The next little bit.
Pounding pain hammered Azriel back into full awareness, forced from a haven into the real world. She used diminishing energy to release endorphins into her system. Somehow she had to be ready to complete her last contract.
Where are you, Coda? The quiet void grew within her. None of the angels had made contact in her brief downtime. She tried not to think about their lack of presence in her head as the gray walls of her prison hugged tighter around her.
How amusing to end life surrounded by an unimaginable wealth of metal. All surfaces of the cell gave off a peculiar smell, like weapons. She wondered if they oiled the matte surfaces to keep the rust away, for not a spot touched the pristine walls.
Inside her black hide jacket, her undershirt squelched with warm blood. The field dressing was saturated, but at least not leaking. The sickly tang mixed with the stench of entrails and body fluids. Survive two more days and then begin a killing frenzy? Not possible. Fear followed the rebellious thought. She waited for a jolt of agony from her neural implants . . . and waited. Why hadn’t the Controllers punished her? Perhaps their punishment depended on guilt? If she died early, it wouldn’t be her fault.
Faint chatter from the women intruded on her concentration. They stood or sat in clusters according to their chosen group with an alpha female and two lieutenants. And there was the blonde outsider sitting alone in a corner, the tiny one with no strength to offer.
The bunk beds looked comfortable, pillow for each and a downy-filled covering over a mattress; the temptation clawed at her but if she moved she would open the wound more and leave a trail of blood. Angels didn’t warrant beds; they slept on floors, just as she now would against the wall by the door. She tried to think of other things.
Part of her wanted answers – the core of curiosity buried deep within her that belonged to another life, to the real person she had once been. Why did the Outworlders only take women? Where was their home planet that they needed to trade for a power source the crystals represented? Maybe she would get some of the answers before death claimed her.
The Altarian captives in her cell didn’t seem to be any particular type. They ranged from blonde, through redhead to brunette. Black hair was a rarity now. She was the only one of the women with such coloring. Some were tall and others short, but all carried no more than two decades, except her. There again, Angels always looked in the first flush of youth. No angel went beyond two decades of active service before transferring to another body.
Most of the women were well-fleshed without being overweight. The one exception being the tiny blonde girl, who appeared lost, shocked beyond reason and at the mercy of all the others. One hefty redhead constantly shoved her into a corner. Azriel formed an instant dislike of the bully.
A screeching, slapping fight between some women brought a pair of Outworlders on the run. Without bulky space gear and helmets and they were definitely a biped species, although different from Altarians. Light reflected off the shimmering scales of their hides, but apart from that, they seemed normal. Unlike Altarians, their ears formed three sharp angles at the highest point, almost like serrations on a leaf. Both eyebrows and eyes slanted slightly upward towards their temples. They weren’t outrageously taller and more muscular than Altarians, just enough to stand out in a crowd.
The door by her side hissed open again, and an Outworlder placed a tray of nutribars on the floor. He appeared younger than the guards now separating the angry women. His face brought back unwanted memories from her life before she became an angel.
Was her final punishment to endure the face of her dead son in the features of this Outworlder every time food arrived? The pain of loss clawed at her always. His death and her execution of those responsible were engraved on her consciousness forever by order of law. Why should those who killed her son not die? So long ago, and yet still so clear in her mind that she could pick out the slight differences in facial structure. Those eyes…the eyes of her son.
The redheaded girl pounced on the tray as soon as the men left the room. “I’m in charge. I get to say who eats.” She took far more than her share, holding the others at bay by hard stares. She then distributed the rest of the bars unfairly. More bars for her group, less for the other and nothing for the tiny blonde or Azriel. “Get the crumbs off the floor when we are finished, Strella. Your wealth doesn’t count now.”
Azriel did not stir from her position against the wall by the door. She didn’t need food – she had her energy pack, but the little blonde didn’t have that luxury and retreated to her corner.
Much later the same pattern occurred. The guard came in, placed down food, and the redhead took control, her strident tone of voice grating on Azriel’s nerves. What aggravated her more came at sleep time. With enough bunk beds for all of them, the redhead wouldn’t allow the tiny blonde a berth. The girl stood with her shoulders drooped until she stretched out on the floor in an empty corner. Had Azriel not been wounded she would have dealt with the redhead.
Harsh sounds of snapping glass woke Azriel. She looked around; saw the redhead picking up a sharp shard of a drinking vessel, but feeling her death close, she lost interest. Surprise roused her when the redhead hunkered down beside her. The woman had her hand buried in her flowing skirts of vibrant silk, and she was nearer to the door than Azriel.
When the two guards entered all went according to set routine except a brown-haired woman stood in the redhead’s usual place. The young guard put down the tray while the older one covered him from just inside the door, backing out once the tray was set.
The redhead swung into action. She leapt up behind the young guard, swinging him around to face his companion. Her arm snaked up around his neck, and in her hand, a sharp shard of shattered glass hovered a breath away from his eye. He froze.
Held captive, he looked around wildly, helpless and frightened. His eyes met Azriel’s. Those violet eyes . . . so like her long dead son’s. This wasn’t a soldier; he was an untried novice.
The strident words flowing out of the redhead’s mouth didn’t register. Nothing did, except those frightened eyes.
The redhead shifted the captive around a half turn in response to his companion activating a panic button on his personal transmitter. The aggressor and captive were now turned away from Azriel.
Adrenalin flowed, washed through her system, all her last energy she had hoarded to fulfill her orders and make the Outworlders kill her. Azriel unwound to her full height, grabbed the woman’s head from behind, pulled it back and twisted it. A soft click sounded in the silence. The body slumped into her. Both women fell; the redhead’s corpse covering her, slamming into her wound. Pain exploded into agony. Light receded with a violent buzzing noise.