Gunmetal Black 2
Chapter 8 - Memory
Lewis Smith

© Copyright 2000, Lewis Smith.

Kienan dodged a wave of Marauders coming in fast from the surface, wheeled around and destroyed one in a volley of fire. He grit his teeth. It was the third wave of ships launched from the surface in ten minutes, and even with Vain and Mirage's help (though they seemed to be having their own problems) they couldn’t win against those odds.

No question: Things had gone to hell.

The Reiven spun around and destroyed two more Marauders. "Vain, Mirage," Kienan said. 'Ladies, I’d really like to know where my backup is."

"I'm on the way," Vain said. "I just finished the scan of the flagship, he's not there. They must have a base on the surface, unless he went to investigate the destroyer's destruction, which I find highly unlikely."

"Mirage?" Kienan asked.

"I'm pinned down," Mirage said over the communications link. "The fighters and the flagship have me in a crossfire."

Kienan looked at the planet below, weighing his options. "Vain, go help her."

"Kienan, I should punch a hole through the fighters for you--"

"Do as I say," Kienan said. "I'll be fine. Remember: Marauders are designed for atmospheric flight as well as space combat. Target their manoeuvring vanes, that should slow them down enough to destroy them."

"Kienan, I don't like leaving you in this situation--"

"Vain, this isn’t a discussion," Kienan said firmly, blasting another two Marauders out of the stars. "Make sure the flagship can’t hinder our escape, then get down to the planet. That's an order."

Vain sighed audibly. In moments like this she was almost human. "All right. Hang on sister, I'm on the way."

Kienan fired his afterburners and launched his rearward missiles, destroying another Marauder as more attempted to give chase. The Reiven was designed for space and atmospheric flight, just like the Marauders, with one major difference -- each mode was a sealed system, with very little exposed components for an enemy ship to cripple. Kienan had built it anticipating every dirty trick he would do himself.

The deflector shields of his ship glowed a bright red as he slammed into the edge of the atmosphere, dodging the random volleys of laser fire. He activated his targeting sensors. On the fuselage of the Reiven, two turrets swivelled backwards. The were low power cannons, usually use to damage shields, but Kienan was betting the strain on their shields from the atmosphere would weaken them enough.

Sure enough, three Marauders were destroyed on the opening volley, and two more careened into one another trying to see through the flameout. Kienan banked away from the atmosphere, looking for survivors.

Before he could acquire the remains of the squadron he had crippled, another squadron, this one composed of older fighters swooped in on him. Kienan banked away, beginning a chase once again.

Silhouette drew her knife from the pouch on her thigh. She watched the two troopers at the checkpoint. They seemed docile enough, distracted. They looked above them as another wave of fighters took off from the airfield, shaking the ground as they rocketed from the sky.

She made her way quietly to the checkpoint, stopping only to activate a small device she carried in the cuff of her glove. Her suit polarized, and with shimmer, she was gone. Her optic-prism suit was less effective that a full invisibility generator, but so long as she stayed still while in their field of vision, she could move unnoticed past them.

One of the troopers bent over a terminal, apparently reading new orders. Silhouette took this as her opportunity, getting down on her stomach and crawling very slowly on the ground. Her eyes saw the laser beam, an inch above her as she slithered underneath it. If she broke it, she'd have ten seconds to draw and fire on the troopers or she was good as dead.

Sweat beaded on her forehead as she slid the rest of the way through. As she pulled her left ankle through she took a deep breath, keeping her hand on her gun as she tried to get her bearings.

If I were Kienan I wouldn’t bother with this, she thought. I'd just blast my way through. That might be easy, but I'm not going to kill every single trooper on the base just because they were in my way.
She reached into one of her pouches and produced a small coin. Might as well distract them, she thought. She held the coin in the palm of her hand, intending to toss it through the electric eye and run like hell to the base.

Hopefully when I toss this and break the beam they'll be so busy trying to figure out the security breach here and not worry about all the alarms I'll trigger running to the compound.
She turned the coin over in her hands, ready to pitch it through. Suddenly, and explosion rocked the walls of the base. Silhouette turned around. A plume of smoke rose from another gate.

What the hell? Silhouette thought. She turned over the coin, then tossed it through the beam, immediately triggering the alarm and breaking into a sprint towards the main base. While she hadn't been able to get a floorplan from Theta, she didn't need one. Ever since she had set foot in this compound she had felt something, like fingers sliding inside her skin. Cold, dark, ones. The closer she got, the worse the sick infiltration felt.

All I have to do is follow it, she thought. And destroy the dragon in its lair.

Vain swooped in at a slow arc over the Ragnarok, blasting away two gun batteries. She checked a readout on her screen. The Parasite's infiltration should be far enough along, she thought. She tapped a series of keys and sent a signal to the nanoprobes in the Ragnarok's systems.

Within a matter of seconds, every system on the Ragnarok from the lights to the weapons to the zero-G bathrooms shut down and would stay that way until someone from the shipyards who built it could figure out how to get it out of diagnostic mode. Vain wished them luck, then activated her missile launchers and pummelled the crippled ship. Fissures of fire erupted as oxygen lines caught fire and power conduits ruptured. Vain banked away and found Mirage, slugging it out with the fighters a few kilometers away.

"I took care of your crossfire, sister," Vain said, blasting a fighter a few hundred feet from Mirage. "The flagship's no longer an issue."

"Thanks," Mirage said, bringing her heavier weapons online. "You know Vain, I get the strangest feeling we've done this before."

Vain smiled and brought her heavy weapons online as well. "What? Fought a numerically superior squadron of heavily armed fighters?"

"Uh-huh," Mirage said, nodding. The gun ports on the Angelfish opened as the squadron of Rigellian fighters pressed close them. Mirage checked her controls as the heavier weapons began to acquire targets.

"We have," Vain said, locking her weapons on the ships in front. "But not since Tuesday."

The two fighters rocketed forward into the swarm of fighters, blasting most of them out of existence in the initial volley. The rest of the fighters attempted to regain the advantage, but seemed to be getting nowhere, as it was seemingly impossible to destroy the two golden fighters.

"What is it?" Algrim said as something shattered the glass off the control tower. Skanda turned towards where the glass was cracked, almost in shame, as though he couldn’t look at Algrim any longer.

"Sir, the desert people," one of the officer's said. "They’re attacking the compound. They’ve destroyed the north gate and made their way inside the forest."

"WHAT?" Algrim demanded. He turned to Skanda. "Explain yourself!"

Skanda said nothing.

"Seize him," Algrim said, gesturing to the troopers guarding the door to the tower. "And get every trooper available outside to repel the attack. Shoot to kill."

The troopers seized Skanda, who didn’t resist as they seized him in a chokehold. Algrim turned to him, red eyes blazing with rage and the slightest hint of wounded pain.

"What do you have to say for yourself?" Algrim demanded.

"I . . .wanted to be free," Skanda said.

Algrim's brow furrowed. "Execute him," he said flatly. "Throw the upstart rebels his body. Break their spirit. Do you understand! Kill him then kill them all! I will not allow anyone to steal the means of redemption from me. I will NOT!"

"Sir, I--"


The crewman's eyes fell. He had heard this from Algrim before, during the battle of Charon. For years after he had convinced himself that it was a moment of addled rage. Now he was no longer sure. But orders were orders, and obedience was everything.

He sighed and waved the troopers out.

"What word from the Ragnarok?"
"The Ragnarok is not accepting communications at this time, sir," the crewman responded wearily. "The surviving fighters report three hostiles, of a different design than the enemy ship that destroyed the Garm. Agent Straeger is leading a squadron to intercept. Should I recall them to help against the rebels?"

"No," Algrim said, the rage gone from his eyes, now replaced with an almost dreamlike distance. "Prepare my fighter."

"Sir, my orders prevent me from consenting to this," the crewman said. "I cannot, in good conscience, allow my commanding officer to go into a war zone."

"The Ragnarok needs me," Algrim said. "My ship, my fighters, they need my leadership. Gods, it's all coming apart, isn’t it?"

"Sir, I'm afraid I must refuse this order. The risk is too great. I have sent a recall order to the Malios and the Fenris, they'll be back here within the hour. Until then I cannot let you go."

Algrim looked at him. Then he looked away from him and ordered another crewman to prepare his ship.

He turned back to the crewman. "I'll deal with you upon my return," Algrim said. "There is no room in my command for mutineers."

Straeger's squadron of fighters saw the battles before him, banking the Phantom towards the ship even now crushing a squad of Vindartins with contemptible ease. He ordered his fighters to head for the battle near the Ragnarok's position.

After all, it's just one fighter, and he's doing my job for me, Straeger thought. The least I can do is thank him with a quick death. The Phantom soared towards the battle at a parallel course. Straeger smiled to himself as he fired the Phantom's guns at one of the Vindartins nearest the enemy fighter, blowing it to smithereens.

Kienan's head snapped up in the directions of the explosion. He hadn’t destroyed that fighter, the direction of fire was all wrong. He looked down at his sensors. They seemed distorted.

Suddenly, the Reiven pitched with the force of a blaster impact. He looked again, no sign of where it came from. He gunned his engines and pushed deeper into the now-thinning cloud of fighters. Behind him, more fighters exploded. His opponent, whoever it was, had no compunction about taking the direct approach.

Kienan fired his rear guns randomly. Whatever was behind him distorted his targeting sensors so badly he couldn’t be sure of anything he was aiming at. He banked the ship away from the fighters, who were now retreating back towards the squadrons battling Vain and Mirage.

Kienan decided to play the same card again and rocketed toward the atmosphere as another shot glanced off of his right thruster. He grit his teeth and increased his speed.

Straeger smiled as he eased the Phantom into the enemy fighter's wake. He was clever, no doubt about it. Since his weapons lock couldn't acquire the Phantom, he was attempting to pull him into the atmosphere, hoping that the Phantom would create atmosphere shear and give his targeting sensors something to aim for.

Clever, Straeger thought. But I'm not that easily found out. He kept his mind focused, calmly picking his shots as the enemy fighter pushed deeper into the atmosphere.

Kienan checked his sensors. No shadows. Damn, he thought, pressing a series of buttons on his weapons console. My opponent's good. He's got a stealth system the likes of which I've never seen. But, unless the ship's a figment of my imagination, it's got to be there.

He checked the arming status. Only going to get one chance at this, he thought. His red-gloved hand hovered over the button to release it while his other hand programmed in a series of firings for the Reiven's roll-jets.

Another blast rocked the Reiven. Kienan frowned. His opponent was toying with him, but was ready to deliver the killshot. Kienan closed his eyes, took a deep breath and hit the "release" button.

Two tanks on the rear part of the Reiven ejected their contents in streams of blue-green liquid. The liquid almost instantly caught fire with the atmospheric friction, sending a trail of fire behind the Reiven. Kienan hit the button to activate the sequence as the flame tracks emptied themselves.

Straeger had been caught by surprise by the eruption of flame, more so by the fact that his connection with the Phantom had made him feel as though he were on fire himself. He neglected to reduce his speed as a result, and, trailing flame off of the black skin of his fighter, was easy prey as the Reiven turned a hundred and eighty degrees and unloaded a salvo of laser fire on him.

Straeger felt his nose bleeding again. There was some sort of feedback between he and the ship, whether it was because of what he had done to the Lens or something else he didn’t know, but he felt such agony that it severed his connection with the Phantom and he plunged into the atmosphere.

Focus, he thought, his own voice sounding like it was coming from miles away. FOCUS!

He tried to move past the white noise of the pain and established the links again. The Phantom haltingly regained attitude control and levelled off. Straeger checked his systems. His stealth systems were offline, but most of the critical hits had been absorbed by the Phantom's bio-armor.

He checked his weapons, eager to find the enemy ship again. Offline.

Straeger frowned. He had two options. He could try to find the ship again and engage him or he could return to the base and finish Algrim.

Straeger banked the ship and returned to base. As entertaining as the duel had been, he had a mission to complete.

Skanda walked a pace in front of the troopers pushing him down the hall. He had been this way before. It led to the main gate, where groups of his people were fighting their way in.

Fighting for him. He pondered that as he slowed and felt the muzzle of one of the troopers rifles press against his back. He looked at his hands, which were bound in front of him and slowed again.

When the trooper moved forward to jam the gun into his back, Skanda whirled his left foot around and smashed it into the trooper's throat, breaking through the soft armor plating and knocking him off balance. Skanda leapt over the doubled over soldier and smashed the second guard with a spinning kick. The other trooper smacked the wall hard.

Skanda looked down at his hands, and deciding he no longer needed to maintain the pretense any longer, slipped out of them. They clattered to the metal floor, their purpose served.

Skanda bent over the troopers, quickly taking their weapons, and removing their helmets. Once that was done, he shot both of them in the head. He looked at the gun in his hands, the muzzle still smoking from the shot.

Now I use their weapons to kill them, Skanda thought. I hope I will not be remembered for exchanging one devil for another. Something about my agreement with Straeger makes me afraid.

Still pondering on what path his future lay, he made his way to the gate quickly.

Algrim's red Vindartin took to the skies. It had been a few months since he had taken it up, but the controls felt familiar. It was a custom unit, designed to his specifications, a trophy for a service record so long it deserved a hundred more.

He looked below him at the explosions on the north gate of the base, at the slow moving transports circling where the ship was being studied. Good, he thought. That is the most important thing. My legacy must be protected. From these desert people, from the enemy in the skies, from my own people, if necessary.
He revved his engines, pushing into the skies.

"Tower control," he asked. "Situation report. Any contact with Ragnarok?"

"Negative contact with Ragnarok," the new tower commander's voice came back. "Warmaster Voelker has contacted us, he will be in planetary range in 5 minutes. The Fenris was attacked as they investigated the Garm's destruction by a remote device."

Algrim grit his teeth. No, he thought. They will not take it from me again. I have nothing left after this. I cannot let them take this last thing from me.

"What of our fighters still in combat?" Algrim asked.

"Several have broken off the fight, most are damage critically or destroyed. One of the enemy fighters is unaccounted for after engaging Agent Straeger's fighter."

"What of Agent Straeger?"

"Unknown. We lost contact when they went into orbit of the planet."

Algrim said nothing. Straeger must have been destroyed. Whomever these attackers are, they couldn’t be Earthers. Earthers would never fight this ferociously.
"Number of enemy vessels destroyed?"

"None. Two ships still engage out fighter squadrons, unknown configuration. Their weaponry far outclasses our own, warlord."

Algrim took a deep breath as he brought his fighter into a climb. "I see. Bring out planet-based weapons online and try to give our fighters some support. Tell the fighters to form on me when they receive my signal."

"Yes, my lord," the tower commander said.

Algrim closed the link and brought his engines up to full speed. The Vindartin protested ferociously, beginning to shake so hard Algrim wondered if it wasn't going to finally come to pieces.

Now I have to get there, to save my ship, to lead my forces to victory and protect my legacy. There can be no more delay.

Algrim flew at a high angle into the upper atmosphere, forgetting to polarize his canopy against the glare of the local sun at first. If he had, perhaps he would have seen the Reiven rocketing towards him.

Kienan activated the weapons. Unlike his last battle he wasn't dealing with a ghost. From the heavy gun batteries he let loose a volley of fire, glancing against one of the Vindartin's blast shields. Algrim banked his fighter and headed back down to the surface.

Kienan activated his atmospheric stabilizers and eased into a pursuit angle. That had to be him, Kienan thought. Only a command-level officer would have a custom fighter that old and colored anything but the standard green.
He fired again, but the old fighter rolled and turned back, firing at him. Kienan rolled his own fighter out of the way and returned fire.

Kienan checked his radar. He's leading me back to the base, he thought. Hoping that I’ll get scared and break off the fight when they bring their antiaircraft guns to bear on me.

I'm going to enjoy proving him wrong.

They passed through the first perimeter and Kienan rolled away as brilliant green energy bolts flew past. He fired a missile at Algrim's ship as they banked up to avoid one of the transport ships which was even now moving to suppress the battle on the ground. Kienan fired his guns at the missile, which exploded, and glanced against the fuselage of Algrim's Vindartin, blasting the fighter in two and causing it to spin in the air.

Kienan kept his fingers on the Reiven's weapons. There was a still a chance he wouldn’t crash, or worse yet, go down in a place he couldn't easily retrieve his saber from.

Algrim used his saber to slash through his safety belts and hit the ejection seat. Explosive bolts blew the canopy out, and Algrim leapt from the fighter, using his cloak as a makeshift parachute to control his descent. He landed hard against the hover transport, twisting his ankle in the fall. Fortunately the transport was so slow-moving and low enough to where the windshear wouldn’t blow him off of the ship. He steadied himself with his saber and stood, watching the remains of his fighter crash to the ground. Then he stared up at the enemy fighter.

Kienan knew a challenge when he saw one. He ejected, pausing only to strip off his spacesuit and send the Reiven to find the Umbra and wait for him. He fell, using the air currents to ease his descent and rolled to a stop on the surface of the ship, pistols drawn.

"Warlord Algrim," he said. "I've been looking for you for quite some time."

"An Earther," Algrim said contemptuously. "Naturally, yes, it would be one of you who comes to finish your destruction of my legacy."

"I'm not from Earth," Kienan said, pointing his guns at Algrim. "And all I've come for is your life."

Algrim bit back the pain in his ankle and drew himself up into a ready stance. "My life is not for any Earther to give or take. Not without a fight."

"I'm sorry," Silhouette whispered to the dead guards at her feet. She pried the covering off of a circuit panel, attempting to bypass the locks on the doors to the central tower. She could feel the shadows creeping over her mind like spiders on her skin. It was there, she could feel it.

She tried to ignore the creeping unease she felt as she crossed two wires together. There was a spark, a whiff of ozone, and the door opened half an inch. Silhouette dug her hands in and pried the door the rest of the way open, easing her way inside.

She looked around. Where were the guards? Surely they didn’t think anyone sufficiently determined wouldn’t make their way in and try to destroy it, she thought. She looked up. Light from above was filtered in, which gave the place the look of a greenhouse covering a single dead tree.

It was a ship, she thought. Were they trying to excavate it?

She took a row of small but powerful magnetic explosives off of her back. If they were, she was either going to send them home empty-handed or set them back several years.

She hoped for the former as she attached the bombs to the energy conduits than ran into the room. The more things exploded as a result of her sabotage, the better chance she had of completely destroying the ship.

She worked fast, sweat matting her bangs to her forehead and stinging her eyes as she put the last few bombs in place.

And that was precisely when the shadows that had been crawling over her brain swallowed her whole.

"Three of them," the blue-skinned doctor said.

"That's right," the older man said. He was a human of fifty years or so, clad in a while lab coat. They stood in front of three huge cylinders, each containing what looked like, for all intents and purposes, a human being.

"We have three chances to get it right," the doctor said. "The kind of energies we're tapping at the edge of this singularity can’t be handled by a human, or even a bioroid. So Alpha, Delta, and Omega here are going to be living capacitors."

"And hopefully the energy we recombine through the singularity will keep them in top physical shape, promote healing, retard the aging process," the blue-skinned doctor said. "It seems like a grand dream, Dr. Sandoval."

"It's no dream, Reficul," Sandoval said. "If I'm right, the energy from the singularity, in the proper amounts could be the key to man's immortality. These three will give us a working study of that and give us time to fine-tune the energy to safe levels."

"If such a thing is possible," Reficul said.

"Fire was an impossible dream for man until Prometheus brought it to them," Sandoval said, releasing the safeties on the power collectors. Now, below them, the collectors would absorb radiation from the event horizon of the singularity beneath them and transfer it to the trio in the tubes.

"Prometheus?" Reficul asked.

"Ancient Earth mythology," Sandoval said, monitoring the power levels. "He brought fire from heaven."

"I see," Reficul said. "It's rather strange how your Earth gods are always doing things for you."

Sandoval laughed gently. "Well, he paid the price for it. And now humans are doing it for themselves, and are about to become gods ourselves. All right, Reficul, we're ready to begin, I'll monitor the energy input from this station."

Reficul nodded and made his way to the shielded chamber and set to his work. Sandoval looked at the three lifeforms in the tubes as he released the last of the safeties and energy flowed into them.

It was the last thing he saw, and the first thing Silhouette saw. She tried to breathe but her mouth was filled with some kind of fluid.

(I'm not really here)

She tried to scream, but she couldn't. She pounded against the glass tube and looked to her left. In the other tube was a man, somehow familiar through the murky glass.


She tried to focus her eyes, but they were burning, she willed herself to look one more time.


She looked again. She could recognize the face, because she had touched it so many nights, been held in those arms.


It was Sinclaire.

Silhouette screamed in the hollow chamber of the base as memory shattered away and reality reformed around her. The planet shook with force as the ship belched a great font of energy burst forth, blasting through the moorings and through the ceiling, lighting up the skies like a column of fire.

And in a darker corner of the galaxy, far away from the planet and the ship, something heeded a silent call and slowly opened its eyes.