Gunmetal Black 2
Epilogue - The Beauty Of A Dream
Lewis Smith

© Copyright 2000, Lewis Smith.

Silhouette stood in front of the clone of Jayla, alone, in the darkness of theSilhouette's cargo hold. They were safe. They had been for the past two days. She had awakened after the first day, Kienan was still asleep in his quarters where Vain and Mirage had put the two of them after they had made their way out of Rigellian space.

Silhouette had been surprised at their gentleness with her, especially since they'd sworn to kill her only a couple days before. And now she stood here, alone with her thoughts and the one person who she felt could understand.

If only she could hear her.

"I can't do this anymore," Silhouette continued, brushing a lock of hair from her eyes. "I tried, but I don't belong here anymore. I don't belong with anyone, or anywhere. Going to that ship was a mistake. I've woke up into a nightmare."

Silhouette looked down at her feet. "I was so sure I was doing the right thing, that everything I had done -- from leaving Kienan to my missions with the White Dragons, to being with Sinclaire -- it was all right, it was all justified."

She blinked back tears. "I couldn't have been more wrong. I was so naïve. All I was doing was running away. And now I've had all my secrets rubbed in my face. Nothing's the same anymore.

"I'm not as innocent as I thought I was," Silhouette said, the words seeming to throw a great weight off her shoulders. She looked into Jayla's aqua eyes as she floated in stasis. "But maybe you are."

"Kienan needs someone like you. Someone to be innocent. Someone to keep him in touch with the innocence he lost. Because if he loses that . . .I don't know what would happen."

She put her palm on the stasis capsule. "So, I'm giving him to you, Jayla. Do for him what I can't anymore. Love him. Try to save him from himself. I can't do it. I don't know what to do anymore, so I'm leaving for--"

"Silhouette?" Mirage's voice called over the ship's communication's system. "Your ship is re-charged and ready to go."

"Oh . . .uhm, thanks, Mirage," Silhouette said. "Prep the ship for launch. I'll be there in a minute."

"Youre not going to say goodbye to Kienan?"

Silhouette looked away. "We didn't say what we should have when we should have," she said. "Now it's too late and there's nothing left to say. No, Mirage. Just get me ready to go."

"Gladly," Vain's voice broke in. Silhouette made a face and looked back at Jayla. "I hope he can bring you out of there and bring you back. I've given him all the help I can. Goodbye . . .sister."

Silhouette turned and walked to her ship. She walked down the corridor that led to Kienan's quarters and paused at his door. Her hand reached out for the door handle, but she shook her head, turned, and walked to her ship.

Straeger blinked as Indiga waved the scanner over his eye. He grimaced and waved her away. He was sitting in the medical quarters, in a private office. In the two days since the troopers from the support fleet dug him out from his place next to the ship. He had been designated as "minimally wounded" in triage, which had surprised him, but not as much as his critical wounds had healed on their own. Even his hand, which the human had blown a hole through, seemed fine. There wasn't even a scar on his chalk-white flesh.

"So," he said. "Are you going to tell me what happened or not?"

Indiga shut off the probe. "All I can offer you is supposition," she said. "We've never tried to merge the alien technology with another living body, when you’re dealing with organic matter designed to perform one function and introduce it into something as variable as a humanoid physiology, the results are naturally . . . unpredictable."

"And?" Straeger asked impatiently.

"I can find only trace elements of the alien technology in your system. The two biologics have fused together nearly seamlessly," Indiga said. Her vox collar was glowing, a spare one had been given to her while another was calibrated to her specifications. As a result, the translation was halting and disjointed.

"Do youfeel any different?" Indiga asked.

"Actually," Straeger said. "I do. He took a deep breath. "There's no evidence of my wounds incurred in the battle, but that's not the amazing thing."

Indiga looked unimpressed. Straeger slid off the examination bench and took his uniform's jacket from a chair. "The most amazing thing is I can read your mind as easily as I look at you."

"What?" Indiga said, suddenly and forcibly trying to blank her mind.

"You heard me," Straeger said. "I've been reading your mind instead of listening to you. And all I had to do is look at you. Oneirans aren't supposed to be readable. This is very interesting."

There was a chime at the door. "Enter," Straeger said.

A Rigellian troop sergeant opened the door and stood at attention. With Voelker and Algrim dead, Straeger had been appointed the commander of the ground operation by default, even though Black Lens Agents weren't supposed to have any authority over the military.

"Your pardon, Agent Straeger," the sergeant said, still at attention. "But you have a Gold Imperative-level transmission from Warduke Riven waiting for you."

Gold Imperative, Straeger thought.Frequencies used only for top-level orders. An Agent like me isn't even supposed to know they exist, unless it's as a myth.

I'm beginning to like the taste of power.

"Route it through to the Warlord's office," Straeger said. "I'm on my way."

Vain watched theUmbra fly off into the sea of stars before them. TheSilhouette sailed on in the opposite direction, in the safe neutral territory of the Frontier. They had been lucky. The profile of the Silhouette hadn't gone out over any Rigellian channels, or if it had, they had destroyed any ship that had seen it. Once they were able, they'd wipe any other traces they hadn't thought of at the time, just to be sure.

The Umbra wasn't so lucky, Vain thought.Silhouette's a wanted woman now. She doesn't dare go back into Rigellian space. I don't feel so alone now -- after all; a whole galactic empire wants her dead now.

I wonder what was so damned important that she dragged Kienan into it. Or, more to the point, forced Kienan to drag her out of it?

She made her way downstairs from the observation dome and down to the bridge. Vain took her seat beside Mirage, who was finalizing payment details with Sarah Tiel.

Vain eased into her seat and checked her readout board. "Well?" Vain asked no one in particular. "We nearly got ourselves killed, but we did it, didn't we?"

Mirage tapped a few keys and eased back in her seat. "We're not done yet. "Just have to box the saber up and put it in the blind drop. From there, Universal Mail Delivery will get it to her. All very nice and anonymous. The easy part."

Vain looked at Mirage. They were thinking the same thing. "Should we wake him up and tell him?" Vain finally asked.

"I don't know what to do," Mirage said. "That woman certainly does make a mess when she breezes in, doesn't she?"

"I wonder why Kienan tolerates it, honestly," Vain said. "Her superior attitude, her protestations of righteousness, her attempt to be perfect--"

She should leave that to us," Mirage said. "We were built that way."

"You think we've seen the last of her?" Vain asked.

"I hope so," Mirage said. "A woman like that is . . .I don't know . . ."


Vain and Mirage turned. If they had been anything like the humans they were designed in the image of, they would have gasped when Conscience spoke. It wasn't exactly true and it didn't cover everything about Silhouette, but as one-word definitions go, it was right on the mark.

"You're recalling me to Rigellia?" Straeger asked disbelievingly. "Why?"

"It's only temporary, Heinrich," Riven said, his insincere grin in full display over the communications channel. "You should be happy, after all. This is a summons from the Empress herself."

"I don't understand, Warduke," Straeger said. He felt his palms sweating. It was a frame-up, he thought, the words making his nerves feel like someone was touching them to a live wire. Algrim, the ship, they framed me. "Why am I being recalled now, when there is a clear and present danger to this installation? Our security's been compromised, the Earthers have already tried to destroy the ship, and our defenses are still in a shambles. The morale of my surviving troops--"

Riven smiled broadly. "How apt."

Straeger blinked. "What do you mean, Warduke?"

"You've been enjoying your power as temporary commander, haven't you, Heinrich?" Riven asked. "It's interesting because as of now, that position is . . .permanent."

Straeger exhaled, surprised he had been holding his breath. "But Black Lens agents don't have a clear line in the chain of command to pass orders to Infantry or Warmasters," he said. "How did you--"

Riven waved the question away. "Agents don't," he said calmly. "But the planetary lord could, with the proper directives issued by the Empress."

"Then I'm--"

"--Being promoted, yes," Riven said. "I think I like the look of surprise I see on your face Straeger. I should save it. After all, it's the last picture of Agent Heinrich Straeger anyone will ever see. Not the face a War Count of the Empire would wear, is it . . .Count Straeger?"

Straeger exhaled again. This was so unbelievable he wasn't sure how to react. "Count?"

"Yes," Riven said. "It's not official; yet, but you are the First Count of the Planet Abgrund, our newest addition to the Rigellian Empire. We'll have to re-do most of the banners, but it's well worth it, don't you agree?"

Straeger nodded, unable to speak.

Riven smiled. "You see, Heinrich, Black Lens rewards its own. You've accomplished your mission and even managed to concoct a story that allows us to confess our hiding of Algrim for the past twenty years. A Warlord, wandering the spaceways and expanding the empire, killed liberating a planet of savages while simultaneously being attacked by Earth saboteurs. Very romantic."

"Thank you sir," Straeger said, snapping to attention.

"The linerDogurava will arrive at Abgrund in three days time," Riven said. "Until the ceremony, you are not to reveal your status to the troops -- until the ceremony, we'll say that the temporary writ of command has been extended. If I were you, I'd brush up on my court etiquette. Good work . . .Count Straeger. Riven out."

Straeger sat back in the chair that had, until recently belonged to Algrim on the planet that had recently been his as well and now belonged to Straeger. Riven believed the attack by the Earthers was a lie, a blind to cover Straeger's murder of Algrim. That annoyed Straeger only slightly.

With the resources of the ship and the opportunities my title will give me, Straeger thought, I'll be able to deal with those two humans myself. For what they nearly cost me, it's the least I can do in return. They had me at their mercy and didn't make sure I was dead.

I intend to make them regret that oversight when the tables are turned.

Kienan dreamt of a night many years ago. The longest night he had ever spent alone:

He had just blown up Caldera after escaping with his life. He was curled up on the cold metal floor of the escape pod from the mining transport. He shivered, cold from shock and from the cold metal floor that kept out the even colder vacuum.

His clothes were torn, caked with blood -- both his own and the blood of the creatures that had murdered his family. Covering him was the blanket from the pod's medical kit. But he couldn't stop shivering. He could hear his ragged breath echoing around the cold meal of the pod and nearly threw up when the leading edge of the shockwave blew him into space.

Behind him, the planet where he had been born, where he had been raised was gone in a flash of fire caused by an act of desperation. And the sole survivor hadn't survived at all really.

Kienan finally shut his eyes, able to keep warm enough under the blanket to sleep. In his heart he knew that the Kienan Ademetria who closed his eyes that night would not be the same one that would awaken and open his eyes to the cold, directionless universe outside his metal cocoon.

It was the worst kind of rebirth.

"He came unarmed," the trooper holding Skanda's left arm behind him said. "But I recognized him from the battle. My sergeant said to execute him, but our commandant said he needed clearance from you."

"Yes," Straeger sad. "He was one of Algrim's associates. You know you're never going to leave this compound again, don't you Skanda?"

Skanda looked up and nodded.

"Then why did you come?"

"I wanted to be certain you would keep your word and free my people," Skanda said.

Straeger stood up and stared at him. The troopers on either side of Skanda cinched their hold on his arms even tighter. "I'm a man of my word, Skanda," Straeger said. "Your people are free. My troops won't even seek out the ones who fired on them during the battle. You may release him, troopers. Yes, Skanda -- so long as your people leave this compound alone, we'll leave them alone."

They let him go and Skanda stood up. He didn't make a move. He stared at Straeger, sizing him up carefully. Then he turned towards the door.

"Wait," Straeger said. "Troopers, restrain him if he attempts to leave."

Skanda looked over his shoulder. "Your word--"

"My word was to free your people," Straeger said. "You will stay here. You were not included in the bargain. I'll need a bodyguard after all, and despite your previous record, I have a feeling you would be perfect for the job."

Skanda said something in his own language. The trooper on his left, thinking it was a curse, raised his pistol, but Skanda put up his hands.

"The scorpion stung the fox that brought him over a stream," Skanda said to no one in particular. "When the dying fox asked why he did it, knowing the scorpion had doomed them both, the scorpion said, "I cannot help it, it is my nature.""

"Quaint," Straeger said. "What does it mean?"

"It means I will do as you ask," Skanda said, bowing. He stared at Straeger the entire time, making the gesture of supplication seem like an act of defiance. "Until the day things change."

"What I represent is immutable," Straeger shot back. "You may as well resist an avalanche from a mountain."

"Perhaps," Skanda said. "But the desert winds eventually destroy a mountain."

Straeger grimaced. "Poetic, and defiant," he said. He looked to the trooper with his gun still on Skanda. "Corporal, take him to the stockade. I want him beaten, but not killed. Understood?"

The corporal nodded and stood at attention. The troopers move to seize Skanda, but he waved them off. He turned to look at Straeger again, then bowed his head and walked out, flanked by the troopers.

Kienan woke up with a sudden start. His hands went to his face. He could feel the beginnings of stubble through his gloves. I've been out for . . .two days, he thought. Maybe three. But we made it, we must have. He took a few deep breaths, his eyes adjusting to the dim lights in his quarters.

He sat up and looked around. Kienan was never one to sleep fitfully, so he knew immediately that he hadn't been alone in his bed. At least for awhile. He recognized the outline of the rumpled bedclothes on the other side of the bed. There wasn't a vague shape, just an impression. More than that, something in the air. It was barely around now, but Kienan felt it as he ran his gloved hand over the impression.

Silhouette, he thought. He threw his legs over to the floor and reached for his lighter and his cigarettes, taking one and lighting it quickly, taking a long drag on it. He exhaled, the smoke casting a thin shadow film over the room. Kienan stared at the smoke for awhile, then back to the shape on the bed.

Then he looked away, chiding himself for looking back.No use in it, he reminded himself.She's gone for good. All she left were memories thinner than smoke on the air.

He took another drag and pressed a button on his nightstand.

"Status?" Kienan asked.

"Condition green," Mirage said. "Vain and I have spent the last 12 hours deleting any mention of you or the ship from the Rigellian database while leaving a worm in the data net to notify us if they look for you anyway, we've gotten all 3 fighters repaired and we're on our way to Kuran."

"What's our ETA?"

"Three hours," Vain said. "We received a communication from Mao Xai Jan. He has a job for you."

"All right," Kienan said, running a hand through his hair. "I'll get in touch with him once I've cleaned up."

The channel stayed open for a minute.

"Silhouette?" Kienan asked.

"She left about a day and a half ago," Mirage sad.

Kienan looked at the glowing tip of his cigarette. "Did she say anything?"

"No," Mirage said. "She just left."

Of course, Kienan thought.



"Are you all right?"

Kienan blinked and took another drag on his cigarette. He stood up and smoothed the bedclothes out, wiping away any trace of Silhouette's presence there like the desert wind blowing a sand dune away.

"I'm fine," he sad. "Kienan out."

He finished making the bed, then stared at it for a few minutes, finishing the cigarette and stubbing it out. He tapped a code on the computer on the nightstand and ran a hand through his hair.

There was a hiss of empty noise over the speakers in his room. Then a soft piano and a woman's voice filled the room.

"Soft remembered dreams of sweet compliance,

"Seamlessly fitting yourself into my world . . ."

Kienan lit another cigarette. He let the music surround him, hoping to keep the memories out for awhile.