A technician walked around Azriel running a scan over her torso as she stood to attention in a windowless office deep below the surface. He frowned, his craggy face marred by his obvious disapproval. “This unit is damaged beyond acceptable parameters. I recommend rejuvenation.”
She waited for a decision, the blood beginning to ooze through the field dressing under her tattered jacket. A sickly sweet, metallic stink filled the air around her…blood. Her limbs trembled from her theft of energy to kill the intolerable pain. No option there as none of them dare risk being reacquired with open, unconscious minds.
The controller steepled his pudgy fingers together, looking at her over his authentic wooden desk carved from a tree unknown on this world where few could grow. Sweat glistened on his bald head, but not from the heat. Climate control ensured that the special people enjoyed a pleasant environment. This deep, not much was needed.
“Take it to maintenance and stop it leaking blood everywhere. I want this unit capable of walking three hundred ahns and looking alive for another two days. Fit it out with a night-fighter suit, we have more to spare of those, and make sure it smells clean.” His nose wrinkled in distaste.
A wild hope began to bloom in Azriel. He hadn’t ordered rejuvenation. Sweet oblivion of death, is this what he intended, an ending to the waking hell of immortality? How many times had she woken to a new body? She had lost count in the mists of despair.
The controller turned to his console. “Bring it to me when you have finished.” Her temporary guard, the technician, led her out of the luxurious level of headquarters. She managed to walk as far as a grav shaft before her legs buckled under her.
Hissing, with disapproval written on his face, he hefted her over his shoulder. Pain grayed out her mind until she landed on a surgical table.
More technicians cut away her clothing, cleaned the wound and packed wadding in the gaping hole left by the projectile’s exit. They tied her down when she couldn’t bear the pain any longer and tried to fight them off. Another pad of wadding jammed into her mouth stopped her screams.
Replacement blood and high-energy fluid infused through her system, boosting it into a semblance of recovery. The technicians strapped another pack of energy liquid to her abdomen, fixing a needle with a tiny pump into her flesh. Without pausing, they manhandled her into a shower, cleaned her up and dressed her in full night-fighter attire. The bulky padding, covered by matte-black cloth hid their other fixes.
Azriel longed for downtime, but she dared not expose the others to her agony through the link. Whatever the controller wanted of her promised the blessed escape of death. She drifted in a sea of pain and exhaustion until she stood before her tormentor again, one technician to either side of her holding her upright.
“I thought I told you to make it look alive. Give it a pain suppressant. I want it to understand my orders.” He sat back in his padded chair, watching her, his eyes narrowed and a slight tic twitching at the corner of his mouth. A slapshot to the neck reduced pain to a mild ache. She stood straighter.
“Leave us.” The controller flicked his hand at the technicians, waiting until they closed the door behind them.
Azriel’s vague outline reflected from a large glass ornament case behind the controller, smart in black battle dress, with steel-toed black boots visible around the desk, but no gun for her shoulder holster, or knife for her belt sheath. No one took undue risks around angels.
“The job was not well done.” He glanced at his console, a nervous shifting of his eyes. The glass of the case reflected an image of text appearing, if not clear enough for definition. “My customer isn’t happy with the outcome, not happy at all.”
The baby must have survived for she was certain the mark had not. Her heart jumped; a tired hiccup.
“So your program will not continue. I have ordered the reclamation of the cadaver flesh.” He watched her intently, the faint whiff of his adrenaline wafting around him.
“All except one body I’ll keep for safeguard against your performance. I detected a termination wish I am willing to grant for a price.”
Azriel’s pulse beat faster. She tried to get her body under control, knowing how it betrayed her, but she was too weak.
He glanced at the console and the words appearing. “You will take advenite…” His face reflected first shock, and then rage, his words tailing off as the magnitude of what he was reading aloud stunned him.
The door to the controller’s inner sanctum opened behind him. A man in a tailored gray uniform stepped through. A single beryl stud on his collar marked the man for a general. The military man tossed a cloth bag onto the desk in front of her. It landed with a dull thud. “Take the fifteen advenite crystals in the bag with you to the western docking hub. Across the landing strip will be an Outworlder squad with a hostage. You will take yourself and the crystals to them in exchange for the girl.” He leaned over the controller to activate a small holo image of a young female and turned the screen towards Azriel.
The face appeared on news stations often enough for anyone to recognize the Planetary Governor’s wife. Azriel nodded once.
“Once you are aboard their ship you will wait two days for them to clear from this system and then you will kill as many as you can.” The general frowned. “I would prefer the ship destroyed.”
She waited for the rest, because the news seemed to come as a surprise for her master. The controller’s face was now flushed an unhealthy red, but angels didn’t speak to controllers. Angels weren’t people.
“I can’t allow the actual exchange, General. We agreed to terminate all of them on the landing pad once we had Carielle safe.”
The general settled into an easy stance and raised one gray eyebrow at the controller. “You will do precisely what you are told. Bankers like you might hide behind layers of security; you could even recall all of your angels for protection, but then they wouldn’t be out earning enormous revenue for you, would they? Sooner or later one of you will need to emerge, or a member of one of your families, it doesn’t matter to us.”
“Look, you don’t understand.” The controller’s fists clenched. “Angels are reinforced with metal along their ribs, skulls, vertebra, long bones …” He swallowed. “We render down the cadaver for a return on our investment.”
The general smiled; a sunny lifting of the lips. “How much is your life worth? As much as the metal you stand to lose? This angel will do my bidding.”
The controller stood, his hands gripping the edge of his desk as if he needed it to keep him upright. His knuckles showed white through the skin of his hands. He looked at Azriel. “If you disobey and refuse, hoping to die from your wounds, I will have you rejuvenated and then …” He smiled, a stretching of the lips, “then you will spend all of eternity in a pain amplifier. Comply and you will gain death as a reward.”
Azriel tried to swallow, her mouth suddenly dry. Controllers never bargained with angels. No one could threaten controllers. No one had the power to intimidate the money men, or did they? What sort of threat was the general waving at the controller? Whatever fired his spark must have been the mother of all snarl-ups.
The controller jabbed at a button on his desk. Two technicians entered so fast they almost fell into the room.
“Take it to the location I gave you and make sure it has pain medication. Enough for two days.”
She felt sorry for the men. They hadn’t received instructions for where to go after her delivery. Azriel wondered if they knew they weren’t coming back. There would be others sent to make sure they didn’t.