This is Issue #102 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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Headed for the horizon, Kieron saw Hana, and when she saw him, she was both shocked and ecstatic.
She threw her arms around him, and then pulled back, now shocked and awkward. “Sorry, sorry — I’m just… You’re alive! Have you… where’s… ah. That’s a lot of blood.”
“Jules jumped with me,” Kieron explains. “I’m positive she made it down. She’s got to be around here somewhere.” He ignored the comment about blood, and kept running with her. Along the way, they stumbled upon Djara, who had been grazed by a bullet as well; a bloody crease ran across her temple. She looked stunned, but grateful, saying, “Have you seen Penny?”
“No — have you seen Nate? The Captain? Jules?” Kieron asked.
“I only just got up. I think I passed out,” she explained. “Nate and the Captain — they weren’t even wearin chutes when they sent us over.”
Kieron’s heart seized to hear those words, but he had to assume they just went after everyone else had gone off.
Djara kept talking, frowning, trying to concentrate. “We went in waves, but when we came out of the clouds, the fucking Ilonans were already shooting at us. I didn’t pull my cord until I had to; I didn’t want to be a slow target. I think something got me anyway,” she said, reaching up to gingerly touch her scalp.
“C’mon,” Hana said. “You’re both bleeding, death’s still coming. We need to get out of here.”
“We should go for the ship,” Kieron said.
“No,” Djara said. “That’s where the Ilonans will go. We need the officers, and we need to get moving.”
“Lead on,” Kieron said, gesturing to the horizon, looking around at the soldiers who were trying to grab their chutes and gather.
“Let’s go!” Djara shouted. “Come on, mac fraochan! I think Ilona’s trying to send us home! Let’s not be rude and overstay our welcome!” Their group grew larger as they ran. North, the valley gave way to foothills with forests; they weren’t far from them.
All they had to do was keep running.
Their ragtag group, Kieron, Hana, Djara, and a bunch of other crew and cadets, moved as quickly as they could, making their way north. More than a few Ilonans were hitting the ground, and giving chase. Some of the Jacob’s crew had weapons, and the Ilonans dropped, shocked to have been shot by people they assumed were already defeated. Within only minutes, the crew had crested one small hill, and come across a couple soldiers helping one another up.
Kieron nearly wept with joy as he saw her, and put on a burst of speed to reach her, where she knelt on the plain, over a still form.
As they approached, she stood and pulled the chute over the body, wiping her eyes. She walked away from the body, moving to meet them.
He looked at her, fear on his features, and she shook her head, and in that moment, he felt more relief than he knew how to name — but at the same time, more guilt than he’d ever known.
He was so glad it wasn’t Sha, wasn’t Nate — whoever it was had almost not mattered.
Except it mattered to someone.
Hana was looking past Jules, at the body, and she wondered aloudg, “Can — can we help?”
“No. It’s too late. She’s… she’s gone,” she said, and then looked to Djara, stopping in front of her, her expression apologetic. “We have to go. The Ilonans are already surrounding us. I’m s–“
“Wait, what?” Djara said, looking over Jules’s head and shoulders, past her, to the body Jules had covered. “Who–“
“I’m so sorry, Djara,” Jules said, reaching up a hand.
“You talkin’ bullshit,” Djara said, a look of panic sweeping over her face. “No, no no no–” She broke into a run, shoving past Jules, shouting. “Penny? PENNY! NO!” She staggered, leaned to pull back the chute, and then dropped to her knees, a long, high wail escaping her. She keened as she pulled Penny’s bloody form into her arms, bowing her head. Without regard to the enemy soldiers closing in, Djara sobbed openly, brokenly.
Kieron watched as Hana stood next to her, putting a hand on her shoulder, wanting her to know she wasn’t alone.
“We have to run,” Jules said, looking them over, still shaking, her voice rough.
Hana looked up and swallowed. “It’s too late,” she said Hana, still sounding shaky.
“No,” snapped Kieron, determined to make a stand. “We’ll–“
“No. Brody. It’s too late,” said Hana, pointing with a trembling hand.
Kieron tore his gaze from where he watched Djara mourning Penny, and saw how their small band was surrounded. From all sides, Ilonans were closing in, with gun and spear and taser and sword.
Cornered, in pain, facing down the enemy, Kieron bared his teeth. He stood tall, hands clenching — and realized he was still holding Jules’s gun, from when she handed it to him while she checked his buckles, before they ran, before they jumped, a hundred thousand lifetimes ago. He tossed Jules her gun, and pulled out the taser she’d given him. He turned around, putting his back to Djara, and his comrades turned with him. They made a wall around their grieving friend, their fallen sibling.
“Centralites!” shouted one of the Ilonans. His face was bloodied, his uniform was bloodied, but he marched forward. He lifted a massive sword, and leveled it at them. His voice was commanding, demanding. “It’s over! You are outnumbered!”
“Fuck that!” Jules crowed, almost laughing. “An’ fuck you!”
The Ilonan arrogantly put his sword away, and came even closer. “Put down your weapons and surrender! You cannot kill us all!”
“Don’ matter,” came the low voice behind Kieron.
Startled, Kieron stepped out of the way, as Djara came forward. He looked to the ground behind her, and saw Penny, eyes closed, motionless. Djara never met Kieron’s eyes; she stared past him, toward the enemy. Her eyes were dead as she stared down the Ilonan. She raised a bloodied hand, and pointed a finger at him.
“Don’ need t’kill everyone. But’m’at leas’ gon’ kill you.”
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