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Vengeance of Ares (Deity Force 1)


By Lillianna Rushing


Copyright 2019 Lillianna Rushing


Distributed by Smashwords




Smashwords Edition License Notes:

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this ebook, please purchase a copy for each recipient. If you are reading this ebook and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



TABLE OF CONTENTS

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Epilogue

Note from Lillianna

Connect with me

Members of the Deity Force

Definition of Lex Talionis



Prologue



Military Compatibility Test: Essay Section

Angel Sweet, Age 14, August 3, 3602

Space Station Brighton, Orphanage 78

  1. Pick any period in history and explain the growth of humanity during that period. Your chosen time period: The exodus of Old Earth until present.


The caretakers said that we have to answer these questions with just the facts as we know them. No opinions. But loophole, they did say the facts as I know them, not just the facts that the government wants us to believe. To the government official reading this, trying to decide if I should be recruited for the military, shame on you.

Humanity left Earth over a thousand years ago, after exploring we settled in a little corner of the galaxy known as the Zed Sector. We can terraform planets and moons easily to be nearly identical to Ancient Earth. We are controlled by the completely selfish, short sighted, power hungry governing body, the Zed Sector Interplanetary Government, known as Z-SIG, based on the central planet of the sector, Natalis.

We’ve met many different races of aliens. But for some reason, they all hate us. Maybe because, on average, humans are greedy assholes. But who knows? As long as we leave the other races alone, they pretty much ignore us.

Up until the Shwa noticed that we taste delicious. The Shwa are green, eight foot tall, armor-plated aliens that look like a bear and a snake had a baby, including giant fangs and claws. They started by just sending hunting parties to our less populated planets. But after twenty years of sneaking around and eating humans, they were addicted. Apparently, our raging terror hormones give them quite the buzz. Sick mofos.

So, the Shwa decided to just start hunting and eating us whenever they feel like it. No sneaking necessary. Humanity didn’t like that sort of thing, so we asked the nicer aliens for help. Only a few races even bothered to send replies. And all but two of those races basically said, “Hey, if the Shwa are eating you, then they aren’t eating us. Sorry about your luck. Maybe don’t taste so good next time.” The two races that did actually try to help us, the Trannach and the Kopulieren, gave up after a few years because our Z-SIG thought it would be a good idea to just sit back and watch these other aliens fight for us. This was completely unexpected, because the first race has no emotions, so they shouldn’t have given a crap one way or another, and the second race thinks fighting and war are the most fun ever. The Trannach and Kopulieren eventually realized that we humans, as a race, suck. So, they left.

Finally, the Z-SIG took off their asshat and tried to do the right thing. But they went about it in true taint-berry style. Instead of getting volunteers and letting people who know what they are doing defend us, they force every planet, moon and space station to hold a draft to supply soldiers. Doesn’t matter if you are an eighteen-year-old student or a seventy-year-old farmer, if you are called, you have to go. If you try to hide, the government takes your whole family instead. That was fifty years ago. For fifty years, our government has basically been throwing our “soldiers” at the Shwa like an all you can eat buffet. Seems like they would be full by now. But hey, why give up free food right? And just for fun, the Shwa still hunt us. I guess terrified families taste better than scared soldiers. Shwa are dicks.

Now that all of these soldiers and families are dying, there are thousands of orphans. What has the government done with these poor helpless children? Has it found them loving homes or safe places to live? Oh hell no. All us orphans get thrown into government run orphanages. There we are held until we reach an age where we can be forced to work in the weapons factories or the mines, or any other shit job that no one else wants. Until we “pay back” the debt of living in said orphanage. Sounds a lot like slavery, right? Even worse, orphans can be drafted at sixteen instead of eighteen if the government likes the answers on these tests. Why? Because nobody cares.



*******



Cafeteria of Orphanage 78, Space Station Brighton, May, 3605



Angel Sweet is trying hard to escape notice as usual, keeping her head down, quietly eating the watered-down soup that passes for lunch. She got lucky today and found what she really hopes was a piece of meat in her bowl. Almost fifty kids are crammed into the tiny cafeteria. At least the caretakers have the decency to separate the younger ones from the older, otherwise they would starve to death when the bigger kids stole their food. With any luck, no one will remember that today is her birthday. The big seventeen. One more year until she can leave this awful place and be free. Or be slave labor in a mine. She has no idea which is worse, here or the mines. At least she will only have to be in the mines for a couple of years, and that’s only if she can’t pay off her “orphanage fee.” She wonders if the people slaving away in the mines have any more freedom than she does.

Most of the orphans are decent, but the sink or swim rules that are fostered here don’t encourage trust or friendship. Between the other kids taunting you and stealing your things and the supposed caretakers’ complete lack of care, the orphanages of war-torn Zed Sector are more like hell than home. Not that she knows what a home is like. She’s literally been in this orphanage since the day she was born. Her family had brought her in still covered in birth goo and handed her over without a second thought. She has been dreaming of what she hopes fresh air smells like for her entire life.

The intake clerk that named her was one of the only two people that has ever cared about her. She’d taken one look at her big blue eyes and wispy blonde hair and said, “Oh, what a sweet little angel.” And so, she became Angel Sweet. Just because Betty, the clerk, had been kind, didn’t mean she was original. She was always kind to her, the few times she was able to see her. And even though it was against the rules, she’d given Angel a small treat on her birthday every year.

She’d never had the heart to tell her that the extra attention only caused her to be bullied and resented even worse. The other girls already hated her because they thought she used her looks to get advantages. What advantages? She honestly might think about it if there were any advantages to be had here. Worried about what the other girls might do out of spite, she started wearing her long blonde hair in a tight bun while generally trying to be invisible. Attention to her looks is the last thing she wants. Beauty is more of a curse than a blessing when you are forced into this corrupt government system. She prays everyday not to catch the eye of some old perv.

Betty was the only kindness in her life. Until she got caught giving Angel the treat on her tenth birthday. Poor Betty was forced to transfer jobs all because of a cupcake. A single cupcake. And a couple of years later, when she was robbed and murdered in the crime riddled neighborhood they sent her to, the caretakers were sure to let her know that they blamed Angel for it.

Not long after that, she met the only other person that has ever cared about her.

Jason.

Her Jason.

They met when he was sent here after his family was attacked by the Shwa. He was a scrawny fourteen-year-old, in shock and scared of his own shadow. Thrust into the orphanage without a clue and with no defenses for the cruelty that was coming, his kindness could have been his undoing. He couldn’t even talk after the injuries he’d gotten from the Shwa. She’d helped him out, and from then on, they had been inseparable.

Just the two of them against the world.

Well, against the other orphans anyway.

He is the only family she’s ever had.

It doesn’t hurt that he is the most handsome guy she’s ever seen. With golden brown hair that always manages to fall across his forehead and into his eyes, those dreamy chocolate brown eyes, and full lips always ready with that special smile just for her, he is beautiful. That’s just a bonus, though. He is also the sweetest person she has ever met. He is so close to being perfect, it’s amazing. He is her heart. She never thought that she would get the chance to love someone as much as she loves him. Because of him, even living in this hell hole of an orphanage, she feels like the luckiest person in the world.

Unluckily, the freakin military drafted him two years ago, when he was only seventeen. There’s only one more year before he gets out. He promised he would come back for her. Then they will be together again. Jason always keeps his word, and if he says nothing will keep him from coming back to her, she knows he will be back. He loves her just as much as she loves him.

Angel thought the heartbreak would kill her, she’s been counting down the days until he will be back. His weekly letters make the separation bearable. Not that she can write him back, but he knows how much she misses him and loves him. In his last letter, he seemed so excited, he said they were talking to him about some kind of promotion. He can’t really tell her about what he’s doing or even where he is. Getting that letter every week, no matter how short, to let her know he’s safe; that means everything.

And a letter is due today! She should be getting it soon. She’s the only orphan that ever gets mail, so of course the cruel caretakers make sure to deliver it at lunch to foster as much conflict and resentment as possible. They even make sure the meanest, most hateful and petty girl in the whole place is the one to hand it off. Some might even say Jennifer is pure evil. Everyone lives in terror of her, and the cruel things she says. She never lets an opportunity pass to humiliate and hurt those around her. Luckily, she has to limit her torture to verbal abuse.

That is just about the only rule enforced at the orphanages. No physical harm. The damage might be seen by outsiders, then there would need to be explanations and investigations. Breaking that rule has the worst consequence imaginable. Immediate expulsion from the orphanage and transfer to the Ward.

If the orphanage is hell, then the Ward must be hell’s festering asshole. Unspeakable things happen in the Ward. It is supposed to be a mental facility to help troubled orphans reintegrate themselves into society. In reality, it is a horror house that follows no rules. Experimentation, torture, even harvesting organs for the rich, none of these atrocities are unheard of.

Angel looks up from her soup to see Jennifer coming her way, looking especially smug. She’s holding a large red envelope instead of the plain envelope Jason usually sends her.

“Looks like you’ve got an extra-special birthday letter, Demon!” Jennifer stops across the table to make a big deal to be sure she has everyone’s attention. After two years of letters coming in you would think this would get boring, but honestly, with nothing else ever happening here, everyone looks forward to the showdowns every week. She can live with it if a letter from Jason is her reward.

“We all want to know how your weirdo boyfriend is doing, right? So, I’m just going to go ahead and read this out loud, because, I know what these pretty red envelopes mean, but let’s make sure everyone else does too.” She is wearing the most cruel smile that Angel has ever seen on another human.

Before Angel can reach across the table to grab it, Jennifer has pulled out the letter and starts reading in a voice loud enough for everyone in the cafeteria to hear.

“Dear Angel Sweet -wait I think that is supposed to say-Dear Demon, you are listed as the next of kin for Jason Anderson. We regret to inform you that he has been killed in the line of duty defending this great sector from the Shwa menace. Due to the fact that you are a minor, all funds and properties of J. Anderson will revert to the government. Enjoy the rest of your day. General Hector Rhodes.”

“You liar! Give me that!” Angel feels her heart stutter in terror as she tries to grab the letter again.

Jennifer crumples the letter into a ball and throws it at her, joy radiating from her usually sneering face.

Straightening it out as gently as possible with her shaking hands, she reads the awful letter through three times before she believes what she is seeing. Angel realizes she has tears pouring down her face and she’s chanting, “Nonononono.”

Through the strange buzzing in her ears she hears Jennifer’s taunting voice. “Yes, so sad! Your weirdo boyfriend is dead. Boohoo. At least now he won’t have to look at your stupid demon face for the rest of his life.” Jennifer and some other cruel people start laughing. Not everyone, but too many. What is wrong with them?

“Are you enjoying the rest of your day?”

That is the last thing Angel hears as she watches Jennifer holding her sides because she’s laughing so hard. Someone else’s pain is making the evil bitch happier than Angel has ever seen her.

Now, all she can hear is static and fuzz and the terrible thunder of her heartbeat.

She can feel her mind breaking right along with her heart.

Hearing a loud snap, she has to wonder if that was her heart or mind cracking. Who knew you can actually hear that shit?

All her hopes and dreams, lost. How can there be a world with no Jason in it?

She doesn’t even feel human anymore.

Her mind isn’t able to keep up with what her body is doing, and she doesn’t care enough to try to fix it. She watches as her hands launch her bowl of soup right into the laughing face of the bitch across the table.

Somehow, she has leapt over the table and is kicking and punching anybody she can reach.

They are all laughing.

Laughing as the world ends.

She has to make them stop laughing.

Someone is still laughing.

Oh wait. It’s her. Why is she laughing?

Jennifer is trying to crawl away and hide under the table.

Hilarious.

Wow, who knew it was so easy to knock someone’s teeth out!

If she were still a person, she might feel terrible about this.

But her heart is dead. It died the minute she heard that letter. You have to have a heart to be a person. You have to be a person to live.

She doesn’t know what she is now, but she is no Angel Sweet.




********



Chapter 1

Military Headquarters, Capitol City, Natalis, April 3613

--Ares--

Ares is the first to enter the briefing room. He’s beaten the two other guys here by a few minutes, so he has time to lean back in the uncomfortable chair and relax while he waits. General Rhodes called for a meeting, but he didn’t give them any idea what it would be about. He knows this might be the last few minutes to relax for months if things go as usual.

His unit is always the first one called in to take care of any difficult or secret missions. They have been working together for more than eight years and haven’t failed once. The years of intense training as well as the extra abilities they can all claim give them an edge. Unfortunately, they’ve all had to give up everything to become this elite military force. Their families, their pasts, their plans for the future, even their names. Culled from every branch of the military, they were the best of the best.

Rhodes, the ruthless mother fucker, had given them only one choice; join or die. Then he and his team of mad scientists had proceeded to alter and experiment on them until they were his version of the perfect soldiers; bigger, stronger, faster, and their extra abilities have all been amplified. Out of the dozens of soldiers Rhodes held prisoner and experimented on, only ten had survived. He lost what little faith he’d had in the Z-SIG when he realized they’d given the general free rein. Made him completely above the law and untouchable.

It was one of those asshole scientist’s idea to give them the code names of ancient Old Earth gods and goddesses of war. Also, to make a play on the name of the ancient military’s Delta Force by calling the unit the Deity Force. At least they are named after badasses. And they definitely live up to their new names. They are the only military unit trained and skilled enough to battle the Shwa in close battle. Those green bastards are notoriously hard to kill. But it became their personal mission to take out every Shwa they see when two of the unit, Mixcoatl and Annan, were killed during a battle. They are closer than most families, so those deaths hit them hard.

The government relies on them so heavily now, that they can run their own missions with impunity. Most of what they do, the government never even knows about until it’s all over. Rescuing people from the smaller planets and stations that the Z-SIG tends to ignore, they know those places would fall to the Shwa without them. They’ve also broken up a few of the criminal rings that run rampant in the Zed Sector, though they prefer dealing with the Shwa.

Their faces stay hidden during missions so no one can identify them. But they’ve still become legends among the people and can often be found in the news feeds. Everyone knows about the Deity Force. Only General Rhodes and the original scientists that formed the unit know who they are.

Hearing more of the team arriving, Ares looks towards the door. Tyr walks in first looking like the Viking he was named for. He stands almost seven feet tall with bulging muscles and twinkling blue eyes, red hair trimmed short and a wild looking beard round out the image. Oro walks in behind him. He is almost a foot shorter and not nearly as wide, but he is solid muscle as well. His intense, almost black eyes make you think of the Old Earth vampire tales. His pale skin and the black hair he keeps pulled back into a tail only adds to the effect. Looking into those eyes, you can’t help but notice the quick intelligence shining there. That’s why he is the leader of their unit. The man is beyond genius. He can analyze any situation from every angle and decide the best outcome faster than most people can fathom even one possible outcome.

“So, what does General Assface want with us now? He could have just messaged us as usual,” Tyr asks as he joins Ares at the table. Nobody thinks anything about the disrespect to the general. For one thing, he doesn’t deserve respect. And for another, if Tyr is only calling him names instead of trying to stab him in the throat it can be considered a good day. The genetic tampering that Rhodes and his scientists caused have side effects. Tyr’s uncontrollable rage is one of them. The beautiful irony is that it’s usually said scientists and the general that he is raging at.

“I don’t know, but it must be serious if he wants to see us in person. He’s been too cowardly to do that for years.” Oro smirks as he too sits at the table.

Ares raises a questioning eyebrow and tilts his head toward Tyr. Somehow, Oro knows he is silently asking why he brought Tyr out of all the other members.

“I was bored,” he answers with a shrug and a grin.

Ares returns that grin. Maybe Tyr will get to punch Rhodes again.

By the confused look on his face, Tyr doesn’t know what they are talking about. But before he can ask, the general walks in.

With no greeting or preamble, he starts right in on the briefing. “I’m sure you’ve all heard of Lex Talionis,” he pauses and looks around to see them nodding.

Everyone has heard of Lex Talionis. She leads a group of hackers and thieves. They give any money or food they steal to poor communities and orphanages. She has been known to stop slavers and rescue innocents. She is as much of a legend as they are. The only problem he’s ever had with her is the chaos she leaves behind.

With a smirk, Tyr asks, “The law of justice that says the punishment must be equal to the crime? An eye for an eye? Or the badass that keeps fucking with the Z-SIG?”

Rhodes continues, like he’d not heard. “She has gone from terrorizing large corporations, which was bad enough, to hacking into the Z-SIG networks and redistributing supplies. Her organization has also absconded with two military war-class interplanetary cruisers. She has made fools out of the last three units we sent in looking for her. It’s your turn.”

Crossing his arms across his massive chest, Tyr asks, “Why should we go after her? I kind of like her. She helps a lot of people. And it makes me laugh every time she makes fools out of rich pricks and now, inept military units.”

Slamming a fist down on the table, Rhodes growls, “She has taken two fully outfitted wartime cruisers! The personnel were dropped off on a rural moon, then those ships just vanished. She could house a small army on those and attack any planet she chooses. Including this one. Besides, it’s your job.” He runs his hands down the front of his uniform, visibly calming himself. “But mainly, this is why.” He starts a vid on the screen in front of them.

The screen stays dark, but a woman starts speaking in an obviously disguised voice.

“Greetings from Lex Talionis. I’ve had enough of your bullshit, General Rhodes. Call off the soldiers or the media will get copies of everything that we found in your personal office. Everyone will know it came from you. Oh, and don’t worry about your cruisers, they are being used for the greater good. Unlike you, we’ll actually use them to help the people of this sector.”

Images start flashing on the screen of blackmail worthy incidents involving several major players in the highest levels of the Z-SIG. It starts with somewhat tame but compromising sexual situations and gets progressively worse.

“Can I get a copy? This is awesome!” Tyr is snickering like a kid until, “Ew. What the fuck is he doing? That’s sick man! I think I’m going to throw up.” And sadly, he is not kidding. Some of the stuff on the screen is too horrible to even think about. Ares feels his own stomach churning at the atrocities on the screen.

“OK we get it, turn that shit off!”

After Rhodes turns off the vid, Tyr continues, “I’ll ask again. Why should we go after Lex Talionis and not the sick mother fuckers on that vid? I think I saw Judge Lamport eating a guy. That can’t be legal!”

“Because every one of those sickos are so high up in the government, if this gets out, the Z-SIG will collapse in on itself,” Oro says with disgust.

“That’s right hotshot. And I’m the one that collected all of that information. They will take me down with them. And guess who I’ll take down with me? Yep. You assholes. Find her. Get that info back. Make sure no one else has copies. Then kill her.”

Without another word or a glance back, the general storms out.

“Well shit. Even I can’t see a good way out of this.”

“Damnit! General Assface strikes again. We are going to be going after those sickos, right?”

“Of course. If Lex Talionis leaves any of them behind. She doesn’t seem the sort to just let some of that slide.”


Deity Force Base of Operations, Capitol City, Natalis

Ares looks around the table in their own briefing room. The seven other members of the Force are all here. Oro, the leader. Tyr and Anhur, the heavy hitters of the group. Ishtar and Rama, infiltration and intel gathering experts. Chiyou the hand to hand expert. Bast the all-things-technological expert, who also happens to be Anhur’s sister. And then there is him, the weapons expert and make-shift medic. They are a well-rounded group. Individually, they are all experts in their field, as well as being near expert level at everything else. They’ve had the extensive training that most people could not have survived. Not to mention all the actual battles they’d fought together for the past eight years. They are family to each other.

Of the many headquarters they’ve formed over the years, this has to be his favorite. More like a home than barracks or a base. All of the unit must feel the same way, because this is where they usually spend their time when they aren’t on assignment. The place is huge. With enough room for them all to have their own bedroom and bathroom. There is also this dining room that they use for briefings. A room for all Bast’s computer equipment, a gym, and the big communal room where they can just hang out. And best of all, it is right in the middle of a nice family neighborhood. No one would ever suspect it holds the famous Deity Force and not just some rich schmucks like every other mansion around here.

The team has been sitting here discussing the earlier meeting for some time.

Tyr suddenly slams his fist down on the table. “I don’t want to fucking do this!”

“Lex Talionis is like us. And no matter how she does it, she helps people,” Ishtar adds.

Chiyou looks at her in disbelief. “Ishtar! Just last month, she burned three warehouses down in one night. The owners were tied up in front and had to watch. And they had been beaten severely!”

“Yes, but they found out what was going on in those warehouses later and arrested the owners. Child pornography, human trafficking, holding stolen food! She gave the food to the people she rescued from there! What more do you need, Chi? She’s freakin awesome,” Rama adds.

“It doesn’t matter,” Oro snaps. “I hate it too, but we don’t have a choice right now.”

“There is always a choice, Oro. You know that better than anyone. But I know. We have to find her. Soon! I’m not sure exactly why, but it will be one of the most important things we’ll ever do,” Ishtar says sadly. “I know there’s going to be so much pain before this is over. But it has to be done. And we’ll have to get through it, together.”

If Ishtar knows something will happen, it will happen. With her ability to predict the future, she is never wrong. She doesn’t see everything, but what she does see, is always true.

“Well damn! Fine, let’s find this awesome woman. And ruin her life and the lives of all the people she’s helped and all the ones we’re going to stop her from helping. FUCK!” The chair Tyr hurls at the wall leaves a dent. “I fucking hate Rhodes!”

“We all do, man. We all do.” Anhur puts a comforting hand on his shoulder. “And bright side, Ishtar just said we have to find her. Not that we have to stop her or turn her in.”

“Oh! Oh, hell yeah! You are amazing, Ishy!”

“Yeah, I know. And don’t call me that, you giant jackass!”

“You love me though.”

“Yeah, we all do. Doesn’t make you any less of a jackass.”

Oro raises a hand to forestall any more banter. “All true. Now shut it. If we have to find her, then let’s get started. Bast already has a file started. Ready to share?”

With a shrug Bast sends the file to all their personal coms.

Opening the file, Ares is surprised at how small it is. No images or vids of her caught in the act. No financial records. Nothing but a few news articles about the things she’d done and some witness reports. Not very many of those either.

Looking up with a raised brow, he glances at Bast for an explanation. She’s had a couple of hours to get this file together. Usually that’s more than enough time for her to find out anything and everything about a person. Any person.

“Don’t look at me like that, Ares! She’s a ghost. Almost everything about her disappears as soon as you find it. Reports filed, witness testimonies, everything! All I’ve found, I’m pretty sure it’s just the things she doesn’t mind people seeing. It’s amazing if you think about it. I really want to know how she does it. Pretty badass. Just like everything else about her.”

His only reaction is to lift his other eyebrow and quirk up one corner of his mouth in an almost smile.

“Shut up! I can fan-girl if I want!”

“Bast isn’t her only fan. The authorities have trouble getting witnesses to talk. The criminals she stops because they’d be incriminating themselves, and other witnesses because she’s usually saved their asses somehow. This is my favorite testimony though, this is one of the ladies that she got out of those warehouses last month.” Rama looks pointedly at Chiyou to make sure he’s watching.

A young woman is on the screen. She’s obviously naked under the blanket she has wrapped around her shoulders. She is filthy, beaten and starved. But there is a giant smile on her face. “She walked right in, pretty as you please. Completely covered in black like a shadow. I thought our guards were going to piss themselves. All three of them. And those are some horrible, evil men. They beat us just for fun. Took our clothes. Barely fed us. Some of the women weren’t lucky enough to just be beaten, if you know what I mean.” She looks down for a second to take a deep breath. “Animals.” She looks up with another smile, this one much more brittle. “Anyway, she walks right in, says to us in the cages, ‘Time for some vengeance, ladies,’ then she jumps on them jokers like a tornado. And when they are all dazed and down, she lets me out of my cage and tells me to let everyone else out. Once we are all out, she says ‘You have ten minutes with these guys. Then come out front and watch it burn.’”

The woman looks down at her bruised and scraped knuckles before hiding them behind the blanket. “We are all nice law-abiding citizens, so we would never beat those guys vigilante style. We just dragged them out front to watch the fire too. I think we probably saved their lives. Their rotten little raping cocks must have just gotten caught in something on the way out that ripped them right off. Huh. Strange, that.”

“Right,” the questioning officer says. “How did you know it was Lex Talionis? Can you describe her?”

“Who else would it have been? Not like the Z-SIG sends any help. But we knew it was her cause she walks in and says, ‘Now you’re in trouble. Lex Talionis gonna kick your asses,’ or something like that anyway. As for what she looked like? She was covered in her black clothes. But she was like, really tall. Like seven feet tall. And kind of fat. Yeah. No maybe she was really skinny. And really short. Like only waist high to me? I don’t know, it was dark, officer. Wait I think she was about my size? You know? Come to think of it, she coulda even been a dude. It was hard to tell with all the spinning and face kicking she did.”

“Huh. Strange, that,” the officer says dripping with sarcasm.

That made everyone in the unit smile before they grab their stuff to head out, knowing nothing will be decided tonight. No wonder no one knows much about her. Almost everything people know about her comes from word of mouth and folk tales it seems.

Bast stops him with a hand on his arm before he can leave the room too. “I’ve got some news about your other project.”

It takes a few seconds to decipher the expression on her face. Pity? Oh no. He feels his heart drop to his feet before it starts racing. He hurriedly signs, ‘Is she dead?’

“No! Not that I know of. I didn’t mean to scare you. Let me grab a few things and I’ll meet you in your room.”

With a nod, they head upstairs. Out of habit, Ares takes a quick look around his room to make sure nothing has been disturbed. Still just the bare bones room with only his desk, dresser and bed filling the space. Nothing personal to distinguish from any other room in the house. He learned long ago that personal items didn’t survive his life style.

It only takes minutes before Bast knocks on his door. After letting her in, he sits on the bed and gestures for her to sit in the desk chair. She rolls it in front of him before silently handing him an advert disc for a brothel on Malizia.

It is the most despicable planet in the whole sector. Where sick people go to do all the illegal and disgusting shit not allowed anywhere else in the sector. Anything can be found there. From human trafficking, moving stolen goods, gambling, prostitution, fight rings where the fights end in death, they do it all. He’d even heard of hunting safaris where people are the prize to be hunted.

He looks to Bast for an explanation of why she’s given him the advert.

Then the meaning sinks in.

Oh, God no! Not little Angel Sweet! How could she survive Malizia? She was too gentle for such a harsh place. She used to catch spiders and take them outside instead of squishing them for fuck’s sake.

He’s been looking for her for the last six years. She’s been stuck on Malizia this whole time! He will never forgive himself. If he leaves right now, he can get to her within hours.

Jumping up he grabs his go bag and heads for the door.

“Wait! She’s not there anymore. I don’t know where she is now. I’m trying to find her, but she disappeared again. Please, sit back down.” When he’s sitting again she takes his hands. “We know she completely disappeared when she was seventeen. I’ve finally found what happened to her at the orphanage. Well, it’ll be better if you just watch it. I found this on one of the caretaker’s personal devices. Everything official was buried and lost. That’s why its taken so long to find.”

After she’s sent him the file, he opens it on his com.

Then he watches in horror as Angel’s last day at the orphanage plays out. His heart does a stutter step as he sees the light in her eyes dim, and tears pour down her face. Even worse than seeing her pain, he watches her totally break down at the news of Jason Anderson’s death.

His death.

Motherfucker! It was all his fault.

And this is yet another reason to hate Rhodes.

If his heart hadn’t been breaking all over again, he might be impressed at the savage beat down she gave the little bitch that was taunting her. Far cry from the girl that wouldn’t step on bugs.

Looking up at Bast, he’s unaware of the tears streaming down his face until she wipes her own eyes. “I’ve already checked. That girl is stuck in the mines. She’s miserable, and she never had the teeth replaced that got knocked out. Why that girl was so awful, I’ll never understand. But that was probably the last time.”

“And Angel,” she continues, “they put her in the ward after that. She was there for a year until her eighteenth birthday. I couldn’t figure out why they buried her records at first. I still don’t know what happened during that year. But,” here she pauses to take a fortifying breath. “But, when she turned eighteen, the Ward director retired with a fat bank account and she disappeared from the records. Like she was never there. I doubt she was the only one.

“I found that advert when I was looking for facial ID for that time period. From what I could find out, she was there for six months. And God, Ares, I’m so sorry. It’s awful. I’ve never…I can’t watch it again.” She squeezes his hand before she stands to leave. “I’ll leave you to watch it. It’s the one labeled Sweet Stuff. And please, please, Ares, find one of us when you are done. You shouldn’t be alone after seeing that.” With one last look full of pity and love, she leaves him alone.

His guts churning with dread, he doesn’t know how long he just sits staring at the advert in his hand. Squeezing his eyes closed, he can’t help but remember how he and Angel met.

When he was fourteen. Back when he was still Jason Anderson, he’d seen his whole family- his parents, his little sisters, everyone- killed by the Shwa. He only survived because one of the Shwa knocked him off a ledge down into a small ravine. He’d been able to hide in a tiny crevasse in the rocks before he passed out. That Shwa had managed to rip out part of his throat, taking his voice forever.

If not for his advanced healing, he would have died too.

He woke up a week later in the hospital, the only survivor from his entire community. Thousands of people. Just gone.

He’d been understandably traumatized. He’d lost everybody and everything that he’d ever cared about. Even his voice. The hospital didn’t care. They only cared that he had no one to pay the bill. As soon as his throat healed, they threw him in an orphanage.

Orphanage.

Such an innocent sounding title for those pits of hell.

The intake clerk had literally stolen all the meager possessions right out of his pockets. Then she’d shoved him, startled, lost and scared right into the battle arena of the cafeteria at dinner time.

He made the fatal mistake of letting his fear show, standing wide-eyed against the door. Like blood to a shark, it made the bullies begin to circle. Just as he’s surrounded and feeling almost as trapped and terrified as he had during the Shwa attack, he hears a tiny voice yell, “Are those extra rolls? Quick, grab one before everybody else sees them!”

Like a tidal wave, the kids, even the bullies, rush across the room towards the serving window.

He feels a small hand grab his and start to tug him away. “Ha! Suckers! Hurry before they figure out that there aren’t any rolls.”

It’s the same voice as before and Jason looks down to see a big grin on the most beautiful face he’s ever seen. Long blonde hair frames a heart shaped face with big innocent blue eyes and the cutest little upturned nose. She tugs his hand again until he’s following along behind her. She grabs her food off of a table as they rush by. Then she ducks down behind a stack of extra chairs. Now they are hidden from the mob of other kids.

Still holding his hand, she pulls him down to sit beside her.

She’d saved him.

Whew. Close one. I’m Angel. I’m twelve. I think we are going to be best friends. I like your eyes. You have super nice eyes. I can tell you are not mean like most of those other kids. We’ll take care of each other and be a family. I’ve never had a family, but I think I’ll be good at it. You can teach me how. What’s your name anyway, new best friend?” She finally takes a breath as she passes him the food.

He shakes his head and taps his neck to let her know he can’t answer.

Oh, you can’t talk? That’s okay, best friend, we’ll figure it out. We can learn to talk a new way.”

He nods this time. He has no way to tell her that she’d just stolen his heart.

And he decided right in that moment that he would do everything and anything for this girl, to keep her safe, happy, and always with him.

She’d said it, they were family now.


Opening his eyes, he knows he has to watch the advert. No matter how much it hurts. Even if it breaks him, he has to watch. He made a promise to always take care of her.

Because he wasn’t there, she had been thrown into the horrors of the Ward, and probably sold into slavery. He will do everything in his power to find her.

He has to.

Quickly, before he chickens out, he scans the advert into his coms so he can watch it. Scrolling through the menu that pops up, he feels sick. So many! These are advertisements for human beings. To buy or rent. So awful people can use them to fulfil their own sick fantasies and fetishes. Swallowing back the nausea and fear he clicks on the one labeled “Sweet Stuff.”

A sleazy announcer voice starts talking as an image of Angel appears. She’s nearly naked and glaring out of the screen. “Have you ever wanted to feel like a real man, that just takes what he wants? If you have ever felt the need to release all of your pent-up rage and frustration by forcing a beautiful woman to your will, the key word being force, then you should try our little Sweet Stuff. Don’t let the name fool you. She is never sweet, never willing. If you want that pussy, you’ve got to take it. Get it any way you can. The fight makes the prize so much sweeter! You’ll be charged extra if you leave permanent damage. But anything is on the table with Sweet Stuff. No limits.” Next a short vid shows Angel trying to fight off a man before he slams her down and starts ripping off her clothes.

The advert ends, and he throws his com so hard against the wall that it shatters.

Six months! She was beaten and raped for six months! Sick mother fuckers actually paid money to cause that beautiful woman pain!

His vision goes red and he stomps out of the room in a murderous rage.

He doesn’t have a plan, or any idea of where to go or who to kill, but his body is running on auto pilot.

It doesn’t matter.

He has to do something.

He kicks every piece of furniture out of his way instead of going around as he makes a straight line for the front door. He will find every single one of those men and get vengeance for Angel. There has to be some way. They don’t get to keep breathing after what they’ve done.

“Stop him!” He hears Bast yell for help from the rest of the unit. She grabs his arm and drags her heels trying to slow him down. He keeps walking like she is not even there. Next Tyr and Chiyou run in and try to grab him but he dodges and shakes them off like water. It takes Anhur with all of his enhanced strength joining them to finally halt his forward progress.

Using the mental link that Tyr established between them, Ares yells directly into their heads, “Let me go, I need to kill them! They will all pay!”

Ishtar runs in and stabs him with a tranq shot. They keep them on hand in case Tyr loses control. But this is the first time anyone has ever seen Ares in this state. As he starts to lose consciousness, he hears them ask Bast what’s going on.

“My new program worked. We finally found his Angel. At least where she was five years ago. I don’t blame him for the flip out.”

It’s Rama that asks the most important question. “Who are we going to help our brother kill when he wakes up?”

Sleep hits him before he hears the answer.




********



Chapter 2

Shipping District, Capital City, Natalis, Nighttime

--Wolfe--

Looking in the window, they can all see that the warehouse has a laser grid security system stretching across the floor. These types of grids vary in intensity from just setting off an alarm when a beam is broken, to severing the limb of the person who crosses it. Considering this place is storing stolen food, it is probably the latter. With all the starving people in the sector, there are much better places for this food to be.

Completely covered, head to toe, in a high-tech stealth suit, Lex Talionis lets out a whoop of joy. She is going to enjoy this, it might even be a challenge!

Her two companions, also covered in black, turn to look at her.

“Fuck yeah, Lex! This one is going to be fun.” The teenaged girl’s voice is distorted, just like all their voices are by the tech in their stealth suits. Just in case anyone is listening or trying to record them.

“Watch your potty mouth, young lady! Your mother would be ashamed,” the tall man beside her mock scolds.

“That’s bullcrap right there, Pops, she’d be super proud. Right, Mommy?” She turns to Lex again.

“Fuck yeah! Without a doubt, Little Missy.” Lex instantly replies.

All three smother a laugh before moving in to start the heist. Like a well-oiled machine, they work together to get in as fast as possible. Little Miss disarms the security system on the door while Lex manually picks the lock.

Once in, Lex activates her com.

“Moody? Are we sure everyone has left for the night?”

“Of course! You know I don’t make mistakes like that, Lex! Why do you question me, when you know how careful I am?” The snarky attitude and anger come through loud and clear despite the distortion.

Oh, good grief!

“Hey now, Miss Moody. I wasn’t questioning your intel or work ethics. We all know you’re the best. I just want to make sure no one gets hurt here. You know this.”

“Oh God! I do know that, Lex. I’m sorry. You all do such good work. I’d be dead if it wasn’t for you.” Now the sniffles she’d been trying to hide come through too. Lex’s heart pinches a little. Poor Moody. She’s earned that name fair and square.

“Moody, it’s all good. We couldn’t do anything without you! We can talk more when we get home, OK? Just you and me. Deal?”

“Yeah, alright. I’ll get it together, I promise.”

“No worries. We are going to get started here.” Moody is the only one that Lex ever shows this much patience with. Anyone else would have gotten a swift kick in the pants by now.

The girl and man both wait quietly until the drama is over. They know Moody needs extra care sometimes. But she is the best at surveillance and intel gathering. She’s saved their asses too many times to count. Dealing with her mood swings is a small price they are all willing to pay.

At Lex’s signal, they all get to work. The girl goes straight to a security box. The man leaps like an acrobat up the wall and over some boxes until he’s high enough to have a bird’s eye view of the grid. Lex walks to the edge of the grid and waits for his directions. But she can’t help saying, “You should be in the circus, Pops.”

“I feel like I already am,” he zings back before he adds, “I hope you did some stretches before we got here. This is one of the most convoluted grids I’ve seen”

“Sounds awesome! How’s that panel looking, Little Miss?”

“Super easy, Lex. Too easy, really. Are you sure this isn’t a trap?”

“Hmmmm. Not really. Well, guess there’s only one way to find out.”

Pressing the side of his hood changes the man’s vision to see the lasers better. “Best entry is six feet to your right. After ten feet, you’ll need to angle left again.”

“Got it, Pops.” Switching her own vision over, Lex begins the journey through the warehouse. She was right, this is the most fun she’s had in weeks. Sliding under one laser, flipping over the next, then bending over going ass up over another, she can’t help but laugh.

“I’m telling you guys, this seems too easy. There’s no outside connection at all. It’s almost like a mock up.”

Pausing with one leg straight up in the air while she’s head down hugging the opposite ankle, Lex thinks over everything they know about this place. “What? That can’t be right. If there is as much food here as we think, no way would this be all the security.”

“I feel it too. We should go. This isn’t right,” Pops agrees.

Before she can answer, Moody jumps back on the coms. “Shit on a stick! You’ve got eight incoming! Closing in from all sides. They are on radio silence and moving steadily closer. Coming in like professionals, not like the last couple of clown squads. I don’t know how they got so close, but you have less than two minutes!” As usual, Moody pulls it together when she is needed.

Not needing to be told twice, the group rushes towards the exit. Running right through the beams, Lex realizes they are only light. Her suit would have protected her, but apparently, whoever set this trap wanted her alive.

How sweet.

Their mistake.

It takes exactly forty seconds for all three to be out of the warehouse and lost in the shadows. It would have only been thirty, but two of the group felt the need to stop and give a double middle-fingered salute to where they assume the cameras are hidden. One might have even yelled, “Nice try suckers!” But who can tell what happens in the heat of the moment?

By the time they get back to their transport, both women are laughing hysterically.

“Good catch, Moody. Do you know who they are yet? They must be pretty good if they can sneak up on you. Not too many people can do that.”

“Of course not. I will find out who it is! There is a very short list of who it could be. Coms out.”

“Dang, Moody is moody tonight,” Little Missy says.

Pops nods thoughtfully. “True. But I think she was just scared. She wants to protect us, but that’s hard to do when we run around like maniacs and she’s stuck back at home.”



After switching transports and making sure they are neither being tracked nor followed, the sun is rising as they finally get home. The house looks like every other pretentious mansion in the area. Must keep up appearances. But she knows that the inside is unique. It has to be to keep up with her family. The entire third floor has been gutted and reconfigured to accommodate Moody’s surveillance equipment and computers as well as Little Missy’s lab. The second floor is dedicated to nothing but fun. The first level is where they live like mostly normal people and that’s all anyone ever sees of their home.

Parking the transport in the garage, they all give relieved sighs to be able to pull off their hoods.

“Glad there are no classes today. I’m beat, but I’m going to go check on Moody before I go to bed,” the girl says as she shakes out her shock of red curls and blinks her big brown eyes at them. She flashes her famous cheeky grin as well.

“You did great tonight, Kiddo. I should have listened when you said that something was wrong. But I really wanted to play with that grid…”

“We should install a grid in the basement, then you can play, I mean practice, any time you want.”

Lex is only about ten years older than the girl, but the minute she’d found her five years ago, she decided she was hers. Daughter, little sister, whatever. Titles do not matter. Being family is all that matters.

Lex never had a family. But she’s grabbed onto the three other people in this house and claimed them with all of her heart.

Fifteen-year-old Keira, which they call Little Missy during missions, and Sara aka Moody, she’d rescued five years ago. She and Sara are the same age, but because of all the abuse Sara has suffered, she seems a lot younger. She is fragile and can’t control her emotions sometimes. But she is family. And they all watch out for her and try to make her life as easy as possible.

After pulling off their gloves, Lex and the last member of her family grab each other’s hand. Nine, which they call Pops during missions, smiles down at her. Dang, he is gorgeous! He’s a Trannach. They are all beautiful. Even by human standards. They should be. They have complete control of the genetics of the baby when they are pregnant. So, they are an entire race of near perfection.

None are as perfect as her Nine though. He has no hair like all the Trannach, but his face is symmetrical with slight ridges on his forehead that move with his emotions much like a human’s eyebrows. With ears that taper to slight points, she has to stop herself from thinking of him as adorable sometimes. His pale skin has a slight purple tint. Just enough to show he is different. And where, if he were human, his eyes would be white, they are a light blue with a darker blue iris. Stunning. Like ice, or diamonds. A bit over six feet tall, he looks to be only slightly muscled. But in reality, he is stronger than any three men put together. But his looks don’t even matter. The most perfect thing about him is that he saved her five years ago. In every way possible. Then, he helped her save Sara and Keira. He is family now too.

She decided all those years ago that all of them were family whether they liked it or not.

Luckily, they do.

She sheds her Lex Talionis persona as easily as she sheds her stealth suit. Now she can be herself, Sylvia Wolfe. Eccentric tech mogul and philanthropist.

Technically, Sylvia Wolfe isn’t her true self either. But it’s as close as she can get and keep her sanity.

The three walk into the house chatting easily about their plans for the weekend.

“We have that charity dinner in a couple of nights. Keira have you gotten us gowns yet? Or do I get to go in a stealth suit like I want?”

“Ha. You have a new dress with all the fixings in your closet. Pink of course because I think it’s hilarious. And I got your tux ready, Nine. We are all set. I even got Sara one in case she decides to come with.”

“I hope she does. I think she had fun last year, at the last one she went to.”

“I know I did.”

“Too bad they can’t all be that entertaining,” Nine adds with a small laugh.

Sara comes rushing down the stairs with an odd expression on her face, slightly out of breath.

“What is it?”

“There were eight. The radio silence. They snuck up on us. It has to be them!” When they all watch, waiting for her continue, she rolls her eyes in exasperation. “The. Freakin. Deity. Force!”

“So awesome!” Keira seems a little too excited for someone being hunted by the best military unit in the sector. “We got away no problems, from the freakin Deity Force.”

It takes a bit for that to sink in. Deity Force tried to trap them. And they got away, easy.

“Hell yeah we did! We are that badass!” Wolfe reaches over to give Keira a high five.

Nine just looks mildly perplexed. “Of course we did. No matter how good they are, we are the best. Awesome indeed.”

Sara busts out with a surprised laugh. “We really are, aren’t we? The Deity Force, guys! They have no idea who they are messing with!”

“Just so,” Nine adds with a smile. “But what are we going to do about it? Are we going to play them like the rest of the military that has come after us? Somehow I don’t think they will be so easily dissuaded from the chase.”

They all take a few seconds to think that over.

“Well, dang! You’re right, Nine. We shouldn’t play them like we did those other guys. I’m not even sure if we could. Besides, I like them, even if they are military. They helped a whole moon’s worth of people escape from the Shwa. Z-SIG abandoned those people because they were poor, but they just swooped in and kicked Shwa ass all over the place. Then they confiscated one of the corporate freighters that was just flying by watching the attack, and used it to evacuate everyone. A big fat ‘suck it’ to Z-SIG!” Wolfe laughs as usual when someone defies the Z-SIG.


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