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

        Chapter 14 - It Never Fucking Ends

        After Pheta had arrived with two security officers, Jack laid down a very basic explanation. The rest, the woman could get out of the doctor herself if she really wanted to. So long as Captain's Orders were followed, nothing else mattered. As for the captain, she excused herself without any good-byes.
        Getting on the lift, she just... rode for a little while. She didn't really feel like going back to the library just then, not in those circumstances. Her quarters didn't feel quite right, either. So, she merely... wandered. The ship was so damn big that she rarely came into contact with anyone anyway. Even then, they were all a little scared by her to some degree--they'd salute or say hello, then dart off on their merry way. She liked that.
        There was an undeniable tension in her chest. Like a wound rubber band... it'd unwind or snap eventually, but either way it would likely prove very explosive. She pondered, riding up and down, why. Not so much why Dr. Carn had done as he had--Lady Astrid was important to him, as he'd said. That was understandable to his logic, to the way he'd been brought up, she supposed. That much made him the perfect puppet for his government. But... why had he bothered to tell her afterward? And then why had the prisoner bothered to escape, just to try for her life?
        He might well have gotten her out of the way, that was why--but Julian had saved the day again. That rubber band in her chest tightened more; the Pordethre were probably after the both of them more than ever. As captains and acquaintances, they worked off of each other, defended themselves well together--and taken apart, they'd be that much easier to take down.
        Ugh. What a fucking mess. Part of her thought it smarter to hang close to Julian for a little while. But the other part... well, she certainly wasn't in a mood to hang around anyone. The aimless wandering was doing little good, though. Not that she had expected it to solve her problems, but she had hoped it would bring some bit of comfort. What it really delivered over however many hours she'd been running away from the world, was a peculiar type of... loneliness, maybe.
        No, that wasn't it. Not quite. Before she could work out exactly what it was she was spontaneously feeling, that goddamn communication device sounded in her pocket. With a deep sigh, she finally decided to reach for it. "Yeah?"
        "Captain." Pheta's voice--not surprising. "The interrogation is over. Perhaps you'd like to meet and discuss it?"
        The tension in her stomach turned into a sort of hot, mushy pain. The very word, "interrogation", brought about an awful lot of horrible pictures. She knew Pheta would not have behaved like those people in her past, but... for a moment there, the images, the memories, just sort of crashed in around her like an ocean. She'd only been captured once, by "independent competition". In the end, she was able to play the weakling femme--enough said. But before that point... she shuddered with the simplistic memory of her hip being slowly wrenched out of place. Much longer and her fingers may have been completely severed as well...
        Pheta's voice shook her out of the moment. Grateful, she took a quiet breath before responding. "Yes. Where?"
        "Your quarters would be safest, I think." The woman responded carefully. She was neither blind nor stupid--two important things in a Defense Commander. This whole situation was bothering her captain deeply, and she chose to approach it as delicately as possible.
        "Okay." Jack agreed. "I'll see you there in a couple of minutes." With mild surprise, she heard Pheta disconnect first without so much as an acknowledgment. Not that she needed one, but... hm. This might be exceptionally important, alright. She couldn't help but glance at the tiny scars on her fingers where they'd been sliced so many years ago. At least she could still shoot.

        Pheta was waiting patiently in the Captain's Hall, staring out the window--or, more accurately, at that godawful yellow lamp obscuring the view. There was a look across her face as amusing as it was unexpected, resembling shocked horror. Uncharacteristic of the woman, she spoke a thought first, without a greeting. "That is awful."
        "And it's not my fault." Jack denied all responsibility. "Shall we?"
        The woman merely shook her head once more at the terrifyingly poor taste in decor, then followed into Jack's quarters. Waiting patiently for the door to be locked and all codes cleared for utmost privacy, she was prepared.
        Moreso than the captain, certainly. Jack sat with a limp thud on the end of the couch, waiting for the woman to either suggest the "conference room" or sit as well.
        Ultimately, she did neither. This was a report, after all; Pheta was nothing if not perfectly trained. She began, at attention, holding nothing back. "Would you like to hear the session?"
        Another moment of awful memory swept her--but it was easier to hold back this time. She knew sounds of interrogation sessions were quite a bit different from the outside than when one's actually experiencing them, but... no need to re-live any part. "That won't be necessary. Just a summary."
        Pheta nodded, pulling her own communication device from behind her back and inputting a couple of codes to get the screen to light with her notes. "He claims that the boy told him your past. With embellishments, of course."
        "That I killed Astrid."
        "Yes." The woman confirmed, hitting another button. "That was the tipping point, according to the doctor."
        "Was an offer made?" Jack let herself wonder.
        "Supposedly if Carn helped, they were both to arrest you and Captain DeVeirna. Upon having you both in custody, they were to take you back into the heart of the Pordethre government. He admitted that he knew nothing past that. Not even a basic location."
        Somehow she kept the moan inside, wiping her face with her hand in silence. Yeah, she understood the doctor's position. He'd been convinced she had killed the Lady that his family had obviously been conditioned to worship. Logical, all of it. But it had been based on a lie. Worse, on a lie she sometimes wished were true--not seriously, not with any real significance, but in the heat of annoyance when she needed to vent. She tried to be as polite as she possibly could about matters without physically pushing the woman away. "Is that all, Commander?"
        There was an ancient, tired roughness about that voice. Pheta nodded sharply, tightening her at attention pose. "Yes, Captain." And yet... and still... She sighed internally, feeling both stupid and embarrassed for asking, but... "Will you be alright?"
        There was a momentary motion in her lips, just the shadow of a smile. But even had she wanted it there, it wouldn't have lasted. Not at that point in time. "Eventually I always am, Pheta. But thanks for asking." After a beat, she added, "I'll be on the bridge... soon."
        Another militaristic nod from the commander and she turned on a heel, stopping only for a second to input the standard "unlock from the inside" code and walk out. She left in her wake a sense of concern more than anything--not bad, considering.
        Jack stayed on the couch for many long moments, both scrutinizing each and every thought and chastising herself for thinking about the situation at all. Maybe what she needed was a vacation.
        Reclining, she started to believe that there was no maybe about that last thought. It was then that a tiny, thin sounding alarm began to sound on her communication device.
        "Of course." She cursed quietly at the thing, pulling it from her pocket--and stared. She'd never seen it do that before. The damn thing was going haywire. Then, finally, when all of the little lights stopped blinking and the alarm finally quit, there was a message. One that enticed only a drawn-out moan of aggravation: "COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS DOWN. TRY AGAIN LATER."
        She pulled her arm back, fully ready the throw the little piece of "advanced technology" as far as she possibly could--when another sound came out of the thing. It was a high-pitched blip that, once again, she never knew the devices were capable of making. That time, it was a message on a scrambled screen, presented just well enough to make it out from the moving background. "JaCK--meeT Me @ dOck 4TH LeveL fOUNd somEThinG qUick"
        Ah, a headache to add to her nausea. How nice. Ignoring the sudden redemption her communication device was apparently trying to achieve, she hurled it down the hall anyway. Still a good aim, she heard rather than actually saw it hit the far back wall of the last room. It just felt good. And she could always get another one. Hopefully.
        She stood up and walked to the door, but wasn't quite ready to get going. It wasn't that she was trying to avoid Julian, of course. Hell, he knew enough about her and her... well, feelings on things. Maybe. To put it... stupidly. She simply was not ready for company of any sort. Not that it mattered with this little emergency and all.

        It wasn't her day. It just, plain, was not her day. She'd approached the door to the dock without paying much attention, assuming it would open up naturally well before she stepped in. She found herself being the comic relief in some bastard of a god's horrible drama.
        A little too distracted by her own intense annoyance to feel self-conscious about having just slammed into a very solid door, she stepped back and stared at the thing hatefully. "What the fuck?" she murmured quietly to herself, aggravated suddenly (or not so suddenly) by the whole damn universe.
        The door's refusal to open even as she gave it a slight kick was puzzling. On The Sefirot, that's all a stuck door had taken. Of course, this was the DarkHorse; a much better cared for vessel, to say the least. More technologically advanced, as well. The absent sense that the entire situation made was starting to collapse in on itself like a black hole.
        Twice she checked to see if the door was coded or locked in any way, and twice the result came back negative, according to the outside panel. On the third attempt to get the door to open with her code, the computerized panel itself suddenly locked up entirely.
        Something was seriously screwing with the system, here. Something relatively advanced by the look of it... Oh, fuck this. She jammed her Spectre blade straight through the narrow crack between the two panels of the door and yanked until her shoulder made a mild "stress pop". In the split second that the censor (still somehow working, how nice for it) picked up the intrusion, the door opened all the way to realign itself--and by some true miracle, she made it through with all limbs and clothes in tact.
        Julian, standing several feet in front of her against an almost empty dock (barely littered with giant crates from their little excursion earlier), gawked for a moment. That little display of hers had been impressive. He'd been trying to get the hell out of the goddamned dock ever since he'd gotten trapped moments ago, but--"You got a message to meet here?"
        The tone of his voice... it wasn't as impressed as it should be. No, wait, that wasn't it. It was-- "Shit." A trap. And a fucking simple one at that. Well, she felt less than genius, that was for sure. At least she could later console herself in knowing Jules had fallen for it too, but... Even with emotions running high, she damn well should have recognized this for what it was.
        Immediately she turned back to the door--not enough time. The emergency auto-lock system had already been fully activated--another all too perfectly mysterious thing to work at a time like that. Adding to that little number, the dock was suddenly running in Hazardous Materials Mode by the little red lights in the corners--meaning, a second, solid metal door slid over the one she'd just penetrated in a flash. And there would be another on the outside for certain.
        By the time she'd realized exactly how trapped they were, the power she'd put into the fist that beat against the metal had almost been lost. There was no point. They wouldn't be getting out until someone knew they were there. She reached for her communication device... then realized the satisfaction of throwing it against a wall meant nothing anymore.
        "It won't help." Julian sighed roughly, unaware the device was in shambles in her quarters.
        Yeah, that much was more than likely true. All communications had been down, period. She very much doubted they would suddenly work again in a dire situation. It never happened that way. "Someone found out how to fuck with the operation systems."
        He agreed with a nod, casting an uneasy look toward the sparse crates behind them. While nothing had been moving... he had a feeling. It would all make sense, wouldn't it? Maybe someone had stowed away from that damn pirate ship...
        Unfortunately, she was getting a deep gut instinct, as well. Yes, this was definitely a trap. And the crates were just peachy for hiding behind. As for exactly how all of this had happened, that much could be worked out later. For now, they just had to get out of the situation alive. Though, she was quite pissed enough to take someone down with her, should it come to that.
        There wasn't a need for words in the moment. Hell, if they didn't know what needed to be done by now... Moving like a couple of tag-team predators, they drew their weapons and began a sweep of the dock.
        The real predators were a little bit better equipped, however. A sudden gunshot overwhelmed the space with sound--and it was not a pistol. It was a dirty, gritty sort of snapping sound; unmistakably a homemade rifle. As such it probably couldn't be reloaded after the initial blast, but all it took was a moment of good aim.
        Even before she heard Julian's guttural yelp, it was as if she could see the shrapnel in slow motion in her mind's eye. Too good to be true--and this was too awful not to be real. She turned, Spectre out and ready, but there was no sign of motion. Nothing but Julian holding his dripping side.
        She should have paused there and then, dammit. But no, of course not. She wouldn't have retained her idiot status had she actually taken the time to think, and how would that have worked out? She rushed to his side to see what she could do, gun down--but was caught around the chest on her way there. A thickly muscled arm met her solar plexus with such force that a ripping, tingling pain erupted throughout the whole of her body, causing her vision to blur a field of gray for a couple of seconds. Even so, she heard the brutal hit that connected with Julian's shoulders, heard the crack of metal and the metal response from his artificial bones. She also heard his deeply agonized, breathless cry as he collapsed limply to the floor.
        Gasping for breath herself, she took a blind backward kick at whoever the fuck was holding her, instantly receiving a satisfying crunch and a yip as she broke the jerk's knee. Lovely; especially considering her vision had sparked back into being. Spinning, she lifted her Spectre in a flash of determined retribution and pulled the trigger in one swift motion--not expecting to blow the guy's head off, but glad to have done so just the same. He must have darted behind her when the rifle's explosion was echoing--but no matter. Spinning again, ready to take aim at the bastard attacking Julian, she found herself in slightly more dangerous waters.
        The weapon that had stricken her partner in crime had been a large metal pipe with a sharply burred end. She knew this, all of a sudden, because it was pressed very closely to her neck, riding the pulse and making the sharp edges known. It rested there firmly--but she knew it wouldn't take much to knock her unconscious. And that was only if she really lucky. The metal burs might be sharp enough to slice a good line across her throat. She was also aware that she could blow this fucker away and be done with it--but something else cried out too loudly for her attention. Even as the Spectre remained stone still in her grip, she stared into the face of a Pordethre general, the bruise-colored tattoo along his right eye like a half realized mask signaling his position.
        She recognized him. And much, much fucking worse, he recognized her. Of all of the mother, fucking, utter lack of anything resembling "luck" of the whole of existance--it was one of her former employers. In fact, it was the last one; the one that had convinced her the corporate assassin job was simply not worth the psychos she was hired by. The man's name escaped her for a moment, until he pulled his lips back to reveal a line of metal teeth having replaced his real ones long ago--a calling card of sorts. Mor'iev. Demetre Mor'iev. The mere thought that this psychopath was still alive sent an uncomfortable shiver down her spine; feeling some of Julian's blood run down her neck from the pipe caused her aim to swerve slightly.
        "So it's you." The man dismissed almost conversationally, giving her shoulder an unexpected thwap with the pipe. Granted it wasn't much, but it still hurt as it was intended. It'd leave a bruise and a few metal bits behind for certain. "You left in the middle of a job."
        Oooookay. How the hell would she deal with this one? Yes, she did indeed feel the considerable need to blow him away. But if she could just keep the situation under control, she was certain she could get some useful information. "I got sidetracked." She'd try her specialty: bullshitting.
        It took her a moment to catch her breath again--a moment more to realize she was curled in the fetal position. And even then, the breath refused to come at a normal rate--pain rushed her in a sudden current. Getting hit with a pipe in the stomach... that was a new one, surprisingly. Damn but he was fast. And damn but everything was dark. And--and, damn.
        Her eyes flashed open with the realization that she didn't know where her Spectre was. Or maybe that was the true realization--of exactly where it was. It was slowly, carefully being used to cut a narrow line across her shoulders, parting fabric and skin in its wake. Her own prized possession, in the hands of that bastard.
        A sudden noise, a desperate sound of scurrying--and another gut wrenching CA-RACK! of flesh and metal; but not against her. She managed to get enough breath to turn her body, chest to the floor, just in time to see Julian's form fly backward, blood running thickly from his face. Scarred, dented metal showed through the red streams, and his right shoulder hung out of joint--so much so that it was held to his body by only a few wriggling wires. He made barely a gurgle, no coherent sound as he collapsed again; the fall of flesh and metal feeling cold even at that distance.
        Fucking pissed at what she'd just witnessed, she tried to ignore the short breaths and the rending pain through her guts as she pushed herself onto all fours--getting a bone-crunching hit across her left shoulder blade for the effort. She couldn't hold back that sound, a sound of which she'd heard but never uttered. All thought ceased, collapsing into a far too familiar grayish fog for a period of time that she was unable to judge.
        She came to only with the knowledge that another line had been cut into her flesh, along her spine from the back of her neck to just below the waistline of her pants--the two deep lines forming a bleeding cross. Try as she might, she was in no position to get up and fight back; which may have been explained by the boot, quite heavy on the back of her neck, keeping her chest firmly to the floor.
        "You did not kill my wife, or her bastard sons. But you took the money up-front, alright." He seemed to be speaking mostly to himself, almost unaware of it. He was too busy cutting into her, line after line, creating some burning, oozing pattern that she refused to work out what looked like in her head. "And had I known..." another, deeper line that made her hiss sharply, "That you were the same 'Jack' that the government was looking for..." a jerking criss-cross made the blood run faster, "Then I would have gotten here much sooner."
        She couldn't tell if she was shivering from cold, fever-heat or pain. Not that it mattered. Not that much mattered but trying to make herself pass out, were he going to try and make her death slow and painful. No doubt he was sent to get her, to bring her back--until he realized he had a grudge. She remembered all of the rumors about him a little too clearly, realizing that they didn't seem to be rumors at all. He was still the same old psychopath that supposedly raped and then bludgeoned his daughter to death after a simple family squabble--and that was the lightest of it. She believed everything even more now than she did when she left without completing that last job. His targets had been too awful, his graphic instructions planned as perfectly and precisely as a ballet. Dirty rotten evil son of a bitch.
        She tried desperately to get a look at Julian, but she couldn't move her head. She wasn't even sure where she was facing, anymore. It was just miles and miles of floor panel from where she was, stretching beyond the known universe, blurring in and out. Now what? Now fucking what? The dock was in lock-down, Julian could be dead, and she might or might not die by her own precious weapon; her tool, her art and her pride. This was a great mess to have gotten herself into.
        A sudden sound jolted her body--but it wasn't the help she had been hoping for. He had jammed the blade into her, possibly straight through her right kidney, then seemed to have turned it. She wasn't quite sure, and she didn't exactly care to know. The sound, as far as she could tell, had been her own scream--and that was more disturbing than anything she thought she had ever lived through.
        Only... she wasn't sure she was living through this. Fever-heat and cold were becoming the same thing. Blood mixed with sweat and burned as much as the filth on the bottom of his boot. She knew that her heartbeat was erratic and her breath was getting faster and short at once--and she did not appreciate being able to acknowledge all of these things so clearly. The urge to curl up in the fetal position again was overwhelming.
        Mor'iev stepped off of her, backing up for a moment to grade his handiwork. He seemed at the improper angle, instead electing to walk around her slowly, rotating several times until he finally got to the proper distance and location to admire his carving skills. "They want me to bring you back." He pondered to himself. "But I don't think I want to do that anymore."
        Not this way... Jack thought, tasting blood in her mouth. Not without a fight, dammit. I didn't even get a fucking chance...
        There was a strange and sudden click, succeeding in rudely interrupting her entire train of thought. The sound had been very loud, very massive--and very wrong. It sounded like... shit, it sounded like the outside dock door was opening. Wishful thinking on her part. Until there was a hefty rush of air getting sucked out of the room. And then there was that viscous lack of sound altogether...
        A colder panic than the one before encased her. If this was really happening--she forced her head up, her neck to let it to turn; her effort was met with the sight of the bloody metal heap that was Julian, slowly beginning to slide toward the outside door.
        Mindless of all else, something encased her. Something primal seemed to have taken over for her; despite the pain, despite the blade in her kidney, despite the absence of a good deal of blood in her body, she zeroed in only on the collapsed form, crawled with one arm across the several feet that separated them and grasped on, desperately finding a handhold regardless of her heavily damaged shoulder. Instinct, the sheer need to live, overcame all else as she stretched her heavily wounded arm with rending agony--and found one of the hinged floor rings that were sparsely spaced all over the dock floors, for the sheer purpose of tying cargo down should just such a freak thing like this happen. She held on for dear life, threading her arm through the ring so that the curve of her elbow held firm and she could solidly grasp Julian's weight with both arms. All she could do was hold on, hoping impossibly that another miracle might happen, that the doors would close and leave her with enough oxygen to live.
        Taking a chance, she looked behind her--and saw that mother fucker Mor'iev had similar ideas. It was only by his fist, by a single fist, but he was holding on to one of those rings, too. Well, fuck this. There was only one thing she could do. Her injured arm around Julian like there was no tomorrow, she impatiently unsheathed her Spectre from her own body, held in a scream if only to conserve air, positioned the weapon as best she could in her state of mind... and let it go.
        Beads of blood flew everywhere--then out. And so did Mor'iev. So did her Spectre.
        She closed her eyes, feeling the increasingly massive effect of the lack of atmosphere, the depressurization of the room, the loss of blood, the weight she was trying to hold on to with a shattered shoulder... and then she distinctly heard another sound. It was muffled, almost nonexistent, but it was fucking real.
        Her body thudded to the floor, landing atop an already broken arm and a completely broken friend. Consciousness was being elusive, darting in, out, and away. Before she fell into that darkness, she could have sworn she was able to take a deep breath...

Content copyright Orin Drake 2011.
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