Gunmetal Black
Chapter 5 - Satellite Blues
By
Lewis Smith

www.gunmetalblack.com

Valcuria looked above her. Beyond the electronic displays in front of her eyes, she started up at the heavy hydraulic struts that were holding her in the launch bay of the Misericord.

She was strapped into her test suit, being held in a launch catapult that had been hastily designed to propel the ship out of the Misercorid's path. Behind her fighter was the first of several bins lined up, one after the other. Inside were a variety of obstacles that would be launched after her.

"Communications check," Kilana's voice came softly over her relays.

"Green," Valcuria answered back. "Countdown to launch."

"Ten--opening space door," Kilana's voice called. "Nine--Beginning launch cycle. Eight . . . seven . . . six . . . five . . .start engine preheat. Four . . .three . . . two . . .one . . .launch."

Valcuria felt the launch catapult awkwardly lower her into the freezing darkness of space. There was a sudden jolt as her main engines started their thrust. Valcuria started the fighter in a series of acrobatic turns.

"Maneuverability's good," Kilana said. "Deploying first set of targets now, Valcuria. Get ready."

The Misericord trailed a group of round objects behind it. They sparkled against the stars like a trail of stardust, then from within, they began to hum and glow with a deep red light.

Valcuria's eyes narrowed as she roared towards them.

Crash mines, she thought. Magnet-guided expolsives. I could outmaneuver them easily, but I'm just as eager to test the fighter's weapons.

She chose a high-angle course to bring herself in ahead of their targeting sensors. A thought activated her weapons systems, and targeting information began to appear on her heads-up display.

She streaked by two of the mines, blasting them with high-power pulse bolts. She ignited her super vernier engines and flew between two of them, just in time for their targeting systems to activate and smash into each other.

"I think it's even more maneuverable than she promised," Pirate Red remarked, watching the display from the bridge of the Misericord. "All the more reason to want it more . . .and not want her at all. You've fixed the Sentry Mines, haven’t you, Kilana?"

Kilana nodded, muting the communication link to Valcuria for a second. "I've added some tech to allow them to share a higher grade shield generator. With 500 mines, she'll burn out her weapons before she can destroy all of them. If she does win somehow . . .then she's been seriously dogging it around us."

Kilana re-initaiated the ink. "Thirty seconds, Valcuria," she said. "Anything to report?"

"The left vernier engine is responding sluggishly," Valcuria said. "Apart from that, the frame is functioning well above my expectations."

"Good," Kilana said. "Get ready--I'm deploying the Sentry Mines right now."

Compartments on the Misericord's wings opened up, and small, triangular objects began spilling out. They were smooth silver pyramids, and one of the most cost-effective weapons money could buy on the Frontier.

Sentry Mines were small remote-controlled drones, which were used by local governors, and pirates to created blockades. They had limited propulsion and weapon blasters, but were able to share a shield among its brothers, and it had the advantage of 360-degree fire.

Valcuria charged them, firing her weapons. She managed to destroy some of the mines, but other began to track her, and the ones she attempted to smash with her pulse guns began shrugging off her weapons fire.

"It's not going to be as easy as it was with the crash mines, Valcuria," Kilana's voice came back. "You've got thirty seconds before we deploy the next series of targets."

Valcuria grimly forged ahead and activated her missile pods. Hundreds of missiles streaked through space, punching through the Sentry Mine's shields. Fifty more mines destroyed, Valcuria thought.

Red sensors flashed and she turned towards the Misericord in time to see a phalanx of blue spheres being dropped from another of the holds. Gravity mines, she thought. They're designed to trap ships in normal space, prevent jumps. Mines those size will smash my fighter to pieces.

I had better play my trump card.

Valcuria concentrated, trying to see the lines of communication code between the Sentries and the Gravity mines. The fighter was rocked by repeated weapons fire as she shut everything out, locking onto one of the Sentries.

Contact.

The Sentry turned and began firing in every direction at once. As its weapons fire was on the same frequency as the other Sentries, it slid through their shields like they had none.

The rest of the Sentries engaged their engines, closing in on Valcuria's fighter. Valcuria let them, drifting towards one of the Gravity mines. She put her engines on standby, then willed the Sentry under her control towards her.

As it streaked towards her, Valcuria's engines kicked in, and she rocketed away as fast as she could. The Sentry collided with the Gravity Mine, detonating it. The resultant explosion destroyed the rest of the Sentries.

Once they were gone, it was relatively simple to destroy the last of the Gravity Mines.

"Damnation," Red said. "Not only is she alive, but we've used up most of our mines trying to kill her. I'd burn her out of the stars with the Planet Gun, if I didn’t need her."

"Outstanding," Kilana said evenly. "Test's over. Get back aboard."

Kilana broke contact and looked back at Red. "Well?"

"I'm impressed, even though I hate to admit it," Red said. "It's maneuverable, fast, deadly. I wish our manned fighters were as powerful."

"So our plan's clear, then?" Kilana asked. "Get rid of Valcuria, keep the droid brain and the frame for ourselves?"

"And use Kienan to do it," Red said. "You've sent the message?"

"To a reliable enough informant," Kilana said. "Someone Kienan will get in contact with. Someone he trusts. He's got to think the information's legitimate."



Kienan was in the fourth bay of the Silhouette, working intently on the machine within. It had been his passion for a long time, something he had built from scratch. It had taken him two years to get this far with it, but it was rewarding to have one part of the day where he could indulge something constructive in himself.

He hadn't yet had a need to put it to the test, but it helped him, after a long day to unwind doing it.

"Kienan!" Mirage called. She stood above him on a service platform. "You’re going to re-open your wounds. Vain told me you went here after she checked you out."

"Sorry, Mirage," he said. He looked up, smiling around the cigarette. "Got a lot on my mind."

"What happened to you?" Mirage asked. "We tried to contact you before, but you never answered."

"Little problem getting out," Kienan said. He stubbed the cigarette out as he exhaled through his nose. He green eyes looked back up at her. "But we have a job, now, that's what's important. The Blue Dragons want us to find the pirates, take their new toy, and destroy it."

"Finding the pirates can be tough," Mirage said. "Vain's tried to keep a fix on the ship that boarded us, but they keep slipping past the beacons. Last I heard they were on the edge of Rigellian space, heading towards the Frontier."

Kienan lit another cigarette. "They'll want to keep a low profile. You don’t go joy riding through the galaxy if you just stole very exotic technology."

"I'd imagine not," Mirage said. "What about Valcuria?"

"Valcuria, I'd imagine, either hired the pirates or is working with them," Kienan said. He shut the door on the machine he was working on. "Pirate Red is a leader, but she's not a smart one. Dumb thug is more like it. However Valcuria fits in, she's the key to it all."

Mirage nodded. "So what's the plan?"

"Have Vain set a course for Duros. We'll meet up with McKenzie. I have a few questions I'd like to ask him."

"All right," Mirage said. She turned around and started walking towards the pressure door.

"It wasn't easy, was it?" Kienan asked. "Seeing her?"

"Valcuria?" Mirage asked. "I . . .didn’t get to see her. Vain told me she had quite a story."

Kienan looked at her. "I see."

Mirage bowed her head. "About letting Jayla loose . . ."

Kienan raised a hand. "Mirage," he said. "It's all right, I'm not mad. You got her back in unhurt, and that's good enough. Until we can find a way to reverse what's been done, that's all that matters to me."

Mirage smiled. She began to turn away, then stopped.

"You don’t have to worry," Mirage said. "We wouldn’t turn on you."

"I've never doubted it," Kienan said without inflection.

He watched her leave as he closed down the last of his work. No, he didn’t have to worry about her loyalty. Or Vain's, or Conscience's. They would all give their lives for him at any moment, were sworn unto death to him.

He had even wondered occasionally if they loved him. Kienan hadn't ever given it much thought, and gave it even less now as he stepped into once of the elevators on the edge of the docking day. He punched in a code, and the doors slid closed and he was on his way.

Kienan had long ago sealed off parts of the Silhouette to only himself long ago. Even from the Marionettes. This was one of them. Kienan stepped out into the spare, dark, cramped room, turning on the lights. One lone fluorescent bar lit up, bathing the chamber in cool light. Kienan pulled up a nearby chair and sat down.

While Vain and Mirage had their own private weapons caches, Kienan kept his somewhere much more secure. Because whereas Vain and Mirage were more than happy to use standard weaponry, Kienan preferred to build his own custom weapons, and bullets.

He set out a cache of bullets on the table. Nagra bullets. Titanium jacketed loads with circuitry inside that created a compact gravity well. Kienan had killed a man three times is size with one.

He lifted another cache out of a drawer and laid it on the table. Metroid bullets. Neural parasites. Shoot someone with one of these, and their life would slowly bleed away as the virus ate them alive from within.

He set out another cache. Nanovirus bullets. These loads broke down machinery by infecting them with a virus made up of a million tiny machines. Kienan had designed them for fighting and killing cyborgs, artificial humans, the Marionettes . . .

Well . . .if it ever came to that.



Valcuria sat in her cabin on board the Misericord. The Ironmaidens stood around her, ever vigilant, always silent, or so it seemed. The fatigue of the flight of the fighter had all but worn her out. It was the first time she could ever remember feeling that way.

It felt strange, but also good. She knew it would work now. All that was left was to put the droid brain in the fighters and mass-produce them. Red was already working on mass-producing the frames.

"We'll have about 50 of the frames done by the time we get back to Tartarus," Red had told her. The small number was due to the limited resources they had there, but by the time the Misericord returned, Red would find a way to increase production.

The plans were for 300 fighters and brains at first. At maximum, that's all the foundries at Tartarus could support, and it was going to be slow delicate work at that.

300, Valcuria thought, brushing her red hair away from her face. That should be enough. Barely, but enough all the same. Now if I can just keep these blasted pirates fooled a little longer, I can set my plans into motion.

I nearly gave it away when I had to take control of that mine out there. Red and Kilana don’t know about that. They assume it was just an accidental misfire. I was lucky for all that.

I'm too close now to make any foolish mistakes,
she reminded herself. Everything I've planned, everything that kept me going, I will not fail to get what I want.



"I'm sorry to tell you this, sir," the burly guard of the club told Kienan. Kienan stood before him, flanked by Vain and Mirage, who both wore long cloak-like jackets, heeding Kienan's warning that Suffragette City wasn't the place to show a lot of skin. Or go, really, if you liked clubs. Or people.

Suffragette City was Leo McKenzie's club, his little seedy way station on the way to the Frontier. It wasn't much to be proud of--a ramshackle club on the most low-rent UEF outpost known to man, but it had somehow prospered.

"I told you," Kienan said, his voice tight with impatience. His hands rifled through his pocket. "I'm here to see McKenzie."

"And I told you, girly-boy," the bouncer said, gesturing to his braid. "You can't come in."

"That right?" Kienan said. He drew his pistol and shot the bouncer in the knee. "Well then . . .have a little pain."

They walked past the bouncer, who was gripping his destroyed knee and moaning with shock and pain. Kienan walked into the bar, Vain and Mirage close behind.

Kienan didn’t waste time noticing the dancers on the tables or much of anything. He just steadily made his way to the offices, taking a door that led to the rear rooms. He gestured for Vain and Mirage to wait at the door as he made he way to McKenzie's office.

He was stopped by two massive, blue-skinned shark-like beings. Twin tubes slithered out of their toothsome mouths as their yellow eyes regarded him. Kienan looked up, impressed.

he thought. The Verg were a race from a water-covered planet. They couldn’t survive travel into other environments without special frames that kept their water supply fresh. But they were highly prized as bodyguards, so it wasn't uncommon for local bosses like McKenzie to pay for one. The sheer intimidation and fear they elicited in most people was so strong, they hardly ever had to fight.

Kienan just looked at them, completely unimpressed.

"Thish plashe . . .ish forbidden for you," their translators said, their voices slurred by the constant rushing of water over their gills.

"McKenzie," Kienan said, lighting a cigarette.

"No schmoking back here," the other Verg said severely.

"Hm," Kienan said.

The door behind them opened suddenly, and McKenzie leered out at Kienan. He was a fat sweaty man, a small man with small ambitions, who had managed to get enough money to keep himself fat and greasy for the rest of his days, so long as he was satisfied with just that.

And he was. His vision extended only to the exit doors of Suffragette City.

"Kienan Ademetria," he said, his voice thick with the salacious tones of the gutter pimp he had been the last time Kienan had seen him. "You're, uh . . .here."

Kienan pushed past the Verg, who followed him in, taking up positions behind him.

"You might need a new bouncer," Kienan said. "Your last one was most uncooperative. He's outside, whimpering and hanging onto his knee so he doesn’t bleed all over your parking lot."

"You don’t like to wait, do you?" McKenzie said, pouring two shots from the bottle on his desk. "Drink?"

"No, and no," Kienan said. "I've come looking for information on that heist the Pirate Guilds pulled off a few days back."

"I don’t work with pirates," McKenzie said, throwing back his shot and the one he poured for Kienan.

"I know that," Kienan said. "But Duros is the last way station between Galactic Core and the Frontier. At least for the black market. I'm hoping you heard something."

"Maybe," McKenzie said. "We get a couple pirates come in, looking for a party."

Kienan tossed a thin strip of gold to him. "What's that do for your memory?"

"Rings some bells," McKenzie said. "We had one of the big ships come in yesterday for a re-fuel on the way to the Frontier. Had a bunch of troops come in for a party. You know what I mean?"

Kienan took another drag on his cigarette. He watched McKenzie's hands, fat-fingered and greasy, tapping on his desk.

"And?" Kienan asked, laying out another strip.

"And they got too drunk, too whored up," McKenzie said. "The captain came in, collected 'em. Paid me extra, plus one more thing."

"Which was what?" Kienan asked.

"They said they'd pay me extra if I got them you," McKenzie said, gesturing to the Verg. They took up stances behind him. "And you walked right into it, you dumb bastard."

Kienan sighed and calmly stubbed out his cigarette. He looked at McKenzie.

"How much did they pay you?" Kienan asked.

"A hundred thousand," McKenzie said. "Enough to build another club. Get my fingers into more pies. And get plenty of Verg to back it up."

"A hundred thousand's all I'm worth?" Kienan asked, his hands sliding to his sides. Apparently he had been wrong about the limits of McKenzie's vision. He slid his hand behind him, his hand closing on the hilt of the Midare-Giri.

"That's what this is for," McKenzie said, producing a thin crystal strip from his jacket pocket. "Once I get you, I'm supposed to use this. Must be the rest of my money."

"Must be," Kienan said blankly. "There's just one problem with all this ambition of yours, McKenzie."

"What's that, Kienan?" McKenzie said, his voice thick with patronization.

Kienan looked at the two Verg behind him. "Your Verg soldiers. Soldiers, not "soldier." That's where you went wrong, McKenzie."

"What?" McKenzie said, reaching back into his jacket.

"The Verg are great fighters, that's true," Kienan said. "But that's their strength and their weakness."

Kienan swiped the Midare-Giri out in a high graceful arc at one of the Verg. There was a click as it snapped back into its scabbard.

"The Verg go crazy at the sight of blood," Kienan said. The Verg he had cut was looking at his fingers. There was a small cut, almost like a paper cut. He looked up as Kienan rose from his seat as the other Verg moved in. "They can't help it."

"RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRAAAARGH!" The other Verg said, lunching forward and snapping off the other Verg's arm at the elbow. They fell to the floor like cannibalistic lovers, rending and tearing at each other.

"Now you have a five seconds to hand over that, and tell me everything about the pirates, or I'll throw you to them," Kienan said, shoving his pistol in McKenzie's face and drawing back the hammer.

"They didn’t say anything," McKenzie said. "They just wanted to make sure that you got th-this!"

McKenzie gestured to the communications chip. Kienan swiped it up.

"Under the circumstances," Kienan said, still calmly speaking in his usual quiet tone. "You've been more than helpful."

Kienan smashed the butt of his gun into McKenzie's face. A font of blood exploded out. Kienan walked back out without even a second glance and slammed the door. McKenzie felt the wetness of his own blood trickle down his face, just as the remaining Verg, his body stained with the blood of his fellow.

Kienan leaned against the door and lit a cigarette. He took a long drag, his eyes almost dreamy.

"OH GOD PLEASE DON'T HURT ME!" McKenzie said. There were sounds of crashing and smashing. Kienan felt like he was a million miles away.

"We've got what we wanted, ladies," Kienan said. "Let's go."

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH! AHHHHH!!!!" McKenzie's voice called, before a subtle gargling noise stopped his screaming forever.

They walked through the club, where nothing seemed to have registered on anyone, as the four-four thud of the beat went on, and the dancers continued to gyrate as Kienan and the Marionettes walked out.

However, once they left the club . . .that all changed.

"Oh-oh," Mirage said as they exited. Twenty armored policemen stood between them and their ship.

Kienan drew his pistols and nodded to Vain and Mirage.

Mirage leapt high into the air, landing before a team of the guards. She pressed a button on the inside of her wrist and her cloak ejected off, revealing more guns than half of the guards had ever seen. Mirage drew her twin submachine guns and sprayed a group of the police with fire. The frictionless bullets easily ripped through the policemen's flack jackets.

Vain stepped backwards, drawing a gun from within her cloak. She leveled her heavy rifle at another clutch of police and drilled them with armor piercing bullets, the motor that drove the gattling-gun like weapon scream like a demon. She was using such heavy loads the policemens' limbs were being blown off with the impacts, and they spun and hit the ground like a meat ballet.

Kienan leapt high into the air, his pistols blazing. The cops were ripped to pieces and fell to the ground, wounded, but not yet dead. Kienan took care of that by shooting each of the prone figures in his head. Within seconds, the cops had been reduced to a field of corpses and moaning wounded.

He was about to holster his weaponry, when he saw more cops coming up in armed and armored transports. He didn’t really have time for this right now, didn’t really care to have time for it, as the Verg he had left alive was storming out of the club.

"Ladies," Kienan said. "I think now would be a good time to leave. Get the ship ready."

Mirage and Vain charged to the ship, and Kienan held the line against the transports. He fired at one of the cops, barely able to discern through the shielded black windscreen.

He shot the cop in the head. He leaned forward on the steering column, and the transport jackknifed, smashing the ones behind it into one another. Kienan strode over to one of the dead bodies and quickly rifled through the various weapons that were strapped to the dead man's back.

He settled on a long, slender tube, and once he had it free, he gave each end a half-turn. Two smaller tubes extended from either side and Kienan hoisted it onto his shoulder.

Kienan sighted the wreck through the scope, and slowly drew a bead on the pinned transport. He tapped a button on the top of the tube. There was a sharp kick as the missile contained within the tube rocketed from the weapon with a hiss. The vapor from the missile left a stream, and in an instant, the missile struck the transport, starting a chain reaction of explosions. A few of the cops tumbled from the wreck, their armor burning as they frantically tried to pry it off.

Kienan threw the tube aside and searched the skies for the ship. A shadow passed overhead, and he saw the ship, laying down covering fire for him. A line extended downward, and Kienan grabbed hold of it, but not before clutching the pouch in his belt, reassuring himself that the chip he had taken off of McKenzie was still in his possession. Then he wrapped the cable around his arm and he was pulled up into the loading bay of the ship.

And before any more guards could come . . . they were gone.



Later, back aboard the Silhouette, Kienan replayed the information on the chip for the fortieth time.

"Valcuria," Vain breathed. "It has to be."

"That's who you rendezvoused with?" Kienan asked.

Vain nodded. "But she was piloting an old Shrike fighter. That's a forty-year-old ship at best. If she had enough force to pull off this heist without the help of a syndicate or the pirates, why didn't she come with them?"

"Peace offering?" Mirage asked.

"I don’t think so," Kienan said. He replayed the footage again, squinting tightly at the image. "Doesn’t seem like her style. This is one of the sloppiest robberies I've ever seen. It has "pirate" written all over it."

"But they're not using pirate rakes," Vain said, watching with equal scrutiny.

"Tactics are the same, though," Kienan said, taking a long, thoughtful drag on his cigarette. "Surround, cripple, and close in--WAIT! Hold picture!"

The image on the screen froze. Kienan traced a line under the ship attacking the Archangel.

"Right there," he said. He tapped some buttons on the console. The image shifted to an earlier view of the battle. "There too."

Mirage's eyes followed Kienan. "You’re right. A magenta line . . .underneath the ships."

Kienan eased back in his chair and smiled. "It seems like someone went through a lot of trouble to convince us Valcuria worked alone. But between the tactics used, and the obvious image bleed . . .I'd say the pirates are trying to sell her out."

"Conscience," Vain said. "Status on the ship we've been tracing?"

Another image appeared in a corner window.

"They've just cleared the Sekhmet border," Mirage said. "They'll be at the Frontier way before us."

"Before the Silhouette can make it," Kienan said, getting up. "But we can still match them, I think. One of us, anyway."

"The travel pods?" Vain asked.

"Yes," Kienan said. "I'll go. The Nighthawk can slip by and I can board them undetected. Conscience--I want this vid cleaned up. I want to see what's underneath there. Once we have a visual confirmation, Vain, confirm it and pull up everything everyone has on that ship. I need to know everything."

"What do we do in the meantime?" Mirage asked.

Kienan stubbed out his cigarette. "Get there in time to get me out. Don’t worry . . .I'll leave you plenty of them to have fun with, ladies."