This is Issue #56 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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“I’m in the clear,” came Nate’s voice over the comms, clear as a bell. So clear, in fact, Kieron could hear the tremor in the Quartermaster’s voice, even over the sound of the wind rushing by him as he flew through the clouds. “Coming around her port s–ohh, fuck–” Nate breathed. Silence then, or just the rushing of the wind, as though the comm unit had fallen off his shoulder and dropped out of the sky.
“Nate. NATE,” Sha snapped, loud and clear.
“Sorry, Captain, it’s just… The Maxima… she’s done for. I can see her coming apart at the seams. They’re loading the escape planes, strapping on chutes and just… trying to not die,” Nate said grimly. “Whatever’s below will get hit by the whole thing, with whatever aetheris is still on board.
Kieron stood on the deck, listening on the comms, listening as well to the sound of the static roar that was the aetheric fire consuming the mighty ship below them. He looked down and couldn’t see through the vast white of the clouds, but he could smell the lightning-scent, the strange wire-burning taste that clung to everything now.
“If you can’t land, try to at least slow your descent. I can’t get below you fast enough if you don’t slow down,” Sha said, sounding tense.
“I can land,” Nate said, his voice low, rough, determined. “I’m gonna fucking land. I can’t get Jules if I don’t land.”
Everyone who could hear Nate clenched their hands into fists and stood at the ready, listening attentively. Even the pilot who had to prepare to haul ass away from the falling Maxima was waiting, listening, straining to hear if their Quartermaster would get out of the hell he was diving into.
There was a blast, a burst of static, of feedback, but then Nate’s voice, tight and choked. “On the deck,” he called. “I’m on the deck. I’m good, Jacob, you read?”
“I got you,” the comms officer called. “We read you, Quarter, you’re on the deck.”
Something, maybe the aetheris, maybe the fall to the deck, caused the comms to lock open, so now everyone in the room could hear him running, breathing heavy, talking to himself quietly as he ran across the deck, looking for a way to find Jules.
“Jules, Jules, Jules, gotta find Jules, gotta find–WHOA–“
“–sorry, no, g’head, yeah, hi–“
“–just dropped in, where’s Jules?”
“Where the fuck is she?”
“I don–I, uh–I dunno?”
“Fucking hell get out of my way then!”
“Jules, Jules, Jules, Jules–” His feet on stairs, his breath still heavy, his clothes rustling. “Jules, JULES! JULES, WHERE ARE YOU?”
The sound of Jules’ voice could be heard over the comms, just then, half-covered by the aetheric static, by the roar of the ship’s other engine grinding. “Jacob, this is Quarter. Target’s in Maxima’s comm room–“
There was a pause, then, and in the distance, it sounded as though Jules and Abe were shouting. What they were saying couldn’t be made out; the sounds of their voices were obscured by the cacophony of the dying ship around them. Nate could be heard rattling the door, banging on it, trying to let himself in. While he was most likely pressed to the wood, it became momentarily easier to hear the voices of those inside.
“Do not be coming in, Natan!”
“Going to have to break down the door, comms,” he said, panting, out of breath. And then — the sound was of Nathan’s running feet, boots hitting the boards as he ran down the hall with all speed.
Everyone on board the Jacob who could hear Nate held their breath, flinching at the moment of impact.
The thunderous crash that came next was punctuated with Nathan’s grunt of effort. Boards splintered and clattered, and then Nathan could be heard, panting.
Then came the sounds of gunfire, of shouts and punches thrown, and gunfire, and gunfire again.
It was a radio show from hell, and Kieron realized he had his eyes squeezed shut as though it would help block out the images he had of Nate being shot to pieces by Abramov, who had somehow lost his mind.
It did not help that what followed was silence. The comms line was still open, but all that could be heard was the groaning of the ship, and the static sound of the aetheric fire.
“Quarter, this is Jacob,” shouted the Captain. “SITREP!”
“QUARTERMASTER!” yelled the comm officer.
“Nate,” whispered Kieron, using his own speaker. “Nathan, do you read?”
After a moment, there is a ragged breath over the comms, and Jules’s voice can be heard, sounding uneven. “He’s shot. I’m shot. Abe’s dead. We’re out of emergency planes, and last I heard, I had maybe ten minutes til the fire reached the rest of the aetheris. That was about twelve minutes ago. I’m gonna pull the charger off this thing so you don’t have to hear us fry or fall, yeah? You gotta fly, Sha, okay? You seriously have to get out of the way. He had so much left,” she said, sounding shaken.
“Get to the deck. Get to the deck and fucking jump. We are UNDER you, Jules,” Sha called out. “Push, pull or drag him, and throw him over with you. Use your wakeboard. Don’t you dare just fucking give up on me,” she yelled.
“Hey, you remember that night back in –” Jules began.
“NO! This is not a time for reminiscing,” Sha shouted back. “Jules, damnit, get moving.”
“Captain,” one of the officers called, obviously reluctant to interrupt. His expression made it look as though he believed it completely necessary.
“What,” the Captain snapped.
“We’re not alone in the sky,” he called.
“Of course fucking not. There’s hundreds of emergency planes and chutes fallin out of the heavens, you ass,” she said, sounding exhausted. “What are you–“
Comms sounded half-strangled in their worry; Hana blurted “It’s… it’s a ship, Captain. Three ships. Three Ilonan ships — coming in fast.”
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