This is Issue #22 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’s expression went through so many feelings, he felt like it was hard to settle on just one. His heart was still thundering, though it slowly fell into the same steady, rhythmic throb as the hum of the aether engines. “What?” he said, tightening his hand around the loop at the ceiling. I didn’t hear her correctly. It isn’t real. He cleared his throat, glancing away, his eyes flicking to seek out any other thing to look at: A globe, an astrolabe, a massive empty birdcage, rolls of maps and star charts. He wouldn’t meet her eyes for anything.
The Captain’s hand at his cheek turned insistent; she slid her callused palm down his face and then curled her fingers down against his jaw. Suddenly, she gripped his chin and turned him to face her, leaning in, her dark eyes urgent. “Who died, Brody? I fucking know that look. Who was it?” Something in her voice wasn’t demanding — it was needing.
“I don’t know what you mean, Captain,” Kieron said, closing his eyes, trying to be still. He didn’t feel pain, or dizziness, but he was worried, now, that in speaking, he would be breaking some kind of code or trust. Or worse, tipping his hand as some kind of a crazy person, and ensuring he got sent back to the Institution. Can’t tell. Don’t tell. Never tell. They’ll never believe you. Oh, how he wanted Jet. Even if he wasn’t kitten-weak and sobbing from the pain of it, he wanted Jet’s arms around him, now.
Two years, at best. Two years and that’s if and only if they both survived the ordeal. And even then. God, even then, would Jet ever forgive him? He lost himself in his reverie, feeling hot tears behind his eyelids.
The hand on his chin pulled away — his eyes fluttered open, the tears in them glittering — and then came the slap. Her open palm against his skin was loud, cracked like a whip. It stung, rocked his whole body, made his ears ring. He’d have a mark, red and angry, against his cheek. Hell, maybe even a bruise. He lifted his hand, fingertips touching where hers had struck. He winced, looking startled, his unshed tears now spilling — as much from pain as from the sheer shock. He was lost, staring at her. He couldn’t imagine why she’d be so furious, so hurt. Could she really know?
“This isn’t your goddamn Captain speaking,” she hissed. Her teeth were bared as she stared him down. “This is Sha Onaya, little sister to the man this ship is named after. I know that look because my brother wore it. He was a seer, and he watched death, again and again and again. I know that look because being aboard my ship was the only thing that kept him from puking his guts out when he came back from his waking dreams. He became other people, Brody, and then bled for them, and I can tell, you do, too. I don’t think you’re crazy, I won’t turn you over to the tops, and I’m not going to throw you off the ship. So who. Fucking. Died?”
“I don’t know, Cap–Sha,” Kieron said. He saw the look on her face and flinched back, saying, “I mean I don’t know who he was! A soldier. He wore a uniform like the one your men wear. He had been up in the air, like where we are now, but with more mountains. He’d been shot. He was falling,” Kieron whispered, closing his eyes again, remembering the last instants before it all went black, passing through the shadow of the mountain, opening his eyes one last time, as the ground came rushing up, and then the sudden obliteration of everything as he struck, and how it felt to come right back into this moment, with her arms around him. He shuddered, swallowing roughly.
“Night? Day?” she pressed. She was standing near him again, reaching up to put her hand to his cheek once more, gentle again.
“Day,” Kieron said, his breath catching as he closed his eyes once more. He wasn’t dizzy, wasn’t pained — so why couldn’t he stop shaking? “A little cloudy, but not raining. Cool, but not cold,” he said, wanting to give her detail, as though it would help. As though it could tell either of them anything useful.
“Mmm. We’re about to skirt the mountains. According to the charts, though, we’ve got clear sailing for days,” she said. “Maybe we’ve got some time.” She moved away then, her hand dropping away from his face. She moved with ease, while the ship sailed along, and grabbed a shining bottle from under the mapdesk. Tin cups were pulled from hooks on the wall, and she poured out two measures of something gold and glittering. She handed one to him, and raised hers in silent toast.
He nodded, wide-eyed, still tense, and didn’t exhale, didn’t allow himself relief until she stepped back, sighing. He took the cup from her, raised it in salute and drank it down, trying not to cough. His eyes watered, and he swallowed again and again, the burn of the whisky settling into his stomach. “I didn’t, ah. I didn’t know there were others like me,” he said, to break the silence.
She knocked back her inch of whisky, throat working, and said, “Dunno ‘at there are.” Another two were poured, and she drank hers, and watched him drink his. She didn’t fill in any explanations, just seemed to be following the burn of the whisky.
“Your brother–” he began.
“No.” She cut him off even before he’d finished saying the words, shaking her head.
“But you said–” Kieron whispered, panicking suddenly. No? Had she lied? He gritted his teeth, struggling to think, watching her close up, her dark eyes go from bright to dim, turned from him. His heart stuttered, dropped low, felt sick. “You said your–“
“Dead,” she said, and took the cup back from him, and hung them back up, capped the bottle, and stowed it away. “Ship’s named after him,” she said. “That’s the only time you’re going to hear it. Drop it, Brody.”
“Sha–” Kieron said, pained.
She turned back to look at him, all wild hair and huge, dark eyes, all tall-coat and heavy boots and, he realized, two guns and a saber at her hips. Ready for death, at all times. She lifted her chin, staring down her long nose at him, and her voice was ice. “Captain.”
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