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

        Chapter 32 - Fuck Fate

        She did not walk through the hall that connected the two ships.
        She ran. There was an urgency the likes of which she was pretty damn sure she'd never encountered before. And, while the man may have been lying, while empty space may have been waiting on the other side of the connecting hall...
        --It wasn't. She kept running, right into the first lift in front of her.
        She couldn't speak. Couldn't find it in herself to ask if--
        She quite literally fell against the wall, half in shock and half in a most sincere elation that she couldn't speak for a moment. She certainly didn't expect that she'd been told the truth... "Domani. My god, Domani..."
        "I haven't any memory from directly before I went down--"
        "No time." She interrupted, taking a deep breath and steadying her legs underneath her. "We gotta make this quick."

        Seeing no reason he should rush things, the odd man had left his two writhing captives to bleed for a while longer, electing to amuse himself with inciting a little more fear. Ah, the power involved... he made his way to where Dr. Carn was being held, several doors over, and actually found the patience in himself to knock.
        "Fuck off." The doctor responded.
        As the door opened, the man shook his head and made clicking sounds with his tongue. "Rude. Very rude. Luckily I've come bearing excellent news: I won't be needing your services."
        Skeptical didn't even begin to describe the look Dr. Carn was giving him--nor the feral glare of the Niehder-cat at his feet. "Is that so?"
        "It is so." The odd man let himself embrace the pride of the situation. "You will all die right here. Not exceptionally soon, mind you--"
        "What happened to Jack." Not in the least bit a question.
        The man's laugher was enough to cause Doxy's attack position to melt into one of fear and defense. "You should be so proud of her. She decided to abandon you all for the sake of her ship. And, as such, everyone is now in my care."
        "I won't believe it." The doctor snarled.
        Again the man laughed, turning. "Believe as you like. I'll be back for you both in a few days." He gave an insincere wave and left.
        Alone again, Doctor Carn shivered. Doxy whimpered.

        Feeling rather a bit better than he had in ages, he strolled down the hall to meet a most wonderful joy that hadn't crossed his path in quite some time--strong and determined subjects ripe for torture.
        Well, perhaps they weren't so strong and determined any longer. There was only one way to find that much out. Pheta and Julian were still crumpled, still bleeding, still hardly conscious of his presence... though that wouldn't last. He carried with him a good assortment of drugs that would heighten their alertness... not to mention increase the pain. Joy. Pure, brilliant joy. It had been several million years, according the ship's clock, since he'd had the pleasure of someone refusing to save the ones they were closest to. He'd forgotten the sheer perfection of it all.
        Just as he'd set his little "torture kit" down between the two subjects, a beeping interrupted. A warning of sensors, from the ship itself--
        The DarkHorse was headed straight for them.
        "She wouldn't be that ridiculous." He snarled, paying little attention to the last possible trick.
        Julian and Pheta locked gazes in the best way they could, only partially aware of the situation--it was all they had time for.
        The impact as the DarkHorse turned, colliding its side straight into the other ship, was unreal; in far too many ways to be capable of imagining.
        The impact area was absolutely perfect. Domani quickly opened an emergency hatch, creating a vacuum inside the space and carefully pulling Julian and Pheta in. The odd man was nowhere to be seen, but that held far less importance than the other matters at hand.

        "Doctor Carn and Doxy are still inside." Domani informed Captain Veis as she ran to the nearest connecting hall. "I can't connect to the main computer to locate them." The rest of the crew had been left on the DarkHorse, waiting their turn like cattle on a slaughter cargo. Most of them had still been suffering from whatever drug had been pumped into the air system, unable to wake.
        "I'll get them." Jack promised.
        The DarkHorse turned so that the end of the tunnel would be right in front of the cell's door... or what was left of the cell, anyway. Served the ship's designer right to have holding rooms that close to the outer portion of a ship. "One medium-sized breath." Domani informed. "The hallway passage should be right in front of you at the end, so you shouldn't have any problems with breathing or radiation."
        No time to be reassured; she ran down the tunnel and straight through the door. She'd have been lying if she'd said she wasn't scared to death... or she couldn't feel the absolutely unimaginable cold vacuum of space around her and started to panic. She wasn't asked, though--and in the grand scheme of things, she was only outside the protected, oxygenated environment for a few seconds at most.
        No matter, there were more important things to concentrate on. "Hey Doc!" she called in the hallway, glancing swiftly around for any sign of general dangers. "Where the fuck are you?"
        Silence, other than buzzing. Some kind of... maddening little buzzing. Could be the lights, could be the ship--nevermind. If she had to go through every last doorway...
        A voice. At least, she thought she heard something... "Doc?" she tried again, carefully turning a rounded corner. It occurred to her then that calling out was probably one of the stupidest things she could be doing...
        "Captain!" she heard clearly, though muffled.
        She was very quick about investigating the empty hallway once again. The first door she tried yielded nothing, but the second... was booby trapped. Thank whatever existed for her instinct--the very instant the door was opened, she got an odd impression that she may want to swing out of the way.  Damn her curiosity--but she was still alive. It was merely a large burst of electricity built up in a fake room, discharged in a single, concentrated burst... but the likelihood that it would have killed her was a little too large to ignore.
        "Not that door." She heard from directly across the hall.
        "Asshole." She accused, catching her breath. No time to waste, she stepped forward--walking straight into the door. "Fucking doors." She cursed impolitely as the Spectre "unlocked" the panel with a nice, loud blast.
        She was incredibly surprised to see not only Dr. Carn held in the room, wrists attached to an odd shelf-like object on the wall... but Doxy laying next to him. They both looked like they were damn good and ready to be rescued... with a hint of having to relieve themselves badly. Any normal situation probably would have had her laughing. At the time, however... she looked for a control panel on the wall of some sort. "Do you have any idea of how the hell to get yourselves out of here?"
        "No." He simplified, not feeling overly talkative for some reason.
        "Big help." She threw back, looking... Ah, why bother. "Close your eyes, Doc."
        That seemed like the worst thing he could do in the situation. Perhaps showing his true intelligence (or lack thereof), however, he followed that command.
        So, what held his wrists were attached to a shelf. No problem, just blow the shelf off of the wall... or better, blow the wall away from the shelf. Two shots, quick and clean, and the portion of wall pretty much disintegrated.
        Of course, the doctor's wrists were still held together... but he couldn't find it in himself to complain. Wonder of wonders.
        "You will not be able to miss the ship's connection tunnel." Jack promised quickly, pulling three bullets from her side and filling the Spectre again. "It's just around the bend, where Julian and Pheta were--"
        She'd never seen the guy so shaken up. It was kinda enjoyable. "No worries. Just go, both of you. Rush it."
        With that, they left in a great big hurry. She was slow behind them, making absolute certain that no one was following, checking behind and then in fron--
        Him. It was the fucking psycho that had given her that goddamned "choice". But, where had he come from..?
        --Nope, didn't matter. She fired. Twice. Three times.
        Nothing happened.
        ...Well, not nothing. He kind of... sparked a little. Each time he sparked, the lights on the ship around them dimmed a bit.
        She swallowed hard. There was no way she expected... quite... that.
        "Save your bullets, Jack." The man--no, android--grated softly.
        She stopped shooting, but did not drop the barrel. Taking a step back, she tried to make sense of it all. "That whole 'what are you' question wasn't answered in its entirety, was it?"
        Another spark, another dimmed light. "Mortals cannot be immortal. Immortals cannot be mortal."
        "Yeah, wise." She dismissed, squeezing off another round just because she fucking felt like it. The nerve.
        "I won't stop you." Apparently the bullet had done something to the vocal systems, causing the voice to change dramatically into something deeper and more mechanical... even more unsettling. "You've made your choice. I've made mine."
        There was... the oddest... the most absolutely... creepy sensation spreading throughout her... It was almost solid, almost... real... and warm... and so fearful. So, in every primal way, fearful. It was realizing he/it/the machine was telling the truth. Realizing just how much bigger all of it was than herself. How little she was compared to the real problem at hand... and not knowing even the slightest detail about what the hell it was. "Why are you just letting us go?"
        "I've lived long enough to know." The breaking thing in front of her simplified. The systems were growing dimmer. "Chosen battles, Captain."
        Her eyes narrowed. Spectre still tight, still natural in her grasp, she squeezed the trigger just a hair harder. A lot of good it would do. It wouldn't ease her frustrations any.
        "I tried to bring Ki'ehr into this." He almost seemed to lean into her with an easy smile--but really, it was just resting as the nano-builders inside of it awoke to repair the body.
        Her jaw tightened--because she had to force her finger not to. "That's enough." That feeling that had invaded her was still spreading... still letting her closer to a truth beyond truths... but not as she wanted it...
        "There are still things you haven't asked in your haste to save the universe, girl." His voice became harsh, unmasked... frighteningly old, but powerful. Not artificial at all... but not real, either. It was... too real. Real beyond reality.
        More real and powerful than she knew she could ever understand. If wherever she was going was full of such... unnatural feelings... she wasn't sure how she would fare through it.
        He continued, latching on to her uncertainty. There was no need to advance--his words would do enough. "He refused. He was too devoted to you. So, that little uprising that caused his death and your change of lifestyle, so to speak... perhaps his picture was given to a few of them."
        She shot, aiming for his head--knowing there would be no reaction. It was a feeling she got, more than anything... and sure enough, the bullet tore, revealing the amazing system of servos and wires inside... but the voice remained. Still felt a little satisfying, though.
        "You don't seem surprised."
        She lowered her weapon, just a little. No point, any longer. "I'm not. If you feel the need to answer the rest of my questions, feel free. Otherwise, I'm just going to leave now." Fuck her curiosity; it wasn't worth it. Her sanity wasn't worth it.
        That surprised her. That much truly threw her for a loop. Her company couldn't possibly be wanted...
        The android leaned more against the wall, sliding down just slightly as most of its energy was devoted to rebuilding. The voice, instead, came from all around her. "What I am..."
        "You're... this." She answered herself. "You are the ship."
        "I'm part of the ship." The voice corrected. "The... cybernetic interpretation of the melding between brain and circuitry."
        She swallowed, understanding. If it was a "sister ship" to the DarkHorse, so to speak... then there must be at least one brain at the heart of it. The odd man was an android created either by or for the ship, but still connected to the brain within. "Why bother revealing this?"
        "I--this ship, this body--am eternal." The lights dimmed nearly all the way out, the tiny nano-builders inside working feverishly to repair the damage. "Nothing you ever do can have any effect upon me. Blow it all apart, and every atom will find one another eventually. Even if you try to destroy the brain... it will not be destroyed. It is not a physical manifestation."
        "That's not an answer." She hissed hatefully. She wanted a fucking answer for all of it. The machine could so easily have destroyed her, rather than destroying the lives around her. Rather than making her life hell, taking the Pordethre under its wing and pushing...
        "Even immortals need enjoyment." Came the response.
        She wished, more than anything, that the goddamned creature could feel pain. Clearly, it could not... and that fact only made her more pissed off. She controlled the emotion as best she could, trying to keep her voice level. "Is that what torture is to you?"
        "Physical torture is only so amusing." The voice admitted. "There are worse things. Ever see the effects of truly glancing eternity?"
        That warm, frightful feeling coursing throughout her suddenly became cold. Of Julian and Pheta... "You didn't--"
        "No, I didn't." The voice assured, though barely. "I save that for nearest 'the end'. After all, any mortal to glimpse eternity will always, eventually, tear their own eyes out."
        A scream was threatening to unleash. Rage was so close to the surface, searing her skin with its fevered heat... "The name. Marduk." She closed her eyes for only a moment, remembering. Besides the obvious mythological associations, when she had first met Julian... "Marduk" was the handle he had used to get on the text-only network with her. She had to know if there was a connection...
        "Dumb luck, Captain." He seemed to understand exactly what she was talking about. "He was only the Pordethre's failed experiment. I had better things to use against you."
        Questions... so many questions... It was likely not the smartest thing to ask, let alone take the answers at face value. She could live with that stupidity.         "What happened to Julian?"
        There was a pause as the lights dimmed again, the body shifting ever so slightly. "If I must be honest, then I can truly say that I don't know."
        "Bullshit." She seethed. It knew. There was simply no questioning that.
        "He wasn't my concern." The thing attempted to divert her.
        "The Pordethre sure were, though." She countered, unconvinced.
        It seemed to relent to her point. "Granted."
        "Then spill it." No quarter, no more fucking patience.
        A world-weary sigh escaped the speakers. "He was two failed experiments in one. Rebuilt from the inside, but never fully realized. Add to that, he was selected to be a test subject in torture programming... but it appears that failed, as well. His will remained in tact."
        She considered his words carefully, containing any emotional reaction. "So the real failure would be the Pordethre in charge of him." Couldn't break your will, Jules... congrads...
        "I never said they were the most capable of people." The voice retorted, body twitching slightly as the bullet holes began to close, little by little. "They were merely easy to use for my purposes."
        It was utterly surreal to watch. Like the body was being stitched back together, thread by thread--first metal, then flesh. There were still things... things she couldn't articulate, but knew instinctively. "You still haven't told me what you are. What you really are."
        The android's head rose slowly, cold eyes staring straight through her. The jaw opened and closed without the use of its lips like a horribly atrocious puppet. "Tell me, Jack... where is your all-loving god now?"
        She'd not give it the satisfaction of seeing a shiver. If it was going to ask questions, though, it was going to get an honest response. "I'm afraid I haven't got one. If anything, it's a rather sadistic, psychotic deity."
        The laughter sounded... almost human. "Perhaps I should stop underestimating you, after all."
        Enough. Simply, enough. There was nothing more to get from the ship, and she had more important things to do. "I should take you out of your misery." More like our misery...
        "Nonsense." The laughter faded, portions of the body twitching in a slightly more life-like fashion. "It can't work."
        It wasn't that she didn't know that much... it was simply that she'd liked it not to have been true. "And if I dismantle the computer? Disconnect you and the brain?"
        "These things... can never truly be separated, Jack. Remember that." The tone became threatening in ways that went beyond normal experience. "Go."
        The coldness of the tone started shivers in her, through her. There was a moment of pause, of complete motionless curiosity... but it passed. There were so many things left to ask, she supposed... but there weren't any more answers waiting for her there. She placed her Spectre back in its place and walked away for the final time. So be it. In all ways, so be it.

        With everyone safely on board, the DarkHorse turned and sped away to gather its energy. The light of the nearest star would suffice nicely, recharging the systems.

Content copyright Orin Drake 2011.
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