Author : D. Wang
His wings were polyaramid leather woven over carbon bones and monofilament tendon, his gaze the piercing thousand-yard stare of a man who could see through stone, his talons X-ray lasers so powerful their waste heat violated Second Kyoto with every shot. In his time, he’d been God’s own fury and brave men had worn charms lest he notice they still lived. Now he queued up outside Lane’s placement office with the amputees and the lepers.
“Name?” Lane asked.
“First, or last?”
“I guess if the last name is the family name then that’d be Azrael, so—”
“First, then. Here you are. Two years in the western theatre, retired this January?”
“Is that Earth time?”
“What else, Jovian Separatist Daylight-Savings?”
“We’re on Mars, I thought—”
Lane guffawed like a man who hadn’t laughed in too long. “Earth Force runs on Earth time, son. Martian! That’s a good one. Sit down, I’ll be right back.” He stomped down the hall until he found a small child huddled under a chair. Then he knelt down, and bellowed, “You there, boy! See that sign?”
The child whispered, “Cannot read, sir.”
Lane’s voice softened. “It says, ‘ECM strictly prohibited in waiting rooms.’ Aww, I’m not mad. I’ve got one like you at home. Here, have a sucker. You stay offline and there’ll be another in my office. Deal?” He let the boy stare at his pinky a moment, then grunted and stumped back.
“Where was I? Right, Martian time. That’s a good one. You want to be a comedian, son?”
“I thought, something leveraging my talents…” Azrael flexed his cannon. “Surely someone must want something done about someplace?”
“Private work?” Lane sucked his teeth. “You’re almost three years off the line, though. What did you do in the service?”
“Search and destroy, recon, anti-material, harassment, close air support. They were going to tap me for assassinations and deep insertions, real behind-the-lines work, but I didn’t fit the psych profile.”
“Trouble with independent operations?”
“Oh, no! I’m fully autonomic. Used to be a child molester, see. Still am, though since the operation I’ve been lacking in the wherewithal, if you take my meaning. Point being, I’m not one of those silly AI jobs that sees a kid bringing his da the RPG and starts throwing TypeError exceptions.”
“Ah. Well, no, I suppose you wouldn’t be.” Lane rubbed his eyes, good cheer gone again. “Well, Azrael, I don’t recommend this often, because it’s not an easy job, or a glamorous one, but it needs doing and I think you’ve got what it takes.” Lane motioned Azrael close and whispered, “Sheep herding.”
“Sheep herding.” Lane gestured expansively. “Just you, ten thousand tonnes of mutton, and the great wide plains of Australia. Some can’t take the loneliness, just go crazy, but that’s not a problem for you, eh?”
“You can trust me. I’m as stable as anything. Rest of my squadron needed counselling, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but—”
“It’s settled. Sheep herding. Next!”