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Authors: C. L. Anderson

Bitter Angels

BOOK: Bitter Angels
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How do you choose between
what’s right and revenge?

 

“You’ll let them live,” I whispered hoarsely. “They’ve slaughtered and tortured and enslaved us, and you’ll just let them live.”

“No,” she answered quietly. “I’ll
make
them live.”

“And what’s the difference?” I sneered.

“Terms and conditions,” she answered. “I told you I was tortured? The man who ordered that is still alive, and he’s going to stay that way. In fact, he’s immortal now. He’s living in a comfortable pair of rooms in the middle of his home city, and he’ll live there forever, nice and cozy. He can’t go outside. He can’t talk with another human being face-to-face. He can’t even go comfortably insane. He’s alive and stable, and we’re going to keep him that way. He never gets away from what he’s done, never gets to have a better life or another life. He never meets his Maker or sees his Heaven. He gets to watch while the kingdom he built fades from the historical record and the city he ruined is rebuilt by his enemies and opened up wide, because all the people he tried to lead to his brutal salvation like his enemies’ way better.

“He’s ours. He’s
mine
, in his two-room cell, forever and ever.

“Do you want revenge for you and yours? Help me make the Blood Family live with what they’ve done.”

My hand was shaking, making the fingers drum against my thigh. “It’s not enough.”

 

Books published by The Random House Publishing Group are available at quantity discounts on bulk purchases for premium, educational, fund-raising, and special sales use. For details, please call 1-800-733-3000.

 

This book is dedicated to my husband, Tim.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

The author would like to thank Juliet Ulman and David Pomerico for all their help bringing this book into existence, and, as always, the Untitled and Excelsior writers’ groups who patiently sat through many drafts.

 

PROLOGUE

 

DONNELLY

 

Nikko Donnelly stood
beside the sealed, arched air lock, his attention fixed on the screen in front of him. He did not even glance at the wonders in the black sky outside. He spent far too much time staring out at them as it was. Instead, he watched the ship finishing its approach to Habitat 3. It was a badly thought-out and desperately maintained collection of tubes and spheres, only capable of lumbering between thin atmosphere and no atmosphere.

Donnelly was wizened, grizzled, and tired; tired of himself, tired of his world, tired of more things than he could name. His people called him “Old Donnelly” behind his back and “Sir” to his face, because whatever else he was, he remained the commander of Habitat 3 in the Erasmus System.

The Erasmus System’s first human colonists had tightly focused imaginations and never got around to naming their space stations, let alone any of the purely decorative worlds that could be seen from its windows. They all went about their orbits tagged with codes for use by pilots and the flight controllers; R3ES1, R3ES2, Habitat 1, Habitat 2, and so on.

Outside, the clumsy ship matched Habitat 3’s spin and eased its docking bolts toward the port. The magnets seized tight. The red lights beside the air lock’s polished-metal door blinked to green.

Donnelly could imagine the crew letting out sighs of relief. One more run completed, and once more, everything held. Unfeeling as he was, Donnelly had enough sympathy
for the crew that he cycled quickly through the checks coming up on the ancient screen. Once this would have been done automatically, but it had proved too easy to hack the commands and let uninvited guests onto the habitats. Donnelly did not consider himself a slow learner.

When it came to machines, at any rate.

At last, Habitat 3 gave him permission to pressurize the air locks and cargo bay. He laid his palm on the door’s access pad, and the metal door shuddered as it rose.

The cargo bay was a cavernous, meticulously clean place. Shining white composite coated its deck and curving walls. Red lines on the floor marked off unloading bays. Blank black screens and access pads dotted the walls behind the bays.

Once, six or seven ships a day had docked here. Now, the chamber echoed to the sound of Donnelly’s footsteps as he stumped across the deck. A single line of half-rusted pallet carts waited beside the outer air lock. All the rest of the equipment was in storage, and no one, least of all Donnelly, expected it to be brought out again.

Donnelly palmed the next access pad and the sleek white inner door lifted away to reveal the outer air lock and the incoming ship’s battered, soot-streaked door. That door hissed loudly as it slid open.

The first person to step into Donnelly’s empty cargo bay was a little man with neatly curled black hair. He came from a world where brilliant color was the fashion, but he himself wore sparkling black and gleaming white: black coat, white trousers, polished black boots, white gloves. Donnelly, in his battered boots and heavy work jacket, shunted his jaw back and forth a few times to keep from sneering.

“Good to see you again, Nikko,” said the little man.

“Bloom.” Donnelly nodded. “How’s the run?”

Bloom shrugged in answer. “Too long, too cramped, and too cold, but we all do as we must. Are you ready for us?”

“Cleared out level five. Dare and his people were here a week ago, but they only filled it up by about a quarter.”

“Good. They’ve warned you the runs are going to pick up tempo for a while?”

Donnelly nodded, more than a little annoyed that Bloom didn’t think he knew his job. What was worse, however, was that this time Donnelly really
didn’t
know what his job was. He’d been told to make sure the habitat was in top working order. He’d been told to start minimizing the internal supports and furnishings, and maximizing the holding capacity, but no one had told him why.

“Better get to it, then,” Donnelly grunted.

“As you say,” agreed Bloom blandly.

Behind Bloom, the ship’s cargo doors slid back to reveal a solid wall of silver canisters, each one about the size of Bloom’s torso. The ship’s crew, a group as hardened as Donnelly—with even less use for Bloom than Donnelly had—began sliding out pallets full of the canisters and stacking them on the waiting carts.

The gravity was light, but inertia was in good working order, and the massive cargo took careful handling. Only once did a worker, a young man with a stubbly chin and one eye sealed half-shut by an old burn, look up at the mismatched set of supervisors.

“What are these things?” he asked, clipping a strap around a full load of pallets.

Bloom beat Donnelly to it. “They’re your cargo, and your job is to shift them.”

“Yeah, but…”

“Yeah, but, what?” Bloom expertly mocked his nasal young voice. “Are you getting paid to do your job or to stand around with your flap open?”

The crewman muttered under his breath and glanced at his captain. The man grimaced. An amethyst tooth flashed in the harsh light as he signaled for patience.

Bloom just turned away.

“You say these are to go to level five?” he asked Donnelly.

“Yeah.” Donnelly nodded.

“I can take it from here. You can go back to your other duties.”

Donnelly clenched his jaw, knowing that he had no real duties to return to, a fact that stung worse than his casual dismissal and even worse than being stuck in this echoing tin can, utterly and completely dependent on people he couldn’t trust and who didn’t give a good goddamn about him, blood ties or no.

“I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me what’s going on either,” he muttered to Bloom.

Bloom’s smile was thin and mirthless. “No, I don’t suppose I am.”

“Do you actually know?”

This time, Bloom just shrugged. “I don’t particularly care.”

Donnelly knew he should let it go, but he couldn’t. He was tired and he was cold. He knew things were coming to a head. He didn’t know how or why, but he did know how deadly ignorance could be.

“The First Bloods are gonna fuck you over with the rest of us, do you know that much?”

“Oh, no,” replied Bloom softly. “Not this time.”

 

ONE

 

TERESE

 

“Bianca’s dead
. We need you to come back.”

That was how it started for me. A few words, and Misao Smith’s familiar voice.

Bianca’s dead
.

I stood there, staring at my handset while those words sank through brain and blood to tangle around my guts. Behind me, the noise from Allie’s twenty-fifth-birthday dinner kept on. We were holding it on our glassed-in balcony. Outside, Lake Superior’s turbulent waters were as iron grey as the low blanket of clouds overhead. Allie sat at the head of the confetti-littered table, laughing in that odd hiccoughing way she’s had ever since she was four, while Jo and Dale gave each other shit about…something. Any second, David was going to tell the two of them to calm down. Then they’d start giving the old man shit for treating them like they were all still four.

I hadn’t switched the screen on. I remember being vaguely grateful for the oversight. This way, my family wouldn’t see who interrupted Allie’s day.

Bianca’s dead
.

I hadn’t seen Bianca for over three decades, but I hadn’t forgotten her for a single day. She was my first mentor in the Guardians, and my best friend for my entire service.

“Terese?” asked Misao coolly.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m still here.” Mostly. Part of me stood beside Bianca, seeing her toss her hair back over her shoulder, like
she did when she was getting serious. Nothing could convince her to cut that hair, even though it constantly got in her way.

Bianca’s dead
.

“How…?”

“I can’t tell you on this set.” Misao’s voice was flat, final, and annoyed.

I pinched the bridge of my nose hard, trying to get the pain to focus me. My hand started to twitch. In another second I’d be shaking. The happy family noises all fell away. David and the kids had noticed something was wrong.

Misao let out a long sigh, the sound of strained patience. “Will you come in?”

The thousand things I could say flashed through my mind.
Misao, it’s my kid’s birthday, for God’s sake! What happened? Tell me what happened! No! I’m done with this. I promised them all I was done!

Silence behind me. Silence on the handset.

BOOK: Bitter Angels
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