Gunmetal Black 2 Chapter 5 - Regret
stared back at the Oneirans who milled around the science lab. They seemed
nervous being in his presence, and really, who could blame them? They had been
taught from the very beginning of their lives to fear and obey any Rigellian
they came across without question. Straeger, for his part, loved it. He stood
at attention, keeping his lens weapon in sight at all times. The arguments with
Indiga still rang in his ears, and any opportunity to reassert his dominance
over one of her kind was welcome and a nice diversion from all he had on his
As if summoned by his thoughts, Indiga entered from
the other side of the lab, carrying a heavy case festooned with several
complicated locks. Straeger gestured for her to put it on the table and open
it, but she waited for a moment.
Indiga looked at him for a few moments, her eyes
meeting his and then flitting to the other personnel in the lab. Of course, Straeger thought. I almost let my curiosity distract me from
"Clear and lock the room," he ordered.
Almost immediately, everyone save Indiga and himself left the room and the
doors to the lab slid shut and clanked secure. Straeger looked at Indiga, who
took a seat at one of the lab tables.
"I had assumed you would be going as well once
you opened the case," Straeger said, taking a seat on the opposite side.
"My research is not for your eyes."
"What's inside this case was entrusted to me by
the scientists on Durga," Indiga said. "I'm not letting it out of my
sight for you or anyone. It's far to valuable."
Straeger didnt feel like arguing at this moment.
"Very well," he said. "Make yourself useful and open the
Straeger watched as she opened the heavy case,
withdrawing a small disk-shaped tray from it. His red eyes widened at the sight
of it. It was treasure all right. The most precious treasure in the galaxy, and
a small taste of the one which awaited them.
"This is a sample taken from the ship at
Durga?" Straeger said, taking it into his hands. Inside the disk was a
black mass that seemed to be a hole in space, it was so dark, much like the
skin of the Phantom.
Indiga nodded. "The only sample left, really.
The rest that was salvaged was used to for the
Phantom project. Of what few samples remained, this one survived
"I see," Straeger said, his mind more on
the now-active mass in the disk. It moved around the dish like an amoeba. In
fact it seemed to be swimming towards him. "How old is it?"
"None of our dating methods worked when it came
determining its age, however based on the depth at which the ship was buried,
it would have to have been put there at the time the moon was beginning to
"Amazing," Straeger said. "An ancient
race with this technology probably could have dominated the galaxy. For all we
know, we walk above their graves even now."
"If they were so powerful, Straeger,"
Indiga said. "Why arent there any still alive? Why are we just now
learning about them? Would you like my theory on the subject?"
Straeger looked up. "Not really."
"These aliens could have become just like every
dominating race, just like the Ghram, just like you Rigellians," Indiga
continued, not heeding his order. "You rise up so that you wont be slaves
and make slaves of others and the cycle continues on and on through the
millennia. You were slaves to the Ghram, and you have made us slaves as well.
But we will break the cycle you seem trapped in."
"Really," Straeger said coldly, still
holding the tray. "How?"
"We Oneirans will wait for you to destroy
yourselves," Indiga said. "You are slaves to your fear and your
history. We didnt resist your subjugation because we saw your future centuries
ago, and we are patient. My people will walk on the grave of your empire long
after the stars of Rigel have darkened for all time."
"Are you finished?" Straeger said, weary
of her and eager to see the sample.
"Interesting," Indiga said. "I was
about to ask you the same thing."='font-size:
"Leave the room," Straeger said. "Now. Riven's protection will only take
you so far where we are going. And there are a lot more of my people on this
ship than yours. And all of us my dear Indiga, are armed."
Indiga stood and walked away. "Riven will hear
about this," she said.
"Will he?" Straeger said. "I won't
hold my breath waiting for the blade to fall. Riven is Rigellian, as am I. Who
will he believe finally? You or the Agent who delivered one of the most
valuable finds in history to him? Now, leave Oneiran."
Straeger watched her leave and the door shut and
lock again. Then, making sure the room was secure, he opened the tray. He had
been reviewing the data on the Durga ship and the data on the Phantom and had
decided to fill out the remaining time before they rendezvoused with Algrim
working on a hunch.
telepathic interface was unheard of on a Rigellian ship, and in truth it
shouldnt have worked, and Straeger has a feeling he knew why it worked so
well. He reached out with his mind to the black mass gently probing at it with
He felt a chill run through his body. It didnt have
a consciousness so much as it had a raw feeling about it, black and cold like
the void of space. His brow furrowed as he struggled to maintain the mental
link without being overwhelmed. This was slightly beyond his training as a psi,
but he was determined to test his theory. He took a deep breath and formed a
shape in his mind, much as he would to use the lens weapon.
he thought. Four points. He cleared his mind and
opened his eyes.
The mass in the tray was a perfect four-pointed
thought, stunned. He looked at his lens weapon, then back at the mass in the
dish. He summoned a star with his lens and laid the solid energy construct on
the table, comparing the two.
weapon is a crude version of this bio-mass. These aliens must have used
telepathy to control their ships, their weapons, and almost all their
technology we've found. I should . . .
"Agent Straeger," Voelker's voice called
over his lens. "Algrim has requested you and I come aboard the Ragnarok for a parley."
"We're already there?" Straeger asked, a
little surprised. I must have lost track
of time, he chided himself. "I'll meet you on the bridge, Voelker.
Straeger closed the tray and placed it back in the
case, the faintest edges of a plan forming in his mind. However, for now it
would have to wait.
looked at Kienan, who looked at her. "Silhouette," he said.
"You've given me at least ten reasons since you came on board why youre
here. For someone who chides me for my ability to tell the truth, you're not
distinguishing yourself any."='font-size:
"Kienan," she said. "I dont know
what happened. I was dreaming, and I . . .woke up."
Kienan blinked. "You don't sleepwalk,
"Normally, no. I also dont usually have
flashbacks of things that havent happened yet," Silhouette said. "I
must be going crazy . . .I was walking down the hall, but it wasn't THIS hall,
and I was back with Toriares, and then I was . . .with her." Silhouette
pointed at the woman frozen behind Kienan.
Kienan looked shocked. "Sil, she hasn't been
outside of this cryo-unit more than an hour since she was created. She can't
even think above the level of a savage animal, much less know who you
"Not yet," Sil said. "See what I
Kienan holstered his pistol. "Beginning
"Who is she?" Sil asked, walking towards
"Nobody." Kienan looked over his shoulder
as he lit a cigarette and bent down to pick up his books.
"Since when do you pick up stays, Kienan?"
"Okay, she's none of your business,"
Kienan said, a little more firm. '"I was trying to soften the blow, but
you made me say it. Happy?"
"Kienan, is that . . .Jayla?"
Kienan stacked the book in his arms and slammed them
down on a nearby desk next to the cryo-unit. He took a long look at the woman
in the cryo-tube and then at Silhouette.
"Yes," Kienan said. "And no. That is
Jayla, or what was made in her."='font-size:
"More than that," Kienan said, taking another
drag off of the cigarette. He stood in front of the cryo-tube, almost
protectively, and bathed in the pale blue light, Silhouette could almost see
the weight of the sadness he carried. "She's a gestalt of alien DNA,
Jayla's DNA, God knows what else. And the first time I found her, she tried to
"Well then, why in God's name are you carrying
her on your ship/" Silhouette asked.
"What else was I supposed to do, Sil?"
Kienan said, tossing his cigarette away and grinding it into the deck. "I
already killed her once. And if there's a chance she could live again, I owe it
to her to try, to give her another chance in life."
"And once you balance the scales, then
Kienan looked back at Jayla. "I guess that's up
"You'd really let her go?" Silhouette
"I dont know. There may not be a point to my
speculating about it. I havent been getting very far in helping her."
"Well," Silhouette said. "I could
"How?" Kienan asked. "Unless you have
a career on the side as a genetic researcher I don't know anything about,
you're as little help as I am."
"Maybe," Silhouette said. "But if
science isn't the answer, there are other options. I know places that could
help her. If she has a soul, they can find it."
Kienan looked at her. "And how did you come to
find out all of this?"
Sil twisted a lock of her dark hair around her
finger. "After I left you I went looking for answers. Answers about
myself. But those answers took me further and further than I ever thought I
would go. The places I've been helped me find who I really am. They can help
Kienan lit another cigarette. "Then my next
question is why. What do you want in return?"
"Dont insult me, Kienan," Silhouette
said. "I'm not a mercenary anymore. You know that."
"Before I agree I want to make damn sure I know
your price, Sil."
"I'm not asking anything of you--"
"I'M NOT DOING
IT FOR ME!"
They stared at each other for a moment, both shocked
by the outburst, but for different reasons. For a flickering second each saw
something more in the other than they had before.
"You really arent, are you?" Silhouette
said, looking at him, and then past him to Jayla. Her mind drifted back to the
dream, and back to the child in the room.
know who I really am?"
"I only ask one thing, Kienan," she said,
walking towards the cryo-tube. "If she wants to go, when she has her mind
and heart restored, I want you to promise me, if she says "let me
go," I want you to let her walk away."
Kienan looked at her. "I was going to do that
"You sure?" Silhouette said. "It's
easy to be that magnanimous when she's that far away. But the day will come
when she's restored, and she reminds you exactly of why you wanted her, why you
needed her, and she won't be so easy to let go of then. But you have to. Dont
make her . . .do what I did."
Kienan took a thoughtful drag off of his cigarette.
He sighed, sending a stream of smoke into the darkness. "All right. But if
this fails, I'll come after you, Silhouette. And I'll forget everything but
"All right," Silhouette nodded, looking at
Jayla, sleeping icily above them.
"Why do you care so much, Silhouette?"
"Because," Silhouette said, reaching out
towards Jayla. "She is beginning where I began. We're . . .almost
Malios pulled alongside the gigantic
warship, dwarfed by its massiveness. The Ragnarok
was much older and bore the signs of previous battles, but its grandeur was
still evident. It was a proud ship, built in a prouder age.
Straeger and Voelker skimmed the surface of the
Ragnarok in a small shuttle, heading for the Ragnarok's main launch bay.
"It's an antique," Straeger said.
"It's a legend," Voelker said, a flicker
of awe evident in his voice, a flicker that made Straeger bristle slightly.
"He sounds like he did in the old histories, still as commanding as ever.
No wonder so many followed him here. He commands respect as easily as he
"There's nothing wrong with respect,"
Straeger said. "Just dont forget why we're here, Janos. What we have come
to do has little room for respect of celebrity."
"I havent forgotten," Voelker said,
piloting the ship into the shuttle bay and beginning the landing cycle.
"It doesn't mean I have to relish it."
"Of course not," Straeger said. "But
we have to remain focused."
"Yes," Voelker said, distracted. Straeger
and Voelker unstrapped themselves as the landing cycle completed and the
shuttle exit ramp deployed. They walked out to see a full welcoming detail.
Troops, crewmen, pilots, almost the full complement of the Ragnarok, apparently. All of them stood to attention as they
stepped away from the shuttle. And in the center of the detail stood a taller,
older man, dressed in a uniform much like Straeger's and Voelker's, only
trimmed with gold and covered in a blood-red cloak and brandishing a long
"Warlord Algrim," Voelker said, saluting,
then bowing. Straeger saluted, but did not bow. Up close Algrim still looked
vigorous despite his years, but his thinning hair and the deep lines around his
red eyes betrayed the weariness of one who had seen much too much war in his
life and was beginning to weary of it. Straeger noticed that Algrim was leaning
on his sword, also, using it almost like a cane. He fought the urge to smirk at
legends were not made to be seen up close, style='font-size:
he thought. He looked past Algrim to the man
who seemed to stand close behind him, most especially because in a shuttle bay
full of Rigellians, he was the only one who wasn't Rigellian. He was dressed in
robes and wrappings, his skin a dark bronze and his eyes quiet and patient,
looking like a cobra's and much like that snake, his were hooded as well. His
eyes met Straeger's, both of them recognizing the other for what they were.
"Agent Straeger, Warmaster Voelker,"
Algrim said, beckoning them to be at ease. "I and the crew of the Ragnarok welcome you aboard."
"Thank you, Warlord," Voelker said.
"We're honored to meet you."='font-size:
"Is it customary for you to greet honored
guests with your sword drawn, Warlord?" Straeger asked.
Algrim looked down. "I do not sheathe my sword
until the battle is finished," he said flatly.
Straeger looked around. "Are we in a sate of
war I was unaware of?"
"The war is never over, Agent Straeger,"
Algrim said. "But enough. There's a feast prepared in the officer's
quarters. I will be more than happy to answer all of your questions there. If
you would accompany us?"
"Of course, Warlord," Voelker said.
Straeger grimaced. Janos is falling under Algrim's spell, he thought. So long
as he doesn't forget what our duty really is, I'll forgive it.
Algrim signalled the detail's dismissal and the bay
was momentarily full of activity as troopers and crewmen rushed to retake their
stations before the ship would resume its course. But the dark man behind
Algrim didnt move at all. Only when Algrim turned to leave the bay did he
move, as did Voelker and Straeger.
Kienan asked, watching Vain and Mirage piloting the ship. The Silhouette was in medium Space Drive,
going slower so as not to attract any attention as they travelled further into
"Another ship as joined our target's squad.
They rendezvoused at the Celadon Nebula an hour ago," Vain said.
"It's a Malios-class
"Damn," Kienan said, exhaling a small
stream of smoke. "Theyre really not going to make this easy. How much
progress has Conscience made on our little booby trap?"
"She'll need another six hours," Mirage
said. "By that time we'll be in the system and, unless we stay very far
back, within their scanning range."
"Damn," Kienan said. "Well ladies,
"I have one," Vain said. "But it has
nothing to do with the Rigellians."
Kienan smiled. "Silhouette?"
"She's an unknown variable, and she cant be
trusted," Vain said. "I hate unknown variables. We should put her off
as soon as possible. Her ship's re-fuelled and ready to go, and we're still
within well-travelled space. We could disengage the Space Drive, put her off
and resume our course, and jam her sensor suite so she can't follow us."
Kienan sighed. "How many hours until we're off
the standard shipping lanes?"
"At our present speed, we've got an hour and a
half," Mirage said. "If she's going to leave, it better be now."
Kienan watched the smoke from his cigarette trail
away. Silhouette had returned to the Umbra to upload her data for him. She had
said it would take an hour to finish, and that had been forty minutes ago.
I hope she's
done by that time,
he thought. I've been distracted
by her long enough. Perhaps if I'd kept my mind on the job, four Rigellian
warships wouldnt seem like such a big obstacle. I'm so vulnerable to her. I'm
a fool for being vulnerable to her after everything that's happened. But if she
can help, I owe it to Jayla, don't I?
"All right," Kienan said. "I'll see
to her, and then I'll be below decks in the G-Room."
"If youd like Kienan, we could see to her
getting off the ship," Mirage said.
"I know you would, Mirage," Kienan said,
smiling. "But you might forget to put her in her ship first."
feast was quite grand, certainly grander than Straeger would have thought
possible given the length of Algrim's exile. Meats, vegetables, even vintage
kiral were spread out over the huge table in the officer's quarters. Voelker
was eating hearty, after all, life on a warship meant little better than
standard rations, so any opportunity to feast was welcomed.
Straeger picked at his plate slower and more
deliberately. He was keenly aware that Algrim and his silent companion had
never taken their eyes off of him the entire meal. Algrim's mysterious
companion had not even taken a seat at the table, but had stood behind Algrim's
chair and stared at him the entire time.
"So tell me, Agent Straeger," Algrim said,
lifting his food to his mouth without ever once taking his eyes off of
Straeger. "How are things in the Empire?"
Straeger put down his fork and sat back in his
chair. "I dont think it's changed all that much from the time you were
there, Warlord," he said. "The Empire does well."
"It does," Algrim said neutrally.
"Then assume we finally conquered Earth?"
Straeger raised an eyebrow. "Quite the
contrary, Warlord," he corrected gently. "Earth and Rigellia are very
close allies now. We recently signed a mutual defense treaty with the
"Indeed?" Algrim said. The bitterness in
his voice was as easy to taste as the vintage of the kiral. "Since when
has the Empire needed allies?"='font-size:
"The Empire is not alone in the Galaxy any
longer, Warlord. Times have changed, and so has the galaxy."
"We needed no allies to drive the Ghram from
our world," Algrim said.
"The Ghram were an old and tired race,"
Straeger said. "They were facing threats from without and revolutions from
within. From my studies of history, they would have withdrawn from Rigellia in
another eighty years, whether our people rebelled or not."
Algrim's eyes widened. "How dare you? How dare you sup at my table
and then curse the very thing that gave the Empire we both serve life?"
"I meant nothing by it, Warlord. Our
"Your histories dont tell the story as it
was," he said angrily, rising from his seat. "I fought the Ghram with
my own hands, and later, with this sword, and from this ship." His hand
came to rest on the hilt of his blade, which had been resting against his
chair. "The Ghram fought us for every planet, every moon, every light-year
of space, and we pried every victory from their dying hands. Your histories may
deny us, but I know what we accomplished." He raised his white-gloved
hands. "With these hands, Straeger! We needed no one! Most especially not
the Earthers! You will not tell me my life was worthless! You will not!"
Straeger stood up, choking back his pride. Not here, he cautioned. Not now. Obviously our honored Warlord is
much more fragile than I predicted. I must move carefully. The hush over
the room spoke to the tension of the situation. Straeger could kill him now,
but he would die immediately afterward. And he had to see the discovery first.
He had to be sure it was what he hoped it was.
"Please, Warlord Algrim," he said, bowing.
"Forgive my impudence. I did not mean to belittle your honored record. The
people of the Empire know the role you played . . .obviously, much better than
I. Forgive your humble servant."
Algrim relaxed and sat back down. "You are
forgiven, Agent Straeger," he said, resuming his meal. "I caution
you, Agent, here Black Lens is not above my authority, regardless of what
directive you may have received. The first order you disobey will be the last
thing you ever hear. Obedience is life. You should have learned that you first
day at praxia. Perhaps the Empire's educators are slipping."
"I understand, Warlord," Straeger said. He
swallowed his pride and anger, and resumed his meal, suddenly finding the meal
to have a much more bitter taste.
"Warlord," Straeger began, making sure his
voice carried the proper obsequious tone this time. "If I may ask . . .the
alien behind you. Who is he?"
Algrim looked behind him. "His name is Skanda.
He is a native of the planet on which our base of operations is located. He has
pledged himself as my bodyguard ever since our squad found his planet. He
doesnt speak, but he is never far from my side."
"I meant to ask you, Warlord," Voelker
said, sensing from Straeger that he was attempting to change the subject and
defuse the tension. "How has your campaign to extend the Empire
"Very poorly, I'm afraid," Algrim said.
"Skanda's home planet is within the only system we've found in years of
searching that could support Imperial colonies. However, what we found when we
established our base gave us some hope. That's why this discovery excites us so
much. Our scientists believe that some of the components of the discovery could
revolutionize our planetary colonization methods. Bring green forest to desert
planets, warm glades on glacial moons."
"You could remake a world in your own
image," Straeger said. "Intriguing. Just as we asserted our
independence from Ghram, so now we assert our independence from the gods. Once
again, you show us the way."
Algrim raised an eyebrow at Straeger. "Curious
you say that after your previous outburst."
"I had no idea the ambitions you had for our
people then, honored Warlord," Straeger said. More than ever he wanted to
kill him, and Algrim's smug smile wasn't helping him choke down his pride
anymore. "Clearly you seek to serve our people in all ways."
"Agent Straeger," Algrim said. 'To restore
my honor and return home, I would give our people the very galaxy if that were