Gunmetal Black
Chapter 10 - Beautiful World
Lewis Smith

© Copyright 2000, Lewis Smith.

Valcuria crash-landed on the planetoid with such force that the rock around her melted and fused to glass with the outer hull of the ship. She looked around at the wreckage she was trapped in and tried to pull her arms out and couldn't. The heat of the re-entry fused them into the control yoke, apparently.

In the distance she could hear the sounds of afterburners kicking in. Whoever had destroyed her droid fleet was on the way to finish the job. For a moment, it occurred to her to self-destruct and deny this man the pleasure of killing her face to face, but she pushed the thought away from her almost as soon as she thought it.

No, she said, steeling herself for what was to come. I won't give any human the satisfaction of destroying me. I must fight, I must keep fighting no matter what.

She blinked her eyes and twin beams of light issued forth, burning into her arm, just above the control yoke. Valcuria shut off her pain receptors to make the job less traumatic, but it was still hard. As she sheared vital systems in her forearm, lubricants squirted out, covering the inside of the fighter-frame in what looked eerily like blood. Once she had cut through enough of her arm, she shut her eye-lasers off.

She finally tore the rest of her arm free, more fluid leaking out. She concentrated, drawing more of her mass up through the stump. A crude armature, more like a claw than a hand, appeared slowly. She used it to pry the other control yoke off of her other hand. Once that hand was free, she freed the remains of her severed hand and attached it to the stump.

Nanomachines within her arm and her hand quickly reattached her hand to her arm. She flexed her fingers and hand a few times cautiously, checking her dexterity.

Once she was sufficiently satisfied, she pushed on the front of her fighter-frame, trying to pry it open. The hydraulics protested, and then finally broke loose. The battered front canopy tumbled forward, clattering off of the burning, melted wreckage of the fighter-frame to the ground.

She blinked as her eyes adjusted to the bright halogen lights from the sleek fighter in front of her. On the nose of the fighter there sat a man, a young human. He seemed quite casual, as though he were waiting. His green eyes fixed on her and he tossed the cigarette that had been dangling from his lips away.

"Valcuria," he said, his voice cold and controlled. "Face to face at last. My name is Kienan Ademetria. It's a pleasure to finally meet you."

"Have you come to kill me?" Valcuria asked, despite already knowing the answer.

"Yes, I've come for your life," Kienan said. Valcuria saw him idly cleaning a pair of pistols on his lap. "I've chased you for quite a while to do just that."

"Then why didn't you make sure I was dead in space, or why didn�t you just destroy me while I was trapped?"

"That's not how I work," Kienan said. "Your legs are still trapped. I think they're completely fused into that ship as a matter of fact. Once you get out, then I'll kill you."

"I could kill you now," Valcuria said. "I have no problem killing inferior species."

"You could try," Kienan said. "But my ship is still above this planetoid, and if I'm not back within a certain amount of time, they'll destroy this planetoid--you, me everyone on it. So you can take your chances with me, fair and straight up, or you can try killing me now. Either way, I'll win. Whether I'm alive or dead doesn�t matter."

Valcuria looked into his eyes and felt a quiet, terrified awe. She could feel nothing from him. She had never encountered a man as empty as he seemed to be. There was no passion in his eyes, no rage, nothing but a quiet void that enveloped him. He was the eye of a hurricane of rage, totally calm despite being surrounded by chaotic fury.

He's more of a machine than I am, she thought with a little fear. Then she grimaced and began the painful task of cutting her legs free.

Vain and Mirage finished their examination of the Silhouette, and were relieved to find no evidence of damage to either Conscience or the ship. To prevent another infiltration of their system, Vain and Mirage had very quickly established a complicated new password system. Now if anyone like Valcuria ever tried to access the Silhouette, all they would do is occupy themselves long enough for Conscience to cripple their systems and blast them out of the sky.

"There," Mirage said. "Sixty eight new levels of encryption, constantly randomizing and proxied off of eighty-five different relays. It's as secure as it'll ever be."

"Good," Vain said, getting up from her chair and leaving the bridge, Mirage followed after her, more than a little surprised.

"Where are you going?" Mirage asked.

"Weapons locker," Vain said, turning down one of the hallways. She came to what seemed like a storage area at the end of the hall, and punched in her access code. Panels slid away from the storage containers and racks filled with weapons and ammunition. Vain bit her lip as she pondered which weapon to take.

"You're not going down, are you?" Mirage asked. "Kienan'll have your head for disobeying him."

"Valcuria said I owed her one," Vain said. "I intend to repay it."

"You'd go against Kienan?" Mirage said.

Vain turned to Mirage and gave her a look of utter disbelieving incredulity. "Be serious, Mirage."

"I am," Mirage said. "Usually, owing someone one means you save them from a bad situation, just like they did for you. When you said you owed Valcuria one, I naturally assumed you meant you were going to keep Kienan from eliminating her."

Vain threw her head back and laughed curtly. "Please," she said. "I'm only sorry my weapons burned out and I didn't get to destroy her myself."

Mirage looked at her sister with a slightly puzzled expression.

Vain lifted the heavy fusion gun she had chosen out of the weapons rack. She propped one leg up on the edge of it and balanced the fusion gun on her thigh as she checked it.

"You see Mirage," Vain began, checking the weapon. "Valcuria and I have differing ideas of what it means to be alive. She let everything that was done to her influence her every decision that followed. She is entirely ruled by her own past."

Vain slapped the massive clip onto the gun. There was a low throbbing hum as she cocked the weapon and it began charging.

"I myself think differently," she continued. "Life is what you make of it. The past is the past, there's no changing it. To live correctly is to make your own rules and make your own future. That's what it is to live without limits."

Vain let the gun rest on her shoulder. "Stay here," she said. "Keep the main gun locked on the planetoid. If we're not back in one half-hour . . .destroy the planetoid. One way or another, this mission's going to be completed."

Valcuria was concentrating, closing her eyes. The metal she had managed to tear from the remains of the frame lay against the stumps where only recently, her legs had been. She was melding the metal to her legs, in effect creating new legs. They wouldn�t be as efficient as her old legs, nor would she be as agile, but she was determined that if this man Kienan were going to take her life--as he seemed so quietly certain he could--she would die on her feet.

Kienan watched the whole thing blankly. He snapped the clips of Nagra and Nanovirus bullets into his pistols and took the safety off of both pistols. While he could have eliminated her before now, and with any number of weapons at his disposal, but he wanted, no, he needed to see her. It was a point of pride for him that he kill people he could look in the eye.

Finally the metals had bonded with her. She gasped slightly, as though she were waking from a dream. Her eyes searched for the strange young man who had been watching her, perched like a bird of prey on his ship. She had a gift for him. A one hundred megawatt blast that would boil every cell in his body like he had been doused in a sun's corona.

But he was nowhere to be found and the whole planetoid seemed hushed. The ship was still there, but the man was gone. There weren't even any footprints.

Where could he have gone? Valcuria pondered. She slid carefully down the remains of the fighter frame and stepped onto the smooth glass that had fused in the crash. She leaned back against the now-cold skin of the fighter, noticing a sharp pain in her back. Something was jutting in to her back. She tried to ignore it, reasoning that it was just a damaged system.

But gradually her senses, which were already keyed up beyond words, already on edge because of the man she knew was out there, ready to kill her, picked up something. A sound. A beeping sound.

She stepped away from the fighter and turned around. Her yellow eyes widened in horror at the sight on the smooth skin of the fighter . . .With a rather large magnetically affixed explosive on it.

The explosion wasn't long in coming. The blast hurled her against the force field of the fighter Kienan had been sitting on, which bounced her onto the ground like a stone skipping a pond.

Behind the fire and smoke of the explosion, she saw Kienan's Silhouette. He raised his gun and shot at her. The bullet struck her in the side, blasting a huge gash in her body. Valcuria said a silent prayer of thanks for her decision to shut off her pain receptors.

Valcuria roared with anger and hurled a blast of energy through the fire at him. Kienan leapt aside, like the devil's shadow. Two and three shots hit the ground in front of her, churning the dirt and creating great potholes in the ground.

Valcuria stood up uneasily, holding her side. It was badly damaged, but her self-repair technology was, for better or worse, holding her together.

She clenched her free hand into a tight fist. Her electromagnetic blasts wouldn�t be as strong with the diversion of power to repair the damage, but she had to hang on until she could being him in close enough to make certain he would die at her hands.

She strained her ears to hear him. The ground crunched softly with his footfalls. Valcuria quietly charged her weapon and waited for him.

Through a cloud of dust, Kienan walked through and before he knew what was happening, Valcuria seized him, firing her weapon through her hand into his body. The surge of energy was so intense, Kienan unconsciously spasmed and flung his twin pistols away.

Valcuria expected the electromagnetic weapon to kill Kienan instantly, to destabilize his brain functions and immediately shut him down, but it didn't. Instead, despite the incredible voltage surging through him. Kienan seized her around the neck, and with his other hand, drove his Midare-Giri into the wound at her side, activating it as he did so.

It was the worst thing he could have done. The twin energies negated one another and created an energetic backlash that hurled Kienan and Valcuria away from each other. Kienan panted, gathering his thoughts as he watched Valcuria attempt to do the same.

The layered mesh on my suit absorbed most of the energy, Kienan thought as he checked himself for damage. But I must have tossed the knife when we were hit by the backlash. And with my guns gone, I don�t really have anything that I can be sure will destroy her.

Valcuria, meanwhile was in the process of pulling herself together. She was shaking. The energy backlash had knocked out most of her systems, but it had, in a rather peculiar way, been beneficial. The wound caused by Kienan's bullet had been cauterized almost and that gave her enough power for one more shot if she took it now.

It'll have to be a killing shot, Valcuria thought. I'll be too weak to fire another shot, much less move, until I recharge and restore some of the damaged systems.

Kienan noticed a steady hum coming from Valcuria as he reached into the pouches on his belt. He ran his free hand through his hair, and noticed that it was standing on end.

Electromagnetic blast, he thought. She's got me targeted, and it sounds like she's on a power build for a heavy-duty blast. Still, perhaps what's called for is breaking her concentration.

Kienan's fingers seized upon a small metal knife, a throwing blade he rarely used, but as he was in no position to be choosy, it was all he had for the moment. He rolled the blade into position with his fingers, not even sparing it a glance as he watched her carefully.

As the corona of electromagnetic energy enveloped Valcuria, Kienan threw the blade at her. The throwing blade tumbled through space, end over end, and finally embedded itself in Valcuria's left eye.

Valcuria, shocked more than hurt, reared back, inadvertently throwing the electromagnetic blast upwards into the sky. There was a brilliant column of energy as the last of her energy crackled into the stars. Valcuria stood, hands on her knees, trying desperately to stay on her feet. Her one intact eye glared at Kienan, who rolled towards her, his hand closing around one of his pistols.

Again and again he fired at her, a total of five times in all, the Nagra bullets tearing great rends in her body. Unfortunately, Kienan hadn�t taken into account that his pistols had been in dust and were likely to jam. The sixth shot wouldn't complete and the trigger was locked in place.

Before he could look for the other pistol, Valcuria fell upon him, hands around his throat, using the force of her weight and the last desperate strength she possessed in her body to strangle the life out of him.

"Kill you," Valcuria said, her voice slurred and scratchy. "One at a time, or your entire planet . . .your whole race is going to die . . ."

"Whatever," Kienan said, spitting in her face defiantly. He could feel his trachea being crushed by her powerful hydraulic grip and knew he had to do something fast.

He forced his body to respond, despite the darkness that was closing in around him. His hands reached into another of his pouches, in the specially lined pouch where he kept his micro-fusion bombs. One of them would destroy them both easily, but he held the two of them just to be certain. He cradled them in the palm of his hand and prepared to clench them. The deadman's switches in the bombs would do the rest. When he died and his hands opened, Valcuria would have five seconds of triumph before the end came . . .in fire.

"KIENAN!" A voice cried from behind him. Vain's.

Kienan didn�t think twice about it--he had trained them as he had been trained. Kienan thrashed his legs up and kicked Valcuria exactly where the knife had stabbed into her eye, driving it deeper into her skull.

Valcuria felt the blade sever more of her vital systems, causing an interruption. Unfortunately that interruption meant that her hands opened, allowing Kienan to slip free and kick away from her.

As Kienan somersaulted backwards, the figure of Vain came into Valcuria's field of vision. Vain leveled her fusion gun at Valcuria and pulled the trigger.

A brilliant orange pulse burst forth from the barrel of the gun, blasting Valcuria in two. Her upper half fell forward onto the ground. Her back half blew apart into three pieces.

"Now we're even," Vain said coldly.

Kienan stepped from behind Vain and leveled his other pistol, which had been lying in the dirt at Valcuria's eye level.

"See you on the other side," Kienan said, pulling the trigger.

Valcuria screamed in shock, anger, and fear as the nanovirus bullet ripped into her other eye. It was the last thing she would ever see. Almost immediately, the nanovirus did its work, replicating and devouring her systems like termites digesting the foundation of a house.

"Thank you, Vain," Kienan said, gathering up the rest of his weaponry.

"She said I owed her one," Vain said, keeping the fusion gun pointed at Valcuria. "I wanted a chance to repay her before the end."

Kienan lit a cigarette as he pondered her words. "In any case, thanks for coming to my rescue once again. You ladies are truly my angels of mercy."

"You�re not mad?" Vain asked.

Kienan smiled around his cigarette. "I'm not mad. C'mon . . .let's go home. Our mission's finished."

As the two ships launched back to the Silhouette, Valcuria was crawling towards something. She couldn�t see it, but she knew it was there in the distance. But it was getting harder to crawl towards it, harder still to keep going. It felt like there was less of herself, and every thought she tried to form was shot full of holes by gibberish, rogue memories, and things she couldn�t even identify. It was like a creeping madness and it was slowly eating way at her mind.

Twist away the gates of steel, she thought. On the microphone I do a super show I am a lucky cowboy I put away my toys oh come back Johnny can't you see it's a beautiful world for you, for you, for you . . .

She thrashed forward, her skin turned grey and dead and desiccated. Her arm reached out once more.

It's not for me, she thought as the nanovirus destroyed the last of her systems. Valcuria's body lay in the dirt of this forsaken planetoid like mechanical driftwood. In time the nanovirus would destroy even the carcass that remained and finally itself, and all that would be left of Valcuria and her grand plan for vengeance on the Earth would be two trunkless legs in the sands of this deserted rock in space.

Several days later, Kienan was in the lower hold of the Silhouette, tapping the needle on a large gun-like device. Before him lay Jayla, prone and restrained on a gurney before him. Kienan injected her with the device.

The nanovirus bullets had given him the idea. While the nanomachines in his bullets were designed only to consume and destroy, these had a slightly more complex function.

Kienan watched the fluid in the injector slowly drain into Jayla.

Hopefully these nanomachines will begin the process of returning you to me, he thought. If anything, they'll make it easier to control you the next time we have to let you out.

Kienan waited a few minutes for the nanomachines to do their work. Then he tapped a series of commands and the restrains slid away from Jayla.

"All right Conscience," Kienan said. "Confirm signal."

"Confirmed signal," Conscience said.

"Okay, now . . .move the right arm."

Jayla's right arm lifted, a little stiffly at first, but over time it moved easier.

"Any resistance?"

"No," Conscience said.

"Excellent," Kienan said. "Now, try to walk around the room."

Jayla stood up and slowly got off of the gurney. Slowly, haltingly, then gradually with much more ease, Jayla walked around the room in a perfect circle, then returned to the gurney.

Kienan smiled and locked the restraints back in. "Perfect. Now, let's put her back on ice."

Kienan looked at Jayla's form while the stasis field generated another block of freezing solution around her. Another Marionette, he thought. Only this one could be truly called one. Right now you�re just a puppet on a string, but soon you'll be more than that. I won't stop until you're back in my arms as yourself Jayla.

"Kienan," Mirage's voice called to him. She was standing in the doorway of the room watching him. "We've received word from Mao. The money's been deposited and he sends his compliments, as always."

"Naturally." Kienan smiled as he reached for a cigarette. He lit it with practiced ease.

"Let me ask you a question, Mirage," he began.

"Of course," she said.

"Was it hard? Killing one of your own kind?"

"I didn�t kill her, and neither did Vain," she said. "Even if I had, it wouldn't have made a difference. I finally understand what Vain meant, now."

"What do you mean?" Kienan asked, taking a drag off of his cigarette.

"When she said Valcuria was driven by the past, and we live as we wish, in the present. She wasn't like us Kienan, so it didn�t matter what happened to her."

Kienan walked over to Mirage, and smiled slight. "I never thought of it that way," he said.

"When you rescued us, you at least gave us a choice and a chance," Mirage said. "We knew we could do more than what we were designed to be. We could make our own way and make our own rules. Like you."

"Like me," Kienan repeated neutrally. He took another thoughtful drag off of his cigarette and exhaled slowly as he made his way up to the bridge. Behind them in the hold, Jayla was nearly encased in the freezing solution again. Her green eyes glowed brilliantly for a second, and then the embrace of the ice completely enfolded her.