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

        Chapter 22 - Grains of Salt

        To her credit, her body did not shiver. No quake of emotion, nothing showing through a solid exoskeleton of either numbness or denial. It hadn't really struck her... it hadn't been made real, yet. Not the shrapnel flying past the screen, not the motion of the ship... just... couldn't be...
        The time was not right for those kinds of thoughts. What exactly it was right for somewhat escaped her, but... There was most assuredly someplace to go. Perhaps not to escape... much as she'd have liked that on one level. Getting up, standing under her own weight... that was the hardest. She wasn't sure she'd be able to do it at first, her body lifting in what she could only hope was a viscous, slow dream. Whatever motion may have been around her was ignored.
        Walking, actual locomotion, wasn't so easy, either. But it wasn't far to the door, wasn't far to just sort of get out for a bit and get some--then she was blocked. It took a good solid chunk of seconds for her mind to click into play, recognizing the barrier as Fix-it Noyn, right in her path. Ah yes, a damage report. She'd forgotten about such shit... and was in no mood to deal with the man let alone his yammering assessments of what had to be repaired, how well he could repair it, and how much it would cost. Being the closest captain to the door, however... she somehow managed an almost solid, "Yes?"
        The guy eyed her carefully, looking the slightest bit puzzled. "It was just an old junker ship, Captain."
        Thank whatever omnipotent power was "out there" that Pheta had moved to stand right behind her--Noyn's wrong and admittedly callous assessment of the situation got straight to the heart of Jack's rage. The commander made the move as quickly as her instinct struck, catching her captain none too gently by both arms and keeping her close. She had no doubt Noyn had gotten himself into real life-threatening danger, regardless of it being purely by accident.
        Julian, seeing the events unfold like a nightmare, tried his best to ease out of the situation. Approaching with a faster step than he normally would, he suggested blandly, "You'll probably want to see about the damage to the side of the ship, first." When the man opened his mouth to no doubt make some sort of insulted comment about being told what should be done first, Captain DeVierna raised his voice considerably and continued, "Like, now, if you don't mind."
        The guy got it. He didn't like it, clearly, but he got it.
        Personally seeing Noyn off of the bridge and closing the door behind him, Julian turned back to his somewhat incapacitated partner in crime, mindless of the rest of the small bridge crew attempting to absent-mindedly avert their eyes. Jack's arms were still firmly in Pheta's grip, but she didn't seem to be all that terribly pissed about it. Rather, she was seeming to make an attempt at controlling her own breathing, calming herself down. A good sign, definitely.
        Jack was glad for the silence. One word, one little beginning of a question or suggestion was likely to get someone killed. She kept her head down, eyes closed, breath steady... it would be okay. Everything would be okay. She didn't believe it just then, but she did believe she was capable of accepting that as truth for a few minutes. For the time it took to remove herself from most of the dangers present, anyway.
        When the pulse under her fingers subsided a bit, the commander carefully released her grasp. At first she was a little afraid that her captain might fall forward by the feel of it, but she managed to hold herself up. Well. Things were... looking a little less than up.
        The motionless silence was starting to chew at Julian's insides. Knowing he might well be the target struck out at, he still couldn't take the moment lasting any longer than it absolutely had to. "So... uh... should we reschedule?"
        "No." Jack attempted--but it turned out monotone. No matter, it was a solid word with no tremble.
        He swallowed. Well, that was a start... "And... tonight?" even he hadn't been quite certain what he was asking.
        "Same as planned." She swallowed the very suggestion of a lump beginning to form in her throat. "Different subject matter, though." She tried to joke.
        The rest was sort of a blur. She'd obviously been "dismissed", or at the very least allowed to leave. Whatever had happened to get her out of there was not the issue... her thoughts were both fighting to be buried and crashing into each other like waves, and she damn well knew she'd hardly make good decisions, let alone good company, in the state she was in. Perhaps she could find comfort of some sort in her quarters... even if it was a bottle of something far too strong for her own well-being.
        Did destiny find Nex, she wondered offhand... Did he know what he was doing? Well, he must have, on some level. Those bombs didn't set themselves off, and he'd have had to find them, first. The loss of her old and cherished cruiser was nothing compared to a bright, young and talented navigator... who happened to have been a friend.
        Ugh. The day had started out so well, too. Perhaps she should have known a disaster was right around the corner.
        Well. Three more ships down. And doubtlessly, countless more to go. They'd been underestimated too long, and even the Pordethre weren't going to make that mistake again. Next time... No. No more thinking about that until she was calm again. Her emotions threatened to surge any moment. Not yet, dammit.
        She rode the lift with a surprising amount of patience, considering the situation. All was quiet and still, not even a certain self-aware computer interrupting. Down the Captain's Hall, she allowed herself one look out the giant eye window, seeing tiny glitters of debris from their distance--and promptly looked away.
        Making it into her quarters, she managed to retain her composure both for herself and... hm. There he was, Dr. Carn, still seated comfortably in the same chair he had been in when she left. He looked back at her with a blankly serious expression, then lifted from his seat and made to leave. His tea was done, his captain had made it back safely. Nothing more to wait for.
        On the way past, though... he couldn't help but feel he should say something. Earlier, he'd asked himself what the hell that sudden rock of the ship had been, and surprisingly had received an answer from the ship itself. "We brought him back from the dead." He suggested, matter of factly. "His borrowed time expired in his own hands, at his own discretion."
        "That's a particularly callous way to think about it." She responded, the words completely lacking of emotion.
        "Yes, it is." He agreed, sighing. "But that's what they teach you to be like in med school."
        She took a deep breath, steadying herself to speak again. "Easier that way, isn't it?"
        "Sucks, though."
        "Yeah." He didn't find much reason to argue. With a polite and self-dismissing nod, he turned and excused himself. It seemed they'd come to an understanding, after all.
        Well... hm. At the moment, she had no direction. And not much of a desire to make herself tea, or even pour some sweetly numbing booze. What was the point, really? She sat exactly where she had been standing, giving no attention to things like furniture and comfort, and stayed there for an awfully long time. Thinking. Pondering the nature of things. Of life. Death. The universe. Other universes. The thought of mourning twice for one person who was so beautifully full of life when he'd had one to call his own, second chance and all... it seemed crass.

        Using the "doorbell" didn't seem appropriate. And certainly neither did paging her... so he sincerely hoped knocking would do. It just felt better. And if she were awake, she'd most assuredly hear him. Hell, if she were in a dead sleep he'd just knock as loud as he had to for her to come to the door.
        That, however, could wait to be built up. Pheta had given him a long look, then dismissed him from the bridge. He'd spent the rest of his time... wondering. And forcing himself not to ask Domani what Jack was up to at any given moment. It wasn't his business... though he still wondered if the computer would have offered any information, anyway. Perhaps the fact that it was so decent a possibility was what ultimately kept him from doing it.
        At last the door slid from under his knuckles, and the visage of a very worn out woman appeared from behind it. It took him a moment to speak, making the strangest note in his head; she wore her heart on her sleeve more than any of them cared to admit. A guarded heart, granted, but it was out there for the viewing if only a person were to look. "I thought maybe we could change our meeting place." He suggested before any more words could break the surface. "Since all of my furniture is intact."
        "Okay. Sure." She agreed, finding no reason to think his suggestion the least bit strange. "Give me a minute?"
        He nodded agreement, taking a quick step back. No need to watch her every move or anything... much as he suddenly felt the urge to. Weird. He glanced as the door slid closed, Jack already having turned to go... wherever it was that she was going to. And then it struck him: should he just be standing there like that? Was that appropriate, if not just the largest bit creepy? But then what the hell was he supposed to do, just leave her and go to his own quarters to wait? Stare out the window at the reminders of what had just happened as they spread further away from themselves? Or what if he--
        The door opened again, leaving Captain Veis pretty much open to every element the world had to throw at her; and she didn't seem to fucking care. She'd taken that moment to abandon her uniform on the floor, changing into a ragged old pair of jeans and a regular old almost-white t-shirt. Felt like the casual old assassin days... and she didn't really know why she'd wanted it to. But, whatever. It was as dressed up and comfortable as she was going to get. She'd even let her hair down, sick of the feeling of that tightness on her head as it was drawn together and kept there; she just didn't fucking feel like being restricted, period.
        Julian couldn't have said he minded in the least. Much as he was sure he'd be teased if not just looked upon oddly, he liked that old-style of civilian dress. It... kinda suited her, anyway. Made her appear human, even. Not that he didn't know she was... but she didn't leave that impression, often. Which was probably why he--
        He caught himself, almost choking on his thoughts as he cleared his throat, finding her eyes focussed on his curiously. "Shall we?" he tried not to make a bigger fool out of himself than he already had, probably having stared at her without speaking for a little too long to set her at ease.
        She nodded, following. Nothing much to say, really. Though the ship was certainly a bit chilly without her uniform jacket. She'd have to send a mild complaint in to Domani... eventually.
        He stepped aside, allowing her to enter his quarters first and make herself comfortable--which she found quite easy, apparently, from her straight march to the central couch and dropping right down on the thing. Well. Then. He made certain to enter the lock code on the door so they wouldn't be disturbed (not that he thought he had much to worry about), and took a seat on the smaller two-seater adjacent to where she had decided to drop herself. She didn't appear to be quite... comfortable, per se, but she didn't seem to have any desire to rearrange herself. So, he sat back and... waited. For some sort of conversation to... strike him. Or something.
        "The true worth of a grain of salt." She commented vaguely to herself.
        He tilted his head, trying to make sense of the phrase. Something about it struck him as not to be ignored. "I'm not familiar."
        She was a little surprised that she seemed to have spoken the words instead of merely thought them. After a quick pause of reflection, she attempted to clarify. "One of the... 'less than stable' fellows I used to know on an employee-to-employee basis used to say that. He was surprisingly religious for a killer." She attempted to find the humor in that statement, falling miraculously short given recent events. "It was... like a meditation for him before a hit. He would think of a grain of salt he'd consumed. And then he would start to consider where it came from. Which planet it was mined from, or what chemical processing plant it was packaged in, how many people had their hands all over it and exactly how many people it took for this single grain of salt in his mind to have made it that far." Interestingly enough, the guy also tended to take really long pisses after hits... perhaps placing the salt he'd imaged right back into the universe for further consumption.
        There was a long silence on his end of the conversation. Honestly, that was kind of neat. He'd never have considered it, that was for sure. "And... how does that relate? Exactly?"
        "For now... Nex is a grain of salt." She tried not to sound too ungodly callous... but it became a little hard in her state of mind. "Consumed. Having come from a million sources, to this ship, under my command. And if I let him be anything more to me right now... I'm not sure I'm going to be very stable when the real battle comes." How she managed to meet his eyes, she'd never know. "Did that make any sense?"
        "Yeah." He admitted. "Plenty." Truth be told, the lump in his throat was a painful swallow. "I... I'll inform his parents, then."
        She winced, albeit slightly. "No, Jules. Technically he was still my navigator."
        "Right..." And while in truth he would fall at her feet and weep if she would actually allow him off the hook of such a godawful task... "But I'm not sure how well it would go if you gave his parents the whole salt meditation and sent them on their way."
        At least that made her lips twitch upwards in earnest. "Granted..."
        "It's okay, Jack." He assured, even with the Suron Plains elephant suddenly trouncing around in his gut. Instead of sitting to the side and sort of across from her, he decided maybe... it just might be better if he were to... Ah, to hell with it. He didn't have booze and didn't feel they had the time for it to work at letting down those "inhabitions"--he rose, turned, and sat down on the couch next to her. It was almost a little... well, silly. But he really did feel the need to offer her comfort. It just felt so... absolutely different, for some reason. He wondered suddenly if she'd ever really released all of that pent-up sorrow, the rage, the frustration he knew she still felt on occasion...
        His arms moved on their own accord, but he didn't have any desire to stop them. The closeness, just holding her, was so much more intimate than that last time on the Black Albatross. And to his genuine surprise, she didn't refuse the gesture. A beat later, she even returned it, slowly, forcing her breathing to remain at such a perfect steady tempo that even he could notice.
        At last her arms dropped from around him, and she pulled back for a moment to offer appreciation, a kind word, a sincere thanks... but was unable. Her voice didn't seem to want to work... and there was an awful pain in her throat as she struggled to hold back quite a bit of old shit, ever so wonderfully mixed in with the new.
        He got the gist, anyway. Maybe this hadn't been such a great idea. "Okay. Well... I guess you'd better get back to your quarters."
        With a very natural expression, she informed him honestly, "I'm thinking I'd really rather not just yet. If that's all the same to you."
        Hm. He'd leap at the least chance to have her stay a little longer, but... "Are you sure?"
        "Yeah." She wasn't lying to either of them. "It's... just... yeah. A lot's been going on lately, you know."
        "It never fucking stops." He tried his hand at a joke, encouraged by the playful smirk it got. What the hell, he was on a roll. "We can have tea, and you can tell me all of your secrets."
        She let him worry for a moment, if only to keep him on his toes. He wasn't scot free yet. After a good amount of time, she finally agreed. "You know too many already, if you ask me."
        "I didn't." He joked freely with relief. And what subject would be just wild enough, just absolutely weird and out there enough to distract all other thoughts? Of course! "So. Speaking of secrets, how about the sexual kind?"
        That would do it, alright. Instead of a look of death, there was a sharp smirk on her face. "I already told you that you know too many of my secrets." She teased.
        Oooooh! Something had been stricken there! "Oh come on!" He was absolutely filled with curiosity after those words.
        She laughed at his eagerness. "Fine, fine." She sat back, a little away but toward him for easier conversation, feeling somewhat relaxed again. "The best place to meet with clients, and even sometimes to find certain targets, was at a bordello on the Arofa Disk. I lived in the basement of a corporate building around there, anyway."
        His jaw swung, his mouth agape. "You hung out at a whore house?"
        That inspired another burst of laughter. "Yes. As I said, it was strictly business." She grinned, leaving him to wait out her pause, just to see the possibilities flashing through his eyes. Finally she continued, speaking of her experience like an old woman might be talking about her first love. "It was more like a vacation complex than a bordello. There was a bar right in front of a burlesque stage--that was usually where I met client reps for the first time. Sooner or later, the ladies got to recognizing me. I was just a fascination at first, someone who never stayed long enough for a whole show and never went to the back rooms. The madam was a little suspicious, I think." She stopped for a moment, just letting the memories wash over her.
        He was just... flabbergasted. Maybe shocked was too much, but... he felt a bit catatonic. It was just... hard to picture a young assassin hanging out at a whore house, picking off some of their clientele at the whims of her own. Funny. Weird, but funny.
        "They must have figured it out." She continued, smiling the whole time. "They weren't stupid women. Most of them just had hard times, really... I suspect the free drinks and actual conversations started coming when one of their highest paying customers was suddenly never seen or heard from again."
        No doubt about why that was from her tone. He was hanging on her every word, silently prodding her on.
        "He wasn't known for treating any of them well. But the madam was afraid that he'd use his political power, and the ladies were afraid they'd get even more shit beaten out of them, so... someone must have made the connection eventually." She grinned with amusement, seeing Julian lean just a little bit closer as though she were telling some great and long-remembered hero saga. "I went from a fascination to someone to talk to when they were resting.         And I learned... way too damn much. They never did convince me to go to the back rooms, though."
        That was a shame. He wasn't about to say so, but he was thinking it almost loudly enough. "Wow." He managed simply. He knew her past was colorful, but...
        "And now you know way too much about me." She announced, slightly more seriously than not. Not in a threatening manner, but... matter-of-fact.
He got the hint; but he couldn't help still being amazed by her story. It was just... hard to picture. Jack was casual friends with a bunch of whores. It just... it made him giggle.
        The sound made her glare at him jokingly. "And would you happen to have any bordello tales?" she asked far too innocently, with a raised eyebrow.
        The giggle turned into a cough. "Uh..." he began unintelligently. But... what the hell? She'd told her story. He cleared his throat and nervously offered, "Okay. My first 'encounter' was the first year of Academy. A bunch of us got together and went to a little place outside of the city."
        "And?" she grinned subtly.
        But not subtle enough. "And... it was very embarrassing." He admitted quietly. "I was drunk."
        "Ah." No more explanation needed--her "bordello friends" had informed her of every aspect of that little disadvantage. Those were usually clients that got a bit of a discount after the fact, for obvious reasons. "And the other times?"
        He stared at her blankly. What a... rude question. But then she had revealed her entire sexual history to him, hadn't she? Sadly, his was about as short. And part of him really didn't want her to know that. He took a moment to consider not responding, then absorbed the shock of not really being embarrassed. He felt like he ought to be... but he wasn't. His eyes narrowed as he considered this, staring at Jack as if she'd slipped him something. At long last he just sighed as though finally surrendering. "Nothing else regarding a bordello." He assured first and foremost. "There was only one more time.  And it wasn't pleasant for a number of reasons."
        "Demanding girl?" she prodded, genuinely interested.
        "No, it wasn't that..." he tried to put it into words that didn't sound quite as callous and resentful as he felt. And failed. "She told me she loved me that night, then started fucking everyone else in the dorm. Including the other girls."
        Oh, crap. She didn't mean to have been amused by that. And she knew she looked quite entertained. It was hard to breathe without laughing. She managed, as sincerely as possible through quietly escaping chuckles, "That's awful."
        Her words inspired a smirk. "I care about you, Jack." --Yeah, he'd just shocked the shit out of himself. Not that he didn't mean what he'd said--but he certainly hadn't planned to say it, let alone anything at all.
        Her body went rigid for several seconds. Her voice came softly after she'd forced the muscles to relax for her own sake; constant sudden tension in muscles was known to cause pain and joint problems after a while. "I sorta give a damn about you too, Jules." After a moment's worth of thought, she felt it only right to add, "Almost feels like a new thing."
        He was stricken quite suddenly with a definite rage. It wasn't a rage toward her, nor anything she'd ever done--it was a passionate anger toward all of the shit she'd had to put up with in her life, and toward all the people that added on complications. He remembered Astrid, he remembered William... and of course he remembered all the stuff they'd been through together. It... it wasn't... fair. For once in his life he had the most overwhelming desire to protect something. Someone. Her. "It's got to hurt." He commented, mostly to himself.
        "Well, yeah." She said with all the conviction of a dead man. "It's all about one's ability to cope, maybe."
        Hm. Not the most hopeful of sentiments, but... "Is it a question of deity?"
        She thought that one over carefully. "I don't think so."
        "Faith?" he pressed, curious.
        "No. No, I'm pretty sure none of that plays into it." She gave her thoughts pause, a moment to wind up and start to work again, outside the realm of the state she'd just been lost in mere moments before. "Just chemicals in the brain and defense mechanisms. Faith and deity are just... distractions."
        He found himself grinning at that. And yet... even then... there was that nervousness. "Well... some would say that the deity is love."
        She made a quiet, dismissive sound. "So I've heard."
        He attempted not to take her nonverbal reaction personally. "And... I don't know. On that line of logic, it kind of makes sense."
        Now that was damn interesting. "How so?"
        His pulse had started to pound for reasons he could not fathom--but no matter. It was another philosophical discussion, and he was suddenly living for another one with her. "Well... what is more powerful than love? The act, the emotion, the pure... the power of it. It seems like it is the most powerful thing. And if so, there must be something that is the absolute epitome of it. A force, a deity. Of love."
        The concept washed over he mind for a moment. "Interesting theory."
        He kept going, moving just a bit further away from her only to make eye contact, to be able to look at her when he spoke and gestured to get his point across. "And then... if such a deity--a loving, creationist force--exists... death is nothing to worry about."
        That much amused her. "Really?"
        "Well, if this deity is all love... then why worry? Why not just throw in the towel and know you're taken care of?" It seemed... relatively logical in his state of mind.
        "Hm." Was the only comment she had for that. It was interesting, no doubt...
        All of a sudden he found himself perfectly relaxed again, delving deeper into the conversation. "But as for whether this force is sentient... or aware of itself at all... that's another mystery."
        She suddenly wished the ship's library didn't harbor so many annoying memories. Right then and there, it would have been so satisfying to run down there with him, going through the collection like a pair of starved idiots. "And as for the constant question, 'Why do bad things happen to good people?'"
        He paused on that one, gathering his thoughts. "Well... in this theory, I guess it's just because there's an absence of love. If love isn't there, neither is deity."
        Silence. Several beats worth. "You do have a very interesting line of thought there, Jules."
        He let a mild laugh fall quietly. "You don't buy any of it, do you?"
        "Not a bit." She admitted, feeling a good deal better than she had when she'd arrived. "But it is quite a concept."
        That pulse... it had started to race again. All conscious thought seemed to shut off, disconnect, leaving him only to instincts. "What about love?"
        Something about it... maybe it was his tone of the very subject matter in itself, but something... caught her defenses, raising walls quite quickly. It was a little weird for a number of reasons--most notably the idea that Julian seemed to be triggering the reaction. Such an odd thing to have happen, even under the circumstances. "What about love?"
        He made a gesture as if he were going to launch into another long and winding philosophical road... then stopped. "Fuck it." He breathed to himself--this dodging and avoiding was going nowhere. Even if he hadn't known he'd been dodging and avoiding until that very second. "I love you, Jack."
        A pause. Long, shocked, catatonic pause. Not a muscle moved, not a twitch of any nerve. Synapses ceased firing altogether. Pupils, pulse, awareness--all stood stock still.
        "I do." He added, feeling like the biggest idiot that ever existed--but one of the freest idiots, as well. He wouldn't stop the momentum; no matter how tight his chest felt, how the cold sweat was all too clear on the back of his neck. He knew he was scaring her. But he couldn't bring himself to care enough to stop. If he hadn't let it be known right then, he never would have let it out at all. "And I didn't say it so you'd say it back. I said it because it's true, and it's time I admitted it so you know." And now, he could die. And more than likely would.
        There was still that wide-eyed, empty shock in her eyes. She felt kind of like she was in a coma, and could see and hear what was going on, but couldn't respond. At least, that's how a coma had been described to her on occasion. Well, she knew the truth at last, perhaps.
        After a long while, when the gears slowly began their rotation again, she was able to find enough of her voice to croak out a quiet, "Jules?"
        It was too late and he was way too deep to be able to feel nervous anymore. His hands were securely between his knees, sure, but his voice didn't falter. "Yeah?"
        "I'm pretty sure I love you, too." She paused, rethinking that. "Sorry that wasn't more romantic, but... I'm not entirely certain that it's... that kind of love."
        Whether he actually minded that or not would have to wait for the haze of pure lunatic surprise to die away. Truth be told, he wasn't even sure himself, having been back and forth and spending long and torturous hours trying to figure out how and why and all of these other things that just kept pounding at him... It was love. That was enough, given the circumstances. It would serve.
        "I didn't really mean for it to have sounded like that..." she backpedaled, realizing that what she said may have been quite... awful.
        He held up a hand, smiling. He could wait until later to reflect on whether or not it had been false. "No, I... I get it. I understand. It's not like I've had any relationships that worked out, anyway." He joked.
        She found herself smiling back, relatively certain he wasn't just trying to brush it all off. "You're... you're more like kin to me, Jules. Chosen kin, rather than forced."
        The pause almost seemed calculated. "You fucked your brother, Jack."
        "Little incest never hurt anyone." She grinned.
        Only after he allowed himself a moment to enjoy the casual positivity around them did he realize... it felt like a weight had been lifted from his chest. But there was one more thing... "But this means I am not letting you go alone. To... wherever it is you'll be."
        Her chest clenched at the sentiment. "You could have a really good life here."
        "No." He responded instantly. "You know what? I don't think so. I'd rather be... out on a damned adventure, even if it does mean risking my neck every damn day, as usual." He grinned... then changed gears completely. "It was too lonely without you the first time." And it wasn't at all about that romantic love. It was just about... freakin' love. "Besides... you asked me not to leave you, remember?"
        After the Solanid attacked... after he found out he wasn't completely organic (well, not back then)... yeah, she remembered. She nodded her acknowledgment, not trusting her voice in that instant.
        "Well... it goes both ways." He simplified, feeling remarkably at ease with the words. "I just... have to know that you won't take off."
        She took a long, slow breath. She'd probably wind up kicking herself for it, but... "Okay."
        "Alright." He agreed quietly, at once solidifying the deal and putting the discussion to rest entirely. It felt... both natural and necessary to slowly snake an arm around her shoulders, giving her a squeeze that meant no more and no less than comfort and assurance.
        She actually surprised herself when she reached up to grasp his hand without a second thought. It was just... nice to accept a gesture that expected nothing so great in return.
        "Go to bed, Jack." He almost sighed, his eyes closed in the enjoyed thrill of the moment her hand connected. Even as he spoke, he savored it... but he knew he had to let her go before either (or both) of them would do or say something they'd regret. It was the dawn of the real battle of their lives, among other things... no one could really be expected to think straight.
        Yes, she supposed that might be a good idea. In truth, she was far from tired... but just laying there with her eyes closed didn't sound so bad at all. The quiet comfort, though, was just so soft and wonderful--
        Interrupted, but of course, by the door chime. It startled them both to pass a completely blank look back and forth, puzzled as to what the hell was going on. No matter--without a word, Jack rose and walked to the door, typing the general unlock code. She... had a feeling.
Proving her right, a very formal-looking Pheta stood outside the door, hands behind her back and at attention. The woman did not pretend to be surprised--and indeed she was not. Domani had told her where her captain was. The rest was hardly left to the imagination. She got the bulk of the conversation out of the way quickly. "Domani needs you to program a voice command code for long-distance secure frequencies. Then I'll need permission to use it."
        Jack stayed there, leaning against the door frame, for a number of seconds. It's not that she was at all suspicious, but... "Mind if I ask why, exactly?"
        "I'm calling in a favor." Was all the answer consisted of.
        The tone, however, was enough. The woman was a descendant of a very powerful family. The way she'd voiced "favor"... it gave Captain Veis a weighted stomach and a dry tongue. "Pheta... it's too dangerous this way."
        "It's what I can do, Jack." The woman solidified her point, refusing to be swayed. She'd put a lot of thought into it for a long time... and it seemed the moment had come, like it or not. "All I can do, but I will do it. Someone has to take care of this before we go, and I'd rather it not be 'someone else'."
        She raised an eyebrow subtly. "'We'?" Domani had been talking...
        "That's what I said." Pheta confirmed with a terse nod.
        Alright, well... fine. But... "I can't let you put yourself at risk, as your captain--"
        "You only have so much authority over me as an officer." The commander interrupted strongly. "I'm doing this as a friend. In other words, tough shit Captain."
        Jack blinked, a little uncertain as to whether she should be offended or impressed. "You amaze me, Commander."
        The slightest of quirks tugged at the woman's lips before she nodded, then turned away. Much as she dreaded the thought of contacting her father... she also rather enjoyed the idea that, in some small way, she had once again stricken her captain's argumentative nature a temporary stun. It was... a sport, in it's own way.
        Waiting until she'd heard the swish of the lift's doors closing, Jack turned and regarded an amused Julian. "I guess I better get on that."
        He tried his best to hold in that ear-to-ear, shit-eating grin threatening to break out at any second. "Guess you better."
        Taking a step to leave, she suddenly stopped and turned back. "And thanks, by the way." With that, she took off down the hall.
        Slowly, he wiped his face with his hand. Left alone to reflect... he wasn't sure he liked that.

        Secure in her quarters, she cleared her throat, knowing Domani had no choice but to listen. So, she spoke. "I assume you know what we're going to do."
        "Yes, Captain." The computer responded innocently.
        "And after we set the code," she continued quietly, "You and I are going to have a little discussion about just what information you let slip to everyone."
        "Yes, Captain." Domani repeated--the "innocence" just a little more on the amused side.

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