This is Issue #79 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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“Steady! Steady on!” The deck of the TS Jacob was near chaos; comms had picked up a distress call several klicks to the southeast, and since they had already turned around to head toward the wreckage of the Maxima, it wouldn’t be hard to go check that out first — they just had to act fast. By this point, the crew, cadets and all, were a fine-tuned machine. Nate, Sha, the ‘gator, the boatswain, comms, the Timekeeper, and everyone else called out as needed, and the crew responded, like an extension of any one of their bodies.
“You thought I was what?” Jules shouted to Nate, in between his giving orders.
“Not the time, Jules!” Nate shouted back.
“Seriously? she said, looking shocked, and more than a little irritated.
“I thought I was dying. Losing my mind and dying; I catch your eye, and you duck out to go find your new best friend–“
“–don’t bag on Kieron–“
“I’m not. I love the boy,” she promised, “but I needed you–“
“You had Sha. And I came right back–“
“The two of you get off my fucking deck if you’re gonna jibber jabber instead of call orders,” Sha said, shoving past them to give directions to a few more people.
“Sha–” Jules began, looking put out.
“Aye-aye, Captain,” Nate called, looking somewhat relieved.
Furious, Jules turned and walked away.
“Jules, don’t–” Nate began, looking impatient. “Jules, come on, Jules–” he cajoled — but it was no use. He couldn’t leave his post, and she wasn’t coming back. He growled his orders at the others, furious and frustrated.
“Hey. If having your wife on board’s going to mean you can’t be a good Quarter, I’ll tell brass to replace you with her, and you’ll be a fucking powder monkey. Stop laying in to the cadets. They’re doing good. You’re just pissy,” Sha snapped.
Nate lifted his jaw and leaned in to say, “You know damned well I’ve got reason enough to be upset.”
“Do your job, Quarter,” Sha spat back. “We all got reason enough.”
Kieron saw the exchange and followed after Jules, trying not to dog her heels, but he didn’t want her to shut herself away. One of the worst things about being the way he was was the loneliness. That no matter how much Jet had held him, he never knew what it was like to die again and again and again.
When Jules went around a tight corner, she wheeled around and bared her teeth, “I don’t want your fucking apologies right n–Brody!” Her eyes were huge, and she blushed red, and took a couple steps back, laughing nervously. “I’m sorry — I thought–“
“–I was Nate,” Kieron finished for her. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to hound you, I just… I wanted to talk to you. After Nate brought me to you yesterday, I wasn’t sure how to react. I thought you might want to be alone to recuperate,” he offered, looking sheepish.
“Well,” Jules sighed, shoving her hands in the pockets of her flight suit. “I don’t… I don’t know what I wanted. At any rate, it is what it is, right? Sha’s a little pissed. Nate’s… I don’t know what Nate is.”
“Disappointed,” Kieron said. “At least — that’s what it looks like.”
“Yeah, he won’t tell me what about, though,” Jules says. “Mule-headed idiot.”
“Well, fuck him.” Kieron shrugged, dismissively.
Jules’s eyebrows shot up, and she burst out laughing, saying, “I thought you two were–“
“He’s my best friend here,” Kieron said easily. “But he doesn’t know what this is like. He doesn’t know what this is. He can’t. And that’s great for him.” Kieron’s voice suggested it wasn’t ‘great’ at all, or if it was, that he wasn’t happy for Nathan, regarding it. “I came to talk to you because I want you to know if you’re scared, or angry, or confused, or anything at all, I want you to know you can come to me. I know I’m just a kid, and that’s fine, but in this? In this, I’m the only expert around,” he said, shrugging. “I’m good at whatever the Captain wants me to do. I’m nothing special, though. But in this? I can help you. If you want my help.”
“Brody?” Jules said, frowning slightly. “That’s probably the sweetest thing anyone’s ever–” Jules’s voice stopped.
As the redhead’s eyes glassed over, Kieron reached out and folded her into his arms, kissing her forehead. “Well, good for me,” he whispered, shaking his head. “Hang on, Jules. Just hang on.”
He carefully lifted her up — she was little and light — and walked her to Nathan’s bunk room. The door wasn’t locked; he laid her down in the bed, and turned her to her side. Kieron’s post-slip agony and nausea were abated by being within the aetheric field of the engines, but these were Jules’s first travels — no doubt she would be in pain through them, no matter what.
He put a bucket on the floor in front of her, and then quickly fetched a washrag, returning to her. While the deck was chaos, and Nathan dealt with his heartbreak on his own, Kieron wiped her face, and soothed the faint frown that showed up there.
* * *
Everything was beyond chaos. She stood on the railing of a ship she recognized (except she didn’t) and watched rain and hail batter the boards. One hand held in the rigging. Two feet were planted, but she knew better than to stay like this (except she always did, but this time, she didn’t feel steady) and she was just about to get down.
Just about to.
She stared at the woman on the prow, the figurehead. Water ships had mermaids — big busted carved things with shells in their hair, looking serene and peaceful.
Airships had figureheads made of clouds and lightning, women born of storm, ready to sunder the sky.
This one was painted in silver leaf, with purple glazed hair, and eyes made of black glass.
Jules felt her heart swell with love, with pride, staring at the figurehead.
She looked around, twisting, and turning, trying to make sense of what she saw, trying to make sense of how the world had gotten more than a little upside-down, when she heard “Waylan, LOOK OUT!”
Just as she turned, she caught sight of the pulley block swinging at her. She didn’t even have time to throw a hand up to pretend she could shield herself. The massive metal thing crashed full into her face, and threw her from the railing.
The block crushed her skull; she pissed herself, and noted with an odd sense of curiosity that it felt different, to do it as a man.
The last thing she could comprehended was the sound of her cheek and teeth as they shattered, and were driven through her eye, into her brain.
She died within seconds, before she even fell out of the sky.
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