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

        Chapter 33 - Things Will Be Owed

        Jack was shaking as she made it back to the Captain's Hall. She didn't really want to be there... but she didn't think she could quite make her way to sickbay, either. Not just then.
        Sitting on the sill of the giant round window, she gazed out at the stars. Biting her lip, she honestly wasn't sure if she was going to cry or try to throw herself out of it...
        So she elected to walk away from it, back to her quarters. Door sliding open, it appeared that a very nervous Doxy had found his way and waited for her. His eyes lit up to see her enter, but his posture remained low and still. It wasn't as if he couldn't sense her pain.
        But pain was not something she felt at that moment. It was a horrific numbness--one that brought her to her knees in front of the cat, embracing him. What she'd almost just done... was unforgivable.
        Doxy waited patiently in her arms, letting the silent sobs wrack her body. Letting the fur comfort her as much as it could. The creature breathed a quiet, steady purr, trying to set her at ease.
        Damn the cat's intelligence. He may not have had a perfect idea of what had happened... but the specifics were worthless, anyway. The emotion and the consequences were much more solid.
        Eventually, she gathered herself back together. She had to, simple as that. Another hug to the cat, she took a deep breath. "Thanks, Doxy. But I've got to go face up to what I've done now."
        A small, "Mrrr?" answered, but no more. The beast understood enough.

        Only a self-imposed numbness aided the walk to sickbay. The lift seemed overly quiet, perhaps a little faster than it used to be... no matter. Time held absolutely no meaning. It was the blink of a cosmic eye, anyway.

        What a lovely attitude to meet Dr. Carn's gaze with as she stepped in. No questions, no snide comments--he stood up and directed her toward the back, even if none of the other medical staff was in sight. Satisfied that the conversation was private enough, he laid everything on the table. "There was... a lot of damage done to both of them."
        She rubbed her eyes slowly... if only to keep the tears from falling. Maybe it would be interpreted as being tired. It was true, she was... exceedingly... tired... "I... know."
        "We can use the branch of the Tree of Life if we have to..." he openly speculated, "But Captain DeVeirna's already been exposed, and... I'm not sure what would happen."
        She agreed softly with a nod.
        "It's not so much the physical state anymore. They will heal, with time. Nothing done will be permanent... but it was painful. It's the mental state..."
        She really didn't think she'd be able to take it any longer. She'd actually found it in herself to turn with the intention to leave--but there was a hand on her shoulder far stronger than her need to escape.
        It rather surprised them both when they realized it was the doctor's hand keeping her from running. Would wonders never cease... He remained silent for a moment, attempting to form his thoughts into some semblance of vocalized ideas. "It's not impossible."
        A shiver ran through her with the sentiment. "Yeah."
        Alright, then. If that was the way she was going to be, he could work with it. "Jack. Get over it."
        She smacked his hand from her shoulder--but not with anger or malice. If there was a grateful sort of slapping a hand away, that was it. "Asshole."
        He crossed his arms with false offense as she simply walked away. Well, the physical wounds would be healed soon enough. And that was all he was qualified to do, dammit.

        Back in the lift, time ceased again... until a familiar voice interrupted the silence. It was timid, almost uncertain of its place... but unquestionable. "Jack?"
        A breath--almost lost. "Hey, Domani."
        The response was still timid, taking note of how soft and wracked the captain's voice was. "At the risk of asking a sincerely stupid question, are you alright?"
        She had to think about that for a moment. "I don't think so, no." She paused for a bit longer, grateful for the silence. "I was... on the verge... --No. I'd crossed over the verge of losing it all. Everything. I almost willed it to happen."
        "It was a gamble." The computer agreed. "Your only gamble to get everything."
        Shaking, again. In her hands, moving up her shoulders. Soon her legs were joining... but she would be there in moments. Back to her quarters...
        --Wait. That wasn't where the doors opened. She knew the area was familiar, but from seemingly quite some time ago...
        "In the other lift." Domani suggested gently.
        A true hint of fear grasped her. And then she realized... "The library lift?"
        "You are in clear need of some peace and quiet."
        And solace. Solace I won't find. She didn't speak, walking into the lift with baited breath. It wasn't some horrible dream, was it? Parts of what were happening certainly felt like they must be some fucked up, elaborate nightmare. Not that much of anything mattered when the doors opened upon that perfect sanctuary: the smell of old books.
        Though, she couldn't help but wonder if any of them had any answers to offer. Certainly not an answer to the only question that seemed to haunt her in that moment... "What now?"
        Silence responded for many long seconds before Domani seemed to come up with something. "You must all recover, now. Until you are ready to make the decision to travel, or stay behind."
        Jack sat heavily at the base of one of the bookshelves, ignoring the furniture. Didn't feel appropriate. She didn't even feel like she had the energy to ask any more questions... let alone let any others wander in her mind. She'd just done a horrible thing--but far worse was wondering exactly which part of it was so horrible; doing everything in her power to trick the other ship and come back for her friends, or not leaving them for the possible sake of the rest of the universe.
        In one sense, she knew she should just get the fuck over it, obviously. Things worked out, by some miracle... but that was the only way those things could have happened--by miracle. Luck, perhaps... All things simply happened to align. That was hardly skill, hardly planning. The very breadth between losing everything and regaining all things was just too tiny to rest comfortably with.
        "Would you like updates on their conditions?" Domani inquired, reading Jack's body temperature and heartbeat. The computer's brain-run instincts were reading the rest of her, getting distinct impressions of her state of mind.
        "Yes." She responded quietly, closing her eyes for a moment. Just to be there, to smell the books... that was enough then and there.
        Domani took several seconds to check the readings in sickbay. "It seems that the healing process is going well." It tried to reassure the captain.
        "Details, please." She whispered, eyes still closed. She had to know...
        "I'm not certain that is wise, Jack." The computer attempted to keep that much silent.
        "Domani..." I need this. Not to punish myself, just... to know. To be aware.
        A long pause responded at first... and then the familiar voice returned, reserved. Matter-of-fact and quiet. If she wanted to know, then the ship was about to give her more than she'd asked. "Pheta suffered a cracked pelvis, two cracked vertebrae, a severely rotated ankle, three broken ribs, a broken jaw, one broken finger, internal bruising along the spine, several deep lacerations along the chest and mid-section, and a ripped vaginal wall. Shall I go on?"
        What a question... During the checklist of atrocities, she'd found herself curling into a tighter ball, her stomach uncertain. Her body shivering. Her mind somewhere between over-thinking and shutting down. But she had asked. And she had to know. "Please."
        Proof again that a computer could sigh. "Julian suffered one shattered cheekbone, one broken femur, three broken ribs, one cracked shoulder blade, three broken fingers, one broken toe, two severed Achilles tendons, three deep stabs to his abdomen, one ripped retina, several lacerations across his back and two burns that appear to be branding marks across his shoulders."
        Silence. Even the breathing was slight. Curled into herself, she hardly felt anything beyond the floor she was sitting on.
        Many long, still moments passed in absolute quiet. No questions... no answers... no motion. Numbness, again. Steadied. Controlled. Caught between things. "Domani?"
        "Just... let me know if anything changes for the better. Alright?" she forced her voice to be level.
        "Of course." The computer responded simply.
        Silence passed... time went on whether it was desired to do so or not. Jack... continued to curl into herself with her eyes closed, trying desperately just to stay... there. Coherent. All she'd done... all that had happened... all she may still lose...
        Domani interrupted softly. "While I realize that you don't have any particular deity in mind, if any at all... perhaps now would be the time to... converse with it?"
        She blinked at the suggestion. "You mean pray."
        "If that's what you wish to call it."
        ...Unbelievable. "Domani... prayer implies that someone is listening."
        "You should keep an open mind, Jack."
        Well, that was... amusing. "Maybe I should just actually read for a while."
        "As you wish." The ship's voice softened.

        Finding only one book to focus on felt like the most enormous task she'd ever been presented with... and that was saying quite a lot. There were so many "missing" and obscure volumes that she'd been waiting half a lifetime or more just to know whether or not they existed, let alone read them. Seeing the choice before her was utterly impossible, Jack elected to find a book she'd never heard of.
        Frankly, it made all the difference. It wasn't so much theory as it was... fairy tales about the nature of the universe. Quite an odd concept. It was a collection of theorist, artist, and story-teller takes on how existence as a whole worked, and came to be. A fascinating read that managed to enthrall her totally for several hours.
        Right up until Domani finally spoke up. "Captain? Unless you'd rather not have the interruption..."
        Immediately, her heartbeat rose. Panic may have been setting in, but she was doing her damnedest not to show it. "Interruption's fine." She settled on, her throat feeling raw already.
        "After a... debate with Dr. Carn, I feel perhaps it may be only right to tell you that your presence has been requested in sickbay."
        Whoah. Domani had a fight with the doctor? She was enormously sorry she missed it. The mental image almost made her laugh--and she had really tried to let it. "Yeah. Okay." There was still that bit of numbness there... she didn't really feel like reflecting on it at the moment. She carefully marked her page with a ribbon sewn into the book's cover just for that purpose, replaced it on the bookshelf where she found it... and paused. No question what all of that was about... but she had to face up to it sometime. It was only right... and the only thing she could ever want to do. With a deep and uncertain breath, she walked to the lift.

        At first glance, sickbay looked abandoned. It was more darkly lit than usual, and all of the doors to the individual rooms were closed. A little eerie, to say the least.
        Luckily for her, she didn't have to wait very long before Dr. Carn emerged from one of the recovery rooms near the back, making fleeting eye contact before walking over. He stood before her in a very professional manner, allowing nothing in his voice but the most professional care. "Pheta requested you."
        That was good news... right..? She couldn't quite find it in her to ask, though. She only nodded, following his hand to where it pointed toward the room he'd just walked out of.
        Down the hall was the easy part. Hell, even opening the door and closing it behind her was pretty easy. Actually looking at her Commander of Defense, just laying there and looking beaten up despite the obvious use of stasis was a hell of a lot harder. Especially when it seemed like she was unconscious again.
        Jack was actually nervous, walking to the small backless chair that rested at the bedside. It all seemed so... wrong. "Pheta?" she inquired in a hushed tone, mindful of how much waking from deep stasis sucked. "Ya in there, Commander?"
        There was a slight bit of motion in the muscles of the woman's face. Then the light sounds that might be language waking from a dream before eyelids finally fluttered. She breathed deeply, waiting until her throat cleared a little before she spoke. "I think... I owe you... some sort... of exceptional... bruising."
        Well. She was still alive, alright. "I'm afraid I can't really find it in myself to disagree."
        Shakily, the commander reached out with a questing hand, ultimately finding one of Jack's. Instead of squeezing tightly until something snapped, she rather just let it... be there.
        She didn't know why, really... but it felt right to grasp the woman's hand. Words... did not seem like a good idea. There was no way she could truly articulate what she needed to say, but perhaps there was no reason not to try in complete desperation. "Pheta... I can't... I can't apologize enough... I can never make up for..."
        "Ssh." The commander responded harshly, eyes closing out of the need to concentrate. "No need. Believe it or not... I've been through worse."
        The thought was far from comforting. "That doesn't excuse... anything."
        "Go see Julian." Pheta ordered immediately. Soft voice or not, it was hard to miss the difference between a suggestion and an outright instruction.
        "Trying to get rid of me, huh?" Jack attempted to joke for both their sakes.
        "Yes." The commander responded, trying to will herself to smirk. "Go see him. He... needs you more."
        The words... they cut. They wounded without meaning to. And the captain was... a little bit scared of that. "I... I won't leave if you want me to stay..."
        "You can come back if you need to. Go see him."

        Next door of course. She'd have figured that out easily enough, but... while all of sickbay was empty again, Julian's door had been left open just enough for her to see he was in there. She really wasn't sure how grateful she was... but that was far from the most important matter at hand. She closed the door behind her as quietly as she could.
        His eyes were open when she turned... but glossy. Meandering slowly, far away. It was enough to scare the hell out of her--until they finally landed on her form as she approached. She sat beside him, her throat feeling astoundingly painful. What was there to say that wouldn't be absolutely asinine?
        "Just tell me it was a bad dream..." he whispered.
        She wasn't sure if her voice would work. Not after a request like that... but she forced it to. No matter how dry her throat had become. "Jules, it... wasn--"
        "Just tell me." He interrupted.
        She shrugged to herself. "It was a horrible fucking nightmare."
        "I can live with that." His eyes closed for a moment, composing his thoughts and being generally grateful for... well... some good must have come out of it... "There... there have been things like that... from a long time ago. Just... memory shards... I'd rather not dig up, but... I know they're there."
        Somehow she doubted that any torture was entirely worse than the combination of physical and mental that he'd just survived... and she didn't know why. There was no proof, of course, but... she wanted to shake that off. Forget it entirely. She couldn't even be that close to him... too worried, somehow... maybe she'd just... break him entirely...
        "Hey." He caught her attention, voice almost too soft to hear. "Come closer."
        She should have been ashamed for hesitating. And part of her actually wanted him to snap her neck when she leaned forward... it would only be right. Fair. Leaning forward, she almost expected it to happen.
        Weak and shaking arms came up to pull her closer, instead. She could easily have shrugged them off with no effort with the strength they lacked... but the conviction was there, somehow. She let herself fall forward, careful not to put any weight on him... but grateful to be closer. It was a long moment of silent grasping--onto each other, onto the moment, onto all that was real and solid and important. There weren't any words that needed to be uttered, nothing else that needed to be expressed. They both knew the visit was fleeting, that she'd have to leave so he could heal... but that moment was everything.

Content copyright Orin Drake 2011.
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