Gunmetal Black 2
Chapter 9 - Out Of Touch, Out Of Time
By
Lewis Smith

www.gunmetalblack.com

The explosion from the ship affected everyone.

It lit up the skies from the surface of the planet and blasted through the center of the Ragnarok, consuming the ship in a ball of fire that looked for all the world like the hand of an angry god had seized it.

Vain and Mirage watched as the Ragnarok broke in two, each of them increasing power to their shields to avoid the debris the force of the initial explosion hurled at them. They had been pursuing the remains of the fighter group that engaged them and had forced them to retreat, and were preparing to move in on the Ragnarok when it happened.

"What the hell just happened?" Mirage asked Vain, watching as a piece of the Ragnarok bounced off of her deflector shield. "Do you think Kienan did that?"

"I don’t think the Rigellians brought anything that powerful," Vain said, banking to avoid a chunk of the Ragnarok's engine cluster. "I hope Kienan's all right. We need to get down there and help him, Mirage. Let's finish off the rest of those fighters."

"Wait," Mirage said, her eyes flitting to her long-range sensors. "Vain, we've got problems. The fighters are rendezvousing with the other two ships. One took some damage from our trap, but that still leaves us with a heavily-armed cruiser."

"Damn," Vain said. "And most of our weapons are too depleted to hold our own."

"What do we do, then?" Mirage asked. "Hide and wait for Kienan or go down to the planet?"

Vain checked her communications system. The beacon from the Reiven was still active, its soft red light pulsing softly. He wouldn’t abandon his ship, she thought. And even if he left it, he'll need us to get him out with those two ships on the way. If there's even a hope that he's still alive . .

Vain thought about it for a fraction of a second.

"Let's go," Vain said. "Our place is with Kienan."


The explosion from the ship affected everyone.

Algrim tumbled forward, falling onto Kienan as the hover transport they stood upon. The explosion, coupled with the rioting natives below had caused the pilot of the transport to panic and bank the slow-moving ship.

Kienan tried to shoot Algrim in the clench, pressing the muzzle of his pistol against the warlord's stomach and firing. The bullet punched through the armor of his uniform and punched neatly through his abdomen, missing his spine by a matter of inches. Bright blue blood flowed over Kienan's hands, his gun, and his clothing. Kienan kicked Algrim away as the ship righted itself. He tried to bring his other pistol to bear on Algrim, but the warlord slashed at his hand with his saber, catching the weapon and flinging it off the transport. Kienan returned fire with the other pistol as he reached for his knife. The bullets from his gun spanged harmlessly off of Algrim's armor, the rest he blocked with his saber.

Algrim slashed at Kienan, driving his saber down on his with so much force it sparked against the wing of the transport as Kienan rolled clear. Kienan kicked Algrim's arm as he rolled clear, trying to get him to drop his saber. Algrim grabbed Kienan ankle and tried to use his leverage to throw him off of the transport.

Kienan jammed his knife into the wing of the plane, anchoring himself against being thrown. He thrashed about for a bit, as Algrim held his ankle, trying to get the leverage he needed to bring his saber to bear and cut off his leg. A sense of urgency flooded Kienan momentarily as Algrim pulled his body taut. Kienan looked into Algrim's red eyes as he raised his saber.

Kienan whipped his pistol into Algrim's face and shot him. Algrim dropped him just as Kienan fired, an act of panic that saved his life as the bullet grazed his temple, spraying blood into his eye and causing him to drop his saber for a second. Kienan rolled towards it, ignoring the throbbing pain in his ankle. He tried to cover it with his body, but Algrim dove for it and snatched it, quickly slashing Kienan across the back. Kienan grit his teeth as he felt the blade cut him through his armor. He rolled onto his back and fired again, his shots dislodging Algrim's insignia. The red eagle medallion that every Rigellian wore and Algrim had always worn in honor flew off of his uniform, taken by the winds. Kienan tried to fire again, but he had run out of bullets.

His eyes narrowed on Algrim. He had two more clips, but to load one, he'd have to put down his knife and leave himself defenseless. He reached behind him, knife in hand and, still holding the blade, rifled in the pouches of his belt for his clip.
Algrim steadied himself on his saber. He looked down where his insignia had been. He started to laugh as more of his blood ran into his eye. Kienan's fingers found the clip and slid it from his pouch as the he put his trigger finger on the release for the empty clip.

"Of course," he said. " OF COURSE! Take everything from me! Take my honor, take my home, take my life!" Algrim turned to Kienan. "You understand this, Earther? Everything has been taken from me now." He laughed again, even more ragged than before. Kienan's hand brought the clip over to his pistol.

"I will never again see my home," Algrim ranted. "My honor will never be restored, and my dream of a better life for my people, for all the peoples of the galaxy . . .they are fools dreams. Ironic that I couldn’t see it until I saw my own blood in my eye."

Kienan put the butt of his pistol against his leg and quietly pressed the eject button. The clip slid free and clattered against the wing. The sound snapped Algrim out of his madness long enough to thrust his blade at Kienan, who blocked it with his knife, but dropped the full clip off of the transport as he did so. Algrim leaned into his sword thrust, pushing Kienan down to the wing of the plane.

"No, Earther," he said, stepping on Kienan's forearm and forcing him to drop the pistol. "Not this time. I have lost everything else, but I will fight for my life."

Algrim leaned close enough for Kienan to see the madness in his eyes. Kienan headbutted Algrim, smashing the bridge of his nose with the blow. Algrim stumbled backward, dropping his saber next to where Kienan had dropped his pistol. The transport shuddered, buffeted by an explosive throwing by the rioters below. An updraft buffeted the transport, causing Algrim's cloak to blow up over his head.

Kienan seized the moment and leapt on Algrim, snatching the edge of Algrim's cloak tight around the warlord's head and jamming his knife into Algrim's chest, pushing the blade underneath his ribcage. Algrim struggled against him, and Kienan could feel the warlord's muscles separate and warm blood begin to flow onto Kienan's gloved hand. Algrim began to spasm, but ceased resisting as Kienan's blade punctured his lung and began to drown him in his own blood.

Kienan wrapped Algrim's cloak against the warlord's head and threw him to the deck. He kept his boot against Algrim's neck as he reached for his pistol slamming the last clip into his pistol.

"See you on the other side, Warlord," he said. He fired five shots into the back of Algrim's head, soaking the cloak with the pulpy remains of the Warlord's head. Algrim slumped against the deck, dead. Kienan gathered up his saber and quietly regarded the dead Warlord as he tied the saber to his belt.

He looked down. The troopers were mowing down the last of the natives, it looked like. While Kienan didn’t really care who won, his mind was even now planning his escape.

Better they're fighting each other than looking for me, he thought, hefting the warlord's body onto his shoulders. He threw Algrim's body off of the transport to the ground below.

Then he set himself the task of getting control of the transport. The maintenance hatch was easy enough to find, and he was able to slip in and take the two pilots and the gunner by surprise. He yanked the pilot's body out of the command seat and piloted the transport away from the fighting toward where his fighter was moored right next to the Umbra.


The explosion from the ship affected everyone.

Warmaster Voelker scanned the sensor reports from his seat aboard the Malios, worried by what he saw. A revolt on the surface, the Ragnarok destroyed by some phenomena from the discovery. Worse still, the Fenris had been hit by some trap left behind by the infiltrators, who had now forced the remaining fighters into retreat.
Yes, he thought. I really don’t see how things could be worse.

"Communications," he said. "Any word from the surface?"

"Getting a signal now sir," the communications officer said.

"Put it on screen," Voelker ordered.

Straeger's bloodied face filled the screen.

"Heinrich?" Voelker asked, his shock at seeing his friend injured breaking through his learned formality. "What is the situation on the surface?"

"Catastrophic," Straeger said, coughing. The image pixilated and distorted. "There's been an attempt to sabotage the discovery and the native's are, dare I say it . . .revolting."

"But surely the troops have beaten them into retreat by now," Voelker said.

"It's all part of a larger plan," Straeger replied. "Warlord Algrim's gone missing, our fighter squadrons were beaten back by a squad of three fighters and the Ragnarok's destroyed! We are clearly under attack by a small, very well-trained group."

"We're en route to you now, we'll be in orbit in two minutes, thirty seconds," Voelker said. "I'll send five squads of troopers from the Fenris and my ship and we'll enter orbit and keep the planet under full scan to cut off their escape."

Straeger's image distorted again. There was a squawk of static. "What makes you think they're not already gone?"

"We've been monitoring the activity in the local system," Voelker said. "No contact with any hostile forces."

"In that case, we should have them pinned down," Straeger said. "There's no way they can escape, but we'll still need reinforcements to re-secure the base. Have you sent the signal?"

"I have," Voelker said. "Can you secure the landing area for my squads?"

"I'm sending a team now. It's on the opposite end of where the natives are attacking, so it should be safe if we keep them contained. In the meantime, I'm pulling twenty men from guarding our key areas and putting them around the discovery."

"Those men are the bare minimum--"

"The discovery is more important!" Straeger demanded. "Clearly it's what they're after. When your troops land, they can see to securing our key areas. Base out."

The communication channel snapped closed and Voelker stared at the empty screen for a few moments. Had this been an element of Straeger's plan all along, He wondered. Despite his orders, he had wanted Algrim's removal to be somewhat orderly and less painful for all parties. He had come to admire the man in the scant few days they had spent together. He was a man of vision, and a man who had never given up on his people even after they turned their back on him.

Voelker sighed. "Time to the planet?"

"One minute," the navigation's officer said.

"Launch our troop transports as soon as we achieve orbit, and order the Fenris to do the same and enter orbit on the far side of the planet. Keep our sensors at full scan. Those intruders aren’t going to leave this planet alive."


The explosion from the ship affected everyone.

Silhouette brushed the dust off of her suit, coughing and feeling terrible. It wasn't from the soreness of the blast and the subsequent cave-in; no, that was easily shaken off.

What troubled her more was the ship, and what it had shown her. Sinclaire, she thought, shaking the dust out of her hair. Good God, Sinclaire and I . . .I should have known something was wrong. I feel sick just thinking about it.

She fumbled around where she had fallen for the detonator. It was wedged under a chunk of rock, but she was able to pry it loose without damaging it. Before she had considered destroying the ship an abstract thing, a mission to be accomplished but nothing more than that.

Now, with all the ugly secrets it had pulled up in her mind and all the new questions it brought to her, she was ready to obliterate it. She checked the remote detonator for any signs of damage and was about to detonate the explosives when a voice from behind stopped her.

"That's enough of that, I think," a voice behind her called. From the accent and the emphasis, obviously this wasn't his native language. "Drop the detonator, and turn around."

Silhouette raised her hands and dropped the detonator to the ground. She turned around to see twenty Rigellian troopers massed around one Rigellian officer, clad in black and smiling in a way that made her want to punch him.

"My name is Agent Straeger," he said. "In the name of the Rigellian Empire, I judge you guilty of sabotage and sentence you to death."

"No trial?" Silhouette said, hands still raised. Her last two fingers on her right hand kept touching her palm and her left did the same a little slower.

"What for?" Straeger said. "I have twenty witnesses, all of whom would say the detonator was in your hand. In all honesty, every case should be this tidy. But enough of that, your execution awaits. Troopers, ready, aim. . ."


Silhouette clenched her fists and shut her eyes tight. The outer skin of her suit dumped its stored light-bending data as the generator burned out. While this meant she wouldn't be able to shroud, it did fill the room with a white light so brilliant it not only blinded Straeger, but also overloaded the optical sensors in the trooper's helmets.

Silhouette didn’t have any time to be gentle, so she kicked the rifle out of one of the trooper's hands and let it fall into her arms. She cocked it and fired, dumping a whole clip of plasma energy into the troopers. Some of them who were still alive pulled back to the door, which worked fine with Silhouette. She blasted one of the support struts above the door, causing part of a scaffolding to swing down and block the door.

The rifle was empty, so she tossed it away. As she did, Straeger leapt from the shadows and grasped her around the throat. Silhouette brought her foot into his shin and threw him over her shoulder. Straeger rolled to the ready and pointed his gauntlet at her. A black disc seemingly made out of shadows flew from the black lens and tagged her in the arm. Silhouette immediately felt her left arm go numb as it struck her. She panicked, trying to move her arm frantically, but it was no good.

Straeger leapt onto her, knocking her to the ground. Silhouette drove her knees into his groin, then struck him across the jaw with the heel of her hand. She rolled to her feet, kicking him in the ribs as she did. With one arm gone, she wasn't going to be able to win unless she pressed the advantage. And without her camouflage, she couldn’t escape.

She drove her elbow into his spine, but Straeger retaliated by punching her in the stomach. Silhouette lurched forward, trying to get air back into her body. Straeger sent her to the floor with an axe kick across her back. Silhouette tasted her own blood as she lay on the dirty ground. Her hand went to her side as Straeger readied another kick to shatter her spine.

As he was beginning another kick, Silhouette drew her knife and stabbed Straeger in the calf. He screamed and slapped her away, pulling the blade free and tossing the blade aside. He stood, wobbly but still dangerous, as Silhouette drew herself to her feet.

My arm, his leg, she thought. We're even, at least.

She leapt at him, catching him in the chest with a leaping kick, and throwing another spinning kick to send him flying against the rubble. His head banged against the scaffolding that was holding the troops back. He stumbled backwards, his head reeling and his ears ringing, just as Silhouette snaked her working arm around his neck.

Straeger thrashed around, trying to dislodge her, but Silhouette was holding on maniacally, ready to kill him if she had to. Straeger began leaning forward, his oxygen running out. Desperately he willed his lens to create a curved blade and with his last bit of strength, he shoved the blade into Silhouette.

The pain and the cold shock of the knife made her let go. She could feel her blood leaking out of her. She was lucky enough in that he hadn't hit her lung, but the pain was incredible, and more than that, what the blade felt like. Cold. Dark. Diseased. A lot like what she had felt about the ship.

"You nearly killed me," Straeger said, the blade dissipating. "I must confess I'm surprised. You Earthers have more killer instinct than I thought you capable of possessing. I'm amazed."

"I'm not . . .from Earth," Silhouette said. "I may not . . .even be human."

"Is that right?" Straeger said, smiling. "In any case, I suppose it doesn't matter. I'm going to kill you with my bare hands. I won’t even use the lens."

Silhouette thought about her gun -- in the chaos of the fight she'd never gotten a chance to use it. She had a clear shot at him, she could put a bullet between his eyes . . .

If he'd stop splitting into two people and blurring, she thought. She felt exhausted and the pain she felt was making it hard to even keep herself standing. But I have to win. I have to get out of here.
I have to.

Silhouette calmed her mind and slowly dipped into a part of her soul she had kept under lock and key for many years. The part that loved Kienan, the part that had unconsciously tried to be him, the part that fought like him, and thought like him. Even when he was on the point of death.

Then she charged Straeger again.


Kienan sat in the cockpit of the Reiven, looking at the blinking red beacon as he smoked a cigarette. The saber was in the ship's cargo hold, his wounds were bandaged and treated, and all that remained was to wait for Vain and Mirage to rendezvous with him so they could plan their escape.

So why aren’t I readying the ship to leave?

He looked out the cockpit window at the Umbra, now covered with a coating of sand. She should have gotten out by now, he thought. Unless the explosion I saw wasn't what she was sent here for. Or unless her plan backfired and she was caught in her own explosion. I taught her better than that. But accidents happen . . .

He looked at the beacon again, trying to shut out the back and forth in his mind. Three short beeps, three long ones, three short. SOS. On a receiver coded to a signal they had used ever since they had worked together. He stared at it.

There was a loud noise as the Angelfish fighters landed next to the Reiven. Vain and Mirage disembarked immediately and walked over to Kienan, who opened the cockpit.

"It's done," he said as they approached. "Mission accomplished."

"Then we should go," Mirage said. "I picked up two ships -- the cruiser and the destroyer -- on approach. They should be here by now."

"We can't go yet," Kienan said, stubbing out his cigarette and sighing. "I have to find her."

"The woman?" Vain asked.

"Yes," Kienan said, sliding out of the Reiven's cockpit. He opened one of the Reiven's cargo units and reloaded and replaced his two pistols, strapped on a bandolier of explosives and loaded and primed a rifle. "I have to bring her back."

"She means more than the mission?" Mirage asked.

Kienan nodded. Yes, in ways I don’t understand.

Vain and Mirage looked at him as he closed the cargo unit. "I won’t ask you to come with me, ladies," he said. "But I'll need you to be ready to help us escape."

"No," Vain said.

Kienan raised an eyebrow. He sighed. "Fine. Tell Conscience to bring the ship in to pick us up and come in shooting. Wait for us there."

"That's not what I meant, Kienan," Vain said. "You don’t have to ask us to go with you, because we would follow you anywhere."

Mirage walked off to get her weapons from her ship's cargo hold as Vain did the same from hers. Kienan smiled a little, unable to believe what he was hearing. True, he had always known that the Marionettes had a devotion to him beyond the comprehension of most people, but he had always assumed it was out of obligation for saving them from destruction.

But to hear Vain, well that, almost sounded . . .like affection, he thought.

"You’d go with me to save a woman you were ready to kill two days ago?" Kienan asked.

Vain slung the shoulder strap of her heavy chaingun over her shoulder, priming it as Mirage came up behind her, her submachine guns at the ready.

"It's not for us to judge, Kienan," Mirage said. "Besides, we're not going to save her. We're going to watch your back."

Kienan nodded. "That's one way of looking at it."

Kienan readied his weapons. "All right ladies," he said. "We go in, we find her, we get out and get off of this planet. Kill anyone who gets in your way."