This is Issue #104 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
* * *
With his sharp steel put away, the high-ranking Ilonan who faced down Djara bore a thin-lipped grin that wasn’t even smug — simply somewhere between arrogant and resigned. He seemed faintly put out by the battle on his home soil, as though he had better things to take care of, and the contempt with which he viewed the invaders wasn’t disguised in the slightest, except with perhaps the faintest bit of curiosity. At first, he did not respond to her words, to her proclamation, and the words hung in the air, a threat of violence that echoed the screaming, snarling fights that were occurring in the once-green fields further south, with other crewmembers that had fallen and not yet found comrades. Finally, he took a step forward, as though acknowledging her hatred, her fury. He stared at Djara, and his eyes were dark and cold as he said, “Kneel. You live if you kneel. I will bring you in if you yield. If you attack–”
Jules interrupted his offer, and shouted a long string of unintelligible curses, most of which Kieron couldn’t understand, but imagined were Kriegic. They sounded angry enough to be Kriegic, at least, all full of harsh gutturals, animalistic in its sound and intensity. She was red in the face and clenching her fists, holding tight to the gun in her hand, not yet ready to surrender it to the approaching enemy.
The crew looked almost amused at the outburst, heartened that she was not cowed, while a few of the Ilonans looked almost scandalized, and glanced to their commander as though for reassurance.
Djara lifted a bloodied hand, the red of it gleaming dully against the dark earth of her skin, looking furious and broken, and shouted to the crew, “Do as they say!” She looked back over her shoulder to Jules.
The Maxima‘s former Quartermaster had a pale face, and trembled as she stared at the Ilonans, who had them surrounded, and then she looked to Djara, pleading and warning all at once.
Djara looked back over her shoulder to Jules, and shook her head, tears streaming down her face, and she moved as to bend a knee, her face crumpling in grief.
One by one, the soldiers in Kieron’s group began to kneel, looking lost to do so. His knees ached and his ankle throbbed in agony as he dropped down, looking at Jules, then at Djara. You’d better have one fuck of a plan, he thought. We can’t just surrender; they’ll kill us anyway.
Djara sobbed aloud as she let one knee touch the sodden earth. One hand reached out to grasp the enemy’s uniform to steady herself as she sagged, uttering a wail of despair.
The Ilonan reached a gloved hand to pluck her fingers free of the sash over his jacket, saying, “You and your soldiers will be taken to–”
And with that, Djara curled her fingers around the hand that moved to hold hers, and used it to rise swiftly, driving her knife up and into his soft belly.
Kieron gaped, moved to stand back up, but his injured leg folded beneath him, and he went down with a cry, rolling and lifting his taser to try to defend himself.
The Ilonan exhaled suddenly, forcefully, and could not draw breath again as Djara stood tall, lifting him up with her strike, the punchknife that had been concealed in her fist resting firmly under his ribs. Blood poured out over her hand, steaming in the chill of the day’s storm, black-red against the purple-grey of the world.
It was the signal the rest of the crew had been waiting for, perhaps — those who had served with Djara before rose and launched themselves at the Ilonans, screaming and fighting with every last ounce of will they possessed. They might be oughtnumbered, but they weren’t going to go down easy. The cadets standing with them only hesitated a moment before stepping in to the fray. Jules began to take quick shots against anyone close enough she could get, aiming for vitals, occasionally managing to put the muzzle of her pistol to the eye of an Ilonan. The fight grew ever more gory, minute by minute, until the mud beneath their struggling boots was red and black.
Djara reached up with her other hand to clutch the Ilonans’s throat, watching his face as she squeezed the last of the life from him, punching him again and again, each landed blow opening him up further, spilling more blood, until she was soaked in it, and he had gone still. She threw the Ilonan down and threw herself into the battle, stabbing and slicing, no longer simply a woman but also a machine made for death. She felled three more Ilonans before Kieron managed to take down one, and when it was over, and the small skirmish had ended, even Hana stood tall, trembling, a gash on one cheek, with dead bodies at her feet.
Regrouping, doing a headcount, checking the wounded, Jules redistributed recovered weapons, and helped Kieron get on his feet. “That’s gonna slow you down,” she noted.
“No more than the bullet holes,” Kieron grimaced, looking at the blood on his uniform.
“Duly noted,” Jules said, rolling her eyes. “All right, everyone! Let’s keep moving to higher ground. Up this hill, and to the forests. We’ll be able to hide, might even get some rest!”
“We’ll have to move fast,” Hana called. “There’s a lot more Ilonans on the ground than I would have expected coming from the Domitors!”
Kieron worked to keep up, walking with everyone, panting and gritting his teeth against the pain of his foot. “They must’ve had–”
“Reinforcements,” said Jules, stopping at the crest of the hill.
As the rest of the crew joined her, they saw why she simply set down her gun, and lifted her hands up and out. Even she knew when she was beat — she was ready to fight, but not against an entire assembly of Ilonan cavalry.
* * *