This is Issue #49 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
* * *
It was a week later, when the vision hit.
Kieron was standing with Nathan in the Captain’s quarters, going over maps, discussing plans with the navigators and pilots. He felt proud to be included; more than once, he’d even been asked his opinion. The only thing he worried about was the nagging feeling of ‘not-there’ that had been growing over the past few days.
His Captain knew about it, and he was fairly certain that Nate knew about it, as well, but he didn’t feel like fainting or throwing up in front of anyone else on crew. He waited as long as he could, nodding, talking, strained and finally breaking out into a sweat before he excused himself, and staggered out onto the decks.
It being late, most everyone who wasn’t on a watch was either in the meeting, eating, or bunked, which meant the deck was fairly clear. This was good, since Kieron wanted to keep himself from being mobbed by crew who didn’t know what was going on, but bad, since it meant no one would be able to help him, if he were pained by the vision he knew was coming.
He moved to lean against a bulkhead and close his eyes against the rise and swell of his dizziness, and then had to grab hold of his surroundings, when he felt like he was falling through the world.
He had one last moment where he heard Nate’s voice come near, and he could smell the leather-and-hot-guns scent that was the Quartermaster, and then he was gone, slipped.
* * *
So many times the slip into someone’s death was violent and sudden — this one was no different. Kieron tensed, opening his eyes with a gasp, and was immediately assaulted with the stench of blood and loosed bowels. He was on his knees — on that marble floor he recognized, and his hands were bound. He could not feel a wound, could not feel a flow of blood, but he could feel his stomach churning, his throat on fire.
Bodies lay around him in pools of their own viscera, their mouths wide open, something redblack pooling beneath their slack jaws.
He could feel his own insides burning, and he curled his arms around himself, bowing his head forward. He recognized the uniform, and then he recognized something else: corkscrews of orange copper spilling over his shoulders. Kieron shuddered, closing his eyes and trying not to keen.
Not her. No, not her.
He remembered Nathan’s face, the agony as he held the rail so tightly, the cords in his neck standing out as he stood there shouting into the clouds. “JULES! JULES, I LOVE YOU!”
Anyone but her.
He dragged in a painful breath and sat up again, turning to look, to see who else was around, when in marched Abramov, bound in chains, following the man who had watched him slit his throat, some time previous.
The prince. Was Jet near? He tried to focus on Abramov, to figure out what happened — they’d only left a week ago. Could this already be happening?
“This is what remains of your crew,” the prince spat.
“Bastard. Animal. Monster,” Abramov snarled, looking at his people. In realizing the torment before their death, the fury in him withered, and Abramov looked broken. His eyes roamed over the dead littering the marble floor — but the worse heartbreak was when he recognized the body that housed Kieron, kneeling helplessly in the middle. “Yana,” he gasped, staggering toward him.
Kieron opened his mouth to speak, but a runnel of something hot and sour poured over his teeth, squeezed from his insides without control, running down his chin. It reeked of copper and death. He gagged, gasping, and the next breath in was fire.
“YANA!” Abramov shouted, horror painting his features. He turned to run down the dais, to get to her, but didn’t get far.
The man Sha had called Immanis pulled on the chains binding Abramov, and brought him to his knees.
“MONSTER!” Abramov growled. “You are monster! This is why we fighting! This is why war will never be ending! You are monster! You are filth! You are worse than filth!” He turned to look back to Yana, sobbing.
“You are not fighting,” Immanis said. “You are murdering. You are massacring innocents.”
“NONE OF YOU ARE INNOCENTS!” Abramov howled, raging.
“You burned villages. Whole villages. To the ground. They weren’t fighting in a war, you worthless coward.” He shoved Abramov down into the sprawl of dead bodies. “You rained fire from the sky, and you obliterated every man, woman, and child in an entire farmland valley,” Immanis seethed, tears in his eyes. “Thousands of my people!”
“I SHOULD HAVE DONE MORE!” Abe shouted as he landed near Kieron, skidding in the muck, sobbing as he tried to get to Jules.
Rained fire from the sky. Kieron remembered the face of the man who’d directed him to the TS Jacob. He remembered the scar tissue, and how the man had said it came about.
The he remembered the technic telling him what was in the kegs.
What’s it for? He had asked.
He tried to say ‘No’, but Jules’s body retched again, and he bowed to watch his insides become outsides, straining, bloodied, lost. He turned to look at the captain of the Maxima, pain on Jules’s face, but another spasm made him lose his balance. With his arms bound and his knees in the muck, he thrashed and fell, hitting his head on the marble floor, leaving him dazed. The agony of it was unlike anything else he’d ever felt, as though a thousand hot needles were driven through him from guts to throat. He gagged, unable to catch his breath, and felt the boiling, poisonous fire of his body rage on as he stared at Abe.
What have you done? he wanted to ask.
“Yana,” Abramov begged, horror in his eyes. “Little one, forgive me.”
Immanis grabbed hold of Abramov’s beard and pulled his head to the left, and then the right, making him look at the dead, showing him what his own actions had wrought. “I charge you with the murder of thousands,” he hisses. “You are guilty, and this is your penance. Look upon what you have wrought.”
“You deserve it,” Abramov snarled, spittle at the corners of his lips.
“As you deserve this,” Immanis said, standing up and stepping back. He nodded to another figure who stepped forward.
Kieron’s vision was fading; he couldn’t breathe, and the body was panicking. He had a moment of clarity to see the man he knew was an executioner step close, and draw a blade crafted of polished black stone. The killer wore a black a black sash, and an ornate enameled death’s head mask covered his features. He stepped forward and thrust the blade up beneath Abramov’s jaw, driving the tip of it through the delicate bone of the captain’s palate and into his brain. Jules’s body yet again spasmed, and her vision finally failed; the last thing he saw was Abramov fall forward and drive the last of the knife further up, until the point sheared through the eyesocket from behind. Abe’s massive body jerked once, and then was still.
Unable to see, unable to move, Kieron lingered in Jules’ death, vomiting redblack clots of his liquefied innards until at last, merciful oblivion came for him.
* * *
The deck was ghostly quiet as the TS Jacob cut through the night sky, daring to leave the cloudbanks while in the dark.
He came to with a ragged cry, pulling himself up against the bulkhead. He was weak-kneed, with his head spinning, and his heart thundering.
Strong arms wrapped around him suddenly, holding him up, surrounding him in that familiar scent. Leather and guns.
“Nate,” Kieron gasped.
“Fuck, Brody — if you puke on me you owe me a new coat,” Nate said, laughing lowly. The sound of it died in his throat when he saw the look on Kieron’s face.
Kieron squeezed one of Nate’s hands as he panted, looking pained, and once he’d caught his breath, he spoke.
“We have to find The Maxima. Now.”
* * *