What You Both Had To Go Through

This is Part 26 of DeathWatch, the ongoing serial.

Go to the Serials page if you need to start at the beginning, or to find the rest.

Happy Reading!

* * *

Kieron approached the Captain’s quarters, but did not want to interrupt the conversation going on inside. He could not help but overhear parts of it, and was made half curious, half uncomfortable by the slow, awkward jabs of verbal warring. It sounded as though the Captain was taking nothing seriously, while the Quartermaster was taking everything too seriously.

“–ing everyone call you by your first name, mm?” Kieron could hear something in the Quartermaster’s voice. He wasn’t sure if it was anger or jealousy, but it was certainly pain. He recognized it in the things he’d heard from Jet their last afternoon together. Not for the first time, he wondered where his friend was, and if he was all right.

“Come off it, Nate,” Sha’s voice was easy, soothing, urging but without demand.

“He rattled you.”

“Nah.”

“He did. You’re still trembling.”

“That’s enough.”

“You told the kid your name.”

“Nathan, stop.”

There was silence, for a moment, and Kieron lifted a hand to knock, but stopped with his fist raised as he realized the conversation wasn’t yet done.

“Was he wrong? You find yourself a new cabin boy?”

“Let it go. If I wanted a cabin boy, I’d get one, but I’d make sure you like him, too.”

“And what if I said I didn’t want you to?”

“I’d remind you I’m your Captain, and you’ll be Quartermaster until you fall off this ship but you’ll only be first mate if I want you to be. Furthermore? I can have any cabin boy, any way, any time I damn well please, and if that means I want to climb the new one like a tree while you hang from the rigging and watch, then I will.”

“You can be a real bitch sometimes, Captain.”

“Ohh, talk sweet to me some more, baby, you always know how to make me blush.”

After waiting for quite some time, Kieron was no longer certain there would be a point in which he wasn’t interrupting. Rather than continue to eavesdrop, he knocked on the oaken door to the Captain’s quarters. The voices inside abruptly stopped their low arguing.

The captain called, “Come in,” and so Kieron opened the door. As soon as the Quartermaster saw Kieron in the doorframe, he stood up straighter from where he was, very near to the Captain, and stalked out. He shoved past Kieron, wearing a venemous frown.

Kieron looked back over his shoulder at the Quartermaster’s retreating form, and then turned to look at the Captain, who was busy looking at maps.

“What?” she said dully.

Kieron shut the door, but was silent for awhile, watching her.

The Captain’s back straightened as she stood up and crossed her arms over her chest. “What,” she then snapped, glaring. “If you were going to say nothing, you could’ve done that without interrupting.”

Kieron narrowed his eyes, taking a moment to figure out how to put the words together. Finally, he said, “I don’t care why you shot him. I do want to know if you and I are going to have the same problem. Should I take an emergency chute and a ration pack and try to make it?”

“You’re going to care why I shot him,” the Captain said darkly. “He asked me to. Can you believe that? He asked me to kill him. Begged me. The visions started coming too often. The pain came back. He couldn’t handle it. He begged for it. Told me to make it quick. I didn’t want to. Wasn’t going to. But after the fourth day, while we were up in the air, in the middle of a run, and he was in his quarters, dying every hour, spending his waking moments screaming, vomiting blood, I couldn’t take it. By the time I worked up the nerve, he’d bitten off his tongue and was choking. It was a mercy killing,” she said, looking down at her hands, “but not for him.”

Kieron stood in the doorway, feeling his heart in his throat. “How old was he?” He tried to keep his question steady, his voice free of trembling. “How long had he been having the visions?” He wasn’t sure if he managed it.

“He was twenty-eight,” she said, and her expression was almost sweet, almost happy, in remembrance. “Coming up on ten years ago,” she added. “He’d had ‘em as long as I could remember. He said he had ‘em as a little boy. Even in his cradle. Maman had said he’d gotten fevers, then they stopped. Then came the fits.” She spoke without looking at Kieron, blinking her dark eyes as she cleared her throat and rearranged her maps, fussing with the compass and making notes.

“I want to ask you every question I can think of,” Kieron said. “I want to know if you knew anyone else like this. I want to know how quickly it went from bad to worse. I want to know if being here will give me longer, or just mask the symptoms. I want to ask y–”

“I didn’t. I don’t,” she interrupted. “I didn’t know there was anyone else like him until I saw you do it,” she said. “It’d been so long I almost wondered if maybe he just… maybe it was just a bad dream, you know? But then. Then you got that look on your face. That thousand-miles-away look. The look where you’re right there with me, but not really. He’d get that look. Hollow eyes. Farther away than daydreaming.” She cleared her throat, shaking her head, and lifted her dark eyes up to him. “I don’t know. I don’t know how long you’ve got, Brody.”

Kieron sighed, leaning in the doorframe. They were silent together for awhile, before he said, “I’m sorry, Sha. About your brother. What you both had to go through.”

“He was the one in pain,” she said, and she turned her eyes back down to the maps.

“And now you are,” Kieron said quietly. She either didn’t hear him, or didn’t want to respond, and so he left her staring at her maps.

* * *
Click here for part 25.

The Only Silver

We press onward
through the night,
hands clasped,
sleepstepping through
nightmare marshes,
leading one another,
blind and deaf
and breathing in the scent
of blood and moonlight,
the only silver
that can touch us
without leaving a scar.

My Sun

If I am to live in the dark,
far from you, from your touch,
and glimpse you only
in the briefest of moments,
let me at least reflect your beauty,
let me at least shine
the love you let spill down over me.
While you are the sun
let me at least be the moon.
While you are my sun,
let me at least be your moon.

All The Way Down

This is Part 25 of DeathWatch, the ongoing serial.

Go to the Serials page if you need to start at the beginning, or to find the rest.

Happy Reading!

* * *

In the weeks-long voyage it took to approach the warfront, the men and women who’d joined the scout ship crew fell into regular routines. They were rotated through various duties, learning everything from rope-splicing to navigation, from patching tarpaulin so the steering fins and sails worked seamlessly to servicing aether engines. There was an easy equality to the crew; no job was unimportant, though some were far from enjoyable, and some were used as punishment.

The recruits quickly learned how to be fast, and how to be safe — when it was a good idea to run up the rigging to tighten a loose piece of canvas, and when it wasn’t — and if it wasn’t whether one should do it anyway, and wear a harness in case he or she was tossed overboard.

Kieron stayed with the Captain, or the Quartermaster, for the most part, learning the ins and outs of planning, handling a crew, and just what would happen when they managed to get into enemy lands.

They passed through the mountains, and the weather changed for the worse, bringing about a damp chill that caught in the bones of some of the crew. More than a few of the new recruits caught a fever, and though it nearly claimed three lives, the only casualty during that time was an aeronaut who’d been aboard the TS Jacob since the Captain had taken her place. He’d never been an officer, never been given a job more useful than powdermonkey, and he never asked for one. According to the established crew, he had never quite fit, had never wanted to fully submit to the orders of the Captain or the Quartermaster, and when he was caught rifling through the goods of those who were too sick to defend themselves, he was summarily hauled to the rail.

“Listen up!” the Captain cried, standing before the man. He struggled in the arms of his captor, the Quartermaster, looking unafraid, but angry, spiteful. The new recruits came in close, while the others went on with their duties — they knew this talk. “This man was caught in the act, stealing from us. He has eaten with us, slept with us, been trusted to guard us in the night. We’ve given him shelter and food and pay, and in return, he has been a thief.”

“Mercy?” one of the Kriegsmen offered. “Mistakes are made.” A few of the other recruits nodded, men and women who had worked beside the thief, and perhaps even considered him a friend.

“And if I were to tell you this was the third time in as many days he has been taking things that were not his? Things of yours?” the Captain said, looking at those who’d offered mercy. “If I were to tell you I have already given mercy, and my generosity was repaid in this fashion?”

The recruits immediately became angry, shouting for punishment, lashings, half rations, docking pay, a court martial as soon as possible. The Quartermaster called for silence, and they quieted, turning an angry gaze on the crewmember who’d been caught.

The man hawked and spat at the Captain’s feet, saying, “Mercy? You’d have thrown me overboard the first night if it weren’t for that one.” He gestured rudely to Kieron. “He your new cabin boy?”

The intimations in his tone were clear; the Captain raised her brows, and said very clearly, “Careful now. He’s the one that said I ought to spare you. I wouldn’t go assaulting his character. You’re treading where you oughtn’t.”

Kieron stood near, with a leaden feeling in his gut. He wasn’t watching the man at all, but instead, he was watching how the ship sailed through the mountains, drifting through wisps of clouds, the world around him cool, but not cold.

“Oh?” the man snarled. “I was an airman long before you were spreading it to get yourself a Captain’s, and let me tell you something — I ain’t ever tread where I oughtn’t. Just where people din’t want ’cause they keep secrets.”

“I don’t keep secrets from my crew,” the Captain said darkly, white teeth bared, challenging. One hand pulled her tallcoat aside, revealing one of the pistols at her hip.

“Sha–” Kieron began, looking pained.

It was the Quartermaster who heard him say her name; one brow lifted. He looked at the Captain, who was still staring down the man held to the rail.

The thief laughed, and said, “No secrets, eh? So they all know about your brother?”

“Ain’t a damn thing to say about my brother,” the Captain growled.

“I know a few things about him. How he died, for inst–”

The gun was out, and the trigger pulled twice, before anyone noticed. Two redblack holes opened in the thief’s chest. He stared down at them with wide eyes, sagging against the rail, mouth working to speak. The Captain turned to look at Kieron, and her voice was hard as she asked, “Was it two? Or three?”

All eyes were on Kieron. “Three,” he said, still looking out at the mountains.

The Captain nodded, and pulled the trigger a third time. “Toss him for the vultures. Keep his blood off my deck.”

The Quartermaster nodded, and singlehandedly hauled the thief up and over the railing, to let him fall from the heavens. No one, not even Kieron, bothered to watch him go down.

She got up atop one of the barrels and looked around at the recruits, dark eyes angry. “Before any of you start bellyaching about murder, let’s get one thing straight. You’re my crew. You’re my responsibility. You keep this ship running, and I keep you safe. You do what you’re told, and it makes my job easier. You try to hurt one another, steal from one another, or make it so we can’t trust each other? I can’t have that. You’re done. You follow that airman all the way down.” She looked out, around at all of them, chin lifted. “Now I don’t have any secrets from you. My brother’s dead. He’s the one who had secrets –” Her eyes fell on Kieron, and she kept right on talking, “– and they killed him. He was the finest Captain, finest man I knew. But he’s dead and gone now, and if you want to have a conversation about him, it’ll be short, and pretty one-sided, because the truth is, I had to shoot him, and other than that, I’ve got nothing left to say.” She paused, then, and re-holstered her pistol, sighing. “Now we’ve only got two days until we’re within spitting distance of the Blacklands. This tour is about getting as far in as possible, completing maps, getting intel on where the enemy is located, sending that information back to the generals, and eventually getting the fuck back out, without getting dead. We rely on one another. We have to. It’s the only way to survive. I need to know that you’re all with me, not wasting a single second twittering about the fact that I threw a known criminal overboard without aiming to let him land in the scales of Justice.”

“We’re with you,” Kieron said aloud, immediately. He had turned back toward her, as she spoke, watched her face as she talked of her brother. When given the chance, he wasn’t the only one who spoke, but he was the loudest, and it caused a smirk to twist the Captain’s lips. The crew raised their hands in salute for her — hell, they cheered for her, and they cheered for themselves, a singular crew with singular purpose: Get in. Get out. Survive.

“All right, crew! Let’s keep moving — you’ve all got shit to do,” the boatswain called out, allowing the Captain and the Quartermaster to head back to the stern, toward the Captain’s quarters.

Kieron lingered at the rail, and finally turned toward it, leaning over and turning his face toward the earth, far below.

He closed his eyes as they passed over the shadow of the mountains.

* * *
Click here for part 24.
Click here for part 26.

I’m Looking For Someone

This is Part 24 of DeathWatch, the ongoing serial.

Go to the Serials page if you need to start at the beginning, or to find the rest.

Happy Reading!

* * *

“You’re still going through with this?” Garrett’s words were less inquisitive and more resigned — a formality, rather than a real inquiry. He had bypassed the depot entirely and gone to the market road that led to the docks, where he watched Jet get out of the carriage and pick up his backpack.

“I have to,” Jet said, his expression resigned. He could almost be excited over something like this, an adventure, if he weren’t doing it alone. With Kieron would’ve been better — on his way to Kieron would have to do. “You do see that, right? He ran away because of me.”

“Because he thinks you’ll die because of him,” Garrett said, getting out of the vehicle to come around and stand near Jet. “Yes, I know.” Garrett sighed, running his hands through his hair. He’d never felt quite so rumpled; the trip had been hasty, ill-thought-out. Now he was several hours away from the academy, and it was nearly dawn. Missing morning meditation wouldn’t cause too much of a stir, but if he wasn’t in time for his classes, he could face another meeting with the Headmaster.

“You should get back to the Academy. Olivier will be furious if he knows what you’ve done.” Jet offered out his hand, half-smiling to the older man.

Garrett rolled his eyes and stepped forward, pulling Jet into a fond embrace. He clapped the younger man on the back, and then released him, sighing. “Right now, what you’re doing seems clear,” he said. “At some point in the future, your path and your reasoning might get clouded. Know when to change course, and when to hold firm, all right?”

Jet kept his smile, though pained, and nodded. “I hear you, Professor.”

Garrett turned to go, but only walked as far as the edge of his motorcarriage, leaning against the hood to watch Jet make his way through the market toward the docks of the airfield. He could see how the boy’s head was tipped back to stare in awe at the giant hulking aircraft huddled close together. Eventually, even wishful thinking couldn’t help him see Jet in the crowd. He got back in his vehicle, and turned to head back toward the Academy.

* * *

“Papers?” The man with the clipboard looked bored or perhaps half asleep.

“Lost ‘em,” Jet said, shrugging, looking unapologetic. “I’m looking for someone.”

“This ain’t a meet’n’greet, kid,” the man said, dusting off the front of his faintly rumpled uniform, looking irritable. “You got papers, I send you to the ship you need.”

“That’s just it. I need to get on the same ship as the guy I’m looking for. I’ll pay you.” Jet was already holding out a small stack of coins, as though he anticipated the insult. “It’s worth a fair deal to me.”

The money was snatched from his hand immediately; the clipboard was set down, and the soldier leaned in and said, “I’m all ears.”

“My height or so,” Jet murmured. “Thinner. Paler skin. Dark hair, probably would’ve been wearing a cadet’s uniform from the Academy, like this one. Would’ve been going to the ship that takes recruits to scout training camp.”

Though he listened to the description, it didn’t seem to ring a bell. Until the mention of scout camp. At that statement, the guy looked uncomfortable. “That ship left.”

“That’s fine. Just tell me what other ship is going to that camp,” Jet said easily. “I’ve got the coin. I need to get to there.”

“Ain’t another ship goin that way,” the man said, eyeing Jet, fingering the coins in his pocket. “Just that one.”

“What, only one ship of recruits will ever go to the training camp? I can wait until tomorrow if I have to.” Jet tried not to look or sound impatient, or desperate — he had more money, but he had no desire to part with it if he didn’t have to.

“No, I mean… You can get on another scout ship, but it’s not headed where that one’s headed,” the man said.

Jet rolled his eyes, sighing, and said, “Then tell me where it’s headed, and I’ll make my way there.”

The man laughed and said, “I can’t, kid. Ships headed across enemy lines don’t broadcast their location. Whoever you’re lookin for… ain’t comin back for two years, if he’s comin back at all.” He shrugged then, and decided Jet wasn’t worth any more of his time, and he turned to try to talk to the others who were coming up with their papers, to figure out where they were headed.

Jet felt his body tighten, the taste of metal on the back of his tongue. “There must be some mistake,” he began, leaning in, trying to regain the soldier’s attention. “He wouldn’t–”

“Listen,” the man interrupted, growling. “The only scout ship that’s been in today has already gone. The TS Jacob. It’s heading to the front, and then if it doesn’t get blown outta the sky? Right on through. Your friend’s either stupid, or runnin from somethin’.” He put two stubby fingers together and jabbed Jet right in the chest. “Now get. I got shit to do.”

* * *

“Now that’s a long fuckin face. Shove over.” A lean, rangy man got atop the stool next to Jet, looked at the empty glass in front of him, and gestured to the bartender, calling him over to have him deliver another two.

When the glasses ended up in front of Jet and his new compatriot, Jet picked his up and drank half, then set it aside, still looking morose.

The man who’d ordered the drinks swallowed half of his, then coughed, looking at the glass, and looking at Jet. “Water?” he said, his eyes shining in disbelief.

“What of it?” Jet said, turning away, leaving the man to sputter.

On the other side of him, now, leaned a woman who smirked at him as she ordered two glasses of something. When they arrived, they were the color of her hair, like honey. She slid one in front of Jet, and her eyes were bright and mischievous. “Join me,” she said. “Nobody should be drinking alone, and the only time you oughta drown in water is when you fall asleep in the tub.”

Jet smiled politely, but gently slid it back, looking tired. “You’re beautiful, and I’ll bet any other man in this place would kick me for refusing, but no, thank you.” She was beautiful — that much was the truth. From her honey colored hair to her daring smile — muscled and graceful, she certainly wore her flightsuit well. Why she was talking to him? He had no idea. He shrugged apologetically when she didn’t take the drink back.

The woman sighed, and said, warningly “Suit yourself, but whatever’s got you making that face? This’ll help you deal with it.”

“Yeah?” Jet said, looking sullen. “My best friend left for scout training to get away from me. We were supposed to join the Corps together, but I got left here. Now my best friend’s onboard a ship that won’t come back for two years, and no one will tell me where it’s going. What’s in that glass that’ll help?”

The woman knocked hers back, and slid his back in front of him. “Honey whisky. Besides, couldn’t have been much of a friend to leave such a pretty boy here to fend for himself, hmm?” She reached over and cupped his cheek, rings on her fingers cool against his face.

He grew still, watching her, brows lifted, uncertain of the new development.

“Such pretty eyes,” she said, looking amused.

“Like my mother’s,” he said weakly. Jet stared the glass down for a long while, looking in the sun-colored liquid for some kind of answer. Eventually, he sighed, picking it up. If only to make her go away, he told himself. He raised it to the woman and said, “To dealing with it.” and knocked it back.

The liquid heat didn’t make him cough like other sips of whisky had; it warmed his belly and was sweet on his tongue. Within moments, a pleasant haziness settled into his chest, suffusing him with warmth. He looked at the glass, surprised, and set it down, then looked over at her. She winked, waved to the bartender, and had the man bring over another.

* * *

The world spun; the floor was treacherous.

* * *

All sounds were the thunder and klaxon of a busy city at street level, even moreso.

* * *

All lights were slashes of sharp hatred, meant for his eyes.

* * *

All scents were gun oil mixed with rancid lampfat and dead roses.

* * *

Jet threw up. It wasn’t the first time. It wasn’t the last.

Blackness called.

He answered.

For awhile, it was bliss.

* * *

Somehow, morning found him.

Everything was agony. Jet thought he might weep, if it wouldn’t simply add to the pain. He reached to hold his own head, but his arms were impossibly heavy, and something made a rattling noise that made him shudder and wince.

He could hear people talking, smell food that turned his stomach.

His throat burned as he twisted to the side and vomited weakly, shuddering.

He groaned in misery and tried to curl away from his own sick, but couldn’t manage anything other than closing his eyes.

Blackness returned.

* * *

And receded.

“How many are left?”

“Half a dozen. Including your favorite.”

“He’s not my favorite. He’s just the prettiest.”

Jet recognized the two voices — both from the bar. The man who’d mistakenly ordered them both the water. The woman who’d ordered him the whisky.

He groaned, struggling to sit up, and the rattle and clank of chain made him wince. It drew attention. He heard booted footsteps draw closer.

“And awake, too! Hello, sunshine!” The woman’s voice was loud and sudden. He flinched back, but she was crouching in front of him, with her fingers on his chin, turning his face to hers. “Oh, aren’t you a pretty thing,” she purred. “You’re exactly what I was looking for,” she said, “but god you reek. Go back to sleep, sunshine. We got a long ways to go.” She slapped him, almost fondly, on the cheek and walked away.

Blackness came back, yet again.

* * *

In dreams, Kieron had returned.

They laid in his bed, hands twined, looking up at the ceiling while snow fell outside. “…and after one tour, we’ll come home,” Kieron had said. “We can return to the Academy. Professor Garrett can help us get teaching positions.”

“Both of us?” Jet had asked.

“Of course both of us,” Kieron laughed. “Where would I go that I wouldn’t want my best friend with me?”

The echo of that laughter rattled the remains of Jet’s shattered heart.

The sound was hollow, and followed Jet back down into the dark.

* * *

Click here for Part 23.
Click here for part 25.