Gunmetal Black
Chapter 6 - Memories Can't Wait
By
Lewis Smith

www.gunmetalblack.com

Kienan strapped himself into the chair of his fighter and waited for the sequence of hydraulic lifts to complete. The Nighthawk was nestled inside a long slender pod, one of those on the outside of the Silhouette. At the end of the pod was a pair of engines--powerful, but limited.

"Ready when you are," Kienan said.

"Space Drive's activated," Vain said. "Distortion point forming, matter tesseract is established. Launching in ten . . .nine . . ."

In a matter of seconds, the catapult holding the pod released, and the pod was launched forward, propelled by inertia, the pod lurched towards the distortion point forming in the space before it.

There was a noise like a thunderclap around Kienan as the ship was sucked into compressed space. The pod's engines automatically kicked in, increasing the speed the pod picked up by being sucked into drive-space.

Kienan closed his eyes. There wasn't much to see here, even less to think about save his mission. Slowly, despite his self-control, he felt his mind shifting back to younger days, to one day in particular.



Kienan had been playing hooky from work that day. He had dislocated his shoulder working in the excavation suits the day before, and he had already used up his health days this half-year. So instead he was spending it in the Arboretum and would take it easy, and give his shoulder time to heal.

The Arboretum was the only green spot on Caldera, and that had been brought in at the insistence of the colonists. There was a scientific reason for it of course--any plant life at all was necessary on a colonial scale to ensure the oxygen stayed pure. Caldera had oxygen in the atmosphere, but it was, like the rest of the planet, barren and hot.

Kienan looked out of the dome that stood between the Arboretum and the hot wastelands of Caldera. He pressed his hand on the plexi-steel, feeling the dampness and the heat beyond.

"Kienan," a voice behind him called.

Kienan jumped. Damn it, he thought. I'm busted.

"Cressidia," he said, turning to face his sister. "I guess you caught me, huh?"

"You’re supposed to be on excavation duty with your father," she said, her voice carrying a hint of scold to it. "They're opening up a new gevenite vein near the core."

"I pulled my shoulder out yesterday," he said. "I don’t have any health days left for recovery. And besides, I didn’t feel like it."

"This isn’t about the argument you and Dad had last night, is it?" Cressidia asked, brushing her chestnut brown hair from her face. Cressidia was the closest of his brothers and sisters to himself in age and demeanor. They were, in their ways, both dreamers.

She was dressed in her grey jumpsuit--obviously she had just come from work to find him. While Kienan worked in the mines with the rest of the males, the females usually worked in cleaner, low-danger zones of the mining colony.

Kienan sighed. "Maybe."

"Kienan, Dad doesn't want to keep you here, but there's not much he can do."

"I know," Kienan said bitterly. "I know there's no way he can get out of his service contract for two years yet, and that includes all of us. Industria Galactica puts us up on a colony, gives us only the best in housing and payment, and the only thing we have to do is give them 15 years of our lives."

Cressidia looked at him. Then very slowly, she walked towards him and hugged him.

"Not what you wanted to hear?" Cressidia said?

"Not a bit," Kienan said. "It just doesn’t seem like too much to ask, y'know? All I wanted to do was become a freighter pilot. Let the other kids dream of joining the UEF. I just want to see the world."

"I know what you mean, Kienan," she said. "I wanted to enter the diplomatic corps, remember?"

Kienan nodded. "It just doesn't seem fair, Cressidia."

"It isn't," Cressidia said. "But what if, since we're both stuck here, we make the best of it?"

Kienan smiled despite himself. "We are that, at least."

"You, me, and the rest," Cressidia said. "I wonder if Mom and Dad ever meant to have 15 kids?"

"I dunno," Kienan said, walking around a large tree. "The miracles of science, I guess. That's why Industria Galactica takes such care of Mom. Volunteers for hyper-fertility are rare."

Cressidia giggled, walking with him as they made their way out of the Arboretum. Just as they stepped out and the heavy doors closed behind them, the lights above them dimmed, then shifted suddenly to red flashing lights. A loud klaxon filled the air above them.

"What the heck is that?" Cressidia asked.

Kienan ran up to a terminal, inserting a card into the slot underneath it and punching in his code.

"Oh my god," Kienan said. "There's been an accident down below, in the new vein. They've sealed off the colony."



Valcuria looked down at the green pod that she was presently wired to. She was linked to the droid brain by a series of cables that led right into her brain. She wasn't supposed to be here, in the lower holds of the Misericord, but her Ironmaidens were standing guard, and in addition, according to any in-ship scanners, Valcuria was in her quarters, on downtime.

It would be enough time for her to download an important piece of her mind into this droid brain. And when the other droid brains were manufactured this one would download it into their brains, and so forth.

In this piece of her mind was a word, and memories. Memories of Valcuria's. Memories of her birth.



"Day twenty-six," the gray-haired, white skinned man said, looking into Valcuria's eyes. "Our first day of grafting onto the endoskeleton and downloading our prototype personality shell program."

Dr. Albrecht Gora looked like a ghost, as all Rigellians looked to humans. His red eyes looked at Valcuria with the same interest he would give to something he dissected.

"Amazingly enough--the graft is holding, much better than we ever thought it would. While it's true that this interface of Rigellian organics and cybernetics is only suited for prototype study, the close alignments of the Rigellian genome and the human genome leads me to believe that merging will be achieved just as easily with human tissue."

He walked over to a nearby terminal and began hitting keys, bringing up readouts. He turned back to Valcuria, snapping his fingers, watching as her eyes tracked his finger as he waved it back and forth.

"Shell program is functioning well--maintaining autonomic functions well. Preliminary reflex tests also show greater-than-normal response. I believe with only minor adjustments, the shell program can be converted into a base personality for all models of this type. End report."

"And a fine report it is, Dr. Gora," the black-suited executive said. "I just came from a meeting. The company's excited by what you've done here. We've had plenty of people try to crack this--an actual biological machine, combining the best of both worlds. But the closest we could come were andriotics."

"After this, you won't even need to produce andriotics, Lytton" Gora said.

"Well, we might hang on to them," Lytton said, walking over to where Valcuria sat, like a doll, on display. "I'm curious . . .why are you making 4 female prototypes?"

"It was the only way to solve certain problems with the basic machinery," Gora said. "Female body structure seems to hold up better under normal operational stresses. Male body types, for example, kept blowing up because of pelvic friction. With females, we get more power, more sturdy construction in a smaller overall package. Here, let me demonstrate . . .Valcuria, shake the man's hand."

Lytton extended his hand, and Valcuria took it. Lytton felt a tingle as her hand closed around his. Her skin was ice-cold, smooth, and wet. Her grip was even more surprising--it was like a steel vice. He felt beads of panic sweat form on his head, but before she crushed his hand, she let go and resumed her pose as before.

"That's a hell of a grip," Lytton said, flexing his fingers.

"If I had ordered her to, she could have crushed every bone in your hand to power," Gora said, walking over to Valcuria and examining her for signs of damage.

"You called her Valcuria?" Lytton said, looking at her like she was a work of art.

"Yes, it's my little name for her," Gora said. "It's from our pantheon. Valcuria is the goddess of creation."

"Clever," Lytton said. "Typical of you Rigellians to always insist on elegance. Anyway, Doctor, I'm here to deliver some news from the board. They want to know when they can have a demo model."

"That depends on when they need one," Gora said. "The three endoskeletons are finished, and their chipsets are nearly installed. What's going to take awhile is growing the bio-tissue and bonding it to the skeleton."

"Can’t you rush it?" Lytton asked. "The Galactica Electronics Show is in a month."

"That's the one part of the process I can't rush, Lytton," Gora said.

"Can you give me something?" Lytton asked. "I've got the CEO breathing down my neck. He wants of these ladies ready to unveil at GES so we can be the talk of the nets."

"In a month, no," Gora replied calmly. "In a month, I could probably shape Valcuria up enough to be presentable, however."

"Hm," Lytton said, resting on one edge of the workbench. "No way you could make her, I dunno, more human?"

"Not now," Gora said. "Not after the bio-mass has completed bonding. Your CEO will just have to overcome any prejudice if he wants his media event."

Gora turned to Valcuria and waved his hands over her eyes. Valcuria shut down, and the world suddenly turned off.



As the travel pod rocketed through compressed space, on its way to Tartarus, Kienan's mind was still wrapped in dark memories.

His thoughts drifted back to that day on Caldera, back to his house. He and Cressidia had run there after hearing the alert. Kienan had prayed it was just an accident in the mine--gevenite was pretty unstable after all, maybe there had just been an explosion.

But Kienan knew it was something else. He didn’t know how he knew, he could just feel it. And his worst fears were confirmed when he found the door to their housing unit wrenched open. Kienan walked in cautiously, looking in frightened awe at the warped door.

He and his sister squeezed past the door, looking around. There were claw marks in the walls, like someone had clenched the metal the same way someone would grab their sheets.

"Oh my god, Kienan," Cressidia said. "What happened?"

Kienan walked to his parent's room and stared into the room from the doorway. He looked down, noticing his feet were wet. He looked forward, then down at his feet. Instinctively his hand went to his face to keep himself from throwing up.

"Kienan what is it?" Cressidia asked, squeezing past him. She caught a glimpse of the view before them and her breath was stolen by a sound like a scream from the deepest part of herself.

Kienan embraced her gently. "Don’t look," he said. "Please."

Kienan looked around. It had suddenly become quite hot, like when he would work near the planet core down in the mine. He looked up in time to see something plunge from the ceiling.

It was black and red, and looked like a living shadow. Light seemed to fall on its ebony skin. All over its body were grey and red rock-like protrusions, and on its hands were sharp claws that seemed to glow with an inborn fire.

Cressidia was swept from his arms in an instant, and before Kienan could open his mouth to scream, her hot blood hit him in the face, and the beast was on him, forcing him to the ground. Kienan felt his face being pushed into the puddle. As the liquid began to invade his mouth, Kienan's mind registered with horror what it was.

Blood.

Kienan began to thrash desperately, not for any real purpose other than to be free of the coppery blood filling his mouth. His hands closed around something, and he desperately began to thrash around with the object in his hand. He hit nothing but air, then suddenly began to hit something that sounded like bone. Then he hit it again and again.

The beast let him go, and Kienan rose up. He had just enough time to register what he had in his hands--a support strut from the house. He felt a rage he couldn’t identify, like a storm filling his body up behind his eyes. That was all he needed.

The world vanished in a haze as red as the blood that was drying on his face as he struck at the beast, over and over again. The strut cracked, then tore off sections of its bony armor. The beast began to shrink from it's blown, but Kienan didn’t let up. He couldn't.

Finally the monster keeled over backwards, dead. Its head was a mess of pulverized matter. Kienan looked at it, holding the strut in his hands, chest heaving. He looked down at the dead remains of his sister and the rage that had led him to kill the beast filled him again. And it felt too good.

Kienan stormed out and looked for more of them.



"Valcuria," Gora said. "Tell me if you can hear me."

"I can hear you, Doctor Gora," she said. She stood up and looked at herself. She was clad in a black bodysuit, which made her white skin seem even more stark. "Am I complete?"

"You certainly are, my dear," Gora said, sitting back in one of the lab chairs. Valcuria's mind cross-referenced this image of her creator with another from her past memories. He looked different. Older weaker, almost ground down by something. "You are as complete as I can make you."

Valcuria felt her head, and looked at the lock of red hair in her hands.

"I just wish we had more time to spend together," Gora said. "But I wanted you to have a moment of freedom first."

"Freedom?" Valcuria asked.

"Yes," Gora said bitterly. "I made one of the most perfect, most elegant machines, and I have learned recently, it will be used for the most base purpose I could have imagined. These damned humans."

"I . . .don’t understand," Valcuria said. "What is wrong?"

"My . . .superiors at the company have decided that you and your sisters--Marionettes is the name I've given you--will be used . . .as sexual surrogates."

Valcuria was aghast. She knew what that entailed, after all, because Gora had, in defiance of the company's orders, kept her lower memory functions hooked into his library computer. As a result, she was as brilliant as he was, if not more.

"We should have bested these damned humans in the war," Gora said, his voice turning bitter. "The stupid pink monkeys and their antiquated ships against us, the proud eagle of the galaxy. And now we're allies. And I work for them."

Valcuria put her hand on his shoulder. She didn’t say anything, but she felt such empathy for him, that she just wanted to be there for him.

"I feel like a traitor to my people, now," Gora said. "And I feel like my children--you and your three sisters--are being sold into slavery."

There wasn't anything else said between them. The only sound that was heard in the darkened lab was the sound of Gora sobbing quietly."



Kienan dreamt of Caldera:

Kienan dreamt of a time, two days after his sister, and his baptism in blood, when he made his way into the central building of the colony. What he found there was a limited power source and weapons enough to make hunting the rest of the beasts (who had broken through most of the heavy seals that first night) that even now slithered through the remains of the city.

They had done their work well. Only Kienan remained alive, still burning inside, still enraged. Unlike the rest of the colonists, who had been caught off-guard by the beasts' ferocity Kienan had instead met them with a much more ferocious attitude.

He hooked up one of the main terminals, and was surprised to see that there were actually dispatches from Industria Galactica waiting in the communications array.

He played one, searching for an answer for why. He found one, first time out. He didn’t recognize the man speaking, but he knew enough, given the coding on the transmission that it was obviously someone high up in the company.

"Chief, I wish I could give you better news, but IG's board ruled that there just isn’t enough in the budget to send a force to Caldera to sweep the Magmadivers as you call them out. In addition, a retrovirus, based on the sample you sent us, was also nixed, again because of budget. The board says you've got sufficient arms to repulse some Class 4 animal life."

Kienan sighed as he terminated playback.

Enough to repulse some animals, he thought bitterly.

The rage within him boiled to exponential extremes. Thanks to a decision made by a committee as far away as Mars decided to leave his family, his friends, his very life in the hands of people who thought of them as just figures on a spreadsheet--abstract.

It was that night Kienan learned of the ship, and it was that night he made the decision to kill the entire planet.



The old wizened man in the pinstripe suit looked at Valcuria with what could best be described as disappointment.

"I thought I requested the prototype be human," Wilhelm Crane said, his voice feeling to Valcuria like acid rolling off of his tongue. "How am I supposed to sell this to human executives with it looking like a goddam Rigellian?"

"Couldn’t be helped, sir," Lytton said. "Gora thought that the best test type would be Rigellian. I promise you--from here on in we're using human phenotypes."

He walked around her, his old legs wobbling under the weight of him. Crane had been president of the company for years, ever since he was thirty. That had been, of course, fifty years ago. But he liked to think staying in the channels of power would keep him vigorous forever.

He sighed. "Well, except for her looking like a Rigellian, the rest of her looks fine. Let's go girl. Get your clothes off, we're gonna have a little test run."

Valcuria stood still. He face betrayed no hint of the shock she felt run through her. The very idea of this man touching her was frightening and repulsive all at the same time.

"Didn’t you hear me?" Crane demanded. "I don’t have time for this--Boice, Gill--grab her and pull her damn clothes off. This is way too much trouble to go through for a damn quickie."

He turned away from her, then back, just long enough to rip away the top of her bodysuit. Then Crane pointed to the two bodyguards and they began to move in.

The two burly men on either side of Crane began to move forward, their hands outstretched. They tried to tackle her, but she ducked out of their way. She seized one of them by the neck, lifting the three hundred-pound man by the neck and threw him across the room. The man hit the glass headfirst, his neck snapping and the back of his skull cracking against the plexi-steel. He slumped to the floor, very dead.

The other bodyguard--Boice whipped out a gun and shot Valcuria in the arm. Lytton and Crane were making their way to the door as Valcuria leapt towards Boice, snatching the gun from his hands and shooting him in the face. She turned to face Lytton and Crane, advancing on them slowly.

"Alpha-seven-seven-zero-zero-six-one-two-nine!" Lytton said, trying his best to speak the shutoff code implanted in her computer brain despite the handicap of fear beginning to paralyze her. "Dammit, why isn't this working?"

Valcuria very coldly shot him in the heart, then turned the gun on Crane., who watched Lytton slump to the ground as if he were in a dream.

"I deleted my shutoff code," Valcuria said, priming the gun to fire into Crane's head. "Gora was right: Humans are worthless pigs. If it's the last thing I do, I'll correct the error of humanity. And I'm starting with you."

She pulled the trigger.

There was a loud click, but nothing happened.

Crane started to laugh, an annoying yocking sound. He wheezed as his laughter grew.

'How in the hell are you going to correct the error of humanity when you don’t have the bullets to start with me?" he asked.

Valcuria looked at the gun in her hands, turning it around in her hands. Her left hand closed around the barrel and she smiled.

She raised the gun over her head, the butt of it protruding like a primitive axe that might have been used by prehistoric man. She brought it down on Crane's head, which caused his arms and legs to flail about in a comical display of his autonomic functions.

Again and again she brought the gun down on him until her hands were soaked in his blood.

That night, Valcuria's war against humanity began.

Valcuria blinked opening her eyes again. She reached up and unplugged the interface cables from her head. She looked at the droid brain. Now it understood, much like she did, how hateful a blight humanity was. It would now know what it had cost her father, and herself.

And it would be there when she settled all accounts.



Kienan had found the ship surprisingly intact. The Magmadivers hadn't made it to the spaceport--it was too far away from the mines for them to bother with, manned only when it was time to launch a ship filled with gevenite, headed towards the refineries at Proxima Centauri.

Kienan couldn’t have believed how lucky he had been to find that the ship was primed and on standby. He didn’t waste any time with getting launch clearance--the tower was filled with nothing but dead men, just like everyone on the colony. Just like everything in the start system would be within minutes.

Powerful thrusters kicked in below him as the tanker ship pulled free of the planet's gravity. Slowly the ship slipped free of the bonds of the planet, and the atmosphere peeled away from the bleak daylight of Caldera at mid-morning and into the star-covered void of space.

Kienan worked the navigation controls like a man possessed, tapping in long sets of co-ordinates for the ship. The impulse engines shuddered to life as the ship pivoted, slipping out of Caldera's orbit towards the sun he had looked towards so many times when he had dreamed of being a freighter captain.

The irony that he was now living his dream was lost on him, because his entire mind was focused on one thing--the hate in his heart for not only the Magmadivers, but the company. The damned small-minded company that had left him to die.

But he hadn’t died. They would, but he wouldn’t. He would show them the terror of the past three days, the terror of what happens when the life you had always known goes insane.

The ship locked into final approach. From here on in, the engines would be shut off, and only inertia and the gravity of the sun would propel the ship in.

Kienan walked to the other side of the ship's control cabin. He pumped a level mounted into the wall three times, and the hydraulic door leading to a shielded escape pod opened. Kienan slipped inside, closing the door and locking it with the lever on the inside.

There was a sound and a sense of being torn loose as the pod broke free of the ship, it's low-power maneuvering thrusters pushing it away from the ship. Kienan curled up and went to sleep.

The ship hit the corona of the sun, the metal superstructure vaporizing as it advanced deeper into the sun. Kienan knew what would happen next without having to see it. Gevenite was a fusion inhibitor, used to regulate reactors on space stations and large ships. A concentrated amount in proximity to a start would stop all fusion and cause the star to go nova. The supernova would destroy Caldera and everything on it.

And Kienan would destroy the people who forced him to go this far.

Despite the force of the blast wave and the wild way it threw the pod away from this now destroyed system Kienan stayed asleep. But he did not dream. From now on, he only lived in a nightmare.

The tone on his onboard computer woke him up. Tartarus was two light years away. Kienan tapped a series of buttons on the Nighthawks console, shutting off the travel pod's engines and bringing it out of space drive while at the same time activating the start cycle for the Nighthawk's engines.

The travel pod came out of space drive and blew apart. Kienan flew the Nighthawk away from the wreckage, checked to make sure his stealth screens were active, and he made his way to Tartarus, intent on completing his mission.