As the sun slips behind the mountains, its last rays make the head of the angel gleam before darkness makes it a cold grey shadow. Time to go to work. After its day of delivering God’s justice the angel had made its way back to me, to our sort of staging area. It’s never wise to leave an angel near a community that it’s just blessed with righteous fury – you never know how well the lessons have taken and at night they’re a good deal more fragile than in the midday sun.
I begin gently, setting up my lights so I can get a proper look at them. The touch of the electric lights makes the angel stir a little, just a rising and falling of shoulder and chest plates as if the angel were breathing. I always give them a moment because you can never be entirely certain that it’s finished whatever range of actions it had in mind before it powered down. Better to let it vibrate through its last thoughts or lash out in peace. This one seems complete, so I reach in under its jaw and turn it off. Cleaning first. With a brush and cloth and light solvent I delicately mop the blood off its long, long fingers and wings. Blood gets everywhere and this is often the longest part of the job. An angel should always appear bright and perfect when it arrives in a settlement, no taint of another’s failure for its focus must always be the current subject of justice. I whisper to the angel while I work – nothing important – just a reassurance that it’s doing well, that every drop of blood I remove is a sinner saved, each claw I straighten will have shown others the way.
Justice isn’t an easy thing to bring to the world, and the angels are God’s answer to the lawlessness and suffering that have brought this land to its knees – not in prayer, but the angels are working on that. But it’s been hard on them. The twenty-three that began this great project are diminished in number, worn down, broken by the elements, even by heretics. This angel is my favourite. It has taken less damage than some of the others, though I’ve had cause to repair it with the remnants of others. I feel it stands more glorious than the others, its gold still shining through its hard existence. With all the sticky blood removed, I open up its torso and give it a full wind. The complex interplay of gears and cogs in its body never fail to fascinate as I replenish its energy levels. During the day its golden skin absorbs all the power it can from the sun, but this is its core, its true motive battery. I close its ribs and lock the plates of its chest back so its skin seems seamless and smooth. They need polishing too, of course, to maintain that glossy and photoreceptive exterior. I do it carefully, taking pains to buff out the inevitable scratches from the sinners and the gritty wind that constantly threatens to get inside its carapace.
At some point soon I’m going to need to take it in for proper maintenance, there’s an audible burr in its left knee and the joints of its wings. But not yet. I am engrossed in my tasks, humming lightly as I grease the more accessible joints. Its eyes, I notice, are looking dull, so I pop out the eyeball to replace it with another which I’d taken from a less fortunate angel. I’ll be able to clean this one up and swap it back in a few days.
I’m peering at it with my eyeglass when I hear a crunch on the ground behind me. I whirl about and meet the downswing of a staff on my shoulder. It knocks me to the floor and the angel’s eye rolls out of my hand. I twist to grab for it and a boot pins that arm to the dirt. There are seven of them, grim looking men and women with blood on their hands. I imagine they’ve come from the village where the angel was today. Usually people are too afraid of the angels to follow, but this must have been a real hotbed of sin. They smash my bags and cases, lay blows into me when I object, and circle the angel warily.
They don’t know how the angels work, obviously, only know that they come by day and lay low the breakers of the peace. They rightly seem supernatural, divine clockwork acting out God’s will. At night they’re vulnerable, without the solar power that gives them the extra speed and sharpness. But they’re not defenceless, usually. This angel, my favourite, is incapable of defending itself, and all because of me. The angel captures the attention and fears of these people. It stands so quietly, so calm as they work up the courage to attack. In the night it’s a dark grey shape of angles and curves, cut out of the darkness. Two of them rush it from the side, and they’ve enough momentum that the angel topples over to land beside me. This is all they’ve been waiting for and they lay into the angel with shovels and stakes. Since I’m right next to it I receive plenty of these blows too and feel my fingers, arm, nose break under their blows. But it’s the angel I worry for. I reach out to protect it, draw my body over it to save it from their bludgeoning, but I’m not much of a shield.
As I’m grabbed by the shoulders to be tossed away, I reach under the angel’s jaw and press the button which gives it access to the kinetic energy I wound into it earlier. With a bone-deep whir the angel comes to life, catching one of the staffs descending in a long-fingered hand. The staff snaps and suddenly the angel has risen to its feet, an oddly complex operation like a horse standing from rest with too many joints for a human figure. And then it’s in motion. My mostly shattered lanterns catch slices of the action, limning the dents in its golden form as it spins, seizes, tears and breaks. It doesn’t take long before the seven are scattered on the ground around the angel, dead or dying.
The angel turns slowly, finding no new adversaries. Its gaze rests on me, lying still on the ground. I open my unbroken hand, within lies the eye which I’d managed to grab as the angel defended itself. The angel crouches by me and I reach up, gasping, and push the eye back into its head. Then I notice the broken shaft of wood that penetrates my chest and that the wetness I feel isn’t terrified sweat but my own blood. The angel’s eyes pass over me and it stands, turns and marches out into the night. It’s going back to the village, and justice will be done. There’s nothing it can do for me. The angels aren’t healers, and I don’t need to be saved.