Gunmetal Black 2 Chapter 6 - Space Age Love Song
stripped off his shirt and stood alone in the darkened G-Room. One step across
the pale blue light into the center of the room and he would be fighting two
and one half times the force of Earth's gravity.
It was, for Kienan, the only way to train. He
stepped confidently over the light and immediately felt the downward pull on
his body. There was always the danger, of course, as he pushed the gravity
level progressively higher, that his heart would fail or his bones would be
crushed, but Kienan had never been afraid of death.
He adopted a ready stance and began throwing punches
at the air, his golden skin already shining with the sweat of exertion. All right, he thought, throwing a
three-punch combination. Four Rigellian
battle cruisers. The Imperialer's sure to be his command ship, so that's where
he'd be, unless he has a planetary base somewhere in the local system.
Two fast kicks followed by a leaping kick. It's no good trying to take them on toe to
toe. The Silhouette's a tough ship,
but even I cant fight numbers that profound.
A leaping spinning kick that made his muscles ache
as he pushed against the gravity. Only
solution is to split them up. Have them chase us and pick them off one by one
or at least confuse them long enough to get aboard the Imperialer and find
Three fast kicks, balanced on the same leg, then a
twisting axe kick. Kienan landed hard and paused for a moment, taking deep
breaths as sweat poured off of his body.
"Off," a soft voice said in the darkened
Kienan's green eyes narrowed and he took a deeper
breath. "Silhouette," he said.
Silhouette stepped out from the shadows and tossed
him a soft white towel. "I want you to know," she said. "I'm
leaving now. You've got the information you need, and I have a mission to
"I hope it's close by," Kienan said,
patting the sweat off his face. "We're--"
"In Rigellian space," Silhouette finished.
"I know. You did you best to hide where we were going, but I remember
constellations, Kienan. And you have too many windows on this ship to keep a
"Clever," Kienan said. "Since you
know where we are, tell me we arent after the same thing. It's been . .
.awkward enough, having you here."
"I dont know who youre after," Silhouette said. "I know what I'm after.
We're close to a system where something very dangerous has been found. I'm
going to blow it up before anyone gets their hands on it."
"I see," Kienan said, walking towards her.
"Well, since you're tiptoeing around it, I'll say it: Dont get in my
"What makes you think I'll get in your
"Would you have mentioned it otherwise?"
"Kienan," she said. "I have to do
this. A lot more is depending on my completing the mission than I could explain
to you right now. Maybe ever, I dont know. If I started you'd think I was
crazy. Crazier, anyway. But I have to do it. Don't force me to choose between
the mission and you."
"Funny," Kienan said. "I was about to
say the same thing. Silhouette, you can appeal to the better angels of my
nature all you want. But if youre between me and my target . . .well . . .I've
just gotta kill you."
"I understand that you have to try,"
Silhouette moved close to him and drew him into her
arms. At first, Kienan reacted very stiffly, but slowly, he entwined his arms
around her and held her close.
"Is this what it's always going to be like for
us?" Silhouette asked. "Are we always going to be on opposite
"I don't know," Kienan said quietly,
leaning his head on her shoulder. "You know, I had a dream once. I had
finished my last job for the Blue Dragons. The last time I would ever have to
kill. I came home, my guns and my knife over my shoulder, ready to hang them up
for good. And I remember that the sun was setting as I made my way home. You
were waiting for me in the doorway, smiling. I can remember watching the sunset
cast embers in your hair and thinking, "This is where I belong. This is
where I can be." And I felt the sun and the world around me and I felt
like I belonged again."
"And then what happened?" Silhouette
asked, blinking back tears.
"I woke up here, alone," Kienan said
flatly, the passion gone from his voice. "And I knew that it was a dream,
and that was all it was ever going to be."
Silhouette ran her hands down his back. "It . .
.it doesnt have to be."
Kienan kissed her behind her ear as her fingers
traced the large "X" scar on his back. "Yes it does, Sil. And we
both know why."
Silhouette pulled back from him and looked deep into
his eyes, her own glistening with tears. She very gently pulled him towards her
and kissed him, softly, but passionately. Kienan returned the kiss with sadness
in his heart, because it was the confirmation of his dream.
It was a kiss goodbye.
She pulled away, and Kienan silently cured himself
for dwelling on how the nearness of her filled his senses like a shadow cast
"Goodbye Kienan," she said.
"Goodbye Silhouette," he said.
shuttle departed from the Ragnarok and
made its way to the drab blue-brown planet below. Algrim piloted the ship while
Voelker and Skanda sat at the passenger stations. Straeger stood alone, hanging
on to one of the passenger handholds.
"Welcome to Abgrund, gentlemen," Algrim
said. "Unofficially, the Outer Capital of the Rigellian Empire."
The shuttle pierced the atmosphere and soon their
flight evened out. Abgrund was beautiful, but very drab. Vast deserts, steppes,
and small oceans made the whole planet seem like a recovering wasteland.
"Not much to look at," Straeger mused.
"I wanted to take you this way to show you the
rest of the planet," Algrim said. "This planet is barely capable of
supporting a colony as is. Water is in short supply, the soil is barely arable,
the terrain often inhospitable. How people manage to live here is a mystery
even to us. Now . . .in a few minutes, we'll come upon our base of operations.
Skanda's people call it the Ghost Forest."
Straeger's red eyes opened in wonder as the base
came into view. The actual fortifications were nothing new to him --
prefabricated parts from the Ragnarok kludged together to make a
primitive fort with an airfield for offloading ships.
No, what astounded Straeger was the lushness of the
forest that surrounded the fort. He ran his mind through his lessons in
planetary science from praxia and found nothing.
"How is that possible?" Straeger asked.
"The planet shouldnt be capable of supporting anything like it. That
forest shouldnt exist."
"Youre correct, Agent Straeger, it
shouldn't," Algrim said, bringing them over the forest again. "But
there it is. I often walk in the forest in the morning. It's quite soothing,
actually, and breathtakingly beautiful."
"Indeed," Straeger replied. "But how
then is it possible?"
Algrim opened a communications channel to the base
below. "This is shuttle one, requesting priority landing clearance.
Clearance code zed-plural-Z-Alpha."
"Clearance code approved, shuttle one. Proceed
with landing. Welcome home, Warlord Algrim," a voice responded over the
communications unit in the shuttle.
Algrim turned to Straeger. "You'll find out
soon enough. You're about to see the discovery, Agent Straeger. I think you'll
find it lives up to, if not exceeds, the reports we gave your superiors."
"I should hope so," Straeger said
neutrally. "It is, after all, why I'm here."
Umbra departed from the Silhouette and immediately took a
parabolic course in the opposite direction, then doubled back and made their
way towards where the four ships had gathered. From a viewport in the
observatory, Kienan watched her go, still thinking about what she said in the G
Room. Part of him was cursing himself for letting her go, even more so for
threatening to kill her. After all, she knew how dangerous he was. It wasn't
like he had anything to prove.
The door to the observatory slid open and Mirage
walked in. Kienan could tell by her excited manner that she had good news.
"Kienan," she said. "We've figured out how to draw them off and
destroy them, but I have a better idea."
Kienan raised an eyebrow, still looking out at the
stars. "I'm listening," he said.
"We should hit one of the smaller destroyers
with a Parasite missile and break off. We'll aim for their main plasma gun and
then hide until the Parasite's seized control of their gun's firing system.
Once done, we turn the gun on one of their ships and it's one down, three to
"A small destroyer has a flight of five
fighters," Kienan said. "Can you handle them and the support
squadrons they'll call for at the same time?"
"We're working on that," Mirage said.
"But we may be able to draw them into a place where their communications
would be unreliable. If they cant get a message out to the other ships, they
can't send any more fighter squads to attack us. We're not trying to destroy
the ship, just keep the fighters and the destroyer occupied long enough for
Vain or myself to fire the missile at the right point. Then we run like hell,
they assume we've broken off, and we come back and spring the trap on the ships
they send after the destroyer."
"It's a good plan," Kienan said, turning
to face her. He fished in his pocket for a cigarette and lit it, taking a short
puff. "Where's our killing ground?"
"We're an hour, an hour and a half away,"
Mirage said, calling up a holographic map on the observatory table's projector.
"There's a gas giant a quarter of a light year from where the ships are.
Right about here. The radiation belts should fry their communications systems
as soon as they get close."
Kienan took another puff. "Do they know
"Not sure," Mirage said. "But the
plan is for Vain and I to force them to chase us as close to the gas giant as
we can get. Then they'll be fighting the gravity of the planet and us."
"That should take care of them fine,"
Kienan said. "Best not to destroy them outright in the planet's gravity.
If we do that, we've nothing to fall back on. Besides, we need a way to listen
in on them while we get closer, and the Parasite should do that nicely. I dont
want to go that deep into a war zone and find out he left two days ago."
"No," Mirage said. "That, plus I'm
not sure even our fighters could hold up against a gas giant's gravity for
long. Doesnt do us any good to destroy the ship if we're destroyed
Kienan looked at her. "Do you want me to go
along with you? I could handle the fighters, give you a clear shot."
"No," Mirage said. "We need you to
seed the third moon, here with a device Vain and I built while you were shooing
off that horrible woman."
"What is it?"
"A transmitter," Mirage said. "It'll
broadcast energy readings and sensor echoes similar to our fighters, but once
it's scanned, it arms itself and blasts whatever scanned it as soon as they're
in range with a high-yield gravitic fusion beam. That should take care of
whomever comes looking for us. Probably most of the moon as well. We went for
"Two down," Kienan mused. "Still
leaves us two ships to worry about, and maybe a ground base as well. Still a
little better odds than before."
"Kienan," Mirage said. "I hate to ask
this, but the woman, Silhouette," Mirage said. "Will she interfere
with our plans?"
"I dont know," Kienan said. "I think
she's headed in the same direction, but I'm not sure."
"If she does get in our way . . .what do we
Kienan took a long thoughtful drag off his
cigarette and closed his eyes, exhaling streams of smoke from his nose and
mouth. He thought about their warnings to each other and the small voice in his
heart that was telling him, begging him, not to make the only decision he knew
he could make.
"We cant help her if she decides to
interfere," he said, grinding out the cigarette. "If she gets in your
way, kill her."
stood on a balcony overlooking a great chasm. Thrust down the center of the
chasm was a massive black shape, like a tree burnt into dark ashes. Very subtly
it shifted in the darkness, almost as if it were breathing. Voelker and Algrim
paid it no mind, but Straeger, keenly aware of what to look for, thought of
he thought. It is like the Phantom, and like the sample,
only much larger. The shaft must go down for a mile, and Algrim said they
haven't finished digging it out yet. Much larger than the Durga ship was. It
must be equivalent to one of our heavy cruisers.
"As far as we can tell," Algrim said,
gesturing to the dark shape, lit intermittently by work lights spaced around
the shaft. "This is the cause of the Ghost Forest. This buried piece of
technology has essentially altered the ecological system of the ground above.
My scientists have scouted it and it's a nearly a perfect circle, and this is
the center of that circle."
"Amazing, isnt it, Heinrich?" Voelker
whispered. "Organic technology that can change an entire planet. No wonder
they sent us here. This is the key to conquering the galaxy."
"That's not the only reason they've sent
us," Straeger whispered as Algrim droned on. "How is the troop and
cargo transfer progressing? Are our people in place?"
"We're a little . . .behind schedule,"
Voelker said. "Twenty percent of our planned troops are in place on the Ragnarok and the Fenris."
Straeger sighed wearily. "And what about the
"Only five perfect of our people are in
place," Voelker whispered. "Indiga and her team just landed an hour
"This is unacceptable, Janos," Straeger
hissed. "Dont let your admiration for Algrim prevent you from doing your
duty to the Empire. I've ascertained that the discovery is legitimate, and I'm
certain Indiga and her team will confirm it. That confirmation signals the end
for this place, and for Algrim."
"I will not be lectured by you on duty,
Heinrich," Voelker said quietly.
"You shouldnt have to be," Straeger whispered.
"I don't mean to be blunt, but this operation is much larger than you or
I, or the legend of Warlord Algrim. I will accomplish our objectives by any
means, with or without you. You have to decide, Janos Voelker, where your true
duty is: to an old broken-down ghost of a former hero or to the Empire that you
serve and who has given you everything? Decide soon."
Voelker walked away from him, visibly angry and made
his way to where Algrim was standing on the balcony. Straeger sneered and kept
his distance, noting silently that Skanda was keeping far away from the ship.
In fact, he waited at the entrance to the shaft, easily fifty feet from Algrim.
If I didn't
Straeger thought, I'd say he was avoiding
Before he could consider it any more, his Lens
signalled an incoming communication. He tapped the receiver.
"Straeger," he said.
"Agent Straeger," Indiga's voice
responded. "We're ready for you in the base's science lab."
"Excellent," Straeger said. "Send a
telemetry team to this location for initial readings, I'm on my way. Straeger
Straeger cleared his throat as the communications
closed. "Your pardon, Warlord Algrim," he began, covering his words
with the mask of obsequiousness he had worn on the Ragnarok. "But I must supervise our science team and
co-ordinate taking readings for the ship with your own people. I'd delegate the
responsibility, but you know Oneirans."
Algrim looked at him for a second. "Yes, I do.
Skanda will show you where our science labs are."
"I'm certain I could find my way--"
"Oh no, Agent Straeger," Algrim said.
"I insist. Skanda doesn't much care for this area anyway. His people
consider it . . .cursed, I believe. Rather quaint notion, wouldn't you
Straeger nodded. "Thank you, Warlord." He
made his way to the service tunnel out of the shaft, Skanda following silently
behind. Straeger kept one eye on him, because Skanda followed as quiet as a
shadow and the darkness in the service tunnel would be the perfect place for an
They walked for a few minutes in silence, the
service tunnel began sloping up and Straeger could see daylight at last in the
distance. But there was one matter even more urgent on his mind.
Skanda reached out for him, putting his hand on his
left shoulder. Straeger seized the hand and rolled into Skanda, catching him in
the throat with an elbow strike, and slamming him against the side of tunnel.
Straeger willed his Lens to life, and a transparent blade of pure energy
appeared, pointed at Skanda's eye.
Skanda didnt even blink. He did, however, surprise
Straeger with what he did next. He spoke, and spoke in Straeger's own language.
His diction was horrible, and his words were carefully chosen in the manner of
someone unfamiliar with the language, but Straeger heard it loud and clear as
if Skanda had shouted.
"You and I must . . . speak," he said.
locked his helmet into place and took a deep breath as the suit's oxygen supply
kicked in and sealed itself around him. He climbed into the cockpit of the Starblade Reiven, keenly aware of the
weight of his cargo, slung underneath his ship's fuselage. The Silhouette was on the edge of the most
distant orbit of the gas giant's moons. In the other launch bays, Vain and
Mirage were getting ready for their parts in the mission by shielding and
strengthening their communications antennae on their fighters. Kienan strapped
himself in and began the launch cycle.
was lowered out into space and the launch frame released the ship into space.
Kienan started the engines and made his way to the third moon. His mind was on
the plan, going over and over the details and committing it to memory. Kienan
did this partly to memorize the details as best as possible, but partly because
he was having a hard time shaking the feeling of dread that seemed to be with
him ever since he and Mirage had talked about Silhouette.
Kienan was almost certain she was going to where the
ships were gathered, most likely to the planet below. What could be down there that was so valuable, Kienan wondered. What's down there that she'd be willing to
risk her life like that to do it alone? Her fighter's tough, but even it can't
stand against that any ships, never mind the number of troops she could be
facing down there . . .
reminded himself. She made her choice. So
did you. The Reiven slid into
orbit of the third moon and Kienan gradually brought his engines down as the Reiven moved into the shadow side of the
moon. Kienan hit the releases for the grapples and the device dropped into
orbit slightly below his fighter. He transmitted the signal and looked at his
readouts. It was on standby. The trap was set and the bait was laid. Now all
they needed to do was draw one of the ships in.
to Angelfish," he said.
"Are you two ready?"
"We're ready," Vain's voice came through.
"We've taken up positions in low orbit of the first and fourth moon. When
they come, we'll draw them in."
"Good," Kienan said. "Any sign of
-- wait." He looked down at his
scans. There was a ship coming into range all right, but going in the opposite
direction. Kienan did a tighter scan and frowned as the readout came into view.
he thought. His eyes went
to another ship, heading towards their position. One of the destroyers.
Silhouette was heading right for it, and from her course, the gas giant's
radiation had blocked her scan of it or she would have veered off by now.
His hands tightened on the controls of the Reiven.I could . . .
"Kienan," Vain's voice came back.
"There's another ship heading for the destroyer . . ."
"I know," Kienan said. "Hold
"Yes," Kienan said, willing himself to let
go of the Reiven's controls..
"We'll see how she handles it. I dont want to spring the trap just yet.
She's going to have to handle this herself."
thought you couldn't speak," Straeger said.
"I . . .do not speak," Skanda said.
"Not the same thing."
"Obviously," Straeger said. He held the
blade at Skanda's face. "So why dont you tell me what we need to speak
about. And do it quickly. I dont like being touched by inferior species."
"You have come here to kill him, the
Warlord," Skanda said.
"What makes you say that?"
"I heard your . . .talking," Skanda said.
"And he has said, many times, that if any came for him from his homeland .
. .they would be coming for . . .his life."
"Assuming youre right, you mean to stop me, do
"No," Skanda said. "To . . .help . .
.you. The Warlord, he enslaves my people. Makes us work in the cursed Ghost
Forest. Promises freedom but never gives it."
Straeger cocked an eyebrow. "Good reasons, I
suppose," he said. "But assuming I dont go to him and tell him what
you proposed right now, why should I trust you? Why dont you kill him?"
"It would mean nothing if I killed him,"
Skanda said. "I would die and someone would replace him. But to have an
honest agreement with one unlike him . . .perhaps that will free my people. I .
. .have no other options left.
"Free my people from the Ghost Forest . . . and
I give you my word, we will go."
"Your word?" Straeger said. "Why
should I trust the word of some desert savage like you?"
"Your people do not care about us!" Skanda
said. "You have come for the secret of the Ghost Forest, and you may take
it. I do not care. I ask for only one thing, that my people be freed and
allowed to return to the desert. You have slaves of your own--"
"Rigellians dont have slaves," Straeger
corrected. "We call them servitors."
"Let them work in the darkness," Skanda
said. "Whatever you call them. I care only for my people. Leave us be, and
take whatever you wish from the Ghost Forest. You are . . .unclean
Straeger smiled, and the blade from his Lens
dissolved. "When the . . .change in command . . . comes," he said,
choosing his words carefully. He decided to play conservatively. After all,
Skanda could just as easily be trying to set him up. But his thoughts carried
no deception that Straeger could see. "When the time comes, I will ask you
for a series of favors. After that, your people can die in that cursed desert
for all it matters to me."
"I will be close," Skanda said. "If
you lie to me as the Warlord has, you will die before the next sunrise."
"Likewise you," Straeger said, releasing
him. "Only I won't have to skulk about for my chance. Until I call for
you, keep silent. Then, when I am in command, your people will have your
"Your word," Skanda said.
"You have my word," Straeger said.
Umbra pulled away from the huge gas
giant and adjusted her scanners. The radiation had played such havoc with them
that she had left them out of synchronicity until she cleared the massive planet.
As the readouts came into focus, a small alarm began to chime.
banked hard as the missile moved past her. Silhouette righted the ship, tapping
buttons to bring her ship's defensive screens up. She activated her long-range
scanners and frowned.
derisively. Of course it wasn't going to be this easy. Was your mind on what you were doing
or on Kienan? What, you didnt think they'd guard the ship?
It was a Rigellian destroyer, Dorvack class, and it was coming fast into visual range, spewing
laser fire and missiles in her direction. Luckily for her, the flat shape of
the Umbra made targeting her
difficult, but she wasn't about to stay there and get shot at. She brought her
weapons online and rocketed towards the destroyer, which was even now sending
its five fighters to intercept.
Silhouette launched a volley of laser fire at the
lead fighter, punching through its shields and blowing it to bits as the other
four fighters broke formation, seeking to close in on her from behind.
Silhouette ignored them and banked towards the
surface of the destroyer, hoping that the fighter pilots wouldnt be willing to
fire at their own ship, and the destroyer wouldn't be able to bring its batteries
to bear on her. Not until she was able to draw them in.
The four fighters dropped into formation, skimming
the surface of the ship's drive section. Her scanners were blaring at her,
warning her that the destroyer was powering its main gun, but she held fast a
few seconds longer, then activated her rear missile launchers.
She threw the Umbra
into a steep climb as twenty small missiles streamed out of the rear
launchers. One struck one of the fighters and destroyed it, but most struck the
armor of the destroyer and covered her escape.
Once the remaining three ships were clear of the
blast area they were annihilated by the burst from the destroyer's main gun.
Silhouette turned and barrel rolled high and away from the ship, the
destroyer's gun batteries still tracking her.
care of the fighters,
Silhouette thought. Now what do
I do about that destroyer?