This is Issue #109 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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“Are you certain you’re not hungry?” The officer’s voice was kind enough; he remained just outside of arm’s reach, but he’d given her a small wooden bowl full of something that was making Jules’s stomach growl. She recognized the scent of it, a richly-spiced paste of some sort of nuts or grains, eaten with torn pieces of flatbreads.
“I can hear your stomach, Commander. Is it that you believe it is poison? Here. Watch,” he said, dipping a piece of bread into the bowl and putting in his mouth. He then set the bread and bowl nearer to her. “There. If it is poison, we shall both be stricken. Besides,” he said darkly, “we both know it is your army who is more prone to such tactics, yes?”
Jules flushed, gritting her teeth. “I’m not hungry,” she hissed.
Shrugging, the man ate, looking over papers in the tent while outside the storm howled. The tent flaps drummed against the wind, and she could hear the horses’ impatient whickering out in the driving rain, but inside the oiled canvas, she found herself warm and dry.
She wondered if the others had been made warm and dry, and she turned to look back at the man, but found him staring at her, rather than her papers. “Indecorum est,” she hissed.
His eyebrows lifted, and he cocked his head to the side, saying, “You are calling me impolite? You are a prisoner of war. You are kept warm and dry and offered food and drink. What, exactly, Centralite, is impolite about it?”
“I am Commander Juliana Vernon O’Malley, not merely ‘Centralite‘, and I would rather you not stare at me, Ilonan,” Jules said.
“Somewhat demanding for a prisoner, I should think. If we are trading names, I am Legatus Coryphaeus Aecus,” he said, his voice low. “Do you prefer I address you as Commander?”
She answered “My friends call me Jules–”
Coryphaeus’s dark eyes brightened, briefly.
“–so Commander would be good, yes,” she finished, baring her teeth.
“I see,” Aecus sighed. “Commander, you are a prisoner of the Ilonan Empire. I have offered you food and drink. I will offer you a comfortable place to sleep. You have no injuries which require a surgeon. You will go before the Prince. He will likely find you guilty of being a war criminal–”
Jules thoughts raced. War criminal. She was there when the Maxima had been used to lay entire villages to waste. She’d been unable to stop it. Oh, Abe. My Abe. How could you have done such a thing? You were a good man, once. I believed in you. I followed you. I’d have done anything for you. Why didn’t you come to me? The things he said, the way he spoke, when he so carefully tied her to her footlocker and stuffed a rag in her mouth, forcing it behind her teeth and tying it there. There had been such venom in his words. He had spoken of Valentin, of Anatoly — his sons. Men that had been brothers to her. Men who had families.
They send hands back, Yana. Only hands. My little Valentin. My Anatoly. My boys, gone. Good, strong sons, dead now. It ends. They will know what is losing children. They will know pain. They will all feel justice. Not weak Centralite justice. Kriegic justice. Spraadlivosht! Those rotting lokhi will pay! Ya sdelayu— I MAKE them pay! And anyone who is getting in way, Yana, anyone, is being dead to me. You I making exception. You, Yana, I love like daughter. You, I no make helping me. You stay here until is done.
But she hadn’t stayed. And he’d beaten her down in a rage. And he planned to run the Maxima and all its crew into the nearest city he could find. To blow a crater in the Ilonan countryside so wide it could swallow his own grief.
Jules felt her gorge rise. She closed her eyes and squeezed her hands shut, struggling to breathe calmly. She remembered Nate breaking down the door. The confusion, the chaos — but it wasn’t chaos once Abe had shot Nate. It wasn’t chaos when she shot him back. And then three more for good measure.
“–for obliterating entire villages. Men and women. Children, Commander. Can you possibly atone for something so inconceivably horrible–”
“I killed the man responsible for doing that!” Jules finally shouted, tears in her eyes, her expression a mix of agony and anger.
“Mendacia!” Aecus shouted, slamming his hand down on the table. He stood, pointing an accusing hand in her face. “You LIAR!” he hissed, leaning close.
Shocked, Jules leaned back, looking lost. “I’m not… I’m not lying!” she insisted. “I shot him! I shot him four fucking times! The airship — MY airship! — blew the fuck up with him on it!”
“He survived! He was found at the site of the crash,” Aecus snarled, replacing his hand by leaning over her, his face directly in hers, the fury in his eyes like a thousand stars burning up in the heavens. “When he was brought before my Prince he confessed to his atrocities! He said we deserved it, that he would’ve killed more if he could! And then that animal poisoned my Prince–”
“–ah, fuck, Abe, you stupid–” Jules sobbed, covering her face and turning it away.
“Luckily, Ilona’s Guardian saved our beloved Prince, and–”
“What did you do to him?” she interrupted, shakily wiping tears from her eyes. “If he survived me shooting him, and he survived the fall and he was well enough to attack your prince, what did you do to Abramov?”
Coryphaeus pulled back, looking stunned. “What do you think we did, after that display? Attempted murder of His Majesty is punishable by death,” he said. “The Prince’s sister killed him outright. We burned his body — he’d poisoned his own blood, it was a mercy–” He stopped, his eyes narrowing, and he reached a hand before Jules and waved it, snapping his fingers.
Her expression was blank, lost. Her eyes began to roll back.
Coryphaeus lunged forward and awkwardly caught Jules in his arms as her chair fell backward. He gave her a shake, and gently slapped her cheek.
She shuddered as she slipped–
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