This is Issue #57 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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“Scramble their signals,” she told the comms crew. “Hana — use whatever you used on the Maxima. Get me time, people. We want our Quartermaster’s wife back, don’t we? And he’d be a bonus,” she said, biting off the words with as much confidence as she could muster. Kieron watched the way she strode the room, checking over the shoulders of her crew, a hand on them now and then, to let them know she was there. Beside them. “Jules! Are you moving yet?”
“Yep,” Jules said, sounding giddy, or perhaps just half delirious, shouting from far off. “My boy here’s a fucking drag, though. You sure you need me to bring him?”
The Captain drew a shaky breath and said, “If it’s just to bury him, we can mourn him with the Maxima. But if he’s breathing, see if you can get him up.”
Jules voice became clearer, suddenly, and Kieron had a sudden picture in his head — she was dragging him along, talking aloud, but when she got down to deal with him, her lips were near the comm device. Her heavy, pained breathing could be heard, out of breath and gasping. “Hey,” she said, sounding sweet. “Hey, you. Hey you, Nate,” she said, choking on irrational laughter. “Baby, it’s time to get up. You gotta get up, because I can’t get you up the stairs, okay? Don’t leave–” And here, Kieron could feel his eyes sting with sudden tears as her voice broke. “–don’t you leave me, little bird. C’mon.”
The sounds then were of determination. Force. Sheer will.
Time dragged on, sped up, and those in the comms room stared at the screens and waited to hear about the incoming Ilonan ships.
Jules could be heard swearing softly, and the sound of distant shouting was growing closer.
“Come on you fuck,” she shouted at one point, sounding exhausted. “Stop bleeding and walk!”
Then came the sound of a slap, hard and ringing.
A wheezed groan shuddered through the comm, and Nate’s voice was only a slurred mumble.
Hana said, “Three Ilonan ships. Evorsor-class. Our only chance is outrunning.”
Jules’ voice came through clear again, the sound of her straining against something.
Silence, for a few moments, listening to the sound of Jules breathing heavily, and the groan of the ship.
Then came steps. Boots on boards. Jules’s thicknailed soles, the ones that clicked, when she walked, but sounding impossibly heavy. Boots on boards, going up stairs. Unsteady steps, an aching eternity of them, and then the roar of the ship was suddenly less muffled.
“Port?” Jules asked, her voice a thready whisper. “You gotta catch us, Sha. I can’t rappel. No time. Not enough strength.”
“We’re under you, yeah, port,” Sha said, pacing back and forth, her heart in her throat for all the fear in the room. “I’ll catch you, Jules. With my own fucking hands, if I gotta.” She grabbed a device on the same channel and ran out, to head up. “Brody, with me.”
Kieron followed her, breathing heavily, sweating in his light uniform shirt, hurrying along, heart in his throat, ready to stand on the deck and just… hold out his arms, if that’s what it took.
“Jules, you gotta… you gotta get as much of a running start as you can so you clear your rail and ours. We’re almost rigging-locked with you, but the fire’s getting too close. Boatswain! get the technics to put out the fins and every net we got — canvas the rigging. Break every bone in his body if you gotta, but get ’em on the ship. Surgeon can fix ’em afterwards, so long as they’re breathing when we get ’em!” Sha shouted, calling out orders, running to handle ropes herself, doing anything and everything she could to feel like she could affect the outcome one way or another. “Brody, you check every fucking knot and then doublecheck!”
From somewhere far above, the roar of the fire redoubled, and there was a horrifying shriek of rending metal, the cracklesnap of splintering wood.
A massive piece of the Maxima’s keel fell, dropping right past the Jacob, raging blue fire singing out of the sky, plunging down to the blackened farmland below. With it, tumbled several crewmembers, airmen who had already been dead for some time, burned beyond recognition, bodies tumbling out of the heavens, cast down from on high, muscles still jerking from the electric current of the fire, their mouths open in silent song all the way down.
Kieron moved faster than he ever had, quiet, determined. Nate and Jules were just going to fall out of the sky, and hopefully land within the rigging nets and canvas. He knew it had to stretch to accommodate them, but not be loose enough that they could fall through. He and the technics shouted back and forth, tossing lines and running pulleys that stretched out as far as possible. They didn’t want to catch any falling pieces of the Maxima, but they wanted to catch Jules and Nate — had to catch Jules and Nate.
“Captain! We can not stay here long,” came a cry over the com. The navigator’s voice sounded worried, rushed.
“Aye, ‘gator, we know!” answered the Captain.
“The wind’s changing. The fire’ll get our sails and main envelope if we don’t get moving!” he cried.
“I hear you!” Sha called.
“Sha! There’s fucking Ilonans in the sky!” Jules shouted down.
“Well if I’d known you were inviting them, I never would’ve come to your stupid party!” the Captain yelled back.
“Maybe we should get out of here and let them have it, huh?”
“Sounds good to me! Get your asses over here!”
“Here goes nothing!” called Jules, and then came the sound of her whistling through the air — Nate’s comm device was still open, shrieking in the wind as their bodies fell from the Maxima.
Only a few seconds —
–but they seemed to Kieron like the longest seconds in the world.
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