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

        Chapter 38 - No One Would Write This Shit, Let Alone Live it

         It didn't come as a surprise to Julian to find Jack at his door again. Pheta hadn't left all that long before, Doxy deciding to wander off along with her. It had been too quiet, too calm, and had maybe left him feeling just a litte bit too alone... which made it the perfect time for her to show up. "Well, it's been a while." He teased.
        "Long enough." She shot back with a little grin. Funny how a body that absolutely wasn't her own (for all intents and purposes) could so easily work with her. Motions, expressions... it was all so easy, without fuss. She imagined Domani might just argue that. "In the mood for some stupid theory, Jules?"
        "Usually." He answered honestly... enough. Yes, it made his head hurt most of the time, but it had been too long.
        Taking it upon herself to assume that was an invitation, Jack sat on the couch and began immediately. "So say the possibility exists that we're in a loop of some kind and all of this has happened before, making me destined for this body."
        The headache was instantaneous, Julian sitting heavily beside her. "I think that 'ow' is all I have to say to that."
        With a light laugh, she had to agree. "Yeah, that's about the extent of it." She counted off on her fingers, "Sentient ship, android body--which makes me a cyborg now, fantastic--, gotta save the universe from destruction, and there's still the matter of the branch which may or may not be from the Tree of Life itself. I mean, no one would write this shit, let alone live it."
        Chuckling, he gave her credit for those observations. "So... what about the branch? Any theories on that yet?"
        After a short silence, she answered, "Admittedly, no."
        "I mean, it's kind of a big deal." Julian chose to tease--a very dangerous decision. "Are we supposed to... you know... put it back on the tree?"
        That "we" did not escape her. Nor the understanding that they had no idea what to do with that branch. Or if there was even anything to be done. "Maybe it isn't just a branch. Maybe this is all that remains..." The thought made her shiver. Did she just unknowingly assume the role of the Guardian of the Tree of Life?
        "And... if that's true..?" he asked out of sheer morbid curiosity.
        "Then... I suspect I'll need to find somewhere to plant it." Seemed simple enough.
        Julian snorted. "Only you, Jack. Only you."
        "I know it." She replied, quite willingly leaning closer. "But... I'm tired of this. I mean, it's good to question, best to discuss... but we could do that forever. It's time to go." Despite the words, Jack wore a sincere smile.
        Something exactly like the kind she used to have before all of the shit struck, before... before what little innocence remained had been shattered. It was the smile of adventure, of promise--it was the sort of smile that Julian would have been terrified of, years ago. Now... "Yeah. Yeah, I guess so. Do you know where we're going?"
        "Wherever Domani takes us."
        "Ah. Specific." He was prepared for that shove. Luckily it seemed that Jack had honed her strength... for the moment.
        The laugh soon turned to a wistful sigh. "I suppose I have a couple more people to visit before this plan becomes action..."
        "I don't think you do." He argued honestly. "We've been with you from the start... so we may as well see the end, right?"
        That was potentially the furthest thing from a romantic sentiment, and yet for the two of them it was damn close. "Everyone needs one last chance to run away." She argued right back with a laugh.
        Shaking his head, Julian assured, "No one would take it."
        With a very, very mildly guilty expression, she commented, "Well, the rest of the crew won't get a chance."
        At first, he had no idea what she was talking about. All it really took, however, was remembering that his was Jack. "So that's why you're headed to a station."
        "In part." It was neither defense nor argument. "The rest is to get supplies. I figure having Domani stage a disaster and then having a mass evacuation will be perfect."
        "They won't like it." He grinned, certainly not arguing against the plan.
        "They'd have to come and get me, then." Jack grinned back. "Besides, I'll leave them some money, they won't be entirely without. I'll even see if Pheta will pitch in a little."
        Julian snorted softly, then reached out by pure instinct and pulled Jack toward him despite still-sore muscles. It was strangely similar to having his arm around her when she was still fully human. Maybe he shouldn't have been surprised. "How strangely kind of you."
        "It happens sometimes." More surprising still, she didn't fight that motion, made no move to pull away... though they both knew this couldn't last for long. Not yet. "You should grow your hair out again."
        Blinking, it took him several seconds to try and catch up with that extremely random comment. "You think so?"
        "Mm. Maybe not all the way." Reaching up, she lightly tugged at the hair just above his neck. "I mean, you're hot this way, but the ponytail was just too funny."
        Julian was a little tempted to try and shove her off the couch... but he knew better. Besides, that proved pretty much everything he needed to know: Jack was Jack, and she'd retained her memories. Experiences. Her body may be new and free from scars, but that hardly seemed to matter. "You know, there's something to that theory of yours. Is it fate?"
        She gave that a moment's thought, a long pause following. "Fuck fate." She decided upon easily, relaxing more.
        The other captain could only grin to himself as he enjoyed the moment. It would be short-lived, as it always was... but they'd have more.

        She'd taken the precaution of having Domani warn Pheta and Dr. Carn of what was to come. She told Doxy herself, simply because he was on her bed again and it seemed a shame to tell him to get off of it instead. Well, Jack had no idea she was a "pet person"; it still came as a surprise.
        The station docking had gone well. Supplies were gathered, stored away, paid for without too much bargaining. There was a bit of a time constraint, after all... and there wasn't much reason to keep all that much money with them. Things were calm, easy, going well.
        At roughly 04:00 hours on the ship, the sirens began. The warnings that everyone had just enough time to gather their most precious possessions and head out. Domani blared emergency signals to be picked up by the station so they would know to accept the crew, so arrangements could be automatically made by the station officials to keep them housed, fed and safe until alternate arrangements could be made. It was perfectly standard procedure. What was decidedly not standard was the fact that the ship stopped communicating the moment the last regular crew member had gotten safely onto the station. Even more surprising was the fact that the DarkHorse simply up and sped away without giving coordinants. Well... that really would have destroyed the point of the whole thing. Station staff and former crew looked on in awe and horror... right up until the moment they were informed how much money had been left for them to divide evenly amongst themselves. That was certainly a matter to ponder over at a later time.

        Sitting on the bridge, looking out into the mass of stars and planets on the screen, Jack didn't really feel all that impatient. Maybe a little, anticipation most certainly playing its part, knowing that the journey ahead was mere moments away... but a surprising amount of patience had settled over her. That was probably due to the oversized housecat at her feet, purring due to the sheer fact that he was allowed to stay on the bridge in the first place. It didn't hurt to be offered an occasional pet or an ear scratch. It certainly didn't hurt that he was big enough to be stretched almost to Julian's feet as well, that lazily moving tail brushing against the man's leg every so often as if to make sure.
        "Diagnostic check at 98%." Pheta informed them. "Almost ready."
        "Supply check?" Jack asked, feeling the need to make damn sure about everything.
        "Full and complete." The commander responded. "Especially considering the fact you decided to spontaneously transfer everyone else to the station..."
        But she refused to let that be an accusation. Besides, this was Pheta; she understood potentially irrational things like that. "They'll probably be mad at me for a while." Jack admitted. "But I'd like to see them catch up with me."
        Julian snorted. "Now that's the right attitude to have."
        Pheta just shook her head with a sigh--but she was making a rather valliant attempt at hiding a smile. Still, it did have to be noticed, "We've been spotted by the Pordethre fleet. They're moving to follow."
        A final battle that would not come; not yet. "Domani? You about ready to do what you do and take us to wherever you came from?"
        "At any point, Jack." The ship responded.
        Well. So. This was it, then. She could only imagine that Nex would be a ball of energy, were he there... and of course Ki would be asking her what the hell she was waiting for. Nodding, she instructed, "Pheta, send a message, if you would."
        Despite being used to the general insanity regarding most of the decision making around the captains in general, even that was odd. "A... message."
        "Yes." Jack confirmed nonchalantly. "Send them... 'Come and get me, mother fuckers.'"
        Another long pause, Pheta's fingers over the command board but not exactly moving. "Are you sure about that, Captain?"
        "You're right. 'Brother fuckers' would be a lot more offensive to the Pordethre." Jack agreed rather easily.
        Shaking her head once again, the commander decided it was just easier to follow that order. "I can't really believe we're having this discussion."
        "And how long have you know me?" Captain Veis teased easily.
        Pheta shrugged and sent the message. "Good point."
        That done... Jack drew a deep breath. "Alright, Domani. Let's go."
        "Initializing boost sequence. Locked onto suitable wormhole entrance." That normally calm voice informed them, almost managing to sound a little... excited.
        Julian supposed he may as well speak what came to mind. "It's kind of... terrifying, isn't it?"
        With a light snort, Jack had to agree. "Sure. But not in the worst of ways."
        "Hm." She did have a point.
        Able to feel the ship powering up beneath her, it didn't seem entirely ludacrous to ask, "Ready?"
        "Technically speaking." Pheta joked, finally sitting. There was no longer any reason to be at her console, no more she could do. The rest was in Domani's hands... and, of course, Jack's.
        "I think that's a yes." Julian chuckled.
        Well, if that was the attitude, then Jack would just have to grin and ask, "For whatever comes?"
        "What the hell." Julian answered easily. They'd survived so far. That had to be some kind of divine intervention.
        "You realize this brings about a whole new set of difficulties." Pheta reminded--though she didn't sound in the least bit concerned. In fact, she looked rather... relaxed.
        "Bring 'em on." Jack invited, then thought the matter over. "One at a time, if possible."

        For all the Pordethre knew, the ship took off at high speed, then exploded into a million tiny little pieces. It was there and then gone in a flash too bright to look at. Too bright even to be visually recorded, knocking out optical sensors.
        To the remaining crew of the DarkHorse Vendetta, it was one hell of a fireworks display to see them off.

Author's Notes

        The novel DarkHorse Vendetta is completely and totally freakin' done as of September 9, 2010. What does that mean? Well, probably that there are still a million errors I will never catch, firstly. Secondly, it means that I can stop telling people, "No, wait just a little bit longer until I edit it again." And third... this novel is 38 chapters and took nine years for me to finish. That is horrifying.
        There've been an awful lot of changes in nine years, unsurprisingly. Writing came to a grinding halt for a very long time due to a long illness that pretty much sapped me of all desire to do anything... but once I finally started recovering, Jack was still there. And then there was The Fight. If you don't know what it's like to fight with one of your characters then you are simply not a writer (and it must be a kinder, simpler life in many ways). This was one knock-down, drag-out, refusing to be a part of anything until an agreement could be made, war. She didn't like the fate that I had planned for her. It wasn't hers, she didn't want it--she defied fate and she won, plain and simple. I'm glad that she did.
        One of those changes I speak of is the unfortunate death of my friend and fellow author, Zellie Blake, to an aggressive form of cancer before she had the chance to read the finished story. She's always been an enormous supporter of my work in writing, art and music, and I always appreciate her for it. Her enthusiasm in her own writing and all of the things she loves is infectious, and she is an awesome geek girl to rival all other awesome geek girls. Death cannot stop your awesome, Zellie! Have that arcade set up for the rest of us when we get there, okay?
        As for a sequel... well, there are certainly enough hooks, loose ends and ideas to ponder it. The possibility of writing it over another nine years is slightly terrifying, but then time has such little meaning. So, no promises; the universe is full of nonsense and surprises. It's always a possibility, though.

Orin Drake
September 9, 2010

Content copyright Orin Drake 2011.
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