Once upon a time, before the latest Microsoft edition, I used to have a decent picture tool. I don’t know why this wasn’t included, but it wasn’t, just what what described as a new paint shop. Right. I will jump all over that. NOT. It was about one percent better than the old paint, which isn’t saying a lot. Now I have a new toy and it is very comparable to publisher, only better. Here is my latest effort and all the books are on Amazons, Kobo, Nook, iTunes and a few more.
23 Best science fiction books by female authors.
“Forgotten were the hollow hills
By those who banished fae
Until came the clash of wills
with others from the afar”
Come the battles
Come the killing
Come away, come away
“Awakened were the banished fae
from restless dreams beneath the earth
and troubled by the anguished cry
upon a once lush land”
So it is with Death’s Angel. While I am continuing to work on it I cannot post any more without blowing the first rights so there it is. I’ll fish out one of the others instead.
The centurion didn’t help her with learning to read and write their language as he had promised. He sent Nyka in his place. Azriel still wanted to please the centurion above everything, despite her constant attempts to neutralize his venom. His absence robbed her of the ability to judge her progress.
Nyka had set the portable unit up for her and showed her how to key the screen; activate the voice mode and how to interact with it. Aside from this, she was left completely on her own. Buzzing from the food hatch, to announce a meal break at regular intervals, became her way of marking time. Notably, the food was the same as had been given out to the captive women in the holding pens. At least the centurion’s task gave her something to occupy her attention. She wanted to master the skill since it would be easier to navigate her way through the ship if she could read the directions, if that is what they were, posted at the intersection of corridors.
The worst part of her isolation was increasingly vivid dreams. They always started in an Angel holding cell where all her kind were gathered; a rare event in itself. She could see them but not make them hear her or see her. This was the point when she started awake, still screaming at them to notice her. And then came the last, most horrific dream of all. She had watched what the Angels were doing this time, instead of trying to make them notice her.
Azriel woke shaking, covered with a cold sweat. Only once had an Angel died without having an immediate body replacement. Uriel had been more than a friend to her when they got a chance to spend rare time together. Like her, he was an assassin, although no-one would guess from looking at him. His curling blond hair cascaded to his shoulders, framing a face of classical proportions. Deep-set blue eyes sparkled with mischief when he was around her. Added to the good looks, in her opinion, was the fact that no one supplied the Angels with a means to shave during non-working times. His beard came through about four shades darker than his hair, making him look like a charming rogue.
Both Coda and Azriel had been with Uriel on his last mission. It should have been an easy break-in for Coda to access the mainframe data base. Something had gone wrong. They were expected. Heavy duty weapons fired at them without warning. Azriel found a way for them to get clear when a shell blew a hole in a security perimeter wall. She turned to call to the others and saw Uriel’s body drop to the ground. His handsome head had been blown clean away: gone into a million pieces of mush and bone. He couldn’t be regenerated without his memories. He was really dead; forever. It was Coda who got them clear that day. Azriel didn’t remember how; everything was a blur from that moment on.
Back at base, she turned her face to the wall in their underground cell, ignoring Coda’s attempts to reach her mind. One by one all the Angels had been thrust into the cold, dimly lit rock cavern. They gathered around her in silence, all withdrawn from assignments while the controllers searched for the breach of security. When the last Angel arrived they began making a marker for the fallen.
Grieving together, the Angels carved Uriel’s name in the rock floor, taking turns to pound it with a hand-sized piece of harder stone someone had managed to smuggle in past the guards. No one investigated the noise. No one came near to give them food or water beyond what was already in the holding cell. Not one of them spoke. The sound of the stone pounding echoed for days and nights until they had finished. They did this for the one who was never coming home to them.
In her dream, she had seen them pounding with the stone again, heard the sharp beat going on and on until they all gathered around in silence, looking down. When they moved aside, she saw another name under Uriel’s . . . Her own.
Things are moving faster now and in a new direction.
The centurion was at her side, sitting on her bed, when she awoke, refreshed. He smiled, causing her heart to jump. The dark, curling lashes around his beautiful green eyes did things to her insides. His wavy dark hair looked slightly damp as if he had just finished ablutions, and he was wearing casual, light gray pants and a loose top. Azriel guessed he must be off duty.
“I have set out a meal for us. Will you join me?” He offered her his hand, the claws well retracted into his finger pads.
She thrilled to his touch, grateful for his aid as the edges of her wound didn’t stretch as much when she stood up. His hand was warm and hard; the hand of a warrior. He led her to the glass-topped metal table now covered with dishes. The Sidhe even slid the chair into place for her when she sat down, something she vaguely remembered from a distant lost lifetime and the occasional glimpse of how the rich people behaved at social gatherings.
The food was familiar by sight if not flavor. Both plates held a dressed kiki bird in citrus sauce, accompanied by a salad of dates, nanga nuts and succulent cactus flesh topped with a drizzle of oma seeds. A rich man’s repast; the choice of the Controllers. Angels only ate recognizable food if they caught it for themselves when they were out on a job and could get a campfire going in the open. Of course, the fire would depend on whether the campsite was near any of the black rock deposits that burned slow when ignited with a laz gun.
He intercepted her surprise with a grin. “We stocked up on provisions when we visited your world. Enjoy. We will be on ship’s rations again soon enough.”
“Are those on my world aware you acquired produce?”
“No doubt the knowledge will come to them in time.” His smile deepened. The tips of his brilliant white fangs showed.
Azriel wondered who would be screaming their loss. The thought was good. The food was even better, matched only by a well-aged wine. She guessed this had also been ‘acquired’. It was a long time since she had tasted a potent beverage. Her internal processors made the necessary adjustments to neutralize the effects.
“I think we will be tweaking your enhancements to allow for the full enjoyment of potent brews. A good wine must be savored without the effects being neutralized.”
“You would have me at your mercy?” The thought sent waves of pleasure thrilling through her.
“My venom is far more potent than any potable beverage.” His eyes took on a dangerous glint. “However, I prefer willing bedmates.”
A small voice of reason stirred within her. She didn’t do ‘nice’. This wasn’t her Angel assassin function, but the centurion seduced her from her role. She could not deny him and yet he chose not to take advantage of her vulnerability. Her prime directive to kill these people fuzzed into a tiny gray zone. This was not the enemy, as the pregnant girl had not been the enemy. She didn’t have to kill anymore, since her refusal would not result in punishment.
“Fight it, Azriel.” He raised his glass to her. “I offer you a life with the freedom to make your own choices and live with the consequences.”
She fought both her directive from the controllers and his venom. Her processors hadn’t honed in on his venom because he had been in her mind. Now she needed control over her life back from all those bent on leeching it away. Her head started pounding from the effort. What the controllers demanded of her faded into an unreasonable request to be ignored. No, she would not attack the Outworlders, or try to destroy their ship. The Sidhe needed her to ignore the controllers. Yes, she could do this for him. What he asked was fair and reasonable. She could see this now.
He cleared away their dishes, placing them in a service hatch, and retrieved sweet fruit sorbets in tall, frosted glasses. “Here. Live for the enjoyment of the moment while you decide how you will spend your life.”
The tingling of the venom rushing through her blood stopped when it reached her extremities, but the euphoria remained. A great weight lifted from Azriel, and it wasn’t just from the centurion easing off her. She didn’t stir when he raised her loose blue garment, stopping before he exposed her breasts. His intention seemed merely to check her wound. How kind he was. Why hadn’t she realized this before? She was so lucky to have been taken by the Outworlders.
The centurion grinned. The tips of his fangs showed, still stained with her blood. He was in her mind again and yet she didn’t care anymore.
“Good girl. Lie still while I get more bio packing. You want to get well, don’t you? I want you healed.”
Yes, she would do whatever he asked of her just because he asked. She needed to please him. Somewhere, buried deep within, a tic of wrongness died. Long forgotten happiness surged into life.
He looked up at her from a crouched position. “You don’t want to die, do you? I don’t want you to die.”
The Sidhe retrieved a med kit and returned to her. He gently removed the old dressing to clean the wound. The edges were much closer together, and it looked as healthy as a wound could look. Did she want to die? No, she didn’t. Not if he wished her to live.
“When you are healed would you like to work out with me? I’d prefer you kept your battle edge.”
She would adore more time with him. He was so gentle as he tended to her. She could barely remember how ‘gentle’ felt until he touched her.
He paused, looking up at her. “We are searching for a new home, one that has no sentient lifeforms and is able to sustain us. It will be hard at first, building a new beginning from what is available. I need someone who is used to living off the land to instruct us all. This is why I took an Angel . . . My beautiful Angel.”
She melted under his green gaze. Without thinking, Azriel reached out to touch his face. He caught her wrist, arresting her movement.
“No. Those are decisions best made when my venom wears off, and it will. Beginnings are a delicate path to tread.” He returned her hand to rest by her side and then finished dressing her wound, pulling down her clothing to its former modest position.
Disappointment flared. She wanted him.
“Later, if you still feel the same way.” He packed away the med kit and returned it to storage in the side cabinet by her bed. He then sat down on the bed, close but not touching her. “Nyka thinks you are bored, and I agree. I would like you to learn to write in our language. Do you think you can do this for me?”
Of course she could.
“When you have mastered this skill, I want you to write about everything you learned of survival skills from your experiences in the wilderness on your homeworld. Now I want you to sleep. When you wake, I will return to show you how to operate a portable console, and then we can begin.”
Her eyelids grew heavy. She drifted into sleep.
With a sibilant hiss, the door slid aside to admit her into a communal area. Padded chairs and low tables were arranged in groups. Some had game boards set out on them. The game pieces looked as if the players had left in a hurry with pieces scattered and on their sides.
At a table against a far wall, by one of the small port windows, sat the centurion and Nyka. Both of them seemed relaxed and were sipping from tall glasses containing a clear green liquid. They watched her approach.
“I guess I win the bet.” Nyka smiled, a faint stretching of his lips. “I told you she was getting bored.”
“I concede.” The centurion didn’t look amused. “You get your planet leave when we find a refueling stop. I really thought she would wait until she had regained full strength before she made a move.”
Azriel froze. Did he know her intentions? Where was this leading? Neither of them had weapons pointed at her.
“Come here, my bad Angel.” The centurion gestured to a chair next to him. “I would offer you a beverage, but I think, judging from your expression, I would end up wearing it.”
He was right, damn him. She wasn’t in the mood to ‘do nice’. She accepted his invitation.
The black void of space shone with a myriad of tiny stars from the port hole. Azriel had expected to see the surface of Altair IV. “Where is my homeworld?”
Nyka turned to study the view. “I think your twin suns are the brightest light on the tip of the constellation shaped like a hexagon.”
“When he isn’t tending to your needs, Nyka’s duties include astrometry.” The centurion raised his glass to the young Urak. “He is very good at it.”
Azriel barely heard his words. She focused on a tiny point of light, one among millions. Altair IV didn’t have interstellar travel technology. A world poor in metal lacked the resources. She hadn’t imagined a starship could travel so far, so fast. Now she understood why she couldn’t connect with the other Angels. The vast void of space isolated her.
“Nyka, you have a task now Azriel has joined us.”
Nyka glanced once in her direction and then marched to the door. Azriel doubted it would open for her as it did for him. She was trapped with the Sidhe.
He continued to sip at his drink, regarding her. A faint pressure in her temples warned of his intrusion in her mind. Azriel concentrated on the sights, sounds and sensations from a trek through a parched gulley under the blazing suns.
“Interesting, if too late. I have most of the information I wanted.” His eyes narrowed. “Why do you want to die? Here you are free. Your controllers cannot order your movements.”
She held in a laugh. “Free? I am kept in a locked room away from the other women. You had me herded here when I found a way out. It is another form of control.”
He sighed. “I can’t return you to your sisters. They now know that you are still dangerous, and I would prefer not to send them into hysterics. I can’t let you roam my ship hoping to goad my crew into firing at you, and yes, you will obey me. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to force this issue, but it appears you leave me no choice.”
Azriel smiled, daring him. “Do you really think you could cause more pain than the controllers?”
“Oh, I wasn’t thinking of pain. Far too unsubtle. Come now, Nyka will have fixed the security issues in your room.” He stood, holding out his hand to her.
She let him take hers. Obey him, or he would send a message back to Altair. The next instant her body dissolved to reform beside him in her room. Shocked, she missed the start of his move. He threw her down on her bed, pinning her arms above her head, using his weight to keep her still.
“This is going to hurt a little. I am sorry,” he said, although he didn’t look sorry. His eyes took on a faint gleam. He transferred both her wrists to one hand.
Azriel waited for him to start tearing off her light clothing. She jumped when he turned her head to one side and lowered his mouth to her neck. The next instant he bit. She tried to struggle, desperate, fearing what he had started. He didn’t disengage, and a slow tingling started to spread from the penetration. The tingling spread, enveloping her body. A strange lassitude wrapped her in soft coverings that distanced reality. One small part of her mind screamed ‘venom’ but now she looked into the Sidhe’s incredible green eyes. There was blood on his lips, on his bared fangs; her blood, but this didn’t seem important. The eyes drew her.
“You are going to do whatever I say, aren’t you Azriel?”
“Yes, Centurion.” Whatever he wanted, she would do for him. Joy flooded through her that he would ask.
Despite Nyka’s insistence she stay in bed, use a revolting catch-all for her body wastes, Azriel tottered to the small reclamation facility in a partitioned part of her room. Although the lever on the waste catching device was simple enough to figure out, it took several attempts to understand how to turn on the ablution chamber. The symbols on the control pads by the side of the cubical were more like random scratch marks than a written language, but she began to make some sense of them.
Standing under a rain of hot water amid a haze of steam was the height of decadence. Only the super-rich washed in water on Altair. Everyone else scrubbed down with sand followed by a thin coat of vegetable oil. Although the heat made her feel light-headed, she gave in to the sheer joy of the experience.
Each new wake time brought a return of strength. By the fourth wake time she could have taken Nyka down, but the centurion’s threat hung over her, staying her orders to kill, even if she had been so inclined. Did he know how much Nyka resembled her son; how she felt she looked into her son’s eyes every time she met his gaze? Did the centurion guess how hard it would be for her to attack the young Outworlder?
She lay quiet for him as he dressed her wound once more. Having another tend her went against her conditioning as angels didn’t get sick, they got new bodies. The helplessness of her current state aggravated her, but Nyka was quick and efficient at what he did.
When downtime failed again to initiate contact with other angels the hole in her soul grew bigger. Alone for the first time in her angel existence, Azriel craved any contact to take away the barren emptiness, even if she couldn’t reach her companions.
Nyka proved a poor substitute for her comrades, especially Coda. While open about the day-to-day running of a starship, he closed down if she asked questions about her future, or the centurion. The green-eyed Sidhe became a subject of unholy fascination for her.
When Nyka left her meal on the priceless metal table, Azriel ignored it. Instead, she studied his approach to the door without handles. He withdrew a hand-sized metal square from his pocket and put it on a flat indentation on the frame about halfway up on the right side. When he touched thin marks embedded in the square, the thing dropped into his hand at the same moment the door opened. Clever; making sure the mechanism was not only locked, but lacking in an intrinsic element.
Each symbol on Nyka’s square resembled those on the square plate in the ablutions cubicle. He had touched them in a specific order.
Azriel waited a while to let him clear the area and then snagged a spoon on her way to the cubical. A knife would have been better, but knives and forks didn’t figure in her utensil assignment. She needed truths. What if the Sidhe lied? Were Altarians a food source? Azriel didn’t intend to initiate a killing spree . . . not yet, not with the price so high for the other angels. What she wanted was to find the other women to make sure they were all there, or to start a fight. There was nothing for her on this ship except memories. The urge to be gone from life blossomed anew.
The controllers had always directed her actions in the past, except they held no sway over this situation. Her orders were clear. Replace the hostage, get on the Outworlders ship and then take out however many of them she could before she earned her final rest. But the Sidhe threatened the collective soul of the angels with his threat of informing the controllers about their private communication. He could read her mind.
The cubicle plate didn’t lever out clean; one edge was a bit bent by the time Azriel finished picking it out with the spoon. She reversed the plate, squaring it against the gaping hole full of electronics. It repelled away just enough to confirm her guess; a magnet.
Careful to keep the plate facing the right way she walked over to the door. Applying one magnetic plate to the other, she punched in the code she’d memorized. The door slid open. Could this be so simple? Azriel eased out into a gray metal corridor empty of Outworlders.
One of her plans fell apart at that point. She had intended to infuriate the Outworlders into firing on her once she was loose, except they weren’t around to oblige. Azriel padded down the corridor, the metal cold against her bare feet, hoping the ship’s surveillance would betray her sooner rather than later.
A faint movement in the ceiling caught her attention. A lens swiveled around to follow her position. They knew she was free. No sirens sounded; no lights flashed; no warriors ran down the corridor to intercept her as would have happened on Altair IV. She tried her square pad on one of the blank metal door panels. It didn’t open. A bulkhead slid out from one side of the corridor to block her retreat. She was being herded. At least she seemed to have irritated someone into taking action.
Azriel continued forward at a leisurely walk, expecting her path ahead to be blocked. Bulkheads closed behind her as she progressed. No side doors opened to her attempts to avoid being herded. She gave up after a while; curious to know where she was being led. A closed door now faced her in the distance. This corridor lacked side doors. Azriel picked up her pace, now weaving from side to side, expecting to be confronted by an array of weapons when the door opened if it opened.
When the door hissed open, the faint scent of cinnamon on the air betrayed the centurion. Had he come to deliver the punishment he had promised or were they fattening her for food? Then it came; a faint pressing in her mind. Not the open sharing between Angels, but an insidious probe into her thoughts. She fought, trying to think of nothing.
The centurion knew her Angel name because he had picked through her mind. He’d casually violated her privacy. In that moment, she wanted to kill him as badly as she had wanted to kill all those responsible for her son’s death in another lifetime.
“But you aren’t strong enough and won’t be unless you eat.” His deep voice sounded mocking as if he laughed at her.
Azriel rolled over, trying to smother hot waves of pain to glare at him. He sat astride a chair and had his hands on the chair back with his claws extended. He was smiling. His canine teeth were even longer than Nyka’s
“Get out of my head.” Was there no way to stop his intrusion?
“Why? I find your thoughts quite unique and very entertaining.” He rested his chin on his hands, relaxed and still wearing an amused grin. Almost like a man, now his claws were hidden in his fingertips, and yet not. The pointed ears proclaimed him otherwise.
How much does he know? Azriel dropped into mental downtime to hit a wall of darkness. A guffaw forced her into full waking. She couldn’t share with him like an Angel.
“I wonder what it would be worth to your controllers to learn how their Angels communicate in private?”
“You’re dead.” She itched for the strength to attack him. The controllers must never find out.
“That’s my bad Angel.” He unwound his large frame from the chair with infinite grace and thrust the bowl of cold soup in her hands. “This would have been much nicer warm, but that was your choice. And we don’t eat our guests. I have another function in mind for you, apart from breaking my teeth on your skeletal enhancements.”
She started to aim the soup at him, but his stance indicated the beginning of a defensive action.
“Who would be quicker?” Again the undertone of laughter sounded in his voice.
“What do you want?”
He tipped his head to one side, running his eyes over her like a gourmand over a plate of food. “I’ll settle for an active effort from you to regain your health for now. Fight me over this and I’ll send an interesting message to your home world.” He gave a mocking half- bow on his way out, leaving her to fume.