This is Issue #78 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
* * *
“What in the name of all the fucks are you doing?” Jules wondered, and for all the harsh words, her tone was gentle. “Djara left the thing on auto pilot to take a piss and get a meal. Do you even know how to get it out of–”
The ship shuddered, briefly, and groaned as it turned.
“Nathan,” she murmured laying a hand on his shoulder. “Nathan Einin O’Malley, what are you–”
“You know I’m older now, than he was, when he left? N’we’re all still children,” Nate answered.
“What?” Jules said, looking bewildered.
“What in the ever loving fuck are you doing, Quarter?” came a roar from the doorway.
“I’m forgiving Danny,” Nathan said, grim determination on his face. “And we’re going back for anyone who went down on the Maxima. If this is war, Captain — I can’t let them be the first prisoners. Abe was wrong. Straight-out wrong. But he doesn’t deserve whatever those people are going to do to him if they catch him. There were lots of chutes in the sky. But they didn’t fall far. Many of them should’ve survived.”
“What inna holy fuck–” spat Djara from the doorway. She stood there having rushed back when the ship started moving, holding a mug and balancing a sandwich on top, staring at the cluster of people in and around her seat. “Captain?”
Sha stared at Nate, and said, “Get out of the chair, Quarter. Pilot can fly better than you.”
“Aye, Captain. But will she hold the right course?” Nate wondered. He looked at Kieron, and then back at Sha.
“She’ll hold the fucking course I tell her to,” Sha snapped. “Djara. Next time you want to leave your seat, make sure his ass isn’t ready to sit in it.”
“Aye-aye, Captain,” Djara said, glaring hot death at Nathan.
He got up, his expression all apologies. “I’m sorry. I just, ah. I’m sure you’ve got it.”
“Nathan. Jules. My cabin,” Sha sighed, shaking her head.
When Kieron tried to follow, she gestured back to the pilot’s room, saying, “Keep with her, cadet. You need more time with the crew, less with command, right this second.”
“But–” Kieron began.
“It’s a personal fucking matter, Brody, all right?” Sha said, irritable, and shut the door in his face.
Red-faced, Kieron quickstepped back to the pilot room, and sat quietly near Djara, listening her talk him through the correct way to bring the ship about.
“Do ya ken why we turnin roun?” she asked him.
“Ah. Yes?” Kieron said. “We’re going to see if we can find any survivors from–”
“Brody,” she said, rolling her eyes. “What kinna stupid ya take me fer? Why he look at you, cadet? Why he look at you?”
* * *
“Okay,” Jules said, shaking her head as Sha shut the door to her rooms. “The two of you had better–” Her voice trailed off.
“Jules?” Nate wondered, cocking his head to the side. “Honey?”
Jules blinked, frowning, and looked down at her hands, and then at Nathan, then Sha and said, “My tongue feels–”
“Shit,” breathed Sha, her eyes widening. “Nate, catch her.”
* * *
Jules felt strong arms around her; her throat was on fire — her tongue could taste nothing but copper. Her limbs felt heavy. Dead. Someone laid her down, pillowed her head. She tried to speak, but even breathing was difficult. There were voices around her; they felt familiar. They felt right.
But she couldn’t recognize them.
“I am not certain there is anything I can do. The poison would not have been as damaging had he ingested it in its initial form, but once the body has acted upon it, and put it in the bloodstream, it becomes fatal.”
Poison? Fatal? Jules tried to reach out, but everything felt heavy. She tried to cry out, but all that came was a low moan.
Those strong arms wrapped around her again, and she felt warm hands cup her cheeks. Tears rolled over them, and then an unfamiliar face was close to hers. Unfamiliar, and yet — and yet.
“Brother,” the man said, tears on his own face. “Do not. You cannot. You must fight this. You must. Please–”
A woman’s voice, furious, full of hate, “We will find that ship. That last ship. We will burn it out of the sky. I will light every last milk-skinned pig on fire.”
Something blossomed, along with pain, in Jules’ chest. Love.
She loved this woman.
She turned her eyes to the man who held her.
She loved him, as well.
She tried to speak, but her throat would not work; finally, she could barely breathe. Panic set in. A heavy weight settled against her chest; she tried to cough, but all that came was a runnel of blood. She felt it gag her, and then when she could not breathe at all, she grabbed for each of them, grabbed at nothing, and felt her body convulse.
The man and woman wept for her, held her close. “Immanis!” the man cried. “Immanis!”
“My brother!” sobbed the woman.
The darkness that had been threatening Jules finally swallowed her.
* * *
“–funny,” Jules finished after a heartbeat of silence, and then she convulsed, mouth wide open in a silent, breathless scream, clawing at the air.
“Please be wrong!” Nathan’s was full of anguish as he caught Jules in his arms. “Fuck, Sha don’t be right about this.”
“Help me!” Jules sobbed.
Nathan pressed his cheek to hers, and one hand reached to lay over her belly, protective as he cradled her..
“Help me!” she screamed, folding herself in, struggling.
“I’ve got you — I’ve got you!” Nathan promised, trying to hold her close, tight, to let her know she was all right. “Jules! Juliana! STOP!” He sat, laying her in his lap, and cupped her face in his hands so she had to look right at him. “JULES!”
Jules stared at her husband, until something finally registered, and then she sagged in his arms, accepting where she was. Her eyes went wide as she whispered, “I wasn’t me. I wasn’t me. I was dying and I wasn’t me–” She groaned, twisted away from looking at Nate, and promptly vomited on the floorboards, breakfast and blood and bile, all at once.
“Fuck,” Nate said, shaking his head, rubbing her back.
“I know. I know,” Sha said, reaching to pet her hair. “It… Jules, has this ever happened before?”
“I’ve been having dreams,” Jules said, panting. “Bad… bad dreams. This was like that; they come when I’m not sleeping,” she confessed, looking at Sha, then at Nate, then back to Sha again, fearful. “Is this — this isn’t…it can’t be–”
Sha helped sit Jules back up, and got her a glass of water, and a glass of scotch. “Here,” she said. “Doesn’t matter what order you drink ’em in; you’re gonna need both.”
“But what about the ba–” Nathan began, and then he stopped, as the pieces came crashing down, and everything made a terrible sort of sense.
Sha looked to him, her head cocked, her expression concerned.
He shook his head, and cleared his throat, glancing away from Jules, who had downed the scotch and was working on the water, heedless of whatever Nathan had begun to say. He blinked, rapidly, to clear the stinging feeling in his eyes, and said to Sha, “You, uh. You take care of her.” He carefully released Jules, and moved to stand up, deftly avoiding the mess on the floor. “I’ll get Brody. Maybe he’ll have some answers.”
* * *
When Nathan O’Malley walked into the pilot room, the look on his face was such that Kieron thought someone had fallen overboard. He got up and went to him, all wide-eyes and worry. “Nate? What is it?”
Nate motioned for Jet to follow him, but turned away without a word. He led him out onto the deck, and back toward Sha’s quarters, silent the whole way until just outside the door, where he finally paused, and said, “I don’t think it was your fault, Kieron… but I can’t let you leave to find your friend until we sort this out.”
“What?” Kieron said, shocked.
“It’s Jules, Brody,” Nathan said, opening the door and ushering Kieron in to where he could see Jules in Sha’s arms, much like he was often in Jet’s, pale and weak, sick-stomached and trembling. “She has visions like Jacobs. Like yours.”
Jules stared at him, glassy-eyed and grey-faced, throat working, muscles spasming.
“You mean–” Kieron’s heart all but stopped.
Nate nodded, cutting off Kieron’s words. He said nothing, himself, for a moment, letting the silence reign long enough for cold fingers to draw shivers down his own back. When he did speak, his eyes were wet with unshed tears, and his voice was low, and rough with grief. “She’s a deathwatcher.”
* * *