This is Issue #25 of DeathWatch, the ongoing serial.
Go to the Serials page if you need to start at the beginning, or to find the rest.
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Kieron approached the Captain’s quarters, but did not want to interrupt the conversation going on inside. He could not help but overhear parts of it, and was made half curious, half uncomfortable by the slow, awkward jabs of verbal warring. It sounded as though the Captain was taking nothing seriously, while the Quartermaster was taking everything too seriously.
“–ing everyone call you by your first name, mm?” Kieron could hear something in the Quartermaster’s voice. He wasn’t sure if it was anger or jealousy, but it was certainly pain. He recognized it in the things he’d heard from Jet their last afternoon together. Not for the first time, he wondered where his friend was, and if he was all right.
“Come off it, Nate,” Sha’s voice was easy, soothing, urging but without demand.
“He rattled you.”
“He did. You’re still trembling.”
“You told the kid your name.”
There was silence, for a moment, and Kieron lifted a hand to knock, but stopped with his fist raised as he realized the conversation wasn’t yet done.
“Was he wrong? You find yourself a new cabin boy?”
“Let it go. If I wanted a cabin boy, I’d get one, but I’d make sure you like him, too.”
“And what if I said I didn’t want you to?”
“I’d remind you I’m your Captain, and you’ll be Quartermaster until you fall off this ship but you’ll only be first mate if I want you to be. Furthermore? I can have any cabin boy, any way, any time I damn well please, and if that means I want to climb the new one like a tree while you hang from the rigging and watch, then I will.”
“You can be a real bitch sometimes, Captain.”
“Ohh, talk sweet to me some more, baby, you always know how to make me blush.”
After waiting for quite some time, Kieron was no longer certain there would be a point in which he wasn’t interrupting. Rather than continue to eavesdrop, he knocked on the oaken door to the Captain’s quarters. The voices inside abruptly stopped their low arguing.
The captain called, “Come in,” and so Kieron opened the door. As soon as the Quartermaster saw Kieron in the doorframe, he stood up straighter from where he was, very near to the Captain, and stalked out. He shoved past Kieron, wearing a venemous frown.
Kieron looked back over his shoulder at the Quartermaster’s retreating form, and then turned to look at the Captain, who was busy looking at maps.
“What?” she said dully.
Kieron shut the door, but was silent for awhile, watching her.
The Captain’s back straightened as she stood up and crossed her arms over her chest. “What,” she then snapped, glaring. “If you were going to say nothing, you could’ve done that without interrupting.”
Kieron narrowed his eyes, taking a moment to figure out how to put the words together. Finally, he said, “I don’t care why you shot him. I do want to know if you and I are going to have the same problem. Should I take an emergency chute and a ration pack and try to make it?”
“You’re going to care why I shot him,” the Captain said darkly. “He asked me to. Can you believe that? He asked me to kill him. Begged me. The visions started coming too often. The pain came back. He couldn’t handle it. He begged for it. Told me to make it quick. I didn’t want to. Wasn’t going to. But after the fourth day, while we were up in the air, in the middle of a run, and he was in his quarters, dying every hour, spending his waking moments screaming, vomiting blood, I couldn’t take it. By the time I worked up the nerve, he’d bitten off his tongue and was choking. It was a mercy killing,” she said, looking down at her hands, “but not for him.”
Kieron stood in the doorway, feeling his heart in his throat. “How old was he?” He tried to keep his question steady, his voice free of trembling. “How long had he been having the visions?” He wasn’t sure if he managed it.
“He was twenty-eight,” she said, and her expression was almost sweet, almost happy, in remembrance. “Coming up on ten years ago,” she added. “He’d had ’em as long as I could remember. He said he had ’em as a little boy. Even in his cradle. Maman had said he’d gotten fevers, then they stopped. Then came the fits.” She spoke without looking at Kieron, blinking her dark eyes as she cleared her throat and rearranged her maps, fussing with the compass and making notes.
“I want to ask you every question I can think of,” Kieron said. “I want to know if you knew anyone else like this. I want to know how quickly it went from bad to worse. I want to know if being here will give me longer, or just mask the symptoms. I want to ask y–”
“I didn’t. I don’t,” she interrupted. “I didn’t know there was anyone else like him until I saw you do it,” she said. “It’d been so long I almost wondered if maybe he just… maybe it was just a bad dream, you know? But then. Then you got that look on your face. That thousand-miles-away look. The look where you’re right there with me, but not really. He’d get that look. Hollow eyes. Farther away than daydreaming.” She cleared her throat, shaking her head, and lifted her dark eyes up to him. “I don’t know. I don’t know how long you’ve got, Brody.”
Kieron sighed, leaning in the doorframe. They were silent together for awhile, before he said, “I’m sorry, Sha. About your brother. What you both had to go through.”
“He was the one in pain,” she said, and she turned her eyes back down to the maps.
“And now you are,” Kieron said quietly. She either didn’t hear him, or didn’t want to respond, and so he left her staring at her maps.
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