This is Issue #45 of DeathWatch, Book II: tentatively called Heart Of Ilona, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find DeathWatch, the first in the series, or start from the beginning of Book II!
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“Brody, I do not understand how you can struggle so much while bleeding out,” Sha snarled. “CADET! BE STILL, THIS IS AN ORDER FROM YOUR CAPTAIN!”
Kieron exhaled, going still, and then just laid there, blinking glassy eyes at Sha, quietly murmuring nonsense.
Danival paused, blinking, and looked at Sha, impressed.
The chiurgeon looked at the tourniquet, looked at the wound, and began barking orders to his assistants. He personally shooed Sha out of the room, and when Garrett came in, he was summarily ejected as well. Danival left once a nurse was able to take over the pressure on the injury.
Sha stood right outside the door while Alec paced back and forth, while Danival sat quietly, all three of them waiting, wondering.
* * *
It had been over an hour; the curtains had been closed — Sha could not see into the area where they treated Kieron. “I need something to do,” she said, looking to Danival. “How long until we can extract Jules?”
“Reports have coming in of another ships and outlying border area trading fire. We increasing speed. I wanting to speak to you about safe drop zones,” Danival replied.
“Can you drop some bikes?” Alec wondered. “We could do what I did, and drive in. If we don’t think we can make it through the gates, you can drop us near the cliffs. We can go back up over the wall, into the hunting grounds. I can get us back into the city from there. If you don’t slow and don’t decrease our altitude–“
“You will be making small inkblots on ground, when landing?” Danival said dryly.
“You know damn well we can HALO drop equipment. You know I’ve done it,” Alec said. “If we’re doing this, we need to get in. We need to hurry. If the Kriegs are going to set fire to Ilona, we don’t want to be there when it happens. We want the package, and we want to–“
“Jules,” Sha said, staring at the curtains once more.
“Sorry?” Alec said, looking baffled.
“She’s not a package. Well, she’s a whole motherfucking package,” Sha said, laughing briefly. “But her name is Juliana Vernon O’Malley. Jules. Commander O’Malley. And she’s family, Professor,” She explained. “I don’t know how it worked for you in the armed forces. I don’t know if you had to keep people at a distance. When you’re on a ship? Your crew’s all you’ve got. There is no distance. She’s not a package. I need you to be on board for this. I need you to need her safe like I need her safe,” Sha said, looking at Garrett pointedly. “You get me?”
“I get you,” Alec said quietly, glancing away. In truth, he’d understood that already, much earlier. He’d known what it was like to need that safety of another — he’d been hoping for it, with Jet and Kieron. To have lost one, to know that he literally drove a boy to his own death, that he was responsible for such a thing, even after leaving the Allied Forces? He pushed it out of his mind as best he could, and turned back to the window, to look at the curtain, with Sha. “You know, he was one of my best students,” Alec noted. “I wanted to fail him. Keep him out of this life.”
“We don’t get to pick that for anyone but ourselves,” Sha said.
* * *
He woke in a dim room, monitors strapped to him. He felt cold as ice, and so damn heavy. “H-hello?” he croaked, struggling to sit up. He looked down, and realized that he was strapped to the bed, wrists and ankles and torso, and all he could remember was the institute. The Laughing Academy. The place his mother and father had put him, after Hoyt had beaten him into oblivion. He fell still, wondering for a long, excruciating moment, if the last almost-two years had been real at all. He felt a strange relief as he decided that he would rather have truly lost his mind if it meant Jet was still alive, and on that thought, he sank back into sleep.
* * *
He woke again, still alone, and looked around at the spare, sterile room. The idea that he had spent so much time locked away in his own mind was growing almost comfortable. He knew there was some niggling thing he should be wary of, but instead, he laid back on his pillows and wondered if he would be allowed to write a letter to Jet, if it would get sent. He was imagining a convoluted way of getting the letter posted to the academy, and picturing the look of delight on Jet’s face when the door opened, and Sha walked in, hesitant.
“Hey there,” she said, “We’re getting close. We’ve worked out a way to get back into the city, and a rendezvous point with another ship. We’re doing this. We’re saving Jules, and maybe this offensive will be a turning point. Are you–“
Kieron lay still beneath the sheets, his face gone white, his eyes focusing on her in recognition. “No,” he whispered. “You can’t be here. No, it’s — none of that was real. None of it’s real. I’m safe. I’m safe, and he’s safe. He’s safe,” he told her. “He has to be safe,” he pled, closing his eyes. He wept for the knowing that though he was no doubt perfectly sane, his closest friend and confidant of seven years was lost, dead, gone forever, that nearly every friend he’d made since then was also dead, that his father was likely dead, and his mother as well, and he simply let the tears come, feeling them spill over his cheeks.
Sha let him cry, let him break, and let him finally come back to himself. When he finally opened his eyes, she said, “I’m real. You’re safe. We’ve got Alec and Dani, and a ship’s worth of Kriegs. We’re going back for Jules. Nate is gone. Djara’s gone. Penny and Hana, and everyone. Everyone else is gone. I’m not gonna lie to you. It was probably nicer wherever you were in your head.”
Kieron whispered miserably, “It’s all my fault.”
Sha snorted, saying, “What, you think none of the rest of us had any choice but to do what you said? We all made the choices that led us here. Don’t go feeling too sorry for yourself. Jules’ll punch you.”
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