This is Issue #63 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
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The euphoria of Brenneman’s death passed with an abrupt shudder. Kieron expected to find himself caught in the rigging, or laying on the deck, or perhaps in the surgeon’s quarters, after such a slip, but instead, he found himself doubled over, clenched up around a knife in his gut. It had gone in deep — maybe even deeper than it was meant to, considering the rest of the slices and slashes over his body, blood blossoming over his tunic and breeches.
He knew, in an instant, three things:
One–this was another slip.
Two–he could not have been more surprised to be staring into Nathan’s face.
Three–that what had just happened, the knife impaling him, was not an accident. Nathan hadn’t tripped; he hadn’t manage to push it in himself without meaning to. This was murder, then. He was wearing an airman’s uniform, and so was Nathan.
Was it his power, or was it the aetheris that covered his body that made these slips so full, so all-consuming? He staggered, dropping to his knees, and struggled to speak, but blood bubbled in his throat, and fell from his lips. The blade in his stomach had pierced him many times; Nathan was nothing if not thorough.
“Don’t be a fucking baby. They’re papercuts. You’d get worse from the Captain if he found out. He’d lash you.”
They had been arguing. Nathan had found out.
The memories flooded him, and he managed to utter a low, awful cry. He tried to pull out, get away — the monster whose body held him was the worst kind of vile. He stared up at Nathan and begged, gagging on the words “Finish it. Please.”
Nathan stared down at him, and Kieron realized he was so damned young, perhaps even younger than Kieron himself. He looked shocked at Kieron’s request. He looked almost frightened, as though he hadn’t counted on anything like the man talking back, much less offering not only surrender, but crushing defeat..
Kieron lifted up hands that felt heavy as mooring weights, and pulled the knife from his gut, lifting it to press its tip against his chest, but his arms felt too weak to push. “Finish it,” he begged of Nathan.
“No,” Nathan answered, lifting his chin, wearing defiance and hatred. “No. Suffer. You should suffer for what you’ve done. Besides, you lackspit, you’re only barely cut. Surgeon can handle a gut wound; it’ll bleed slow. You might lose a foot of bowels or more and never be able to eat a good meal, but you’ll live”
“Please,” Kieron begged. He could think of nothing else to say, no other way to plead.
“No,” Nathan hissed, stepping forward, pulling the knife away. “Face this yourself. Coward. I wanted to throw you off the Ivory Goddess the moment I found out. They needed that food. You had no right to sell it out from under them. You’ll be court-martialled, when we get back. We were on relief, you insufferable, selfish monster. “You’ll never fly again, but you’ll fucking live.”
No he wouldn’t. Why wasn’t this over yet?
Kieron knew the man had only moments left; he didn’t want to try to redeem him in Nathan’s eyes, but he had to give rest to the awful things he could now feel he’d done. He could still feel the burning hatred, the monstrous horrors the man had within him. Stealing and making a profit off of it hadn’t been the full of it.
“I was the one that cut the poppy-milk with sugar, sold the other half of it at last portstop. I strangled Chip’s dog. Hated that thing,” Kieron coughed, hawking up what felt like a fist-sized clot of something, spitting it onto the deck. “N’I was the one what found your stowaways.”
The memory of it burned the backs of Kieron’s eyes. He could picture the three of them, little pale-skinned things, blonde-haired and drowsy. The last one woke up enough to know what was happening. He screamed. That brought the gunner. That brought the Captain. That brought questions. Questions Kieron knew the man had dodged, lied his way through.
“What?” Nathan’s expression was sudden shock. He gripped the back of Kieron’s neck and stared down at him. “What did you say?”
“I found them,” Kieron rasped, groaning as he doubled over, clutching his stomach. “I found them, and I fed them sleepsweets.”
“Where are they?” Nathan hissed, leaning in, his lip curling away from his teeth, an expression of horror crossed with fury. “Where did you put them?”
He saw them again. Again and again. Their little blonde heads. The way they fell like dolls. “Where stowaways go,” Kieron said, looking up at Nathan, agonized, determined, twisting his expression into arrogant hatred. He had to get it out. The memories of the man inside him roiled, made him feel sick. “I put them in the cloud locker,” he said. His world exploded in light and pain. He was laid out on the deck, blood still running, one eye swelling shut.
Nathan stood over him, the knife in his hands. “You threw them overboard?”
“No,” Kieron gasped. “Not just overboard,” he said. “I tossed them through the prop door. I fucking pushed them out and let the engine gri–” the words were lost in a sudden choked gurgle. Kieron felt the body jerk and spasm. Only one eye could focus. He stared at Nathan, whose face was all of fire and hatred.
Nathan held the knife under Kieron’s jaw — the blade was plunged up through his throat and had come out his left eye. He hung from Nathan’s hands, but the stubborn body wouldn’t let go.
Nathan shook him again, snarling, nearly biting into Kieron’s cheek. “I would make this last forever for you, if I could,” he said, tears on his cheeks. “I would make you beg all over again for lifetimes.”
It was then that the Captain walked in — a young, familiar-looking man with dark skin and brilliant eyes. “O’Malley! Stand down!”
The last thing Kieron heard as the body–pained and convulsed and pissing itself–finally died was Nathan saying, “Aye-aye, Captain. But only because I can’t do it again.”
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