Gunmetal Black
Chapter 1 - If Not For You
Lewis Smith

© Copyright 2000, Lewis Smith.

Somewhere on the other side of the Frontier, a small, nondescript freighter cruised silently through the stars. The Silhouette was not the sort of place you would expect to find the galaxy's most dangerous assassin, and of course, it was perfect for that very reason.

On the bridge two women, after a fashion, stood before banks of computers.

"Everything's normal," one of them said, brushing her brown hair from her face. "Do you see anything, Vain?"

The other woman, a taller, statuesque blonde, looked up. "No," she said. "Nothing over the nest, no messages. Mirage--I'm bored."

Mirage sat down in a nearby chair. "I wonder if we were designed with the ability to get bored or did we develop it naturally?"

Vain took the opposite seat. "Well, we are six times smarter than the average human," she said. "I'd imagine it was an inevitable occurrence."

"Maybe so," Mirage said. She looked at the stars before her. Mirage, like Vain and their "sister" Conscience, were Marionettes--they had been created as prototypes of a new form of android. They were supposed to be the latest thing--a dream date that would never disagree with you and would acquiesce to every kinky thing that you wanted.

And people in this galaxy wanted a lot of kinky things. It was going to sell through the roof. Or would have, had Kienan not come along.

Kienan had solved that, of course. And ever since then, they had served him, become killers like him. They found this life to be better than one of sexual slavery, because at least they had chosen it.

And they liked to think that Kienan needed them as well. After all, he confided in them when he would barely talk to anyone.

But that had changed ever since that . . .thing came aboard, Mirage thought. Now he spends all his time down there. We haven�t worked in ages, and he's being so secretive . . .

"Conscience," Mirage asked, swiveling behind her to the column at the center of the bridge. "Where's Kienan?"

Inside the center column, the remains of their third sister, Conscience was suspended, wires and cables running to and from the stumps and wounds she had incurred. A few months ago, Conscience had been damaged beyond repair. Kienan, frantic to save her, had wired her into the systems of the Silhouette. Now, Conscience was the ship itself. Trouble was, most of her mind was tied up in running the ship, never mind the damage she incurred. That meant you were likely to get disjointed, one-word replies, delivered in a haunting monotone, that made everything she said seem like it was whispered from the land of the dead.

Vain and Mirage found it deeply disturbing to be alone on the bridge with her. That was only one of the reasons they wanted Kienan to take command again.

"Cold Room," Conscience said flatly, looking at Mirage. Mirage squirmed in her seat, despite herself. Half of Conscience's face was permanently in shadow, partly because of the damage, partly because her exothermic coating had been burned off. One of her eyes was a deep red, and it seemed to burn through Mirage like a laser.

"You might want to head down there, Mirage," Vain said. "We're getting a call. It's the Blue Dragons."

"Ask, and we receive," Mirage mumbled. "I'm on my way."

"Silence," Korin said, walking around him very slowly. They were in Silence's quarters on the Temjin. It was dark, mimicking the inside of Silence in the outside. Silence acted as if he didn�t acknowledge her, but he was more than aware of her presence.

The only sound for a time was the sound of Korin pacing around him and the sound of Silence's breathing.

"You and I both know," she said. "Mao's getting old. His vision's so limited that he's willing to bring Kienan in on a mission that by all rights you should be doing. He's playing favorites, trying to go the safe route--all the earmarks of a careful, safe, old man with no vision of the future."

In, out. Silence kept breathing. He looked down at the foot of the bed, where his sword--the sword Mao had given him and he had used ever since he had taken the honor of being his bodyguard.

"So the future falls to those of us with vision," Korin said. She rested a hand on Silence's scarred shoulder. "And those who can recognize a new vision . . .even those who can�t see it with their own eyes."

She felt him bristle underneath her touch. "I know, I know--betrayal. You don�t want to betray the man who made you, do you?"

Silence was tensing up even more.

"But this is about more than obligation," Korin said. "It's about realizing our potential. I intend to be the one that does that. And if I must break traditions, betray friends and family in the name of my vision, then I shall do that. And I'd like no one better than you to be by my side. In return, I'll give you what you want more than anything. I'll give you Kienan, to do with what you will.

"So I'm asking you . . .will you stand with me?"

Before Korin could catch her breath, Silence leapt forward, and seized his sword. She blinked, and the gleaming point of the blade was suddenly inches from her face.

Silence slowly took the blade from her, extending his right hand. He drew the blade across his palm, a rivulet of blood surging up from the wound. He slapped his chest with his bloody hand, leaving a red palm print on his chest.

Then he pointed at Korin.

"Thank you, Silence," she said, her dark red lips smiling like a predatory monster. She turned and left the room quietly, trying very hand not to lose her composure. She wanted to jump for joy, but she couldn�t. Not yet.

I have Silence, she thought. My pieces are in place, but it's not the right time. Not yet. Not until I see Kienan again. Then it will be time.

The Misericord had put into Tartarus three hours ago. Pirate Red had wanted nothing more than to rest after the trip, but there were things to see to. Tartarus was the pirate guild's staging point, a collection of junked ships and discarded space stations where the pirate guild's ships could hide with no fear of pursuit. To everyone else on the Frontier it was a junkyard, but to Red it was the cradle of their future.

And here she was, along with Kilana, in one of the labs in the center of Tartarus, standing warily next to Valcuria and her minions. The green sphere they had spent so much effort trying to gain lay before them on a table, hooked up to every scanner they had.

"So Valcuria," Red began. "We're all waiting for you to tell us exactly what this is, and how it's gonna help us. So please--the floor is yours, I'm tired of waiting, drop the other shoe."

Valcuria's golden eyes locked on Red. "Has anyone ever told you that you talk incessantly and say very little?"

Red looked thoughtful. "Hmm," she said. "My ex husband did, before I shot him out to into space. Come to think of it, watching his heart explodes and his eyeballs freeze in the vacuum was kind of fun. But not as fun as when I kick your robotic--"

"HEY!" Kilana said, getting between Red and Valcuria. "Good God, I can�t believe there's this much testosterone in a room full of women. Geez. Valcuria, please forgive my sister's chest-thumping . . .would you mind, please?"

"Thank you, Kilana," Valcuria said. She gestured grandly to the sphere. "This is a very sophisticated combat droid brain. It's basically cobbled from Chroan technology. Plug this into a fighter base or a ship, and you have the tactical experience and speed to decimate an opposing force. That's what I had in mind when I said I�d build you your fighter wings."

"Droid brains aren't smart enough to go up against a decent pilot," Red said.

"This one is," Valcuria said. "The Chroan were able re-write their programming on the fly, evaluate strategies and pick the best one in one half of a nano-second. It's a marvel of efficient computing."

"Hm," Kilana said. "But we don�t have planet-size tactical computers like the Chroan did. Who controls all of these droid wings?"

"I guess it'll have to be me," Valcuria said. "I can control them with the same kind of system you use to control the Misericord."

"Oh, I see," Kilana said, indifferently. Her eyes narrowed on the sphere. It didn't seem like so much of an opportunity now. She threw Red a look. "Well . . .I'll be off then. Red, meet me on the Misericord when you get done here . . .there's a little problem with the ship."

Kilana made her way hastily out of the room. Red watched her walk out and turned back to Valcuria.

"How soon can you have a prototype?" Red asked. "This stuff you've told me is intriguing, and it seems feasible, but I want to be able to see what I'm paying for, here."

"Fine," Valcuria said. "When do I get my ship?"

Red grit her teeth. She had forgotten about it, honestly, but she didn�t want to tell her that.

"Do you have one now?" Red asked.

"No," Valcuria said.

"Then some times after now, you'll have one," Red said. "If you'll excuse me, I want to see about the problem with my ship, first."

Valcuria watched her leave, then turned to her three ladies. Her children, as it were. These three--Azure, Wartoy, and Auriga. A clockwork excuse for a family from a clockwork woman. And now . . . one more mouth to feed.

Her hands caressed the outside of the sphere. One more child, but the most favored of them all. Because this was the one that would make her the mother of a new world, and pay back every one of the hateful flesh-wearing people who had wronged her, so long ago.

Kienan Ademetria stood before the lozenge-shaped chamber, his face drawn and tired, with two days worth of stubble covering his face. He took a drag on the cigarette he had been nursing for --what was it, hours, days, weeks?

He couldn�t remember. Everything around him was lit in a very cold blue, which gave the room a quality both antiseptic and ethereal all at once. The room was cold, but Kienan didn't feel it. His eyes were fixed on the sight before him.

In the chamber was the frozen form of his former lover. No, that wasn't exactly right. What was made from her. The mirror opposite of the women he had known and loved as Jayla Kyren.

But whatever was in there of her, it was buried deep. Jayla's mother, a geneticist, had made her into some demonic kind of creature, and had sent it after Kienan as a way of revenging herself on him for destroying her life.

Ironically enough, Kienan hadn�t been responsible for that, despite the blame he shouldered for it. No . . .Jayla had done that all on her own. She had left Kienan, become a prostitute, and finally taken her own life.

And Kienan, the most dangerous man in the galaxy, had been wounded deeper than anyone would know.

He had taken his revenge on Kyren, and taken Jayla with him. He hadn�t known why at the time, perhaps he wanted to find some way to bring back the woman he knew and loved.

But what would he do then?

He didn�t have an answer, and he desperately wanted one.

"Kienan," a voice, cold as the room called to him.

"What . . .is it, Mirage?" Kienan asked, stubbing out the cigarette on the floor, next to the pile of dead butts he had stubbed out. He turned around pushing the long chestnut braid of his hair off of his shoulder.

"We're getting a call from a Blue Dragon ship," Mirage said. "It's Mao."

Kienan reached up and felt the growth. His mind pulled itself from memories of Jayla and "What does he want?"

"Wants to meet with us, on his ship," Mirage said. "He says he has a job for you."

Kienan stretched like a cat waking up from a long sleep. "All right," he said, brushing his bands from his eyes. "Find a secluded rendezvous point, and transmit to Mao. I'll meet him myself."
"Are you sure you don't want us along?" Mirage asked, joining him as he mounted the stairs from the cold room to the upper deck. "Mao's honest enough, but that bodyguard of his and his daughter . . ."

"I can handle them," Kienan said. "Besides, there's no room. I'm taking the Nighthawk. Then they can�t track me back here."

"You don�t trust them?" Mirage asked. They rounded a corner and headed towards the living quarters.

"I don�t trust anyone else in the game of death," Kienan said evenly, the door to his quarters sliding open. "Excepting you and your sisters, my dear."

"Thank you," Mirage said.

The door slid shut without another word between them. Kienan stripped off his clothes on the way to the bathroom. He turned on the light, and looked at himself in the mirror. He looked terrible, like a man who hadn't slept for days. Of course, he hadn't.

He slowly undid his long braid, letting his hair rest onto his shoulders. He ran the shower until steam poured out from the doors. It was an extravagance to have a water shower on a ship this small, but Kienan was so rich he could have three new ships for all it mattered.

But Kienan, being a man who had discrete tastes, only wanted a few of the finer things, and the shower was one of them. The water poured down his golden skin, giving sheen to his tightly muscled form. He leaned back and let the water run into his hair. The hair matted against the X scars on his back--a gift he had received training himself to become the galaxy's deadliest man.

He sighed, and finished showering. He felt a little better, but not enough. He leaned over the sink, shaving quickly and efficiently. He looked in the mirror, his green eyes staring back at him.

He felt a calm pass over him. A new job, he thought. Things may be getting back to normal at last.

"All right Kilana, what's wrong?" Pirate Red asked, striding onto the bridge of the Misericord.

"It's about Valcuria, and that chicken egg she's got stowed down there," Kilana said. "It makes me nervous, Red."


"It's Chroan technology," Kilana said. "Technology Valcuria could just as easily use to take over our forces. The Chroan were nothing but a big computer virus. They could build themselves from the smallest molecule quickly. It'd be a simple matter for her to use us to spread it. And if she controlled the fighters, she'd control everything."

"I've thought about that," Red said. "I didn�t want to move on it until she could give me some data on the droid brain, though. I want to know what we're up against before we try to build a defense."

"What did you have in mind?" Kilana asked.

"Fighting a virus with a virus," Red said. "From now on, I want you to scan Valcuria and her three chrome ladies. Do it subtly, so she can't detect you or anything. Also, we'd better dig into her past--find out all you can about that project she was built from. What was that called?"

"Project: Eve," Kilana said. "Omnicorp."

"Right," Red continued. "Find whatever you can about her specs and work up some kind of defense. If she tries to take control of us, we'll pull the plug on her. In the meantime, I'll give her what she wants . . .and we'll use that too."

"Giving her a ship?" Kilana asked.

"Sure am," Red said. "And I intend to have it tracked until Valcuria gives me the clue I need to put a leash on her."

Kienan flipped switches on above him and checked the air pressure in his space suit. The instruments in the Nighthawk hummed to life. He touched a button on one side of the control yoke.

"Conscience," he said. "I'm ready to go. Open bay doors and clear me for departure."

"Departure," Conscience's emotionless voice echoed through his communication system. The doors beneath him opened and the blackness of space stretched out beneath him. The Nighthawk was lowered down into the vacuum of space and Kienan readied the engines. The control arms slipped away and Kienan hit the boosters. Behind him, the Silhouette rapidly shrank into another shining point in a sea of stars. They would hide behind this dead planet while Kienan met with Mao. Though he trusted Mao as much as he trusted anyone save the Marionettes, he didn�t want to leave a trail.

The Nightawk flew for a time, blanketed from scanners and sensors by the most complex stealth system ever devised. The Nighthawk was the perfect fighter--maneuverable, fast, and undetectable. That was why Kienan had stolen it in the first place.

The large, dark shape of the Temjin loomed before him. He transmitted the signal to them, and waited. The port docking bay opened up, and Kienan maneuvered cautiously towards it, releasing the Nighthawk's landing gear and bringing the ship to a halt on the polished floor. Kienan looked around. Brand new ship, he thought.

He pressed a button, and removed his helmet. Another button on the inside depressurized his suit. He unzipped it and set it in the back of the Nighthawk's cockpit. Then he pressed a series of switches to open the cockpit.

There was a hiss of hydraulic engines and Kienan stepped out. He looked around and his eyes met with Mao's.

"It has been a long time, Kienan," Mao said. Silence and Korin flanked him. Kienan's eyes narrowed in restrained anger when he saw them. Silence he had never cared for, Korin even less so. He had hoped Mao would have married her off by now.

"I was told you have a job for me," Kienan said.'

"Time enough for that later," Mao said. "Come--we have prepared a feast."

"I'm not hungry," Kienan said.

"Then you will sit, and I will eat," Mao said, smiling. It looked to Kienan as though eating had been one of Mao's favorite hobbies. "I haven�t seen you in a year's time, I tend to enjoy your company for as long as possible."

"All right," Kienan said.

"Come," Mao said, gesturing to his retinue to follow him out of the bay. Kienan followed behind them, his long braid swishing in the cool air of the bay.

"It's an old ship," Pirate Red said, walking with Valcuria down a service tunnel. "We were lucky enough to find it. It's small, the Space Drive is slow, but it should get you where you need to go."

"Excellent," Valcuria said. "For a human, you are relatively efficient."

"Now now," Red said sarcastically. "Comments like that will just give me a big head. You've got two days. Then you come back here and finish the fighters."

"Is that an order, or a request?"

"Think of it as a suggestion," Pirate Red said. "In our mutual best interest."

"Good," Valcuria said. "Because I don�t take orders. Especially from you."

"So you say," Red said.

"Thank you for the ship," Valcuria said. They reached the point at which it was moored, and the airlock to it slid open. "Oh, and Pirate Red--do not attempt to tamper with my daughters. They're equipped with a device to prevent such things. One of them exploding would be enough to destroy this facility."

"Don�t worry," Red said. "I don�t intend to tamper with them. And you don�t intend to do destroy them. You want what's in that little green egg as much as I do. I doubt you�d risk destroying it. And I don't want to risk losing your talents until you fulfil your part of the bargain."

"A stalemate," Valcuria said.

"Seems so," Red said. "Safe journey."

The airlock slid shut and Red watched as the ship's engines hummed to life and slowly pulled away from Tartarus. There was a ripple, and the ship vanished from sight as Valcuria's Space Drive kicked in. Red finally allowed herself to smile.

She looked down at the armored gauntlet on her wrist. She pressed a series of buttons, and a rectangular panel opened up. Within, a small screen tracked a red blip over a computer grid.

Good, she thought. The tracker's working perfectly. But just in case she's smart enough to remove it, well, that's why there's always a plan "b."

"Pirate Red to the Typhon," she said. "I'm uploading a signal to your computers--a ship that just left here. Lock on that signal and follow the ship at a discrete distance. If she does anything suspicious, you have my permission to cripple the ship and bring it back. But do not destroy it. Confirm."

"Orders confirmed," the captain of the Typhon came back. "We're on our way."

Red smiled as she looked out at the stars. She wouldn�t allow Valcuria to double-cross her. Not before she could double-cross Valcuria. She didn�t trust machines, especially the kind that thought for themselves. Never had, never will. She hated Valcuria's superior attitude, and she found her three daughters creepy as hell.

The only reason I even agreed to use these droid brains as my fighter wings is because I didn't have the money to buy enough fighters. Never mind that I don�t have enough pilots to fly them, in any case.

If we're ever going to be a power here, I needed something cheap, mass-produced, and superior to anything else on the Frontier. No one makes anything like that, so we had to steal it.

Now that I've got it, I don't intend to lose it, not to that machine, not to anyone.

"Kilana to Red," Kilana's voice came over her communicator. "I've got something."

"On my way," Red said.

Kienan poked at the rice on his plate with the pair of ebony chopsticks. He had surprised himself with this appetite--being down in the hold as long as he had, he hadn�t even come up for food or water.

He looked up as he reached for the small porcelain cup of tea. Korin was looking right at him, eyes ablaze with angel. He looked down into the glass and saw everything reflected in white slivers of light.

It had been three years since Mao had manipulated he and Korin into a relationship. Kienan had just left behind Silhouette, and wasn't looking for anything like a love affair.

Korin hadn�t taken that well at all. Their parting certainly wasn't kind. He wondered why she had even consented to sit at the same table. That she had agreed made Kienan suspicious.

Kienan may have enlisted with the Blue Dragons, but he certainly didn�t trust them. While had been nothing but honest with him, the other chiefs were duplicitous and apt to work against their fellow chief's interests as much as anyone else's.

Even their own families were a threat. That was certainly Korin. Kienan had known any relationship between them was ill-starred when the first thing she mentioned when they were alone was her desire to kill her father and assume control of their clan.

Kienan had refused, of course, but that only made him a target to her.

His eyes drifted to Silence. Kienan couldn�t see his eyes through his jet-black suit, and he knew Silence couldn�t see him either, but Kienan knew that his mere presence here, must have made Silence furious.

Silence was one of the first instruments of Korin's vengeance. Silence had challenged Kienan to a duel, and Kienan had requested that it be unarmed combat. Kienan, to his credit, had not killed Silence--realizing he was a pawn of Korin's--but had humiliated him.

That made Silence an enemy as well.

Kienan finished the last of his tea, and turned the cup upside down as he set it down.

"All right," he said, lighting a cirgarette. "What's the job?"

"We do not smoke thin this room," Korin said icily.

"I didn�t offer you one, so I guess you don't," Kienan said, dragging on the cigarette.

"Korin," Mao said. "You are excused."

Korin rose from her chair and bowed to her father. "Thank you father." As she left, she glared at Kienan.

"She still hasn�t forgotten," Kienan said. He took another, thoughtful drag on his cigarette.

"No," Mao said. "I'm afraid she hasn't."

"So," Kienan said, stubbing out his cigarette. "What's this job?"