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

        Chapter 29 - 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13

        The moment of uncharacteristic (but nonetheless enjoyed) silence was broken by the doctor's question. "Are you sure you'd like that glass removed?"
        She hated to ask, especially forced to sit sideways in the navigator's chair rather than comfortably resting against it, but... "And why wouldn't I?"
        "Well. It just looks so cool."
        "Jackass." She joked. At least, that was the plan. Maybe she'd lost control of her tone a little, due to to the bleedin--oh, who was she kidding. She was tired and weak, but not that tired and weak.
        He seemed to have found a way to appreciate the interaction, anyway. Though, a change of subject was in order. "I can look over the drive. Present you with any relevant information." He held the computer's heart he'd plucked from the medical vessel scant moments ago, still wishing he could get back at it for shocking him.
        Well, that was nice. Oddly so. "If you can include some of the irrelevant information, too, then it's a deal."
        "And what would you want with irrelevant information?" He found it a strange request, to say the least. Well, perhaps not for her...
        "It's interesting." She responded simply. "And ultimately relevant."
        He blinked, finding it easy to twist her line of thought. "Then nothing is irrelevant."
        Leave it to her to hang around people (willingly or not) that could plunge neck-deep into philosophical discussion at exactly the wrong times. "Let's not get into a head-spinning conversation so soon into our new introductions, Doctor."
        He hid his grin well with a cough, then a clearing of his throat. "Why did I hate you for so long?"
        "Because you're a pessimistic dick that's quick to judge." She responded without pause. "Just like Chuck was." She'd never had the best of relationships with doctors, anyway.
        "And you're a pushy, egotistical bitch with some severe emotional issues."
        For a long moment, there was silence between them. Not uncomfortable, not unexpected... just silence.
        The doctor began again, having thought things through. "Should we re-re-introduce ourselves, now?"
        "No." She dismissed, sitting up a bit straighter in the chair while trying to think about how good it would feel to be able to rest her back against it sometime soon. "I kinda like things starting off this way."
        Why was he not surprised... "Is this how things started with Captain DeVierna?"
        What an unexpected question. "Why do you ask?"
        The dry tone matched his perfectly serious expression. "I want to know when I should be most careful. Wouldn't want to get involved in sordid affairs."
        She scoffed loudly and openly. "Keep up those dreams, Doc. They'll get you places. Like trader planets."
        He knew she was joking... at least, he sincerely hoped so. "Now my hatred is justified all over again."
        "Justify this." She began with conviction... feeling a little too drained (or lazy) to actually make more than a half-hearted one-finger salute with a lowered arm. "Damn. I couldn't have lost that much blood already." Though, with a glance back at the chair... and under the chair... and along the path she'd taken to get to the chair... Well. She was a regular fountain of blood. Interesting symbolism, but not so nice when it came to mundane existence.
        "That's the tranquilizer I slipped you." When the glare that met his words became intense enough to kill small, fuzzy animals, he amended, "Joking. I think."
        Yeah, that made her feel better. "Isn't there supposed to be some kind of oath you people take?"
        "I'll get back to you on that."

        There wasn't any communication at all from the DarkHorse; the dock opened for them before a request to do so was even made. Nor was there a welcoming party when they stepped out of the Sefirot. Almost disappointing... or would have been, had Jack not been so utterly ready to have the glass pulled out of her back without any unnecessary distractions. Those sorts of stupid things were kind of getting annoying.
        While the doctor didn't offer her any help to walk to the lift and then to sickbay, he didn't exactly walk that far away from her, either. It was an appreciated thing... especially the fact that he didn't point and laugh at her. She had an idea that he'd have liked to...
        Nevermind. The mere act of walking into sickbay was pretty nice. Until Doctor Carn spoke, anyway. "We can do this the hard way, or you can wait until the damn computer comes back online."
        That didn't sound all that pleasant. Not that that particular situation was anything new... "Alright, let's get this over with." Ugh. Memories too close. But then, she was just an idiot.
        "Escorting" her, he indicated the table in the first open room, then walked away to get the necessary tools. Jack elected to sit and wait rather than to lay down immediately. What was the point, really? She stared at a fixed point on the wall, wondering how hard it would be for the guy to display any concept of a bedside manner, no matter how fake. Ah well. He came back in with what he needed, giving her a stare that very much told her she ought to have been ready by then.
        At least that much felt good. She grinned a little, reaching to pull her shirt over her head... then took into account that the shards had shredded the back of her bra apart in several places.
        "Don't tell me you're shy." Came the caustic response.
        Granted. She thought perhaps she should save herself a little loss of time and patience, pulling what remained of the top half of clothing off and tossing it in a bloody pile on the floor. Clean no more.
        "Won't Captain DeVierna be jealous?" the doctor prodded sharply--being certain not to have been within hitting/kicking range. Of course, with her shirt off, he could all too clearly see the Spectre and holster, astoundingly surviving the glass with little more than a few nicks in the leather.
        "Stare only at the appropriate weapon, Doc." She quipped tiredly, laying down and cringing at the cold beneath her. "Kind of a shame that you missed this the first time."
        That was a surprising turn of subject. "Glass embedded in your back?"
        "Well, shrapnel in my leg." Yeah, fun memories. At least it shouldn't be quite so awful this time around... right? What an idiot she was to hope.
        How dare he miss something like that? "You're right. That is a shame." Without warning, he used the pliers to grasp one of the large pieces of glass. "I'll make up for it now."
        And why, exactly, did she have to go and open her mouth about it? "Ow, dammit."

        She had to hand it to him, at least it didn't take long. And the shards weren't large or deep enough to require the paging of Pheta and her godawful special brew to keep the pain away. It wasn't a picnic, no... but for some strange reason, the doctor was mercifully quick and to the point. Even with his question afterward. "Would you like a bandage, or will your uniform suffice?"
        Well. "Depends on whether or not you're going to do the bandaging."
        "That depends on your answer." He responded even while he was turning away to wipe his hands of blood.
        "Fucking head games." She mumbled, feeling a little "heavy" from her loss of blood. And the insults.
        "Just trying to set things into balance again." He attempted to assure her, disposing of the glass. "Do you need an escort back to your quarters?"
        Good idea, but... "I should be able to make it alone."
        "Too bad." He sounded a little too disinterested to be honest about it. "Captain DeVierna has already been called."
        She couldn't really complain. So she elected not to say anything. Until... a thought came to mind. "Tell me, though." She interrupted their shared stabs for a quick moment of seriousness. "Is there anything about... any of this fucked up situation that you know and I don't? Or should?" She referred, of course, to Julian and Domani... but that much would probably be obvious.
        He seemed to think hard about the question for a number of seconds. "No. Not yet, anyway. But I'm curious to know what that drive has to offer. And that ship..." he trailed off in another burst of much too serious thought. "Should it be destroyed?"
        Interesting, this "conversation" thing they were having. "No. Not yet, anyway."
        The response caused an eyebrow to raise as he prepared the bandages he'd nearly forgotten about. "Certain?"
        "Very." She stretched out a bit, wishing she hadn't just thrown her shirt on the floor. "It needs to be... watched. There might be a use for it."
        "What tells you this?" he let a naturally curious tone pass his defenses, walking back over to finish the job.
        She hissed quietly when the sealant was smoothed over her back. Being a mixture of Bioseal and antibacterial gel, it stung. "Instinct. Learned instinct."
        He was silent, laying several layers of gauze over the wounds, using medical tape to secure them. After all the technological strides in medicine, it still came back down to having to do things the old-fashioned way when the computer system was down.
        The same thought played annoyingly in the forefront of Jack's mind before she heard footsteps at the door. On cue, there was Julian... giving her a much too amused look. Wounded again. Surprise.
        Finished, Dr. Carn stepped back and nodded. "I'll get a shirt." He excused himself from the room for a moment.
        That amused expression was still plastered across the other captain's face as he took in the sight of Jack. Bandages ignored, she was shirtless. And there was an endless supply of teases. None of which were given any importance over what he needed to do. Hey, there was always later to indulge in insults.
        She blinked, a bit surprised when he stepped forward and lifted her from the table. It was a hug, she realized. And with a mental kick in the ass, she also took note of how naturally it was returned. Dammit. Already she was all... just... soft. And more than open for a shitload of teasing. Not that it mattered. She was just glad she'd survived.
        "I was worried." He was quiet, the fact that she was quite literally naked from the waste up not so much as passing his mind... more than once or twice. Well, not his mind, exactly, but...
        "So was I." She joked.
        Their conversation was quickly severed as the doctor ducked back into the room, seemingly no mind given to their situation. Without a word, he slung the extra post-surgical shirt over their collective shoulder, then gave a lazy, mocking salute as he turned, clicking his tongue as he "snapped" his hand away, and left.
        "What the fuck was that?" Julian finally found the words expressing his thoughts after several seconds of searching.
        Well, that was a pretty good question. "That was... well, nevermind. I'll tell you later."
        He supposed that would just have to do for the moment. He released her so she could make use of the clothing... not staring too long as she did so. Hey, it was his right. "Shall we?"
        "Let's." She responded, jumping off the table... and wobbling a little. Oh, right. Blood loss. It wasn't enough to make her forget those particular folders on the counter before she left, however.
        No reason to let her go it alone... although it would have been more entertaining that way. "Would you like to be carried?" he offered with far too bright of a grin.
        "Thank you." She obviously did not mean. "I think I'll walk. Unless I fall down. In which case I expect you to alert someone."

        She had to admit (to herself, anyway), she was incredibly glad to get out of the lift and head to her quarters. The dizziness was starting to impede even upon her ability to ignore it, and she really needed to eat something. But just before she opened the door, there was something to be said. "You knew I wouldn't be able to wait, didn't you?"
        He let go of the frightened, painful sigh he'd been holding in since Pheta had interrupted them the last time. "Yeah."
        That said enough, she supposed. She realized in hindsight that there was really no other way she could have played out that situation. Although it was still a stupid decision to go it alone to a strange ship... not that she wound up that way.
        Doxy had heard them approach. And he'd waited at the door. As soon as the only thing keeping him from the one that fed him slid away, he leapt--but balanced perfectly on his back legs so as not to put too much pressure on the smaller body below him as he rested his huge paws daintily on her shoulders. He'd already come to understand that the creatures around him were a little more... fragile than himself.
        It was certainly the most unique welcome she'd had in some time. "Guess it's dinner time."
        Doxy snorted softly in agreement before backing away and dropping to all fours. With a casual stride that only came from knowing he had properly trained his human companion, he went straight for the kitchen.
        With a half-serious sigh, Jack followed. Julian brought up the rear, keeping his thoughts about how surreal it was to see Jack dote over an animal to himself. Only once she'd successfully given the cat a bowl full of food did he let the nagging question fall. "So?"
        She took a deep breath, trying to sum up the experience. "I 'battled' a cyborg and a hologram from a dying brain attached to the ship's computer."
        There was a moment when he went over those words... and they didn't seem so weird. Well, he could get details later. "Enjoy your bonding time with the doctor?"
        There was unlikely to be any word in any language that could have answered that question. "It was... interesting. Not something I'd want to do every weekend, though."
        "How often?" he challenged, grinning.
        "This time ought to cover it. Completely. For a lifetime."
        The two of them wandered into the back room, the stolen folders that had been securely under Jack's arm laid openly on the table. There was about thirty seconds of absolute, relaxed silence. And then they couldn't stand it anymore.
        "Shall we look?" Julian suggested as nonchalantly as he could.
        She took one of those "deep, cleansing breaths" she'd always heard about... picked one of the chairs for herself... and chose the top folder to look through. "Dig in."
        Not exactly what he had in mind, but why not? He made himself comfortable, slowly reaching for his assigned folder. Did he really want to know? Alright, that was a stupid question. It'd been eating at him... tearing through him... but the possibility of all answers being in front of him wasn't what was making him nervous. It was the possibility that all of the information may have been... planted.
        A thought securely in Jack's mind as she read... but some of it could not be ignored. Especially mentions again of government-owned children programmed to get rid of the undesirables for the Pordethre. "You were for more than threats, Jules. Take a look at this."
        He swallowed as the papers were handed over. It took hardly a moment to see what she was talking about. "Oh my god."
        She filled him in on the rest of what she'd been skimming. "They were trying to reconfigure DNA to enable certain natural cells to produce metal, first off. Didn't seem to work with you or any of the others in your 'test group', which is why they had to start off with implants. As for the mind shit... well, seems to be good old-fashioned torture programming. All that 'perfect soldier' bull."
        He hardly felt like he should keep reading. "But... as for the 'ultimate why'..." Suddenly the desire to know the real reason behind it all was stronger even than the desire not to lose the contents of his stomach. The rage he'd felt burn through him initially at remembering that his entire life had been used without permission... fell away only to that overwhelming curiosity.
        "A fantasy? A utopia free of corporate assassins?" her tone was sharp with vicious sarcasm.
        Granted that her delivery was strong enough, but... "This isn't entirely a time to be so nonchalant."
        "I can't really help it." She mumbled, continuing to read little bits here and there.
        They both fell into silence again, reading. Searching. Quietly taking it all in, eventually swapping folders to catch up on all of the information.
        Finished, Jack rested her chin in her hand and attempted to simplify all of the bullshit. "From all indication... there is no grand scheme. As in... the only answer is a circle."
        Julian found himself rubbing his temples. It was true. Every time it looked like a lead was going somewhere... it fell off and came back to a government order. There was no reasoning, no logic to any of it. And he doubted that getting hold of even the most secretive of Pordethre logs would open up anything else. "Fucking circles."
        She shook her head. "Every log, every file, every contact... more or less states that the government fooled itself into thinking it had a project... but no arm of it knew what any of the others were doing." It took an awful lot of willpower for her not to smack her forehead in frustration. "That can't really be the answer, can it?" She knew they didn't have all of the information... but did it really matter? Would it have made any difference?
        "It's just stupid enough to be true." He sighed. Oh for the days when she kept alcohol just under a table...
        "All this time wasted... on that." It was... ridiculous. In all senses.
        Julian needed to break the mood. To shatter it apart and watch it fall away. But all he could think of was that moment, not so long ago... when he'd made her promise not to abandon everything. "You wouldn't be able to live with yourself if you'd just run off."
        His fallen effort had not gone unappreciated... nor the sentiment. "You'd like to think that, wouldn't you?" she grinned.
        He shook his head slightly. How she'd stayed alive was absolutely beyond all logic. The thought was as amusing as it was absolutely true. There was nothing left to do but sit back and relax, making certain both folders were closed in front of them. "Now what?"
        Resting her chin in her hand and both elbows on the table, she let out a long, grumbling sigh. What a question. "We keep going until it's over, I suppose."
        "That didn't sound terribly hopeful." Not that he was looking for anything more.
        "This whole experience... has made everything a lot more confusing than it was before."
        He could agree with that, alright. "Do you think these files are real?"
        She sighed, uncertain of her answer even before she spoke it. "Real... but probably not complete."
        He shook his head, staring off into space for a moment, going over all of the ridiculously odd things he'd been through. It was... unreal. "Is this all government work?"
        "It goes along with... everything. The way they do things." She closed her eyes for a moment, following a similar pattern of thought to his. "'Ladies of Virtue' were puppet figureheads for a blind government, keeping the people content to live in a 'brighter, simpler time'. Their 'royal servitude' was just a gentle way of saying 'sex slave'. Like 'public house' was really a damn under-funded orphanage. I'm surprised they didn't put us to sleep after we turned ten."
        "Rough there, huh?"
        "It was bad, Jules. Worse than literature might tell you." She tried to end in a joke, but it didn't quite work out that way.
        He scooted a bit closer, not quite certain if there was anything he could say to bring up the mood again. He just wasn't sure exactly... where anything stood. Their battles obviously weren't over; in fact, it seemed like the end was rushing toward them in one way or the other. It was... blinding...
        "I'm exhausted." She destroyed his thoughts entirely with the honest sentiment. Strangely enough, sleep seemed the most important thing in the world. Whether or not that was... "healthy"...
        Julian blinked at the unexpected shift. Not that he could argue, himself. If worrying oneself into exhaustion was possible even after you found out that everything was... basically "alright"... Well, maybe not everything.
        Her thoughts... weren't quite ready to leave the heaviness she'd suddenly gained from the files. "It was all for nothing."
        The agonized tone of her words called him away from his previously sleepy thoughts. He'd just about zoned out for a minute there.
        She went on quietly, talking mostly to herself. "All the fighting... all the death... all the time wasted here... to find out that this was the ultimate answer."
        Not that he didn't know how she felt. If he were to allow himself to think about it, to dwell on it, that all of this pain and time and death was for no purpose at all... "Well... now you know."
        "Yeah." She agreed, lacking all emotion.
        Apparently, that didn't help. "It's the journey... or so I hear."
        She supposed she had to admit that she felt a little bit better... even if the words themselves were infuriating. "You hear the half-truth. Like the rest of us."
        "True..." He waved his hand to end the conversation... looking away only to hide the twinkle in his eye. "Come on. You should lay down for a bit."
        In any other circumstance, she'd have likely thought that to be an odd suggestion. Given that she would absolutely love to rest, however... She narrowed her eyes at him as he stood and offered a hand, but couldn't really find it in her not to accept. It was... nice. Especially when he escorted her to the bedroom and helped her to sit. There was an ace up his sleeve, however... "How dare you call me nothing, though?" he grinned.
        She noted the distinctly playful quality of his voice... and the dangers that could result--moreso when he'd decided to sit right next to her, on the bed. "I didn't call you nothing..."
        "You inferred it." He accused.
        Uh-oh. What he was aiming for... "I'm not sure we quite have time for--"
        "I think we both know it won't last long enough to matter." He cut her off, pushing her not too terribly roughly to the bed. Not like he needed a lot of force under the circumstances, anyway.
        She was momentarily too overcome by laughter to prevent him from undressing her. "This is incredibly inappropriate." She understated perfectly.
        "I know." Not that it stopped him. "But somebody has to take the initiative to relax us both."
        "The most ridiculous concept I've ever heard." She smirked--especially when he stopped midway through the process of taking his own shirt off.
        "Wait a second." He called her on her words. "That time... on the Black Albatross. That was your excuse."
        Uh-oh. "That was... one of my excuses."
        Still motionless, shirt half-risen, he continued. "And you're saying now... that it was bullshit?"
        "I didn't know it was bullshit until--"
        "You just wanted to fuck me!" he cried, far too triumphantly. "I mean, uh... be with me. Sexually."
        Again the laughter prevented her from responding, just long enough to allow him time to strip completely and return to her side. She silenced, giving him a long, thoughtful look. "Is this really the time or the place?"
        How amusing. "That's actually not what this is about." He admitted quietly, pulling the blankets out from under them both, then back over them. He could sense her puzzled expression as he turned her gently so he could spoon her body in his. "I just wanted to... be here. Like this. For a little while."
        Amazingly... it was good. It just felt... good. A strange but wonderful thing to experience, and she was grateful for it. "Stay the night, if you want."
        "I want." He admitted softly. No pushing and no pressure... but boy did he want.
        She carefully slid out of his grasp for a moment, tossing on the shirt and pants that lay on the floor with little care to them being inside-out. Julian cocked his head, asking, "Hey, where are you going?"
        "To tell Doxy." She responded simply.
        He grinned in a way that only someone who almost couldn't believe what they were hearing was able to. "You're going to tell your cat that I'm staying the night?"
        "He has a right to know." She almost managed to deadpan, stepping out for a moment.
        Staying behind to wait for her, the other captain merely shook his head. Never would he have fathomed, for any reason, when he had first met her... It just didn't make any sense to go from fearing her to... he stopped that thought with a quiet chuckle. Alright, so... there was still a little fear in there.
        She stepped back in lightly, pulling her clothes back off in mere seconds and jumping into the bed with the ease and energy of someone having far less on their shoulders... and were slightly dizzy. Satisfied enough, taking comfort in the idea that they (hopefully) wouldn't be interrupted, she actually kind of... snuggled in and relaxed. When no words were spoken, she let her thoughts reach her tongue. "This is a totally new experience."
        For a moment, he didn't respond; it was playing over again in his head. "You've never... 'cuddled'?"
        She laughed at his terminology. "No."
        Not that he was surprised, he supposed. And it didn't matter--just being there was enough. He noted, though, that her muscles didn't quite relax all the way, shoulders twitching with a mild, passing tension. "Hm?"
        Words found their way past her defenses. "Is it weak?"
        He would have asked her just what the hell she was talking about... but on some level, he'd gotten it right away. "No." They were both silent for a long moment as he tried to sort his thoughts into words. "It's harder to admit the truth than to pretend it doesn't exist."
        "Strong sentiment for you." Jack teased, lightly. She was too comfortable to commit much more energy to insulting him. And sleep... it was calling...
        He chuckled lazily... then felt her body shiver just a little. "What is it?" he whispered.
        "Do me a favor, would you?"
        His eyes narrowed. It was as if he could scent danger over the horizon. "Yes?"
        "Don't make me any promises." She grinned.
        Initially, her request had him stunned. He quickly recovered. "I'd never promise you anything, sweetie."
        At first, her silence clearly made him wonder what horrible come-back she had for that. Instead of using words, she reached back behind her... and smacked flesh.
        Another moment of stunned silence. "That was my ass." He announced, surprised.
        Laughter encompassed her. "You know you like it."
        "Pft. You're already telling me what I like."

        A chime interrupted the warm, comfortable darkness. She was so sure it was a dream, at first. Just a stupid, horrible dream designed to wake her up... and at first, it was easy to refuse. When it kept happening, over and over but without rhythm...
        Stumbling up and away from the incoherently mumbling warmth she had been beside, she blindly made her way to the door. Only... it didn't open right away. She stared it down in annoyance, realizing very slowly that she and doors hadn't had all that great of a relationship lately. The control panel did nothing, and a call to Domani would likely be unanswered for a while longer.
        "Lucky" for her, whoever stood on the other side seemed to have gotten a hold on one side of the door, forcing it into its track inside the wall. Pheta stood on the other side, nearly choking on the breath she had taken to make her announcement. Subjects changed quickly. "Hm. The Alignment's come early."
        The reference took a while to hit a still tired Captain Veis. Ah, yes, the planetary alignment... how years would have been measured where Pheta was from. The day of the alignment was a celebration, often of much "deviant" merriment. But why was she... Oh. Right. Naked. "You could have told me." She accused, directing her voice all the way into the other room. Though, whether or not Julian had been conscious enough to have been aware was debatable.
        Already out in the open, Jack made no sudden moves to hide herself--but she did scan the room for some cover. No robe, no jacket... no clothes at all in there. Well. She'd have to turn around back into the bedroom and get some, then. "Don't stare too hard at my ass."
        No comments came from behind her as she ducked into the bedroom, throwing on the clothes that had once again littered the floor. She saw the scant fluttering of eyes of the otherwise motionless form beside her before the barely audible mumble came from his lips, "Who is it?"
        "Pheta." She stopped herself from adding, "Who else?"
        No mention was made of the clothes, but she suspected it might have been because he'd drifted back into the blissful sleep from which she'd been ripped. Lucky bastard. As properly dressed as she was going to get, she sauntered back into the main room to greet the smirking commander. "Okay. Shoot."
        She was not at all ginger about it. "I'm afraid... that we have a problem."
        Well, that was no surprise. "Of course we do. What this time?"
        Arms folded, another deep breath taken, Pheta responded. "Domani."
        Almost instantly after the name was spoken, a slight grinding noise sounded... and then that familiar computerized voice. Only, not quite as familiar. It lacked intonation, emotion... life. "Program error. Field number 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13..."
        Jack... was puzzled. Especially at the heavy feeling tearing rapidly through her chest; fear. It was a primal sort of fear that left legs shaking and pulses pounding... and then she realized what the number was. "Domani?" she tried, tentatively.
        The numbers stopped. Then the grinding sounded again, followed by the cold announcement, "Program error. Field number 1, 1, 2, 3, 5..."
        She looked into Pheta's eyes... and saw the same fear that was spreading through her own gut. "Fuck."

Content copyright Orin Drake 2011.
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