DeathWatch No. 59 – I Call It Slipping

This is Issue #59 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.

Happy Reading!

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The aether, bright and loud before, turned blinding as debris shot out in all directions. Kieron laid over Jules and covered her as electrified shards of The Maxima were tossed like confetti. A wash of light and lightning pulsed over nearly every corner of the sky — Kieron was flung from Jules, and only caught himself in another section of netting, swinging high above the deck — and the Jacob went silent and dark in the heavens.

The ship that was still attached was all but vaporized, and a beam from the main frame impaled a second ship, spearing it out of the sky. A few parachutes were seen, but only a few. The third ship sailed through the sky in a wide, off-kilter circle, its engines also spun down from the lightning.

The wind flapped the canvas and rigging around them, and he held on, looking up toward Jules, watching the remnants of the Maxima plunge out of the sky to land on the farming village below.

“I hope no one else is alive down there. Seems unfair to survive that kind of attack just to die because a pulley came out of the sky,” he yelled up to her. “Jules?” He strained, trying to focus on her face, but it seemed she was staring off into the middle distance, silent and still.

“No — no, no!” he said, climbing up again. His muscles twitched and jagged; the world seemed painted with electricity — each thing he touched seemed to dust him with a fine layer of aetheric residue, and elicited a shock strong enough he saw the flashes behind his eyelids, and kept swearing under his breath — he forced past the way his body wanted to rebel, and hauled himself higher, to get back up to her. “JULES!” he shouted, as he pulled himself up level, and reached to turn her face toward his.

The instant his hand touched her skin, the jolt of electricity from him to her made her entire body arch up in the netting. Her mouth opened wide in a silent scream, wider and wider, and then suddenly she sucked in a long, agonized breath, and sagged down in the netting, panting.

“Jules. Jules!” he said. “Wake up. You have to wake up,” he begged.

There was another ragged intake, and she licked her dry lips and looked around, trying to focus. “The fuck d’joo do?” she panted. “The fuck was that?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t… I don’t know,” he said, his own breath panting, his heart thundering as he pulled his hand back and secured himself in the netting. “Don’t close your eyes again,” he said, half-panicked. “Stay, uh, stay talking to me, okay?”

“Nnnh. What do you want to talk about?” she murmured, frowning. Sparks of static kept swimming about in her red curls; he watched it trail over her skin, a summer sky of heat lightning.

For a moment, he couldn’t think of a single thing to ask her, as her ship burned out of the sky, and her husband lay broken on the deck below. “Tell me, uh. Tell me how you met Sha?”

“M’I dyin, Brody?” she wondered, her gaze gone sharp for a moment, her question as lucid as she could get. “That why you wanna talk?” she asked, her skin so pale, her eyes ringed darkly. “Keep me goin?”

“Probably,” Kieron said, nodding. “You’re bleeding from somewhere I can’t see. I think your heart stopped, a minute ago. I just accidentally struck you with lightning. We’re stuck up here until I know we’re not doing any quick maneuvers. So I need to keep you awake, okay?” He forced a half smile on his face and said, “C’mon, you need to tell me your oral history before you expire so I can make sure the legend of you carries on. I need to know the beginning, Jules, so I’ve got some context to explain to people how you heroically died in a loading net on a yardarm,” he said, reaching up and turning her face to look at him again; she kept trying to look down below, but then her eyes would flutter shut. “Seriously, Jules, don’t close your eyes,” he said, grave, the smile on his face fading.

“You remind me of Nate, when he was young,” she said, and now she was the one wearing a faint smile. “Don’t fuck with me, Brody. Is he okay?”

“I have no idea, Jules. I’m up here with you. Sha’s got him. That’s all I know,” he said, determined not to lie to her, trying not to panic, feeling his own heart skipping beats, erratically thundering in his chest.

“Sha’s got him. That’s okay, then. I met him because of her. I grew up with her. Airforce orphans who decided to get into the family business young. We both got entrance exceptions, her because her father wanted her on his ship, me actually an orphan because my mother and father ended up dead in a borderlands skirmish near the south,” Jules said. “Centralis social services didn’t want to pay for me to eat until I was old enough to get a job, and they outlawed using child labor after the… after…” Her eyes rolled to the whites.

Kieron gave her a shake, and shouted for her again.

She sucked in a breath and opened her eyes wide, panting. “Guh, Brody, I’m gonna die just to get away from you bothering me,” she muttered. “M’cold,” she added. “N’truly, I don’t feel much like dyin today. Don’t let it happen, yeah?”

“Working on it,” he said, looking down over the deck to see how people scrambled far below, trying to get the engines up again. “We’re dead in the water because of the explosion,” he said. “I can’t take you down there yet, if they need to get us moving.”

“S’my fault,” she said dully. “Believed him when he said the aetheris would be a good trade. Didn’t even question him.”

“Abe? You trusted him,” Kieron said. “That’s a good thing.”

“Yeah?” she snorted, sounding tired. “Think so? My ship’s in pieces, n’my crew’s dead,” she said lowly. “Don’t think any of it’s good.”

“Shh,” Kieron said. “Don’t talk. You’re bleeding. It’s a rule.”

“You definitely remind me of Nate,” she said, reaching out a hand and grabbing hold of his, curling her fingers tightly around his.

“Got no idea how good or bad that is, but I–”

Far and below, the engines began to turn; Kieron felt the strange throb of them in his teeth, his eyes. He saw the silverblue dust on his skin whorl in fractals, dividing and dividing and dividing.

His voice felt worlds away as he struggled to keep focusing on Jules. “–I imagine he–” Dizzied, he pulled his hand from hers and struggled to further buckle her into the netting, to make sure she would be secure, especially if he was about to lose himself.

“What’re you doing?” she murmured, looking down at his hands.

The engines spun up, humming keenly, and Kieron stared at Jules for a moment, his pale eyes unfocused, his heart thundering. He felt the peculiarity of slipping stretched out, instead of condensed into an instant.

“What’s happening?” Jules said, looking back up at his face. “What’re you doing?”

Kieron blinked slowly, and slurred, “Slipping. I call it slipping.”

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