Gunmetal Black
Chapter 3 - Blood And Fire
By
Lewis Smith

www.gunmetalblack.com

Kienan charged at the first of the armored guards, leaping above the range of his gun. The guard, not used to using a weapon like a gun, moved the barrel awkwardly. By the time he got it into position, it was too late.

Kienan spun around and plunged the Midare-Giri into the guard's chest. Ordinarily, the layered molecular plating would have protected the guard against a knife or bullet, but the Midare-Giri was no ordinary knife.

He spun around, his back to the other guards, almost daring them to shoot him in the back. Their guns flipped up, ready to kill. Kienan whipped the guard back around, the salvo of shots ripped the guard's armor, flesh, and bone to pieces, and he dropped his own rifle.

Kienan ducked below the guard and snapped up his rifle, sheathing his knife in one fluid motion. He racked the bolt on it, kicked the remains of the guard forward into the group of guards and sprayed the guards with rifle fire, leaning in to compensate for the phenomenal kick of the rifle.

The guards in front, encumbered by the body of one of their fallen men were ill-equipped to defend themselves, and so they fell first. They others were just as unlucky, it only took longer. Kienan ejected the clip from his rifle, and gathered up the rifles of the others, yanking the clips out and stuffing them wherever he could--between his belt, in the hidden pockets in his vest--wherever he could find room.

As he stepped over the pile of guards, he felt a hand reach out and grab his leg. He brought the butt of his rifle down hard on the hand, snapping it like it had been hit with a sledgehammer. A groan came from the guard, and Kienan smashed him in the head with the gun.

He walked cautiously down the corridor, rifle at the ready. It wasn't his preference to use a weapon like this--too crude and cumbersome for his standards, but he was more than willing to use whatever was handy.

He saw two guards in shadow, at the other end of the corridor. He loosened the strap holding the rifle and slung it over his shoulder. He looked above him and drew his knife again.

Holding it between his teeth, he jumped up, his hands catching two conduit pipes. Summoning all the strength he could, he pulled himself up, until his feet had grabbed hold of the conduit pipes further down. He let go and held on with one hand as he slowly wrapped his braid around his neck.

The guards were muttering something, tapping the side of their helmets, trying to figure out where the last squad had gone. One of them walked away, down the same hall Kienan had gone. The other stood beside the lift door, just in case Kienan doubled back.

Had the guard been able to look behind him or above him, he would have noticed a long chestnut braid unfurling behind him. Kienan swung down silently, his legs still holding the conduits above him. He opened his mouth and his knife fell into his hands. He leaned back and swung forward.

Before the guard knew it, there were around him, and as soon as he figured that out, he felt the knife. Kienan pressed a hidden switch in his knife, activating special circuitry. The blade slashed through the soft point in the guard's neck armor and sliced into his blood, charging every electrolyte as it stabbed deeper and deeper. It was for this device that it hard earned the name Midare-Giri, mistress of pain.

The guard gurgled deeply and slumped to the floor. Kienan dropped down quietly, working quickly. He unfastened the head of the armor, seeing not the corpse of a young man whose life he had taken, but a tool to elude his pursuers.

He reached into one of the pouches on his belt and withdrew a long needle-like device. He stabbed one end into the guard and snapped it off. A red light blinked quietly in the end embedded in his flesh.

Kienan put the guard's helmet back on and propped his body up against the wall. Then he set to work on the control panel of the lift.



"I can’t tell you how much I've dreamed about being here, sister," Pirate Red said to no one in particular. "To think I'm on Kienan Ademetria's ship. Amazing."

"What do you want to do, bear his children or something?" Kilana said, still on board the Misericord. "By the way, I just contacted Valcuria. She's close by--finishing up docking here, I shouldn’t wonder. When I told her where we were she got very angry. She commanded you to leave the ship alone."

"You’re kidding," Red said, descending from the landing deck to the main deck.

"That's what she said."

"Tell her we'll do whatever she wants when we're done here," Pirate Red said. "This is a score too good to pass up."

Kilana sighed. "Suit yourself."

"I will, thanks," Red said. "Funny how there's no one here, not even Kienan. No sign of anyone either."

Red touched a sequence of buttons on a device on her left hand, then slid a cover closed. There was a soft humming sound, and her most notorious weapon, the Knuckle Buster, thrummed to life.

No point in being foolish, she thought.

"Kilana," she said. "Are you picking up anything?"

"Sis," Kilana said. She sounded very tense, frightened, even.

"Kilana, what's wrong?"

"I have a slight problem," Kilana said.

"What's happening?" Red asked, a note of panic creeping into her voice. "Are we under attack?"

"Uhm, not exactly," Kilana said. "Remember those three creepy robots Valcuria always keeps around?"

Red rounded a corner. "Yeah?"

"Remember how we took 'em with us so that if she was around, they'd activate, and let us know where she was?"

"Yeah," Red said, peeking around a wall. Still nothing, she thought. It's like a hospital ship here.

"Well, one of them has a rather large fusion gun pointed at the back of my head. The other two are right beside her, but I'm not sure why. To jump up and down on the bits that are left, I guess. Valcuria says if you don't leave the ship, I'll never need a hat again."

"Why that mutinying bitch," Red said, relaxing a bit. She was a bit exasperated. I expected some kind of resistance, she thought, but this is nothing. "I'll be done in a minute. There's nothing here anyway--AHHH!"

Red ducked the grey blur, sidestepped, and threw a punch in the same area it had been in.

"Red?"

"What the hell are you?" Red said to the grey-skinned creature before her. It had hard, insect-like armor, punctuated by glowing green muscles visible even through the hard skin. It had a wild mane of black hair. And it's fingers ended in ten brightly-glowing talons.

"Red?"

"Kinda busy right now, sis," Red said, leapfrogging over the monster as it charged at her. She tagged it hard in the back with the Knuckle Buster, sending biolelectric shocks through it. The monster spasmed, screamed and swiped at her again. Red gestured, and brought her right arm up. A clear blue wall of energy appeared, and the creature's talons sparked off of the energy wall.

"Red, I think Valcuria's awfully serious about you getting off of the ship . . ."

"Okay, okay, tell Ladytron I'm getting off the damn ship!" Red said, punching the monster square in the jaw with the full force of the Knuckle Buster. "Geez! Dealing with her and Kienan's pet monster makes me wonder why I even got out of the damn bed this morning!"



Kienan climbed up the elevator shaft, unwilling to use the cars, for fear the cars were being monitored, and could be shut down remotely. Below him, the guard he had left slumped against the wall was discovered, his body carried by the rest of the guards, a gesture of respect as much as anything. He could hear them, through the small microphone in the piece of the needle he had in his teeth.

He leaned away from the wall of the shaft, halting his descent. He held the small piece of the needle in his free hand, slowly closing his hand around it. He pressed a small button on one side of it.

Below him, screams and a rather large explosion rang out, so intense it rocked the ship and made Kienan nearly lose his grip. He allowed himself a small smile, pocketed the piece of the needle, and resumed climbing.

He soon reached the end of the line, and pressed a series of switches on the inner door. A panel slid open, and a lever raised. Kienan reached out and pumped it twice. The doors slid open slowly, just enough for Kienan to slither out.

He drew his knife again and made his way to the upper decks, to where he was certain Korin was. He had to take care of her first, or else he'd spend all his time fighting useless battles on his way to the landing bay.

And he didn't quite feel like doing that right now.

He ducked a shot coming behind his back, but couldn't duck the follow up, which nicked him in the left bicep. Hot pain and a fount of blood issued forth from the graze the bullet made, but Kienan bit back the pain and fired his rifle at the assailants.

They dropped, but didn’t die quickly. As one of the attackers fell, a desperate shot ricocheted off the wall, and sliced into his right leg. The pain was sudden, but Kienan only grimly grit his teeth and put two more bullets in his head.

He shouldered his rifle and made his way to the Imperial quarters, the most secure place on the ship, and the place Korin was most likely hiding, thinking Kienan would be unable to find her, or unwilling to take the time.

Kienan drew his knife. He didn't know how she could possibly be more wrong.



Red turned just in time for the monster's claws to shred part of her armor. She frowned, knowing her power source to her shield had been cut. She couldn't get lucky enough to block those claws that many more times. She had to end this fast.

"Uhm," Kilana's voice came over her communicator again, more nervous this time. "Red, I don’t mean to interrupt, but Valcuria's getting impatient and, uhhh, you remember when you asked if the ship was under attack? Well, we are now, so if you could just leave . . . "

"I'm trying, I'm trying, geez," Red said, bobbing and weaving with practiced ease. She was waiting for her opening, studying the monster's speed and reactions, concentrating.

Finally, the monster lunged in, Red caught her under the neck with her right arm, then gripped the beast's arm with her left hand. The Knuckle Buster dumped a immeasurable amount of energy into the beast. Red didn’t stop until the monster ceased twitching, slumped to the floor, unconscious.

Red looked at it, rather startled. I wonder why that worked?

"Kilana," she said, her composure returning. "Would you be good enough to put Valcuria on please? Oh yeah--but before you do--what's attacking us?"

"A fighter," Kilana said. "It's a UEF prototype from two years ago. I think it's one of the ones Kienan stole."

"Kienan, hm."

"Pirate Red," Valcuria said. "I want you off that ship."

"Why?" Red asked, moving toward the exit.

"Because I said so. Because you won't get your precious droid fighters if you don’t do what I say."

Red stopped. "Suppose I don't," she said.

"Then Kilana dies, and we leave you with your playmate," Valcuria said flatly.

Red smiled. Looks like my bluff's called, she thought. Whatever's here isn’t worth going another round with the beast, and my sister's too valuable to me.

"I'm on my way," she said. "Red out."

Before she could reach the docking airlock, there was a shimmer, and a woman--young, with shoulder-length brown hair and dressed in a black and red flight suit--appeared before her, brandishing a nasty-looking machine pistol.

"Before you do," Mirage said, cocking the weapon. "You've got some questions to answer."



Korin heard him enter the main control room and didn't even turn around.

"When it had been thirty minutes and you and Silence hadn’t fought," she began. "I should have known it meant you’d come here."

"As you may or may not have noticed, I have an aptitude for doing the opposite of what you want," Kienan said. "It's usually the smarter of the two choices."

"So," Korin said. "I guess this means you’re going to kill me?"

"No," Kienan said. "That's exactly what you want me to do. Kill you, so that I get drummed out of the Blue Dragons, and you get your revenge. Again--I'm doing the opposite."

"Pity," Korin said indifferently. "I had hoped to anger you into doing it."

"I don’t get angry, Korin," Kienan said. "I get revenge."

"Is that so?" Korin said. She reached into her robes and drew her laser gun. Kienan reached behind him and pulled out his knife.

"You've got to be kidding me," Korin said, setting up her shot. "A knife to a gunfight?"

"Maybe I know what a horrible shot you are," Kienan said.

"I'll show you," Korin said.

She squeezed the trigger. A half second later, Kienan threw his blade towards her. Her shot struck him in the shoulder, as his knife slashed her gun in half. Before she got over the shock of that, Kienan had leapt upon her like a pouncing lion, his weight forcing her down to the deck.

"Let go of me!" Korin cried.

Kienan raised his hand to strike her, but the laser burn on his shoulder caused him too much pain. Instead, he shut her down with a nerve pinch, and she slumped to the deck, unconscious.

He stood up, easing himself up. He walked to the communications board and tapped in a sequence that would recall Mao's escape ship back here. Then he recorded a brief message for Mao as he bandaged up his wounds.



Vain fired another salvo at the pirate ship, then took her Angelfish into a barrel roll to avoid the Misericord's return fire. She flew in closer, skimming the surface of the ship so that it would be harder to track.

She punched up a display of one of her side screens. A targeting crosshairs came up. She chose her missile type and trajectory and wondered if Mirage had been able to keep them off of the ship.

At that same moment, Mirage had Pirate Red dead to rights.

"A space pirate," Mirage said. "Kienan won’t like it when he finds out something as low as you has been on his ship."

"Don’t worry," Red said. "Just keep your pet monster off of me, and I'll go. I didn’t take anything--no harm, no foul, OK?"

"Not OK," Mirage said. "I'm afraid you can’t leave here alive. Whether I do it or she does, I'm afraid that's how it is."

"Look, my ship's under attack," Red said, getting a little antsy. "I don’t have time for--"

"In a few seconds, your ship, like you, will be a memory," Mirage said.

"Threats, ooh. Remind me to shake later."

Mirage frowned and drew closer, gun at the ready. The tension in the air was like a gas-filled room before it explodes into inferno.

"Mirage," Vain called inside her mind. "Let her go."

"I can’t do that," Mirage said silently. Vain and Mirage shared a secret frequency band that allowed them a method of silent communication almost as good as telepathy. "You know the rules."

"It's . . .taken care of," Vain said. "Trust me, sister. I'll explain more when they're away."

"All right," Mirage said. "You better explain this"

Mirage safetied her weapon. "Go, before I change my mind. And If I were you, I wouldn’t give us a reason to find you, do you understand?"

Red smiled as she walked past her, shoving her with her elbow as she went past. "Who knows?" Red asked. "Maybe I'll come after you."

Red walked through the airlock. There was a hiss as the room re-pressurized and the docking claws from the Misericord retracted. Mirage walked over to Jayla, whose energy burns were even now healing as she slept. Mirage shouldered her and carried her back down to the lower deck to re-freeze her. She was going to have a hard enough time explaining to Kienan what had happened.

Meanwhile, as the Misericord pulled away and out of sight, Vain started the docking cycle for her fighter. As she did, she noticed her communication console blinking. She tapped the readout, and a text-only message appeared.

"You Owe Me."

Vain frowned.



Kienan fastened his vest back over his black bodysuit and surveyed the room. Everything was fine, except for two things.

One, Korin was gone. Two, his knife was gone.

He felt something tug on his braid. He flicked his head, trying to free it. Suddenly, he felt someone moving behind him. Holding him by his braid as they dumped him to the floor.

Korin was above him, eyes blazing like a feral animal, holding his knife. She plunged it into his shoulder, re-opening the wound. She leaned in, but before the blade could sink any deeper, Kienan grasped it, holding it, even as it cut into his hand.

Korin leaned forward, pinning him under her.

Kienan grit his teeth, closed his eyes and lolled his head back. Suddenly he lunged forward, headbutting her so hard it broke her nose. Korin flew backward, dropping his knife. He quickly got to his feet, snatched the knife up off the floor and wiped it on her robes. The dark red of his blood stood out on the royal blue like a jelly stain on the bib of a careless child.

"I tried to put you down gently," Kienan said. "Remember that when you come to."



"What the hell are you playing at?" Red said. She was back on the Misericord, leaning in on Valcuria, using her size to intimidate her. Had Valcuria been a human being, she might have been suitably scared, but Valcuria stood rock steady, unfazed by her comrade's irrational anger.

"I told you," Valcuria said. "That ship and those people belong to me. They will die when I say so, if ever. And if I decide to share anything with you, it will be when I say."

"That's big talk," Red said.

"I don’t think I need remind you of my resources," Valcuria said, gesturing to her three robot ladies. "My Ironmaidens are superior war machines, as a I built them to be. Wartoy alone could destroy this ship in a matter of hours, and all the troops you send wouldn’t be able to dent her armor."

"We were just curious about why you came this far inward," Kilana said, wisely wanting to change the subject and delay the inevitable fight that was sure to break out. "We figured maybe you had found some factory or something we could help you hold while we mass-produced the droid brain and the fighter shells."

"Well," Valcuria said. "I'm sorry to disappoint you. This was . . .a personal matter."

"Our mistake," Kilana said, trying to sound conciliatory. "Won't happen again."

"Kilana!" Red said. Kilana ignored her.

"If I were you," Valcuria said. "I’d see that it doesn't."

Her mood seemed to lighten a bit, and she turned to Kilana, acting as if Red wasn't even there. "Did you bring the droid brain?"

"Yes," Kilana said. "Deck 3, in the machine shop. I figured you could test it and work on the fighter shell while we're en route back to Tartarus."

"I think I shall," Valcuria said. "It's been an eventful trip."

Valcuria turned and left the room, and her Ironmaidens followed after her. Red turned to Kilana, her eyes baleful with anger.

"What the hell was that about?" Red demanded.

"Head in the game, sister," Kilana said. "We need her right now. We don’t need some stupid fight to show how great you are."

"You think she'll do it?" Red said. "Turn on us?"

"I'm certain of it now," Kilana said. "You don’t go to Kienan Ademetria unless you want to die or you want someone else dead."

"Then we should move now," Red said. "Get our leash in place, so we can pull that bastard tight when the time comes."

"Already done," Kilana said, easing the ship into Space Drive. "When she links into the droid brain, she'll give us all the rope we need to hang her with . . .when the time comes."

"You've got something in mind?" Red said, taking her seat in the command chair.

"She's not the only one who studied that droid brain," Kilana mumbled.



Kienan had unlocked the master switches for the doors when he had been up on the command deck. Now the whole of the ship was wide open to him. And it was also very quiet. Without communication from Korin, and after some of the booby traps Kienan had rigged the bodies of the dead guards with, the guards and other loyalists to her had gone into hiding.

He took the stairs leisurely, enjoying the quiet moments before the storm he knew was waiting between him and freedom.

The guards had been easy enough pickings, but Silence, he knew, would take more than what he had used on the guards. Despite his obvious contempt for Silence, he respected his dedication and skill. His reputation for killing was almost the equal of Kienan's.

Except Silence had never destroyed an entire planet full of people.

Kienan reached behind him as he rounded another flight of stairs, his hand resting on the butt of his knife. It had served him well today. So well, in fact he had decided to ditch the rifles on the upper deck and continue with just the knife.

It was a connection to a past he remembered with pride. After his planet had been destroyed, his escape pod had been blown towards the Inner Galaxy. He had been picked up, starving and half-mad, by a freighter going toward the space station Kuran. They dropped him there, and Kienan survived as best he could--doing odd jobs and petty thievery.

Gradually he found his way to the Midare-Giri fights--fights to the death held in the underworld of Kuran. He had thrived in those fights--able to readily tap into the same kind of mad, wild, and ruthless will to survive that had sustained him on Caldera.

He had been the only human to ever survive the Midare-Giri and retire as champion. In fact, he had been asked to retire by the elders who ran the fights because any challenger he brutally and efficiently killed within thirty seconds of the poor soul stepping into the pit.

Silence, he thought, I'll give you at least a minute, out of respect. And because I need a challenge. Rigging these brutish guards as bombs and turning their blood into napalm is . . .boring. Too easy.

He walked down one more flight of stairs. Below him was his fighter, and in front of the fighter was Silence, waiting, wrapped in his yellow cloak. Kienan read his body language as he walked down the last flight of service stairs. Silence came into view, closer and closer.

"I guess you've been waiting for me," Kienan said, stepping into the light. Behind Silence, the black armor of the Nighthawk seemed to suck all the light in the landing bay into itself.

Silence seemed to surge to life. He pulled off his yellow cloak. Underneath it, he was holding two katana blades.

Kienan looked at them for a second. "I was thinking the same thing," Kienan said. "Since I settled up with your sister, I might as well settle my account with you."

Silence stiffened suddenly. Kienan circled him like a jungle cat.

"Oh, don't worry," Kienan said. "She's not dead. But when Mao gets back, I'm sure she'll wish she was. Fortunately, I don’t have to exercise that restraint on you, Silence."

Silence nodded, and tossed him one of the swords.

"Nice," Kienan said, drawing the sword. It was one of Silence's personal blades--Kienan could tell by the pattern of the wrapping. He's doing me an honor, Kienan thought.

Silence drew his own sword, easing into a ready stance. Kienan did the same, snapping into an active stance. Without another word, their swords flashed into action like twin bolts of lightning