This is Issue #67 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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He came to, writhing, rising, shifting, and began to scream as he twisted, his back arching up off the cot.
“Hold him! HOLD HIM!” The Captain’s voice was sharp and furious.
The ship pitched and rolled, and those standing around him struggled to stay upright and still. Outside, lightning sizzled and arced too close for comfort, and thunder crashed loud enough to deafen everyone.
But then Kieron’s cries were louder.
“Get it off! GET IT OFF! GET IT OFF OF ME!” he shrieked, sweat pasting his hair to his forehead and cheeks. His skin shimmered silverblue from the aetheris dust that had washed over him when the Maxima exploded for the final time. “GET IT OFF!” He thrashed like a madman, squirming so violently, there was a sucking pop, and the surgeon cursed as Kieron’s left shoulder went out of joint. He leaned down and jabbed a needle into the muscle of his arm, and once the light had gone out in Kieron’s eyes, he reset it.
There was silence, save for the hum of the engines, and the panting of the four who were working to keep Kieron still — each time he roused, he fought and screamed, thrashing and pleading. Ropes hadn’t held; they’d come back to find him chewing through them, lips and tongue bleeding, his eyes rolling, froth at the corners of his mouth.
Aside from shouting orders, Sha said nothing. She stared at Kieron in sadness and fear — this was the way her brother had become, for spells, and in the very end.
Jules stood near her, one arm around the Captain of the TS Jacob, the other occasionally reaching for Nate.
For his part, Nathan Einin O’Malley paced up and down the small med room, until he finally knelt beside Kieron and began to pull off his uniform.
“…Nate?” Jules said, startled into breaking the silence.
“Get it off–” Nate said. “That’s what he’s screaming. Don’t know what it is, but he needs it off. Maybe he got hit by something and we’re not seeing it,” Nathan said, undoing the buttons of his shirt, exposing the young man’s chest. “What–” He stopped, staring, and looked between Kieron’s face, and his chest. Once more, his face, then his chest. “He’s… shining.”
“S’the aetheris dust, from the explosion,” Jules said. “It’s on all of us. Whole deck would’ve been covered, but the storm’s washing it clean.”
“But look at it,” Nathan whispered, leaning in, his eyes watching Kieron’s face and hands. “It’s… do you see?”
“Ohgod,” Jules said, and then turned away, turning green.
“What th–” Sha began, looking first at Jules, then at Nathan, and finally at Kieron. “It’s… moving. It’s moving?”
Jules reached out to touch Kieron, then, to put her fingers against the dust but found her hand caught.
Kieron reached out, seizing it, and cried out, “He knew.”
“What?” Jules looked shocked, and Nate tried to undo Kieron’s fingers from Jules’s wrist.
“Your Dedy knew,” Kieron said, shaking his head, leaning in, his rough whisper only for Jules’s ears. “He loved you, little Yana,” he said, and his hand tightened enough that Jules pulled — and Kieron sat up, still holding onto her.
Jules looked panicked and pleased all at once, staring at Kieron in wonder.
Another lightning strike, another crash of thunder, and Kieron released Jules and turned to look at Nate, panting. “Help me,” he begged, his eyes wild, his body shaking. “Nate, you gotta help–” His head snapped back, and he howled again, and reached to claw at his own skin, screaming.
Always one to move quickly, Nathan threw caution to the wind, picked Kieron up in his arms, and ran for the door.
“–the fuck?” Sha said, getting up to follow after him. “Nate? Where are you going?”
“It’s the aetheris!” he called, already halfway up the stairs. “Don’t have enough grey water to wash it off him, but there’s plenty in the storm!”
For a moment or two, neither woman got up, until another rolling crash of thunder made each of them freeze. Suddenly they both moved as one, a desperate knowing on each of their faces.
“Nate!” Jules cried. “Nathan!”
“You fucking idiot!” Sha called. “The lightning! The engines and barrels are shielded — you’ll get struck!”
Nathan burst out onto the deck and ran for the rail; he wouldn’t jump over, this time, but because of the rigging and the balloon’s main envelope, the rain came down in sheets from it; he figured he wouldn’t have any trouble rinsing the dust from Kieron’s skin.
All the while, Kieron screamed, thrashing in Nate’s arms, flailing until he was held under the downpour.
Nate stood back from the line of water, so he could see what he was doing; he didn’t want to drown the boy. He held him still, and the water sluiced the brilliant glimmering from Kieron’s skin, leaving him pale and soaked. It splashed over Nathan’s hands and arms, but left him otherwise nearly dry, and shimmering in his own right.
Kieron shuddered as he came back to himself, and stood on fawn-weak legs, panting, sagged against the railing, looking at Nathan with gratitude.
Lightning flashed around them, hitting the balloon and dissipating over the chains, striking again and again; each time, the chains lit up ghostly blue, throbbed once, twice, and then came the strike.
When Jules and Sha spilled out onto the deck, they saw the ghostly halo surround Nathan; the dust on his body lit up and shimmered. The light that seemed to nearly come from within him pulsed once–
–Kieron’s eyes grew huge and his hands shot out; he seized hold of Nate’s coat and hauled him against his body, throwing them both to the railing. Nate’s eyes widened as he saw his horizon begin to tumble. For a moment, they balanced precariously on the slick oaken surface, with Nate’s hips laid to Kieron’s. Rain washed the glimmering dust away, pouring over them both; the pulse of it stopped like a fire going out, and the strike that had been imminent sought a different point of dissipation.
Before they slipped over the edge, Nathan hooked one booted foot around a baluster, and clung to Kieron, pressing his cheek against the young man’s as he desperately tried to catch his breath.
For long moments, they hung there, even as Jules and Sha joined them, rushing to put themselves under the downpour, to rinse off the remnants of the shimmering blue.
Eventually, Nathan pulled them back over the edge, and held Kieron up, clapping him on the back. “Hey, hey!” Nathan shouted. “Brody! Are you with me?”
“M’with you, Quartermaster,” Kieron said, sagging against Nate, panting and nodding. “M’with you.”
Nate’s fingertips were feverhot against Kieron’s cheek as the older man turned the younger’s face toward his, searching his expression, eyes meeting eyes. Nate shouted to keep his voice above the thundering storm as he patted Kieron’s cheek and said, “See that you stay that way.” He shouted over his shoulder to Sha, calling, “Captain! See that you return my wife in one piece, in working order!”
“If you’re lucky!” Sha cried back, leaning into Jules as much as Jules was leaned into her.
The two men staggered below decks, followed by the two women, in search of someplace warm and dry.
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