My name was Ava. I was eight years old when I first met an angel. I didn’t know how important that was; I was just a kid, but I always remember his name was Gabriel. Ma was kinda old-fashioned; she told me all about heaven, hell and angels, and the most important angel was Gabriel. I used to feel so lucky to have an angel as a friend.
“Call me Uncle Gabriel,” he said. And he would smile the prettiest smile in the quadrant. But there was something else in his smile and his bright blue eyes. I didn’t know what that was until I was older, but how could I understand such things? I was just a kid.
My big brother was a soldier - he went on amazing adventures in space, and whenever he made it back home, he would tell me stories about the brave Emperor and how he wanted to serve her by making the universe safe for all humans everywhere. He would weave stories of murder and torture - how he would watch the traitors in agoniser booths for the fun of seeing them suffer. I desperately wanted to experience this sight for myself. I used to think of slicing open dangerous aliens, filming their remains on my battered old holopad, in the hopes that I would be noticed by the Imperial Guard. When I grew up, I was going to make my family proud.
I begged my brother to take me to the palace one day - to let me see the agoniser booths for myself, and watch a prisoner pay for their crimes against the Empire. I begged and begged until I wore him down.
“Okay, Ava. On your next birthday. I’ll let you see everything then.” And he would pick me up and swing me around, and I hardly missed my Pa when my brother was so much more than a father could be. My brother was loyal to the Empire.
I was nine years old when I finally saw the Palace. Seems like my birthday wish came true, but it was never what I really wanted in the end.
I felt ever so tiny, even though I was a big girl. The palace had tall sleek walls that went up ever so high to ceilings lit with soft yellow lights. The whole building smelled like blood, but back then, it was a wonderful smell to me.
“Keep out of sight, as much as you can,” my brother whispered as we made our way to an interrogation room. “If anyone sees you, I’ll get into trouble.”
I slipped my hand from my brother’s and moved to stand behind him. He laughed at me, but I was just trying to be a good girl.
We were at the top of a long staircase when a tall white man stepped out from an unseen place in the walls, like he just appeared out of nowhere.
“Soldier, what have we here?”
My brother stood stiff, and tried to shield me, but the man stopped him. He looked me up and down with a very angry face. I was terribly afraid, but then the man’s face changed: he smiled at me.
“Well, hello little one,” he said softly, and crouched down to hold out his hand. “What’s your name?”
I was scared to speak, but my brother prodded me. “Ava. My name is Ava and it’s my birthday.”
“Oh is it? Is that why you’re here? Are you starting work in the service so young? I’m sure you’d make a fine soldier.”
I giggled at his words, and then I remembered myself. I was a big girl after all.
“Yes, Sir. I want to serve the Empire just like my brother.” I gave a proper salute. This made the man smile even more.
“My name is Lorca. But you can call me Uncle Gabriel.” He patted my hair. “You’re just the sweetest thing, aren’t you. I could eat you up.”
I felt my brother start to shiver beside me. He reached out for my hand, but Uncle Gabriel stopped him. He held my hand instead.
“So, sweet Ava, has your brother shown you where we jettison the bodies of our traitors yet?”
I shook my head. Uncle Gabriel gave my brother a strange look, but then he smiled at me.
“Do you want to see it? It can be a birthday treat!”
I almost jumped with joy when he said that. I was going to see an execution! It was more than I could have hoped for.
“As you were, soldier,” Uncle Gabriel motioned to my brother. “I’ll make sure she gets home safe and sound.”
My brother’s face looked very worried - like he was upset and angry and wanted to cry all at once. He reached out as if to take me back, but Uncle Gabriel just raised his chin. My brother saluted and left me with the angel.
Nothing happened that time: Gabriel took me to one of the transporter rooms. I saw three traitors disappear into space - it was amazing. Then Gabriel took me to his private room and fed me chocolate ice cream, cake and gave me a sip of brandy - because I was a big girl and big girls needed to handle their alcohol. The brandy made me feel funny - all warm but strange. That made Gabriel laugh.
“You can have more next time, Ava.” He smiled that smile of his, and I felt even warmer.
“Does that mean I can come back?”
Gabriel reached over and patted my knee. “Any time, sweetie.”
The next time was different. I was playing my favourite game in my room at home, where I was the hero and my stuffed toys were evil aliens. I ran around, swinging them in the air, shouting threats at the top of my voice and having a really good time. I looked up when the door opened. My Ma was there, smiling very wide and almost bouncing on her feet.
“Looks like we have a benefactor!”
“What’s a benefactor?,” I asked, having never heard the word before.
“A nasty creep who things he can treat humans like alien slaves.” My brother slipped in the room behind my Ma.
Ma gave my brother an angry look. “Who else is going to send us such kind gifts? You should be grateful, boy. It could mean good things for you too; a promotion even.”
“Ma, why can’t you see what he’s doing? You know what his reputation is like.”
“Commander Lorca is the Emperor’s right hand. He’s taken a liking to Ava, and the future could be wonderful for her too if we play our cards right. It might even take away the shame your father left us with.”
“Uncle Gabriel got us gifts?” I cried with excitement buzzing in my brain. I dropped my stuffed animals and jumped up and down. “Where are they? What did I get?”
My brother crossed his arms, still looking angry, but he motioned his head to the main room. “Go see what your Sugar Daddy got you.”
I didn’t like to see Ma and my brother argue, but I gave him a hug and ran out of the room. As I got to work unwrapping the colourful gifts, I could still hear them fighting. Uncle Gabriel was a good man. How could he be dangerous?
There were lots of gifts for Ma, but only one for me. I was a little disappointed at that, but when I unwrapped my gift, I squealed! It was a top of the line holopad, with all the latest vids, and a special program where I could insert an image of myself into the newest vids. There was no age restriction on any of them, which instantly made me feel very grown up. It was the next best thing to being on a holodeck!
Ma came into the room. “How can I ever thank Commander Lorca for all of this?”
“I can tell him thanks when I next see him,” I replied.
“No!” My brother had a look of panic on his face. “You are never going back there. It’s not safe for you, Ava.”
“Why not?” I complained.
My brother kneeled down and drew me into an embrace. “Lorca is very powerful, love. He likes to do things that are…”. He took a breath and whispered. “You’re just so precious to me, Ava. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
I squeezed my brother hard. “I won’t get hurt. I’ll be a good girl.”
My brother just gave me a sad look. “I love you, Ava.”
I still had my arms around my brother’s neck when a communication came through for him.
“I’ve been summoned back to the palace,” he said slowly. “And I’m to take you with me.” He looked at me with his eyes shining. I thought he was happy, but now I realise he wanted to cry.
Uncle Gabriel was waiting in the shuttle bay when we arrived. I ran into his arms, and hugged him tight.
“Thank you so much for all the gifts, Uncle Gabriel. I love my new holopad!” I held it up to him.
Gabriel smiled that beautiful smile of his. “I’ve got another gift for you in my room. Do you want to see it?”
He held my hand, but paused as he passed by my brother. “Oh I forgot to mention, you’ve been assigned to a new post. It’s only a temporary thing, but we need someone to replace an assistant to the Chief Engineer on the I.S.S New Hampshire, now that Perkins has been exposed for the traitorous filth he was. It will be for six months, but your station begins now. Get the next transport out.”
“Thank you, Sir.” My brother did not look happy. “I hope my scant experience will be sufficient for such a task.”
Gabriel squeezed my hand tight. “Are you questioning me, soldier?”
My brother stood up straight, “No, Sir!”
“That’s Commander to you, boy.”
“Yes, Commander.” He saluted Uncle Gabriel. “Long live the Empire!”
Gabriel led me away. I turned back to see my brother looking at me with sadness all over his face.
When I entered Uncle Gabriel’s room, I saw the table groaning with all my favourite foods. Gabriel really was an angel.
“Go ahead, take a bite,” he said.
I ran to the table and helped myself to some of the chocolate cake - it was a food that I hardly ever got to enjoy, so I had an extra big bite. The cake tasted different to how I remembered it from my birthday, so I didn’t eat it all.
“Try the ice cream,” Gabriel suggested, watching me.
The ice cream was even worse than the cake, with a strong aftertaste that made my head hurt a little.
I must have made a face, because Gabriel looked a little stern. “You know it’s wrong to waste food, especially food prepared by the Palace Chef just for you.
I felt terribly guilty when he said that. “Sorry.”
Uncle Gabriel smiled down at me. “Don’t be sorry, Ava. Be a good girl and try something different.”
I tried the strawberries, the mango and the rootbeer, but everything had a strange metallic taste. My head was really hurting by the end of it.
Uncle led me to his sofa, and sat me down.
“Now this gift is very special. It’s only for adults, not for children. But as you’re so sweet to me, I’m going to trust you with it.”
Gabriel reached behind him, and drew out a knife.
“This is a rare blade, based on an antique but brought up to modern standards.” He held out the knife so I could see the intricate carving set into the handle. He turned the knife to show the different layers of metal of the blade, twisting it this way and that. Even though the lights were comfortably low, the blade must have caught the lighting because something flashed very bright in my eyes. I scooted back on the sofa. I tried not to cry out, but it really hurt. Gabriel quickly put down the knife and drew me into a hug.
“Shit. Are you all right, Ava?”
I nodded, even though I couldn’t focus properly and my head hurt a lot. I didn’t want to look like a little girl in front of Gabriel.
He chuckled at me, and then he picked me up and put me on his bed.
“Now rest there a while. I’ll be in the other room while you recover, sweetie.” He bent over and kissed me on the forehead. “Just relax. You’re safe with me.” He tilted his head and smiled. “You’re so much like my other little friend. She has the same warm brown skin and lovely eyes as you.”
“Who is she?”
“She has a boy’s name, but she’s such a sweet little girl. Maybe I’ll introduce you to each other. You can be friends and all three of us will have a great time together.”
“That would be nice. What’s her name?”
“Michael.” Gabriel stroked my hair with those big strong hands of his.
“I don’t have many friends,” I whispered, feeling a little ashamed. “It would be nice to have another one.”
Gabriel inhaled a breath. “You make me so very happy, do you know that?” He said in a soft voice. “Now get some sleep.”
I smiled up at him. “I love you, Uncle Gabriel,” I said with a weak voice. I fell asleep very quickly and didn’t dream at all.”
Everything hurt when I woke up. My tummy was so painful that I wanted to vomit. Even my bottom felt like it was burning. I realised my clothes were all twisted. I straightened myself up, although it hurt to move, and rolled off the bed. My legs almost collapsed under me. I looked down, and that’s when I saw the blood on my skin. I screeched and jumped back.
“Now calm down, Ava.” Uncle Gabriel was sitting on the sofa watching me in almost darkness.
“I think I’m sick” I stumbled over to Gabriel.
He pulled me on to his lap and stroked my face. “It will be okay, Ava. The first time is always a little troublesome, but there’s no permanent damage.”
Uncle Gabriel held me tight. “Now don’t be naive. You know what grown ups do together, don’t you?”
I shook my head. I had no idea what he was talking about.
“You really are just a child, aren’t you? A beautiful sweet child.”
“I’m a big girl.”
Gabriel said nothing, but took my holopad from the table next to the sofa. He switched it on and angled it for me to see. I gasped as I watched a short vid where a man and woman were both naked on a bed. They made strange noises as they moved on each other. The man was hurting the woman, holding her down as he did things to her. I turned away from the sight, feeling sick.
“It doesn’t always have to be like that,” Gabriel said, pointing to the holopad. “But that vid is one of my favourites.” He rubbed a thumb over my lip. “I’m perfectly happy to go slow and work up to the exciting stuff later. I like you, Ava. You’re worth my patience.”
“Why would you do that to me? I thought you liked me.”
Gabriel moved his face very close - I could smell aftershave on his skin, mixed with brandy on his breath. “Do you know how many people I’ve been with?”
I shook my head, feeling nervous about why he was asking me this.
“I’ve been with a lot.” He grinned at me, and when I saw his sharp white teeth I felt even more anxious. “I’ve been with many women, a few less men and hardly any gender non-conforming folks at all. But none of them interest me the way you do. You’re very special to me. I cannot wait for us to explore our relationship even more.”
“But,” I stammered, “You gave me nice things. You were like an angel to me.”
Gabriel barked out a laugh. “What can I say? Thank heaven for little girls!”
I struggled in Gabriel’s lap, but he was too strong for me. “I want to go home!”
“Shut up. Big girls don’t make a fuss, and they don’t make a noise. This is your home now.”
“No, let me go.” I bit Gabriel’s hand.
I fell backwards on to the other couch opposite me. I could see the knife on the armrest - I reached out and held on to it.
“Well you’re quite the fighter, aren’t you?” Gabriel didn’t look scared. He just towered over me with that smile of his. “First thing I’m going to do with you is…”. He chuckled. “I tell you what, it will be a surprise.”
I started shaking with fear. I desperately wanted my brother to come back and get me.
“Don’t be afraid,” Gabriel said as he moved closer. “You be a good little girl, and your father’s shame will be like it never existed. Nobody will know what a traitorous family you came from. If you keep waving that knife around, I’ll make sure every member of your family sees the inside of a prison cell.”
I thought of my Ma, bound in restraints and led away by guards - of my brother being stripped of his rank and then thrown into prison. None of it would be their fault. Everything bad would be down to me.
Lorca smiled as he saw my expression change. “There’s a good girl,” he whispered. “Now put down the knife and give your uncle a kiss.” He beckoned to me.
I blinked back tears, but still lunged forward with the knife. I’d watched enough alien attack vids to know how to take out an aggressor. But horror vids aren’t real life, and I was just a kid. Gabriel dodged the blade, and then twisted my hand so the knife fell to the floor. He held my arms behind my back, and started walking me to the bed.
“Looks like I’m going to have to teach you some manners, girl,” he said. “Things could have been sweet but if you insist on being a brat, then it’s all your fault.”
“Leave me alone!” I screamed and screamed but nobody came.
The lights seemed to grow even more dim as Gabriel lifted me up and put me back on the bed once more. “I’ve invested a lot of my precious time in you, Ava. And I’ve got such exciting plans for us. The future is an undiscovered country.” He grinned. “But lucky for us, I happen to have a map.”
“What are you going to do? Why are you hurting me?” I pleaded.
Lorca looked surprised. “I’m doing this to break you in - you’ll thank me in the long run. I’m doing this because you are mine. You belong to me.” He glared at me. “Say it. Tell me who you belong to, Ava.”
My mouth moved, but the words wouldn’t come out.
Lorca drew back his hand and slapped me. “Tell me who you belong to.”
“You,” I whispered. “I belong to you. Please don’t hurt my Ma.”
“Well that all comes down to you now, doesn’t it.”
Lorca began to remove his uniform. I squeezed my eyes shut, imagined I was anywhere but here. The last thing I remember before it all went dark, was the feel of sticky blood that had dried on my legs and thighs.
Gabriel left me crying in his room afterwards. I remember the sound of the door closing and his voice giving the lock command. The lights were very low as I made my way out of the bed once more. I saw the holopad that was no longer mine - I didn’t want to touch it. And then I saw the knife still on the floor. I reached down and picked it up, ignoring the searing pain that ached between my legs. I looked at it for a long time.
My name was Ava. I was nine years old when I died. The knife cut through my skin with ease. I didn’t make a sound as I collapsed to the floor with blood that spurted out of me, strangely bright in the dark room. I was a big girl, and big girls don’t make noise like that.