Here is the next bit in the story.
On the way up to the surface the meds kicked in. leaving her weak but coherent when they arrived on the roof of Command Central, where the landing pad bristled with a full complement of pod flyers. The technicians ignored the craft, instead shrugging into grav packs to fly the distance with Azriel suspended between them in a net they snagged from a locker like dead meat. This confirmed her guess about the probability of their imminent demise. Pod flyers, needing more metal, cost much more to replace than grav packs and were also more difficult to destroy when airborne. It wouldn’t do to risk damaging metal, but once this duty was over, those men were a security threat. If they ever talked about this exchange . . . No, plans would have been made for them after the delivery. The population would revolt if they found out how much the Governor had paid out of planetary funds to get his wife back and two underlings knowing the secret didn’t need to live anylonger.
The flat topped brown sprawl of the city sped beneath her as they headed to the space port on the outskirts of the desert. She closed down her metabolic function to the bare minimum to enter downtime, needing to conserve what energy she had left for the task ahead. Failing left all the angels vulnerable. That wasn’t acceptable.
Azriel, you’re not in regeneration? Coda’s worry came over clear through their mental connection.
Seems I’m to exchange with a hostage. Outworlders have the Governor’s wife. The identity of the hostage surprised her considering the security surrounding this family.
Much can happen in a few days. Outworlders traded strong medicine for a number of young, healthy women. A trace of anger filtered through the link. Our ‘wise’ leaders supplied diseased deviants from incarceration facilities.
Coda, don’t be such a prude. If you mean prostitutes with the clap, then say so.
His embarrassment crossed the link. The Outworlders went on a snatch and trade spree. They have some kind of matter transmitter we don’t understand, which just lets them materialize wherever they wish. That is how they ended up with the Governor’s new wife, and he got to meet a hooker.
I’m taking fifteen advenite crystals with me as part of the deal.
His shock resonated between them. Coda knew the worth of those crystals better than any of them. Enough crystals to fire planetary power supplies for twenty solars. Are they real ones?
From the sick shade of pale the controller went when he found out, I’d say yes.
So you make the kill without losing the hostage. That’s risky. Which angels are backing you? Kaylin and Creeding?
None. The trade is for real.
The absence of his thought in the link became so profound she thought he was active once more for a few moments.
Without regeneration . . . Jumbled images of him missing her filled his mind. He wanted her companionship.
I know. I will be free. She imagined the luxury of sinking into oblivious blackness forever. Never having another thought; another feeling; another pain. . .
Wreck the exchange. You don’t know why Outworlders want people.
I can’t refuse. Failure means regeneration for eternity in the pain amplifiers. I can’t do that to the rest of you. I’m to start killing after two days. The Outworlders will supply my freedom when they finish me.
He couldn’t bear anymore. His withdrawal from link was abrupt. Azriel could only hope for one final message exchange before oblivion, just to say goodbye to him, or at least one to the other angels.
A technician delivered more pain suppressant in the form of a slap shot, and then a tiny whisper of electrical energy surged in Azriel’s brain. The internal microprocessor deep buried in neural tissue forced her to move in the direction of the exchange. The controllers weren’t going to take any chances with her so close to freedom from life.
A single ray of sunshine filtered through layers of storm clouds illuminating a group of individuals on the landing strip. There they stood, the Outworld warriors, grouped around one woman, her fair hair hanging untidy and her body shaking with unheard sobs. The distance over the scrub grass diminished, eaten by Azriel’s strides. Puffs of dust rose at her footfalls, bringing a parched soil taste to her nose and mouth.
What manner of creatures hid behind heavy black body armor and round, visored helmets? The face-plates glowed red in the shine of the twin suns, rendering the Outworlders featureless. Azriel’s hand strayed to her empty holster. Integral to every angel uniform, the holster without the weight of a weapon disturbed her sense of balance. The controllers wanted to appear innocent of the killings if all didn’t go according to plan, so she couldn’t be seen with any obvious instrument of death. Instead, they had fitted her with an arsenal of weapons secreted about her person and clothing when they reclothed her in the night uniform. She probably would pass a scan as the items require assembly to be useful.
The sounds of sobbing carried in the breathless air. The holo image of the woman she was supposed to free had shown a svelte body with a face in such perfect symmetry that it screamed of genetic manipulation. Would Cairelle look the classic beauty after crying? Azriel doubted so.
She halted, standing to attention in response to an inner command from Controllers. Do as ordered or suffer immediate stimulation to the pain center of her brain. Three hundred paces in front of her the five Outworlders began to confer over the head of their hostage. One of them reached for a communications device; at least she reckoned so from the way the creature held it. More negotiations? One for one with the crystals was the agreement. Had the Outworlders learned they were getting an angel in exchange? Part of her hoped they had. Her sense of rightness wanted fair play that no amount of punishment could crush out of her system. How did an angel stack up against advenite? Each fleshy cadaver fitted with precious metal for internal body armor, aside from the micro implants imbedded in an angel’s brain, represented a small fortune.
Time flowed, impervious to the petty doings of mortals. A bragna swooped out of a dark cloud to drop on a ponderous hahii bird. The bragna’s scales glittered a brilliant green in the beam of sunlight as he unfurled both sets of wings to carry away his dangling kill.
Death – the forbidden lure called to her. She recalled the sweet fading from her original experience and then the horror of waking as a renascent angel to serve another lifetime as a slave without freewill; more killings at the behest of others for reasons unknown to her: a living hell for any sentient being. The despair flooded through her anew.
The small fragment of self, buried deep inside, hoped the Outworlders would accept the exchange even if they knew she what she was. They would give her final peace. Now they talked amongst themselves, pointing to her. Fair play–a forgotten concept in her world haunted her. What was the problem with her people trading healthy adults and a few crystals against a new form of sickness control? Did those in charge think the Outworlders wouldn’t mind the dregs of Altair IV society? Many of the poorest died from infections the new medicine would cure. Stars, the people needed all the help they could get.
A patch of blue sky peeped shyly between black storm clouds. In the distance, thunder rumbled signaling the start of a static storm. The Outworlders drew weapons and trained them on her.
Carielle broke free to run for those Azriel saw ‘bravely’ waiting behind blast shields she had walked past on her march. An impulse directive to her brain sent her jogging to the ranks of the Outworlders.
The Outworlders mobbed her the moment she closed with them. Two of them grabbed her arms, and a third rumbled into a gray rectangle with winking lights. The next instant all the cells of her body seemed to turn to fluid. Buildings, sky, ground, all burred into a white mist. For three heartbeats came nothingness, a glorious non-existence that thrilled through her, and then normality returned. They had transported her to their ship with their incredible matter mover.
The place had a metallic roof containing gently glowing lights; not as bright as lighting on her world. Did this mean they had better night vision? Two of the Outworlders still held their weapons on her, and the third, the one with a blue band on the left sleeve of its body armor, approached her with something small in a gloved hand.
She kept still as cold metal touched her skin just behind her ear, hoping for death, wanting death.
A click and a sharp pain–nothing more. The light still shone in her eyes. Those face-shields of the Outworlders turned to her, watching.
They began talking to each other; sounds without meaning to her. Still they held her immobile. The leader rumbled something at a wall panel before turning the bland visage at her once more.
Azriel began to tense each individual muscle of her body. She searched for a change in her responses but found none. Whatever they had done to her hadn’t affected her physically. Another possibility sapped her courage. What if these beings decontaminated their food before they dined? Her heart rate accelerated, as adrenalin surged through her system. Fear, a long forgotten emotion, gripped her. She wanted death, a quick death, but what was on promise here? Did they like active food as they dined? Some aliens preferred such. One of the guards took the advenite from her.
The leader reached out to grip her chin. She resisted without success. Now she looked directly at the reflective space between a helmet and a body.
“You can now understand my words. You will obey my commands and you will be treated well.”
She did understand. He was right, for the voice sounded male from its deep tone, but who could tell with an Outworlder? There was a slight slurring on the consonants but nothing to indicate the sound hadn’t enunciated from a humanoid biped. Fear of the unknown kept her silent.
“Agree to obey, and you will be allowed some freedom.”
Those non-faces all aimed at her, waiting for a response. Fifteen reincarnations meant a huge database of knowledge. That was the advantage of the angel program. Did they threaten her world?
Controllers didn’t let angels pursue emotional connections to prevent any conflicts with orders, but no restriction was placed on the accumulation of information. Azriel now accessed a language so dead that only fragments survived. Already half-forgotten by those first settlers on Altair IV.
“Ad astra.” It meant ‘to the stars’, which was as near as she could get to ‘go fuck yourself’.
“Her words have no meaning, Centurion.” The Outworlder holding her turned to his leader. “My translator is malfunctioning.”
The centurion glanced at the others, who shook their heads. “Either she is obtuse by intent, or she is not programmed for general communication. Hazard nine assessment level. Take her to the second holding pen. We will observe her with the others.”
The four marched her away at a brisk pace; sending shards of agony from her side into her arms and legs as the pain suppressant wore off. Down through more metal corridors and through bulkheads grinding open and closed. They progressed until they stopped by one side door and keyed a sequence to open it.
Female voices suddenly arrested. A hand on her back thrust her into the room, trapping her with a group of terrified young women. They drew aside from her as if she brought an evil smell into the room. Well, she couldn’t blame them. Pictures of angels in combat dress were common enough on the black market of the wealthy, which the clothes on these women seemed to suggest. None of them wore the alluring adornments of prostitutes.
Twelve of them, thirteen including her, occupied what looked like crew quarters. Bunk-beds lined two walls and a third had shower cubicles and reclamation stations. Not a stock pen, so what were the Outworlders thinking? Did they want these people for trading with another species? Maybe work crews, or pleasure slaves?
Did they know she was an angel? A crazy laugh began to bubble up inside her. Angel; the name came from the servant of a mythical god on the ancient Homeworld. What if this ship was from that planet? What if they thought her such a servant? The laugh aborted. What would they do to an immortalized deviant wearing the name on the whim of the controllers?
The furnishings suggested the Outworlders were humanoid as well as biped, although this might be wishful thinking on her part. Door height and width seemed to correlate, but other species of Outworlders had also appeared humanoid in the first contact scenario. Memory replayed a visual of the arthropod that had nearly given its tentacles collective hernias trying to squeeze them into a manlike casing. She would wait and see before she made a definitive judgment.
Azriel settled down on the floor with her back resting on the wall next to the door. She had no need of comfort, just a resting place to calm the molten agony of her wound without anyone disturbing her. The technicians hadn’t given her the rest of the pain medications as ordered when they set her into place. She assumed they planned to sell these and ceased to feel sorry for them.
Downtime brought a relief from pain, although the price was slower healing. This didn’t matter in her case. She wanted companionship and reached out. No contact. No touch of another angel. Nothing but a blank void–panic seeped through her. She shut down all systems to below minimum to avoid thinking; as low as possible before death occurred for the implant would kick them into consciousness if any tried to self-terminate by will alone. The device would also wake her when her final instructions must be obeyed.