DarkHorse Vendetta by Orin Drake
Chapter 23 - Of Faith
and Heart Attacks
a hell of a lot easier to program when one had a
sentient ship on their side. The process had taken a couple of
minutes, if that... but it was the quiet thinking afterward which
took quite a bit longer.
Her pace was intentionally slow, meandering down the hallway to Nex's room. Perhaps it was the hopeful illusion that the slower she went, the less likely it was that she'd make it there at all... but it was a stupid idea, and she could admit that. It was still a fresh wound, was all. Much as she'd have liked to push the thought aside, he was still a dead comrade. A very young, very worthy dead comrade. Still so much to learn...
That inspired a bit of a smirk. She thought she knew a hell of a lot until the DarkHorse had shown up. The realization that the crew combined knew next to nothing was... almost disturbingly comforting. Kinda didn't feel so lonely that way... or maybe it made her feel like less of an idiot. She wasn't entirely certain, herself--especially when her eyes ran across his door. It ripped a sigh from her chest, but that was all she'd allow.
With a silent invitation, the door merely slid open before her; and, thankfully, Domani didn't say a thing. She half expected to feel as though she were somehow stepping inside a tomb. Of course, there was no reason for that thought--it was just as "homey" and comfortable as any of the other quarters, though smaller than her own. She stood there, just inside, puzzled at first that there was no animal rushing to greet whoever had entered... and noticed the slightest movement from around the corner.
Doxy wasn't really hiding. He was more along the lines of getting a good look at the person disturbing his sleep than he was concerned with who it might be. Seeing who it was filled him with as much sorrow as it did relief, and he made no hurry to stand, stretch, and walk over to her.
Jack waited patiently, taking note of the cat's slightly disheveled appearance. It seemed Doxy was no idiot, certainly. He appeared to have a pretty good idea that Nex wasn't coming back, and his ears drooped heavily with the weight of that knowledge. He sat with an uncaring thud next to her, hardly bothering a greeting of his nose against her hand.
"Poor thing." She sighed unconsciously. It wasn't as if the beast couldn't understand, though. If it wasn't the words themselves, she was pretty sure he could pick up on intonations and maybe even thought processes. Just about anything was possible at that point. "But you can stay with me. You already have a couch, anyway."
While that news didn't seem to perk him up in the least bit, he did slowly press his nose harder against her hand. So long as he wouldn't wind up in a cage somewhere...
She removed her hand only to give him a light pat on the head. Well... time to move on. Careful not to disturb too much (it still felt weird to be there, somehow), she gathered up the things that Nex had purchased for his pet. Not so much, really; bowls, brushes, toenail clippers, some odd smelling animal shampoo, a couple of overly large chew toys seemingly designed more for big dogs, and a walking harness with leash. It would be almost amusing in any other circumstance.
And then, as she was stacking all of the various accessories to bring back with her in one trip, she noticed it on the night stand. A note... oh, god, a note... She didn't even reach out to take it. She couldn't. She didn't want to.
But Doxy had seen her reaction, and pressed his nose against her hand softly, urging her on. Maybe he wanted her to read it to him. Ha. That'd be... really funny in about a year.
With almost delicate manners, she carefully placed her pile of pet things on the table, straightened her posture, and took a steady, deep breath. Grain of salt. Grain of salt. Steadying her hand, she took a couple of steps forward and grasped the small, neatly folded paper. Swallowing hard, she read out loud for the cat at her side. "'Captain Veis, I'm pretty sure you'll be the first one to read this. And if not, then stop reading. Anyway, I'm sure you'll take good care of Doxy for me.'" She paused when she felt the creature's warm breath on her knee, acknowledging his name. "'I don't have time for a long note, so I'll just say thank you, and I'm sorry. Tell them I love them.'"
She wasn't sure if she was just too shocked to start tearing up, or too jaded. It didn't seem real, and at the same time felt like she'd just been slapped in the face with it again. The Niehder-cat at her side let out an almost dog-like whimper, and she instinctually patted him on the head. "It isn't fair, is it?" she whispered.
Her question was met with a small, agreeable "Meowr."
She nodded as if he'd spoken. "Well, we should go. I'm sure I've got... something to do."
It was lucky that Doxy wasn't afraid of the lifts. And luckier still that they'd only come across a couple of people in the hallway, both too busy with their own conversation to have noticed the captain and her giant cat passing by. Stepping out in the Captain's Hall, Doxy's eyes immediately went to that giant window. It was a wonder, really. Like looking out into time itself... as pretty a view as it was empty... and that's when Jack had to turn her head and walk to her quarters.
Seeing as how her hands were full of "kitty stuff", she was relieved when the door opened for her. But a little less so when Julian was the cause of it, standing just inside. "Oh." She tried to appear less than surprised. "Hi."
He made a nearly nonexistent grin at her effort, lending a hand. "I just came in to find you." He caught a glimpse of the Niehder-cat gazing almost dreamily out the window in the hall, getting the gist. "Will he be a commanding officer or am I just out of a job?"
Well, it was nice to have someone trying to cheer her up. Even if she wasn't entirely ready for the effort. "Keep slinging bad jokes like that and we'll see." She turned and called, "C'mon, Doxy."
As if her voice had shaken him from deep sleep, the cat blinked, shook his head a little, then trotted after her. Without the least hesitation, he went right for the already crushed couch and made himself comfortable.
"Well." Julian commented, impressed. "Ever had a pet before?"
That was rather amusing, somehow. "Not really. Never had the time." It wasn't as if she never wanted a couple of dogs or cats or whatever roaming around but... really, an assassin with any loved connections was a danger to themselves. Of course, it had been a while...
Domani's voice interrupted. "Captain, Commander Pheta requests your response right away."
Jack's stomach sank, weighted heavily. Now what the hell... She tried not to sound too uncaring with a solid, "Sure."
The Commander's voice immediately came through. "Captain, a fleet of Glexelan ships is directly in front of us. And the leader ship sent a message." She paused, letting the information sink in. "It's a request for permission to board." Her voice was... recognizably surprised.
And that much was certainly understandable. Glexelan ships, not even two hours at most after Pheta had contacted her father... She hadn't gotten the impression that Beran-Turou was one to request permission to do anything. Let alone board one measly ship amongst a sea of his own war vessels. Perhaps it was... a good sign? Jack swallowed almost miserably. "Granted. In twenty minutes. We'll go greet."
"Acknowledged." Pheta signed off quickly. There was certainly a bit of anxiousness in her tone... and no one could really blame her for that.
Eye contact was established between partners in crime for a mere heartbeat--it wasn't as if they needed any verbal communication. Julian nodded and took off to his quarters to get changed into uniform. Jack went to her bedroom and did the same. Doxy, in the midst of things, began to snore softly. The couch was just perfect.
Careful not to disturb the sleeping cat, Jack crept out of her quarters as quietly as possible. Just as she was about to cross the hall and knock on Julian's door, he emerged, one arm through his jacket as he walked. Well. Familiar. A little too much. All this pomp for what? Probably to get themselves killed...
--Not a thought to dwell on. "Ready?" she asked the stupidest question that came to mind.
And he flashed her a grateful smile in spite of himself. "What the hell, right?" In truth, he was annoyed. Aggravated beyond understanding, really. He had wanted to get her alone, to talk to her... and he didn't even know what about, really. He just... felt the need. A need that was interrupted, as usual. Things were a little more serious all-around, this time...
They traveled to the dock wordlessly. It seemed necessary, somehow... maybe to keep things in perspective. While the one they'd meet was merely a man... he was a man with a legend and a large fleet of ships that had traveled at remarkable speeds just to meet with the DarkHorse. Scary shit.
Joining Pheta, already standing there at attention, in wait... did not help matters. Maybe she was stone cold on the outside, but her eyes showed too much nervousness to be entirely comfortable. Her usual perfectly still nature was even accented with the occasional anxious twitch of fingers, rotation of a foot, a swallow... none things she was used to showing. The twenty minutes were up, and now everything was out of their hands.
A light metallic "thump", and then a slight shudder underneath. The ships had successfully joined. The dock portal opened slowly with numerous clicks, whirrs, mechanical sounds that somehow felt a lot darker than they should. Very little crew had joined them, but the ones that had were armed. It was almost a joke, a few armed guards in the presence of Beran-Turou.
Silence and heartbeats. They waited. Every second spanning much more time than it truly deserved. At last there was a small, rhythmic sound--footsteps--carefully getting a little closer, echoing. Then more footsteps, behind. The final door, the last protection between the DarkHorse and all that waited outside, rolled open.
It was a man that had seen many beginnings, and a great many endings. That much was as clear in the creases on his chiseled face as it was in his posture--in stature, he could have been some old god of an earth religion. Older, most certainly; but no less strong than many of the younger guards that accompanied right behind him, small pistols in each of their hands. The Beran-Turou walked at an unhurried pace like a proud Glexelan, stopping promptly when he came across those in uniform that appeared more captain-like.
But that introduction would wait a moment. Taking a chance, Pheta allowed herself to speak out of turn. "F-Father."
The bright streak of recognition hit the man's eyes like a comet. "Pheteir."
"Pheta, Father." She corrected softly, finding herself far less afraid of him than she had been years previous.
He repeated the foreign word quietly, tasting it in his mouth. "Pheta." There was a pause, when all was held breath and silence. "Pheta, then. You call dangerous favors."
"I know." She conceded. "This was absolutely necessary."
"It must be." He agreed thoughtfully. "I would appreciate a conversation in private."
She nodded once, then took it upon herself to introduce her captains. "This is Captain Veis, and Captain DeVierna, of the DarkHorse Vendetta."
Beran-Turou nodded politely at each as they were introduced, the soldiers behind them ritually holstering their guns and standing at attention. "No doubt we've much to discuss. But if you would allow me some time with... Pheta, here..."
"Our Commander of Defense." Jack spoke up gently, somehow feeling the need to elevate the woman's status in his mind. She had moved on from simply being his child, after all. "Of course. Take all the time you want."
With a surprisingly hearty smile, the boogie man of their little corner of the universe nodded and walked off with his daughter. It was... just too surreal to believe. Perhaps so much so, that even after he was clear of the dock, guards in tow, no one else moved for quite some time.
It was Julian that surprised them all... including himself. "Well. Good work. Go get something to eat."
They strolled aimlessly together, both captains, up and down abandoned halls. It was quite a while before any actual conversation began.
"That was weird." Jack admitted with a smile she didn't quite understand.
Picking up on it with a glance, Julian was somewhat glad that it seemed to be spreading. "I bet it's just going to get weirder."
Well, not quite what she wanted to hear, but... "I'm not sure I was looking for that kind of confirmation."
He chuckled. He had to... he felt her worry and stress as if they were physical weights on them both. "And what's gonna happen now?" he couldn't help the question.
It took about a dozen paces to reflect on her response. Even then, when she finally voiced it, it seemed amazingly unsteady. "I don't think that's entirely in our hands right now."
"Talk about not being the kind of confirmation I was looking for..." the attempt at a joke falling flat even to him.
"I'd just... like for it to be over." She admitted quietly, electing to look at her feet. It wasn't an admission she cared for, even to keep to herself.
Instinctually, Julian's arm rose from his side--but he wasn't certain of exactly how it'd be received. One did not prod at a wounded animal, after all... but then... Screw over-thinking. He settled for a nice in-between, resting a hand on her shoulder as they walked on.
The gesture was... odd, but not unappreciated. She actually found herself resting a hand over his before they both realized how terribly unusual the whole thing was and disengaged entirely. "I've got no idea where to go from here, Jules. And it's pissin' me off."
Well, that rendered the mild uncomfortable moment from before almost entirely nonexistent. He'd have congratulated her, had the mood not been so... whatever the hell it was. "I don't think there have been a lot of people in this position." He attempted, noting the minor glare tossed his direction. "I mean, it's hard to know what to do when no one's done it before."
"Mm." How right he was... and how that sucked. Time to change subjects, perhaps. "I wonder how Pheta's doing."
He found himself grinning. "I'm not sure who I'm concerned about more, actually."
Jack mirrored his expression, unable to help it. "These are all exceptional circumstances, right? I mean... this can't be 'normal', can it? It's not just me?"
"I honestly don't think I can answer that." The laughter bubbled up in his chest, dangerously close to rendering him useless.
She didn't mind, just glad to laugh so honestly again. It took her a moment to catch her breath to speak. "Ah. This life must belong to someone else."
He tried to hide the sinking feeling in his gut with a smile. "You really think so?"
"No idea." She shook her head absently, feeling the warmth of the laughter cool too quickly. Nice while it lasted, though.
The subject was shifted dramatically, serving as something of a distraction. "It strikes me, suddenly, that the only people with that total stranger on the ship are his own guards and Pheta."
She blinked at that forced realization. "True. But I should think Domani would let us know if anything were going on."
He tried to hide his sigh of relief. Yes, he'd forgotten that. The ghost in the machine, as it were, was somewhat like a security blanket. It didn't calm all of his worries, though... and that much was clear as they made distracted eye contact. With a mild sigh, he admitted, "It's still like having... I don't know. A faceless, horrible monster wandering the ship, in a way."
"Oh surely it's not that bad." Came a voice from behind them without a single footstep surrounding it. And how long he'd been there...
Julian turned quite pale. Even if he hadn't recognized the voice, the speaker would have been too obvious. He'd just called... directly... the Beran-Turou... a faceless... horrible... monster. That was enough to be in fear for his very existence.
Only after a precisely measured time did the footsteps finally come, showing the man from behind the bend in the hall. He waved off the comment, but his features held a seriousness. "It is alright, Captain DeVierna. But if you would excuse myself and Captain Veis..."
Gladly. He attempted to ignore her combined look of nervous sympathy with a self-dismissing nod.
She nodded back, watching him remove himself down the hall with a somewhat surprising speed. Well. This should be... "educational"... With a swallow and a deep breath, she attempted to calm all insane visions of possible soon-to-be occurrences. Like, death for instance. Turning, she stood at attention and addressed him the only way she could think of. "Sir?"
He seemed appreciative of the gesture, smiling a bit with a mild wave of his hand. "No need to be formal."
If he was under the impression that that would relax her, he was mistaken... Though it was nice to somewhat be "at ease" around him. She quite preferred conversations that way, even if they might result in uncomfortable circumstances.
"If I may ask, Captain," he began rather gently, "How much do you know of... Pheta in general?"
"Enough." She responded carefully. No, the man didn't appear to be militaristic at that point in time, but she knew very well she could be wrong. "Wide details."
He nodded, considering her words. "Pheta used to be my son." He stated, more to himself than her. "Pheteir... I loved him very much. He was my only child. His mother died in labor."
Now that, she didn't know. "Condolences."
He waved it off delicately. "No need, I assure you. But thank you, just the same." His tone changed all of a sudden, as if an internal shield had just been dropped. "The Beran-Turou Empire, as much the Glexelan way, is devoted to the men. Generation to generation. When Pheteir began to express the need--no. No, when he expressed he was female... it was a lot for me to take. And it was unfortunate that I listened to my advisors. I'll never forgive myself for that." He lowered his head, taking a shaky breath. "Forgive me, Captain. Just the ramblings of an old man."
She had no idea what to reply. Or whether she ought to at all. This was... interesting. In a sick sort of way. More than that... this guy was sounding more like man than monster. "It tends to haunt her once in a while."
He shook his head with a slight groan. "Yes. Yes, I... I can only imagine. I had come here with a far different purpose than what I have to offer."
Her heart just about exploded right there. She had to bite her lip to keep herself from asking what he meant by that--although she was a fool not to have demanded it right then and there. An explanation might have been nice to lower her blood pressure; but he hesitated, as though thinking it over again.
At last he met her eyes, taking a good look. A long, almost desperate look. "You have treated my s-... my daughter, well. That is commendable. She tells me that you are all set to a fantastic task as soon as this is all over. And that makes me wish I were young again."
She swallowed, not liking where the words were going. In truth, she had no idea where the conversation was actually headed--he was unreadable. As was certainly important for his position, but...
"I came here to see her and leave." He admitted softly. "But now that I am here and I have spoken to her... I want to offer my Sovulet Fleet to your cause."
What the fuck was--was that an angel singing?
No, just her ears ringing. High blood pressure and all. She took a moment to rub her temples before responding with a weak, though well meant, "Thanks."
The man, Pheta's father, Beran-fuckin'-Turou in the flesh, laughed heartily. "A reign of the blind and stupid is a danger to everyone if they grow too large. If my daughter has that faith in you, then... who am I to question her?"
"What about your legacy?" she asked all of a sudden, not even aware she was thinking it until she heard her own voice.
He grasped her shoulder tightly--a sign among equals. This woman--this mere girl in his life cycle--was young, small, and very much in the middle of a thousand things she had no control over. But he saw things in her eyes; some of those things, he'd just discovered in his daughters'. "I'd say it's about time for another legacy to come into power. Once I die... well. I'll be dead, won't I? I don't imagine I'll care who assumes after me so long as they're up to the task."
Well now that was an interesting way to put it. "Thank you, Sir. This is... really very confusing. Amazing, but... confusing."
He chuckled, smacking her shoulder in a friendly way and pulling his hand back--his eye catching the shine of the brilliantly clean Spectre under her jacket. His eyes widened considerably. Was that..? "Would you mind, Captain, giving me a glance at your weapon?"
An... interesting request on top of all of this very interesting stuff. The way he was looking at it wasn't with bloodlust, but... it was just as powerful. Surreal on top of surreal--she carefully grasped her prized possession and pulled it from her side, facing it upward and at an angle where he could inspect it, but could not take it from her. Just in case.
"Damned to Apoquahul." He whispered to himself, taking a sharp look at every telltale feature. There was one in particular, one that reflected the light if looked at just so, that he remembered having a hell of a time creating... He adjusted himself to the angle, shaking his head when he'd confirmed it. "This used to be mine, Captain."
She supposed, "No, fucking, way" would have been misinterpreted. The possibility that he might be asking for it didn't even hit her as the memory came back strong. "I pulled this off a collector's wall." On her first assassination, to be precise. The Spectre had tasted her first blood, first kill. It was the first thing that had felt natural in her hand; powerful, a part of her she hadn't known was missing until she'd used it...
Thoroughly surprising her, he laughed pleasantly. "Well, it was stolen from me many years ago. Not important, though. I'm glad it changed hands more properly."
She found herself grasping on a little extra tightly--not only was he not asking for repossession of the object, but he was... granting her ownership? This was all a little too surreal to manage with so little sleep, so much drama, and in general considering what she knew that she did not know of the universe.
The man before her seemed to understand that much. "I will leave you to your duties, Captain. I have seen my daughter, and I have called my fleet. I will be leaving."
"So soon?" she inquired quietly, sliding the Spectre back into its rightful place. It wasn't that she'd preferred he'd stay, really. It was more that she didn't know what the hell to do with a fleet. That much command, that much responsibility... was getting just a little nauseating.
One curt nod settled matters--but not all of them. "I have heard of you, now that I think about it."
Nausea, headache, racing heartbeat... yeah, I'll drop dead any minute now... Her only response was a less than intelligent, "Uh..."
"And you're not so frightening after all, Jacqueline Ravenscroft." He joked almost warmly.
--Wait a minute. Tick. Tick. Tick. "Ravenscroft?"
His more dangerous than amused smile caused a couple of long-chipped teeth to be exposed. "Beran-Turou intelligence is much better than Pordethre." He paused, taking in the look that crossed her face. "You never knew?"
"The orphanage never told me." One fucking bomb after another, hitting her repeatedly. Her head was going to explode before her heart would give out at this rate... She'd just found out a hell of a lot more than she ever thought she'd be able to handle in one dose.
"Your father was a trader and dealer in ships." He informed her lightly.
"And my mother was a whore." She guessed, That was usually how it seemed to happen in the orphanage.
He laughed heartily at that simplistic understanding. "Not quite. At least, not according to my information. She was young and not terribly intelligent, but... technically, she was not a whore."
"Good to know." Though whether or not her sentiment was exactly true...
He took her jaw solidly between his thumb and index finger. "You have it, kid." He commented quietly. "Don't you forget that. Whatever 'it' is, you've got it. So use it." He released her jaw, but the eye contact never wavered. "I had 'it' too, when I was younger. Before I let my advisors take it away. So you have to work at it to keep it. But I'm sure, wherever you're going, you'll be glad it's there."
You are a strange man. She opened her mouth to say. Instead, all that came out was, "Thank you, Sir."
He seemed to have heard her thoughts rather than her actual words, giving a hearty guffaw. "You are welcome, Captain. Take care." He made a strangely sweeping bow, turned, and began to walk away. Before he disappeared entirely, he called over his shoulder, "Your strength is in your weakness. And believe me, you'll understand that later."
It was well over an hour later when Julian was strolling the very halls where he had been earlier, having heard nothing from Jack. About half an hour before he started wandering again, he'd heard that Beran-Turou had left the ship with his guards in tow--and still he hadn't run into her. He'd just checked her quarters, using an unlock code when he'd began to worry; only to find a napping cat on the crumbled couch. She wasn't on the bridge, she hadn't been near sickbay, and no one he'd come across had seen her. Finally he'd broken down and asked Domani, who had "a fix on her location and a heartbeat". Clearly, that hadn't inspired much peace of mind.
When he found her, for one swift moment in time, he thought she was dead. Maybe that Beran-Turou had killed her, or worse, that she'd killed herself because of something he'd told her. She was just... laying there. Flat on her back, spread eagle, gazing at the ceiling, laying exactly where he'd left them to talk. And just before he was about to call for Domani to send medics, she spoke without looking at him. "Hey."
Everything about the situation was so surprisingly strange that it took a moment for his brain to achieve enough speed to keep up with her. "Hey." Slowly, he approached until he entered her field of vision, waiting for eye contact. "So. What are you doing?"
"Waiting for the heart attack." She responded naturally. "You?"
"Wondering why you're waiting for a heart attack." He shot back easily. "Mind if I join you?"
"In the heart attack?"
"In laying here doing absolutely nothing."
"Not at all. Plenty of floor space."
Well, that there was. He sat next to her, stretching back until he was laying down. Damn, that actually felt quite good--but, back to the matter at hand. "What did he say to you?"
She shook her head lazily, unable to condense much of the conversation at that point in time. "My last name is actually Ravenscroft. And I'm 'special'."
While perhaps matters dictated otherwise, he couldn't help chuckling at that statement. "Maybe that's how you should introduce yourself." He dodged her intent to thwack him on the arm, glad to get a normal reaction. "That's your parents' name?"
"Apparently." She had no plans to keep such a name, however. She had chosen one that felt right, one she could answer to.
"Are you going to try to find them?" His own question made him nervous, somehow.
"No." What was the use, really? There was no time, and she didn't have the desire. "My life's been complete without them."
He nodded understanding, even if she didn't look over to see it. No, he just... couldn't picture that. Jack was the sort who didn't really seem to have been a child, let alone had parents. Too weird.
A moment of silence passed as she tried to wrap her own mind around things. "And I've got the Sovulet Fleet under my command."
That announcement required a double-take. Suddenly the idea of awaiting a heart attack made sense. "He... left you... a fleet?"
"Well... I don't think he was joking."
A long, half-comfortable silence followed, until Julian's thoughts got the better of his mouth. "This might just be possible, after all."
"The ultimate vote of confidence." She laughed quietly.