DeathWatch No. 148 – No one’s bleeding, Professor, but I have to ask you an important favor

This is Issue #148 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘DeathWatch’ then go to ‘#0 – A Beginning’ and read from there, or go find the issue # you remember, and catch up from there!

Happy Reading!

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* * *

It was night, and he was on his way to the Palace when the announcement came over shortwaves and telescreens. The advertisements for the hunt had grown more and more insistent; the people were worked up into a frenzy for it — there were a number of prey, from a handful of Westlander enemies to a traitorous Ilonan soldier, and in every teashop, hostel, alleyway, laundry, bath, or public group, people were placing bets, calling out which of the participants would fall first, or declaring which prey would fall to which hunter.

The map for where the prey would be running about was posted up on public vidscreens; Garrett found himself in front of one and watched it through several news cycles without really meaning to; it was captivating, and it meant to be.

The public gardens of Ilona were fenced and gated in certain areas, and in other ones, the walls were high, while in others, the walls were nonexistent, because of the way the land rose and fell, making it all but impossible to reach the walls themselves. The city proper was so massive that in its northeastern quadrant, the gardens themselves were edged by the cliff shores of an inland sea.

Cameras were installed everywhere; even if the prey hid from the hunters, the observers on the outside would be able to watch every panted breath, every drop of blood — and the Ilonans were hungry for blood.

There hadn’t been a proper hunt in a year, and they were aching for it.

Garrett stood in a market square, watching the cameras cycle through; over the last five hours, at various stations, he had seen a number of the prey, but hadn’t recognized any. He couldn’t quite tell if they were together, or if the camera rotation made it seem that way.

He had turned away, about to head for the Palace again when a collective shout went up from the people around him. He turned just in time to see a face come up to the screen — the prey must not have realized there was a camera there, lodged up in the tree it was climbing. The voice belonged to a young man, panting, looking around, an ugly scar wrapped around his left eye socket, scarring him from cheek to brow, blackthreaded stitches pulled and still running with blood. “I can’t tell,” he was saying to someone off camera, just out of range. “It’s so huge,” he murmured. “I still think we should have gone north. The city’s not as big to the north. There has to be a wall there.”

That voice. That quiet, earnest inflection. Garrett strained, staring up at the screen, his heart thundering in his throat.

* * *

The knock at the door was light, quick, urgent. Garrett dragged himself from bed, eyeing his watch, and stumbled to the door, rubbing his face. He yawned as he leaned against the wood, murmuring against it. “Hoozit?”

“Professor Garrett,” came the voice. “Please, open up?”

“Nngh, it’s three in the morning. Is anyone bleeding?” Garrett wondered, reaching to fuss with the locks on his door. He opened four of them in an order of his own remembering, pulled the door wide, and said. “Someone had better be bleeding.”

The student slipped in, dressed for cool weather, carrying a heavy pack. He smelled like warm blankets, like heat, like sweat, and his eyes were wet and red as he stood in front of Garrett and drew himself to his full height, tears still drying on his round, pale cheeks. “No one’s bleeding, Professor,” he said quietly. “But I have to ask you an important favor.”

Garrett stared, frowning, and rubbed his eyes. “It’s three in the morning,” he repeated. “What are you doing?”

“I finally figured it out, and I need you to just listen.”

Sighing, Garrett said, “I’m awake, now, you might as well come in and–”

“There’s no time.” The boy’s voice was low, urgent, needing. “Take care of him, would you?”

“Who? What?” Garrett frowned, no longer certain he was as awake as he’d thought.

“Jet. Please. Please, Garrett, take care of him. I have to go. You know why.”

“Now?” Garrett said, baffled. “Son, you–”

“I don’t allow even my father to call me that anymore, Professor,” the boy said, setting his jaw. He looked not just stubborn, but determined in a fashion beyond his years. “We both know you think this is unreasonable, but we also know you aren’t going to stop me, because you can’t. I will leave. I will save him, and if I have to hurt everyone else but him to do it, I will.”

Garrett didn’t bother arguing; he could stop him. He could — but he also knew what it felt like to have to escape. To simply have to, or know that much worse would happen, because of your cowardice — and so he didn’t.

* * *

Garrett’s eyes focused tightly to the tanned, scarred, beaten face of the man whose eyes looked out into the night, searching.

In the tree, the speaker sat quietly for a moment, eyes narrowed, breath coming slower and slower, more even, steady. “I don’t know,” he finally sighed. “I really can’t tell, I’m saying. But yeah… yeah, otherwise it looks like rain, Captain. Stormy, even,” he said, twisting to look at someone well below him. As he did so, his shoulders were bared to the camera; along the back of him, twisted slashes made a long, blistering row against his skin — he’d been branded. Repeatedly. He looked blankly right at the camera, then, those eyes searching, looking right out of the vidscreens, right into the faces of everyone watching. The round of his cheeks was gone, replaced with a strong, stubbled jaw. His eyes were no longer bright and clear and full of eager hope. They’d grown even harder than the night he came to see Garrett, to confess his plan. There was something dark now, not broken but most definitely wounded. This was no longer the face of a young cadet — he’d become a soldier in the last year. A veteran. “We’ll want shelter. Soon.”

“Merciful heavens,” Garrett breathed, pulling his goggles from his eyes so he could look closer, straining to take in every last detail. “Oh, Brody, what’ve they done to you?”

* * *

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