Broken angels, p.1
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       Broken Angels, p.1
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         Part #2 of Takeshi Kovacs series by Richard K. Morgan
Broken Angels


  BROKEN ANGELS

  • • •

  RICHARD K. MORGAN

  Ballantine Books

  New York

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Acknowledgments

  Preface

  Part 1

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Part 2

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Part 3

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Part 4

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Part 5

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Epilogue

  About the Author

  Other Books by Richard K. Morgan

  Praise for Altered Carbon

  Copyright

  This one’s for Virginia Cottinelli—

  compañera

  afileres, camas, sacapuntas

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  Once again, thanks to my family and friends for putting up with me during the making of Broken Angels. It can’t have been easy. Thanks once again also to my agent Carolyn Whitaker for her patience, and to Simon Spanton and his crew, notably the very passionate Nicola Sinclair, for making Altered Carbon fly like a golden eagle on sulfate.

  This is a work of science fiction, but many of the books that influenced it are not. In particular, I’d like to express my deepest respect for two writers from my nonfiction inspiration bank; my thanks go to Robin Morgan for The Demon Lover, which is probably the most coherent, complete, and constructive critique of political violence I have ever read, and to John Pilger for Heroes, Distant Voices, and Hidden Agendas, which together provide an untiring and brutally honest indictment of the inhumanities perpetrated around the globe by those who claim to be our leaders. These writers did not invent their subject matter as I did, because they did not need to. They have seen and experienced it for themselves firsthand, and we should be listening to them.

  AUTHOR’S NOTE

  For those readers not yet familiar with the universe of Takeshi Kovacs as it appeared in my first novel, Altered Carbon, it’s worth briefly pointing out that the technology of digital personality storage, transmission, and up/downloading makes for some—by our standards—rather strung-out lives. Broken Angels takes place about thirty years after the events of Altered Carbon, but for Kovacs this doesn’t count for much. In the interim he’s been busy—best not to inquire doing what—but when you’re resleeving (changing physical bodies) on a regular basis, the years tend not to show. At least, not on the outside. On the inside, well, that phrase strung-out lives has a number of different meanings, and Kovacs is pretty much acquainted with them all.

  Enjoy. . . .

  RKM

  PART ONE

  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 kilometers 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 the various 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 secondhand marauder bombs would be sold back to the Protectorate, lease unexpired, and any net losses once again written off to tax. Clean hands all around. 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 off-loaded 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 burned 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 antiviral 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 around 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 was wearing was going to be salvageable, or if I’d have to be resleeved. I knew that Carrera’s Wedge maintained a handful of small clone banks for its so-called indispensable staff, and as one of only five ex-Envoys soldiering for Carrera, I definitely numbered among that particular elite. Unfortunately, indispensability is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it gets you elite medical treatment, up to and including total body replacement. On the downside, the only purpose of said treatment is
to throw you back into the fray at the earliest possible opportunity. A plankton-standard grunt whose body was damaged beyond repair would just get his cortical stack excised from its snug little housing at the top of the spinal column, then slung into a storage canister, where it would probably stay until the whole war was over. Not an ideal exit, and despite the Wedge’s reputation for looking after their own, there was no actual guarantee of resleeving, but at times in the screaming chaos of the last few months that step into stored oblivion had seemed almost infinitely desirable.

  “Colonel. Hey, Colonel.”

  I wasn’t sure if the Envoy conditioning was keeping me awake, or if the voice at my side had nagged me back to consciousness again. I rolled my head sluggishly to see who was speaking.

  It seemed we were still in the hangar. Lying on the stretcher beside me was a muscular-looking young man with a shock of wiry black hair and a shrewd intelligence in his features that even the dazed expression of the endorphin hit could not mask. He was wearing a Wedge battledress like mine, but it didn’t fit him very well and the holes in it didn’t seem to correspond with the holes in him. At his left temple, where the bar code should have been, there was a convenient blaster burn.

  “You talking to me?”

  “Yes sir.” He propped himself up on one elbow. They must have dosed him with a lot less than me. “Looks like we’ve really got Kemp on the run down there, doesn’t it?”

  “That’s an interesting point of view.” Visions of 391 Platoon being cut to shreds around me cascaded briefly though my head. “Where do you think he’s going to run to? Bearing in mind this is his planet, I mean.”

  “Uh, I thought—”

  “I wouldn’t advise that, soldier. Didn’t you read your terms of enlistment? Now, shut up and save your breath. You’re going to need it.”

  “Uh, yes sir.” He was gaping a little, and from the sound of heads turning on nearby stretchers he wasn’t the only one surprised to hear a Carrera’s Wedge officer talking this way. Sanction IV, in common with most wars, had stirred up some heavy-duty feelings.

  “And another thing.”

  “Colonel?”

  “This is a lieutenant’s uniform. And Wedge Command has no rank of colonel. Try to remember that.”

  Then a freak wave of pain swept in from some mutilated part of my body, dodged through the grasp of the endorphin bouncers posted at the door of my brain, and started hysterically shrilling its damage report to anyone who’d listen. The smile I had pinned to my face melted away the way the cityscape must have done at Evenfall, and I abruptly lost interest in anything except screaming.

  • • •

  Water was lapping gently somewhere just below me when I next woke up, and gentle sunlight warmed my face and arms. Someone must have removed the shrapnel-shredded remains of my combat jacket and left me with the sleeveless Wedge T-shirt. I moved one hand and my fingertips brushed age-smoothed wooden boards, also warm. The sunlight made dancing patterns on the insides of my eyelids.

  There was no pain.

  I sat up, feeling better than I had in months. I was stretched out on a small, simply made jetty that extended a dozen meters or so out into what appeared to be a fjord or sea loch. Low, rounded mountains bounded the water on either side and fluffy white clouds scudded unconcernedly overhead. Farther out in the loch a family of seals poked their heads above the water and regarded me gravely.

  My body was the same Afro-Caribbean combat sleeve I’d been wearing on the Northern Rim assault, undamaged and unscarred.

  So.

  Footsteps scraped on the boards behind me. I jerked my head sideways, hands lifting reflexively into an embryonic guard. Way behind the reflex came the confirming thought that in the real world no one could have gotten that close without my sleeve’s proximity sense kicking in.

  “Takeshi Kovacs,” said the uniformed woman standing over me, getting the soft slavic ch at the end of the name correct. “Welcome to the recuperation stack.”

  “Very nice.” I climbed to my feet, ignoring the offered hand. “Am I still aboard the hospital?”

  The woman shook her head and pushed long, riotous copper-colored hair back from her angular face. “Your sleeve is still in intensive care, but your current consciousness has been digitally freighted to Wedge One Storage until you are ready to be physically revived.”

  I looked around and turned my face upward to the sun again. It rains a lot on the Northern Rim. “And where is Wedge One Storage? Or is that classified?”

  “I’m afraid it is.”

  “How did I guess?”

  “Your dealings with the Protectorate have doubtless acquainted you with—”

  “Skip it. I was being rhetorical.” I already had a pretty good idea where the virtual format was located. Standard practice in a planetary war situation is to fling a handful of low-albedo sneak stations into crazy elliptical orbits way out and hope none of the local military traffic stumbles onto them. The odds are pretty good in favor of no one ever finding you. Space, as textbooks are given to saying, is big.

  “What ratio are you running all this on?”

  “Real-time equivalence,” the woman said promptly. “Though I can speed it up if you prefer.”

  The thought of having my no doubt short-lived convalescence stretched out here by a factor of anything up to about three hundred was tempting, but if I was going to be dragged back to the fighting sometime soon in real time, it was probably better not to lose the edge. Added to which, I wasn’t sure that Wedge Command would let me do too much stretching. A couple of months pottering around hermitlike in this much natural beauty was bound to have a detrimental effect on one’s enthusiasm for wholesale slaughter.

  “There is accommodation,” said the woman, pointing, “for your use. Please request modifications if you would like them.”

  I followed the line of her arm to where a glass-and-wood two-story structure stood beneath gull-winged eaves on the edge of the long shingle beach.

  “Looks fine.” Vague tendrils of sexual interest squirmed around in me. “Are you supposed to be my interpersonal ideal?”

  The woman shook her head again. “I am an intraformat service construct for Wedge One Systems Overview, based physically on Lieutenant Colonel Lucia Mataran of Protectorate High Command.”

  “With that hair? You’re kidding me.”

  “I have latitudes of discretion. Do you wish me to generate an interpersonal ideal for you?”

  Like the offer of a high-ratio format, it was tempting. But after six weeks in the company of the Wedge’s boisterous do-or-die commandos, what I wanted more than anything was to be alone for a while.

  “I’ll think about it. Is there anything else?”

  “You have a recorded briefing from Isaac Carrera. Do you wish it stored at the house?”

  “No. Play it here. I’ll call you if I need anything else.”

  “As you wish.” The construct inclined her head and snapped out of existence. In her place, a male figure in the Wedge’s black dress uniform shaded in. Close-cropped black hair seasoned with gray, a lined patrician face whose dark eyes and weathered features were somehow both hard and understanding, and beneath the uniform the body of an officer whose seniority had not removed him from the battlefield. Isaac Carrera, decorated ex–Vacuum Command captain and subsequently founder of the most feared mercenary force in the Protectorate. An exemplary soldier, commander, and tactician. Occasionally, when he had no other choice, a competent politician.

  “Hello, Lieutenant Kovacs. Sorry this is only a recording, but Evenfall has left us in a bad situation and there wasn’t time to set up a link. The medical report says your sleeve can be repaired in about ten days, so we’re not going to go for a clone-bank option here. I want you back on the Northern Rim as soon as possible, but the truth is, we’ve been fought to a standstill there for the moment and they can live without you for a couple of weeks. There’s a status update appended to this recording, including the losses sustained i
n the last assault. I’d like you to look it over while you’re in virtual, set that famous Envoy intuition of yours to work. God knows, we need some fresh ideas up there. In a general context, acquisition of the Rim territories will provide one of the nine major objectives necessary to bring this conflict . . .”

  I was already in motion, walking the length of the jetty and then up the sloping shore toward the nearest hills. The sky beyond was tumbled cloud but not dark enough for there to be a storm in the offing. It looked as if there would be a great view of the whole loch if I climbed high enough.

  Behind me, Carrera’s voice faded on the wind as I left the projection on the jetty, mouthing its words to the empty air and maybe the seals, always assuming they had nothing better to do than listen to it.

  CHAPTER TWO

  In the end, they kept me under for a week.

  I didn’t miss much. Below me, the clouds roiled and tore across the face of Sanction IV’s northern hemisphere, pouring rain on the men and women killing each other beneath. The construct visited the house regularly and kept me abreast of the more interesting details. Kemp’s allies offworld tried and failed to break the Protectorate blockade, at the cost of a brace of IP transports. A flight of smarter-than-average marauder bombs got through from somewhere unspecified and vaporized a Protectorate dreadnought. Government forces in the tropics held their positions, while in the northeast the Wedge and other mercenary units lost ground to Kemp’s elite Presidential Guard. Evenfall continued to smolder.

  Like I said, I didn’t miss much.

  When I awoke in the resleeving chamber, I was suffused in a head-to-foot glow of well-being. Mostly, that was chemical: Military hospitals shoot their convalescent sleeves full of feelgood stuff just before download. It’s their equivalent of a welcome-home party, and it makes you feel like you could win this motherfucking war single-handed if they’d only let you up and at the bad guys. Useful effect, obviously. But what I also had, swimming alongside this patriot’s cocktail, was the simple pleasure of being intact and installed with a full set of functioning limbs and organs.

  Until I talked to the doctor, that is.

 
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