I actually have three on the go and all wildly different but only two that I can share a little of as the third is the fourth book in the Shadow Series. I can’t share any of the Staff of Shadows as the third book, Chalice of Shadows is coming out in November. There would be spoilers so that isn’t going to happen.
This extract is the beginning of Death Angel, a sci fi novel of a darker nature.
The twin suns rose over carmine cliffs to the east, their glow casting long shadows in the valley below. Light caught on one of the surveillance vids slowly rotating above the hacienda, giving the lens a baleful red eye.
Three days of watching without sign of the target gave Azriel some downtime. The controllers didn’t like their angels resting, but either she got necessary downtime, or they would need to recruit more angels from the ranks of deviants. A smile tugged at the corner of her lips at the thought of all the rare metal used to enhance a new angel’s bone strength. The money-mogul controllers walked a constant tightrope between putting fear into the population and causing metal riots. Gods help anyone thought to be squandering such a rare resource.
Sunlight crept over her position and Azriel responded by slowing down her metabolism. She had burrowed under the low trailing branches of a blue-leafed gungua bush for the shade she needed when the suns hit their zenith. Heat stirred a pungent citrus aroma from the leathery leaves. The soft orange sand beneath her formed a comfortable hollow.
She waited for the guards to come out of their bunkhouse like small black bugs scuttling across the ground. Shift change came at the same time every morning for those in the valley. Each of them headed for a post on the four corners of the compound. A short while later the night watchers emerged, stretching. No sign of her mark.
Already a heat haze shimmered on the hard-packed dirt of the valley. Scrubby vegetation struggled for life but the hacienda shone like the most precious beryl in the Governor’s chain of office. Underground irrigation, for sure, and the cost staggered her. Six families could survive for one year on the water being squandered to create a paradise for the rich.
Her thermal suit switched from heat to cooling as her limbs tingled in protest to her internal command. She chose to lower her metabolic rate rather than waste energy and consume more of her own precious water.
Sunshine after the chill of the night brought out a frantic swarm of insects to scour the hillside. They flew in clouds, their iridescent wings shimmering in their search for opening verch flowers. The bugs had a limited time before the sweet smelling yellow blossoms withered in the scorching heat, assuming the hunting kamik rats didn’t get them first.
Another smile stretched her lips. Downtime held a peculiar joy for angels. How angry the controllers would be if they knew the angels linked. The controllers couldn’t use their machines to monitor thought patterns below a certain level of neural activity angels used at such times. She kept her eyes trained on the green luxury below while she let her mind drift. A few hunters in fur burrowed deep in their dens around, waiting for the cool of night, their thoughts cloudy with impending sleep. The contact soothed her, but they were not the contact she wanted.
Azriel, are you still hunting? Coda’s thought patterns connected.
Yes, and I am running out of time. Another two days, maybe.
I found the data you wanted. He sounded smug. The mark is out of her time zone. She is probably getting adjusted.
Why send me in early?
Who knows? I’ve dropped off a grav pack ten teligs north of your last check point. I also clipped it with the homing beacon.
Why I must kill this woman?
Coda shielded his thoughts but his discomfort came through.
Tell me. She hated killing. If the mark was a wanted deviant, it made a difference. The holo image she had memorized of the girl didn’t appear to belong in this category.
Just do the job. We aren’t responsible. We don’t need to think.
Coda? Azriel had a bad feeling about this kill. It was all right for him. He hacked into databases, destroyed corporations and individuals from the inside out. Nothing personal.
She had a liaison with the Governor’s son. He dumped her and now she is bringing charges for a forced insemination.
The mark is pregnant? I have to kill a pregnant girl? Azriel’s pulse quickened, her gut churned.
Don’t try to fight. Remember what happened the last time?
Azriel retained total recall of that kill; a child, a boy barely out of the baby stage, who tottered on unstable legs. When the moment came she had tried to alter her aim to miss, knowing his guards with their heat seekers would zero in on her location once she fired. Without the shocking impact of a kill, they wouldn’t suffer moments of numb disbelief. They could have gunned her down if her plan had worked. But she hadn’t been in downtime and the controllers picked her rebellious thought to the gristle, forcing her finger to the trigger in that second and the ones after. The child didn’t die instantly. It took three shots. Blood everywhere, people screaming, vomit souring her clothes.
No angel had a choice, not with an implant imbedded in their brains and yet she had still disobeyed to spare the child. The punishment for her attempted rebellion wasn’t something she wanted to repeat. Three weeks wired into a pain amplifier had that effect.
Azriel, you can’t put us all through agony again. Coda’s thoughts were tinged with terror. If they find out about us…
All the angels shared pain with a hurt member when they entered downtime. He was right. If she gave under torture and the controllers found out about their link, it would be disabled. The thought of being truly alone terrified her.
One clean shot between the eyes. He wasn’t happy at the kill and this came through. If the girl’s people are quick, they will be able to save her child. You just had orders for the girl, didn’t you?
Is she so far along?
She lied about the conception date so she could travel. I have confirmation from a private clinic. He faded out, his downtime over.
If only Azriel could end her own life, but the controllers had programmed their angels to survive at all costs, damn them to every hell. She shuddered, envisioning the bank of cloned cadavers waited for revivification when this body ceased to perform at the peak of excellence and her essence was transferred to a new shroud of flesh. Five times she had reawakened into hell. The controllers couldn’t waste all the knowledge angels accumulated on retraining skills already acquired.
The suns crept higher and the buzz of insects diminished. Far below a thermal carried the sound of voices and the faint moist promise of water. Three people came out of the main building, a single story white stucco affair. Two men and a woman, all in swimsuits and heading to a kidney-shaped pool overhung with shade trees to the south.
Azriel went into active mode. Adrenalin rushed through her system along with sick self-loathing. The girl’s belly made her ponderous and awkward.
Her hands slicked with sweat as she assembled the projectile weapon. She clipped a telescopic sight into place, its oiled lens creating a stink that warred against the tang of citrus. A girl’s laughing face came into sharp focus. Azriel blinked away tears, rubbing her eyes on the sleeve of her orange and gold camouflage jacket. Do it now, while she is happy. Please die quick. Her finger gently squeezed the trigger.
The sound of the shot whined through the valley long after the girl jerked and fell; her head a ruin of brains and blood-saturated blonde hair. Azriel broke cover. No time to think, she ran to the gullies, sprinting for the crest and her own grav pack. With another transport waiting for her, she’d run this one at full throttle.
Ten ahns more, then five. Almost at the top. A huge blow in her back threw her facedown and gasping in agony. Release endorphins – get out of the line of fire – pack wound with dirt to slow bleeding. Get backpack — fire boosters. The hot wind blowing at her brought more focus. She set direction and headed north, keeping low to the ground where her camouflage clothes against the red and gold surface would give her more cover. Tears whipped away in the hot breeze rushing against her face. She’d pay dearly for the loss of moisture in hell’s own desert.