This is Issue #101 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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“You’re not even gonna fucking put one on?” Nate said, holding a glass, and holding tight to the wheel with the other hand — holding himself up as the whole ship shuddered.
“Nah,” she said, looking out the great window. “We haven’t got the time. Tell you what, though. We could shag. Go out with a bang,” she laughed.
Nate shook his head, snorting with laughter, hauling on the ship’s wheel, fussing with the manual controls. “We’re going into the clouds. Headed down.”
“Go west, Quarter,” Sha said, draining her glass. “S’far as you can. We’ll come out of the clouds quick. Aim for a clear patch of sky. Don’t want to hit any of your men with my ship, eh?”
Nate nodded grimly. He used one hand on the wheel, whiteknuckled, while the other held the glass steady, letting him drink his fill. “I’ll tell you what,” he said. “I’ll bet you another bottle we walk away from this.”
“A bottle we wa–what? O’Malley, you’re drunk. Are you sure you should be piloting this thing?” Her voice was easy, even as her eyes were hard. “Tell you what, Einin–”
Nate’s eyes were wide as he interrupted. “Oi! You don’t ride this pony enough to call me that!”
“I ride that pony almost as much as you do!” she laughed. There was a long pause, while she looked out the windows. When she finally broke the silence, her eyes were bright. “Pony now, are we?”
“Thoroughbred Percheron if you’re curious.” Nate’s expression was smug.
It was nearly enough to make Sha move to crawl into his lap, but then he wagged his eyebrows, and she burst into gales of laughter all over again. “Mmm, upper end of Ellsdayle, maybe.”
“Ha! Fine enough. Still. Don’t…” Nathan grimaced, chugging what was left in his glass. “Just don’t.”
“Don’t what, remind you of Jules? Fuck, Nathan, she’s gone. And we will be soon, too. You gonna cry about it?”
He laughed, bleary eyed, tiredly saying, “Fuck you, Sha. I told her I wanted out. She was gonna leave with me. Go make babies. Buy a cabin. We were finally going to leave. Be together.”
“Nate, honey, I love you, but there’s no way that ever would’ve happened. You’d get too damn bored after a week.” Her voice was kind, teasing, sweet. “The two of you loved this too much,” she said, shrugging.
“Centralis used up the best of my life. All the time I could’ve been spending with her,” Nathan said, holding out his cup. “Top me off. When we hit, I want to already be floating above my body, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Sha promised, and poured out half of what was left. She simply began to chug out of the bottle, then, walking up to the front windows to look out them. When the TS Jacob thundered out of the heavens, and the stormclouds cleared in front of them, she had one last moment to gather her wits. “PULL FUCKING STARBOARD!” she shouted, and turned away from the windows to run back to Nathan.
He didn’t question it. He didn’t hesitate. She called for it, and Nathan did it, and that was how the Jacob sailed out of the storm and into the side of a Dormitor-class warship, its front needle puncturing the enemy ship’s main envelope. When the ship itself struck the Ilonan vessel, it tore through it, and began to pull it out of the sky.
“At least we can take some of them with us,” Sha shouted, laughing over the sound of screaming metal and popping wood, baring her teeth at the ruins caught up on her own ruin of a ship.
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The Ilonans aboard the Adoria worked to get their chutes, to radio their distress, and then simply jump. They had weapons. They’d hit the ground and they would begin mopping up the crew of the ship that had done their country such damage. They were unafraid — or at least they pretended to be, while they were still on mission. Every soldier had a job to do, and by the gods they were going to do it.
Weighed down by the extra bulk of the other ship, but buffeted by the Adoria’s wings, the TS Jacob cut down through the sky on a long, smooth arc. The Domitor broke off, and fell to the earth sooner, its aether engine exploding in a violent ball of impossible silverblue. The shockwave disrupted the power of one of the other Domitor-class ships. The Tropaeum, just out of range of the blast, turned and spun about, and began to head south and circle to land; putting out a call to the ground forces who were not far from all this.
If they could round up the Jacob’s falling crew; they could bring them in to the city, to the palace, to the Prince.
For him to exact justice, for his people.
The Jacob’s surviving crew watched the ship continue on, burning a lightning-char streak through the heavens, and when it finally struck, those who were already on the ground swore they could feel the earth shake. The aether engines didn’t explode in a brilliant spasm, because they were already empty of their fuel, but as Kieron waited for the earth to come up and meet him, he knew the ship was nothing more than smoking scraps of balloon, bolts and chains and charred, polished wood.
Blood and bodies were raining down. Not every soldier diving managed to make it past the fusillade of bullets coming from the Ilonan soldiers. Some chutes never deployed. Some dropped lifeless Centralites to the Ilonan soil, and then covered them in their own shroud.
Grazed by two bullets, hit by a third, Kieron hit the ground running, entirely full of adrenaline and because Jules had told him to, but even so, something in his left ankle made a noise he knew would make it hard to stay on his feet. He gathered up his chute, looking for whatever cover he could find on the horizon. His back and side burned, and he was certain he’d broken something, and that there was far, far too much blood on the outside of his body for it to be of any good, but all the same, he knew some of the chutes coming down weren’t from the TS Jacob. That meant he couldn’t just stay there, couldn’t just lay down in the dirt. Not just yet. For the moment, he couldn’t tell friend from foe amidst the other soldiers who began to land around him. He pulled free the taser Jules had given him, and began to run for cover.
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