An enjoyable read September 4, 2016
This is a well-written novel about the Arthurian legend with extra and inspired splatters of sci-fi and fantasy. The characters are well-developed and the prose anything but purple. It is a thoroughly enjoyable read and I give it 5 stars.
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.
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.
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.
Since this book scored #17 on the Amazon.com bestsellers list for Arthurian yesterday I thought I would share the latest review on the book from that site.
5 star review.
writes4coffee reviewed Shadow Over Avalon
1 of 1 people found the following helpful
Delighted August 9, 2016
Shadow Over Avalon combines two genres that I don’t read a lot: science fiction and fantasy. It’s a new, fascinating spin on the Arthurian legend, and I was eager to begin reading. I’m delighted with the book. It has vivid descriptions, well-developed characters, a rich plot that flows nicely, and enough tension building to keep the reader turning pages. My favorite aspect of the book is how, in the underwater world of Avalon, the “blue sky” is the seawater. The cliffhanger left me wanting more, and I will definitely be reading the series.
http://bookShow.me/B00GAN6HMG and it is only 99c at the moment. Steal of a Deal.
What a nice thing to wake up to this morning. Shadow Over Avalon is right up there with the biggest and the best. Follow the link and see what they said. Now to go do extended happy dance. Want to know what it is about? Here is a short trailer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtqH1teA_yE
And here is the link for those 23 books.