This is Issue #43 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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A short-call was sent to the other ship, the briefest of short-range radio blips, from the Captain of the TS Jacob to the unknown ship, requesting parley. It was answered almost immediately, as though whoever answering on the ship was already coming up with their message.
The comms officer called out, “It’s the Maxima, sir. They acknowledge parley request and confirm. They are coming about.”
“It IS Jules!” the Quartermaster crowed. “Captain, I do believe you owe me a bottle of something clear and lovely the next time we hit port.”
“Duly noted.” The Captain’s voice was dry, but had the unmistakable tang of amusement. “Anything else, Comms?”
The massive thing was already wheeling around in the clouds ahead so it could come back and rendezvous even more quickly. It sent back another message that made Nathan and the Captain laugh aloud when they read it after it was transcribed.
Board me, baby.
“That’s not proper channel language, sir,” the red-faced communications officer trainee said.
“It’s all right,” the Captain promised. “Jules isn’t proper, honestly.”
It took another two hours to get things reorganized on the TS Jacob; things had been flung about the decks because of the quick maneuver, and more than one crewmember sustained sprains or scrapes — one unlucky airman even got himself concussed, but at least he was caught on the rail instead of flung off into the deep nothing of the open sky.
“I haven’t been on the boards of the Maxima since… pfft, since I was nineteen,” Nathan was telling Kieron. “Ship’s not as fast as this one–” he began.
“–but it’s three times the size. Lots more crew. Ton more weapons and hold. They had originally thought they could make it a settlement ship,” Kieron finished. “I read the histories. Presuming all that was true, anyway,” he said, frowning slightly. After all of what Sha had shown him, he was distrustful of so much of what he’d learned already. “Were you crew?” he wondered.
“No. Visiting,” Nathan said, and again, he had that near-mischievous look in his eye, the one of fond nostalgia. “Only ever been crew on this ship. Before it was the Jacob,” he says. “When Jacob was the Captain.”
“Was he–” Kieron began, trying to think of a way to voice his curiosity. “She told me a very little about him, but mostly she talks about him in, ah, platitudes. Best of this, best of that. Was he really that much of a legend, or is that how she’s memorialized him? No offense, it’s just that lots of people become heroes when they die, because people don’t know how to remember them other ways.”
“Jacob was… honestly like that. He was smart. He was funny. He was strong. One of the best men I’ve ever known,” Nate said easily enough. “Easy to still miss him, considering,” he notes. “For the first year, people followed Sha because she was his sister, and no other reason; then she showed the crew she could handle being a Captain, and the rest is, as they say, history.”
Right around then, the other ship pulled close, but lower — Kieron could just barely make it out in the clouds, when the Captain returned to his side, staring over the edge. The sound of the aether engine was quiet again, low and humming, soothing to the young man standing at the rail.
Immediately, Nate grabbed a rigging from the side of the rail and began to put it on, eager enough that he got one of the buckles backwards. He struggled to pull the straps around his coat and so instead he peeled the coat off and dropped it, humming to himself, moving rapidly.
“You’re impossible,” the Captain said, rolling her eyes, making no move to get her own rigging or help Nate with his. She looked amused, and then moved off to go tell the boatswain to gather the other crew members so they could learn how to deal with boarding the other ship.
“Brody, give us a hand?” Nate asked, while he fussed with a different strap. He kept leaning over, looking off into the mists, staring down and then leaning back and getting himself settled.
“With?” Kieron said, staring at the Quartermaster. “Buckling you in? Or finding you a sedative? I think I’ve got something for airsickness that’ll help you be sleepy,” he teased. The cloud kept whorling around the ship above, and the ship below, sending cool mists against his face, chilling his fingers, his ears, the tip of his nose. Kieron smiled at the Quartermaster, pleased by the way the man was obviously delighted about something.
“This is an invitation!” Nathan said, reaching up to clap Kieron’s shoulder. “Come on!”
From far, far down below, a laughing voice could be heard to cry up, “Nate. Naaate!”
“I’m coming, Jules!” Nathan’s voice was bright and young, as though he’d suddenly been made a classmate of Kieron’s.
The Captain came back, standing near Kieron, watching the both of them fastening Nathan into the harness that would allow him to carefully lower himself down over the side.
Kieron’s brow rose as he quickly and carefully helped secure the buckles and rings. When Nathan was done, Kieron moved to grab another harness, offering up and saying to the Captain, “Are you going down as well? I can help you get sorted so you don’t have to wait long before you go down.”
“Yes, but I’ll be waiting until they’ve set up the net and pulleys,” she said dryly.
Kieron’s expression was sudden and intensely confused. Wait, then what’s–”
And with that, for the second time since Kieron had met the man, Quartermaster Nathan O’Malley took a running leap and threw himself from the rail of the ship. This time, however, he was in a technic’s harness, and he kept himself from being in freefall, rappelling down until he could pay out enough rope to actually swing. He half-disappeared into the fog of the cloud. His voice could be heard, at least, shouting, “Permission to board!”
There was a pang in Kieron’s chest as he imagined just what he would do if confronted with the ability to see Jet again. Would he throw himself off the edge of the world to get to him faster?
As the answering call from someone aboard the other ship came, Kieron asked the Captain, “So. Who’s Jules?”
Sha looked over the railing, having fondly watched the disappearing form of her Quartermaster, and said, “His wife.”
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