Gunmetal Black 2
Prologue - Dreaming
By
Lewis Smith

www.gunmetalblack.com

Kienan Ademetria brushed his long chestnut braid off of his shoulder as he continued to work on the circuit relay. His mind was like mercury, because he was also keeping track of the number of seconds that had elapsed since the emergency he'd triggered on the bridge to be able to get here. Any time now, those guards were liable to come back, armed and angry, no doubt.

His emerald eyes narrowed on the last of the circuit connections. There, he thought. He felt a shudder through the deck as nine escape pods ejected and tumbled into space.

He closed the access panel and made his way up the bridge. Now his quarry had only one place to go, whether Kienan found him before then or not, he would meet the proper fate.

The ship he had infiltrated, the Starfire Corona, was a small pleasure yacht, the kind that rich families bought for touring local star systems. Built more for elegance than security or defense, it had made Kienan's job almost too easy.

He flattened his thin but muscular body against the wall, blending into the shadows silently, hands on his twin pistols in case things got violent. His eyes narrowed on the shadows on the deck, his eyes picking them apart for any sign of movement.

Clank, clank. A shadow moved away. Kienan silently and gently drew his pistols, his thumbs gently releasing the safeties. Cautiously, he looked around the corner, just in time to see one of the black-jumpsuited guards look over his shoulder in his direction.

Kienan wasted no time. He raised his twin pistols and sent a volley of gunfire in the guard's direction. The guard was thrown against the bulkhead, smearing blood on it as he slid down. Kienan leapt towards him, arm close around him, ready to use the guard's corpse as a shield should any more come this way, attracted by the gunfire.

Kienan took a breath. No one.

He pulled the guard to a nearby storage room and tossed him inside. As the door slid shut, he walked to a nearby console and called up the ship's master system display.

Two decks below, he thought. The main stairs are two corridors down. I think it's time I paid a visit to the bridge. Or brought the man on the bridge to me. "Do you have an appointment?" The bedraggled secretary asked. She peered through her glasses at the two women in front of her. They were dressed rather austerely, in black jackets and ties, white shirts, and the tightest skirts she had ever seen on a human being, but that only served to make them more striking. They were almost absurdly perfect examples of womanhood. And despite the fact that they hadn't said a word, she hated them already.

"Yes," the statuesque blonde woman said, pushing her dark glasses up the bridge of her perfect nose. She spoke in even, measured tones. "Mrs. Tiel requested this meeting two weeks ago. Please tell her Miss V. and Ms. M are here to see her."

"One moment," the secretary said, punching up her superior's appointment schedule. She squinted at it. Sure enough, there it was. "I'll buzz you in -- " A sudden chime and a flashing light at her console.

"Mrs. Stanwyck," a female voice, old and commanding came over. "Is my 1600 appointment here?"

"Yes ma'am," Stanwyck said. "I was just about to send them in." She tapped a code and gestured for them to go in. "I think she'll see you now."

The brunette nodded at Stanwyck as she walked past. Stanwyck pulled down her skirt and frowned down at her thighs as they walked past her.

"Mrs. Sarah Tiel?" The brunette asked as she stood in the open doorway.

The grey-haired woman gestured to them as she sat behind a desk that seemed to be in the process of swallowing her "Yes, yes, come in. Ms. M, isn't it? Yes please, come in and sit down. How was your journey to Europa?"

"Agreeable," Ms. M said, taking a seat on an attractive leather couch. Miss V followed her, making sure she didn’t sit on her long black hair as she sat down. "I believe you contacted us to arrange a . . .job?"

"To the point," Tiel responded, arching an eyebrow at her. "I like that. Yes, I contacted you to arrange a job. The man you represent is the only man who can do it, after all. I know better than to ask you about him personally but . . .is he really as good as he's made out to be?"

"Better," Miss V said, removing her dark glasses. Her black eyes narrowed on Tiel. "He can do anything asked of him. All we need to know from you are the particulars of the assignment and to arrange payment."

"Payment is as good as arranged," Tiel said. "Half will be deposited upon acceptance of the assignment, the other half upon proof of successful completion of it."

Tiel got up from her opulent leather chair and walked around her large desk. "The particulars, however, will take a bit of explaining. Let me begin by asking you a rhetorical question . . .where were you when Earth's war against Rigellia ended?"

"He's here," Lyle Bael said, staring at the readouts on the bridge. His blue eyes flitted to and fro over the data on his screen like a nervous, caged animal. "He's launched most of the escape pods. He's going to trap us here and kill us. Blow up the ship."

"You don't know it's him," the gold and silver-skinned woman said, peeking over his shoulder at the readouts. "What makes you think you're important enough for the Blue Dragons to send Kienan Ademetria after you?"

"I know it!" Bael said, pulling his dark brown hair away from his face. "I just know, Gold. I knew accepting those stealth modules was a mistake. But I thought we were too far away from the Blue Dragons for them to send anyone serious. Besides, I was hoping we'd be in Ghram space before anyone got here."

"We've still got some distance before we hit our transfer point," Gold said. "An hour, maybe two."

"We're not gonna make it," Bael said. "I've got to get out of here. I'm gonna send the guards below decks to keep him busy while I get to that last escape pod."

"How courageous," Gold said, rolling her eyes as she ran her fingers through her white hair.

"Look," Bael said. "I hired you to be my bodyguard, not my conscience. Get down there and keep him busy. If the ship blows up, we'll send someone for you and you'll get paid. I promise."

"You better," Gold said, drawing her own pistol. She pulled back the slide, chambering one of her armor-piercing rounds. "This'll be the 8th time in the last 6 months I've been blown up with a ship."

"Just take care of him," Bael said. "After all, you’re indestructible . . .there's no way he can kill you."

"Need I remind you," Gold began, a smile crossing her silver lips. "It's not me he's after."

For the one hundredth time that day, Heinrich Straeger adjusted his uniform. The transport tube was taking its sweet time ferrying him to his appointment on the moon below, and that only served to amplify his own nervousness about beginning his new job.

All around him in the transport car were soldiers dressed much like him. To his left were two armored Infantrymen, their green armor marking them as the frontline troops of the Rigellian Empire. Their weapons looked menacing even holstered and their spiked helmets with the single eye-sensor oscillating back and forth made him somewhat uncomfortable. He put a white-gloved hand to his chalk-white skin, and was relieved that he was only sweating a little.

The transport tube began picking up speed, dropping them down from the orbital dry-dock to the headquarters below. Straeger's attentions turned to the black and blue uniformed men on his left. They wore very little armor, and their crimson epaulets, like Straeger's marked them as an elite class of soldier. The Warmaster.

Straeger, while not a Warmaster, was familiar with them. Most Warmasters were trained at the same Praxia he was, and while Warmasters didn’t usually mix with Agents like himself, he had formed some friendships with some of them. And knowing people was always an asset if you were an Agent.

The travel tube finally reached it destination after a few minutes. The Infantrymen were the first to disembark, walking in precise formation, just as generations of infantry had before them. Straeger almost admired them and pitied them all at once. In this more mechanized age, it was almost anachronistic to have a standing infantry, but the soldiers could hold their own with any robot or bioroid soldier and were as fiercely proud of that fact as the Warmasters were of their standing in the Empire.

The Warmasters left next and Straeger was the last to leave. His white boots clanked upon the smooth metal deck of the headquarters building as he made his way to one of the lifts in the main column. He caught a glimpse of other Agents, most dressed in the black and purple-trimmed suits he wore. He made sure to never look directly at once of them as he made his way to the lift, punched a code, and entered the lift.

Once inside he waved the back of his right hand over the panel. There was a special four-note chime as the lift doors closed and the car began to move. Now Straeger allowed himself a smile. Six years of hard work at the Calibos Praxia were about to pay off.

Within seconds, the car had stopped, the doors opened and Straeger walked out into a wide room, the walls covered with holo-screens which showed stars, news feeds, text documents, so much information that even Straeger could barely take it all in.

"You've arrived at last, Agent Straeger," a voice behind him said. Out of the shadows a man walked toward him, clad in a totally black uniform with a crimson cloak trailing behind him like a blood-soaked wind.

"Yes my lord," Straeger said, snapping to attention and saluting.

The man returned the salute and gestured him towards the desk in the center of the room. Straeger stood in a relaxed poster, hands behind his back.

"Would you care for some refreshment?" The man asked, gesturing to an elegant crystal bottle on the desk. "The Kiral's only 2165, I'm afraid. Durga may be the center for the Empire's intelligence gathering, but we're somewhat low priority when it comes to good spirits."

"No thank you, sir," Straeger said. "I'm on duty."

"On duty," the man mused, pouring himself a glass of the golden liquid. His face was white as snow, like Straeger's but his face was lined and scarred. "Straeger, you must learn to relax. A relaxed manner allows you to cultivate people, and people who are comfortable confide things. And as half of an Agent's Job is information gathering, one must listen to confidences."

"Yes, my lord," Straeger said.

"I've been reviewing your reports from Calibos Praxia," he said. "They speak very highly of you. You're supposed to be some sort of prodigy. We're told to expect great things of you."

"I live only to serve the Empire," Straeger said, his red eyes totally neutral.

"As you should," the man said, filling two glasses with kiral and sliding one across the desk to Straeger. "Please," he said gently. "Drink. I have an assignment for you. One, I believe is worthy of your talents."

Straeger took the glass with a bit of awe.

"Drink up," the man said. "You’re not drinking with one of the gods. Just the Warduke in command of Black Lens."

"Yes, Warduke Riven," Straeger said. "What is this assignment?"

Riven smiled. "Tell me, Heinrich -- style="mso-spacerun: yes"> may I call you Heinrich? -- Have you ever heard of a Warlord of the Empire named Algrim?"

"Warlord Algrim was the commander of the Rigellian fleet at the battle of Charon," Tiel said. She said Algrim's name with such venom that seemed to come naturally after many years. "He fought until the Armistice declaration, when the Chroan attacked both of our empires. Most of the other Rigellian captains followed the recall order immediately, but Algrim was unwilling to do so. This a career soldier, and he wasn't about to let a battle slip from his grasp without some spoils of war."

"Spoils of war?" Ms. M said, idly playing with the black gloves on her hand.

Tiel nodded. "He ordered his ships to return to Rigellia, but not before he came upon two Earth research ships . . .the Apollo and the Artemis. They were survey ships, unarmed, no threat to them at all. They weren't even part of the Earth's military force."

"He destroyed them," Miss V said. The statement hung in the office like smoke from a cigarette.

"Yes," Tiel said. "Algrim destroyed both ships with all hands aboard. He even sent his fighters out to destroy any escape pods launched from the ship. Then he returned to Rigellian space as ordered. The entire thing took thirty minutes."

"Pardon me for asking this question Mrs. Tiel," Ms. M prefaced. "But why is it a concern of yours? Why is the destruction of two civilian ships so important to you?"

"Because my son and daughter were science officers on the Artemis," Tiel said, the taut rage in her voice becoming plainer. "When they died, it broke my husband. He turned over control of this company to me, and died soon after. I believe to this day that he died of a broken heart. And for what he did to my family, I blame Algrim, because he stole my children from me for an act of idiotic pride. Do you understand?"

Miss V nodded.

Tiel looked down at her desk. "Unfortunately, I thought I was doomed to never get any satisfaction from Algrim. He was reported dead, gone down with his ship when the Chroan attacked it. That is, until two months ago."

Tiel turned to face the two women. "Two months ago, I found out Algrim is still alive. And I want him dead. For real this time."

Gold walked down the corridors. It wasn't the cacophony of sound -- yelling, screaming, guns firing -- that bothered her; it was the fact that it had stopped so suddenly. Gold raised her armor-piercing gun and turned a corner, pistol raised.

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Kienan leaned against a wall, guns holstered, clutching something in his right hand. In his left he held a lighter, and was busily lighting a cigarette. Around him, in various states of dismemberment, lay the remains of Bael's squad of bodyguards.

"Gold," Kienan said indifferently. "I figured you were here. Bael must pay pretty good to get you as his bodyguard."

The ship shuddered as an escape pod launched. Gold looked out the viewport, the quickly looked back at Kienan who was watching the escape pod bank away from the ship. He smiled around his cigarette and clutched the device in his red-gloved hand.

"Drop it, Kienan," Gold said. "Toss the detonator or I'll kill you where you stand."

Kienan turned to look at her, nodded, and, still smiling, tossed the detonator away. It slid along the deck and clattered against the wall. Outside the ship, the escape pod exploded. Kienan blinked and took a drag off his cigarette, flicking ashes onto the pile of bodies on the ship. Gold let the gun drop to her side.

"WHAT DID YOU DO?" style='font-size:11.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size: Gold shouted at him.

"Deadman switch," Kienan said. "If you hadn't told me to let go, he would have made it. Thanks for doing my job for me."

Gold raised the gun again and fired a round. Kienan moved impossibly fast and the round struck the bulkhead, leaving a sizeable dent and an ugly powder smudge.

Kienan was upon her in an instant, leaping, turning in the air, and kicking her gun from her hands, even as he landed, tucked, rolled and drew his own pistols, letting loose a volley right at her. The bullets spanged and ricocheted harmlessly off of Gold and slowly she broke into a grin.

"We do this every time, Kienan," she said, walking slowly towards him. "How many ways do you have to test my indestructibility? The explosives didn’t work, neither did putting me in front of that laser cannon, and the missiles were a joke . . .although the incendiaries did mess up my favorite outfit."

"You looked good in it, too," Kienan said, making his way down the corridor. His mind was in two places again; his mind retracing imaginary steps made over the ship from when he looked at the master system display.

Gold followed him, slowly but deliberately. "No one to help you this time, Kienan. Just you and me, and this time, I'm gonna win. I can win anytime, you know. I don’t need to breathe, I can just decompress this whole ship and watch you suffocate."

"But then you’d be talking to yourself," Kienan said glibly, walking backwards, hands outward, palms up, as he walked back, his fingers brushed against one of the pouches on his belt, popping the snap and opening the flap.

"Who's here to know?" Gold asked. "But no, you see, I decided what I'd do instead is kill you with my bare hands, and cut off that pretty braid of yours. Then I'd have proof that I was the one who killed Kienan Ademetria, the deadliest man in the galaxy."

Kienan raised an eyebrow. "That's what they're calling me now?"

Gold nodded, reared back and threw a punch that dented the bulkhead wall a few inches from Kienan's head. Kienan's eyes traced the path of her fist from the dent to the control panel below and to the right of it. He turned back just in time to catch a shot from Gold, a hard punch to the stomach that made him want to retch, but more importantly gave him a view of the antechamber directly behind Gold.

He took another punch, rolling with it and lurching forward. He bit the inside of his cheek and sucked the blood from it, spitting some on the ground as he crumpled in a heap. His arms were folded around his stomach, his fingers rifling through the pouch he had opened before.

"Get up," Gold said. "I want you on your feet for this, baby."

Kienan slowly got to his feet, making extra sure to make his knees wobble. He raised his fist like a boxer guarding his face. He mumbled something under his breath that Gold didn't catch.

"What did you say?" Gold asked, fist cocked back, ready to smash him across the bridge of the nose and kill him for real.

"I said . . ."can you see me?" . . .Gold," he said, trying to get air into his lungs, shuddering with pain.

"What kind of question is that?" Gold asked. "Of course I can see you."

Kienan dropped his guard, opened his eyes and smiled.

"That's all I wanted to know."

Kienan lunged forward, palm open. Gold felt something in her eyes, something grey and sticky. She took a step back, shoving Kienan back against the wall.

"What . . .is this . . .stuff?" Gold said, trying to rub it out of her eyes.

"That, Gold, is a shaped chemical charge," Kienan said, the pain and weakness gone from his voice. He tapped a small wafer-thin device between his fingers and Gold saw white erupt from her eyes. "But you can call it a diversion."

Kienan leapt forward, tackling her and pushing her along the smooth floor toward a heavy metal door. Kienan rolled backwards rapidly, until he was back where he had been before, at the control panel.

Kienan reached down and hit a red button and pulled down a lever. Gold shook the flash from her eyes and attempted to charge at him, but a door had dropped down in front of her, stopping her short. Kienan watched the realization of what was happening creep over her face and pulled the lever all the way down.

The heavy door behind Gold opened and the force of the air blew her out into space. Kienan read a very angry obscenity aimed at him from her lips as she floated out, pushed by the escaping air. It wouldn’t kill her -- nothing would, but it would give him the peace he needed to finish his job.

"Algrim is alive?" Straeger repeated incredulously.

"Yes," Riven said. We didn’t dare kill him -- the loss of morale would have been devastating. So we allowed Algrim to continue to serve the Empire, just not publicly. A suitable end was arranged -- Algrim "perished" in combat with the Chroan, going down bravely with his ship, the Ragnarok and avenging the loss of his two destroyers, the Fenris and the Garm."

"I thought that was what had happened," Straeger said. "They found wreckage of the Ragnarok at Elurac Core . . ."

"They found what we wanted them to find," Riven said. "In reality, the Ragnarok, the Fenris, and the Garm were sent to the southern quadrants of our Empire, ostensibly to chart and conquer new planets for us. That's what we told Algrim, at any rate."

"But in actuality you sent him into exile," Straeger said. "Thereby punishing him for the Charon Indiscretion and not only saving morale, but increasing it by making Algrim a legend."

Riven smiled and nodded. "Clear and precise analysis. I'm beginning to believe your instructors' endorsements. More kiral?"

"I found out he was alive from a communications officer on one of the listening posts that border us," Tiel said. "Algrim transmitted a message from his ship two months ago to Rigellius Prime. From the information he provided I was able to chart his location. It's on the southern border of Rigellian space, maybe a sector or two out from the official border."

"That's pretty far out," Ms. M said. "Perfect place to be if everyone's supposed to think you’re dead."

"Can you do it?" Tiel asked.

"Difficult," Miss V said. "Not impossible."

Tiel reached into her desk and took out a small data chip. "Here's all the information I have. Do we have a deal?"

Ms. M nodded and took the chip.

"One more thing," Tiel said. "I don’t want there to be any doubt this time. When your man eliminates Algrim, bring me his sword. Algrim, I understand carries it everywhere. If your man delivers that I'll know Algrim's finally gone. Will that be a problem?"

Ms. M looked at Miss V. Both of them shook their heads.

"So why did he break silence?" Straeger asked.

"He claims to have made a very valuable discovery," Riven said. "And he wants someone from Black Lens to ascertain its value, because we have experience with ancient technology. That someone we're sending is you, Heinrich."

"Yes sir," Straeger said.

"But you’re not there as a consultant," Riven said. "That will be explained en route to your rendezvous with Algrim. In three days, you will board the Malios." Riven studied his face. "You know it?"

"Warmaster Voelker's ship. We were at Praxia together," Straeger said.

"Good," Riven said. "The Malios will rendezvous with Algrim's group and you will provide us with first-hand data on the discovery. There will be data pursuant to this in your mission pack aboard the Malios."

"And if the discovery is important enough for us to want it?"

Riven smiled. "Then you will make certain Black Lens has a clear claim to it."

Straeger's eyes flitted nervously around the room. "Forgive me my impertinence, but I believe Algrim will have something to say about that."

Riven nodded and poured himself more kiral. "Perhaps. You'll have to consult your mission pack for more instructions, Heinrich. You've got all you need to know now. You've got three days until the Malios arrives at Durga. Familiarize yourself with Algrim. I want you to know how he thinks, how he fights, everything. It's always useful to know whom you’re dealing with. Don’t you agree?"

"Yes my lord," Straeger said.

"Dismissed," Riven said, downing the glass of Kiral. "That's all I have for you. Report to the hangar bay, and once that's done, settle in. Your quarters are in D Barracks, I believe. Our best."

"Thank you sir," Straeger said.

"Think nothing of it, Agent Straeger," Riven said, smiling and folding his hands in front of his face. "As I said . . .we're told to expect great things from you."

Kienan strapped himself in to his fighter, staring out into the inky void of space as the ship's systems hummed to life. Behind him the Starfire Corona drifted imperceptibly through space, a ghost ship. The thrusters on Kienan's fighter roared to life, and Kienan turned back toward the ship, extending his fighter's manoeuvring wings and powering his weapons.

He strafed the ship below with a volley of laser cannon fire and missile bursts. The outer hull of the ship exploded, blowing hull plating out like paper and igniting the oxygen inside. Then, just as suddenly, the fireball subsided and the ship was nothing more than a glowing mass of debris.

Kienan banked away and closed the fighter's wings. He activated his space-suit's helmet release and removed his helmet, breathing in the cold clean air of the fighter's cockpit. He activated the ship's Space Drive, input co-ordinates, and rocketed away towards the rendezvous point. He tapped in a series of numbers and opened a communications channel.

"Reiven to Vroom," he said, his voice smooth and calm.

"Vroom receives," Miss V said. "How did it go?"

"Uneventful," Kienan said, smirking a bit. "How did the meeting go?"

"Well," Ms. M said. "The money's cleared and we've reviewed in the information. It'll take some doing, but it's nothing we can’t handle."

"Good," Kienan said. "How far are you from the Silhouette, Vain?"

"We'll be there in two hours," Vain said. "Then we'll jump to the rendezvous point and pick you up. Our ETA is about five hours."

"Good," Kienan said, tapping in co-ordinates. "I could use some sleep. Good work, "Miss V, Ms. M,"" he said, chuckling at their aliases. "I'll see you in five hours. Reiven out."

Kienan closed the communications channel and closed his eyes. He was looking forward to being on the Silhouette and sleeping in his own bed for the first time in three days. While the Reiven was built for comfort, it couldn’t beat his own bed no matter how many times he had slept in it.

Despite the discomfort, Kienan relaxed and tried to sleep all the same. He hoped it was a light sleep, the kind without dreams.

Dreams.

"Dreams come true sometimes Kienan," she had said to him.

"Dreams always end," he had replied.

A flash, like the sun itself was outside. Everything went white for a second, then things had changed.

"Where are you going?"

"Why are you going?"

He didn’t answer.

Another flash.

"I named her after you, Silhouette."

Another flash. She blinked. She felt the barrel of a gun pointed at the back of her head.

"I'll do whatever I have to keep you from going to him," Kienan said, his voice quite and cold. "Even if I have to kill you."

Another flash, and she was alone. She looked around. Where was she?

Then she saw Kienan, and another person. Not human, and alien?

"Kienan, when you go to Earth, that will be the day you die."

Another flash, and she was alone again, inside a ship of some kind. Someone was talking -- no wait, it was a recording.

"Silhouette," the voice said. "By the time you hear this, I'll be at Earth. We both know what that means, I think. I told you I would do anything to keep you away from him, even if I had to kill you. I'm going to go and kill him myself. And I'll probably die along with him. But one way or another, you'll be safe."

Another flash.

"NO!" Silhouette sat bolt upright in bed, cold sweat on her bark brown skin, her long brown hair matted by sweat to her naked body. She looked around, puzzled by this, because the ship felt very cold. She gathered the sheets around her and turned on her light beside her bed.

The dreams again. Ever since that night she had saved Kienan's life two years ago she had been having them. They had started as shadows, rough images that had almost subliminally pulled at her dreams. But they had become clearer and clearer, like a fogged over mirror that begins to show more and more.

She hadn't seen Kienan in two years. Not since that night.

Her eyes flitted out to the star-dotted space outside the ship. She sighed, remembering the dreams.

Maybe it's time. Maybe I have to know what this is all about. "Caeden," she said, tapping a console on her night stand. "Get the Umbra ready. It looks like I'm going to be gone for a few days."