        Hm. Maybe he wasn't as paranoid as he was beginning to think. "The library, I think." Oops. Did she even know about that? The look on her face gave nothing away, however. What it did inspire, was a loose tongue. "I was going to meet her there."
        Now there was a look crossing the commander's features. It was something so deeply familiar, so... almost primal... In a flash of what could only be explained by calling it divinely influenced, Julian recognized it. And, unfortunately, he said so. "Holy shit. You're attracted to her."
        Pheta blushed furiously for a split second--then looked in Nex's direction. Hey, she wasn't an idiot. And she was not going down alone. At the eye contact, the boy looked straight down to the floor.
        Julian's jaw dropped. "And so are you!"
        "Not so loud." Nex murmured.
        The captain began to laugh. And laugh and laugh. He held his stomach and chuckled until everything hurt, until he could hardly breathe and his laughter became shrill little gasps. "You both... you..." and again it broke into painful bursts of barely controlled amusement.
        While Nex still looked down at the floor (pretending none of this was happening), Pheta was glaring right at Julian with her arms folded. "Laugh while you can. You're not purely innocent in your intentions, either."
        Wiping tears from his eyes, he tried to suppress the giggles long enough to ask, "What makes you say that?"
        "I know she spent a night in a guest quarters with you."
        "I didn't know that." Nex admitted softly.
        "Well don't let it concern you." Julian felt suddenly very trapped. It could have merely been Pheta taking one more perfectly timed step closer, or the kid's questioning glance. He had no need to feel cornered, but the situation was getting a little insane. "She was just keeping me company."
        "A night in a guest quarters with a bottle of rum is not simply company." She countered.
        "How the hell did you kno--you're obsessed!" Again the laughter bubbled up inside him, and he could not contain himself. "You're stalking her." He stated calmly as fact, then further broke into hysterics.
        Pheta was not amused. In fact, now she was feeling that blush coming up again... "I'm... concerned about her well being."
        "Join the club." The captain wiped the tears from his eyes. "So am I, but I don't follow her and go through the things she leaves behind, y'know?"
        "No. Because she trusts you." The commander shot back, softer than before. "And, gueray," she cursed in her native tongue, looking at a still timid Nex, "You got to have tea with her once, at least."
        Another huge fit of laughter overtook Julian, forcing him to lean against a wall. It took him many breaths to be able to express the sudden thought he'd just had in words. "I think the doctor may have seen her naked during the healing stasis once or twice."
        At the cost of the hot blush that insued, Nex joined in the laughter. He had to admit, that was kind of funny. Sick-funny, but still.
        A completely unwanted, unsuppressable smirk of genuine amusement crossed Pheta's features for long enough to have proved that she found it funny as well. "Maybe you two deserve each other, after all."
        "Hey now." Julian halfheartedly tried to defend himself. "This has nothing to do with who deserves what..."
        "You can't deny the fact that you've developed feelings for her." The woman stated quietly, but in a severely matter of fact manner.
        He sighed to himself, wondering how the hell to handle this one. Yeah, okay. So if he admitted it, then what? Would they take him out of the running? Would they tattle? Might that just make things easier in the end? ...No, probably not. Now was his one and only chance to bolt, and he damn well took it.         "Well... I, uh... later."

        Ah, dammit. Out of all of the books in the universe... she'd found a third edition printing of a book that she had on the Sefirot, in seventh edition. And something about one of the illustrations in the third, that she had been staring at for several minutes, just... wasn't right. The only way to know why, was to compare. Not like she had anything better to do, but... eh. All she had to do was get to the Sefirot and get her book. May as well get it over with. Why hadn't molecular transporters been installed as standards in ships again? Oh yes--because large pieces of objects transported had a bad habit of disappearing.
        Pulling the communication device from her pocket, she made a quick contact first. "Yes?" she heard instantly.
        "Hey, Jules." She greeted, already stepping onto the lift. "I've got to pick up a book or two from the Sefirot. Where are you?"
        Away from danger. He grinned to himself. "On my way."
        Damn. "Oh. Well, I was hoping you'd do a favor for me."
        A favor? Amusing... "And that would be..?"
        "Just stopping by sickbay to ask Dr. Carn if he had any 'interesting reading material' of his own that he wanted put in the library."
        The gulp may well have been audible. "Sickbay?"
        "Yes." She confirmed, hearing a bit of... hesitancy in his voice. Odd. Well, he was just as freaked out about the doctor as she was, so that must have been it. "But, if you're on your way already, I can just stop by later."
        Well, that was just ridiculous, and he had to admit it. She was already going to the dock, then to the Sefirot. She shouldn't have to venture out of her way to sickbay when he was practically right there. Or, more accurately, running away from right there. He sighed quietly. "No. That's alright, I'll do it. Then meet you in the library." He'd need the hiding place.
        "Sounds good." She agreed. "See you there."
        Oh, just fucking great. He pressed the little red button on the wall that paused the course of the lift, and just... stood there for a few minutes. If he was really lucky, really really lucky, Pheta and Nex would be... gone. Yeah. Hopefully.
        This was just silly, and he knew it. But he'd made the retreat. Going back was... unconscionable.
        Okay, so that was beyond silly in itself. He wasn't real big on seeing either of them again, though. For a long time. And certainly not alone.
        Ugh. He'd said he would do it. And he had better do so before Jack got back, otherwise a whole circle of suspicion might start. Not fun, not at all. Dammit.
        Finally forced to give in, he pressed the sickbay area of the map and hit the red button again. Maybe if he just darted past, like there was something really important that he just had to do and couldn't stop for... Though he had a suspicion Pheta would find a way. Not that he didn't like her, but... he had come to realize that she was kind of evil in her own way.
        As the chime sounded, he got ready to sprint--then almost tripped over himself. There was Pheta, alright. But she was crouched on the ground, breathing heavily; Dr. Carn was beside her with a very concerned expression.
        All previous encounters were forgotten. Julian stepped out to take a look himself. "Shit--what happened?"
        "The prisoner." She grunted, trying to get up under her own power. "He got out. He had a Kervul..."
        That's all the captain needed to know. He nodded, seeing she'd be alright, then took off. There was little doubt about where the little bastard had gone.

        The Sefirot had turned from the hub of her very existence to a very... dark and lonely place, really. She sighed, running her fingertips along the walls of the hallway. It's not like she was leaving it behind or anything. But she probably wouldn't be captain of it anymore. Hey, she had a nice new ship to order around. It still wasn't quite the same.
        For one, stairs. She almost grit her teeth with that realization, climbing up two sets just to get to the next level from which she could reach her quarters--not to mention the other odd staircases along the way. Oh lovely. She didn't really need any more appreciation for lifts that actually worked...
        At long last on the right level, she took the turn into her hallway. Absolutely dark. Just great. The lights must have been shorted. Not that this was anything new, it just hadn't happened in a while. Begrudgingly, she took to routine and opened up the little panel just inside the hall. Yep, shorted. A little more severely than usual, but an easy enough fix. Not the smartest thing to do, but a decent trick she'd learned long ago--a delicate shaking of wires followed by an ever so slightly saliva wet fingertip. The telltale buzz sounded, and she shut the panel just as the lights came up. Oh yeah, she was good. Turning back into the hallway, though, she didn't have a prayer.
        She felt her body convulse backward just before the agony hit every muscle in succession--a Kervul pistol. The up side to the weapon: it delivered electricity and didn't need bullets. The downside, of course, was that it had to be recharged after every few shots. It was also relatively notorious for killing people by stopping their hearts with one shot--fusing the muscle itself with a second or third.
        None of this went through her mind until much later, of course. It was more or less completely drowned out by the simple but overwhelming thought: "Ouch." She'd taken a Kervul shot before, years ago. But that didn't make this time any better.
        When her muscles finally stopped jerking of their own volition, she slowly found herself laying on the floor with pins and needles racing through her body. Her vision was blurred and darkened, only adding to the swiftly growing aggravation. The voltage had clearly been upped since the last time she'd been surprised with one of those things. Fucking advancements in technology.
        Using a great deal of willpower, she got her hands underneath her regardless of the pain still stinging in her shoulders. Granted she wasn't as fast in this condition, but she still knew she had to get up or risk far worse. She should have known better, however. As planned, she didn't have the wits about her immediately to counter--a heavy kick knocked the breath from her lungs, rolling her several feet across the floor and up against the wall.
        Oh yeah, that helped the pain. She tasted blood in the back of her throat, wondering whether it was from the shock or the kick. Not that it was an important thought to dwell on. Panting, she tried to right herself again, standing full up on the first try but stumbling. That wall was there to lean against, luckily; though she got the feeling that it would do very little good for her. That goddamn Kervul was a good idea. Knocked the shit and the senses right out of a person. All she could make out was the form near her--too blurred to see any detail, her depth perception too off to see it as anything but too close for comfort.
        Her head flew to the side, neck muscles constricting with the after-effects of the electricity and the numbness after a full-force blow to her cheek that had very nearly sent her back down the stairs. Her jaw felt heavy, but there was no time to check it--her air was being slowly strangled off.
        Finally a flicker of coherent thought interrupted. Her hands went directly for pressure points in her attacker's neck... only to find that they were covered in what felt like thin sheets of metal. Fuck. Quickly changing speeds, she leaned back into the wall just enough to take a damn good kick; male or female, this would hurt.
        Unfortunately enough, that move had also been anticipated. Her attacker's leg slammed right into the side of her right knee before she had the chance to attack, causing a horrific sharp pain to join in with all the rest. Cleared thoughts became fogged again as the world spun around her, gasping for breath that wouldn't come.
        She didn't see the pistol that came down on the attacker's head, but she felt the slight slack her neck got as a result. Something was said that she couldn't make out, but as she was finally able to take a breath, she heard Julian's voice clear as day. "I mean it! Get the fuck away from her!"
        Deja vu. Or just a mild aneurysm. Gasping, breathing, her vision cleared a little as she used the wall to keep her upright. Goddamn it still hurt. She'd have a limp for a while--or would have to endure more stasis healing. Somehow that didn't seem so bad by comparison.
        Julian held her attacker at gunpoint. Whoever it was, he was definitely dressed in full body Pordethre "armor", helmet included. Luckily, the metal was only thick enough to deflect punches and kicks. Certainly not a bullet. Not to mention how little good a helmet did when someone very determined was beating it in from behind. "You alright, Jack?"
        She tested her jaw carefully. Not broken. "Just bumps and bruises, Jules." She assured, forced to clear her throat. Her voice was rough, but no harm done. She could make out shapes again, though they did appear a little bit blurred. No matter, it was getting better. She took that moment to rub the moisture from her eyes, formed by electricity and pain. There, that helped a bit more. Enough to give her a steady beat with her Spectre, anyway. "Now what the fuck is your problem?" she asked her attacker almost conversationally.
        "Take off the helmet." Julian demanded when the prisoner only stood there, still somewhat dazed from that last hit on the head. Loudly cocking his pistol, he continued, "Or I'll take it off for you."
        The kid was a bounty hunter, alright--but he was still a kid. That whole "so much to live for" thing entered his mind, and he did as he was asked, revealing himself. He didn't seem to realize that he was screwed either way.
        "How'd you get out?" Jack tried the easy approach.
        He opened his mouth like he was honestly going to answer--and then apparently his "training" kicked in. So much for "so much to live for".
        She sighed to herself. Ah well, another one about to bite the dust, as the saying went. They weren't going to get anything out of him, anyway. Her finger was on the trigger, about to blow the fucker away when she heard panting behind her, not to mention the dragging of feet. Taking her eyes from the soon-to-be corpse for just a moment, she noted the presence of Pheta and Nex at the bottom of the very set of stairs that she was standing atop. Oh boy.
        Dammit, Pheta. She couldn't bring herself to say out loud. And Nex should not be rushing anywhere, especially up stairs, in his condition... Neither of you should be here at all.
        "What's the matter, Jack?" the kid bounty hunter dared, high on adrenaline and the knowledge he was going to die anyway. "Don't they know about you?"
        Julian held back a decently animal growl, barely able to contain his own trigger finger. He'd love to blow the guy away, especially for hunting for his bounty... but this was Jack's business, most of all. He'd let her do... whatever it was that she needed to do.
        The kid kept talking, completely uncaring as to the fact two guns were aimed at his head. "Did you tell all of your friends that you're the Jack responsible for Lady Astrid's death?"
        Good thing she'd learned to shoot accurately with both hands; it only took a light flick of the wrist and fingers to transfer the Spectre to her other hand. With her "hittin' fist" free, she used a rather impressive, straight-forward nose breaking attack. Blood gushed instantly, sending the boy doubling over and gurgling, but she showed absolutely no sign of regret. "Now they know I'm a cold, cruel bitch, too." She took a cheap but very effective swift kick at the man's scrotum, sending him to the floor with a hard crack. Let's see him block it this time.
        Julian and Nex cringed and looked away. Even Pheta shivered and pretended there was something else a lot more interesting to look at.
The guy was in tears, blood pouring from his nose. Still Jack had her weapon aimed for his head, showing a bitter exterior.
Threaten my life, threaten my friends, threaten my ship--you die, fucker.
        Choking on his own blood, he couldn't respond to either her actions nor her expectant silence. But that was really answer enough for her unspoken question. She'd decided, already. "Go." Captain Veis ordered her friends, all of them, quietly. "I'll be right with you."
        "Jack..." Julian slipped softly, lowering his gun, almost begging her to follow now. Either that or, dammit, let them stay. No more shoving away, no more secrets...
        "Go." She repeated coldly, flicking the first safety on.
        The picture was then startlingly clear. She wasn't going to let the guy go peacefully. Just bleeding to death was too easy; getting his head blown off was even more so. She'd carve him up and leave him there for sure. Piece by piece.
        Julian swallowed, slowly replacing his gun in its holster. Well then. He supposed he didn't really want to be there to see this in the first place. That wasn't really the point, though... he turned, slowly picking his way down the stairs. Confusion, worry, and even a touch of suspicion lit the eyes of the other two, but he said nothing more than, "Let's go."
        To Jack's honest surprise, they did.

Content copyright Orin Drake 2011.
Use without linking back to the source makes you a dick.