This is Issue #126 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
* * *
Kieron woke with a start, and the chains binding him were heavy enough to make him groan as he shifted, struggling to sit up, gasping, clapping his hands over his mouth to stop from crying out. He looked around the dark room to see the wide eyes of his crewmates looking back at him. They were all chained, many of them awake, waiting.
Nearby, Djara sat dully, staring off into the middle distance, while Sha fussed with a button the cuff of her coat. Nate twisted his wedding ring and looked grim, but glanced to Kieron when the young man came awake. “All right, Brody?” he said quietly.
“Yeah,” Kieron began shakily. “I–” He blushed, hotly, shaking his head. “I had a bad dream.”
“This is all a bad dream,” Sha said darkly, and then reached over chains clanking, to squeeze Kieron’s hand. “Just a dream?” she wondered, cocking her head to the side. “Or did you see–”
“Just a dream,” Kieron said, still trying to calm his frantic heart. It beat in his chest, a desperate caged bird with fragile wings.
Sha nodded, and leaned back against the wall of the massive dungeon in which they were kept. She had just picked the last flake of dried blood from the brass button on the cuff of her coat when the door swung open, and several well-armed Ilonans trooped in. She tensed, ready to fight back.
“Up,” one of them said, gesturing to her. Others went to Nate, and to Kieron.
She stood, shakily, and put her back to the wall, the chains at her wrists and ankles rattling. “Up,” she said, nodding to them, cautious.
“Come now,” he said, reaching for her shoulder, to take her with — when she flinched, the soldier looked exasperated. “You move fast, I don’t touch. You move slow, I carry. Understand?”
Sha nodded, and moved to follow where the soldier indicated. “Where are we going?” Sha wondered, looking back at Nate and Kieron, who were coming with her, and the other guards. The rest of the soldiers in the sprawling dungeon rooms were left in their chains on the floor.
“Rooms. You stay in rooms. Prey needs to be strong, to run well,” the guard said, smirking.
Sha nodded, looking toward Nate, to see if he was being taken to the same place, and was both terrified and comforted to see him hauled along, as well — her stomach dropped through the floor when Kieron was led in a different direction. “Brody?” she said, and she stopped, turning, trying to shoulder her way back to him. “No, wait–”
“Move, Westlander,” the guard growled. “Do not disobey.”
Sha didn’t comply; she heard the sound of Nate shouting, and then Kieron, and felt a strange humming in her teeth. The ground came up to meet her, and she couldn’t help but close her eyes.
* * *
“Stop! STOP! NO!” Kieron was restrained, and the guards paid little attention to him, but he could see how they pressed the taser to the back of Sha’s neck. Kieron watched her legs give; he watched her body tremble, and then drop to the floor. He ran for his fallen captain as Nathan did, but neither of them were allowed to reach her. She was lifted by an Ilonan, who through her over his shoulder like a sack of flour, and muttered irritably, gesturing for the rest of them to hurry on their way.
Nathan struggled, trying to get past, to go back for Kieron, but when the taser was directed at him, he gave up, lifting up his hands, surrendering, resentful. He was pushed, turned, and the last the erstwhile quartermaster of the TS Jacob saw the cadet, Kieron was being led away by his chains.
Kieron turned to look at Nathan, half-panicked, begging. “Nate — Nate?”
Nathan was pushed around the corner, and closed his eyes against the last image of Kieron’s face, still scarred from the punch thrown only days ago, several of the stitches pulled, and the begging look on his face. The Captain was supposed to take care of the ship. It had been his job to take care of the crew. He managed to push away the image of Kieron’s panic, but then all he could see was the floor bloodied by everyone from the Maxima, dead. He pushed that away, but it was replaced with Jules’s expression as she struggled to stop her crewmate from slitting his own throat.
* * *
Sha woken on a bed, in a well-appointed room. Food and water were waiting for her; she ate her fill without reservation — if they wanted her dead, she’d have been dead. The food was there to be eaten, and so she did, and promptly explored her surroundings. She found much the same that Jet did, upon his first imprisonment, and came to the same sort of conclusion. She was held; she was a prisoner, and they did not fear her, or her attempt at escape. “Well,” she said to herself, finishing off the breakfast they’d left her. “Don’t have much time to figure out how to get out of here, I’m guessing.” She put her hand on the knob and tried it — when she found it unlocked, she promptly let herself out, and came face to face with armed guards.
“Back inside Westlander,” one of them said. “You will meet Prince soon enough. Gain strength,” he advised. “Make good sport of it.”
Down the hall, she thought she heard Nate, but when she strained to listen, one of the guards grew more insistent, and began to pull out the taser she imagined had been the thing that gave her the surly headache she currently had. She held her hands up, to display her lack of threat, and went back in her room, sullen and thoughtful.
* * *
“–don’t need to keep me in here! It’s not like I’m gonna fucking run!” Nate shouted, when they shut the door in his face. “Hey! HEY! I don’t even know where I am!” He paced his room, from locked door to barred window, grinding his teeth against the isolation, the imprisonment. When he wasn’t explicitly doing anything else, he twisted the ring on his left hand’s third finger, promising himself quietly, “When we get out of here. When we get out of here, Jules, I’m coming for you. We’re running, and never looking back.” He felt heartsick, looking around the room; the place in which he was kept… was as beautiful as it was foreign — he counted dozens of things he could’ve used as weapons, but it was lovely, all the same, and something about that bothered him. They’d called him prey. He’d heard the bastard Prince say they would be prey. He’d heard enough, in both Ilonan and his own native tongue to know getting out of this place was going to be hard. He also know nearly everyone he’d never known and worked with and grown to love in the last fifteen years was likely to die. He’d seen Jules carried off by an Ilonan before he’d been taken to the dungeon. Sha was in a different room. Kieron was… somewhere else. He couldn’t imagine what had happened to everyone else.
“Well,” he said aloud, listening to his own voice again. “I can imagine it,” he said, sighing. “But I don’t fucking want to.”
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