This is Issue #30 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 came awake with a cry after being stunned from the shock of the fin crushing him to the ship, and immediately regretted the very notion of consciousness. His every breath was fire. The strut pinned him; he could feel it grinding against his body, immovable, unforgiving. It dug in against his side, and he groaned lowly, under his breath. The pain mounted as he struggled in its grip, twisting, attempting to relieve the pressure against his ribs. He was being crushed to death as the strut pressed, attempting to fit to the side of the ship where it belonged.
“What do you mean he’s not back over the rail? The pilot pulled in the fucking fin, Nate! GET HIM UP HERE!”
The compiece crackled to life, startling Kieron, and when he shifted, his 02 Tank that was taking the brunt of the force of the strut popped out of the way. It struck against his right side, the jaws of the mechanism bringing the strut down against him with force enough that his ribs gave with a series of sickening cracks.
Every officer wearing an earpiece heard the keening howl of Kieron’s cry as the fin snapped closed against his body.
“OPEN THE FUCKING FIN! OPEN IT NOW!”
The Captain’s voice was a furious buzz in Kieron’s ear. It hurt, the way it shrilled, but he heard her voice as a promise he was still alive. In pain, but still alive.
The fin slowly pulled away from the hull, and the ship slowly banked left again; Kieron could feel the way the wind changed against his face, sharp and stinging, a thousand thousand tiny ice crystals dusting his exposed skin. It stole his breath and he tried to cough, but the barest movement of his body brought fresh hell to his senses. He sagged against the fin as it pulled away from the hull, clutching it, holding his breath in agony.
Above the rail, as the ship scudded through a fresh bank of clouds, officers stared over the edge, pulling up the rope. It was rough going — Kieron and his gear felt heavy — in the end, they gave the whole thing a fierce pull, and ended up staggering back away from the edge.
The end came up, free and frayed from having been severed by the folding mechanism.
“Brody! BRODY!” The compiece squealed in his ear; Kieron hissed in distress, panting. “M’gonna let go,” he whispered, breathless. “You gotta pull me up.”
Half a dozen voices squalled over the radio at once.
“No — no, NO NO!” the captain screamed. “HANG ON! Brody you can’t let go, your harness line was severed!”
Kieron froze, then, clutching the fin, and the adrenaline dump saved him from some of the pain as his breathing became fast, fogging his O2 mask in sharp pants. If his harness was severed, the only thing holding him to the sky was his grip on the airship itself. Miles below, the world floated on; he looked down through the patches of cloud, recalling the slip where he had plunged from the sky.
“You’re gonna have to climb up; we’re sending down another line!” the Quartermaster shouted.
“Do it,” Kieron murmured. “Do it. Send down another line. I’ll put it through the loops. I can’t hold on. I can’t hold on much longer.”
They scrambled up top, the crew struggling to keep the ship flying straight while he felt his fingers growing numb from the cold. They weighted a line and carefully dropped it near him; he could’ve wept with relief when it swung close. He grabbed at it, and struggled to get it through the harness loops with one hand, cold fingers fumbling.
“Captain!” The navigator’s voice was a tight snarl. “We’re drifting too far to port with that fin open. I gotta shut it! Get him up here!”
“Hold your course, ‘gator,” Sha hissed. “We’re going as fast as we can! We’re not shutting the fin; I don’t want to pin him there again.”
“Tell him to climb! We don’t have time to wait.”
Sha cursed, shaking her head. If it came down to it, she would have to make the choice between crushing Kieron, or risking dashing the entirety of the TS Jacob against the side of the mountains through which they were navigating. She knew which she’d pick, but sometimes she hated the fucking choices. “Brody. Brody! You here that? Get your lazy ass back up here. Put the line around your wrist and climb!”
Kieron nodded to himself, closed his eyes against a wave of dizziness, and pulled the line down, swinging it around his wrist. His lungs burned as he kept his breathing shallow, tears welling in his eyes against the pain of his ribs. “Pull,” he grunted, twisting, pushing off the fin and holding tightly to the rope. He swung, hitting the hull, and sobbed aloud. “Pull!” he cried, struggling to get his feet under him, against the ship, so he could walk against it while they drew him up.
“HEAVE!” the Captain ordered. Several of the crew plus the quartermaster began to pull up the rope while she checked over the edge. “He’s clear of the fin,” she called.
The rigging snapped back into place — the fin swung, and tucked neatly against the side of the hull.
When the ship banked starboard, Kieron slid against the hull, struggling to keep purchase. The crew pulled harder, and drew him up, nearly to the fin. His eyes were wide with shock and fear as he looked up to them, taking careful, trembling steps up the hull.
The Captain watched him, shouting to him and the crew, “HEAVE! PULL! HEAVE! PULL! Brody, give me your hand!” She leaned over, reaching, hand straining, relief flooding her as he took his hand off the line, and slipped it into hers.
Until she saw his face. That face. The look, just like her brother got.
Kieron’s fingertips in hers were simply gone, and his grip on the line went slack.
“No, fuck, BRODY!”
His eyes got that far-far-away sheen, rolled back in his head, and at fifteen thousand feet, with two boots on the hull and only one hand tangled in the rope, Kieron Brody slipped.
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