Gunmetal Black 2
Chapter 3 - Piano In The Dark
By
Lewis Smith

www.gunmetalblack.com

"What happened to ''Come back anytime, Silhouette?'" Silhouette asked, getting her feet underneath her. Kienan's pistol never wavered from its mark on her heart.

"It's not seeing you again I object to," Kienan said. "It's the timing I find suspicious. I like your new look, however." He raised her pistol, obviously filched from the holster on her hip.

Silhouette looked at him and smiled, her blue-green eyes seeming relaxed and liquid. "Not all of us like to wear the same kind of uniform all the time, Kienan."

Kienan looked at her gun, ejecting the clip onto the floor and handing it back to her. "And what about this?"

"Style, Kienan. Something you should know a thing or two about."

Kienan didn’t smile. "Why are you here?"

Silhouette looked at him. "I have to warn you."

Kienan blinked. "Warn me? About what?"

Silhouette looked at Vain and Mirage. "Uhm, I can’t tell you here."

"Why not?" Kienan asked.

"Well, because being knocked on the floor isn’t the way to get my cooperation, for one."

Kienan stared at her and sighed, then holstered his pistol and helped her up. Their eyes met until Kienan cut his eyes away toward Vain and Mirage, almost as though he felt guilty for looking at her.

"It's all right," he said to them. "I'll handle this. Go to the bridge and get us on course for the border and take us out of Space Drive at the Miria Nebula. Once we're there, hold position and call me."

Vain and Mirage nodded and made their way up the access ladder. Silhouette looked at him. "The border? As in the Rigellian border?"

Kienan looked over his shoulder. "You know better than to ask me that." He lit a cigarette and took a long drag off of it, exhaling it as though her were blowing the tension inside him away like dust in his hand. "We're still on opposite sides, remember?"

"Fine," Silhouette said, brushing imaginary dust off of her skintight flight suit. "Thanks for not shooting me, by the way. It was . . .sweet of you."

"I thought about it," Kienan said. "Decided I didn’t feel like mopping up the landing bay."

"How kind," Silhouette said icily.

Kienan turned around, suddenly annoyed. "Now," he said. "What's this warning about?"

"You’re going to die."

Kienan looked at her, his expression not changing a bit. He took a slow drag off of his cigarette. "Thanks. Goodbye."

Silhouette looked shocked. "What, that's it? That's all? I came here for you to knock me around and throw me out?"

"I'm working Silhouette," Kienan said. "And the idea that I'm going to die is no big news to me. So, thanks for the warning, I'll get your ship re-fuelled and we can send you on your way. Nice seeing you, goodbye."

Silhouette looked at him incredulous. "You son of a bitch," she said. "Why am I even here? I came here because I saw you die! And I was involved, and I thought MAYBE you’d give a damn about how, maybe you’d care about it to the point where you could stop it, and we--"

NO! Silhouette thought. Don’t say too much, just warn him and go. You can see it in his eyes, he doesn’t want you. Not after all this time.
"I don't," Kienan said. "Goodbye."

"You know, I hoped the night I saved your miserable life would have put you off your little suicidal streak, but I see it hasn't made a bit of difference," Silhouette said. "I wonder why I even bothered saving you now."

Kienan suddenly turned on her. "Don’t act like you did me a favor," Kienan said, raising a red-gloved finger at her. "You had your own reasons for saving me, and you weren't shy about rummaging through my head for what you wanted. I thought maybe you were finally coming around, but I can see you’re still just as pious as an Idyllist. And let me be honest, Sil . . .it makes me sick."
Silhouette turned her back to him and raised her hands, defeated. "You know what, don’t bother refuelling my ship, I'm gone. I don’t even know what I'm doing here. I tried to save you Kienan, because whether you believe it or not, I still care about you."

Kienan seemed to freeze. Silhouette ignored any restraint, determined to say her piece.

"That's right. I still do, and I hate myself for it. I hate myself for turning over in the middle of the night and finding no one there and wondering why. And I think about you and wonder . . ."

"I thought that's what Sinclaire was there for," Kienan said indifferently. He ground the cigarette out on the deck.

"Sinclaire's gone," Silhouette sighed. "He left me after I saved your life."

"I hope he died in a very ghastly way immediately afterwards."

"He left me because he thought I was going back to you," Silhouette said. "So I have more guilt on my conscience, because now I had pushed away two men who loved me, and worse yet, the one that actually wanted me in his life."

"Spare me the valentine," Kienan said. "I wasn't happy for you when you hooked up, and the fact that he's gone is small comfort to me."

Silhouette looked down at the deck, then slowly looked up, blue-green eyes blazing with anger.

She spun on her heel and walked over to Kienan, and before Kienan knew what was happening, Silhouette cocked back her right hand and punched Kienan in the face with every ounce of force she could muster. She braced herself imperceptibly for the response Kienan was sure to deliver.

It never came. Kienan rubbed the side of his face, looking shocked, almost like a child that never expected to get hit, and especially not from her. Silhouette took full advantage of his shock and got in his face, shaking her fists at him.

"Listen to me, Kienan," she said, not even bothering to hide her rage. "You do NOT have the corner on loneliness in this universe, and I'll be god damned if I'm going to stand here and let you tear me down just because you can't get it through your stubborn head that yes, I moved on with my life. You are not the be all and end-all for me, Kienan."

Kienan's emerald eyes narrowed on her. "Then why did you come?"

"I don’t know," Silhouette said, the rage in her slowly leaving her. She was taken aback by the question and the gentleness with which he asked it this time. "Partly to warn you . . .even though I knew you wouldn’t listen . . .and I wanted to see you again. I don’t know. I shouldn’t have come. I'll go."

Kienan grabbed her by her shoulders. "Silhouette," he said, his voice quiet and gentle. "Stay."

Silhouette looked up at him, and before either of them knew what was happening, they were kissing one another, holding each other tightly and not knowing why.


The Malios pulled into the orbital drydock surrounding Durga like a shark swimming around a coral reef. On the bridge of the Malios, Warmaster Janos Voelker allowed himself a tight smile of satisfaction. It had taken several days running above recommended efficiency, but the Malios had made it to Durga earlier than expected.

His crew looked a little haggard, but relieved all the same to finally be at their destination. It as a good crew, the 400th to be assigned to this ship, and, like Voelker himself, most just out of praxia, young and eager to please. If they were willing to go to this much trouble to win his favor for a simple cargo run, they should do quite well.

"Malios to Durga command and control," Voelker said. "We're putting in at Docking Station 4, and are ready to receive cargo pickup as ordered at your pleasure."

"Durga command and control welcomes you, Malios," the control tower answered back. "Cargo loading will take approximately ten hours. Your crew is invited to take advantage of the downtime at Station 4."
"Thank you, command and control," Voelker said.

"Warlord Voelker," a new voice broke in.

"This is Voelker," he replied. "Please identify."

"This is Warduke Riven of Black Lens," the voice said. Voelker heard the ripple of awe go through the bridge crew. "Please join us at the main compound at your earliest convenience. We have details of your cargo mission to discuss."

"Acknowledged, my Lord," Voelker said. "I look forward to it. Malios out."

Voelker relaxed in his seat and sighed. What would Rigellian Intelligence want with him, especially about something as simple as a cargo run to the fringes of Rigellian space? He sighed and supposed it was common courtesy for the commander of an outpost to greet a new visitor, some forgotten bit of etiquette the higher orders held onto to remind neophytes like him of what the order of things was.
No way to know but to go, he reasoned.
He stood up, brushing his long light grey hair off of his shoulders. "Attention to orders," he said to his bridge crew. "Ten hours shore leave declared, but stay in Station 4. We're on a strict timetable, remember. Dismissed."

He touched the console on the arm of his chair. "Bridge to shuttle bay 9, this is Voelker," he said. "Have my shuttle readied in five minutes. I'm on my way now."


They looked at each other, a little stunned, both asking the same question, but neither saying it. Kienan held Silhouette gently, as though he had never stopped, and Silhouette did the same. They looked at each other for what seemed like hours, until finally Kienan broke the silence.

"Silhouette," he said.

She nodded and rested her head on his chest. "I know," she whispered. "I don’t know why I did it either. I'm not even sure why I came. It feels like I'm waking up from a dream."

Kienan slid out of her arms and started toward the ladder. "Look," he said. "I'm sorry . . .about how I acted. Come on up. The least you can do is stay awhile."

Silhouette stayed where she was, her arms now wrapped around her body. She felt cold, even though she wasn't.

Don’t go, she told herself. You know what'll happen, and you don’t need to see the future to see that.
Kienan looked at her. "That's what you wanted, isn’t it?"

I know what I want. I'm just not sure it's mine to have.

Silhouette nodded, looking at him.

"Then come with me," he said. "I'll make it up to you."

God, I want you to.
Silhouette looked up at him, blinking back tears. "That's exactly what I'm afraid of."

Kienan looked at her, more than a little puzzled.

Silhouette looked at him, exasperated by his incomprehension. "Is it that hard for you to figure out, Kienan? I came here because I wanted to, but I didn’t know I wanted to. I kissed you because I wanted to, and this time I knew I wanted to. I'm just looking for an explanation as to why."

Kienan blinked. "What does that have to do with anything?"

Silhouette walked over to him. "Kienan, if I go up that ladder, I'll want to be close to you," she said. "I'll want you to talk to me, and stroke my hair and do everything we used to do on this ship together. And I won’t want to sleep in the guestroom, I'll want to sleep next to you and I'll want to make love to you. I'm standing here and I'm forced to admit, even though I'll be damned if I can explain it, that I want you."

Silhouette silently tore herself to bit inside for letting the truth flow out of her.

"Why does that bother you?"

"Because," she said. "It's . . .just not a good idea."

Come on, she chided herself. Tell him the real reason. Tell him about the dream. Tell him the whole truth, do what he can't.
Kienan leaned against the ladder, shrugging his braid off of his shoulder. "Hm," he said. "You’re probably right. I mean, we're still getting over each other."

"Says who?" Silhouette said quietly, looking away. "Who says I got over you?"

The dream, she reminded herself. You’re only here to warn him then you go. The dream, remember, you only came to warn him because of the--
Kienan looked away. "Look," he said. "I'll be up on deck. Come or don't, but make a decision one way or the other. If you decide to stay here I'll bring a blanket and a pillow. It gets cold down here."

"Kienan," she said. "Wait," she sighed, defeated. "I'll go. I must be out of my mind, but I'll go."

Silhouette, you’re a coward.

Kienan made his way up the access ladder, Silhouette followed close behind him, wondering why the bottom seemed to have dropped out of her life.

"Janos," Straeger said. They stood before a huge banquet table, filled with more food than Voelker had seen in two months in space. Warduke Riven sat at the head of the table, glass of kiral in his hand, his eyes studying Voelker with little subtlety.

"Heinrich," he said, patting Straeger on the shoulder. "I see you made Agent status. Congratulations."

"To you as well," Straeger said. "A full Warmaster, eh? And the Malios as your ship. You must be pleased. Where'd they give you?"

Voelker smiled. "A small estate in Lankveil, on Oase. The most beautiful place you've ever seen. I don’t see it near enough, but . . ."

Straeger nodded. "The Term of Service. Well, at least we get to endure it together, eh?"

Voelker nodded. "There is that, yes."

"Gentlemen," Riven said, gesturing to their seats. "If you'd care to sit . . .?"

Straeger and Voelker took their seats on opposite sides of the table, each taking hold of their glasses as Riven called for a toast.

"To the Empire," Riven said.

"To Rigellia," Voelker and Straeger said.

Riven smiled and gestured to the food on the table. "I know it's not much, Warmaster, but I urge you to give it a try. And don’t worry, despite the reputation Black Lens has among the military, I can safely promise you it isn't poisoned."

"Of course, my Lord," Voelker said. "It's a welcome change from ship's rations, in any event, and it's a luxury I'm willing to try. Thank you for inviting me."

"Very good," Riven said. "Forgive me for jumping right into things, but I'm afraid this must be a working dinner, as the Earthers say. I assume you've been briefed by the Military Directorate, Warmaster?"

Voelker nodded. "I've told my crew it's a simple cargo and resupply run, nothing more. I have to say, sir, that when Warduke Vulgus gave me the story, I was surprised. To think Warlord Algrim not only lives, but at the pleasure of the Empress is . . .a fascinating tale, to be sure."

"It's completely true," Riven said. "Algrim was exiled because he was a dangerous man. He would have been eliminated if we could. It was hoped, in time, he would exceed his resources on his mission to "expand the Empire" and quietly fade away, but his luck has made him integral to our Empire's survival once again. And as a result, certain . . .hard decisions must now be made."

"The discovery?" Straeger asked.

"Yes," Riven said. "Agent Straeger has been analyzing the data Algrim relayed to us about his "discovery." In addition, I have had a team of researchers here analyzing that data for the past month."

"Sir?" Straeger asked.

"It's not meant as an insult, Agent Straeger," Riven said. "The scientists were part of the team that first settled and colonized Durga. The data in his transmission seemed to indicate that his discovery is similar to one made on this planet 200 years ago."

"I never knew there was anything of note discovered in this system," Voelker said. "As I understand it, it was chosen as Black Lens' headquarters specifically because it was a remote system."

"Because of the nature of the discovery, we felt it better to keep this quiet while we conducted a scientific study of the discovery."

"Just so we're clear, my lord," Straeger said. "What exactly is this . . .discovery?"

Riven looked at them. "A ship," he said. "A very old one, and one using technology we've never encountered before or since. The Oneiran scientists believe it even predates the Ghram, if that's possible."

"Unbelievable that something that old could survive to our time," Voelker said. "Were there any crew, any sign of what it was doing there?"

"No," Riven said. "No bodies, and as to why it was within the strata of Durga . . .we suspect it was buried there."

"Why would anyone bury a ship?" Straeger said, taking a sip from his glass of kiral. "It doesn't make sense. And how could they have buried a ship, possibly two ships, if Algrim's information can be trusted, so far apart and yet no one's ever heard of them?"

"Unknown," Riven said. "But once we freed it from the planet, we found out its true value. Unfortunately, we found out at the cost of the ship. Once free of Durga, it tried to blast the moon to pieces, and we were forced to destroy it. At least we were able to salvage the pieces for study and research."

"And what makes its so valuable?" Voelker said. "Obviously it's some sort of droid fighter, like the ones the Khephren encountered a year ago. We've had droid fighters for centuries now."

"No," Riven said. "It was alive. It is fully organic technology."

"Organic technology?" Straeger asked. His mind drifted back to the Phantom, specifically its outer skin and how it had seemed to shift as he looked at it. He chided himself for ignoring the obvious pattern of movement at the first.

Shifting, he thought. Breathing. It was breathing. The Phantom . . .is alive.


"Beef and rice," Silhouette said, looking at the bowl of food steaming before her. "I never could figure you out, Kienan. You always wore the same suit, always ate the same things over and over again. Yet you still manage to be spontaneous."

Kienan propped his feet up on the table, sitting opposite her. "It's considered bad form to criticize your host in his own house. Especially when he just cooked for you."

"Our own house," Silhouette corrected, without meaning to. "I haven’t been on this ship in . . .what? Four years? And I still remember every little detail. Sometimes I dream about this place at night."

"Maybe you belong here," Kienan said indifferently, using a pair of chopsticks to shovel beef and rice into his mouth.

Silhouette took a bite and chewed it and what Kienan had said over in her mind. The beef and rice was the same as it had always been . . .too much salt on the race and too much spice in the beef. But all the same, she ate it and could almost imagine . . .

No, she thought. Stay in the now, stay focused. Don’t think about it. Tell him what you came here to tell him and go. It's better for him and you. Don't wear out your welcome.
"I don’t know where I belong, lately," Silhouette said. "I . . .I've been having visions."

Kienan clicked his chopsticks. "Visions?"

Silhouette nodded, chewing over another chopstick full. "The seeing you die thing I mentioned? A vision. Fragments. Sometimes it's things that happened years ago, sometimes its stuff that hasn’t happened yet. Or at least I think it hasn’t happened yet."

"If it were anyone else, I'd say you were crazy," Kienan said. "But . . .you did save my life. I don’t know how you did it, but you saved my life. If you can completely heal me after I had half my chest blown out then, seeing the future ought to be easy, I guess."

"Kienan," Silhouette said abruptly. "Have you ever been to Earth?"

Kienan stopped eating. He stared at her, perplexed. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Just answer the question. It's important."

"No," Kienan said. "I never saw any need. Earth's a fascist plastic wasteland anyway. What could possibly be there for me?"

"Just asking," Silhouette said. "Kienan, do you really believe people see the future?"

Kienan resumed eating. "Depends on the future."

"Yours?"

Kienan put the now-empty bowl down and rifled through his belt pouches for his cigarettes and his lighter. He laughed around his cigarette. "My future? Sil, I have no future."

"You’re not dead yet."

Kienan lit his cigarette. "According to most sources, I died on Caldera when the Magmadivers killed every person in the mining colony. Or when the sun went nova and turned the system into an asteroid field --doesn't matter, the result's the same. Who am I to argue with the evidence?"

"You’re alive."

"I'm dreaming," Kienan said, taking a drag on his cigarette. "I'm in a nightmare, the kind you keep thinking you wake up from only to find you're going deeper into it."

"What happens when you really wake up?"

"Maybe I die for real?"

"You said you were already dead."

"So I did," Kienan said, taking another drag off of the cigarette.

They looked at each other for a while, neither really sure of what to say.

"I'm sorry," Kienan said. He leaned forward and looked down at the deck, resting his elbows on his knees. "About . . .Sinclaire. You seemed happy with him. I can't stand him but . . .I always wanted you to be . . .happy."

"I was," Silhouette said. "I guess happiness wasn't enough. It couldn’t fill me up inside."

"And I do?" Kienan said. "Is that what this is about?"

"No," Silhouette said. She sighed and twisted a lock of her dark brown hair around her finger. "You know . . .from that time we spent in each other's heads . . .how I was . . .born."

"In a test tube," Kienan said, grinding out his cigarette in a mottled glass astray.

"Thanks for putting it so kindly," Silhouette said, frowning. "I've been trying to find out more, about why I was created, about what happened to me, and why I don’t really remember anything concrete before the day we met."

"And what did you find?" Kienan asked, lighting another cigarette. He exhaled, and the smoke seemed to hang suspended in the air, making his emerald eyes seem like the stare of a ghost.

"I have bits and pieces," Silhouette said. "But not the whole picture. I look like humans, but I'm stronger, faster, my senses are exponentially more pronounced, but . . .I don’t know how, or why. And every little bit I find out makes me more and more worried, and I don’t know why."

"No luck tracking down the doctor who created you . . .what was his name . . . Sandoval?"

Silhouette shook her head. She bit her bottom lip, her eyes quavering. "What if I'm not the only one, Kienan? What if somewhere out there there's a whole race like me? Or worse yet, what if I'm some aberration?"

Kienan exhaled. "You're scared. Of being alone."

Silhouette nodded and put her head in her hands.


"So," Straeger began, finishing off the last of his glass of Kiral. "This ship you unearthed attacked Durga, and forced you to destroy it. You spent the next century studying the pieces and reverse-engineering it to work with our technology?"

"Yes," Riven said. "Unfortunately, the Phantom was our one and only prototype and used all the bio-mass we salvaged from the wreckage of the ship. But the data Algrim has sent us indicates he's found a substantial source. Perhaps he's found an entire capital ship buried on one of those planets, perhaps he's found a base. In any case, Black Lens wants it. For research, of course."

"Of course," Voelker said. "Any race that could crack the riddle of organic technology would automatically change the balance of power in this sector of the galaxy. If a small ship can decimate a moon . . .larger scale ships, even bio-mass merged with our existing ships and fighters . . . "

" . . .It's quite an enticing proposition, isn’t it?" Riven asked. "But we can’t leave it in the hands of a renegade like Algrim. We need to stake a claim to it, and begin our research as soon as possible."

"What are our orders?" Straeger asked.

"You and Voelker will take the Malios to the rendezvous point, follow Algrim back to his base. Evaluate his discovery and then . . .terminate the Warlord's command."

"Terminate?" Voelker asked, more than a little surprised.

"Take command of the installation in the name of the Empire," Riven said. "Once your forces are in command, signal us via a special frequency we'll be giving the Malios. That signal will be relayed to an attack fleet standing by, and they will move in and destroy any lingering resistance from Algrim's forces."

"And the Warlord himself?" Straeger asked.

"Eliminate him," Riven said.