Gunmetal Black 3
Chapter 4 - Reunion
Lewis Smith

© Copyright 2000, Lewis Smith.

The Silhouette slowly flew into the dark region before them. Gradually the stars fell away and there was only a thick oppressive cloud of night around them.

"Stay focused," Vain cautioned Mirage. "We won’t be able to find a celestial fix until we get through this cloud. Conscience, are you broadcasting the proper message?"

"Yes," Conscience replied. The equation message was being transmitted over and over again like the steady rings of a phone call. The question was, would anyone pick up? Was anyone there to answer?

Vain grimaced at the thought. The information at the Armillary was left centuries ago, she thought. The Haxan could have left the galaxy by this point.

Or -- and this was an even grimmer probability to contemplate -- the Haxan were extinct -- having run to the ends of the universe only to die alone in the eternal night. As bad as that was, Vain's felt worse for her ego. As a creature of logic, the idea that she would willfully chase shadows along the length and breath of the galaxy was ... disturbing.

She steadied the Silhouette's course, monitoring the collision sensors, which were about the only thing left that would do her any good at the moment. Nothing. They were surrounded by nothing and were flying deeper into it, as good as blind. The only thing to hope for was a near miss or that their message would be received.

Of course, there were plenty of other dangers that could befall them. The void was a good trick to cover your tracks. Any pursuing ship could fly too close to a far or a planet and not realize it until it's too late to do anything about.

Vain hoped that wouldn’t happen with their ship. It wasn't her own destruction or even the loss of the Silhouette. No, the worst thing was to disappoint Kienan.

This means a lot to him, Vain thought. I will not fail him.

Vain adjusted course, trying to keep to a straight line as the collision alert sounded. There was no telling what it was -- in this thick darkness it could be anything, from an asteroid, a space mine or a Haxan ship, slipping through the void and studying the Silhouette.

Vain's white-gloved hand danced over the arming controls to the weapons. While the Silhouette appeared to be little more than a rebuilt freighter, it was quite impressively armed. Heavy blaster cannons, missiles, mines, even a high-yield fusion cannon. Enough to take on a ship at least twice its size.

She toyed for a second with firing a shot. Maybe it would light the way, maybe it would convince the Haxan that they were not to be trifled with.

No, she reminded herself. Kienan said to go to them with open hands. An unusual thing for him to say, but perhaps the best choice given the circumstances.

After all, we want these people's help. They might not like us shooting them out of the stars.

"Message received," Conscience said.

"Fantastic!" Mirage exulted. "Have they responded?"

"Yes," Conscience said. "Processing signal."

The void suddenly vanished and the stars returned. The Silhouette was surrounded by three bizarrely constructed ships -- orbs holding together two triangular wings. They looked like midnight butterflies painted purple and blue on a base of deepest black.

Appropriate, Vain thought. That a group of magicians who use mathematics and technology to effect magic would choose a ship so perfect in it's geometry.

"Who calls to those who wandered the stars long ago?" The message came back. Vain smiled thinly. Whoever they were and however long they'd been in hiding, they'd apparently never lost their flair for the theatrical.

"Patch me through to them, Conscience," Vain said.

"Link established."

Vain marshaled her courage and recalled the instructions left at the Armillary. This had all been there, buried in a peculiar kind of code it had taken them a long time to crack.

"The ones who followed the trail you drew in the stars."

Toriares embraced his friend warmly as they stood in the landing bay of the Chimera. Kienan did the same. It felt so good to see him again. He hasn’t aged a day, Kienan thought. Still the same man who taught me everything. Even looks the same -- same white and black suit, same cane. The only welcome constant in my life.

"How have you been, Kienan?" Toriares asked. Kienan was about to say something when the whine of the engines clamping a launch frame over the Ruby Vroom cut him off. Toriares gestured for him to come to the forward compartment.

"About ... about the same as always," Kienan said.

Toriares looked down for a second, almost sorry to hear it. "Well," he said. "You look good. You’re not embarrassing me, are you?"

"Never," Kienan said, smiling. Occasionally Toriares enjoyed playing Kienan's stern master, even though he had been anything but.

"Good," Toriares said, reaching into one of the storage units behind the controls and getting a bottle of a strange green liquid and two glasses. He quickly poured two and handed one to Kienan, gesturing for him to sit as he did the same. "I didn’t forget. I always remember to keep a bottle of the good stuff for you. I'll probably have one on me the day you die."

A shadow went over Kienan's face as he took the drink.

"Hey," Toriares said. He searched Kienan's face for concern. "I say something wrong?"

Kienan threw the drink back, feeling his insides shudder as it slid down, igniting everything on its path downwards. "Well," Kienan said. "Let's just say that's been on my mind a lot lately."

Toriares took his drink and poured another. "You wanna talk about it?"

Kienan knocked back the next drink. "Maybe when I'm a little more drunk."

Toriares smiled and took another drink, quickly pouring another one for Kienan. "I'll hold you to that," he said. The bottle was a third gone already. Altarian whiskey was the sort of thing you drank to prove your courage. Most men couldn't get through a whole bottle without needing a hospital. "Where are your lady friends?"

"My --?" Kienan asked. "Oh, right. They're taking care of some business past the Frontier for me."

Toriares studied Kienan as he handed him the drink. More to it than that, he thought. Whatever they’re doing it must be important to him. God, what's wrong with you? Stop interrogating him.

He'll tell you what's on his mind when he's damn good and ready.

"You know," Toriares said. He filled their glasses again, the whiskey only causing him to spill a little. "I've always wondered. What's it like sharing a ship with three sexy androids?"

Kienan took his drink and laughed, coughing a little. "Aren’t you married? What the hell are you doing worrying about what I'm doing with the Marionettes?"

"Yes, I am, smart guy," Toriares said, slamming his back. "But you have to admit -- lonely guy, three ludicrously endowed android girls willing to do anything." He smiled and poured another glass for both of them. "Makes your friends wonder."

Kienan smirked as he took the glass, turning it in his fingers. Finally he smiled. "You’re a lech," he said. "You’re also drunk. The Marionettes and I ... don’t do that. They’re with me for other reasons."

Toriares smiled. "You know," he said, the levity suddenly slipping from his voice. "Kinda glad to hear you say that. You know they'd do anything for you, don’t you? Die for you if you asked them."

Kienan nodded and finally took the drink. "Sometimes," he said. "I don’t really understand why."

"Why what?"

Kienan rolled the glass between his palms, sitting back and sighing. "Why I keep them around ... why they stay, why they're so committed to me."

"That's easy," Toriares said. He gestured to Kienan's glass and refilled it. He looked Kienan directly in the eyes. "For one thing, you don’t need to be left alone. On some level you must have realized that. Probably why you didn’t destroy them."

"Are you my therapist now?" Kienan said, taking a drink.

Toriares shook his head, taking his. "Nope," he said. "I'm sure you have plenty of people telling you how crazy you are. I wouldn’t have trained you if you were a raving lunatic, would I?"

"I guess not."

"All right then," Toriares said. "As to why they’re committed to you ... well, they love you, dummy."

Kienan swallowed hard. He was drinking slower now. Looking at the drinks. It wasn't that they were harder to throw back now. It was the advice that was difficult to swallow.

Truth, Kienan had discovered, often was.

"I don’t know how to deal with that," Kienan said.

"I know," Toriares said, a little sad himself. "I wish I could have taught you how. I should have, back when it was you, me and Silhouette -- "

"Why didn't you ever tell me she was alive?"

Toriares blinked and set down the drink. He felt a little guilty, but knew that sooner or later it was going to come out. "She asked me not to."

"And you felt more loyal to her than to me?"

"That's not fair, Kienan, and you know it," Toriares said. "I knew better than to get in the middle of what was between you and her."

"So you let me go on believing I had murdered her for a couple of years?" Kienan asked bitterly. "Was this another one of those lessons I had to learn? The ones I didn’t realize you were teaching me?"

"Kienan, stop it," Toriares said. "Listen to what I'm saying: There was nothing I could do -- Silhouette didn’t want to see you and to be honest, I was a little afraid of what would happen if you did know. Maybe if you saw each other too soon, you'd hurt each other worse than you already had."

"I wouldn’t have hurt her," Kienan said.

"It wasn't her I was worried about," Toriares said. "Kienan, I was trying to look after you."

Kienan looked at him, and didn’t say a word. He didn’t know what to say and knew even less how to feel at the moment.

The glowing-red flail snaked around one of the conduit pipes and pulled taut. The pipe began to buckle, glowing red until finally the flail snapped it in two.

Toran retracted the weapon and watched his fellow Sekhmet train in the garbage pit. They were knee-deep in junk, doing a light test of their weapons and abilities while Khitan and Reficul watched from above.

Ever since he had received this new body Toran had felt strange. More certain, more confident in himself. Sekhmet were not supposed to have a self in the classical sense -- at best they were extensions of a collective mind, functionaries for a greater purpose. Like the fingers on a hand, each one conditioned to do its work, but nothing without the entire hand.

In the Sekhmet language there were 1,356,219 letters, but no equivalent of "I."

Toran slashed at a greasy engine block with his heat whip. It glowed to life, then he snapped the heat whip clean through it. More and more it became easier to think separately. Not just from the entire Sekhmet collective, but from even his fellow team members.

In truth he was rather disdainful of them. Of the six, he had come the furthest, the first to be reborn in his new suit. He had mastered his new skills with ease while Uragenax and Volaran still had trouble getting their suits to obey basic commands. And yet Khitan, standing impassively above them was still in command.

Why? Toran mused, hooking a girder and flinging it into the air. The most accomplished for the task should lead, and that is ...


Toran was nearly crushed by the girder as the shock of expressing that thought snapped into focus. It was so inconceivable it almost felt like a crime to think it. But his instincts took over and he ignited his heat whip. There was a flurry of movement and the girder rained in pieces around him.

Had he really thought that? He apparently had, because he was doing it again. He looked up at Khitan once more. Khitan nodded back.

A thousand thoughts went through Toran's mind in an instant. One Sekhmet killing another was unheard of. They were so interconnected at a basic level, to murder another of their race would mean killing a part of themselves.

But was Khitan connected to him anymore? Had Toran become more than a mere Sekhmet drone?

Toran looked over his shoulder. Were any of them at his level?

"I'm sorry," Kienan said. They had sat in silence for an hour, the bottle of Altarian whiskey long since empty, each staring at the other. "I didn’t mean to get angry with you."

"It's all right Kienan," Toriares said. "I never said I could make the right decision, just the best one I thought of at the time."

Kienan smiled. "So you’re admitting you didn’t always have a plan?"

Toriares smiled. "Sometimes you have the plan, sometimes the plan has you," he said. "And sometimes plans don’t matter at all, and all that can see you through is yourself."

"Philosophy," Kienan said.

Toriares nodded and smiled. "Sounded good," he said. He looked at Kienan and smiled. "So are you gonna tell me about what happened with Silhouette?"

Kienan sighed. "The usual," he said. "Found another guy. Moved on."

Toriares looked at him. "That's all?"

"No," Kienan said, shifting in his seat. He looked away from Toriares, seeming very lost and alone at the moment. "I did try to kill the guy."

Toriares laughed, trying to pry a smile out of Kienan. "You always were the jealous type."

Kienan blinked. "Then we met again," he said. "Without the guy, this time. Something happened, and I thought for a bit that ... no." He closed his eyes tight, almost like he was steeling himself for a sharp pain.

"By the time she came back, the guy was gone for good," he said. "But too much had happened and ... I ... "

"I'm sorry," Toriares said. "I don’t mean to pry."

"It's OK," Kienan said. "I want to tell you. I wanted to be with her. The last time ... I remembered why I wanted her. But when I woke up she was gone. And when I saw she was gone ... I didn’t miss her the same way I used to."

Sinclaire relaxed underneath one of the apple trees. Hector had offered him room in his house as payment for his work that day, but he had refused. It felt too good to be outdoors, especially in a place he felt as comfortable and at ease as this one.

This is where you belong, Sinclaire thought. Here, the gaps don’t matter. Here there aren’t any mirrors for you to stare into and wonder why you sometimes don’t recognize the man staring back.

He sighed and rested against the trunk of the tree.

To say Lewis Sinclaire's life was chaos was to put it mildly. He barely remembered his childhood -- in truth, it sometimes felt like it had happened to someone else.

He didn’t remember being born or being young. In fact his first real memories began only a few years ago when he wandered into a temple on Izcelia.

Izcelia was one of the most godforsaken places in the galaxy. Dark most of its days and constantly raining. But despite it being such a melancholy place, he had learned much there. Not just the sword, but a way of life.

And in lieu of any concrete memories (a lack which only occasionally bothered him now) a code to live by would do. If he couldn’t look back he could go forward.

Not that he had lived up to it sufficiently. Not in his mind. He had joined one of the syndicates as an enforcer. To hide his shame he had worn a mask, but like the image in the mirror he hadn’t been able to escape the shame of what he'd done.

And then there was Silhouette.

"You can have a clean slate," she had said. "You can start over."

The idea was appealing, but it was more her I was interested in. I felt so compelled by her. She was so determined, so passionate. The pain, the will to make everything right.

It was the nobility he had always wanted to achieve. And she was everything he wanted. It was too perfect not to happen.

It was also too perfect to work in an imperfect world, he thought, ruefully. In her heart she had never left Kienan behind. And I don’t think she ever forgave me for what happened when he and I met.

Sinclaire remembered it well. He had never fought anyone quite like Kienan. Kienan spat in the eye of every single rule of fair play Sinclaire had upheld. He didn't fight fair and he wouldn’t admit defeat. Neither would Sinclaire. Locked in opposition forever -- only Silhouette's intervention stopped it.

Sinclaire sighed. Why was he thinking about Kienan? What was it in himself that undercut every decision and every feeling he had? Was he determined to second-guess every choice he had made tonight? Especially in such a peaceful place as this.

Put it out of your mind, Sinclaire thought. You’re far from the past, far from Kienan and far from Silhouette. You’re in a place of peace. Far from any danger.

You can rest without fear that the peace'll be gone when you open your eyes again.

The Haxan ship Myrmidion hovered above the bow of the Silhouette like a black manta ray over the floor of a dark ocean. On the bridge of the ship there were three women. While they were of different alien races, all had certain things in common. First they were clad in robes of black and another colors -- blue, red, or purple. Second, on parts of their body were grafted panels of circuitry that seemed to throb in time with the beat of their hearts.

Two of the women sat in lotus positions, eyes closed and fingers out. The third stood in front of an image of Vain suspended in the air.

"Navigator," Lady Ravenna said. "Scry a probability equation. We need to determine these interloper's purpose."

"Done," the navigator said. She paused, then added. "They spoke in the ancient words. Our ancestors constructed the riddles in such a way to ensure only those who should find us would."

"Those words were written centuries ago," Ravenna said. "For all we know, they could be descendants of the beings we fled. We must ever assume the worst, lady Kayt."

Kayt nodded and returned her mind to the task of piloting the ship. Ravenna strode between Kayt and lady Illiel, the weapons controller.

"Kayt," Ravenna said. "Create a line of communication. Illiel, ready a spell. In the next five minutes we will determine if they are worthy or if they are dead."