This is Issue #86 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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The deck of the Hellebarde was cleared; once things had been set up, Danival was not of a mind to have any extra people scattered about. Very few were jumping; this particular part of the mission had less to do with an actual invasion of the Ilonan capital and more to do with the retrieval.
Garret watched as Kieron paced at the rail, wearing his gear, ready to go. He kept pawing at his oxygen mask, as though he were going to take it off, but Garrett knew he wouldn’t — it was necessary this high up, if he were going to remain on deck, and now that they were so close, he wouldn’t want to go back below.
“How is cadet?” Danival’s voice buzzed in Garrett’s ear with no warning; he tried not to flinch, and sighed as he glanced over at the Krieg who stood still, wearing his mask and looking out over the cloudscape.
“Fine?” Garrett said, pursing his lips. He looked over at Kieron, who looked like a caged animal, clenching his fists as he stomped back and forth, staring down over the rail. “Nervous, I think,” Garrett assessed.
Danival frowned behind his mask, but nodded to Garrett. The other man knew his former student better, but Danival was not convinced. There was a difference between the young man Danival had met when he’d picked up Alec, and the young man that tensely ranged up and down the deck like a caged animal that had already tested its bars, and was simply waiting for the right time.
Then again — Danival shook his head at himself, sighing. Of course he was waiting; he was still a new soldier, regardless of what had happened to him recently — they were about to drop down into enemy territory, and that definitely came with fear and excitement.
That’s what Garrett was trying to convince himself, as well, as he watched Kieron pace.
Sha, too, watched Kieron, but was consumed by thoughts of her brother; after Nate washed Kieron clean of the ether dust, he’d no longer been ravaged by the visions as her brother had been, before his death.
Before she’d killed him.
Had it been something as simple as getting washed free of the dust? Could his life have been saved from something as simple as that?
She had tried to put it out of her mind, but she kept returning to it, worrying at it, but refused to talk to Kieron about it — every time she nearly had, she realized she wasn’t sure she wanted to know.
What if she could’ve saved Jacob from the thing that destroyed him?
What if, what if, what if?
It’s what kept her from watching him closely, kept her from noticing just how different Kieron Brody had really become.
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The Hellebarde scudded through the sky, pulling ever closer to the walled Ilonan capital — in the nighttime stormy skies, the ship was nearly invisible. It cut all audible motors and visible lights, and the aether engine’s faint glow was hidden by actual lightning strikes in the clouds, and glimpses of the moon.
“Are you ready?” Garrett’s voice was sudden, a burst of static and then sharp words.
It tore Kieron from his reverie. For a moment, he was dizzy, and his eyes widened behind his mask as he turned and looked back at his former professor. Even knowing him, it was hard to recognize him; he’d cut his hair nearly to the scalp, was dressed in something that looked halfway like an airman’s uniform, and without his glasses, he looked harder, angrier, as though every time he opened his mouth, it was merely to show off the sharpness of his teeth.
For a moment, he was himself, but he was too startled by Garrett to make use of it. Instead, he drew himself up a little taller, lifted his chin, and answered back, his words crisp. A proper soldier. “Yes, sir. I’ve double checked my chute. Had two others double check my chute. Weapons, comms.”
“You ever jumped?”
Garrett thought it odd that he’d have to think about it.
“Only once on purpose.”
“Well, you’re alive, so you’re doing something right,” Garrett sighed. “Soon.”
“I am ready. I have been ready,” Kieron assured him. “All I have to do is get on the ground.”
Garrett clapped him on the back and said, “Well, once you go over the rail, that’s pretty much definitely going to happen.”
* * *
Sha looked up at Danival, and wondered if any of the rest of them would make it out alive of all this, and if Nate was somewhere, somehow, looking on, and laughing at them. So many dead. So many gone. Her heart hurt. “Aye,” Sha said, nodding. “Good to go.”
When Danival gave the signal, they leapt, wearing their O2 masks, wind screaming in their ears. They would have to drop for nearly two entire minutes before their chutes opened. Training exercises conducted in Kriegic airspace should have been done for the occupants of the TS Jacob within its second year, before the ship went back to offload its scouts. Any that had planned to stay would’ve taken the necessary dives.
Only it never happened, because so much else had.
Sha knew Kieron had fallen from the ruined Jacob, and by some ridiculous providence had landed on a ship.
Sha knew she and Nathan had ridden the Jacob down into the dirt; how they’d survived was a mystery to her.
She wondered if they had any kind of luck left that wasn’t terrible.
“Probably not,” she sighed to herself aloud, chuckling. Oh well. It would be divine to see Jules’s face, and get her back on board the Hellebarde. They would mourn together. They would, the three of them, Sha, Jules, and Kieron, make their way back to Centralis, to face whatever it was the Allied government planned on doing — that’s simply how it had to be, right?
“Shit, or we could join the Kriegs,” Sha told herself. “Or I could steal a damn pirate ship and we could go further southwest, see what else is out there.”
She let her thoughts wander; there was an altitude gauge — it beeped when she had to pull her cord, so until then, she simply let the air scream around her ears as she plummeted out of the clouds and saw the city, lit up, below.
Someone spoke over the comms, but it was a burst of static, and Sha didn’t know which one of them it was. “It is beautiful.”
She pulled the cord when the time was right, and carefully steered her parachute into a small clearing, where the others would touch down, waiting.
Then it was up, over the wall, into the city’s jungle.
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