DeathWatch No. 43 – Jules Isn’t Proper, Honestly

This is Issue #43 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.

Happy Reading!

PREVIOUS

* * *

A short-call was sent to the other ship, the briefest of short-range radio blips, from the Captain of the TS Jacob to the unknown ship, requesting parley. It was answered almost immediately, as though whoever answering on the ship was already coming up with their message.

The comms officer called out, “It’s the Maxima, sir. They acknowledge parley request and confirm. They are coming about.”

“It IS Jules!” the Quartermaster crowed. “Captain, I do believe you owe me a bottle of something clear and lovely the next time we hit port.”

“Duly noted.” The Captain’s voice was dry, but had the unmistakable tang of amusement. “Anything else, Comms?”

The massive thing was already wheeling around in the clouds ahead so it could come back and rendezvous even more quickly. It sent back another message that made Nathan and the Captain laugh aloud when they read it after it was transcribed.

Board me, baby.

“That’s not proper channel language, sir,” the red-faced communications officer trainee said.

“It’s all right,” the Captain promised. “Jules isn’t proper, honestly.”

It took another two hours to get things reorganized on the TS Jacob; things had been flung about the decks because of the quick maneuver, and more than one crewmember sustained sprains or scrapes — one unlucky airman even got himself concussed, but at least he was caught on the rail instead of flung off into the deep nothing of the open sky.

“I haven’t been on the boards of the Maxima since… pfft, since I was nineteen,” Nathan was telling Kieron. “Ship’s not as fast as this one–” he began.

“–but it’s three times the size. Lots more crew. Ton more weapons and hold. They had originally thought they could make it a settlement ship,” Kieron finished. “I read the histories. Presuming all that was true, anyway,” he said, frowning slightly. After all of what Sha had shown him, he was distrustful of so much of what he’d learned already. “Were you crew?” he wondered.

“No. Visiting,” Nathan said, and again, he had that near-mischievous look in his eye, the one of fond nostalgia. “Only ever been crew on this ship. Before it was the Jacob,” he says. “When Jacob was the Captain.”

“Was he–” Kieron began, trying to think of a way to voice his curiosity. “She told me a very little about him, but mostly she talks about him in, ah, platitudes. Best of this, best of that. Was he really that much of a legend, or is that how she’s memorialized him? No offense, it’s just that lots of people become heroes when they die, because people don’t know how to remember them other ways.”

“Jacob was… honestly like that. He was smart. He was funny. He was strong. One of the best men I’ve ever known,” Nate said easily enough. “Easy to still miss him, considering,” he notes. “For the first year, people followed Sha because she was his sister, and no other reason; then she showed the crew she could handle being a Captain, and the rest is, as they say, history.”

Right around then, the other ship pulled close, but lower — Kieron could just barely make it out in the clouds, when the Captain returned to his side, staring over the edge. The sound of the aether engine was quiet again, low and humming, soothing to the young man standing at the rail.

Immediately, Nate grabbed a rigging from the side of the rail and began to put it on, eager enough that he got one of the buckles backwards. He struggled to pull the straps around his coat and so instead he peeled the coat off and dropped it, humming to himself, moving rapidly.

“You’re impossible,” the Captain said, rolling her eyes, making no move to get her own rigging or help Nate with his. She looked amused, and then moved off to go tell the boatswain to gather the other crew members so they could learn how to deal with boarding the other ship.

“Brody, give us a hand?” Nate asked, while he fussed with a different strap. He kept leaning over, looking off into the mists, staring down and then leaning back and getting himself settled.

“With?” Kieron said, staring at the Quartermaster. “Buckling you in? Or finding you a sedative? I think I’ve got something for airsickness that’ll help you be sleepy,” he teased. The cloud kept whorling around the ship above, and the ship below, sending cool mists against his face, chilling his fingers, his ears, the tip of his nose. Kieron smiled at the Quartermaster, pleased by the way the man was obviously delighted about something.

“This is an invitation!” Nathan said, reaching up to clap Kieron’s shoulder. “Come on!”

From far, far down below, a laughing voice could be heard to cry up, “Nate. Naaate!”

“I’m coming, Jules!” Nathan’s voice was bright and young, as though he’d suddenly been made a classmate of Kieron’s.

The Captain came back, standing near Kieron, watching the both of them fastening Nathan into the harness that would allow him to carefully lower himself down over the side.

Kieron’s brow rose as he quickly and carefully helped secure the buckles and rings. When Nathan was done, Kieron moved to grab another harness, offering up and saying to the Captain, “Are you going down as well? I can help you get sorted so you don’t have to wait long before you go down.”

“Yes, but I’ll be waiting until they’ve set up the net and pulleys,” she said dryly.

Kieron’s expression was sudden and intensely confused. Wait, then what’s–”

And with that, for the second time since Kieron had met the man, Quartermaster Nathan O’Malley took a running leap and threw himself from the rail of the ship. This time, however, he was in a technic’s harness, and he kept himself from being in freefall, rappelling down until he could pay out enough rope to actually swing. He half-disappeared into the fog of the cloud. His voice could be heard, at least, shouting, “Permission to board!”

There was a pang in Kieron’s chest as he imagined just what he would do if confronted with the ability to see Jet again. Would he throw himself off the edge of the world to get to him faster?

As the answering call from someone aboard the other ship came, Kieron asked the Captain, “So. Who’s Jules?”

Sha looked over the railing, having fondly watched the disappearing form of her Quartermaster, and said, “His wife.”

* * *

NEXT

DeathWatch No. 42 – Clear And Holding!

This is Issue #42  of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.

Happy Reading!

PREVIOUS

* * *

After weeks in the sky, the vast expanse of cloudbanks grew monotonous. Everything was always chill and damp; the boards would swell, and the ropes would get slick. Kieron gave himself burn more than once, forgetting to put on gloves, and then slipping when he lost track of what he was doing and strained to look out into the nothing, hoping to see a glimpse of land, a break in the clouds — something.

Anything.

Once, during a storm, a technic fell out of the rigging and broke his collarbone hitting the deck. It wasn’t odd for the surgeon’s quarters to have more than one airman in the bunks at a time.

Nothing about the job was particularly glamorous, especially when it came to information gathering. They weren’t the spies of old, hiding within the country, among the peoples in plain site, they were the sort that hid outside and peered in, listening, hoping to never be detected, staying far and away from any happenings themselves.

The navigator shouted down, “Clear and holding!”

Kieron could hear the Captain call back, “Reading you five-by. Keep us safe in the clouds, ‘gator. Nice and safe and boring!”

“Aye, aye, Captain!” It was the same conversation they’d been having for days.

“Awright, crew, listen up!” Nate’s voice was sharp and clear, even in the damp mountain air; when he shouted to the crew, everyone from the topmost rigging to the bottommost fin could hear him. Because of his standing, even the most well-seasoned officers and standard crewmen alike would listen to his orders — he kept things running when the Captain was busy speaking to the navigator or other pilots. Because so much of this part of the journey was waiting, Kieron found himself with the technics, hanging from a rope thirty meters off the deck(no fins for him, for awhile), checking cable locks, and trying to hold very still so he could hear everything the Quartermaster was saying.

A little farther above, the navigator called down, “Still clear and holding! Nothing below – mountain range to port!”

“Yes sir, Gator!” The Captain’s voice pitched well, but there was no way to make any of it sound interesting; it almost would’ve been easy to drown them out, no matter how loud they were shouting.

“We’re waiting for probes to come back with long-distance readings of the ground below; we’re following in this cloud bank to keep from being detected until we can pass behind another small ridge and avoid any potential sensors, so we have to send the probes down, to get information we can’t see from the scopes. So far, there’s been no indication on the ground or in the air that anyone has seen us, and that’s fucking fantastic.” Nate looked earnest, watching around, his bright eyes meeting those of the crew; he liked the people-aspect of the ship, and he was damn good at it.

“Clear and holding!” called the navigator.

While they scudded alongside the mountains, after the last issue with the stuck fin, the reports were to come in twice as often, at least, though at this point, several of the technics were considering making sure the navigator’s non-pilot communications radio stopped working, at least for a time.

Nate lifted his voice again, saying “It means a lot of work for technics who are always trying to improve our speed and our navigational tools, but it also means a lot of you are bored as fuck. ”

A short cheer went up from the crew, to acknowledge his words; the roar of it disguised something the navigator was saying.

Something that, to Kieron, did not sound like ‘Clear and holding’.

Nate stood on the deck and laughed, nodding and waving. “I hear you. All I can tell you is that we’ll be on our way, soon, and–”

Suddenly, proximity alarms began to shriek. “Engines spin up! Hard to fucking port!” screamed the navigator, suddenly, sounding panicked.

“The MOUNTAIN is to fucking port!” called back a pilot, but all the same, the whole ship rocked as the fins and ballonets were readjusted. The engines spun up so quickly, the boards shuddered, and all the canvas rippled like pondwater hit with stones.

The crew scrambled; technics dropped from the riggings like spiders fleeing their webs while others strongarmed their way back up, crawling quickly, and those on deck pulled up their ropes to help them move faster. Kieron spun to adjust his grip, and then flipped the catch on his harness and slipped out, riding the ropes down aways before simply dropping out of the rigging to roll across the slanting deckboards and come up to his feet, swaying.

He stood next to Nate, who was staring off into the white, one hand on a guyline, the other on the butt of a pistol.

The sound was a strange humming buzz, like a doubling of the engine sound of the TS Jacob, coming from far away, thundering closer, a throbbing hum that set the teeth on edge as it rose.

The sound of something coming closer, out of the white shadows of the clouds.

Something massive.

On the starboard side, the ghost of a hulking figure cut through the sky; another ship kissed past the Jacob, and the sky was full of the sounds of the aether engines’ distortion interfering with one another for a brief moment, sounds like warbling screams and long-gone radio transmissions. The ship was gone, lost in the clouds again.

And then a real scream — from off the starboard bow there was the frequency-shift of a sound growing higher in pitch, and then Kieron stood frozen on the deck, staring at the figure hurtling in an arc.

A person.

It swung by the fins, wearing goggles, holding a rope, standing on some kind of board, and banked hard to try to avoid getting tangling in the rigging. It, too, was soon lost in the clouds, but the sound of it could still reach those aboard the TS Jacob.

The sound of brazen, challenging laughter.

Kieron could see the Captain, the navigator, the boatswain — everyone screaming at once, running to their stations, dealing with orders, but not Nate.

The ship settled from its lurch, while people scrambled to make sure nothing and no one had been thrown overboard. Nate had run to the edge, and was gripping the rail and watching the sky with huge eyes. When Kieron came up to join him, a slow grin broke over the Quartermaster’s face.

“Captain!” he cried. “Captain, I think it’s Jules!”

* * *

NEXT

Too Much

Too much, at times,
is the only thing
I can comprehend.

Too much sweetness
too much bitterness
too much heat,
toomucheverything.

M o d e r a t i o n

was never my strong suit.
I would rather drown in fire
than suffocate
from the world fading away.

Belief

I did not believe you
when you told me of stars
and I did not believe you
when you told me of flowers
and I did not believe you
when you told me of twinned hearts
and I will not believe you
when you tell me of vows
or rings
or a hundred thousand other symbols
but I will believe you
the instant your thoughts wander,
and the moment your lips do not talk to your eyes
to make sure they get the message to smile.
The truths you are trying
to impress upon me
will leave little mark
while the hundred thousand lies
that fall out casually
will track a rut so deep
they will cleave me from myself
and leave me spilling
the bone and blood
of my self confidence
and trust
into a vast ocean
from which I cannot recover.

Someone Whose Heart Never Stops Bleeding

Pouring a soul into the page is the easiest thing
for someone whose heart never stops bleeding.
Sometimes the craft is in the knowing
what words must be

cut,

even if that means
all of them.

Only those of us who will carve stories into our own selves can understand
a bloody hole
is more beautiful
than unbroken flesh.