Broken Angels

PART I: INJURED PARTIES

War is like any other bad relationship. Of course you want out, but at what price? And perhaps more importantly, once you get out, will you be any better off?

QUELLCRIST FALCONER

Campaign Diaries

CHAPTER ONE

I first met Jan Schneider in a Protectorate orbital hospital three hundred kilometres above the ragged clouds of Sanction IV and in a lot of pain. Technically there wasn’t supposed to be a Protectorate presence anywhere in the Sanction system—what was left of planetary government was insisting loudly from its bunkers that this was an internal matter, and local corporate interests had tacitly agreed to sign along that particular dotted line for the time being.

Accordingly, the Protectorate vessels that had been hanging around the system since Joshua Kemp raised his revolutionary standard in Indigo City had had their recognition codes altered, in effect being bought out on long-term lease by various of the corporations involved, and then reloaned to the embattled government as part of the—tax deductible—local development fund. Those that were not pulled out of the sky by Kemp’s unexpectedly efficient second-hand marauder bombs would be sold back to the Protectorate, lease unexpired, and any net losses once again written off to tax. Clean hands all round. In the meantime, any senior personnel injured fighting against Kemp’s forces got shuttled out of harm’s way, and this had been my major consideration when choosing sides. It had the look of a messy war.

The shuttle offloaded us directly onto the hospital’s hangar deck, using a device not unlike a massive ammunition feed belt to dump the dozens of capsule stretchers with what felt like unceremonious haste. I could hear the shrill whine of the ship’s engines still dying away as we rattled and clanked our way out over the wing and down onto the deck, and when they cracked open my capsule the air in the hangar burnt my lungs with the chill of recently evacuated hard space. An instant layer of ice crystals formed on everything, including my face.

“You!” It was a woman’s voice, harsh with stress. “Are you in pain?”

I blinked some of the ice out of my eyes and looked down at my blood-caked battledress.

“Take a wild guess,” I croaked.

“Medic! Endorphin boost and GP anti-viral here.” She bent over me again and I felt gloved fingers touch my head at the same time as the cold stab of the hypospray into my neck. The pain ebbed drastically. “Are you from the Evenfall front?”

“No,” I managed weakly. “Northern Rim assault. Why, what happened at Evenfall?”

“Some fucking terminal buttonhead just called in a tactical nuclear strike.” There was a cold rage chained in the doctor’s voice. Her hands moved down my body, assessing damage. “No radiation trauma, then. What about chemicals?”

I tilted my head fractionally at my lapel. “Exposure meter. Should tell you. That.”

“It’s gone,” she snapped. “Along with most of that shoulder.”

“Oh.” I mustered words. “Think I’m clean. Can’t you do a cell scan?”

“Not here, no. The cellular level scanners are built into the ward decks. Maybe when we can clear some space for you all up there, we’ll get round to it.” The hands left me. “Where’s your bar code?”

“Left temple.”

Someone wiped blood away from the designated area and I vaguely felt the sweep of the laser scan across my face. A machine chirped approval, and I was left alone. Processed.

For a while I just lay there, content to let the endorphin booster relieve me of both pain and consciousness, all with the suave alacrity of a butler taking a hat and coat. A small part of me was wondering whether the body I