This is Issue #92 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 roar of the wind around them both was beyond deafening; Jules pulled herself up to the wheel, then grabbed the hinges.
Kieron watched her, but the wind was making his eyes water, and the tears were half-freezing on his cheeks. He could feel his own blood freezing against the latch, where his fingers held, and for a brilliantly crazy moment, he wondered if he could relax his hand, and stay held there. His arms were just getting so damned tired.
Jules strained, gritting her teeth, and got her gloved hands on the jamb. She hauled herself back into the ship, and braced herself in the doorway, looking for a way to get Kieron back with her. She glanced over her shoulder, and saw him there, hands clutching the latch, bloodied and torn and freezing. She looked back to see what she could use to haul him back in. There were hanks of rope, parachutes, and oxygen masks along every other hall (no Captain ever wanted to assume her ship would go down, but no Captain ever left preparations for it up to chance, either), and this one was no different. “HANG ON!” she called to Kieron, and grabbed for a rope, but knocked down a chute and a mask as she fumbled in the roaring wind. She hauled them over one shoulder, and grabbed for the rope again, but when she turned around…
…Kieron was gone.
“Nathan,” she whispered as her heart skipped a beat. “Oh, my little bird. Forgive me.”
And with that, she jumped.
* * *
Kieron fell, tumbling, toward clouds that were lit up in brilliant wonder. He saw the ship, the massive hole in the back end of it, and how the screws turned lazily as it drifted. The wind roared in his ears, so much air mocking the way he couldn’t catch his breath.
His vision began to grey, and he mouthed the words to an old meditation from the Academy, a sort of prayer on serenity. He was so lightheaded, so close to hypothermia and hypoxia he thought he was hallucinating when a figure streaked toward him out of the night. Like some avenging spirit, Jules flew to him, and stopped him from spinning in the sky. Her red hair was wild, a flame that haloed her face, radiant even in the night.
When she put the O2 mask to his face, his head cleared just enough that he could panic. He tried to grab hold of her, his heart in his throat, his eyes wide. “Jules,” he rasped. “Jules, we’re falling.”
She wrestled herself free and shouted in his face, “Hold right the fuck still! Don’t y’be makin me punch you so I can save us both! So what if we’re fallin? Didn’t Nathan ever tell you this is what we used to do for fun?”
They slipped into the storm clouds, a pair of broken birds disappearing below dark waves.
No one aboard the Jacob knew they were gone yet.
He went still, and they both grew soaked as she worked quickly, counting down, strapping the chute to his body, giving them both doses from the O2 tank, trying hard to hurry, even as her hands felt numb. “We’re still gonna hit fast, Brody, ’cause we’ve only got the one chute. You’re a featherweight and so’m I, but we’re apt to break limbs if we’re not careful.”
“Nah,” said Kieron, giddy from the O2. “We’re gonna bounce right off that balloon,” he said.
“What?” Jules cried, twisting to see. “No time, no time–” She tucked her shoulder and wrapped her legs around Kieron, kissing his cheek. “Hold on, boy. Just you fucking hold on to me.”
Kieron seized Jules, saying, “F’I’m gonna die, was nice of you to make sure I didn’t go it alone.”
“Shut it, cadet,” she hissed, and with her tucked shoulders, they veered away from the ship on the way down as she secured the chutepack around Kieron.
When she pulled the cord, time seemed to stop. Kieron heard the whipping roar of the unfolding silk, and he tightened his grip on Jules, reaching to put a hand behind her head and cradle her against his body. The sudden jerk as they slowed down made his teeth clack together. He tasted blood in his mouth, and felt like laughing. All around them were the sounds of the storm, the sounds of war, and they were floating down through it, a feather on the tempest wind.
They weren’t dead yet, at least.
The giddy joy in his chest dissipated in and instant when another sharp jerk nearly tore Jules from his arms. In a flurry of motion and roiling stormcloud, as the black and silverblue mists cleared, they could see their chute was caught in the rigging of a ship. They’d avoided one merely to fall into another.
They dangled alongside the sleek boards, and Kieron finally relaxed, giving in. “Looks like we’re caught,” he noted absently. Everything still felt surreal. Only three minutes ago, he’d been standing on board the Jacob, talking to Jules outside the head.
“Like fuck,” Jules hissed, and she began squirming in Kieron’s arms. “Let me go,” she said, fighting like a hellcat. “Let me go now, Brody. Brody, let me go.”
“What? Jules, you’ll–Ow. Stop that! You’ll fall, fuck, OW! Damnit!” Kieron protested.
“No. No, I’m not — I won’t. You let me go, Kieron, NOW. It’s a fucking order!” Jules said, the whites of her eyes gone huge, her heart thundering in her chest.
“I’m not letting you go!”
The terror on her face almost brought about Kieron’s own panic. She struggled with him, and her fist connected with his cheek. He cried out, cursing as a stitch pulled, and blood ran. She went stiff, recoiling in shock. “I can’t,” she said. “I can’t be goin back to them, Brody. Don’t you make me. I can’t do it again.”
Kieron blanched — Abramov had mentioned it, but only briefly.
They hurt Yana.
He held her tight, and leaned forward to kiss her forehead, saying, “Okay. It’s okay.” He nodded to her, and reached up to undo the clasps holding the chute to his back.
“What… what are you doing?” Jules asked, looking up at him in bewilderment
“We’ll go together,” Kieron said. “I’m not letting you go, Jules, I can’t do it. I could never forgive myself. I could never look Nate in the eye again.”
“So you’d just… fall with me?” she goggled.
Kieron shrugged. “It’d be quick, yeah?”
“Quick as fallin asleep,” she said. “Only, don’t do it. Don’t,” she said, reaching up a hand to curl her fingers around his. “We’ll figure it out, right?” she wondered, tears in her eyes.
Kieron was quiet and agreeable as he nodded. “Okay, sure.” He rested his head against hers and looked at the side of the ship as they swung there in the cold and wet. “Tropaeum,” he said aloud. “Jules — do you know how to speak the blacklands tongue?”
“You tryin to distract me, Brody?”
“Depends. Is it working?”
On the shipdeck, they were finally noticed, and crews were working on a way to bring them back aboard, reaching out with catchpoles and nets.
“It means winning, I think,” Jules said, her cheek to Kieron’s. “If you see him before me, tell him I love him, yeah?”
Kieron nodded, his hold tightening around her, even as they were dropped on the deck, and into the grasp of armed, shouting soldiers.
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