Kienan dreamt of a time before now. It was four years ago, and he was
sitting alone in a transfer station on the orbital drydock. He sat in a corner
table, near the back of the waiting station next to the vid-phones, watching
the people come and go, make calls, get drinks, make their way to their ships
as the orbital traffic station announced their clearance.
Kienan sat and waited.
Between his fingers was a cigarette, his fourth since he had sat down (Hours?
Minutes?). Its brothers sat crushed and twisted and ground out in a glass
ashtray whose bottom was murky and black.
Kienan took a drag off of
his cigarette and stared ahead vacantly. His eyes passively tracked a younger
man, shoving past crowds of people on the way to the phones. He had seen the
look on his own face before. Preoccupation, probably about a woman.
Yes, he knew that quite
Kienan knew exactly how he
felt, all right. He was just better at hiding it. He watched the man as he
tapped the call numbers on the vid-phone with the practiced ease of someone who
had committed it to instinctive memory. The shaking of his hands, Kienan
reckoned, was a new complication.
younger man said into the vid-phone. "Yes, I know. Well, is she in? Look,
I need to talk to her, just for a minute. I havent heard from her in awhile
and I just want to know she's all right."
Kienan stubbed out his
cigarette in the ashtray and lit another, grimacing imperceptibly as he did.
This conversation had a disturbingly familiar resonance.
"Look, we had a fight
last night, and I just wanted to . . .I know what she said! But she couldn't
have meant it! Just please, please
put her on."
Tears welled up in the young
man's eyes, and he hunched over the phone to hide them. Kienan thought of what
he was waiting for. Or rather, who he
was waiting for. Not one day ago, he had killed a man on this colony.
Silhouette had been there to assist him and take the shot in the unlikely event
Silhouette had taken the
shot all right. Kienan closed his eyes and saw the spectacle unspool in his
mind for the hundredth time this afternoon. He felt the kick of the sniper
rifle in his hands and saw Silhouette move slowly towards the podium, held in
slow time by his memory.
"Thank you, thank you .
. .I just want to make sure she's OK. Just five minutes, I promise."
She shoved the target out of
the way as the shell blew through her chest, punched through her shoulder
blade. Drops of blood floated in midair like they were in zero gravity.
"Misha? Hi, it's
Marcus. Look, about last night . . .I'm sorry. I was just scared; I didnt know
what the hell I was saying. I was just . . .scared. I didnt want to lose you,
and I overreacted."
The shell smashed into the
stage behind her and exploded in a ball of fire. People ran slowly everywhere,
the whole thing seeming comical, almost like a dance.
"Misha, please, I love
you. We'll work it out . . .I Lo--"
Kienan saw himself running
from the building he was perched in. He knew what happened next. He was to get
out, and leave no evidence that he had ever been there.
And that meant leaving
"MISHA! Are you there?
Please talk to me?"
Kienan was taking an awful
risk, but he had to know. He had agreed to a later orbital exit and planned to
wait for her. She knew to meet him there, and if he waited long enough . . .
"Yes hello. No, she
hung up, I just . . .NO! Please, let me talk to her! I've got straighten this
out . . .no, please don't--"
The young man hunched over
the phone like his own heart had been shot out of his chest. Kienan took a drag
off of his cigarette and knew exactly how he felt.
Caldera, you are now clear to begin
departure . . .message repeats: Freighter Caldera,
you are clear to exit."
He closed his eyes and
stubbed his cigarette out and went to board his ship. As he made his way to the
door that led to the docking ring, he looked over his shoulder one last time.
The young man was smashing
his hand against the phone in frustration, but that wasn't what Kienan was
focusing on this time.
It was the brown-haired
woman standing over the table he had only minutes ago been sitting at.
Kienan blinked and opened
his eyes, his lungs taking a deep breath of the cold air. The Silhouette, he thought, a little cross. It was just a dream.
Kienan sat up and reached
for his cigarettes. Should have known
better, he chided himself. She never
did show up. And when she did, it was too late and we were too far apart to
make up the difference. Things changed.
voice came over his communication unit. "We're ready."
"On my way,' Kienan
said, brushing his hair out of his face and heading for the bridge. He turned
the images of his dream over in his head as he walked the softly-lit hallways.
The images were as hard to hold onto as the smoke trailing from his cigarette
He willed himself to stop
thinking about her as the door to the bridge slid open. Vain and Mirage turned
to look at him and Kienan nodded to them as he took his seat on the bridge.
"So," Kienan said.
"What have we got?"
"A very interesting
assignment," Mirage said. "More so than we initially thought. Turns
out this . . .Warlord Algrim is quite a celebrated figure in Rigellian history.
And that was before he
"It appears our client
wants you to kill a legend," Vain said.
Kienan nodded and took a
drag off of his cigarette as the data they had accumulated scrolled onto the Silhouette's viewscreens.
"Dont you ever take a break, Agent Straeger?" Riven asked
him. "I've been checking with our flight controllers. If you havent been
here, studying all the data on Algrim that was available, you've been taking
the Phantom out for systems tests.
Straeger looked up from the
readouts on his desk. "My apologies sir," he said, removing his
reading glasses and folding them carefully before placing them on the desk.
"I've been familiarizing myself with all available data on the Phantom in addition to studying Algrim.
The information on Algrim alone would take me four days to sift through."
"And the Malios will be here in a day and a
half," Riven said. "Tell me . . .what do you think of the Phantom?"
"She's an amazing
fighter," Straeger said. "Far in advance of anything I've piloted in
my time at Praxia."
Riven smiled and nodded.
"Well, I suggest you be gentle with her. She's the only one we have, and
we won't be able to make any more unless we get very lucky."
understand," Straeger said.
"No need for you to
understand at the moment," Riven said, dismissing the unspoken questions
Straeger proffered with a wave of his hand. "Now, Algrim . . .tell me what
you've learned. I know him quite well . . .and your analysis should be intriguing."
"My analysis isnt
finished yet," Straeger said. "But from what I do know, the man's
reputation is well-deserved. Hundreds of citations, from the final days of our
revolution against the Ghram, the First Subjugation, to the Earth War. But so
far nothing that connects in any logical way to the destruction of two research
ships several sectors away from the main battle."
Riven nodded, taking a seat
and carefully draping his cloak around his left arm. "Very good," he
said. "But youre looking for connections based on what you have seen.
Look for what is not there."
Straeger's brow furrowed.
"Well, there are some . . .peculiarities."
Riven smiled and folded his
fingers in his lap. "Very good. Such as?"
"Well, he was never
named to the Imperial Court, for one," Straeger said. "Nearly every
Warlord before and after him spent some time as the Captain of the Imperial
Guard. It's a high honor for the aristocracy. But several times Algrim seems to
have refused the commission. He preferred to stay in the war zone. The final
time he was offered the commission, he refused and completed the subjugation of
"And why would he do
that?" Riven asked. "You know as well as I the games the aristocracy
plays. Power, title, position --it's
all tied into battle prowess. Praxia cadets become Warmasters, get their fief
and their ship and spend the rest of their lives building their fortunes from
there. Wars are a way to find favor in court."
"But from all accounts,
Algrim has no interest in politics," Straeger said, gesturing to the
records on his desk. "In fact, several times he seems to do everything he
can to avoid any contact with the Imperial Court. Which is astounding, because
he had the loyalty and the authority to establish himself as second only to the
Empress in authority. But he repeatedly turned away from it to continue in
space. Obviously not for the usual reasons, but that brings us back to
"Algrim was born to one
of the last generations to be enslaved by the Ghram," Riven said.
"When the revolution began, Algrim was one of the first to take up arms,
one of the first who learned how to turn their machines against them. And
before he could take the war all the way back to the Ghram's home space, they
retreated. Algrim never got his chance to make them pay in the way he felt they
"As I understand
it," Straeger said. "We didnt even get the chance to take the battle
into their space before their Armageddon Weapon destroyed their home system and
sent them into retreat."
"Algrim felt cheated,
but was able to put it aside, because now we Rigellians were masters of our own
destiny and set about establishing our own great Empire," Riven continued.
"That work kept him busy, as did the Earth War. That work kept the anger
and the rage he felt against the Ghram far from his mind. Can you imagine
holding onto that feeling of being cheated for a hundred and fifty years, as he
Straeger shook his head.
"So he kept fighting out of misplaced aggression against the Ghram? If he
felt that strongly, what was to keep him from taking his forces into Ghram
space without sanction and finishing the job the Armageddon Weapon
"He felt a duty to his
people," Riven said. "That's why he has the love of his soldiers. He
was living proof of the righteousness that led us to seize our destiny from the
Ghram and make our own. And they knew he would never lead them into defeat,
because Algrim would never allow his people to become slaves to anyone."
feelings," Straeger said, holding his reading glasses in the palm of his
hands. "I understand now why having him killed would have destroyed
morale. The man is considered a legend, and with good reason. His history is
"That's what made him
dangerous," Riven said. "I was privy to his trial in absentia. There
were some in the Imperial Court who wanted to execute him even knowing the
damage it would do to morale. Legends are dangerous Heinrich, and living
legends doubly so. And among those in the Imperial Court, our destiny is a hotly
Riven nodded. "We're
not the pre-eminent power in the galaxy anymore, Heinrich," he said.
"We've enemies on one side and tenuous allies on the other, caught between
fire and flood. There's a growing fear that unless we re-establish ourselves as
a great power we'll become as irrelevant as the Khephren, or in retreat, like
the Ghram. Everyone sees our destiny slipping away, but no one can agree on
what destiny we should reach for or how to stop it from slipping through our
Straeger regarded Riven
curiously. "Forgive my impertinence, sir," he began, choosing his
words carefully. "But why are you telling me this?"
Riven smiled enigmatically.
"In good time, Heinrich. And by that time, you'll have the answer
yourself. You wont need me to give it to you."
Silhouette re-checked the fix on her screen. Kienan usually changed his
navigation homing signal several times an hour, but Silhouette had made sure to
keep her systems calibrated to his signals. Just in case.
She thought about that for a
moment. Just in case what? She
pondered. Just in case I go back to him?
Just in case I fight beside him again, killing people on orders from someone
else, taking lives at the directive of others?Could
I even do that now, knowing what I know about myself?
Her mind flashed back to
that day four years ago, and how angry she had been when Kienan shot her, how
the only thing that had kept her going was her rage and her bitter feeling of
betrayal as she crawled underneath the burning stage, holding her chest to
futilely keep her blood inside her body.
She had hid under the debris
until the flames died down and climbed out, only to find, to her shock, that
the wound had healed herself. Moreover, her past, which had previously been a
blank slate to her, had stared coming through in flashes, like sunlight through
And on that day she struck
out on her own to find the answers she needed and to fill in the blanks in her
memory. And every night she spent on a quest to remember was a night she spent
trying to forget Kienan Ademetria.
the nights were too long, she thought. They
always are, here in space. I couldnt sleep without thinking he was there. I
couldnt stop thinking about how gently he held me in his arms at night. Like
he never wanted me to go. Like he was desperately clinging to something he
then I would lay there, angry with myself, for not being able to forget him.
Angry because I still wanted him close. Angry because I wanted to wait for him
to able to say he loved me as much as I loved him. And angry because I could
never escape him, no matter how far, because he was a shadow over my heart.
She had tried to start again
with someone, of course. Lewis Sinclaire had been the exact antithesis of
Kienan --patient, disciplined, kind
but firm. Exactly what she thought she needed.
She closed her eyes in shame
as her mind drifted over the thought of him, and how, even in Sinclaire's arms
she couldnt avoid thinking of Kienan.
She bit her lip and
re-aligned the homing signal to the Silhouette.
The guilt of what she had done to Sinclaire welled up in her mouth like a
bitter wine. It hadnt been fair to compare him to Kienan. Not that it had
stopped her from doing so.
Her thoughts drifted to the
last time she had seen him. She had just returned from saving Kienan's life.
Somehow, Sinclaire knew where she had been, and he had assumed that she wanted
Kienan again. He offered to go, quietly, but she pleaded with him to stay.
"Sinclaire, I couldnt
let him die," She said to him, putting her hands on his arms and trying to
draw him into an embrace.
"I would have made sure
there wasn't even a question of his dying," Sinclaire had replied, his
blue-green eyes thin and steely as he looked down at her. He pushed her away.
"I would have killed him myself. And that's the real reason you sent me
away, isnt it? You knew the people who had shot him were gone except for the
one he tailed into the warehouse, but you sent me after them so you could be
with him in peace."
"That's not it at
all," Silhouette said, sitting in her seat and beginning to cry.
"I know what you meant
to do," Sinclaire said. "I knew you were still in love with him Sil.
I knew he was your first, and you could never completely get him out of your
system . . .
"The only thing I ever
asked was that you be honest with me about it," he said. The words hurt
almost as bad as Kienan's gunshot.
Silhouette leaned forward
and started crying. "Sinclaire, I love you," she said, starting to
sob. "I swear to you, this is all a misunderstanding. I cant do this
alone. I need you."
Sinclaire looked down at the
floor, then back to her. "Youre going to have to do it alone. I'm
NO!" Silhouette said.
The sound of her protest was weaker than it should have been.
"My mind's made up,
Sil," he said calmly. "We have to find our own ways now. And I hope
that you find it in your heart to let go of this twisted dream you have about
being with Kienan again. When you go to him and you find he doesnt want you
any more . . .where will you go? What will you do?"
"I dont want to go to
him," Silhouette said, crying harder. "I want to be with you."
"I cant be with you,
Sil," Sinclaire said, turning away from her and opening the door to their
quarters. "I need time."
"Sinclaire . . .please
. . .don't walk out that door."
"I have to," he
said. He closed his eyes and sighed so heavily his whole body relaxed.
"But I promise to come back."
Sinclaire looked back at
her. "When we're both ready. Remember what I taught you . . .you dont
find your destiny, it finds you. Even when you run from it."
Sinclaire walked out the
door. Silhouette raised her head and looked at him walking away, her eyes
bloodshot with tears.
"I love you."
Sinclaire bowed his head and
shook it gently, sadly, like a man resigned.
Silhouette wiped the tears
from her eyes that always seemed to rise from her eyes when she thought of that
night. It had been two years now, but it hurt her like it had been five minutes
And now she was going to see
Kienan, as if following the prediction Sinclaire had laid out so long ago. But
would Kienan welcome her or reject her.
Who was right? Kienan or
She didnt know.
"An Imperialer-class flagship
and two Dorvack-class
destroyers," Kienan said, studying the data on the screen. He took a slow
drag off of his cigarette and "At least a hundred years old, but probably
kept well armed and well-manned. Did any of the data you got from the Rigellian
Network have any details on fighter complements or location?"
said. "The guy's officially dead, so if he is getting resupplied, any
evidence would be buried deep, as would any cargo transfers."
"I dont see how we can
get to him," Vain said. "Tough as the Silhouette is, we dont have the power to take on three battleships
at once, and our fighters wont help, because we'll have to deal with their
fighters and have nothing left for the battleships."
Kienan studied the data
again. "And I have to get close enough to him to take his sword, or
there's no deal. Our client didnt make this easy."
"Maybe we're thinking
of this in the wrong way?" Mirage asked.
Kienan said, smoking his cigarette.
"We can't take on the
ships head-on, because we cant win and we risk killing the target before we're
ready," Mirage said. "But ships like this cant operate this far away
from starbases equipped enough to keep them running. Resupplying would be took
big a hassle, no matter how much they get from Rigellia."
"Youre saying they
have built their own base?" Vain asked.
"It makes sense,"
Kienan said. "We dont need to deal with the ship. We just need to find
the base, draw off the ships where we can destroy them one-on-one until there's
just his ship. Then it's simple infiltration and wetwork."
"The trick is finding
the base without being discovered," Mirage said.
enough," Vain said. "It'll take some fancy piloting, but as long as
we stay hidden behind planets, nebulae, and the usual hazards to sensors, we
should be little more than a shadow. But someone will have to pilot the ship
manually . . .the Southern sector's got some rough navigation points and I'll
need Conscience to keep the weapons on standby."
Kienan said, turning to the ship's silent controller. "Conscience, set a
course for the Rigellian border. A quiet, leisurely one --let's not attract any attention. I'll get us
over the border. Vain, Mirage --you
two work on the weapons. I'm hoping everything will go smoothly. Experience,
however, tells me it may not. I want to be ready in case we have to
Vain and Mirage nodded and
shut off the view screens, turning back to their bridge stations and running
diagnostics and weapon tests. Kienan turned to Conscience, perplexed.
Kienan asked. "Why arent we on course?"
Conscience said flatly.
"What kind of ship? An
Straeger rubbed his eyes and shut off the readouts. Algrim's logs were
fascinating reading all right, but he simply couldnt keep his mind on it.
Riven's words had distracted him too much to concentrate beyond a certain
Destiny, he thought. I suppose its not to be all that surprising
that the commander of Black Lens, the eyes and ears of the Empire would be
obsessed with his people's destiny. After all, Black Lens has done almost as
much to guide the Empire as the Empress and the Warmasters combined.
He stood up from his desk
and made his way to his cot in the corner of the room, preparing to catch a few
hours sleep and come back to his research as he awaited the Malios.
He thought about what Riven
had said about Algrim, about how he had felt denied his vengeance at the Ghram,
denied the chance to pay them back for a millennia of slavery of his people.
felt cheated, but was restrained from taking the war into Ghram space by the
smaller wars, Straeger recalled. The First
Subjugation, the establishment of our Empire, the conquest of the Oneirans, the
border wars with the Khephren, he was forever being sent on a new mission to
win a war. Even
against Earth. But he didn't finish the battle against Earth either.
Straeger's eyes, half-closed
and drowsy, suddenly snapped open.
denied a victory against Earth,he thought. Just as he was against the Ghram.
Straeger sat bolt upright,
trying to catch his breath, Pieces of the puzzle that was Warlord Algrim were
fall into place like snow falling on a grassy field. At the very least,
Straeger felt as though he understood the man who, in a day's time, he would
meet to accomplish a mission he hadnt yet been given the particulars on.
But at least now he felt
Silhouette smiled thinly as the guidance beacon from the Silhouette activated and the silver
cigar-shaped freighter came into view. She made subtle adjustments to her
trajectory and slowly guided the Umbra
into the Silhouette's docking bay.
She eased into the holding area as the docking arms closed around her ship. She
loosened her safety harness, bracing herself for the next step.
Her muscles tensed as the Umbra was moved into the main hangar
area, the artificial gravity exerting its force over her. While it was the
standard 1G gravity, it felt much heavier after a long haul in open space.
The docking arms finally set
the ship to the side, and Silhouette shut down the Umbra's systems, activating the cockpit release. She was lowered
from the Umbra, swinging her legs off
of the padded rest and standing up and stretching, her hand drifting slightly
to her hip, and the silver pistol holstered there.
She looked around. It was
dark, but that was no shock to her. Kienan had always liked it dark. It was the
stillness, the quiet immobility of even the air she was breathing that disturbed
her. She walked around, the soles of her boots clicking hollowly on the metal
hangar deck. Her eyes soon adjusted to the spare light and she walked with a
little more surety.
Her eyes narrowed on a small
swatch of light. The exit to the rest of the ship loomed above her. Her eyes
narrowed. An access ladder, she
Before she could make her
way to it, a muscular arm whipped around her neck and sent her sprawling to the
ground roughly, but not enough to truly hurt her, just to surprise her. Two
sets of footsteps echoed on either side of her, and she rolled away, reaching
for her gun. But her gun was gone.
Her eyes stung all over as
the lights suddenly came on. Silhouette waited for her eyes to adjust. When
they did, she saw two of Kienan's android assistants near the door, weapons
drawn on her. And standing over her was Kienan himself, pistol drawn at her
head. In his other hand, he held her weapon.