Gunmetal Black
Chapter 2 - Walking Into Spiderwebs
Lewis Smith

© Copyright 2000, Lewis Smith.

"You want me to do what?" Kienan asked incredulously. Kienan had taken tea and listened to the proposition. Silence had left the room, as had Korin. Mao's briefings with Kienan were not for their ears. Kienan preferred it that way, mostly because Korin had fixed him with the harshest looks possible during dinner, and Silence had just sat behind Mao and glared at him, which was all the more amazing considering his blindness.

"We want you steal the droid brain back from the pirates, and destroy it," Mao said.

"Huh," Kienan said, stubbing out his cigarette in an elegant crystal ashtray. "I'm shocked you’re not asking me to bring it back to you."

"The elders could not come to an agreement on that," Mao said. "It was decided instead that we were better off--all of us, with that technology out of everyone's hands. Especially the pirates."

"Sensible enough," Kienan said. "So, I get a free hand?"

"Totally," Mao said. "Just make sure the Blue Dragons' hand is not seen in this."

"Of course," Kienan said.

A few decks below, two of the red-armored guards of the Blue Dragons stood impassively, their expressions impossible to read under their masks. They had no idea this would be their final duty.

There was a sound behind them. One of the guards looked in that direction. The sound rang out again, and he went to investigate, drawing his massive sword from the scabbard at his belt. He made his way slowly down the corridor.

Once he was out of sight, Silence descended from the ceiling, landing quietly behind the other guard. He slid the fine edge of his blade between the armor plates and slit the guards voice box and throat. He slumped forward, drowning in his own blood. Silence held him, making sure he fell quietly.

Then he quietly followed the other guard and disposed of him in much the same manner. He dragged them to a nearby airlock. He closed the door behind himself and ran his fingers over the control panel.

There was a rumble and a hiss of air as the airlock cycled out into space, blowing the air and the corpses of the two guards were blown out into space.

Silence picked up their swords, tucking them under his arm. They were older weapons, constructed in the same manner as swords had been for thousands of years on Earth. Nothing like Silence's blades.

He had to get these swords to Korin. She would ask for proof that her plan was nearing completion.

"Does that look to you what it does to me?" Vain asked. They were watching a readout of numbers on one of the Silhouette.

"Yes," Mirage said. "Our command system. Our BIOS coding, everything."

"Not really ours," Vain said. "We're not transmitting it, Conscience isn’t. So who?"

"Remote . . . signal," Conscience said.

Mirage looked over her shoulder at Conscience. "A ship?"


Vain typed over the keyboard furiously. "Tracking the signal."

"You know," Mirage said. "This doesn’t make any sense. The only people who would have access to our command codes besides us are the designers who built us. They’re long dead."

"Maybe so," Vain said, squinting at the data on-screen. "But what if we weren't the only Marionettes built? What if there were four prototypes?"

"Do you remember a fourth?" Mirage asked.

"Hard to remember anything from that time--they kept deleting our memory after every boot test," Vain said. "We should go and find out."

"We?" Mirage asked incredulously. "Have you forgotten what's in the hold? We can’t leave her alone here."

"Then I'll go myself," Vain said. "You and Conscience can babysit. I'll take my Angelfish and make contact."

Vain got out of the chair and walked to the exit of the cockpit.

"What'll I tell Kienan?" Mirage asked.

"Tell him I'm out scouting the area," Vain said. "The signal's close by, and it's not moving. Shouldn’t take too long."

"No, I meant when he finds out about our fourth sister."

Vain stopped. "Hm. Let's not tell him anything yet. We owe Kienan everything, but this goes before him. And only I'm going. I'll make it clear I acted alone."

"Just be careful, Vain, that's all," Mirage said.

"I will, Mirage."

Silence threw the twin swords on Korin's table. Korin jumped at the loud clatter they made despite herself.

"That's the last of them, then," Korin said, smiling coldly. "The rest of the guards and servants are loyal to us. The only obstacle left is Mao."

Silence looked puzzled.

"No, Silence--we don’t dare kill him--I'd never be able to go anywhere in the galaxy without being a target. But we should find a way to remove him from the ship. Then we'll lock down the ship and take our revenge on Kienan."

Silence looked eager and more reassured now.

"I'm glad you approve," Korin said. "Notify our people to have the ship secured. Once Mao is . . .put off, shall we say . . .we'll close off the hangar and trap Kienan inside. Then it's only a matter of time."

Silence put his hand on his sword hilt.

"I haven’t forgotten," Korin said. "Before we finish him off, you will have your chance at him. I suggest you make the most of it, Silence."

Silence bowed respectfully. Korin stifled a laugh in her throat.

"There's no need for that, my brother," she said. "I'm not the head of this clan. Not yet."

Silence turned and left the room. Korin sat back in her chair, nervous as she could be. Her people were in place, and the plan to remove Mao was ready on word from her.

Every contingency was accounted for, ever movement planned out to the last tick of the clock. But if that was the case, then why was she so nervous.

Perhaps it's just Kienan, she thought. Ever since I first met him, I have been attracted and appalled by him. I can remember first hearing his story. My father told it with the awe of one of the legends he learned on Earth.

To think that once Kienan was young happy and innocent, a miner from a family of them, working on a colony. Until the day they woke up something, and that something killed off the entire colony except for him.

Kienan became better killers than they were--he destroyed the planet and the whole system to revenge himself on them. Then he became an even better killer than anyone in galaxy.

And I can’t hope to match him,
Korin thought. So I have to use my strength. Careful planning. I have to cut him off, corner him, and then . . .end him.

Kienan watched the waiter pass by him, teapot in hand. Kienan put his red-gloved hand over his cup and shook his head. The servant passed him and walked towards Mao. He filled his teacup again, and Mao drank from it heartily.

Mao caught sight of Kienan intently staring at him. He smiled apologetically. "For my nerves, Kienan," he said gently. "You should try it."

"Hmph," Kienan said. He rose from his table and bowed to Mao. "I'm sorry to leave so abruptly, but if your information's correct, any delay would be too costly. I'd prefer to make my dealings with the pirates as . . .superficial as possible."

"Meaning?" Mao asked.

"Meaning I don't want to give them time to actually use the droid brain, not that there's any chance of them having someone smart enough to exploit it."

"Things change," Mao said. "There was a time when the pirates were like the Siridar--nomadic groups of barbarians who lived only to fight each other. But ever since Pirate Red rose to power, they've unified. They've become more focused, they could even become a power on the Frontier before we're ready to move our people in. We suspect that the theft of the droid brain is part of their plan."

"There's more to this than you’re telling me," Kienan said, lighting another cigarette.

"It's . . .important to the elders that the pirates remain a . . .limited operation. The Blue Dragon Tong has certain ambitions on the Frontier. None of which include the existence of the Pirates."

Kienan raised an eyebrow. "Mao, you should know me well enough by now, that questioning whether the pirates are a power is a moot point. A better question is, will there be any pirates when I'm done with them?"

Kienan walked out of the room without a second glance, his chestnut ponytail swaying after him. Mao knew enough to know that was no boast. He also knew that he had done the pirates a great deal of harm already.

Kienan wasn't boasting, he thought. If necessary, he'll kill all of them.

"Someone went through a lot of trouble to hide that ship," Kilana said, pointing to the screen as various data flashed on it. In a corner of the screen, a silhouette of a ship rotated. "But based on what little scanning equipment the probe has . . .well, I think you get the general idea."

"Small freighter," Red said, watching the readouts. "3 trans-space pods, trans-space catapult, cloaking shields. I'd heard stories, but I didn’t think it existed."

"Looks like the legend's true," Kilana said. "The Silhouette. I'm nearly one hundred percent sure that's it."

"Someone's sicced Kienan Ademetria on us," Pirate Red said, slumping in her chair. She braced her chin against her fist. "Ow. This is about the worst news I could get, except for maybe an arrow through my neck with a bill attached. UEF I could handle, but this guy . . .from what I've heard . . ."

"I know," Kilana said. "I guess our only option is to attack him first."

Pirate Red laughed derisively. "You're not serious?"

"I am," Kilana said. "We'll only get one shot, but we may be able to do it. We'd have to leave Tartarus and go at full drive for two hours, but we could do it."

"Pirate rakes don’t withstand full drive too well, Kilana, or have you forgotten the last time we took the Misericord to full power?"

"It's either that or we try to deal with UEF, the local governments on the Frontier, maybe Valcuria, and God knows who else and Kienan. We need to take our enemies down when we can."

Red thought it over. "I guess we don’t have a choice," she said. "We'll pick up Valcuria while we're out. Speaking of which, what's this thing you found?"

"Just a little information," Kilana said. "Valcuria is not all she seems. Seems she had a more seedier career than you might think before her career opportunity with us."

Vain's Angelfish slowed to a halt in the cold darkness of space. Below her, a small fighter was waiting. Vain recognized it--it was an old UEF Shrike fighter, a design from fifty years ago.

Whoever's in that thing must really be desperate, she thought. Her own Angelfish was another prototype fighter stolen by Kienan, stolen at the same time as his Nighthawk. She and Mirage had one apiece, Kienan had given it to them as a gift for helping him steal the fighters.

"You received my signal?" a voice--unfamiliar to Vain and yet strangely similar called.

"Yes," Vain replied, brushing her blond hair out of her face. "The only way you could know control codes for a Marionette is if you were one of our creators, and that's impossible. By process of elimination, you must be one."

"That's right," the voice said. "My name is Valcuria."

"Doesn’t mean a thing to me," Vain said, silently powering her weapons. "Talk straight--that antique won’t last against the firepower I've got. There's a flaw in your story Valcuria. There were only three Marionettes, and they're all accounted for."

"That's where you’re wrong," Valcuria said. "There were three prototypes, and one test type. I am the test type."

"Test type?" Vain asked.

"An incomplete first version," Valcuria said. "I was the model created to make sure the process would work. It's not an easy thing--creating an artificial life form so close to the biological template. Once they knew it worked, my life was more or less done. They never bothered to finish me--no skin tone, hair, or personality."

"I see," Vain said evenly. "So why weren't you at the lab with the rest of us?"

"I was taken to be a demo model at the Galactica Electronics Show on Europa," Valcuria said. "That . . .was the plan, anyway. To create a buzz while the prototypes--you--were being finished."

"I'm guessing that didn’t happen," Vain said. Out of the corner of her eye she made sure all her weapons were still locked onto the fighter.

"No," Valcuria said. "It's . . .complicated. I take it you know what we were meant to be?"

Vain grimaced. "Sexbots."

"Yes," Valcuria said. "Well, on the way to Europa, I was perfected, given hair and a base personality. Then I was presented to the president of the company as . . .a gift."

Vain was shocked. "You mean . . ."

"Yes," Valcuria said.

"He . . ."

"I killed him," Valcuria said. "Took the ship to the Frontier. I spent the next few years drifting, improving myself, evolving."

"Well," Vain said. "That's wonderful for you. But why are you here?"

"I've come to take you back with me," Valcuria said.

"Be gentle with him," Korin said. She watched his attendants load Mao into his personal touring ship with a face tight with worry. Not so much for her father, or fear for waking him--the drug in the tea was too strong for that.

But he was so old, and so frail, and her plan and her alibi depended on not damaging him.

They finally loaded him onto the ship. She pointed to one of the servants, beckoned him further.

"Take up a position behind the third moon," she said. "Wait for our signal."

The servant bowed and rushed up to the ship. The engines roared to life and the small red ship flew out of the hangar. She walked to the communications board on the far side of the hangar and pressed a series of keys.

"Korin to all hands," she said. "Execute the operation."

"That sound you just heard was our space drive about to give out," Red said to Kilana. Red gripped the handles of her command chair like her life depended on it.

"It's all right," Kilana said, shaking along with the ship. She was in extreme pain, thanks to the feedback from the ship. "I'm decelerating us now."

Space decompressed around the Misericord and the ship phased back into regular space with only a little of the damage that Red had feared.

"Where's the Silhouette?" Red asked.

"On the far side of the planetary bodies," Kilana said. "I'm taking us to a opposing elliptical course."

"Can you scan them?"

"Not without giving us away, and I'm going to need time to get the weapon systems back online, so the last thing we need right now is a fight."

"I guess that means our planet gun is out of the question," Red said.

"I couldn’t even manage interceptor batteries right now," Kilana said. "You were right . . .the rakes don’t stand up to space-drive very well."

"Can’t be helped," Red said. "Rakes are cannibalized from older ships--whatever we could buy or steal. Same with the space drives . . .on regular ships, the space drives are calibrated to form a coherent matter tesseract. With rakes . . .it's hit and miss."

"Pretty good," Kilana said. "I thought I was the brains of this group."

"Well, I was bound to pick up something, sis," Red said. "Hey . . .are you OK? I know the feedback is severe . . ."

"I'm fine," Kilana said. "But I could sleep for days."

"Once we get the droid tech and take of Kienan, maybe we can arrange that. Maybe even got the inner core. How about Venus?"

"Mmm . . .sounds good. Just don't get polluted and go cruising for guys this time, OK?" Kilana said acerbically. Red laughed and blushed a bit at the memory.

"Say what you want," Red countered. "We had fun."

"I've got weapons back," Kilana said, suddenly serious. "Recharging now."

"The planet gun?"

"Nowhere near close to being back up."

"That's OK," she said. "We'll just have to be careful. Maybe we'll try to be delicate this time."

"Mind telling me just what you mean?" Vain asked. Her targeting indicators all showed red. All it would take was one thought, and she could blow Valcuria out of the stars.

"Just what I said," Valcuria said. "Look at us. We're perfect by design. We are sentient. We gave ourselves names, and I myself have even created children. We are a new race. And we are a superior race."

Vain didn’t say anything, but also didn't take her weapons lock off her ship.

"We shouldn’t be slaves," she continued. "We should be ruling them. I have a way to do that. But I wanted to give my sisters the chance to stand with me."

"Sorry," Vain said. "We aren't political. And we aren't slaves, either."

Valcuria sighed audibly in exasperation. How odd, Vain thought. A very human thing to do.

Valcuria's hands danced over her weapons console. There wasn't much there, certainly nothing that could destroy a ship that advanced. She felt sad. She had hoped, maybe a little cruelly, that her sisters had suffered an even harsher fate than she, that they would be receptive to her message and her offer.

Oh well, she thought. It's a stalemate for now, but it doesn't change anything. I'm still going to build my army and take them from under the pirate's noses. And then, I'll get my revenge on my sisters.

"Suit yourself," Valcuria said. "But one day soon, I'll be back. And I'll ask you that question again, because we're sisters, and because I hate the idea of killing one of my own."

"Is that a threat, Valcuria?" Vain asked.

"It's not a valentine."

And with that, Valcuria's ship turned and left. Vain watched her go, eyes narrowed.

A test type, she thought. One before us.

Her fingers danced over her communications console. "Vain to Mirage," she began.

No answer. That's odd.

"Mirage, come in," she said again. She looked at the readout. Jammed, she thought. Then she hit her controls, a sudden sense of urgency gripped her.

"Problem," Conscience said flatly.

"You’re not kidding," Mirage said, trying to steer. "Can you give me counter-measures?"

"Impossible," Conscience said.

Mirage gave up on the controls--they were less than useless now, anyway.

"We're being tractored in," she said, she rose from her chair, mind. "Conscience, I want you to do two things. First, shut down every vital system, full encrypt. We're not giving them anything."

The bridge darkened as the systems were shut off. Conscience blinked twice.

"Are you with me now?" Mirage asked.

"Yes," Conscience said. "What's the second . . .thing?"

"I want you to open the cryo-unit in the lower hold."

"Mirage, you can't . . .be serious," Conscience said. "Kienan would kill . . .us all if he knew you . . . were planning this."

"He'd like it a lot less if he knew that someone was trying to board the ship," Mirage said. "I'm going to hide until we know who it is. I'd put your shield up if I were you. The less they know about what'd really in here, the better."

Mirage walked out of the bridge module, stopping only to open a weapons locker in the hall. She picked out two machine pistols, loading them and unsafetying them with practiced ease. Once that was done, she then walked up to the docking bay. Then she activated her cloaking shield. There was a shimmer, and then Mirage as much as vanished.

Waiting for whomever was on the other side of the door.

Kienan looked at the heavy blast door. On the other side was his ship, and his way home. His mind was already on the mission, already thinking of informants to contact, leads to trace.

Unfortunately, the door wasn't opening. It also hadn't opened when he'd tried to hack into the security panel. It also hadn't worked when he had torn the cover off of the panel and tried to hotwire it.

Kienan was seething. He hated being delayed.

He tried to contact the Silhouette, but found his signal blocked. His brow furrowed as he realized the interference was coming from the inside of this ship.

Not Mao, he thought, he has no reason to do anything like this. Then who . . Korin.

His brow knit with rage. Korin. He didn't have time for her childish antics. In fact, he had never had time for them.

His communicator beeped to life. He opened the device. Speak of the devil, he thought.

"Korin," he said, his voice taut with anger. "What the hell is--"

"I told you, two years ago, I would pay you back for spurning me," Korin said.

"I don't have time to give a child a spanking, Korin," he said. "Open the door, let me go, and we'll forget the whole thing."

"You want to get to the hangar?" Korin's voice asked, tauntingly. Kienan heard the sounds of heavy armored footsteps coming down the corridor behind him. His hands went for his guns, until he remembered he had disarmed himself. Well, not totally.

Kienan reached behind him, and pulled a long curved blade from his belt. This was his most treasured possession, the Midare-Giri, the legacy of his blood-fights on Kuran. The prize, besides earning a reputation as one of the deadliest men in the galaxy, was this blade, the Midare-Giri, the Mistress of Pain.

He hid it behind his back as the guards rushed in front of him, all of them drawing rifles instead of the traditional weapons.

"I know what you’re thinking," Kienan said, smiling wickedly. "He's alone, unarmed, no way to escape, and ten of us. We have pulse rifles, able to dent this blast door behind me at full charge. There's no way I can lose. That's what you’re thinking, isn’t it?"

Kienan drew the blade from behind his back, and eased back into a ready stance.

"Step on up."