Dark ops assassin, mother, revolutionary. Destroying Angel is the story of a slave-soldier who rises to lead her people to freedom against a tyrant who has ruled for one hundred generations.
My back is broken.
Overhead a fire like molten gold halos the umbra of the blue gas giant our small desert moon orbits. The eclipse is beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to appreciate it. I’ve seen it a thousand times. You notice these things when you’re dying.
A cold wind whips across the desert. I’m on my back, staring at the eclipse, feeling sand hitting raw, exposed flesh where my armor has been ripped away. Fires from the crash burn around me, and my breath escapes my shattered visor in thick plumes. I can feel icicles forming on my eyelashes.
The pain is so intense all I can do is clench my jaw until it feels like my teeth will crack.
I look up and to the right, glancing at the message blinking in my field of vision.
I’d swear, but it hurts too much.
Hitting the ground after being hurled from a skimmer flying in excess of three hundred knots should’ve left me a smear across the desert floor. But my armor held up. Only the best for the Mashhitim. Elite of the Elite. God’s own destroying angels.
One moment we were low over the landscape en route to the target, and the next I was hitting solid ground at a force reaching two hundred Gs of deceleration. Then I was seeing flashes of earth and sky as I tumbled for several hundred meters, rock and sand grinding my armor down to my ferrofluid under-armor and the flesh beneath.
I didn’t even hear the RPG alarm.
I don’t think anyone did.
If I hadn’t been riding the skid on overwatch, I’d be dead already. I think that would’ve been preferable. Instant. No pain.
Tears are running down the sides of my face, pooling and freezing in my ears. All I can hear is a high-pitched ringing. I think my eardrums burst when I hit the ground. Every breath is like a flaming spear through my chest.
Information begins to scroll down the upper right corner of my field of vision. A damage report: Ribs, broken. Back, broken. Legs, broken. Skull, fractured. I cough up blood, experiencing pain on a new level I’d never thought possible. Then, blackness.
For what feels like an eternity I alternate between waking up in excruciating pain, screaming and coughing up blood before passing out into blissful oblivion. Over and over again. I feel like I’m slowly going insane.
In one moment of unconsciousness, I dream I’m once again a child in my father’s arms. His face is an unrecognizable blur. He’s saying something, a name I can’t remember. My mother is beside him. They are crying. I can’t remember her face either, but I can smell freshly baked unleavened bread. Sweet figs and dates. The musky sweat on my father’s leathery skin.
My parents cry because it is the day of Katif, the annual harvest of the best and brightest of our children. A blood tax to HaShem, our God and King, a punishment for our rebellion one hundred generations ago. When Ima reaches her zenith in the sky, the Royal Administrators will come for every chosen child who has reached their seventh standard year.
“But she is so small,” my mother moans.
“Yet she is fierce,” my father replies.
“She is no soldier.”
“Better than to be a concubine.”
“She will be a slave.”
“Are we not slaves already?” my father asks gently. “She is fierce. She will survive. She will gain honor and status before HaShem.”
“A curse on Him,” my mother spits.
“Hold your tongue, woman. The walls have ears.”
“Then let them hear.”
When I awake the eclipse has ended, and Ima hangs low in the blood-red sky, burning away the bitter cold. Carrion lizards circle lazily overhead, beating their leathery wings slowly. One has alighted near me, its head cocked to the side, a forked tongue tasting the air for my death. Four amber eyes blink rapidly as it hops closer.
I cough, and it leaps back with a hiss.
The pain throbs in waves throughout my body, but I can feel my toes again. I glance up and to the right.
40% combat effective.
Armor integrity 25%.
Targeting systems offline.
Navigation systems offline.
Ash, I subvocalize. ETA to evac?
Text scrolls in my retinal HUD.
Ashera is offline.
I feel a surge of panic. Ash is never offline. It’s impossible. I’ve never been apart from the AI sharing my mind. Not since we bonded after the Katif. Never.
ETA to reconnect? I sub.
Transmission hardware has suffered catastrophic damage, the scrolling text informs me. Please report to your maintenance officer for repairs.
The yetaknu, microscopic bio-machines flowing through my bloodstream, have been busy. I can feel them. Without painkillers their repairs feel like hot lead flowing through my veins. I attempt to sit up and fight a wave of nausea.
This pain is unbearable, I sub, only to be informed that the anesthesia systems are also offline.
Wreckage from the crash still burns around me, sending thick oily columns of smoke into the sky. As the ringing in my ears subsides, I can hear the pinging of cooling metal and the sizzle of burning bodies.
I fight the growing panic and stand unsteadily. A pain shoots through my right leg and I cry out. The cry turns to coughing and I spit blood.
I can feel a sticky wetness between my legs and my hand shoots down to my belly.
My son? I ask.
The scrolling text is replaced with a calm monotone voice inside my mind. Audio interface restored. Tyerya, your fetus’ vitals are within tolerable limits.
It’s a miracle he survived, I reply.
A statistical improbability. The odds of a fetus surviving an impact of that magnitude are—
Nothing short of miraculous, I interrupt. I don’t want to know the odds. Instead, I offer of a silent prayer of thanks to—no, not HaShem. Not Him. Anything but Him. Then whom? The false god of the raiders who inhabit this barren wilderness? The Universe? It doesn’t matter I suppose. I pray anyway.
Repairs are ongoing, please rest and hydrate.
If Ash is offline, who are you? I sub.
I am a local redundancy system.
What are your capabilities?
They are… limited.
I try to remember my training. I’ve been in worse spots before—except I haven’t, have I? I’ve always had Ash.
I feel claustrophobic in my helmet. I can’t breathe. I rip it off as I limp through the wreckage. Parts of the skimmer and my team litter the desert floor amid burning sagebrush. I begin to hyperventilate.
Biometrics suggest you may be experiencing a panic attack, the calm voice warns.
I trip over charred debris and stumble, falling to my knees.
I could use some tranqs right now, I sub.
Emotional regulation systems are offline.
“Madar be khta,” I swear.
Try breathing deeply and focusing on a pleasant sight.
Emotional regulation isn’t a skill we were allowed to develop. Ash handles that. They said it made us better soldiers, but now I feel powerless against the surge of emotions. Anger. Sorrow. Fear. Disgust. Not ten yards away lays the torso of a teammate, his armor blasted open, exposing his insides. I can’t look away. I wonder who it was as my empty stomach roils. He has three red chevrons on his pauldron. I’m staring at the ruined corpse of my kill team leader.
Falling over onto my side I curl up in a ball and breath spasmodically, each harsh breath accompanied by a sharp pain. My vision blurs and tunnels.
Our mission was a simple exfil. Take the bird in low under cover of the eclipse and deep into the wastelands, hit a camp of Jarraba raiders, and secure a high-value target. Intel reported less than two dozen men. Just another Tuesday. But they were ready for us. Total team kill. Except for me. Somehow, I’ve survived.
My eyes slowly focus on the massive hulk of an ancient multigenerational starship far in the distance, half buried in the desert floor. The Jarrabas call the place Adamu Kee Kabr. It is holy ground to them.
Jarabbas. A savage and casteless people who infest the unpopulated wastes of our moon Ha’olám like the mangy leaping rodents we named them after. They are untouchables, brutish and unmerciful. I’ve seen firsthand the results of their raids on our villages and communal farms. Bodies stripped and mutilated, homes burned to the ground. Children carried away as slaves. They’re fearless warriors, giving no quarter and asking for none in return.
That they’ve survived our attempts to eradicate them for generations is testament alone to their skill and cunning at guerrilla warfare. I despise them, but I won’t be caught underestimating them. Those who do die, and often it’s not a quick death.
If the wasteland doesn’t kill me, they will.
To fight the rising panic, I turn my thoughts back to the day of the Katif. My mother’s voice, tender and soothing. My parents tears. I remember I didn’t cry. It was a time to be brave. To be brave for myself, for them, for my people. It was a time to be strong.