Chapter 9 - Metallic KO
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 didnt 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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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.
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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:
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.
"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
"Kienan," Vain said.
"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
Vain needn't have worried, he thought to himself. I'll be introducing Valcuria
to new, undreamed of levels of pain very shortly.