No More Need

Your ability to breathe
is a fragile thing;

I used to worry
that when you released one,
you would not have the strength
to catch another.

Now I know that time is soon,
and there is no more need
to worry about what will come,
because it has come.

Your hands are birds at your side,
fluttering against the restraints
they have put you in.

I watch you

because there is nothing else
for me to do.
I have loved you

for all of our strong lives

but now I continue to love you
long into our weakest days.

You fight

because it is all you know how to do,
and I see
the bone and sinew of you

revealed

as your body sheds
all that is unnecessary
in this, its final months,
whittled down to weeks
and days, and then
hours, and now,
at last,
minutes.

Seconds.

In, and out…

 

In,

and out…

 

 

In…

 

 

 

Out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DeathWatch No. 38 – Wait, what?

This is Issue #38 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

* * *

While sailing into the Blacklands, into the territories Kieron had thought of as small and undiscovered, wild and in need of taming by ‘civilized’ Allied forces, the airship was kept close to the mountains, skirting the edges of the settled lands in an attempt to remain unnoticed by the Ilonan peoples. The Captain gave Kieron her brother’s books to borrow, though they were written in Ilonan, and for the most part made no sense to him outside of the diagrams and charts he could decipher. He was off active duty while his ribs healed, and once he didn’t need to be drugged for pain as much, he needed something, anything, to keep him occupied.

He read, and he read, and he waited, and he tried not to die of the madness of boredom.

* * *

“Ow, fuck–” The Quartermaster’s voice was low but irritable.

The Captain’s, on the other hand, was irritable but humored. “Shut up, you big baby–”

“Baby? I caught a whole fucking person with one goddamned hand while falling off an airship thank you very fucking mu–OW!”

“Baby.”

“Do you really have to–Doc, does she reall–OW!–be here? Right now?”

“It is her ship, Quartermaster.” The surgeon’s voice was gentle and gruff all at once, amused at the interaction between the Captain and the First Mate.

Kieron sat up, rubbing his eyes, and swung his feet out of the bunk, moving to stand and stretch, to pad about. While Sha worked with Nate on getting range of motion back — a functionally one-armed first mate was a disadvantage, to be sure — while she worried over his health and safety, Kieron read her brother’s books, recovered from two slips for people back in Centralis — no pain, no nausea — and didn’t speak to anyone about anything of import. They were scudding along with cloud formations, keeping to mountainous areas, as the Captain and crew of the TS Jacob had done during previous missions, to keep them away from any detection by Ilonan forces.

“Brody!” Nate called. “Tell these bungholes to leave me alone and stop trying to tear my goddamn arm off,” the Quartermaster begged affably.

“Pretty sure you’re supposed to be having them tear your arm off so it can get better,” Kieron said, smiling tiredly. He rubbed his eyes again, yawning, and did his own stretches, checking the bruising along his ribs, pressing gently with his palms, shifting and twisting, frowning slightly, trying to see how much longer they might keep him locked away for his own safety.

Once the Quartermaster was finished, the surgeon moved on to check Kieron’s ribs, prodding them ungently. The man sucked at his teeth, whistling brightly as he jabbed at Kieron, asking, “Does it hurt here? Here? What about here?” He carried on so long, Kieron began to suspect the man was playing him the fool.

It was confirmed when he glanced up to see Sha and Nate barely holding in their own laughter, watching.

Rolling his eyes, Kieron pulled back, growling at the surgeon and moving to pull on a shirt. “Really, you two?”

They laughed, as did the surgeon. “Ah, lighten up, kid,” Nate said. “You’re good. You’re healthy. You’re gonna be fine.”

Kieron didn’t return the searching look from Sha, but instead laughed as well, playing along as he tugged on his boots. He decided they were right; he was going to be fine. For now, at least. There hadn’t been any more nightmares — slips, yes, nightmares, no — the likes of which had woken him up earlier. Part of it relieved him. Part of it made him ache.

When he took the night’s watch that evening, and stood out on the deck as they sailed on in the darkness, he felt the late winter’s chill trying to sink into his bones, the crisp scent of cold still clinging to the world around him, so high in the mountain air.

He stood there, and he remembered.

He had awakened in the night to the cold of the snow on his skin, feeling it melt, weighing down the sheet that laid against him. He’d seen Jet lying beside him, and he could smell winter, and Jet’s skin. He assumed he was dreaming, and didn’t try to move, didn’t try to wake his friend; he just basked in his nearness, and comfortably fell back asleep. The snow was freezing, but it felt like heaven compared to the fever that had raged through him, and so he didn’t fight against it.

He could smell it now, that clean, pure cold scent underlaid with juniper and smoke, and he held to the rail tightly, gritting his teeth against a sudden rush of feeling, a sudden remembrance that was welcome, except for how it burned.

“You make a terrible scout.” Nathan’s voice was right at his ear.

“Fuck!”

“Calm yourself, Brody. I restate my claim. You’re a terrible scout. You don’t notice shit,” Nate laughed. “How long have you been standing here, staring at nothing?” He was still wearing a brace, but it looked like Nate would rejoin the group sooner rather than later, as well.

“I don’t know,” Kieron admitted. “Pretty sure we haven’t been boarded, though,” he said, rolling his eyes.

Nathan rolled his in return, sighing. “Well when we do get boarded, see if you can find yourself alone with a pretty soldier, get your mind off shit,” he snorted.

Kieron cleared his throat, blushing, and said, “I don’t need to–”

“Bullshit. You’re fucking infatuated,” Nate laughed.

“I don’t know if infatu–”

“Brody. Don’t try to trick a trickster, yeah?” The quartermaster said, smiling, reaching to put a hand on Kieron’s shoulder. “Come on, man, it’s more obvious than you know, and the more you try to hide it, the more she can tell.”

Kieron stiffened briefly, his eyes widening. “What?” he said. “She thinks I–” He interrupted himself to say, “No. NO! Seriously, no.” He sputtered, laughing nervously, shaking his head.

“Trust me, she’s flattered, but–”

“No, Nate, you don’t get it,” Kieron blurted. “I’m thinking about someone else.”

Now it was the Quartermaster’s turn to look baffled. “Karenna? She’s good with knots, I’ll give her that, but–”

And here, the young man just stopped talking, putting a hand over his face and groaning aloud over the sound of Nate ticking off the possibilities of Kieron’s potential affections.

“Come on. Give us a hint,” Nate finally said.

“You don’t know him,” Kieron blurted, without thinking.

Nate rolled his eyes, laughing, saying, “I know every of-age woman in a forty-thousand square mile drop zo–” He paused.

Kieron waited, wincing, as Nathan’s expression looked confused enough to be comical.

“Wait — what?”

* * *

NEXT

Vows

If you promise not to ask me
about the red thong panties
and how they got into our bed,
I promise I will not ask you
about the blood in the kitchen
and the girl last seen wearing them.

Another Chance

Give me another lifetime
another day with you
another half an hour
only fifteen minutes
just a moment
a single solitary instant
just so I can be close again
just so I can be near
just so I can have another chance

to dig my fingers
against your throat
and bring the ashtray down
just a little harder.

DeathWatch No. 37 – I Don’t Know What You Mean

This is Issue #37  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

* * *

Dreams were not the same as slipping; he knew he was himself. Even so, they were disorienting, especially ones laced with pain medicine.

Kieron woke up in a cold sweat, panting, grimacing in anticipation of pain as he moved to sit up, but there was none, and he couldn’t decide if that was a good thing, or a bad thing, as he sat up fully, shivering in the warm infirmary.

“Hey,” came a low voice, off to the side.

Kieron turned, his bright eyes wide in the dark. He panted, teeth chattering, clutching the blankets in a sudden, dizzying wash of fear. Where am I? What happened?

“Key,” said the voice, and the nearby cot creaked, then Kieron’s own cot creaked as someone else sat on the edge. “Key, what happened?”

Jet.

Kieron let out a sob and turned to throw his arms around the other boy. “How did you get here? Who found you?” he wept. Once the floodgates were opened, he simply held on, and let go, all at once, fingers digging in, clutching the other boy’s shirt. “I’m so sorry,” he sobbed. “Forgive me, please. Please forgive me. I’m so glad you’re safe. I’m so glad you’re all right.” He pulled back to wipe at his face, to get a good look at the boy he’d abandoned, but he looked at his own hands as he scrubbed away his tears, half-laughing, trying to calm himself — they were reddened, sticky with blood.

“Wait–” he said, stiffening, feeling a sudden spasm of fear grip his belly. He turned to reach a hand to bring up the lantern. “Jet, are you–?”

“Why did you leave me? You knew I’d come find you,” Jet said, accusatory, and moved closer, as the light came up.

“No–” Kieron whispered, horrified.

Jet was dead, bluelipped and milky-eyed, wearing his Academy best, covered in blood. “You knew,” he said sadly. “How could you leave me like that?”

Kieron woke up in a cold sweat, panting, grimacing in actual pain as he moved to sit up, crying out, struggling to get away from the phantoms that haunted his sleep.

“Hey,” came a familiar voice, off to the side.

Kieron turned quickly, eyes wide and wild with fear; he clutched his blanket tightly, flinching back from the voice.

“Hey, hey easy,” Sha said, reaching out a hand to touch Kieron’s shoulder, fond irritation touching her voice. “Lay down, yeah?” she said. “Before I have to make it an order. You’ll fuck up your ribs worse, and nobody needs that. You should–” Genuine concern crossed her face. “Brody?” she murmured, leaning over him. “You all right?”

“Yes?” he said, panting, struggling to swallow back tears.

Sha looked around the small infirmary, and with the surgeon off on another task, she nodded to Kieron, and moved to sit on the edge of his cot. “You need to tell me about it?” she wondered.

“Jet,” he said. “I saw Jet.”

“Who’s Jet?” The Captain asked quietly.

Kieron’s cheeks flamed pink as he whispered, “A friend.”

The Captain, unfazed, said, “Right, but who is he?”

The answering blush was deeper scarlet. “A classmate. A roommate. We schooled at the Academy together.”

“In your dreams?” she wondered, making no jokes, no faces, not at all teasing, not responding to the blush with anything but calmness. We don’t have to talk about that part of it, her eyes said. We all have things we keep close.

“When I… when I went. I saw him. He was alive. But just now, I saw him dead.” Kieron’s hands wrung the blankets in a nervous fidget.

Sha nodded, staying near him, solid and warm and real. “Dreams aren’t the same as your sight,” she reassured him. “Nightmares are fucking frightening, I’ll give you that. But you’re awake now. It can’t hurt you.”

“I left because he was going to die. He kept dying. I kept seeing it. He died because he was with me, over and over and over,” Kieron said, feeling suffocated, like he had to sit up, to breathe. “I ran away, to keep him safe. But in my dream, he died because he followed me when I ran away.” When he moved to try to sit up, the world spun, and he turned faintly greenish and shivering.

Did he follow you? Could you tell where he was?” Sha wondered. “Stay down, Brody. You got a concussion and cracked ribs, how many times I gotta say it?”

“I think he must have, but he’s nowhere I recognize. Marble floors, vaulted ceilings. Looked like a palace. Some dark-haired crazy man in tattoos and body paint,” Kieron said. “He was watching me die. He loved it, it was–” Kieron explained, panting, laying back.

The Captain froze, her eyes going wide. “Immanis,” she hissed. “Fuck, Brody, your friend is in the Blacklands. He didn’t follow you — he’s ahead of you. He’s with the Prince of Ilona.”

“I don’t… I don’t know what that means,” Kieron said, watching Sha.

“Fuck, don’t they teach you idiots anything useful at the Academy?” she snapped, tossing her head. “Every couple years I get fresh graduates, and you’re just getting meaner and stupider.” She sat up and stomped in a small circle, pacing.

Stung by her outburst, Kieron said defensively, “I’m not mean! And I know a lot! I know we’re at war. Even if the Centralis government doesn’t tell the people that, or says it’s just a minor conflict. My father has been designing airships and war vessels as long as I can remember. The Allied Territories want to Annex the Blacklands. It’s just a bunch of desert and wastelands, full of roving bands of illiterate tribes, all savages without our technology or our medicine. We could bring them true government and advances for agriculture and industry, but it’s hard to unite the people, because they’re all fighting over what little resources they have.”

The Captain stared at Kieron for a long time, incredulous. “That’s what they’re teaching you?” she whispered, shocked. “Does that jibe with the vision you had of a magnificent palace?”

“I… ah…?” Kieron looked lost.

“Oh, Brody. I’m so sorry. You… Okay. I’m… hold on a second, okay?” she sighed. She got herself up from where she’d sat on the edge of his cot, and walked out of the infirmary, leaving him to lay still and look toward Nate, who lay quiet and still and pale, on the mend from his rescue of Kieron.

When the Captain came back, she carried a large stack of books, and set them beside Kieron’s bed. She picked one, and flipped through a few of the pages before handing it to him. She picked up another and opened it to a middle page, and set it on the bed on his lap. She tapped one and said, “This is a map of the Allied Territories. How big are the Blacklands?”

He stared at the page, frowning slightly, looking at the map, then looking at her. “This is my book–”

“I know. Based on the map, how big are the Blacklands?” she said, pinching the bridge of her nose.

“Based on the map, I don’t…. I don’t know. They’re not on the map,” he said quietly, confused.

“Okay, not based on the map, then. Based on what you’ve learned at the Academy. You were about to graduate, right? How big are the Blacklands?” she said, pressing.

“They’re the size of.. half… half of Kriegsland?” he ventured. Seeing the shake of her head, he said, “Bigger?”

“Much.”

“Ah… roughly the size of the Western Sands?” he offered, running his fingers over the map. He lifted his eyes and looked at Sha, feeling his heart heavy in his chest.

“Kieron,” she said, and her voice was gentle, and pained. “Ilona itself is half the size of Kriegsland. And Ilona is only one city-state. The Blacklands are easily ten times the size of the Allied Territories,” she explained. “See the rest of these books?” she said, pointing them out on the bed. “Treatises on medicine. On alchemy. Physics. Weapons. Mathematics. Aether mechanics,” she said. “My brother collected these books. From Ilona. These were written by Ilonan scholars centuries ago. Not only are they not illiterate savages, Brody, they are ahead of us in so many things, because we came from them, but didn’t have the resources this side of the Ridge. The Allied Territories are the squabbling bands of roving tribes. We’re the savages,” she whispered.

Kieron felt his heart skip a beat as he struggled to comprehend this notion.

“There is a war,” she said, closing the books and setting them back beside the bed. “You got that much right.”

Kieron closed his eyes, feeling the lurch that meant soon he’d be gone, but he was there enough to hear his Captain’s next words.

“It’s just that we’re losing.”

* * *

NEXT