Bitter Angels

Bitter Angels

by C. L. Anderson
Bitter Angels

Bitter Angels

by C. L. Anderson



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An Imploding Star System.
A Murdered Galactic Spy.
A Woman Seeking the Truth—and Finding the Unbelievable…

The Erasmus System is a sprawling realm of slavery, smugglers, spies—and constant, creeping decrepitude. Here everyone who is not part of the ruling Four Families is a slave of one kind or another. But the Guardians, a special-forces branch inside the United World Government for Earth, have deemed Erasmus a “hot spot.” Somehow, it is believed, this failing colony intends to launch a war upon the solar system.

Ex-Field Commander Terese Drajeske, now a mother of three, has been called back to active duty and sent to Erasmus, ostensibly to investigate the murder of her colleague—and friend—Bianca Fayette. At first blush, the death defies explanation: Bianca was immortal. But beneath that single murder lies a twisted foundation of deceptions. Suddenly Terese is plunged into a vortex of shattered lives, endemic deceit, and one dreadful secret. In this society without hope, someone has put into motion a plan that will cast humanity into chaos. And Terese, who has given up her family and her sanity to prevent war, may be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice….

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553906714
Publisher: Random House Worlds
Publication date: 08/25/2009
Sold by: Random House
Format: eBook
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 288,750
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

C.L. Anderson has been known to tell people she lives in a stately Victorian home on a windswept island in Lake Superior with her three sisters and their pet wolf Manfred.  She has also been known to tell people she is a science fiction writer living near Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband, son and cat.  What is known is that this is her first novel and she’s very much looking forward to many more.

Read an Excerpt

“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.
“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.
“Tomorrow,” I said.
“There’s no…”
But I switched it off and turned away. My whole family was staring at me.
My family. My life and heart distributed among four separate lives. Dark, intense Allie, home tonight for the family celebration and out tomorrow with her friends doing things I suspect I wouldn’t want to know about. Jo, our middle child, had dyed herself white to stand out in our little crowd. Dale, my youngest, my son, the earth-brown image of his father with the same eyes set in his handsome young face.
His father, my husband, David stood up and walked around the table.
“What’s happened? Who was that?”
I couldn’t answer. I just held out the set, and he saw the name. He sucked in his breath sharply. Behind us, all the kids cast glances at each other. There gets to be a kind of telepathy in a family. There are words you stop needing to say. In ours they were “the Guardians.”
“They want me to go in tomorrow,” I said.
“Will you?”
I nodded.
“Terese…” He drew my name out into a warning.
I tried to dismiss it. “Misao won’t let me alone until I hear them out, David. The sooner I do, the sooner I can tell him to…bugger off.” My voice was far weaker than I wanted it to be, a fact that David did not miss.
“What else did he say?”
I met his gaze, oddly helpless. “Bianca.”
He saw the tears at the corner of my eyes, and he knew the rest.
David folded me in his arms and rested his hand on the back of my head. I closed my eyes, breathing in his scent, willing myself to sink into his warmth and remain solidly in the safe, whole present. But my mind wouldn’t let go. I kept seeing Bianca: dark, stout, stubborn Bianca, with her gleaming eyes. Smart, fast, ruthless, fearless. Canny in ways I couldn’t begin to match. Where had she been deployed? I didn’t know. I’d lost track.
When the hell did I start losing track?
“Right. Right.” I wiped at my eyes and attempted to smile at my children, none of whom smiled back. I sat down at our table and handed Allie the knife. But the party was really over, and we all knew it.
Four in the morning. I couldn’t sleep and I was back in the dining room. We turned off the noise filters at night, so I could hear Lake Superior’s waves rushing up to the shore. The late-November wind muttered out there, piling up the heavy clouds. The weight of the air told me snow rode on the back of that wind. The moon had gone down, and the windows were utterly black. I could see myself clearly; a faded ghost in a satin robe wavering in the depths of the black glass. I smiled grimly at the thought. By rights, I should have been a ghost by now.
I rubbed behind my ear; the very bottom of the curve between my skull and my neck. There was nothing but smooth skin there now, but I still carried the harsh memory of the wound and the pain, where they’d cut out my Companion.
The Companion is the tool and backup each field officer in the Guardians is given just in case they are captured in a war zone. The Companion is a friend, a reminder, a helper, and, if you’re extremely unlucky, he or she is the witness to your death.
They are also one of the few secrets the Guardians actually keep. I should say kept. They’re certainly not a secret anymore.
During the Redeemer Uprising four decades ago, I was captured. I was tossed in a dark cell and dragged out on occasion so I could be made to experience a lot of pain. My captors managed to detect my Companion and when they did, they cut it out of me, quickly and brutally. Then they tossed me back into the dark.
It was Bianca who rescued me. She pulled me out of that black hole.
She saved my life.
That was what made this so bad. Bianca was dead, and not only was I not there to save her, I hadn’t even known she was in danger.
The sound of Dale’s snoring cut through all my heavy thoughts, accompanied by the soft breathing of the heat pump. Something beeped in the kitchen. In the living room, something else pinged in answer.
Night noises. Home noises.
This wasn’t the first place David and I lived together, or even the third. We’d bumped up against each other occasionally over the years before we got married in the middle of what you could call unsettled times in our lives. We were well into our third centuries then—that time when most people had officially launched from their second families and were starting to build their third. David had left his birth family and tried a marriage family, but it hadn’t gone anywhere and he hadn’t tried again. I was trying to create something I could call normality as fast as I could. He found me fascinating, in a wounded-bird kind of way. I found him wonderful, in a lifeline kind of way. It was mutual need that passed for love, and we got married.
Under those conditions, we moved around a lot. Bangkok. Moscow. San Francisco. We had an apartment up the Adas Apaba cable for a while, and then there was the year down in Marianas. It was there, we, or rather I, hit bottom literally as well as figuratively. David threatened to leave, which finally got me into the kind of treatment, both mental and physical, that I’d been refusing for years.
When I got out, we found this place in the middle of Lake Superior. Whitecap was a new, small town on a new, small island. We both craved peace and quiet, but we believed it was just for a little while.
Instead, that desire broadened and deepened. Against the odds, our tumult turned into real love, for this place and for each other. We built and added and accumulated and stored. We found out which restaurants we both liked and where the good doctors and stylists were. There were more exciting places to be, and some even more beautiful, but we were settled. Settled enough that the morning the house-doc put up the flag that I was carrying our first child, we did nothing but celebrate.
I heard a step on the bare floor and straightened, instantly alert. Some instincts do not go away. David’s reflection moved to join mine in the black glass, getting closer, until I could feel his warmth against my skin.
“Do you think it’s because of the Erasmus System?” His breath stirred my hair. Picking conversations back up, even after hours of silence, was something he’d always done.
“It’s got to be. That’s the only one I’m doing analysis on right now.”
We were silent for a while. There was only one question in his solemn eyes, and I waited for him to ask it.
“Why are they calling you in? You could give them all your current analysis over the set.”
“I don’t know.” What I didn’t say was how much it scared me that Misao had called at all. If the Guardians were calling in thirty-year retirees, it meant one of the dozen hot spots I knew about, plus any new ones I might not, was close to exploding into actual war.
War. The ancient, perverse, pervasive nightmare we’d banished from the Solar System with the Pax Solaris, the Common Cause Covenant, and the Laws of Humanity. I’d dedicated my life to preventing its return as human beings spread themselves out into the galaxy. The effort nearly took my sanity and my life. I’d tried to retire, to enjoy the peace I’d helped to keep, but it seemed war had come down to find me. I looked up at the clouds and wondered what was behind them.

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