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

        Chapter 19 - As Things Are a Little Different

        They docked without incident, and without conversation. Nothing left to say, so the moment seemed to tell them. As the Black Albatross pulled into the Sefirot, the overall air was... heavy--almost to the point of being physical. Regardless of all else, the previous subject remained dropped.
        Julian stood without a word as forward motion ceased, offering his arm. He knew she would probably be able to walk on her own, but that wasn't the point. She didn't have to, so she wouldn't. Easy as that.
        Accepting graciously, she used his leverage and her "good leg" to lift herself from the floor, giving the jacket he'd offered a glance. Damn. It was blood-stained, alright. She'd have to find out just how and where to get things washed... and hope for some technologically advanced stain fighter or something. She almost felt she should apologize... but the moment didn't really offer her the voice.
        With a cautious gait, they slowly walked as one to the lift. Even then there was nothing spoken, hardly a glimpse of eye contact--but it was okay. There were other things to do, to keep their minds on. Besides that, they were "greeted" at the entrance to sickbay, the Commander of Defense of the DarkHorse seeming to have waited very patiently for their arrival.
        Pheta glanced at her captain knowingly. It was practically assured that Jack would get hurt. That's just the way it was. "How bad?"
        "Not so much." She attempted to defend, realizing that she didn't exactly want to try and walk without help. "I do have a request, though."
        That was... interesting. "Are you in a position to make a request?"
        Ha ha. Funny. "I am sick of stasis, Commander." There was hardly need to explain. "How about we try it the old fashioned way with some booze and a really big set of tweezers?"
        Pheta could hardly contain herself. She shook her head, finding an insuppressible grin on her lips. "I wouldn't recommend it, Captain. Since Dr. Carn's incident, we haven't had a high level medical technician."
        Jack found herself swallowing. "Meaning, exactly?"
        "Simply that there isn't a lot of hands-on experience in the four medical students we have left." The woman announced professionally. "They're more versed in the technology. Meaning, ultimately, that I'd recommend you reconsider stasis and hope the magnetic pull gets everything out while you're sleeping."
        Almost anyone else would have gladly agreed to that nice, happy little idea. But Jack had been in stasis sleep more than just about anyone else in existence. The sleep itself wasn't so bad, but the waking... it didn't seem worth the hours of nausea and general aggravation. "Just tell me, do you have access to anything strong?"
        Amusing though it was, Pheta released a mild sigh. "Yes."
        "Let's go that route then, shall we?" She'd have been lying if she'd said she wasn't concerned about it. But hell, she'd been through worse. The pain wasn't so bad anymore; although digging for shrapnel wouldn't be a picnic. And, add to that... secretly she felt she needed a few shots of something nice and numbing.
        Julian was beginning to understand that last bit of reasoning as he looked on as if on the outside. There was a... confusing dichotomy present in his head. That was Jack, his long-time partner. No different than she was before. Not that he had expected change... he didn't think. He thought. At least, he thought he thought that. Uncertainty was gaining annoyance.
        "Can we get some of this strong stuff of yours, Commander?" Jack's voice was a little more toward the annoyed side, herself. She was just eager to get it over with. Hey, maybe this experience alone would cure her of her dislike of stasis. Or... maybe not.
        Pheta was a heartbeat away from rolling her eyes--but how unprofessional would that have been? Too telltale, she thought. Instead, she nodded abruptly, and dismissed herself. Strong? Oh, she had something strong, alright.
        Watching the woman retreat, the wounded took a ragged breath. Just how smart was this decision, anyway? Nevermind--a young med student had just entered from one of the exam rooms, complete with perfectly clean, boring and sterile gray-but-not-quite-gray med uniform. She decided to cut to the chase immediately, eager for answer. "How much experience do you have in the hands-on sense?"
        The student started a little at the question. "I've, uh... well... Not really... any, Captain. Would you follow me?"
        That was a good question. "No experience?"
        Damn, she'd caught that. "Well... I've watched several multimedia presentations about it."
        No words would have been appropriate for a response. None that she could think of, anyway. Glancing at Julian, she caught the definite shadow of a grin. "Onward, Jeeves." She mumbled, taking the first step with her good leg.

        While the term "medical shorts" normally would have flung her into laughter, it wound up falling flat in a pile of wretched irritation. They they were, a pair of shorts... in that same dull gray that made the med uniforms just light up. Medical shorts. What an oddly ridiculous concept. When asked if she'd be able to change into them by herself, she sent both gentlemen a look that instantly got them out of the room, door closed behind.
        With nothing better to do outside, Julian started up a conversation. "So. Haven't seen you around much."
        "No, Sir." The med student agreed. "Frankly, I'm not supposed to be practicing yet." As if realizing what a stupid thing that had been to say, he changed gears surprisingly well. "Name's Eric, by the way."
        Trying to keep the smirk off his face, he grasped Eric's hand for a shake. "Just call me Captain DeVierna. When you've saved my life, you can call me Julian."
        "Will do, Sir." The student responded, seeming not entirely to get the joke.
        "Are you two just chatting out there?" came from the room behind them. Apparently, she was done.
        Opening the door with the touch panel, Julian started chuckling. Jack in shorts. It was amusing. Even the glare he got because of it was suiting to the outfit.
        Eric walked in behind, glad he had something of a human shield in front of him. He wasn't afraid of Captain Veis... just a little nervous. "Well... this is my first time actually prepping someone, so I hope you'll be patient."
        "Fantastic." She commented quietly through gritted teeth. "I'm an experiment."
        "May I point out that you wanted it this way, Captain?" Pheta was too damn smug as she strolled in the door, bottle of something orange in one hand and a shot glass in the other.
        "An 'I told you so' would be more humane, Commander." She responded, feeling just a little better when she saw... whatever the hell was in that bottle.
        Eric seemed hardly offended. He'd heard enough stories of Captain Veis to know it was of little use to be emotionally affected by anything she said. He'd already begun using the levers on the not quite cushy or comfortable enough to be anything other than an exam table, adjusting a good height, hitting a switch to get the overhead lights on. He was confident about each step, having watched it so many times. Confidence was something.
        Pheta kindly delivered the chosen drink, watching closely. "I can assure you that you've never had anything like it."
        Well, that was appealing. "Okay. I think."
        With a flick of the wrist, the bottle was opened. Carefully, the woman tipped it, holding the shot glass several inches underneath to get the proper effect. Instead of a glug or a gurgle that would normally be heard, there was kind of a... plop. A single, orange colored, plop--causing the potential drinker to more than simply rethink the situation. Pheta was almost eager to explain, "It's an alcoholic beverage made from the albumen of dohmry eggs."
        "That only explains so much." Jack countered, staring at the... stuff. In the glass, it perfectly resembled any liquid. But it sure hadn't moved into the glass like one. A dohmry, for all intents and purposes, bore a close resemblance to a camel. With gills, as well as lungs; not to mention the flanged back legs that could be stretched out behind them and held together to make what closely resembled a tail. They were incredible creatures that had mastered both sea and land, but... they were kinda freaky. And the thought of one of their eggs' albumen in the cup in front of her...
        "This has been perfectly aged." The commander continued, unable to hide a smile that could easily have been mistaken for vengeful.
        Suppressing many other urges, the wounded captain actually took hold of the shot glass in front of her, gazing down at the glop inside. She'd had worse, right? Sure... although she hadn't found out what most of that stuff was until after she'd consumed it, and it had been for money and relief of boredom... Oh, what the hell. There were worse things than merely disgusting. She closed her eyes, took a shallow breath, and swallowed the shot--noting that it slid down way too easily to be completely comfortable with what she'd just done.
        Julian... was transfixed. He sure as hell wouldn't have done that. It was... really quite revolting, thinking that stuff would linger in her stomach.
        The commander, on the other hand, was bordering between disturbed and impressed. "Another?"
        Eyes still closed, Captain Veis had a wince about her features. While it had gone down easily, the vicious burn of the alcohol had lingered. And dammit, it hurt. This was stronger than what she was used to. With another swallow, she still had to control the desire to cough as she spoke. "What's the proof?"
        "One hundred and thirty." She offered nonchalantly.
        Yes, that was new, indeed. "I think that might be enough, then." After all, it couldn't take that long to tear the shrapnel out. This should be sufficient. If she didn't pass out soon.
        "Alright, Captain." The med student interrupted, seeing his chance. "If you'd just get up here and lay on your belly..."
        The fact a med student had used the word "belly" gave her a large twitch in her stomach. Even more than the shot. Luckily, the burn and the pleasant, warm sensations were all starting to come together. Good enough so that she could swing herself onto the exam table--even if it was clearly a mistake, causing a moment of a great deal of agony. She mumbled a curse to herself, waiting for the alcohol to become more distracting.
        Pheta capped the bottle, ready to leave... and yet there was something about that image... She smiled deviously to herself, crossing her arms and daring to take a moment to enjoy the view. What the hell. Seeing Jack lay there in an almost supermodel position was one of the most morbidly entertaining things she'd seen in a long time. Especially when the captain was forced to lift one leg so that the area could be sterilized. And she thought the shot had burned... he may as well be pouring that crap right onto her leg. It might be more effective than the alcohol he was already using.
        Julian glanced at the commander, getting a definite feeling that he knew exactly what she was thinking. How... interesting. Not that--it was the fact that he felt no jealousy. Not that he'd ever gone psycho or anything, but... hm. He shrugged it off, taking Pheta's silent advice and just enjoying the show. Alcohol, plus something gross, plus pain, must equal humor. Somehow.
        It was, of course, at that moment, in the universe's grand plan against Captain Veis, that the innocent as always Nex decided to enter, taking a look around. His "sweet" demeanor only served to hide a headstrong warlord underneath. He knew damn well his captain had been hurt, had gone to sickbay... and was currently more or less incapacitated. It was a perfect time to ask her something.
        At the sound of yet another set of footsteps, Jack glared over at her suddenly three companions, wincing slightly as the med student began to dig into her leg. "What is this? A party?"
        "I just had a question." The boy offered. "About the Black Albatross." He had been doing some research on that most ancient and worn-out of vessels. And he liked what he saw, besides.
        She sighed through gritted teeth, the distinct feeling of a bit of metal getting tugged out way too fast surprising her. Not that she cared so much at that point--anything just to get it all over with. "Yes?"
        "Will you teach me how to fly it, Captain?" Nex asked with wide, young, puppy dog eyes.
        Which got a glare from her for as long as she could possibly hold out. But, of course, as he had hoped and planned, she relented. Must have been the booze. "I guess someone else should be able to..."
        The boy nearly leapt with accomplishment. This was a big thing for him.
        "Couldn't have waited twenty minutes, Nex?" Jack teased even as the next shard was getting wiggled from side to side so it would dislodge from the bone. She gave the cautiously learning student behind her look slightly muted by the alcohol--but her message was conveyed clearly. He slowed down his motions just enough to be significant, and continued.
        The navigator only smiled, bright and child-like. He knew how to work it.
        Julian took it all in from a distance. Interesting. The other two didn't know about Domani yet... so, clearly they didn't know that it could control the Albatross. Therefore, why was Nex asking to learn how to fly an unsafe, complete piece of shit in every respect of the phrase? And why didn't Jack stop him?
        She interrupted his, and everyone else's, thoughts--"Will you all just go away now?" It was friendlier than any of the other questions she'd had in mind, at least.
        "Thank you, Captain." Nex threw over his shoulder as he practically skipped out.
        The other two exchanged a look of frightened amusement that Jack barely caught; she'd been busy giving the "physician" another glare. A thought came to mind, seeing as how she wasn't sure how long this would take. "And Jules... you up to briefing about the... current situation?"
        He was a little surprised she'd asked. "Uh... I will be. If I have some time to... I mean... does it..?" He had no idea just what he was asking.
"Go to your quarters." She suggested. "And get ready."
        Pheta was glancing between the two of them, picking up the secret sort of conversation--and not like their usual buddy memories, either. This was quite serious, and she couldn't shake the idea that she was about to be introduced to it.
        Julian nodded, more or less getting her meaning. He turned to the Commander of Defense, an unusual air of professionalism in his voice. "I'd like you and Nex to join me in my quarters in an hour. It's very important."
        The woman made an attempt to remain unaffected, glancing at Jack... but she was busy leaving a tear in the corner of the slight padding on the medical table, another coating of liquid fire having been applied to her wounds. Looking back to Julian, the commander nodded. In a way, it was making her very uneasy that Jack seemed to have no desire to attend. Taking her agreement as enough of a "see you later", she made another curt nod to her distracted captain and left.
        Waiting until the woman was definitely inside the lift and on her way, Julian moved in close, leaning down in hopes only Jack would hear. "Do you think I can do this?"
        "Definitely." She responded patiently. "Just trust the Universe."
        He pulled back, surprised at her words--somehow comforted by her slightly pained grin. Yeah, he thought he could do it. Maybe not well, but... what the hell?

        Retreating to his quarters was the easy part. Deciding how to start this conversation... Well, he decided to go with simplicity. "Uh... Domani? Ya there?"
        "I am indeed, Captain DeVierna." The artificial voice replied. "Am I to assume you will be introducing me?"
        "Y-yeah." It was... so weird to talk to a computer. Sure there had been voice recognition at academy, but... it never really held a conversation.
        It would have been weirder in that moment if he knew there were living brains behind the entity, as well. "What would you like me to do for you?"
        "I have no idea." He admitted. "Maybe I'll just... break the news and you can explain. Since I have... no idea."
        "If that is your preference." The voice responded.
        He nodded slowly. "I'm going to get a shower first." He wasn't the one with blood all over him... but he was feeling a little weighted down with concepts better scrubbed clean, first.

        "One more to go, Captain." Eric announced with pride.
        Thank whatever powers exist in the universe... for now. She thought almost hard enough to have it telepathically embedded into every brain within six feet of her. Certain enough, there was one more prod, followed by the way too damn familiar feeling of metal sliding out of flesh. She breathed deeply and slowly, feeling a little better about the whole incident. Until another wave of chemical burn made her cringe. This time was a little easier, if only because she knew it was the last time. "I hope this was educational for you."
        "Oh, very much, Captain." The student was almost unswayed by her bland tone. He had accomplished something! Turning, he retrieved the first layer of wrapping, then carefully began to place it around the shredded portions of her leg. "I am versed in wrapping wounds, however."
        "I should hope that's one of the first things you'd learn." She tried to make conversation as the burning slowly ebbed. To her surprise, he was definitely acquainted with the process--he gave the stretchy medical fabric just enough tension to secure the flesh together, but without cutting off her circulation. It had taken her quite some time to learn that, herself. Of course, she rarely had access to realm medical-grade wrapping fabric. Taking that moment of stillness to relax a little, she used every millisecond to calm her mind's feeble racing. She was on the verge of... so much.
        "Is there anything else you need?" Eric dared to venture, using a small heat sealer on the edges of the fabric. That would hold for several days.
        "No, that's alright. If you're needed, you'll be called." She grinned lightly. "But until then, just go home and relax."
        He wasn't going to argue with that. "Thank you, Captain." He even so much as offered a hand, helping her slide off the table. "Is a crutch necessary?"
        She smirked quickly at the multiple meanings that question could have conveyed... but luckily did not. The alcohol had just begun to fall away, leaving her in a slightly clearer frame of reference. "I'll just walk around sickbay a bit and see if I need one. I know where to find them."
        Using his most professional doctor ability, he announced, "I will see you in a few days if I need to replace the bandage." And with that, he gave her an excited "I just did something neat!" smile, and dismissed himself.
        She was almost left with the impression that she might want to try to actually get to know her crew. It was an odd thought, but a valid one.

        She really had meant only to take one quick stroll around sickbay, then head back to her quarters. Somehow the thought of being that physically close to the others, though... She wasn't ready yet. Instead, she ventured toward the infamous door in the back. It just... felt like the thing to do, then. She had a most amazing pull toward that branch, just needing to be within range of seeing it, of absolutely knowing it was there.
        Even before she'd stepped all the way up to the door, it opened in front of her. Domani was watching. Smiling to herself, she stepped inside, noting that the door not only immediately closed behind her, but there was no need for a password. The lights went on, and the branch gleamed. The very visage was enough to remove the pain--but she wasn't willing to screw things up by putting all of her weight on it quite yet.
        Domani's voice was calm, almost melodically sweet. But there was a serious matter to attend to. "You understand that the rest of their fleet are on their way now."
        The entire Pordethre government would probably send everything they had at her, now. "Yeah. I know."
        "You'll have to make a move soon, either way. A decision." The entity warned cautiously.
        "I know that, too." She breathed. "You must have heard us. On the Albatross."
        "I did." Domani admitted. And then, completely unsolicited, "I think you should tell them your plans. Whatever they may be."
        "Hm." That was a... difficult thing. All around. "Is this logic or emotion talking?"
        "Both." The voice admitted. After a pause, the subject was dropped. "Julian is doing well, in case you were wondering."
        "You can be in two places at once?" It seemed a ludicrous question, granted. But she was curious.
        "Well, I do monitor the entire ship. Beyond that, I am able to communicate with several individuals at once. My designer was very careful to give me a full range of memory."
        Jack smiled for a reason she could not discern. "And how's it going in the room?"
        "Very well, considering. It's only just begun, and I believe there is still a bit of shock, but they seem to be... understanding."
        She nodded, not as amazed as she thought she might be. Part of her considered entering the conversation... but a larger part decided it was best not to. Jules could handle himself. It wasn't about that, deep down, but it was true nonetheless.
        "Do you want them to know about... 'the journey?" Domani asked.
        She took a deep breath, letting it out very slowly. Ah, the journey. The possibility of getting whisked away to another universe... Not that she would ask anyone else to go with her. "Not... yet. I think I should be the one to tell them."
        "I believe that is a wise decision." The entity agreed.
        Several minutes passed, lending themselves to taking in the sight of a branch of the Tree of Life. It was amazing on too many levels, even after all that time and everything that had happened. It was... actually that moment of peace that she'd been needing for a long time.

Content copyright Orin Drake 2011.
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