Gunmetal Black
Chapter 7 - Numbered Days
By
Lewis Smith

www.gunmetalblack.com

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 couldn’t 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 didn’t ask, and no one paid us, but I don’t 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 wouldn’t be dissuaded from that for anyone or anything.

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 don’t break their backs trying."

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, shouldn’t it?"

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 end."

"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."

"And?"

"It takes up more and more computational power until the whole system is tied up trying to solve this problem, which of course can’t 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 don’t need her, and I don’t much like the idea of having her around. The chances of a double-cross just increase."

Red eased back in her chair. "It would be nice to pay her back for all the smart remarks, wouldn’t it," she said. "All right. Who do you suggest we use?"

"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 don’t want her dead, but we're short-handed as is."

"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 don’t stay up too late, sis."



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 didn’t really want to waste time with useless battles, not when his mission was so close to completion.



"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 along?

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 shut.

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 work?"

"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 leagues."

"Funny," Red said. "I don’t 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 aren’t 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 you’re 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 living."

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.

"You’re 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 you’re going to answer my question."

"The hell I am!" Red said, slamming Kienan up against the bulkheads. Despite the shock to his system, Kienan didn’t let go, if anything, he cinched tighter.

"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 elbow.

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?"

"Can’t kill him," Kilana said. "The Blue Dragons would be on us until we were completely wiped out. Problems like that we don’t 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 are."

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 escaping.

"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 rake."

"The ship we're looking for?" Mirage asked.

"No, it's a different one. But it's coming right for us. Could give us away."

"Then let's take it out before it can warn us. Conscience--clear us for launch."

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 hadn’t 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 enough.

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 them.

Vain and the other one, she thought. I see the concept of indebtedness means nothing to them. Very well, my dear sisters. If you’re not with me, you’re against me, and since you’re against me, you'll be the first test of my fighters.

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 hadn’t 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 you’re doing next to an airlock."

"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 won’t be needing it, where you’re going."

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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 won’t 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 coolly.

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 didn’t 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 space.



"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."

"Couldn’t 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 shouldn’t have sent Enteklan. Too dumb to even kill someone correctly."

"If it makes you feel any better, it was my idea."

"Doesn’t 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 command chair.

"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 Kienan's position.