This is Issue #18 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
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Jet felt some kind of yawning pit open up beneath his feet. All the air in the room was sucked away, dizzying him, leaving him breathless. The floor dropped out from underneath him, and he staggered, reaching to catch himself on the edge of the bed. He stared at the rumpled covers, and closed his eyes against the sudden rush of remembrance and the empty feeling in the bottom of his belly. Something heavy in his chest tried to claw its way out, on fire and screaming. No. No, not like this. He wasn’t supposed to leave.
“Harrington–” Garrett began, and reached for Jet, to help him stand. His voice sounded far away, and under water. There was something insidious about this
“NO!” Jet snarled, turning on Garrett, shoving him down and standing over him, out of his mind in grief and rage. His eyes were wild, and his teeth bared in an animalistic rage. “NO! He wasn’t supposed to leave me here! Fuck that!” He stomped to his footlocker and pulled out a knapsack, and began to shove clothes in, toiletries, the last of his hidden stashes of money and food. It might take him a full day or more to catch up to Jet, and he would need all the resources he would carry, because it was still mostly frigid outside. Some of what he packed was reasonable. Some of what he threw in the bag made no sense at all.
Garrett laid on the floor, still for a moment, staring up at Jet, lifting his hands as if to show he were unarmed. “What are you doing?” he asked calmly, moving to get up, but not approach. He had the manner of someone dealing with a feral animal prone to suddenly dismembering anyone around.
“Getting some things together,” Jet said, breathless as he rushed, his eyes wild, his thoughts scattered. “If I hurry, I won’t have to make up too much time, I can hitch a ride, maybe I can–”
“The convoy left hours ago, and you don’t have a working vehicle of any kind,” Garrett said, trying to reason with the young man, wanting him to see that he simply wouldn’t be able to get very far. “At best, they’re at the depot right now, boarding the trains to take them to the airfield. Once the cadets and volunteers are on the ship, it leaves for the next base that needs recruits. They won’t tell you where he’s gone, Jet. The scouts are the secrets.”
“–get to the trains, or to the airfield, I could sneak onto the airfield. I’ve got money, I could bribe someone to tell me where his ship went, then I could take the next one–” Jet said, talking a mile a minute as he packed, glancing at Garrett as though to see if the man were paying attention to his defiance. I can do this. I will do this.
“It won’t work,” Garrett told him.
“It has to work,” Jet responded, pausing to look at Garrett, desperate.
Garrett knew that look; he’d seen it on men older than Jet, stronger than Jet, wiser than Jet. Men who ended up dead because of it. “You’re risking your career and your life, Harrington,” Garrett said, sighing heavily.
“I don’t care!” Jet shouted. “I don’t fucking care!” Jet stalked over to stand in front of Garrett, shouting in the man’s face. “He wasn’t supposed to leave!”
“But he did, to save you,” Garrett answered back sharply, and then bit his tongue and looked at the floor, sighing.
“You knew?” Jet’s shock and fury warred with one another; he ground his teeth and clenched his fists. “When did he tell you?”
Garrett sighed, running his hands through his hair. “Weeks ago,” he said, looking ashamed. “I tried to talk him out of it, but he would have none of it. Said if I didn’t help him, he would find a way to get me thrown out of the Academy. Something about touching little cadets,” he said, sneering faintly. “I’ll give your boy that much, he’s determined. Much as he hates his father, he learned a lot from him.”
“Well you’re not talking me out of this, either,” Jet said, slinging the backpack over one shoulder. He grabbed a heavy jacket, and stepped into his boots. “I’m going. You can either help, or get out of my way.”
“You’re being an idiot,” Garrett snapped. “He thinks he’s going to go there and his visions will help him save soldiers. Like it won’t distract him enough he could kill himself or his entire company. Neither of you have any idea what war is actually like,” he growled.
“Because academic life is exactly like how you read about it in books?” Jet quipped.
“At least in this Ivory Tower, there isn’t fire falling from the sky! You aren’t watching your best mate get ordered to shoot through a barricade of children, then having to pick pieces of him up when he eats a gun that night,” Garrett said, venom in his words.
“You think it’ll hurt me any less to be here, learning the abstract versions of things like duty and honor if he’s there, putting a gun to his mouth?” Jet said, toe to toe with Garrett, the cords in his neck standing out.
They stared at one another, Garrett determined to save at least one boy from himself, until the midday bell rang. Jet shook his head and moved to leave, saying, “M’going. Noon rush, I can get off the campus while people are busy.”
Garrett watched Jet pull open the door, and his shoulders slumped. “Wait– wait!” He sounded all at once urgent, and yet resigned, and there was pain on his face.
In the doorway, looking back over his shoulder, Jet was the picture of impatient exasperation. “What?”
God, what am I doing? he thought. We’ll get caught. I’ll get fired. Worse than fired. “I have a vehicle,” Garrett offered, almost wincing as the words came out of his mouth. “I’ll take you.”
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