Chapter 7 - Numbered Days
Kienan slipped past the detectors without even triggering one. Tartarus was an
intergalactic junkyard, filled with asteroids, pieces of space stations and
space docks, and old ships, all connected by kludged causeways and linkages.
Kienan flew by all of them undetected, paying attention only to a small window
on his control board. The steady pulsing of it had increased the deeper he flew
into the junk archipelago.
He came to a stop behind the Misericord, which loomed large before his small
fighter. He hit the attitude thrusters and propelled himself underneath the
ship, moving past its engine cluster.
He hit the thrusters again, slowing, but ascending gradually. This was the
easiest place to enter the ship, just where the radiation shielding would
prevent any detection and where there were no viewports for anyone to actually
see the ship. Because of all the debris and the pirates limited sources, no
patrols existed that would have noticed him.
Two sharp metallic claws extended and gripped onto the underside of the
Misericord, sinking deep into the metal like the teeth of a predator into raw
meat. Once the ships were fastened snugly together, another device rose from
behind the cockpit of the Nighthawk. It fastened securely and an element inside
it began to heat. Gradually it would soften the metal and allow him entry.
Sensitive scanners began to sort through the data on the ship, providing him
with a map of the ship. Kienan committed the map to memory. He couldnt afford
to be encumbered with unnecessary items while infiltrating a ship
While the burn-through occurred, Kienan began sorting through the weapons
locker he kept on board the ship. It would be some time before Vain and Mirage
got here, and he would need to either finish the mission before that, or hold
the ship here.
At that moment, Vain and Mirage were travelling towards Tartarus at full Space
Drive. Vain frowned at the computer's calculated arrival time, but knew there
was very little she could do about it.
"So when we get there," Mirage asked, cleaning one of her submachine
guns as she sat at her command chair. "What will we do?"
"Meet up with Kienan," Vain said. "Then we go after the people
who invaded our ship--get a little payback."
"That works," Mirage said. "Kienan didnt ask, and no one paid
us, but I dont think anyone would be sad if we took the pirate guild down a
peg, do you?"
"No," Vain said.
"You never did say much about that woman you met . . .the other
Marionette," Mirage said, snapping a clip into the submachine gun.
"She was different," Vain said. "Not just her looks, but her
whole manner. Our personalities formed pretty slowly, without any input from
our creators. I wonder how much personality shaping she had?"
"No telling," Mirage said. "All our learning was done with
Kienan. Depending on what she knew before she was free, and what she learned,
she could be further along than us."
Vain nodded. She was thing about the exchange she had with Valcuria, and she
had claimed that she owed her one. It was supposed to, she imagined, put her in
an uncomfortable position, but it would do no good. Because Vain was utterly
dedicated to Kienan, and wouldnt be dissuaded from that for anyone or
The next time Vain saw Valcuria, she would kill her on her own.
"Hmm," Pirate Red said, looking at the report in front of her. The
short, white-armored trooper in front of her stood a bit nervously. It was a
often told tale in Tartarus that Pirate Red hated bad news, and the report he
had brought to her wasn't very flattering.
"Only a week for repairs to the Misericord?" Red said, reading from
the report. She brushed her blue hair out of her face. "Well, given that
we're pretty much gonna be in dock for a long time anyway, that's permissible.
Tell the engineers to speed it up as fast as possible, but dont break their
The trooper saluted and left the bridge. Red frowned. "A week," she
thought. "Should be enough to get a sizable fighter wing built and ready,
Kilana turned to her from her seat in the control center. "From what
Valcuria tells me, yeah. I've set her up on the outer circle, on the other
"And our leash?"
Kilana was thoughtful for a second. "I think it'll work. I found something
innocuous, something that'd get past the droid brains. A math problem, believe
it or not."
"How does arithmetic stop a droid brain?" Red asked. "I thought
you'd find something like a virus or a worm or a deleter."
"The technology's way too advanced for that," Kilana said. "This
problem's a very special one, because every time you answer it, it leads to an
even larger number, and a larger, number, and a larger number."
"It takes up more and more computational power until the whole system is
tied up trying to solve this problem, which of course cant solved, so the
droid brain's chasing its tail. While it is, we can destroy it."
Red frowned. "Oh well. Much as I hate the idea of destroying what we
fought so hard to find, I like it a lot better than trying to fight them."
Kilana nodded, looking thoughtful.
"You know," she finally said, speaking slow and carefully. "With
the manufacturers running and all the information we need pretty much in our
grasp . . .it's not like we need Valcuria around."
"Kilana," Red said, mockingly chastising. "Are you suggesting we
. . .kill her?"
Kilana tapped the side of her console. "Kill her, shoot her little robot
bodyguards into the sun and have done with her. We dont need her, and I dont
much like the idea of having her around. The chances of a double-cross just
Red eased back in her chair. "It would be nice to pay her back for all the
smart remarks, wouldnt it," she said. "All right. Who do you suggest
"Get Enteklan from the Cerberus," Kilana said. "Have his troops
in place say they're there to ferry her back to the Misericord from the outer
circle. Once she's on the ship, take care of her."
"And what if her androids have self-destruct capabilities?" Red
asked. "It's not that I dont want her dead, but we're short-handed as
"We'll equip the troopers with pulse-guns," Kilana said. "Set
them to a low-frequency yield. It should paralyze them for a time--enough time
to dump them if they pour the shots on."
Red stood up and turned to leave the bridge. "I'll see to it. I'm on my
way to my quarters. I've been up for three days . . .I'm ready for some
downtime. And since we seem to have shaken Kienan for the nonce . . .I'll take
it while I can."
"All right," Kilana said. "I'll be up for a bit longer . . .I'm
detecting a break in our hull--minor, but it's costing us oxygen. We must've
picked it up while in Space Drive."
"All right," Red said, smiling a little. "Just dont stay up too
Kienan clambered through the service conduit of the Misericord, his submachine
gun at the ready. It was his custom design, a rapid-fire laser weapon. Kienan,
for the most part hated energy weapons--they were powerful, but entirely to
slow to fire. Kienan had solved that problem by removing most of the safe
guards on the weapon. What he was left with was a weapon ideally suited for
situations like this.
He peered out through the mesh of a ventilation screen. Two guards, clad in the
black and white armor all of the pirate troopers wore stood on their own. Their
weapons were stowed on their shoulders. They were on break, it seemed, relaxed.
Kienan kicked out the grille, braced his back against the wall, and fired. The
guards were thrown against one of the bulkheads, their armor torn through by
the hail of laser fire.
One of the guards struggled to get to his feet, but Kienan was already on him.
He stood over the guard, putting his foot in his throat.
"Where's Red?" Kienan asked evenly.
"F-forward section," the guard said.
"Thank you," Kienan said, shooting the guard in the face. He turned
and made his way to the forward section, keeping out of sight. He didnt really
want to waste time with useless battles, not when his mission was so close to
"Understood," the green skinned beast said. Enteklan was captain of
the Cerberus, and was even now headed towards the outer circle, where his squad
would execute Valcuria.
Enteklan was a Siridar, one of very few that lived separately from his own
people. He was also one of Pirate Red's most trusted lieutenants for his easy
ruthlessness. He was the perfect one to destroy Valcuria.
The Cerberus moved into docking position with the outer ring. Enteklan made his
way to the docking area, where a team of troopers, all brandishing rather
nasty-looking weapons, waited to board.
The airlock opened and they walked in. Before they knew it, they were beset
upon by the Ironmaidens.
Enteklan was furious. Had they been set up? Or had this Valcuria known all
Wartoy led the way, slashing through most of the troopers with her super-heated
metal whip. Azura did much the same thing, except she took more than her share
of pulse rifle fire. She sank to one knee, long enough to be dragged off by one
of the Troopers for disposal.
"Fall back!" Enteklan ordered. "We've got one of them!"
The troopers spilled back through the airlock, the heavy blast door slamming
Valcuria stepped out from behind the remaining two Ironmaidens.
"Azura," she said.
She concentrated, and through the same process that had let her seize control
of the mines, made contact with Azura's machine brain.
It's time, was all she thought.
On board the Cerberus, which was even now pulling way from the outer circle,
Azura triggered her self-destruct device. A huge explosion ripped through the
Cerberus amidships, blowing out part of the hull into space and causing the
ship to careen out of control.
Valcuira opened her eyes. She turned to Wartoy and Auriga.
"Deploy the fighters," she said. "We'll move to this ship. I
think it's time to leave."
Red was about to open the door to her quarters on board the Misericord when she
heard the subtle click of a gun pointed at her head.
"Hello, Cristina," Kienan said quietly.
"Kienan," Red said. "I take it this means my little ruse didn't
"The doctored recording?" Kienan said. "Not for a minute. Maybe
if you changed your tactics once in a while, you would have made it harder for
me. But that's you problem--you always were too stupid to play in the big
"Funny," Red said. "I dont see you leading a whole fleet."
"You call what you do leading? I always figured you were just the one in
front. I do like the hair though. Very becoming."
"Remind you of someone you know?" Red asked.
Kienan frowned. "No."
Red smiled. "C'mon Kienan," she said. "If you thought I was the
one behind it, why arent I dead? Whoever paid you off must have made that a
condition of the deal."
"Because you're obviously not the brains behind this," Kienan said.
"You drove the car, but youre too stupid and too short-sighted to know or
care what to do with the kind of esoteric technology you heisted. I'm after the
person behind the whole thing. Give me a name, and I'll let you go on
Red smiled. "No," she said, throwing all her weight into Kienan.
Kienan fell back and rolled to his feet, eyeing her and smiling a little.
"Youre going to do it the hard way, I see," Kienan said, easing into
a ready stance.
"Only way I know, ese," Red said, charging her Knuckle Buster.
"I'm already dreaming of what killing you will do to my rep."
Red threw her punch, the Knuckle Buster's energy hissing and filling the
corridor with the small of ozone. Kienan kicked her aside, pushing off of her
and turning to face her.
"Gotta do better," Kienan said. "I'm over here."
"RRRGH!" Red said, throwing another punch. The punch hit the
bulkhead, sparks flying with the release of energy.
"C'mon, Cristina," Kienan said, sticking his face out in front of
her. He smiled, his voice thick with contempt. "Make me work for it."
"Pendejo piece of shit!" Red said, throwing another punch. Kienan
caught her arm, the Knuckle Buster dangerously close to his face. He twisted
his body around hers and cinched up a chokehold on her.
"There," Kienan said. "Now youre going to answer my
"The hell I am!" Red said, slamming Kienan up against the bulkheads.
Despite the shock to his system, Kienan didnt let go, if anything, he cinched
"Who was it?" Kienan asked.
"Go to hell!" Red cried. Her face was turning blue with the effort
"You first," Kienan said.
Before Kienan knew what was going on a high-pitched sound split the air,
sending him reeling long enough for Red to smash him in the face with her
Kienan shrugged off the sonic assault long enough to reach for his guns, but it
was too late.
Red hit him full on with the Knuckle Buster. Kienan, his nervous system shorted
out, slumped to the bulkhead.
Red got up, wiping the sweat off her brow. Kilana stood beside her, brandishing
a sonic blaster. An army of troopers, all of them, flanked Kilana with weapons
pointed at Kienan.
"You got so lucky, sis," Kilana said. "I figured out that hull
breach was a ship piggy-backing on ours. I guessed someone was going after you.
Didn't figure on it being him. I see you two get along as well as ever."
"I know," Red said. "He got me pissed off, and that almost got
me killed. Still, now what do we do?"
"Cant kill him," Kilana said. "The Blue Dragons would be on us
until we were completely wiped out. Problems like that we dont need."
"Well, what if it wasn't us?" Red suggested. "What if something
happened to his ship, he ejected, and no one came to pick him up in time? No
one could blame us for that . . .it happens all the time on the Frontier."
Kilana turned to Red, smiling. "You're not suggesting what I think you
Red nodded. "Let's space the son of a bitch."
Vain and Mirage loaded the last of the weapons they would need into the cargo
holds of their fighters. They were at the edge of Tartarus. The plan was to go
in with their fighters, while the Silhouette stood by to keep any ship from
"Any signal from Kienan, Conscience?" Vain asked, climbing into the
command pod of her Angelfish and strapping herself in.
"No," came the response.
Mirage, readying her fighter for departure, tapped her communication line.
"That's no guarantee he's been held up."
"No, but this should be easy," Vain said. Her fighter slid into
launch position. "The pirates have never given us this much trouble."
"We never went to them before either," Mirage said, her fighter
loading into the secondary launch bay.
"Wait a second," Vain said. "I'm getting a signal. It's a pirate
"The ship we're looking for?" Mirage asked.
"No, it's a different one. But it's coming right for us. Could give us
"Then let's take it out before it can warn us. Conscience--clear us for
The space door on either dock opened and the twin Angelfish fighters dropped
out into space. There was a flash of orange flame as their engines flamed into
full power, heading towards the ship.
"Weapons hot," Mirage said. "Let's do this fast."
Valcuria stood on the bridge of the Cerberus, and frowned. She hadnt thought
it possible that a ship could be in worse repair than the Misericord, but here
it was. It had been run down even before Azura had self-destructed.
But it would do, she thought. The launch bays are still intact, and the ship
can achieve Space Drive. I doubt we'll make it all the way, but it should be
And if the pirates get the blame . . .so much the better.
She very gently eased this ship into a faster level of speed. The control
scheme was a mess, but gradually she was able to infiltrate it and bond with
it, much like Kilana did with the Misericord.
Unfortunately, since the control scheme was so arcane, she hadn't yet mastered
the weapons systems of the Cerberus. But she had launch control, so she could
by herself time while whoever was waiting to attack her moved into position.
As if to test this determination, two ships moved in to attack. Almost before
the sensors registered the silhouette of the fighters, Valcuria recognized
Vain and the other one, she thought. I see the concept of indebtedness means
nothing to them. Very well, my dear sisters. If youre not with me, youre
against me, and since youre against me, you'll be the first test of my
She sent a mental signal to the launch bays. Within seconds, the space between
them would be filled with her children, fighting to protect her. The battle
that was mere prelude to the war she was already planning to wage.
"Wake up," a voice--Red's voice called.
Kienan's eyes opened weakly . . .the shock and the sonic attack had taken a lot
out of him. He felt like he could have slept a week. He tried to stand up, but
found the barrel of a gun poking him in the back of the head.
He looked at his hands and all over. He was dressed in his spacesuit, and given
how loosely it had been done, against his will. He looked at the status
indicator on his wrist. Still green, so they hadnt broken anything.
Small comfort, Kienan thought.
Red and Kilana stood before him, surrounded by an angry squad of troopers, all
of whom seemed armed and waiting for him to make a move.
"I know," Red said, walking towards him. "You're wondering why
we dressed you in your space suit, and what youre doing next to an
"The thought . . .had crossed my mind," Kienan said. He reached
behind his back for the Midare-Giri, not to use it, but just to know it was there.
It wasn't. A spark of fear ran through him, at least until Pirate Red lifted
the blade into sight.
"Looking for this?" Pirate Red asked, smiling as she turned it in her
hands. "Nice weapon. I think I'll keep it. You wont be needing it, where
Kienan looked back. "Outside."
"That's right," Red said. "You see--as much as I'd like to kill
you--slowly, painfully--the syndicate you're affiliated with makes that damn
near impossible to do and not have your friends hound us until the end of time."
She walked around behind him. "So we're going to trust our friend--the
cold, hard, vacuum of space--to do the job for us. Our hands will be
clean--accidents happen on the Frontier all the time."
She gestured to the troopers on either side of Kienan to hold him up. They did
so, working as hard as they could to tear his arms out of his sockets.
She faced Kienan, smiling. "To the syndicate it'll look like your ship
exploded, you ejected, but didnt get rescued in time. Your air will have run
out, and you'll be just another corpse in space. Not our fault."
"I have friends closer then the Blue Dragons," Kienan said.
"They're coming right now."
"Is that right?" Pirate Red said. "If I know you, they're more
focused on the mission than avenging you. By the time they get around to
vengeance, we'll be gone."
Red waved him toward the airlock. The troopers made it a point to slam him
against the heavy space door.
Kienan looked Red in the eyes. He didnt show a trace of fear.
"Red," he said. "I'm coming back for my knife."
Red smiled. "And how will you come back from being dead, Kienan?"
"The same way I always have . . .I'll claw my way through hell."
Red laughed. "I'd like to see that. But I wont hold my breath. I'll keep
your knife nice and shiny, though."
Red ordered the guards to pull Kienan up, and the troopers drew him up, pulling
his arms tight. Red pulled close to him, and kissed him, as deeply as she
could. Kienan held his lips tight together.
"Mmm," Red said. "You never give an inch."
"You kiss just as sloppy as you do everything else," Kienan said
Red laughed, grabbing Kienan's helmet and locking it in place.
"Maybe so," Red said. "But it is kinda flattering to know I got
the last kiss Kienan Ademetria ever gave. Even if it was a little unwilling.
Throw him out."
The troopers opened the airlock, and threw Kienan into the airlock. The heavy
metal door slammed shut behind him, and Kienan was alone. He made some checks
on his air supply, and seeing that it was secure, he relaxed against the walls
of the airlock, waiting.
He didnt have to wait long. There was a low dull hum as the space door opened.
Kienan let his body go limp as he was dragged out into the hard vacuum of
"That was needless grandstanding, sister," Kilana said as she and Red
walked back to the Misericord's bridge. "Kissing him just because he
pissed you off. So petty."
"Couldnt help it," Red said. "He made me mad. Besides, I'd
always wanted to. Have we heard from the Cerberus yet?"
"Nothing," Kilana said.
"Have we heard anything from Valcuria?" Red asked, her voice getting
a little tighter.
"No," Kilana said. "You think she's on to us?"
Red started walking faster towards the bridge. "Looks like," she
said. "Damn it, I knew I shouldnt have sent Enteklan. Too dumb to even
kill someone correctly."
"If it makes you feel any better, it was my idea."
"Doesnt matter," Red said. "If she got past Enteklan, she's got
the Cerberus. If she's got the Cerberus, she knows we're out to kill her. And
if that's her plan, she's either coming after us, or she's gonna make a run for
it. In either case . . .we're gonna have to take care of her ourselves. "
The doors to the bridge slid open. Kilana leapt into the control yoke, sliding
her hands into the control units. Red activated the weapons controls in her
"Get us moving," Red said.
Kienan watched as the Nighthawk was pushed away from the Misericord, which was
beginning to move as the engines reactivated. The Nighthawk tumbled free,
turning and turning silently through space.
Kienan made no move towards it, only raising his hand towards it.
There was a hint of movement on the underside of the Misericord. Kienan closed
his eyes. He knew what was next. All he could do was shield his eyes in preparation.
There was a flash of cannon fire from the Misericord. In a flash, the Nighthawk
was destroyed. As the explosion subsided Kienan saluted his destroyed fighter.
It had been a worthy machine, one of a kind, and he hated to lose it.
Especially to an unworthy opponent like Pirate Red.
He watched the last of the oxygen tanks and chemicals flame out, and space
became dark again. Kienan activated controls on his wrist. He watched the
display carefully, waiting for confirmation.
There was a green light. Confirmed.
Kienan smiled. Now all he had to do was wait.
On the Silhouette, deep in Bay 4, special relays tuned to a private channel,
which was always kept open, hummed to life, then thrown. A special carriage
lifted the massive custom fighter from its service bay, where Kienan had been
working on it only a day ago.
The ship was lowered into position as heavy blast doors closed behind it. Space
doors below it opened as the carriage lowered the ship into space. Aboard the
ship, systems hummed to life. The four powerful engines behind it thrummed into
life for the first time, blue fire extending behind it like the tail feathers
of a great steel bird.
The carriage lifted away from the ship, and the ship took off, heading for