Gunmetal Black 3
Chapter 8 - Warning Sign
Lewis Smith

© Copyright 2000, Lewis Smith.

Kienan held on to the hilt of his knife as Volaran tried to shake him off. The strain on Kienan's muscles was such that the wounds beneath began to open again and soak the white bandages in the dark red of his blood.

Volaran tried in vain to fire at Kienan, but his weapons were unable to hit him. The body had been designed for strafing runs, not for close-quarters combat. The small pulse cannons in his arms and legs were spaced in such a way as to leave a blind spot, the better to prevent the operator from blasting off one of his own appendages.

Volaran banked hard, trying to throw Kienan off, but it was no use. Kienan wrapped his legs around the machine's waist, determined to hang on. He didn’t have much choice. They were a hundred feet up and Kienan knew he was one wrong move away from falling to the road below, or being caught on the jagged remains of the buildings below.

Worst of all, he didn't have the slightest idea of what to do next. He had engaged him impulsively, without considering anything else.

I should have waited for the Vroom,he chided himself, narrowly avoiding a sweep of Volaran's arm, which missed his head but seized his braid, wrapping it around his hand and drawing Kienan's face closer to his and slamming his head into his.

Kienan's head lolled backward and his hands nearly slipped free of his knife. He yanked the knife backwards and Volaran spun to the left, smashing into a half-collapsed wall. Volaran hovered unsteadily for a second, trying to unscramble the sensors and flight units damaged by the impact.

Kienan grinned, tasting blood as he did.

Maybe he had a plan after all.

Kienan held tight to the hilt of his blade and yanked hard to the right, sending Volaran spinning wildly head over heels as Kienan pulled the knife free, using it to slash at Volaran's wings as he brought the full weight of his body against the flying Sekhmet.

Volaran crashed into the roof of one of the buildings below them. Kienan slashed at the flailing machine as they began to slide off the building. Kienan slid down the roof using Volaran as an improvised surfboard, as Kienan slashed and slashed at him. One of Volaran's arms tore off as it continued to fall off the roof.

Volaran slipped off the edge of the roof, as Kienan leapt off him. The machine, totally unable to fly, crashed to the streets below, landing hard on one of its legs with such force the leg snapped off.

Kienan watched from his perch on another rooftop. He sighed, the pain beginning to return as the adrenaline rush abated. Volaran thrashed about below, trying to stand with one leg and no arm to balance him.

There was a soft wind blowing behind Kienan. He looked up and was bathed in the running lights of the Ruby Vroom, humming quietly having finally found him.

Kienan would have smiled if it hadn’t hurt so much.

He leapt up on the hover-pods of the Vroom, opening the outer door and rolling inside, wincing with every move, no matter how slight. He felt exhausted. The battles with Sinclaire, Toran and Volaran had taken a lot out of him.

Despite his skills and his reputation, he was only human. He had limits and he was right on the edge of them.

Never really had to confront that until now, he thought as he opened the first-aid kit on the Vroom. He used his knife to cut his older bandages off -- now thoroughly soaked in blood, they were useless now.

Back to square one.

He quickly applied the regen gel, the light blue viscous fluid mixing into an ugly brown with the blood pooling in his wounds. He ignored the pain and lurched to the controls of the Vroom.

More than anything, I feel like sleeping for a whole week , Kienan thought. But there's work to do.

The Vroom banked low to where Volaran was still thrashing about in the deserted street. Kienan hit a series of switches and two hatches on either side of the Vroom opened. At the controls, a targeting display came up. With a thin smile, Kienan pressed the triggers on the Vroom's control stick.

"Go to hell, Sekhmet," he said quietly.

Twin bursts of light issued from the hatches and Volaran was blown to bits. Shards of metal, plastic and tubing showered the street and the Vroom, leaving little trace of what had been there before.

Kienan hit the throttle.

Now he had to find Toriares.

Fighting something as massive and as powerful as Cerberus would have been difficult enough fully-armed, Vain thought, cartwheeling aside as one of the beast's heads belched forth a fireball of energy so powerful it pulverized the stones of the courtyard. With no weapons it's damn near impossible. Vain rolled to her feet in the shadow of a statue, its features black and obscured by the ravages of time.

Mirage , she thought, using the secret channel she and her sister Marionettes shared.

Kinda busy right now, sister, Mirage replied, backflipping away from the other head's blast of energy.

There's no way we can beat this thing, Vain said. Not without our weapons and most of those we wasted. Jaevin was trying to get us to waste our heaviest weaponry before we got here.

You don’t say ,Mirage responded, fading into invisibility behind a statue. So what?

Do we call in our fighters?

No, Vain replied. She turned and looked at the statue. I have a better idea.

Vain sank her gloved hands into the base of the statue, rocking it gently and finally breaking it loose. The arms and head came off immediately as the statue's weight was shifted around.

Now, Mirage.

Mirage followed suit, turning visible and tearing loose the statue she hid behind. She raised it above her head, the mass of the statue beginning to crack like brittle ice trying to hold the weight of a man.

Mirage hurled the statue at Cerberus. Jaevin turned in time to see it and one of Cerberus' head blew it to dust. He glared at Mirage.

"A statue?" Jaevein said. "Is that all you have left? What could you be thinking?"

"Only this," Mirage said. "It fakes with the left ..."

"...and it hits with the right."

Jaevin turned just in time to see Vain rushing toward him carrying a statue. Jaevin was butted from his perch by the head of the statue. It knocked two of Cerberus' spindly legs aside and caught Jaevin in the small of the back. Before Vain could crush Jaevin underneath it, however, Cerberus grabbed the statue and lifted Vain high into the air, slamming her to the stone floor.

Jaevin sneered. "Cerberus will protect me so long as I live," he said, rising to his feet with a little less arrogance. "He's unstoppable. No matter how many statues you throw at him. Eventually you'll run out and then you'll be ours."

Mirage charged forward with another statue, but Cerberus was ready. One of his heads caught the statute in its mouth and began devouring it.

Mirage ran back and tried to grab another statue, but Cerberus cut her off by blasting the ground at her feet, sending her sprawling.

Cerberus turned to finish Mirage, its spider-like feet carefully picking it way around the hole filled with pieces of statue, the stone floor of the courtyard and underneath it all, Vain.

With its back turned, it totally missed the small pair of white-gloved hands grasping one of its rear legs. It also missed Vain rising from the pile of rubble Cerberus thought it had buried her under for good.

Vain seized the machine's leg and wrenched it loose. Cerberus screamed with shock and tried to scurry away as Vain swung it at him. Even the beast's lesser heads whimpered and snapped like a cowering dog's as she brandished the appendage.

I'm impressed , Jaevin thought. No had dared try that before.

Toriares swatted the chunk of rock aside with his cane.

Before him were ten or twenty humans. Members of the village, he guessed. A few in the back he recognized from days long ago. Former tenants of the Peace Hotel, he presumed.

The dust and the burning embers of the town silhouetted the mob. They were angry, looking for someone to blame, and Toriares couldn't fault them for it. The town was a complete loss, and that was just as a physical entity.

God knows how many people are buried underneath all this , he thought. This place was everything to these people, now it's little more than a burning tomb. No wonder they're angry. I would be too.

"What the hell have you people brought here!" the leader demanded. He was an old man, proud and vigorous. "You've destroyed in a night what took us years to build."

Toriares swatted another rock away. "I don’t know what you’re talking about. I'm just as human as you are. Those things attacking your town are Sekhmet. You've only my word to take for it, but believe me -- our two species don’t mix very often. As in at all."

"We don’t care," the man said. "Everything was fine until you came here. We lived in peace, even with a house full of former criminals in the middle of town. No crime, no murders, no war. Only peace. You've destroyed that!"

Toriares glared at them. "I'm sorry for what you've lost, but blaming me, blaming anyone isn't going to solve anything. If this place means that much to you, then damn it, fight for it."

"We couldn’t do a thing against those monsters," the man said. The volume of his anger was lessened somewhat, replaced with shame and sorrow. "We ...could only run."

Toriares understood. So much time spent on the business of surviving in peace and the will or desire to fight for it had ebbed. Especially when the threat seemed so quick and vicious.

They were scared.

"We've dealt with them," Toriares said. "Most of them, anyway. We'll destroy the rest. You have my word. In the meantime, I suggest you do your part. You survived, probably somewhere in this town there are more survivors. You want to save your town, my advice is to take care of the few people still in it."

The crowd shielded their eyes as the sky above bathed them in white light. The optics in Toriares’ mask compensated and he smiled as he saw the Ruby Vroom drive into view. The door popped open and he slipped inside.

Kienan looked at the people gathered before them.

"What'd they want?" Kienan asked.

"Same as everyone else," Toriares said. "They wanted to know why this was happening."

"What did you tell them?"

"Not much," Toriares said, opening the Vroom's weapons locker. "Sometimes bad things happen. I've never much seen the point of saying ‘why me?’"

"Not much of a philosophy," Kienan said, pulling the Vroom into a steep climb. "But it has the advantage of being true. Funny coming from you though, I thought you always knew the score."

Toriares laughed as he found a gun. "I hope to God, you know better now, Kienan."

He turned to look at Kienan. Most of Kienan's right arm was swaddled in bandages and he was lurched over the controls like a man trying to keep himself together on nervous tension alone.

"You OK?"

"Fine," Kienan said. "Just been a long night. Where do you think these Sekhmet would be holing up?"

"My guess is they'd want to stay far enough out of town to avoid raising suspicions. Only thing that far out would be the old command center."

Kienan punched up a rough map of the town and changed his heading. The Vroom shifted slightly and headed towards the command center. "You mean it never occurred to these people to secure the place? Anyone could be using it."

"I guess they wanted as clean a break from technology as they could manage," Toriares said. "Utopias tend to make people short-sighted."

"Obviously," Kienan said. His fingers fumbled for a cigarette and Toriares saw that even that was causing his friend incredible pain.

"Look, I could call in the Chimera . . .then we'd have the firepower to destroy the whole command center at the touch of a button," Toriares said. "We wouldn’t even have to go in."

"No," Kienan said, his eyes set with a cold determination. "I want to make sure they're all dead. I have to."

"Right," Toriares said, cocking his weapon.

I should have known better than to ask, he thought. After all, a massacre on a forgotten colony, how could he stop himself from wanting to see this through?

"Listen, Kienan, about what I said today ...about you maybe coming here ..."

"What about it?" Kienan replied neutrally. A feeling of shock briefly rippled through him. He'd almost forgotten the conversation. It seemed like it had happened a lifetime ago.

"I was wrong," Toriares said. " There is no sanctuary, I'm afraid. You can’t run away. Your problems ... they always find you, no matter how far you run. All you can do is try to face what comes. If tonight's taught me anything, it's that."

"Toriares, my whole life's taught me that."

The Vroom sped on in silence towards the command center. No one spoke for the rest of the trip.

To Mirage's eyes it looked like her sister had lost her mind. Over and over again she was flailing at Cerberus with his own severed leg. Even more alarming, all she had told Mirage to do was "be ready."

What the hell does that mean?

Mirage grimaced. This is why Vain's Kienan's second, she thought. She can see the whole plan when I can’t.

I just hope she's got one this time.

Vain swatted away Cerberus' heads, their muzzles furrowed as they almost cowered. He was on the defensive now, apparently dismemberment wasn't something he was used to.

Behind Cerberus and Vain, Jaevin paced lividly. "All right, enough of this," he said. He raised his black-gloved hand and gestured to the battered, bent appendage that Vain held in her hands.

Vain felt the limb quiver slightly as then cables began to snake out from the point where she'd torn it free. One of them stabbed hard into her right arm.

"If you want a piece of Cerberus so bad, my dear doll," Jaevin said. "Why don’t I merge the two of you?"

While the feedback wasn't exactly painful, Vain could feel burning fire shooting through her arm. Subtly, just on the instinctive level of her electronic mind she could feel the programming governing her arm's motion being rewritten and invaded by Jaevin's technical magic.

Now , Vain thought.

"I won't be ...merged," Vain said, reaching behind her with her left hand and drawing one of her knives. There was a hiss of ozone as the blade's energy field ignited and in the blink of an eye, Vain had sheared her own arm off just below the shoulder.

"Impressive," Jaevin said, "But short-sighted. You were at a disadvantage before and now you're as good as destroyed, machine."

"Funny," Vain said. "I was about to say the same to you. Now, Mirage!"

Mirage shimmered into view behind him, kicking the Soulcaster out of his hands and snaking her arms under his shoulders and locking her hands behind his head.> Jaevin looked defiant. "You don’t honestly think you've won. Cerberus -- "

" ... will stay where he is now if he knows what's good for him," Vain said, sheathing her knife as she walked over and picked up the Soulcaster. "Or Mirage will snap your neck."

"Stay," Jaevin said to Cerberus.

Vain stared at the Soulcaster. "This is what we came for. We'll be leaving now."

Jaevin frowned. "That device is the last channel of power I have left, machine," He sneered. "I'll die before I part with it."

Jaevin extended his arms and a corona of energy suffused his being and blew Mirage backwards off him and against one of the few statutes not yet destroyed.

"Good," Vain said. "Because you'll have to kill me to get it back."

Vain tried to contact Mirage but there was no response. Whatever Jaevin had hit her with had shut her down, hopefully only temporarily.

"Your cohort is useless, now," Jaevin said. "The spell of binding is a basic one, but quite effective. And that leaves you to deal with. Alone, outnumbered, and quite literally disarmed. Now, what will you do, my dear doll?"

Vain gripped the Soulcaster, pondering her options. She could self-destruct, but that would destroy the Soulcaster and it wouldn’t accomplish much other than erasing Jaevin and his pet monster off the face of the planet.

But ...

Vain grinned, sent another thought out along the frequency the Marionettes shared and charged back into the battle.

It was only when the shadow moved that Sinclaire reacted, drawing his swords and throwing aside Ariana's body as the ebony Sekhmet charged him, the machine's energy blades stabbing into the dirt and fusing it to glass.

He drew back and struck twice more, each slash blocked by Sinclaire's blades. Sinclaire regarded his nemesis, silhouetted against the flickering flames. He was armored in black and purple, his face shrouded and sinister. From the generators in his arms were created two solid-energy blades. Devorax stood in a passive stance, waiting for Sinclaire's attack in the best position to offer an immediate and fatal counterattack.

Sinclaire sheathed his blades. He recognized the tactic. Inferior students often waited for a superior opponent to react and show a weakness they could exploit. He reached into his gray scarf and produced a handful of throwing blades, concealing them in his palm.

There's only one way to break a stalemate like that, Sinclaire thought. Make him

move first.

His hands moved impossibly fast, like a trained casino dealer dealing one-handed, and only the high-pitched whisper of the blades betrayed their release. Devorax targeted the blades and extended his energy blades again, swatting them from the sky. Then he stood defiantly, retracting his blades and reaching behind him.

He produced a large disk from his back. Four blades sprang out as he brought it into view. He flung it at Sinclaire and Sinclaire leapt and rolled to the side, only to find the blade flying after him, chewing through the earth like a band saw would tear through wood.

Sinclaire climbed up onto a pile of rubble, then leapt toward the wall and rebounded off it, aiming for Devorax. The blade followed his path like a killing shadow.

Sinclaire tackled the machine. Devorax planted his legs into Sinclaire's stomach and used his legs to throw him high into the air, somersaulting backwards as he did so and catching his blade.

His sensors looked for Sinclaire. He was nowhere to be found.

Devorax quickly searched every spectrum for his opponent. Still nothing.

Suddenly, from a pile of ash, Sinclaire leapt forth, blades drawn. Devorax dropped his throwing blade and activated his energy blades, crossing them just in time to block Sinclaire's swords from piercing the head of his machine.

He pushed out with his arms and threw Sinclaire off him again. They traded strikes, the clash of Sinclaire's metal blades and Devorax's energy blades causing the air to crackle and hiss like a storm brewing.

Sinclaire thew a kick to the machine's midsection, but Devorax seized his ankle and thew him into a wall like a javelin. Sinclaire grit his teeth. The pain was incredible, even moreso because it was stacked on top of the pain from the battle with Kienan. Those wounds had just closed, never mind begun any real healing, and now here he was fighting this ... thing.

I can’t fight him toe-to-toe, he thought. We're too evenly matched, at least in the condition I'm in now. I'm too tired and that machine will never fatigue. If I'm to win, I need to beat the machine.

Devorax flung his throwing blade at Sinclaire. It arced over Sinclaire head, slicing into the soft stucco wall above him. Sinclaire looked up just in time to see the wall falling on him.

Sinclaire disappeared under several pounds of rubble, the destruction of the wall left a cloud of dust, a thick chalky fog that blended with the smoke and the darkness to make it doubly impossible to see. Even for a machine that could see in multiple spectra.

Devorax searched under the rubble for any sign of him. Idly he activated the return circuit for his throwing blade. The blade whistled through the air back towards him, and behind it, Sinclaire.

Devorax caught the blade in his hand, just as Sinclaire slashed through his arm, severing it at the elbow. Devorax had just enough time to turn his face to Sinclaire and catch sight of his blue-green eyes blazing with fury before the butt of Sinclaire's other sword smashed into his faceplate with such force it dented it, shattering one of Devorax's eyes.

Sinclaire seethed with fury. Whether or not this was the alien that had killed Ariana, he would hold him accountable.

Sinclaire's blades flashed like divine lightning. The first strike cleaved Devorax's head from its shoulders. The second strike shredded the armor from Devorax's back.

Sinclaire sheathed one of his swords and reached into the mechanism, his white-gloved hand closing on the cylinder containing the machine's pilot. With one motion he tore the pilot out and tossed the cylinder into the air. There was another flash of sword and the container fell to earth, cleaved neatly in two. The halves fell in the dirt, the bright green viscera of the Sekhmet ebbing and turning the street a messy brown.

There was a humming noise behind Sinclaire and he was dimly aware of the wind picking up. He turned to face it and was bathed in halogen lights. A shuttle, like the kind colonists used for racing. Sinclaire stood there, swords still drawn, staring at the machine.

One of the doors opened and Kienan stepped out. He looked past Sinclaire at the remains of Devorax. He flicked the remains of a cigarette at the pile of ooze that had once been the pilot.

"I see you've met our friends too," Kienan said.

"I'm too busy to play with you, Kienan," Sinclaire said. "These things -- "

" -- are dead," Toriares said, filing out behind Kienan. "Five of them, anyway. That leaves at least one more, and we think he's holed up at the command center outside of town."

"Five?" Sinclaire repeated incredulously. "Only five of them did all this?"

"I'm afraid so," Toriares said.

"Doesn’t matter," Kienan said. "We won."

"Won?" Sinclaire mocked. "You call this victory? A whole town's been massacred!"

Kienan looked at him with an expression equal parts contempt and sorrow. "I never said it was a victory. I just said we won."

An awkward silence settled over the three men. Sinclaire pondered his words, his eyes following a trail of Devorax's parts leading to Ariana's still half-buried corpse.

Sinclaire ignored him and turned to Toriares. "If there's a chance we three can finish this," he said. "I want to help."

Toriares turned to Kienan. "What do you think?"

Kienan looked at Sinclaire. "I doubt he knows the stakes we're playing for, but since we could be going into a hive of six hundred of those things for all we know, we need every hand we can get."

Sinclaire raised an eyebrow. "Was that an endorsement, Kienan?"

"Call it whatever the hell you like. Decide quick -- we've got work to do."

Kienan walked back into the Ruby Vroom, followed by Toriares. Sinclaire followed them after sparing Ariana one last look, etching her dead face into his brain.

Just so, despite Kienan's assertion, he knew the stakes they were playing for.

In the chaos of the long night, no one saw the slight flying craft enter the atmosphere. There was no one from the town who could have monitored its approach, and those who dwelt in the command center hadn’t even bothered to turn their instrumentation on.

In any case it would have told them nothing. The craft was designed to be invisible to everything but the naked eye and on a dark night like this, there was little chance of anyone picking its thin shape out in the sky.

The ship landed within the command center, its long angular wings folding upwards as its wheels touched down on the landing pad. A small ramp lowered from the aft section of the craft and two passengers disembarked, shrouded in shadow.

The first one slowly descended the steps, her big brown eyes looked with special interest at the ship on the other landing pad. The bronze craft resembled something like a shark crossed with a hornet.

A Sekhmet troop transport, Kyra Sandoval thought. Perfect.

Precisely the kind of smoking gun we need.

Her companion, a much older and larger man, walked silently behind her. His white boots clanked against the metal steps as he followed his companion. Despite the harsh weather of the planet he was dressed lightly -- black and blue pants and a light white shirt with an old symbol emblazoned on the chest.

It was the same symbol he wore on the alabaster mask over his face. Dressed in so much white as he was he looked equal parts like an angel or a ghost. In reality he was neither of those things.

"What do you think, Omega?" Kyra asked him. "I think our Sekhmet friends have been busy, don’t you."

Omega mutely nodded.

"It seems our friend Doctor Reficul is indisposed," she continued.

The young girl frowned and walked to the elevator, punching a series of buttons. She and Omega got on the elevator and it descended into the heart of the command center.> As they did so, Omega's head turned quickly, his blue-green eyes narrowing on something in the distance. His companion followed his gaze and nodded.

"That's right," Kyra said. "One of your siblings is here. I feel him too. Don’t get excited. We'll deal with them in due time."

The elevator completed its journey. The young girl followed a catwalk above a work area. Below her, in the work area, Reficul was finishing the final links to Khitan's new space armor.

She cleared her throat. "Doctor?"

Reficul looked up. "Miss Sandoval," he said, grinning. "You must forgive me. Our client here insisted he be issued his final unit. We've been having some problems here tonight?"

"Problems?" Kyra repeated.

"We've encountered some resistance," Reficul said. "The other five Sekhmet have been destroyed."

Kyra raised an eyebrow. It was surprising but not unexpected. After all, destroying the Sekhmet had always been part of the plan. She just hadn’t expected it to happen so soon.

The purple armored Sekhmet lurched to life. Behind the black visor on its faceplate orange eyes blazed to life with what seemed almost like synthetic rage.

"There will be no more resistance," Khitan said, looking up at Kyra and Omega as they walked down into the work area. "It will be eliminated. No more failures will be permitted."

"If you say so," Kyra said, a little patronizing. "You'll just have to show us. I have to say, I'm not very impressed by the fighting abilities of the Sekhmet. We gave you cutting-edge weapon systems, and they worked perfectly. So the only thing left to point to is faulty biology."

"They were abberants," Khitan said, he turned and began to walk towards the elevator. "No matter how superior these humans may be in combat, they are no match for even a single Sekhmet. Perhaps you should watch from here and see those words confirmed for yourself."

"Don't worry," Kyra said. "We fully intend to, Khitan."

Khitan ascended out of sight.

"He's certainly full of himself," Kyra said. "I wonder how he'd have felt if he knew we brought him here to massacre the colonists here and then be killed by Omega?"

"Given the resistance they've encountered tonight, Omega may not have to lift a finger," Reficul said, punching up data files on a nearby monitor. "The five Sekhmet were killed by -- as far as I can tell -- only three men."


"That's how they looked to me," Reficuls aid. "See for yourselves."

Three windows came up, each bearing the name of one of the fallen Sekhmet. Blurry video captures resolved into sharper pictures, then zoomed into to tight facial close-ups of each of the combatants.

"Hmm," Kyra said, looking at a picture of a black man with a cane from Uragenax's on-board recorder. "Don’t know him, nor do I know this one, the guy with that silly braid, but ...wait, bring up the last one and fully enhance."

Devorax's window expanded to fill the screen. Reficul tapped a series of keys and a filter went over the screen. Kyra's lips split into a smile which became a grin.

"Well doctor," Kyra said. "You were close. Two humans have been resisting our Sekhmet friends. The third, despite all appearances, isn't human, is he, Omega?"

Omega shook his head. Behind the mask, his eyes were narrowed on the screen.> Kyra tapped a white-gloved finger against the screen. "To think we came out to Axanar solely to pick you up, doctor. Now it seems we get a family reunion of sorts in the bargain.

"Yes," she said. "I think this is going to be a very interesting trip."