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

        Chapter 30 - Shit, Meet Fan

        It took Jack several beats to compose a question that seemed somewhat worth asking, given the situation. "What's going on?"
        Pheta shook her head slightly--never a good sign. "Dr. Carn specifically wanted me to use this terminology: 'Domani has lost its mind'."
        For a moment, the captain felt as if she couldn't breathe. Chest constriction... aching legs... trembling... This... couldn't be happening... "Are there... any more details?"
        "He's still trying to figure it out." The commander assured.
        It was then, hearing the numbers in the sequence as they grew in size, still coming from the voice that was familiar and yet completely different, that Julian stepped from the bedroom. He had enough mind to put some pants on... but the very frightened confusion of the moment left him with little else of importance other than to get to the bottom of the situation. There was something so, very... not right about it...
        And then he made fleeting eye contact with Pheta--seeing plainly how much she did not want to be there interrupting, absolutely did not want to have to be the bearer of bad news... but that's just how it went. Yeah, he... understood. And it sucked, to put it mildly. He spoke up, quietly. "So, right now... we just don't know what's going on?"
        "That is correct." The commander confirmed with a less than perfectly cold performance. Truth was, she was just as freaked out as the rest of them. As much as she knew it was professional not to show it... she'd also learned to let down her guard just a bit around the captains. An annoying habit at that moment, to be sure.
        Even with the events of the past few hours, the gears in Jack's head were snapping into action--and it was noticed. To get to a solution, one would have to assess the situation properly. Only Dr. Carn could do that. Depending on his response, then they'd have to find a way, come up with some sort of plan--
        Julian's voice interrupted as calmly and softly as he felt he could. "Hey, Jack. Eat first, okay?"
        Ah, food. She'd forgotten all about eating after the blood was lost... If forced to concentrate on it, she would have to admit to a tremble in her legs, and a dizzy sort of haze... but that much could easy be chalked up to the situation in general. She shook her head, pushing aside the mild feeling of the room spinning. "We should probably address this as soon as possible."
        He could tell that it might be a battle pretty much immediately. While he could try to spend time convincing her that she needed to take care of herself first... perhaps he'd been around her a bit too much. "No excuses. Just eat."
        "You do realize that Domani is blindly running around the Golden Spiral in a panic right now, right?"
        "Food, Jack." He insisted, hoping Pheta would back him up.
        Lucky for him, the commander of defense was no idiot--one did have to look after themselves before any other matters could be explored. "You could even get something delivered."
        "Fan-cy." She felt like a child; eternally contrary and wanting to fold her arms and yell "No!" over and over again until people stopped bothering her. Not to mention some knee-kicking. Luckily, that feeling passed as quickly as the stomach pains came on. Apparently she just couldn't win. "Bread, then. Something quick and un-fuck-up-able."
        "You should eat your veggies, too." Pheta picked up on the intentional child-like sentiment behind the request, going so far as to pat the captain on the head--earning her a swift retaliation of her hand getting smacked away.
        "I hate you all." Jack joked in a low tone, walking past her grinning companion and back to the bedroom.

        She ate, grudgingly. Both of her "friends" watched while pretending not to be paying attention... both getting death glares because of it. Jack couldn't really deny the fact that, when presented with food, she was actually hungry. Damn animal instinct. She had to admit, even after downing some pretty revolting overcooked vegetables (if that was really what they were), she was feeling quite a bit better. And when she was finished, she couldn't really help a cocky--albeit a less than enthusiastic--"Bring on the disaster."
        The uncomfortably familiar grind and click of a rampaging computer sounded again, the numbers beginning anew. Well. If that was as bad as it got... it was still pretty fucking bad. The food recently placed in Jack's stomach suddenly didn't feel like being there at all. She swallowed the bile, the possibilities... she had to. Positive thinking and all that.
        A strong silence encompassed the table. Minutes passed... and then Doxy padded in, curious about the food. As if he'd already trained her as a pet "owner", Jack nearly instinctively placed her nearly empty plate on the floor for his examination. It was quite amusing, in fact--but after the cat had licked the plate clean and taken his leave back to his napping area, that strong silence remained.
        Save that computer voice. That constant flowing series of numbers... tired and unreal, unnatural... Not Domani. Silence and numbers... math... sacred math...
        "So." Pheta interrupted brashly, leaning over the table. "You two go for a second ride?"
        The other two stared at her in something akin to shocked silence--before a broad grin spread across Julian's face. If that's how she wanted to play... "Jealous?"
        The woman returned his expression, tossing back with far too much inference, "I'm not sure there's a reason I should be."
        Jack couldn't help but be amused. She caught the grin fading slightly from Julian's face as he glanced at her--and offered no help for him. He was the one that seemed so ready to be cocky about it, after all. This might turn out to be very entertaining, indeed.
        Left to fend for himself... he worked his tongue against the roof of his mouth as he tried to come up with a response. He could work along the path of cavalier uncaring, or he could try to reach in and go for a slightly cruel kill--
        And that was, of course, when it happened. The whole ship seemed to shudder before the sense of motion overtook them as if space had taken up gravity; and that gravity happened to be directly behind them.
        There was something to that "be careful what you wish for" thing... Sooner or later, Captain Veis may learn to control her mouth. But not likely sooner.
        After that initial jolt, there was nothing. Silence... breathing... heartbeats... and then they were all up and on their way to the bridge--save Doxy. The beast had his tail between his legs, crouched and wide-eyed. It took only the slightest of hand signals for Jack to get the frightened cat to follow. Hey, it was probably safer on the bridge, anyway. He'd been left alone enough.

        There was room for them all in the lift... and a long enough wait to become extremely paranoid. Nothing moved in ways it shouldn't, the ship was not shaken again... but that did nothing to settle nerves. Not to mention that it only gave them all the chance to realize that, with whatever jolt had hit them... the computer voice had stopped spouting numbers.
        Things began to feel quite a bit colder all of a sudden. Something was definitely wrong... something above their heads. That was clear from the onset. The full realization, however...
        Flooding into the bridge, it was clear that whatever had happened was unforeseen, to put it mildly. Pheta took her position immediately, relieving a very panicked-looking younger officer.
        Julian sat while Jack stood, taking stock of her Commander of Defense's expression. Not at all reassuring. "What is it?"
        "Nothing." She responded, too softly. "I mean... absolutely nothing. Computer functions are on survival mode only. I can't even tell what's hitting us... but something definitely made contact."
        Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck. She supposed she ought to be in a sitting position herself for that one...
        Especially when a second jolt tore through the ship a hell of a lot harder than the first had. An internal switch was flipped--Jack went into a survival mode of her own. Alright, so there was contact. Which meant something was out there actually hitting them. Chances were that the other ships alongside had taken evasive measures. "Are communications with the fleet up and running?"
        Pheta nodded quickly. "Audio out only."
        Perfect. Well, enough of a moment's perfection, anyway. "Open communications." They were being attacked--and they were all waiting on her order. Setting ablaze all concerns, she reacted instantly. These newcomers wanted a fight, they were going to get one. "Attention all ships! Pull up Strike and Run Pattern one, eight, three comma 'Jack'. Initialize on my count. Five... four... three... two... one... Go."
        With that order, the projection screen flickered to life. How or why wasn't quite as important as what they witnessed from the nose of the DarkHorse itself; as one unit, every last one of the fleet ships separated from their formation. They rejoined in front, making one large, three-tier arrow as they traveled at amazing speeds towards the ship--one at least as big and sleek as the DarkHorse itself--already coming toward them. At that point, Jack held her breath--it was all up to the pilots. The whole plan was to fly toward, fire at will, then scatter to do it all over again. Simplistic, but reasonable; she'd made sure to give them each individually numbered paths to more or less follow so there wouldn't be any accidents. They simply couldn't afford accidents...
        On screen, there was indeed contact, then an explosion--exactly where was unclear due to their distance, but ultimately unimportant. Within seconds, all ships were scattered off-screen. Success. Captain Veis let herself think. Again. Another run. Come on.
        The ships converged in the same arrow pattern again, making another run--but it was then that the larger ship fired. The hundreds of red glows with blue tails trailing could only be... Fuck. Scatter missiles--
        Jack couldn't entirely figure out why all of her extremities were cold... nor why her lungs seemed empty to the point of no return. Nor that she felt much like trying, but... her brain wasn't really capable of understanding why... until the sight that had just unfolded before her eyes finally clicked into the logic centers of her understanding.
        "No." It started out as hardly a whisper. "No." Who she was trying to convince was unclear, but unimportant. That... what she'd just seen... that couldn't have... happened... Could it? Every ship... every last fleet ship... had been reduced to shrapnel. But the DarkHorse hadn't rocked. Hadn't been scratched.
        A warning shot. A fucking warning shot?! This was more than an act of war... too bad she couldn't do a goddamn thing about it. Half her mind seemed to be in a denial state of panic... and the other was just... off, for the moment.
        There was little more than the span of a breath before the ship approached at speeds seemly impossible--it simply appeared mere meters in front of them--and then another jolt before the screen went black. They were being rammed. And the computer would not respond. Domani was not there.
        Their options were clearly limited. Pheta had tried several times to get weapons systems to respond; a fact somehow too apparent on her face. Julian's fingers had dug into the arm rests. Doxy was literally laying on top of Julian's feet, shivering. And Jack...
        There was an even more harsh, unsteady coldness in her limbs that she was not familiar with, and the taste on her tongue was brilliantly metallic. A drug, maybe? But not something... ingested...
        The air system. The realization had already come too late, she knew that... just as clearly as she knew she couldn't possibly be the only one that had hit that same realization. Movement had already gotten slow, the passage of time seeming languid and impossibly viscous.
        Her last thought as a veil of darkness completely encompassed her mind was more than likely a vindictive bit of heated cursing... but she couldn't really make it out entirely.

        Heavy darkness. Stillness, and cold... but not easy. Not... natural, perhaps... He felt as if he might have been sleeping for far too long, and perhaps that's why he was tired. His arms were both asleep, he knew that... they had to be, because he couldn't move them. Unless-- He tensed suddenly, struggling for a reason that his mind would not reveal to him.
        "Relax, Captain DeVierna." A voice cut wickedly through the dark. "I'll assume you know what the Achilles tendon is..."
        His eyes flashed open, an impossible fear gripping every muscle in his body. His voice was weak, hardly able to rise above a whisper. "No..."
        "No?" the shadowed figure seemed to chuckle. "Well then, allow me to show you."

        Something had torn slowly at her unconsciousness, as if trying to pull her away from the cold, dark sleep she had been curled up in... Must have been a nightmare of some kind, although she couldn't remember it. Just... muffled screaming. Something that she didn't think she'd ever dreamt before, but... first time for everything...
        What called her attention was how hard it was to pry her eyes open. They felt weighted... forced shut. Like her limbs... and then she tugged at her arms, realizing that there was a very good reason for the panic building in her chest.
        "Pheta, is it?" A voice came from what sounded to be across a large, echoing room.
        Silence. An interrogation, to be certain. Perhaps it would be best not to open her eyes.
        "I'll take that as an affirmative." The voice sounded nearly jovial about it, sharp footsteps drawing near.. "Now... shall we discover how much of you is female? I must admit that I am terribly curious, given your history."

Content copyright Orin Drake 2011.
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