Gunmetal Black 2
Chapter 4 - Secrets To Each Other
Lewis Smith

© Copyright 2000, Lewis Smith.

Kienan shut off the communications channel and eased back in his seat. War Baron Ehrengeist had been more than helpful and the Silhouette had clearance to cross the border with all the proper paperwork, so as not to arouse suspicion.

He lit a cigarette and went over the travel plans once more in his mind. Once they'd crossed the border they'd follow the standard shipping lanes until they crossed into the Makar system, then it was stealth screens and silent running to the point Vain and Mirage had established. Some uncharted star system, about two and a half days from their present point.

As for what they would do when they got there, well . . .that was going to prove somewhat difficult. Kienan hated jobs like this with too many unknown variables almost as much as he loved the challenge of completing them.

He closed his eyes and exhaled, feeling the gentle tremor of the ship's forward thrust. His thoughts drifted to Silhouette and he grimaced as he realized there was no safe place to put her off before the Silhouette got to its destination. Humans were rarely welcome in Rigellian space under the best of circumstances, and finding one in an uncharted sector of space . . .they'd shoot first and forget the questions.

A desire that wasn't entirely foreign to Kienan. Why hadn't he shot her when he had the chance?

He silently cursed himself for still feeling obligated to her, for still being unable to shut her out after all this time. Hadn't she done enough to him? Faking her own death, falling in love with that bastard Sinclaire, starting a secret underground organization that worked to undermine syndicates like the one Kienan worked for?

That was more than enough for me to slam the door in her face, he thought. So why didn't I? Why is she still on board, even now setting up quarters two decks below me? Why didn’t I force her to leave?

He exhaled again, momentarily wanting to look behind him and ask Conscience if she knew, but he knew better. If he couldn't explain it, he certainly couldn’t expect anyone else to.

He ground out the cigarette in the ashtray he'd mounted to his chair and eased back in the seat. It was another hour before they cleared all the border checkpoints and the Silhouette would go into Space Drive, so a little rest seemed to be a good idea.

He leaned back and closed his eyes, trying as hard as he could to push the thoughts of Silhouette away. After a time and through sheer force of will, he succeeded. But what came in its place caused his eyes to snap open and his body to launch out of the seat.

I had nearly forgotten about her, Kienan thought. I had better see how she is, and then lock her down for the rest of the trip.

"Heinrich, I'll warn you now," Voelker said, eyeing his friend with a serious look. They stood in an elevator aboard the Malios, returning from a trip to the main hangar bay to see that the Phantom was berthed properly before getting underway. "Riven had me meet one more member of your team and bring her aboard for this mission. She was an adjutant to the scientific team on Durga that studied the alien fighter. She's to work with you on appraising the value of the discovery."

"Why is that cause for a warning?" Straeger asked.

Voelker sighed. "It's a bit hard to explain. I've asked her to meet us in the wardroom once we get up to the bridge. But . . .suffice it to say . . .she's Oneiran."

Straeger blinked, his eyes wide with disbelief. "You must be joking. An Oneiran? I'm supposed to work equally with an Oneiran? If there was any sanity left in the Empire she'd be getting my kiral."

"I know," Voelker said. "I made the same complaint to Riven, but he assured me that she knows what we're looking for. It may be for the best, Heinrich. She can handle the scientific details while we deal with Algrim."

"She should be carrying my clipboard, if anything," Straeger said. "This mission's problematic enough without dragging along some Oneiran wench to poke and prod a living spaceship while we do all the real work, as usual. It's enough to make you wonder who the subjects of the Empire really are."

Voelker folded his hands behind his back. "Too true."

"I trust she's staying on the low deck, with the rest of the Oneirans? Bad enough we have to work on equal footing with her kind, we shouldn’t have to see her until the appropriate time as well."

"Actually, no," Voelker said. "She's been given officer's quarters, by Riven's order."

Straeger looked disgusted. "You have to be joking, Janos. This is . . .beyond intolerable. The officers will shoot her into space for even being near their quarters."

"I know, I know," Voelker said. "It's progressivism like this that'll destroy the Empire one day. This mission's going to be tense enough as it is without racial tensions."

The doors opened and Straeger and Voelker made their way past the bridge crew and on to the wardroom. At the other end of the long conference table, a woman sat waiting for them. She was clad in the armored work-suit standard for Oneiran workers on Rigellian bases, and the purple, black and grey suit contrasted her blue skin in sharp relief. Around her neck she wore a yellow vox collar, necessary because the Oneiran language was the one thing the Rigellians had never been able to totally conquer.

"Indiga," Voelker said, bowing his head slightly. He gestured to Straeger, who was looking so disdainfully at her that Voelker could feel the withering contempt radiating from him as though he were telepathic himself. "This is Agent Straeger of Black Lens. He is your partner on the reconnaissance element of our mission."

"Superior," Straeger corrected stiffly.

"I don't believe so," Indiga said, standing as they sat down. "I assumed you knew, Agent, I'm attached to a high-level scientific team on Durga. I report to the Warduke himself. He's given me equal footing with you and every other Rigellian on this ship, and if that bothers you, I suggest you speak to him about it, for all the good it will do you."

Straeger sighed. "Just do your job as you're supposed to then and stay out of the way of your betters," he said, easing back in his chair. "You Oneirans are good at that sort of thing. One of the many benefits of conquering you so long ago --you turned into very good, very subservient subjects for our Empire. Until you had delusions of equality, at any rate."

Indiga smiled. "It bothers you that much, does it?"

"I'd have to acknowledge you as a genuine threat before you could bother me," Straeger said. "I have no intention of doing so."

Voelker cleared his throat. "Be that as it may," he said loudly, trying to derail the argument between them before it went on too much longer. "May I remind the two of you that we have a mission to complete. Once that's done, the two of you can debate Imperial racial politics all you like."

"Of course," Indiga said. "My apologies, Warmaster."

Voelker waved her apology away. "Now," he said. "You worked with the research team on Durga on analyzing the alien ship. I'd like the full briefing on that now, if you please."

"Janos, is it really necessary?" Straeger asked. "After all, the ship, if there is one, is buried under a layer of the planet."

"A layer that's being excavated even as we move to rendezvous with Algrim," he said. "A shooting war with his squad I'm not worried about, however, if an orbital attack is necessary, I’d like to know what to look for so that I don’t accidentally destroy what we're going all this way for. It's not as though I can look out the window to be sure."

"Of course, sir," Indiga said. "A very wise precaution."

Straeger sneered and rolled his eyes.

Indiga walked over to the end of the table and began typing on the small keypad mounted on the table. A holographic display appeared in the middle of the table. "This was the fighter as it was first unearthed, before it reactivated and went rogue. While we believe the readings Algrim sent us indicate a larger ship, it would be prudent to examine the details of the first alien ship as a primer on how their technology works."

"How do you know their technology is the same for all their ships?" Straeger asked, smiling thinly.

"It's a function of culture to make certain elements standard," Indiga said. "For example, you Rigellians have several different classes of ships --cruisers, frigates, destroyers -- but certain things like drive systems and control structures are the same no matter the class of ship."

"Very astute," Straeger said. The patronizing in his voice hung thick in the air.

"I'm glad you approve," Indiga said. "Now, may I continue?"

Silhouette pushed open the door to her quarters. She looked at the layer of dust that covered everything and the faint scent of jasmine and guessed that Kienan had sealed her quarters ever since the day she left. The effect was disturbing, like stepping into an old photograph of the past.

She sighed and tossed her bag onto the small bed in the corner. As she did so, she felt someone shove her, hard. Silhouette tripped over her own feet and went sprawling forward, righting herself before she fell to the deck. Behind her, the heavy door slammed shut and she reached for her gun, only to find it wasn't there.

She turned around to see Vain standing against the wall, her left hand locking the door. "Hi," the blonde woman said as Silhouette stood up again. "Let's talk."

"Funny way of asking for girl talk," Silhouette said. "But I forgot --you’re not really a girl are you?"

"Neither are you," a voice that was not Vain's said. Beside Vain, the air rippled and distorted until the form of Mirage appeared, holding Silhouette's pistol. "I'd say that indicates we have a lot in common."

"Fine," Silhouette said, pulling a dusty chair out from under the table next to the bed. She turned it around and sat on it. "Let's talk. Does Kienan know you’re doing this? If you two are room service, don’t expect a tip."

"He's working," Vain said. "Besides, he can't bring himself to say what needs to be said."

"Don’t keep it to yourself," Silhouette said.

"You hurt him," Mirage said.

"Funny," Silhouette said. "I was the one that got shot, as I recall."

"You misunderstand," Mirage said. "I did not mean in the past, I mean that you hurt him. Now."

"By being here," Vain clarified. "Seeing you hurts him."

"I'm sorry you think so," Silhouette said. "It's . . .it's not very easy for me either. But I had something I had to tell him, and given what it was, I felt like I owed it to him to tell him in person. In the hour and a half since then, I've been patting myself on the back and kicking myself in equal measures."

"My heart bleeds for you," Vain said.

"You don’t have one," Silhouette said coolly.

Vain rolled her eyes. "So, now that he has been informed . . .why are you still here? And moving in as well?"

"Kienan said he'd re-fuel my ship before I left. It's a long haul back and the re-fuelling will take a few hours. So . . .he asked me if I wanted to rest. I said yes. If I knew part of the deal was getting leaned on by you two, I'd have slept on the Umbra."

Mirage looked at Vain, and Vain and Mirage. "All right," Mirage said. "You’re going to be here for awhile, there's nothing we can do about that. But let's be clear on one thing."

Silhouette cocked an eyebrow. "I'm listening."

"We owe our lives to Kienan, and we'd do anything to protect him," Vain said. "As long as we still function, we won't allow anyone to hurt him. That includes you."

"He told us to give you every courtesy," Mirage said. "And we will. But if you do anything to hurt him --an unkind word, even a glance . . ."

Mirage walked toward Silhouette and bent down to look her in the eye. "We will kill you. And we will enjoy it."

Silhouette looked back at her, no trace of fear in her eyes. "Go right ahead," Silhouette said. "Then Kienan will have you destroyed for hurting me."

"We are willing to take that risk," Vain said, unlocking the door, and never taking her eyes off of Silhouette. "At least we have no illusions about where we stand with him."

Silhouette blinked, unsure of what to say. She looked down at the floor, suddenly feeling hurt.

Mirage opened the door and walked out, followed by Vain, who stopped and looked over her shoulder.

"Remember our warning. Kienan's lived through enough pain without you coming back and adding more to it. Even if we ourselves are destroyed for it, you will take responsibility for what you have done to him."

Vain walked out, slamming the door, the sound of metal hitting metal ringing like cannon fire in the silent room. Silhouette stood up, her face neutral, her mind ambivalent.

As much as I hate being threatened, she thought, unzipping her bodysuit a little. They do have a point.

She lay down on the small bed, looking up at the ceiling. I have hurt him, she thought. And I cut a little deeper every time I look at him, hell, probably every time he thinks of me and what we were.

What business do I have being here now? I left this place behind a long time ago. It just felt wrong. It felt wrong to think of what we did as fun, it felt wrong to kill people, destroy lives, hurt people who never did us any harm at the whim of people we never saw.

And it felt doubly wrong to go out after a job and celebrate. It felt wrong to build our little world, Kienan and I, on this ship where we lived, and laughed and made love and made plans for a life, then took that away from someone else. It didn't seem fair.

I did what I had to do.

She frowned at the ceiling. Keep telling yourself that, she thought bitterly. Maybe on the one thousandth repetition, it'll be easier to swallow.

"I take it you don't like her?" Voelker said, watching Straeger pace back and forth along the bridge of the Malios. They were near the rendezvous point, another four hours and they would meet up with Algrim's squad of ships.

"Whatever gave you that idea, Janos?" Straeger said, turning to look at him.

"You spent most of the briefing challenging her on every single point she tried to make. That was, of course, when you weren't reminding her how inferior Oneirans were as a class of people and how they were only fit to do our scullery work. Apart from that, you kept it mostly to attacking her findings. Admirable restraint."

"Yes," Straeger said. "Partly because her conclusions are wrong. We don’t need to unearth the ship to study it. If what happened at Durga was any indication it will re-activate and attack anything it detects, and it may not be so easy to destroy. It would be better to gradually unearth it and cut it to pieces. Disassemble it so that it's no longer a threat."

"That's my opinion as well," Voelker said. "But it may be a moot point. We have to pry it from Algrim's hands first. And if he suspects even for a second that's the reason we came, he’ll destroy it out of spite. He's done it before, he wiped out an entire Ghram base on Zarin 2 just to make sure they'd have nothing to come back for."

"I've thought about that," Straeger said. "That's why we'll wait as long as possible before taking command and try to make our taking control as subtle as possible. Give us enough time to get most of the ground troops in place to hold key areas and limit any combat to dealing with his squad of ships. Are your fighter pilots good enough to go up against his fighters?"

"That . . .I am not so sure of. They're a good group, that's for sure, and we have the advantage of having Marauders while Algrim's forces have inferior Vindartins. But they're used to fighting at a disadvantage. We're not. Technical superiority gives us a thin advantage. I'd prefer a much bigger margin."

Straeger sighed. "It all depends on Algrim," he said. "These men are fanatically devoted to him, they followed him into exile. The vigor he has will determine how hard they fight.

"So the best course of action is to kill Algrim," he said. "Right before his troops to demoralize them."

"Heinrich . . ."

"It's the most logical solution," Straeger said. "But it can't be you or any of your troops. You'll have to be blameless to be able to assume command of his forces."

"Who, then?" Voelker asked. "Indiga? Oneirans have been killing Rigellians in terrorist actions since the First Subjugation."

"No," Straeger said. "I will kill him. Then you may assume command free of blame."

Silhouette tossed and turned in her bed, tormented by more fragments of things past and future.

She found herself walking down a hallway, like one of the corridors in the Silhouette, except everything felt very cold, and every four or five steps, something else intruded on her thoughts.

"It's up to you now Sil. I've freed you from your past. It's all I have to give you. Although I'm pretty sure you're cursing me for it right now," Kienan's voice crackled over the intercom as she sat in his fighter.

She saw a door in the distance, open and streaming with fog. No, not fog, mist, like when dry ice melts. It filled the corridor slowly, making it seem even more like a dream.

"I'm a silhouette. A vague impression of the person I'm based on."

She looked down at her hands. She was dressed in her old flight suit, the one she had worn when she worked with Kienan. She ran her hands through her hair. It was the reddish-brown it had been back then, gathered into a messy ponytail.

"Brother and sister, after a fashion," a shadowy figure, hard to make out in the darkened room but oddly familiar said to her.

She looked down again. She was now wearing her body armor from the time when she'd first formed the White Dragons, and her hair was back to normal, long and dark brown. What was going on here?

"I'm leaving him, Toriares. I can’t do this anymore. Every fiber of my being tells me this is wrong, and I shouldn’t be doing this."

"What will you do?"

"Find out what and who I really am."

The door seemed far away, but she felt like she had been walking for hours and not getting anywhere.

"I owe you Silhouette, but my first loyalty will always be to Kienan," the grey-skinned woman said while pressing the heavy laser rifle into Silhouette's back. Now, you’re going to help me save him, sister, or I'll kill you right here."

Silhouette blinked. Back to normal again, and she was at the door. There was a pale light inside and a shadow stood before the light, the silhouette of a child.

Silhouette walked towards the light, trying to make out the details of the silhouette. She came closer and the figure stepped out of the shadows. It was a child all right, and one that she recognized with mounting horror.

She was dressed immaculately in a white dress, her long dark hair pulled into a tight ponytail behind her head. Her inquiring brown eyes looked up at Silhouette with recognition, and then quiet rage. She spoke in a voice that carried all the flinty demands of an angry child.

"Do you know who you are? Do you know what you are?"

After the child said that, she banged her fist against the light. Reality shattered around Silhouette and she felt as though she were going to drown. She gasped for air and woke up looking at Kienan, sitting cross-legged on the floor at the far end of a room not unlike the one she had seen in her dream.

Kienan stood before an immense freezer unit, monitoring some readouts as he consulted one of a number of books spread out in front of the unit. Kienan had known very little about such things as biochemistry and medicine, but he was determined to find out all he could. After all, the woman inside the tube was depending on it.

Inside the freezer, something in the shape of a woman was sleeping. Her grey skin was tough and armored like an insect's carapace, and in truth only her long mane of dark hair indicated any sort of femininity.

But it was Kienan's responsibility all the same. He leafed idly through a textbook on genetic resequencing, his head hurting and the words making no impression on his mind. Despite his desire to keep as few people from knowing about this, Kienan was realizing more and more that he couldn't do this alone.

He sighed and shut the book, pulling out and lighting a cigarette as he stood up from the floor. He took a long drag on his cigarette and chewed over his options, all of which seemed pretty slim. He honestly didn’t know anyone with science advanced enough to do what was required, and the one person who was even close was the person who Kienan had stolen her from.

He took another drag off of the cigarette, racking his brain for options he knew didn’t exist. He idly closed an open book on the floor with his foot. He heard a small clank against the deck that he knew couldn't have been the book, tossed his cigarette aside and drew his pistol in one fluid motion that lasted all of one eye blink.

He was never to be disturbed here, not by the Marionettes (unless it was an emergency) and certainly not by his "passenger." It was with a tinge of anger, and resigned frustration that Kienan saw Silhouette step through the shadows. He sighed bitterly.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Kienan demanded.

"Funny," Silhouette said. "I was going to ask you the same question. What AM I doing here?"