Gunmetal Black 3
Prologue - For Those About To Rock
Lewis Smith

© Copyright 2000, Lewis Smith.

The statuesque blond woman adjusted the purple swimsuit clinging to her body with a mixture of dissatisfaction and annoyance. She didn't much like it -- the purple was too deep for a true purple and it was chafing in places she didn’t know could chafe.

She sighed and unfolded a deck chair. The view she commanded was beautiful, but for a small ugly pier that cut off the ocean's horizon line against the sky like a black mark on a work of art. She lay back in the chair, stretching her long pale legs out with unconscious grace, then put on a pair of black sunglasses. She pushed her blonde bangs away from her face and stared out towards the sea.

She looked for the entire world like just another tourist who came to Icelius. Icelius was 90% water and the prospect of a planet made of nothing but beaches, with a climate much like Earth's early May, was quite a draw for space travelers this far out on the Frontier, most of whom had never even seen an Earth summer of any kind.

But tourists weren't the only people who came for the deep blue waters. Especially not tonight.

Her black, irisless eyes stared through the glasses at the pier. Through them the activity on the pier was magnified and enhanced. For twilight there was activity on the docks, some that drew her attention despite their best efforts to keep to the shadows. They wandered in and out of the shelter covering most of the pier, occasionally poking their heads out, and waiting for dark.

She grabbed a book and opened it to look busy, still staring out at the pier.

"It's the latest thing," the nervous young man said. For a human, he was slight and thin and seemed to be constantly nervous. His close-cut brown hair was spiked as though he had just woken up. "We managed to jack the prototype on the way from Zwei Base to final testing on Callisto. It's an all-terrain, all environment super uniframe armor."

He gestured to his sister, who was seated in a class sphere attached to a giant machine that looked almost, but not quite, like an animal. It had four arms, two of which had huge three-fingered hands. The shorter pair of arms had no hands, just heavy blaster guns. Folded on the back of the machine were layers of armor, which made the fact that it supported itself on two legs all the more incredible.

The three aliens who had come to see their demonstration watched with guarded awe. The machine was impressive, no question, but plenty of small-timers tried to run so-called "new" technology to races on the Frontier, Claiming it was the least thing.

Unfortunately, "Latest thing," had, in their experience, come to mean, "discarded, flawed, prototype." Finally, one of the men standing around it spoke to him. His gold skin and his pointed ears marked him as a Khephren, his implacable feline eyes looking at the machine as if appraising a diamond.

"I won't deny it's an impressive machine," the Khephren said. "But what good does a single prototype do us? It would take us a year to reverse-engineer it to the point of successfully mass-producing it."

"That's taken care of, Nara," Marcus Gianni said. "We jacked the plans for construction when we got the prototype. It shouldn't be very hard for you to mass-produce a version while you utilize the prototype for your organization's ... territorial gains?"

Gianni looked at his sister, her hands on the controls. His eyes slid back to his guests. They had taken an awful risk stealing the machine, and were looking for a quick payoff. The more questions they asked, the more nervous it made him.

That was why Milena was in the machine. If worst came to worst and they wouldn’t go for it at his price they could shoot them down and slip out tomorrow.

They could take the machine to another planet, arrange another meeting with a local ambitious crime boss and try the sales pitch on them. The one thing the Frontier had plenty of was crime. In truth, it was ruled by it.

Behind Nara the air shimmered imperceptibly. Had anyone been listening and would have been able to hear over the hum of the machine's engines at standby, they would have heard a very subtle beep.

Beep, beep.

Kienan Ademetria tapped the device in his ear in acknowledgement as he stripped off his wetsuit. He brushed his chestnut bangs out of his eyes and undid his long braid from its bundle as he crouched in a dark corner on the other side of the pier. He quietly unzipped the waterproof pack he had been carrying between his oxygen tanks and slowly pulled out his twin automatic pistols, checking to make sure they were loaded and functional before he slid them into the holsters at his hip.

He blinked as he noticed he was holding his breath. He smiled.

It wouldn’t do to make sound, he chided himself. Not even an exhale. There'll be plenty of time to make noise.

Once I'm ready.

He adjusted his clothes, throwing on his red vest over his black body armor and making a final check of his weaponry quickly and silently. Once satisfied, he slowly crept towards the other side of the sheltered pier, moving in the direction of the voices he heard in the distance.

Sounds like negotiations aren't going well, he thought, reaching into one of the pouches on his belt and withdrawing a small magnetic explosive. He placed it within the stacked pallets. There was a small hollow clink as it affixed to what was held within. Kienan looked down, reading the label as best he could given the waning light.

Liquid oxygen, he thought. Spare tanks for mini-sub pilots. That'll do nicely as far as covering the evidence. Or rather, for incinerating it.

His emerald eyes focused on the people listening to Gianni's sales pitch. His eyes narrowed on Nara. The man he had been ordered to kill. He seemed to be enjoying himself, calmly punching holes in Gianni's confidence as he haggled with him about the price for just the plans so his organization could manufacture the machines for themselves.

At Nara's side were two armored bodyguards. From their body language, Kienan marked them as local hires -- barely professionals, but sent along with Nara by his contacts on Icelius because they knew enough to point a gun at the other guy.

Kienan glanced at the machine, unimpressed. It confirmed what he had been told about Nara -- that he was planning to break from his partners in his syndicate and establish himself as the chief of a new syndicate.

If only he could find the means to force people onto his side.

He reached for his earpiece, his red-gloved finger tapping it once.

The air beside Nara shimmered and resolved itself in the shape of a woman. And, more upsetting in this tense situation, an armed woman. Gianni had enough time to open his mouth before she swept her two submachine guns at him. Gianni's chest exploded as a hailstorm of bullets ripped through his chest.

Nara grit his teeth, fired and missed, shoving his bodyguards in the direction of the woman just as another man flipped over a stack of pallets and into view. In the low light he looked like a devil. He landed on his feet, pistols drawn and aimed at Nara. Nara ran for the machine, wrenching open the door and tossing Gianni's sister out. She stumbled onto the concrete of the pier and drew her own sidearm, firing impotently at the bulletproof glass sphere.

Kienan did the same, firing volley after volley of armor piercing shots at the glass. He grit his teeth as the bullets were deflected like raindrops. He holstered one of his pistols and reached into another pouch on his belt, just as Nara swiveled the machine's gun-arms in his direction.

Kienan lobbed a small grey device at the machine just as one of Nara's bodyguards tackled him. Kienan rolled with the man's weight and used his legs to throw him into the stack of pallets, as an explosion blew one of the machines gun-arms off.

Kienan shot at it a few more times as Nara tried to fire. Nara wasn't having a whole lot of luck. Priding himself on his nobility and his deep pride in his culture, he hadn't bothered to undertake a study of Earth Basic.

As a result, the bank of switches lever, lights, readouts, buttons, and knobs were as good as useless. He had managed to figure out the basic controls, so he stuck with those and slowly managed to walk the machine into the water, whereupon it automatically configured itself for aquatic transport.

Kienan smashed the other bodyguard across the bridge of the nose with his pistol as the other woman fired uselessly at the machine's armor plating.

"It's no good, Mirage," he said. "Bullets won’t do any good against that armor. I'll follow him and maybe Vain -- "

His sentence was halted by the hard click of a gun being pointed at his head.

"Don't move," the bodyguard said, wiping his nose as he held Kienan's pistol at his head. Kienan not only moved but turned to him and smiled.

"Go ahead and shoot," he said, moving towards him.

The bodyguard's hand clenched on the trigger. An explosive charge in the butt of the gun immediately blew his hand off as Kienan shoved him aside into Mirage's sights. Kienan leapt onto the back of the machine as it began to pick up speed out of the pier.

The fool should have known I only use signature guns, Kienan thought. I didn’t survive this long without people trying that trick before and making them pay for it. Now to make sure Nara doesn’t get away and to cover my tracks at the same time.

"DOWN!" Kienan said. He leaned against the armored hide of the machine and pressed a button on his belt. The explosive charge blew up the pier as the machine rocketed away from it, spraying salt water in Kienan's eyes as he hung on tenaciously.

Kienan grasped the armor plate of the machine as it hopped through the waves, bouncing off the surface of the water like a stone skipped across a pond. He reached down and slapped a small disc-shaped device on one of the wings of the machine, unspooling a clip attached to a long, thin cable. He clipped the other end to his belt. He wasn't planning on falling off, but he would be damned if he were going to let Nara get away.

After all, no one marked for death by Kienan Ademetria ever survived for long. It was a point of pride that Kienan had never failed an assignment. And a small-timer like Nara certainly wasn't going to break his streak.

He turned his face from the wind and salt water and blinked a few times to clear his vision and saw a small panel on the other wing of the machine. He reached behind him and drew a long blade from a sheath on the back of his belt, slamming it into the panel and prying it off. It felt cold to the touch, even through his gloves. Kienan used the point of his blade to slice open the cables he could feel with it. Water droplets in and around the panel froze to the metal as coolant leaked out, causing the engine to overheat and explode.

Kienan held on, sheathing his knife again as Nara banked the machine left, favoring the wounded engine. Kienan looked out and saw a familiar stretch of beach coming into view.

Vain, he thought, getting his feet underneath him.

Vain looked out as the machine made a slow turn, spraying up a huge crest of water as it did so. Smoke belched out of one side of it and through her glasses she could see Kienan clinging onto the back. Although she knew it was impossible, it looked like he was staring right at her.

"Finally," she said, tossing away the book. She reached underneath the chair she was sitting on and pulled out a long, heavy gun. She hefted it onto her shoulder and slid the eyepiece into place.

Through the eyepiece targeting coordinates she picked out the machine and locked on. Vain pulled the trigger. The rifle kicked hard, but Vain didn't move. She fired again. The outer skin of the machine exploded, sending fire and armored shrapnel everywhere.

Vain looked through her glasses. The machine was going in circles, spewing smoke and fire as it did so. She looked for any sign of Kienan. If she had a heart, it would have fluttered with worry at finding none.

Kienan hauled himself back out of the water hand over hand, the filament line cutting into his gloves as he clambered back onto the burning skin of the craft. It was slowing down a bit, the momentum from both engines now gone. Kienan climbed onto the skin of the craft and used his knife to cut through the machines top escape hatch. Then he sliced his filament line free and looked down at Nara, trapped in the cockpit of the machine. Kienan smiled down at Nara and dropped two devices in there with him, then kicked at a large red button on the side of the cockpit before backflipping off the machine.

Nara felt the pod he was in break loose of the craft and felt himself being shot upward. He grabbed the controls to try and stop it, but it did him no good. Partly because he had left the machines controls several hundred feet below him as the ejector system rocketed him into the air.

But mostly because he found that Kienan had thrown two live grenades in his lap.

He opened his mouth to scream and exploded high over the waters, showering shrapnel on the calming water below.

Kienan kicked back up to the surface, brushing his hair out of his eyes as he took in more air. A piece of glass from the cockpit floated by him and he smiled very slowly.

See you on the other side, Nara, he thought, looking skyward.

The water was calm, and Kienan let himself float quietly for a while. Then there was a low sighing as a small orange hovercraft pulled up beside him. Inside her were Vain and Mirage. Kienan smiled and got in, sitting on the edge of the hovercraft and wringing the seawater out of his hair.

"Mission accomplished, ladies," he said. He fumbled around in another of his pouches and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He frowned a little as he looked for one that hadn't gotten wet despite the care he had taken to make sure the compartment was watertight.

"Glad to hear it," Vain said. "I really would like to put some normal clothes on now, Kienan."

"I think you look fine," Mirage said, a subtle smirk on her face.

"Fine," Vain said, managing the controls with a severe expression etched on her face. "Next time, you get to have a bunch of tourists gawk at you."

He finally found one only a little wet and shook the water droplets off it. He was pleased to learn that his lighter's compartment had stayed watertight and it lit his cigarette on the first try. He looked up to the stars, taking a long thoughtful drag off his cigarette.

"Are you all right, Kienan?" Mirage asked.

"I'm fine," Kienan said. "Nothing a little time off won't cure."

"You mean -- "

"Yes," Kienan said, his voice getting its calm raspy smoothness back as he took another drag off his cigarette. "I've got some leave coming. We could do with a vacation."

The white-haired man walked through the tomblike hallways of the prison, his white cane tapping on the polished floor. He was clad in a white suit that seemed to glow in the austere light of the prison hallway. His dark brown eyes surveyed the room in front of him.

A pace behind him walked one of the prison's guards, his hands occasionally brushing against his shock stick. It was rare that the prisoner in question got visitors, and while she had been docile enough in her time in jail, they took no chances with her.

The room was, like the rest of the prison, spare and cold. A metal table stood between two chairs. The white-suited man stood behind his chair as the door on the other side of the room opened. Another guard pushed a woman through. She was glad in blue-grey prison fatigues, her long black hair pulled back in a severe ponytail. From the sweat that beaded on her bronze skin, the man assumed they'd found her in the weight room and called her in. She stared at the man behind the chair, who gazed at her impassively, his whole manner as cool as the air in the room.

"Toriares," was all she said.

Finally, she walked over to him and hugged him as best she could despite her wrist restraints. He returned the hug, his lips spreading into an easy smile. They took their places and the guards watched from their places beside the door.

"It's been awhile, sister," Toriares said, brushing a lock of white hair from his eyes. His black-gloved hands rested on his cane. "How is everything?"

"Good," she said. "Up for review in another week. You gonna speak for me, like the last few times?"

Toriares nodded. "You should get it this time," he said. "After all, as far as everyone's concerned you've done your time."

"You know this for a fact?"

"No," he said. "But I know the people who make the decisions. It's been five years. That's plenty of time."

"Plenty of time," she said. "I suppose there's no chance of going back to work when I get out?"

Toriares shook his head. "You and I both know that door was shut a long time ago, Marasi."

"Yeah," she said. "I remember. Slammed in my face."

"You’re not still bitter are you?" Toriares asked. "You told me yourself if it came down to it, business won out over family."

"No," she said. "I'm not bitter… just a little scared."

"Scared how?"

"Just ... scared, is all," Marasi said. "Scared of staying inside, scared of being out. What would I do if I got out, Toriares? What do you do when you have to quit?"

Toriares raised an eyebrow. "I did it."

"We're not all like you, brother," Marasi said. "We don’t all roll out of bed with it all figured out. Besides. It can't be that easy. Don't you miss it?"

"The life?" Toriares said. "Nope. The people?" His expression lost its easy veneer and his eyes darkened. "Maybe one or two."

"So what do you do?"

"Go on with my new life," Toriares said. "Maybe see the people when I can. Best of both worlds, really."

Marasi smiled a little and nodded. "I thought it was a little early for a visit from you," she said, shaking a finger at him. "You're going to see him, aren't you?"

Toriares smiled and nodded.

"The junior mechanic."

Toriares smirked and nodded. "The junior mechanic, yes. But I wanted to stop in and see you."

Marasi frowned. 'You know, I hate that guy."

Toriares smiled. "He hears that a lot, I think. But I'll tell him you said "hi," all the same."

Marasi nodded. "Do that," she said. "Then come back here and help me get out. Maybe find my own new life. As close to you and as far away from that guy as possible."

"Will do," Toriares said. They rose and hugged again, a bit more awkwardly this time. The guard took her back and Toriares watched her go, just a little sad. He didn’t regret getting her put away but he recognized the fear in her eyes.

I felt the same way when I was trying to get out, he thought, idly tapping his cane on the floor as he walked back out. Despite what she may think I didn’t have a plan in place exactly. I was just as scared at what I was going to do and what I was going to be when it was all over with.

They came to a lift back to the prison's ground level. As the lift ascended, Toriares checked his watch. He'd have to make some time back if he was going to meet Kienan at the agreed-upon place.

Kienan did many things well. Most of those Toriares had taught him to do. But the one thing he had never been able to teach him was how to wait.