Gunmetal Black
Chapter 9 - Metallic KO
By
Lewis Smith

www.gunmetalblack.com

Kienan made his way to the bridge of the Silhouette, on a little tired from the long haul to the ship. They were tracking the last of Valcuria's fleet of fighters, now pulling into Khephren space. The Silhouette was holding back, pursuing at a safe enough distance. Kienan didn't want to destroy Valcuria until he was certain of what she was pursuing. And he certainly didn’t want to give away his position to the Khephren. He was perfectly content to let the two forces deal with each other, and then eliminate the winner, should it happen to be Valcuria.

But if he moved now, he'd have to destroy the Khephren and Valcuria. And that was too much work. One of the first things Kienan had learned about the art of killing was to wait for the perfect shot.

Kienan watched the displays before him. The Khephren had scrambled their defense forces to deal with Valcuria. It was a short enough engagement--the Khephren were more traders than warriors now.

Valcuria had destroyed three of their ships, her fighters still continuing on their slow curve through Khephren space.

She's not going to Earth, then, Kienan thought. Then what?

"Conscience," he said. "Give me a map of that sector of space. Overlay with ship travel in that area . . .going back five years."

A smaller window appeared in the corner of the main display. Trails of light crisscrossed the map, indicating ship travel over Khephren space. Mostly trade routes, travel barges to the Frontier, diplomatic envoys.

"Remove the trade, diplomatic, and travel routes," Kienan said, idly brushing his chestnut bangs out of his face. "Leave only the military data."

His eyes narrowed as three spots remained on the map.

"Enlarge points 100 by 350 by 202," Kienan said. "Give me the data on that coordinate."

Kienan read the data as it filled the window. Five years ago, during the battle with the Chroan, a joint UEF and Rigellian task force had pushed a Chroan battle group back into their space.

Two light years from that space was Chroan space, quarantined by the UEF. Whatever Valcuria wanted, it was most likely there, and going through Khephren space was the least protected way to get there.

Kienan pondered his options. The Silhouette could go into Space Drive, slip by the border guards and lie in wait for Valcuria as she broke through the border. Then Kienan would be able to deal with her and find out what she found so important.

"Take us to Space Drive, and activate the shroud shielding, calibrate our profile to UEF, light destroyer class. I want us at that point in the next ten minutes. Once we're in quarantined space, make a scan, focus on Chroan technology."

"Done," Conscience said flatly. "Additional?"

"Yes," Kienan said. "Get the Reiven re-armed and re-fueled. I'm going out again."



Vain yanked Wartoy forward, the Ironmaiden's flail snaking around the hilt of her ion knife. Vain pulled her forward and smashed her foot into Wartoy's solar plexus. Had Wartoy been a flesh-and-blood being, the kick would have broken her spine and caused more internal damage that being caught in a car collision.

As it was, it only dented Wartoy's outer skin. Wartoy snagged her by the heel and threw Vain into the bulkhead of the ship. Vain's teeth clacked with the impact of the throw, and she slid down the bulkhead, reaching behind her as she did.

Mirage tried to cover Vain with an attack of her own, but Wartoy snapped her shield up in her face, knocking her back to the deck as well.

As she landed on the deck, she pulled her backup gun, the size a pistol, but much more powerful. Vain pulled the trigger, and several pounds of explosive-assisted shotgun shells erupted towards Wartoy.

Wartoy got her shield up in time for the last volley of shots, but not the first. The first salvo struck her in face, shattering one of her red eyepieces. The other red eye glowed with rage, and had Vain and Mirage been anything but what they were, they might have been intimidated. As it was, it only strengthened their resolve, seeing that this machine could be hurt.

Wartoy retaliated by hurling her flail at Vain. Vain rolled to the side, grabbing her knives as the tip of the flail scraped the side of the bulkhead.

Mirage fired at Wartoy again. More scrapes to Wartoy's outer skin, but still no lasting damage. Mirage slid under Wartoy's legs, raising her submachine guns up to Wartoy. She felt the heat coming from Wartoy's exhaust vent mounted in her stomach as she drew a bead on her.

Mirage pulled the triggers and Wartoy was sent backwards by the force of the fire. Mirage took that time to let Vain get her shot in. Vain blocked Wartoy's wild strike with her shield and used her other knife to slash at the moorings that held the shield to her arm.

But Wartoy was ready, and she retaliated by headbutting Vain. Vain was slammed to the deck with the force of the attack. Wartoy followed this by snaking her flail around Vain's arm and turning up the heat, burning a cruel snake-like scar along her shoulder and forearm.

Mirage jump-kicked Wartoy into the bulkhead, freeing Vain from the flail.

Vain reached for her knives and threw them at Wartoy. The diamond-grooved blades embedded in Wartoy's armor, but did no apparent damage. Mirage leapt on Wartoy's back, trying to get hold of the knives and dig deeper into the robot's skin, but Wartoy shrugged her off again, and Mirage slammed into the bulkhead.

As she did, a panel popped off. Mirage looked at it, collecting her thoughts. It was the fire suppression device, a sealant that worked to control fires from faulty equipment before they spread. It was used in place of traditional fire extinguishers, because of the volatility of oxygen used in ship air supplies. A wrong spark or laser blast near the oxygen recyclers and a ship could go down in flames.

Mirage thought back to the fight before and the last shot she had taken. She seized the suppressor and got to her feet.

Vain had been trying to keep the robot busy, but she was batted aside by Wartoy's shield as Mirage moved into position, priming the suppressor's propellant.

"HEY! BITCH!" Mirage said, hooking her foot into Wartoy's knee. Wartoy spun around, not by her own choice, just in time to be blasted in the stomach by the fluid from the suppressor. The chemical bonded to Wartoy's metal skin, sealing any openings as though they had never been.

Mirage grabbed Vain and pulled her into an antechamber.

"What did you do?" Vain asked.

"Maybe finally killed that thing," Mirage said. "I'm not quite sure what will happen next though. But if she comes through the door, I think it's safe to say it didn't work."

Wartoy lumbered towards the door to the antechamber, digging her hands into the metal and pulling the door open. Vain grabbed one of Mirage's submachine guns and both Vain and Mirage readied them to fire at Wartoy, who even now was tearing through the door.

Wartoy pushed her way in, took two steps and raised her flail. Then, smoke began pouring from every seam in the robot's body. Then, Wartoy fell forward, the sound of her impact ringing like a rather large bell had been rung.

Vain got to her feet, kicking Wartoy rather nervously. Mirage stepped over the fallen robot with a broad smile on her face.

"How'd you do it?" Vain asked.

"Sudden flash of inspiration," Mirage said. "She was built with some of the same principles as we were, only for a different purpose. Different problems had to be taken into account for. We're meant to be soft, she was meant to be a soldier."

"And?" Vain asked. "So she had to be more powerful, able to generate a lot of power, and she had to be able to resist damage."

"Mmm," Mirage said, reloading her submachine gun. "But all that power generates a lot of heat, and that heat has to go somewhere. That exhaust fan in her stomach was that place. Hence, you close that exhaust, the other, smaller exhaust ports can't pick up the slack . . .and our robot melts every circuit inside her from the heat buildup."

Vain brushed her hair out of her face as she handed Mirage her gun. "Good thing our designers knew the practicality of good hair to solve that problem."

"Guess so," Mirage said, chambering a round into her sub machine guns. "Now, shall we see who's driving this bus?"

Vain walked into the corridor and grabbed her shotgun. "Let's."



Valcuria flew at the center of her formation of droid fighters. The formation had dropped out of Space Drive--the goal was too close for that now, and the cheap Space Drives the ships were using were on the verge of failing as it were. They had never stood a chance. The burning remains of Khephren interceptors lay behind her. That was why she had chosen this path. The Khephren couldn't delay her, they could only slow her down.

Once upon a time, the Khephren were an empire that spanned this entire galaxy, even as far as Earth, she thought. Now they were a merchant empire, thriving only because they were at the center of the galaxy, and depended on other empires to defend them to protect their own interests.

But that took time, and by that time, Valcuria would be where she needed to be.

Her mind drifted to her plan, which only days ago had seemed so far off, and now was so close she could reach it. And it was all do to those same stupid Earthers, like the one who had tired to violate her. Like the one who had violated her "father's" dream.

And she would pay them back for that with another mistake of theirs, another loose thread they had let get away from them.

Five years ago, the Chroan, a race of machines attacked the UEF and the Rigellians simultaneously. The attack was so fierce that the UEF and the Rigellians ceased their own war to push them back.

It came out later that the Chroan had been birthed from advanced space probes sent out by Earth a century ago. Something had happened to them, and they had become the Chroan.

Once their origin was known, it was a simple enough matter of finding the code, and shutting them down.

Had they done that and then systematically destroyed every single Chroan ship in these sectors of space, I could never have done this, she thought. But their greed stopped them from that measure. They wanted the technology, they wanted to exploit the Chroan in the same way they wanted to exploit me.

That greed will be the sword I drive through their heart.



Kienan watched the readouts as the sector of space on the map came into view. They had overshot the fighters, but only by a handful of minutes before the fighters came in to claim their prize.

And what a prize it was. It was a Chroan ship, all right--one of the most dangerous kinds, a Blauzen-class battleship, which lazily orbited a small planetoid like a ghost. The Blauzen were one of the most feared weapons ever created by the Chroan. Strong enough to blast through entire planets with only a few shots.

No wonder whoever stole the droid brain wanted it, Kienan pondered. The brain is based on Chroan technology. Someone who knew enough could start this up, and control it through the droid brain.

"Conscience," he said. "Get my fighter ready for launch, then take the Silhouette behind the planetoid. Be ready to move in and prevent the fighters from taking the ship on my signal. But only on my signal."

"Yes," Conscience said plainly.

Kienan left the bridge, walking down the sloping stairs to the hangar deck He passed by the cold room and decided to take the time to walk in. Jayla stood there, suspended in the freezing unit. Kienan lit a cigarette while he looked at her.

He thought about how close he was to completing the mission, and what it would take to do so. Then his thoughts drifted to her again. A strange collision of thoughts began to happen in his mind, like thunderclouds brewing.

He concentrated on it, and then filed in the back of his mind, reminding himself that he had a timetable. He left the cold room and made his way lower, down to the hangar deck. The Reiven was moored in the launch frame; it's maneuvering wings folded tightly against its silver fuselage. The four heavy blaster weapons protruded from the engine cluster like deadly poisonous spines.

Kienan affixed his space suit to his body as he stubbed out his cigarette on the deck. The auto-seals did the rest. With seconds, Kienan's space suit automatically sealed itself around him, offering him untold amounts of protection despite the lightweight feel of the suit. Kienan affixed his helmet to seal the system. He fought the urge to sneeze as the pure oxygen filled his lungs.

The crystal blue cockpit of the Reiven opened, and Kienan stepped inside. He buckled the harness and began activating switches. Systems hummed to life one after the other; the 360 holographic heads up display, the super-vernier engines, the guidance and navigation systems--all surged to life as the canopy closed down over him.

The Reiven was lowered into space and Kienan eased it out of the launch frame with the Reiven's maneuvering thrusters. As the Reiven cleared the underside of the Silhouette its four maneuvering wings folded out as its main thrusters kicked in.

Kienan smiled. This would be the Reiven's first real test. He hoped that his opponent would prove worthy of the challenge.



Vain and Mirage made their way to the control room, only to find that Auriga was slumped over the command console, dormant. Vain tried to ascertain how and when she had shut down, but there were no indications.

"You don't think the other one had something to do with her shutting down, do you?" Mirage asked.

"It would make sense," Vain replied, looking for any sign of life. She brushed her gloved hand over the outer skin of the robot, and snatched it away, almost immediately.

"What?" Mirage asked, alerted by Vain's sudden movement.

"She's hot to the touch," Vain said. "The metal . . ." she stopped suddenly and raised her left wrist, tapping on her wrist-mounted communicator. "Angelfish One . . .it's showtime. Come on, we've got to get out of here."

"She's wired to explode?" Mirage asked. "Angelfish Two . . .in action."

Vain charged towards the corridor. "That's why she turned off. She's on a power build to explode. And take quite a bit of the local real estate with her. Most especially the ship we're on."

"That sounds bad," Mirage said.

"It's not good, that's for sure," Vain said. "Damn it, I wanted at least one of them intact. Would have answered a whole lot of questions."

"I think for those, we'll have to go to the source," Mirage replied as they made their way into the open space caused when Azura blew out the Cerberus' hull. Their twin Angelfish hovered above the hole into the cold vacuum, narrow tether cables extended to allow Vain and Mirage to climb aboard. Within seconds they were on board their fighters, the engines behind them roaring with white-hot flame as they struggled to put distance between themselves and the Cerberus.

The Cerberus erupted in an explosion so brilliant that it seemed to change the darkness of space to pure white. The Angelfish's shields crackled with the strain of deflecting the explosion's release of energy, but they held all the same.

After the fighters rode out the shockwave, Mirage keyed into the Silhouette's channel. "Conscience, give me a sit-rep. Text-only."

Within seconds a text report of everything that had happened on the other side of Khephren space, including the rendezvous points. Mirage transmitted the information to Vain, and began preparations to take her fighter into Space Drive.

"I'm getting ready to make the jump," Mirage said. "The Angelfish haven't got much in the way of heavy weapons, but our standard lasers have probably had enough time to re-charge."

Mirage's ship went into Space Drive. Vain's followed close behind.

"You hope, sister," Vain said. "I used up all my Parasite missiles on the fighters back there. Unless we plan on annoying them to death, those fighters will shrug off lasers."

"Well, maybe so, but with Kienan there with us, at least we'll be able to harry them while he gets his shot. Besides, if we re-route power from life support to the laser generators, we can increase our output by 46%. We won't have too many shots before the power coils burn out, but we might be able to buy some time."

"You hope," Mirage said. "But one way or another, this is going to be the final fight."



Valcuria moved to the front of the formation of droid fighters as they crossed the last border checkpoints. That last Khephren patrol had been lucky and destroyed two more fighters. That left only nine, including her own.

But that doesn't matter, she thought. Now that she was here, the fighters were only a bonus, and completely expendable. What she wanted was looming in front of her. The Blauzen.

It loomed in her field of vision, a gray-green leviathan. She sent a silent command to the fighters to take up a defensive perimeter while she boarded the ship. Once aboard, it was a simple matter to merge with the ship, and use it to reactivate more Chroan ships with the droid brain and send them to Earth.

Before she could move closer to the Blauzen, a voice came through on her communication line.

"You must be Valcuria," a quiet, cold voice, a man's voice, said with quiet smugness. "I've been waiting for you. I assume you're here for the Blauzen, but . . .well, let's just say I hope you enjoyed getting to see one. Now, Conscience."

Out of the shadow of the planetoid, the Silhouette moved into view. A blazing white-hot beam of energy emanated from the underside of the ship. The beam struck the Blauzen head-on, burning it from stem to stern. There was a brilliant explosion, and the ship was no more than scrap in space.

Valcuria's hands tightened on the controls, barely able to control her anger. "You have no idea what you've just done."

"Thwarted your plans, actually," the voice came back. Valcuria's attention was drawn to one of her readouts. Another ship was coming in fast, a fighter of unknown configuration. From its heavy blaster cannons, blue laser fire erupted, destroying two more of her fighters.

"And now," the voice said, any smugness having now dropped away, replaced with quiet certainty. "I'm going to destroy every single one of your fighters, then you."

"It's been tried," Valcuria said, activating her weapons as the fighter passed overhead. The Reiven barrel-rolled through the storm of laser fire, and returned fire with its missiles this time. The small-payload rockets targeted the engines of one of the droid fighters, causing a chain reaction that annihilated the ship.

Valcuria tried to pursue the Reiven, but the pilot was too fast and too clever. Whenever she chased him, he slipped away, or worse yet behind her, just long enough to get weapons lock, and then turn his attention to the other five fighters.

He's serious, she thought. He's really going to wait until I'm the only one left. She forced herself to concentrate, to examine the situation and look for an advantage.

The Reiven destroyed two more fighters, one in front, and one more from behind. Kienan smiled to himself. This wasn't a rout; it was a massacre. Valcuria broke off from the main group and headed for the Silhouette, silently praying her idea would work.

She tried to find the Silhouette's communication logarithm, and once having found that, worked on the code for the central processing system. She was shocked to find it was the same structure as a Marionette's command codes. It will work, she thought. I can take total control of this ship through this Marionette's mind.

She reached out with her mind, as she had with the automatic mines, trying to seize control of the ship. Kienan tried to head her off, but it was too late, he was blocked out of the two-way communication. He cursed as he broke off his pursuit of the remaining fighters.

The fighters he had pursued, then tried to pursue him, but were blown apart by the laser blasts of Vain and Mirage, who dove in and eliminated the last of the droid fighters.

"Ladies," Kienan said, smiling despite himself. "As always your timing is elegant and impeccable. Now that we've disposed of our annoyances, we should deal with Valcuria, before she does permanent damage to our base ship."

"Bad news Kienan," Mirage said. "We burned out the last of our weapons destroying those droids. The only person who has a clear shot is yourself and Conscience."

"Besides," Vain said. "If she's got Conscience under some kind of remote control, we'd be just as vulnerable. All of us are basically the same type."

"I see," Kienan said. "Come around on either side, draw Valcuria's attention away long enough to give me my shot."

"Roger," Vain said.

The twin Angelfish streaked past Valcuria, who not only returned fire with her own weapons, but those of the Silhouette as well. Kienan was furious. How dare she try to take my ship? Kienan thought. I wanted to destroy her face to face, but this must be punished with extreme prejudice.

He threw the Reiven into a diving roll, firing off both the heavy beam cannons and the missiles. He watched in shock as the fighter was protected by the Silhouette's shields.

No, he thought. I won't lose it.

"Vain, Mirage," he said. "Ladies, the time may have come. We have to break Valcuria's control over Conscience no matter what."

"Roger," Mirage said. "Readying collision course. One of us exploding against the Silhouette's shields should cause enough of a drop in integrity for the other to hit Valcuria. Anything that's left, Kienan . . .that's your shot."

"I'll send her to hell," he said. "For you, my ladies."

Valcuria ignored them, as she attempted to bypass the last of Conscience's security protocols and download her own brain engrams into her. There was one gate that was giving her trouble.

Just a few more seconds, she thought to herself. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed from the readouts that the three fighters were getting into some kind of formation.

A suicide run.

She strengthened the Silhouette's shields. While she had at first been recalcitrant towards destroying her own sisters, she realized now that they were as much an enemy as the humans. Part of her was going to enjoy watching them smash futilely against the shield.

At that moment, four things happened in rapid succession.

The first was that the final security lock opened, and Valcuria had full access to the Silhouette.

The second was that the Silhouette's shields immediately dropped and Vain and Mirage's fighters roared past Valcuria.

The third was that Conscience had hacked into Valcuria's droid fighter and shut all her systems down permanently. On every readout screen in her fighter one word was repeated over and over:

"MISTAKE."

The fourth thing was Kienan heavy blasters pounding the engines of Valcuria's fighter, causing them to explode violently and force her into the limited gravity of the planetoid. Valcuria felt her legs fusing into the burning metal of the fighter's engines, and her own skin heating up as the limited atmosphere triggered violent air friction.

Valcuria screamed silently as her fighter plummeted into the planetoid's atmosphere, streaking across the sky like a flaming comet. She hit the ground with a terrific force, her body melted into the fighter frame.

Trapped.

"I'm going down to finish this for good," Kienan said, turning the Reiven towards the planet. "Get aboard the Silhouette and make sure Conscience is all right. And thank her for giving us our shot for me, would you?"

"Kienan," Vain said.

"Yes, Vain?"

"Make it hurt," she said, smiling.

"Always," Kienan said, breaking off communication and inserting his fighter into the atmosphere with a great deal more elegance than Valcuria had. He thought about his personal armament. He had made sure to pack his Nagra and Nanovirus bullets.

Vain needn't have worried, he thought to himself. I'll be introducing Valcuria to new, undreamed of levels of pain very shortly.