Strangely enough, this was not a book I intended to write after I finished Darkspire Reaches, which was supposed to be a stand alone novel. However, there was a certain expectation from my publishers that there would be a sequel and I will admit to prevarication until I saw the comments in the reviews for Darkspire Reaches. While I will never respond, I always take notice and I saw people were asking questions about the world, in particular the Shangrove and also wondering about a sequel, so I go to thinking about what would happen next. This book was so much fun to write and now I guess I am thinking about a third in the series. Maybe I’ll call that one Wurms of the World. We will see.
At least the guards were looking through her instead of at her. Perhaps she was now a thing of aberration? Number 666 hoped this was so as her nakedness shamed her as much now as when she’d worn an older body. The stepped aside from a now opened door, gesturing her to go inside, which she did. The door snapped shut behind her, with the click of a locking mechanism very audible.
This place was dimly lit and bare but a lot bigger than her previous cell. It also housed five other naked people, three men and two women, with numbers engraved on the skin of their shoulders. They sat on the floor with their backs against a wall and their heads down. All lost souls like her. The room contained a reclamation station at one end as well as a sand shower. She guessed they angels, being possessions, represented a large investment, but what did it mean? Was she to sit in isolated silence until she had an assignment. That thought terrified her as it meant she had to kill someone, but what if she turned the weapon on herself? They had to give her some form of weapon, didn’t they? She had a way out of this horror.
No, you don’t. Self-destruction is not permitted.
The voice echoed inside her head. No one had spoken and yet she heard the voice clearly. Was this how the Bankers controlled her?
Sit down against the wall, lower your head and keep quiet, like the others here.
Number 666 did so. Whatever happened, or did not, was in the hands of a cruel fate. Strange the voice didn’t seem to belong to one, but to many.
Do not move or look at the others. Stay very still with your head down. Good. We are your companions, not the Bankers. They must never know how we communicate with each other.
Pain was the last thing she remembered, blinding, soul wrenching pain, but that was gone. She opened her eyes to the sight of a dim overhead light in what looked like the same cell she occupied before they started changing her. Was she an angel now? Her body moved with ease, an ease of youth. It was young. Not her body, and yet it was. She got up off the filthy floor, stretching to ease the kinks out of her back and then she felt an ache from her naked shoulder. Looking down, she saw the brand. They had marked her with her designation number 666. That thought brought home a greater and more terrible truth. She had no name, not for them and not for herself. However hard she concentrated, she could not find who she was, or even a trace of living family, aside from one memory; her murdered son.
Why leave that memory when destroying all the rest? Then the echo of her sentence resonated from the courthouse. The punishment shall fit the crime. She had to remember what she had done and why for the full force of everlasting punishment to take effect. They had sentenced her to be an assassin. The newly made number 666 didn’t like killing. Before killing her victim, she never hurt another person, or did she? How could she be certain? The memories of planning the killing seemed uneasy and the actual act, although driven by rage, provoked such nauseas that she had no chance of escaping after the deed. A sentence to kill others on command represented sublime cruelty.
Would anyone recognize her from her former life? With tentative hands, she reached up to touch her face; her young face. Number 666 had wondered if they cut off her head and grafted it on to a young body and yet no. All of her resonated with youth, which answered her question. Taking a few steps, something felt off. The muscle strength was there, and so too the coordination, and yet her body felt heavier than it should, although what they had given her appeared svelt.
As if her movement triggered action, the door of her cell opened to show guards waiting. They gestured for her to come with them. As she followed, she felt her neck, wondering if talking were possible, or they had decided to keep her mute? The skin appeared smooth and unscarred.
The snippet may well be as it is as I was using a large sander this morning. Power tools have all sorts of unintended consequences. Anyhow, part 2. I am wondering about a name for this. Suggestions are welcome.
Rumors swirled about the angels. Some said they were all machine with the consciousness of the culprit trapped inside the circuits. Othes said they had enhanced human bodies; that they were cyborgs. No one believed they were people any longer, for they had no free will. A black cloud of fear swirled around her, eating at her mind, for one thing all people agreed upon was that angels lived forever. How much of her personality would be left? Memories of family wouldn’t exist, but what of the rest? She hoped all would be gone for then she wouldn’t know any different.
The door whispered open to admit a guard in a black Banker uniform and carrying a force whip, they type used on harja beasts to make them do tricks for people. Freya tried to swallow in a suddenly dry throat. She wasn’t people; she was a beast.
“Designation number 666, remove all apparel and jewelry, put them in the waste bucket in the corner and then follow me.”
Stars have mercy on her, it had started. Not Freya Blackhome anymore. The name didn’t exist and soon she wouldn’t remember, either. She jumped up to comply when he cracked the force whip, aware the next time wouldn’t be a warning. Her smart clothes for her court appearance were now dirty and smelled of a mixture of sweat and fear. She peeled them off, along with the rings from her pierced ears, dying a little more inside, ashamed of her older body with its sagging breasts and stretch marks. Now she wished she’d let her graying hair grow longer to give her some cover, but no, she’d cropped it in a shoulder bob before the trial, if that travesty could be called a trial.
Head down, not meeting the guard’s eyes, she followed him along a corridor, up a stairwell and onto a roof, where she was crated in a cage for an airlift by a drone, a marked difference from her arrival in the detention center ground runner. Freya didn’t need to search for her location on the skyline. The obsidian Banker’s building towered above all the rest. While not politicians, elected for a set number of years, a Banker held his place in society for life. They held most of the real power, but not all. Now she belonged to them. Sure enough, the drone aimed for the landing pad on top of the ominous building.
Guards in black uniform waited, their force whips ready. Freya didn’t resist, for what was the point? The only place she could have run was off the edge of the building, but they would never let her near there. Her fate wasn’t to die. Her fate was to be a possession.
She walked between them, matching directions until they stopped in a room with a large, metallic bed in the center with a hooded arrangement poised over where a person’s head would rest. Trembling started then; she couldn’t stop it, nor could she make her limbs move when they ordered her onto that bed. Hands grabbed at her, throwing her into place, strapping down her arms and legs. A sharp pain seared the back of her neck and then all feeling died from her shoulders down. A scream began to build when she figured they had cut her spinal cord, but another savage pain in the front of her neck stopped the intention from becoming reality when they put a tracheotomy in her windpipe. She wasn’t going to make another sound, not now. The carapace joined together over her head and then the cutting started.
Freya sat on the floor of her bare cell under the dim overhead light, where they told her to remain until they were ready to process her. Shocked to the core, she didn’t have the heart to challenge any orders, not anymore. Death was for other people. Freya tried to get her head around what was going to happen.
Guilty as charged. She never denied what she had done. How could she when they found her with the bloody knife in her hand and splatters all over her clothes? Not murder, like they said. No, justifiable homicide. Freya killed the man who murdered her son. She executed the son of a rich man and that is why her sentence was decided.
Flynn had everything going for him; a good position in the science department of Government, a lovely and sweet-natured wife and a baby coming. They were such a happy couple when Flynn and Eva told her she was to be a grandmother. Who could have guessed the rot had already set in? Ava came to her after Flynn died, tearful, guilt-stricken and yet still defiant. The story she told set events in motion, leading to this cell.
A rich man’s son decided he wanted Ava as a concubine, but she wouldn’t go with him; refused to leave Flynn and abort their baby. He dealt with the obstacle by having Flynn eliminated. Freya knew then what she must do and what it would cost her, or rather what she thought it would cost. Accordingly, she gave Ava her property and all her credits before she began her revenge, for once it was done the State would take any asset she had. The child now had an assured future so she took care of the problem.
The criminal code of Altair IV wasn’t difficult to understand. Murder meant the death penalty, simple as that, but Freya tried for mitigating circumstances, wanting to at least have news of what was left of her family from penal servitude.
Under the dim, yellow light, she shut her eyes, trying and failing to shut out the images and sounds from the courtroom. A rich man’s son cost her eternity, for that was her sentence. Let the punishment equal the crime, they said. She would never die and no longer live, at least not as a normal person. She waited in this cell while they got ready the equipment to turn her into an angel. That is what Altarians called the deviant criminals turned into cyborg enforcers.
Freya might be free to roam the planet as she obeyed her new masters, for refusing wasn’t an option. She wouldn’t be shut away, but she would be deprived of the memory of all living family. What happened to her grandchild was something she was never going to know. Was the price of her action worth the consequences? If the child lived and thrived, then she had to hope what was coming justified his existence, for she hoped it was a boy.
I have been a tad quiet lately because I was busy with two projects. The first is the fourth book in the Shadow series, Staff of Shadows, which I just turned in to my publisher. The second is an audio book of Darkspire Reaches, which is in the works and my wonderful reader has just finished. It should be ready to go very shortly.
What a wonderful surprise to wake up to this review this morning! Does happy dance.
Serpent of the Shangrove
5 out of 5 stars What a wonderful world! January 5, 2017
What a wonderful world(s) Ms. Hull has created! I love anything to do with dragons, so I was instantly swept up in the adventure from the gate. I loved Kryling! Such an adorable companion. It was an excellent treatment of the lengths jealousy and hatred can send people. And who hasn’t had a childhood love turned sour? In this case, the two combine to send the hero out into a fast-paced quest for justification. The imagination in creating the worlds is impressive and the layers are complex. I recommend this book for anyone who likes well-constructed high fantasy defined by strong characters.