This is Issue #99 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
* * *
Coming back to the present was disorienting at best. The airship hummed and swayed, a tiny teacup in the clouds, stuck to a balloon. Jules could still feel the wood of the wall against her cheek. She gagged, gasping, half limp in the Captain’s arms.
“What is the meaning of this,” he growled. “Do you expect me to believe you’re an airship Commander who gets airsick?” He hauled her bodily from where he pressed her, grabbing her by the chin and making her look up at him.
She could still feel the wound from the sword, the heat of the blood against the chill of the dark, of the rain. She stared at the Captain, but her eyes seemed glassy, rolling, looking all about the room in which she found herself alone with him — the door itself was open, and people were running back and forth outside.
An alarm was going off.
“Commander,” the captain snarled. “Save your dramatics for–“
“Nathan,” Jules breathed, and then whooped another breath, doubling over, gagging as though she could retch up the earth from thousands of feet below them.
The Captain began to lean down, concerned.
Jules snapped back up, holding the shackle chain in her hands. With a quick twist, she looped it around the Captains’ throat, and then leapt up to wrap her legs around his chest, animalistic fury etched over her pretty, pale features. Her legs kept his arms pinned, while the chain cut off his air. She threw him off balance enough to knock him down against the table. His head hit the corner, and then he hit the floor, whereupon she rolled away, pulling his pistol and his taser from his hip. She checked the rounds in the pistol and tucked it in her waistband. She checked the aether taser’s charge and nodded to herself, then stood, looking at the wall between her compartment, and the one that had held Kieron.
She grabbed a key ring off the Captain’s belt, and switched off the mic to his com, for good measure, then stepped out into the hallway, once there was a brief lull in the panicked traffic. She locked him in, and slipped into the next room, and was nearly brained by Kieron, who held half a chair in his hands, his eyes wild.
His nose was bloodied, as was his lip — he’d pulled another stitch around his eye, and he panted as he stepped back, shackles rattling. “Jules?” he whispered, shocked. “There was an alarm. Everyone left.”
“I might be rescuin y’so don’ hit me with a chair, cadet,” Jules said. “S’alarms goin like crazytown around here. Enemy Captain’s busy bein unconscious. Let’s see f’we can get ourselves some chutes, yeah?”
Kieron nodded, and said, “Anywhere you go, I’ll follow.”
“Good boy,” she laughed darkly. “Take the taser. Point and don’t flinch,” she said, handing it over.
She pulled the gun from her waistband, and slipped back out into the hallway with him, but when he turned around and she saw his back, she nearly flinched from the site of it. They’d torn open the back of his uniform shirt, and there were three ragged, blackened slashes against his skin. One of the officers had heated a knife or a tool of some kind, and held it to him, to make him cry out, to make her talk. The edges of each were charred, while the center line had split, a cut that had bled, and the blood burned. “Mac fraochan,” she spat.
Kieron recognized the insult; Nathan used it jovially to refer to half the crew, half the time.
* * *
“Put your backs into it, mac fraochan,” he’d shout. Inevitably, someone else would yell back, “Oi! My mother earned every fucking penny from your da!”
* * *
“It’s fine,” he said, smiling tightly, coming back from the reminiscence. In truth, it hurt like hellfire; he hadn’t been proud of the way he’d screamed and cried, but all the same, he couldn’t imagine anyone being silent while such a thing was done. He grabbed a uniform coat that had been left in the room with him, and pulled it on, grimacing as he buttoned it tight. “This’ll make ’em pause, at least for a second. Let’s run,” he said, straightening out, wincing slightly.
And they did precisely that — run, while the ship blared alarms, and soldiers ran. It seemed plenty were going topside, and when he hurried her along with him, no one so much as looked at them sideways.
When they got onto the deck, however, they could see why. Bodies filled the sky — soldiers from the Jacob were diving. The soldiers from the Tropaeum were shooting at some, but the ships themselves couldn’t fire without risking hitting one another. Chutes opened below, and in the chaos, Jules and Kieron grabbed two for themselves, and began to strap in. When a single soldier ran up to them and tried to gain the attention of a comrade, Jules pulled out her pistol, and shot the young man in the head. The sound of that one gunshot was lost amidst the sound of the soldiers on the deck shooting at the diving crew of the TS Jacob.
Kieron stared at the dropped body, his jaw open, his eyes wide. With everything that had happened so far, he wasn’t yet inured to death; he put his hand up to his face and it came away wet with the dead soldier’s blood.
Jules grabbed for Kieron, pulling him again from his reverie, saying, “Done tight?”
“I… yes?” He looked uncertain.
“Ever dive before?” Jules asked quickly. “No, what a stupid question. God, you’re so green you grow in the sun, Brody.” She thrust the gun into his hands and used hers to quickly check his buckles and straps. “I caught ye once,” she noted. “Tryin it again seems like testin our luck.” She looked over her shoulder at the rail, and then back at Brody. “Once we get to that spot, we’ll have to leap clear of rigging and engine suck,” she said, raising her voice as the sound of engines and gunfire and storm grew ever louder. “You hold on to me; we go down together, and we pull together. If either of us does that thing, the other has to pull the chute.”
“How will I know when to pull it?” Kieron shouted.
“This height, count to twenty, then pull, or when you see other chutes opening, you pull!” she tells him. “You ready?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be!”
Jules grabbed Kieron’s hand, and ran for the rail. They clambered up and over, and leapt, holding one another, dropping into the wide void.
The sudden roar of the wind in Kieron’s ears again was deafening; he stared up at the rapidly retreating ships, clinging to Jules, counting.
At the moment it was time to pull the cord, the clouds parted, and the hulk of the TS Jacob came sailing out, hurtling west, headed for the ground, the back end missing. They had to let go of one another to open their chutes, but Kieron stared in pure shock and horror, frozen. Jules pulled his ripcord and shoved him away, shouting, “Cadet! Hit the ground running!” and continued to fall, watching in grief as the TS Jacob crashed down into a Domitor across the sky, and dragged it down out of the heavens. She kissed the gold band around her finger, and pulled her own cord, as the rain began coming down, and the lightning began slashing at everything, blazing up what was left of the world.
* * *