Gunmetal Black 2 Chapter 7 - Ghost Of A Chance
wanted to see me, Warlord?" Straeger asked. He stood at attention, looking
at Algrim reclined behind a massive desk. Behind them, he could see the Ghost
Forest and the yawning chasm below where they were excavating. Odd, Straeger thought. I've not been down there for hours and all I
can think about is getting back.
"Yes," Algrim said. "It's about the
discovery we've made."
"Pardon my impertinence sir," Straeger
said. "But I'd think youd know more about that than I would."
"I know everything about it," Algrim said,
slowly rising from his seat. "What concerns me is what you and your
masters in Black Lens intend for it."
"Well, we intend to better serve the Empire
with what we learn from it," Straeger said. "Theoretically, the
applications are unlimited."
"That's nothing but an empty phrase,"
Algrim said. "I know what you've done with discoveries like this is the
past. You'll strip-mine every military application out of it and ignore the
potential it offers us for making the worlds of the Empire paradise."
"Strength is to everyone's benefit,
Warlord," Straeger said. "You of all people, I would assume, would
"I understand the need for battle, and the need
for conquest," Algrim said. "But conquest is not achieved solely by
wanton destruction. True conquest only comes from your enemies accepting your
"Indeed," Straeger said indifferently.
"In any case, you needn't question me about Black Lens' intents regarding
your discovery Algrim, because I honestly have no idea. I'm an Agent. The
lowest rung on the ladder. They tell me only what they wish to, and then only
what is necessary to complete my mission."
"And what is your mission?"
Straeger stared at him. "You know my mission,
"That is not an answer Agent," Algrim
said. "As your superior officer, I am ordering you to disclose the details
of your mission."
"My mission is to ascertain the value of your
discovery and report back to Durga for review of our test data," Straeger
said. "Just as I told you aboard the Ragnarok."
"And Warmaster Voelker?"
"Ask him," Straeger said. "We're on
the same mission, but his orders come from the Military Directorate, mine from
Black Lens. I wouldnt be privy to the details of his mission except those
directive that coordinate with mine."
Algrim searched Straeger's face for any sign of
deception for what felt like an hour at least. Straeger kept in his stance,
calm and relaxed.
"So if he were under orders to kill me,"
Algrim mused. "You would have no knowledge?"
"What makes you think he's here to eliminate
you?" Straeger asked, genuinely surprised at where Algrim's logic seemed
to be going.
"Little things," Algrim said. "The
man follows me around everywhere when he's on the base, insists on coordinating
patrols from the Ragnarok and his own
ship, and he seems to hang on my every word. I spent little time at court
Straeger, but no one wastes that adoration on an old, disgraced soldier without
No onesane, in any event, Straeger pondered. Still, if he's willing to confide in me, it seems too good a blind to
pass up. "Would you like me to ascertain the particulars of his
"I want you to scan him," Algrim said.
"I cant do that my lord," Straeger said.
"Telepaths are bound by law against scans to judge loyalty. Or latitude
for it even in legal matters is very small."
"Who is to know?" Algrim demanded.
"What I know is this: I will not allow anyone to stand in the way of this
discovery's true potential. I will bring paradise to our Empire, Straeger. I
will return home with it in my hands --the warrior who paves worlds over with mercy. Do you understand?"
Straeger fought the urge to sneer at his blustering.
"Of course sir. While legally I'm bound from full scans unless criminal
intent is proven, I can judge his veracity by questioning him."
"Good enough," Algrim said. "For now.
I--" He was interrupted by a klaxon that reverberated steadily through his
office and halls beyond. Algrim tapped a keypad. "Tower, this is Algrim.
What is our situation?"
reported contact with a ship on the edge of our system, sir," the voice
came back. "They have engaged, and Warmaster Voelker is readying his ship
to assist the Garm."
"What type of ship?" Algrim asked.
"A small heavy-fighter class," the tower
responded. "Unknown configuration."
threw the Umbra hard to port,
narrowly avoiding the two missiles the destroyer was firing as she flew in
retreat out of the system. While most of her weapons were sufficient against
fighters, she knew the Umbra couldnt
take on a destroyer head to head and expect to win. Or survive.
Her blue-green eyes flit over her readouts,
searching for something that could help her. She silently cursed herself for
not trusting Kienan more, this was certainly more his area of expertise. Kienan
made sure that his ships could, through guile or raw power take on a capital
ship. Silhouette preferred to slip past them if at all possible.
Obviously, stealth wasn't an option anymore. Her
eyes shifted to her sensor readout and narrowed on the data from the planet
before her. A class 5 gas giant, she
thought. Might be enough to destroy it,
but I'll have to get closer too. Might destroy myself trying to get the ship.
Another volley of missiles. Silhouette activated her
countermeasures and blew them up, heading as fast as she could for the orbit of
the gas giant. She put as much power into the shields as she dared, even though
they would be less than useless as she got closer to the gas giant. One hit
would send her into the gas giant, and the gravity would crush her.
She shook the risk from her mind, and turned and
attacked, sending volley after volley of laser fire at the destroyer. The
destroyer returned fire with its gun batteries as the ship sank even lower.
That's it, she thought, eyeing her
proximity sensor. Get mad. Get mad enough
to follow me. C'mon . . .
slipped into the atmosphere of the planet and nearly every sensor blew out at
once. Silhouette kept her hands on the controls, feeling how heavy and sluggish
her fighter was. The proximity sensor displayed the position of the destroyer
as it moved closer and closer. Silhouette concentrated on the feeling of the
gravity against her. I can bounce free of
the atmosphere and move away if I can just time it right . . .
She narrow missed a heavy laser beam as it scythed
by her. Above her, readouts were shorting out as the spaceframe fought the
gravity and lost. Almost she thought.
Almost . . .NOW!
engines roared to life like a white-hot star as it bounced off the atmosphere
and into orbit, then swooped away. The destroyer attempted to change course,
but it was no fighter and its engines couldnt respond fast enough. It sank
below the purple and red gases of the planet, and finally, with an almost
anticlimactic subdued plume of fire, imploded.
Silhouette bit her lip, trying to ignore the shorted
out system that was intermittently spitting out sparks at her eyes. Her
proximity sensors showed one ship following the destroyer's trajectory and she
immediately plotted a course opposite and made her way quietly to the planet
that lay beyond. She didnt think she had another battle with a warship in her
today. No, she thought. I'll need all my strength for the mission,
which ought to make destroying that ship feel like child's play.
watched the Umbra depart and
cancelled the weapons lock he had kept on her since she had come into orbit of
the gas giant below him. He sighed. More than anything he wanted a cigarette.
Well, more than anything he wanted this mission to work the way it was supposed
to. But since that seemed to be an impossible dream at best, he would have
settled for the cigarette.
Angelfish," he said bitterly. "I think our trap's useless now. We'll
move in closer to the third planet. Keep out of scanning range of anything that
even looks like a ship. Maybe they'll be so intent on finding out what happened
to their sister ship we'll go right past them."
"And Silhouette?" Vain asked.
Kienan closed his eyes. "I'll deal with her if
she gets in our way. But not until she forces the issue. You see her, let her
go. This is going to be difficult enough without getting into a firefight with
her and drawing everyone's attention to us? Clear?"
"It's clear," Mirage said. "We're
getting underway now. See you there."
Kienan closed the channel and fired up his main
engines, plotting a course that kept him in the shadows of any celestial body
that would hide him as he approached the planet. It would take longer, but it
would save him trouble later on.
He thought about Silhouette. More specifically, he
thought about her manoeuvre at the gas giant. He tried to fight the smile that
crept across his lips, but he decided to let it go. He was proud. After all, he
had taught her that manoeuvre during one dangerous joyride in an old Kestrel-class fighter. He remembered how
scared she had been when they hit the atmosphere and the systems started to
blow, and how she reached out for him, scared, needing reassurance . . .
The mission, he reminded himself, taking
a deep breath. That's all that matters.
Keep your mind on the mission, that's what's screwing you up.<
He cursed himself for still being vulnerable to her.
What was it about her that caused his guard to drop? Even when they had been
together in the G-Room, he had felt the familiar butterflies in his stomach
when she touched him, and knew that he had wanted more than for her to touch him.
He wanted her to go away, but part of him wouldn't push her away with all the
strength necessary. Pieces of himself kept getting pulled along when she left.
I should hate
her, just by association, he thought. Just for cozying up
to that bastard Sinclaire like she did. What could she have possibly seen in
him that I couldnt have offered her? And if was so good why did she
(come back to
leave him? And
why did I let her go again? Was I trying to prove I didn't need her?
"DAMMIT!" Kienan exclaimed, slamming his
hand against the canopy. He sighed. His mind was wandering again. He willed
himself again to push her out of his thoughts, but he knew his resolve would
crumble in time. He looked at his navigation computer. Twenty minutes to
target, five minutes elapsed.
Kienan sighed and tried to think of something else.
watched Algrim barking orders at the center of the tower, surrounded by
technicians and master situation displays charting the path of the intruder and
the path of the Garm. He remained a
calm, bemused center surrounded by a storm of activity. The Garm had ceased relaying messages ten
minutes ago, and Straeger watches two technicians argued whether it was the gas
giant's radiation belts rendering it's communications useless or if the
intruder had destroyed it.
Straeger didn't care one way or the other, he was
too busy analyzing what effect this would have on his own plans. He ultimately
decided it couldnt be better for them. Another way to keep Algrim distracted
and inadvertently allow Straeger to get closer to him. He didnt see any need
to make Algrim's end especially violent --in truth he almost pitied him and his befuddled idealism.
"My lord," Straeger said. "If I may
suggest a course of action?"
"Anything you can offer would be appreciated,
Agent Straeger," Algrim said, waving away the two squabbling technicians.
Behind Algrim, Skanda looked over his shoulder at Straeger.
"Well," Straeger began. "As effective
as the Malios and the Fenris will be patrolling the system,
respectfully, they're looking for a needle in a haystack, as the Earthers would
"As I understand it, this is a heavy fighter,
piloted by someone with enough skill to destroy a flight of fighters from your
ship, and possibly even the Garm,"
Straeger began. "Fighters became used extensively against capital ships
because their manoeuvrability made it hard for a ship's gun batteries to track
them. Likewise, the more rapid-manoeuvring fighters can easily thwart a
standard Rigellian targeting computer on a starship."
"Obviously," Algrim said. "Then what
do you suggest?"
"We should scramble every fighter at our
disposal -- here on the airfield, on
the Ragnarok, the Fenris, the Malios and have them sweep the system."
"Well, how will fighters succeed where our
starships can't?" Algrim said.
"Fighters know what to look for, and their
targeting systems are capable of engaging the intruder. At the very least,
they'll draw the intruder out and give the warships time to rendezvous with the
fighters and finish off the intruder."
Algrim looked at Straeger for what felt like five
minutes. Straeger momentarily wondered if Algrim were telepathic. It would certainly explain his instability,
he thought. Some of it, anyway. Come on
Algrim . . .see the wisdom in it . . .
Algrim finally turned away and gave the order to the
tower to begin scrambling the base's fighter wings. Excellent, Straeger thought with a sense of relief. Now for the next two steps.
He looked at Skanda, who was now staring at him full
on. Straeger reached out very gently with his mind. Dont speak, he said silently. I'm
in your mind.
me of your kinds' abilities,;
Skanda thought. There
is . . .more pain . . .than I imagined.
Your minds are
difficult to speak to,Straeger said. If you don't keep
your thoughts relaxed, I could kill you. It's time. Gather your men. Wait until
the fighters launch from the airfield and start your distraction. Do you
people will have their freedom soon.
"My lord," Straeger said. "I wish to
have my personal fighter prepared for launch as well. The Phantom's sensor suite is more sensitive than the standard packages
available in our standard fighters. In addition, I can track the intruder in
"Excellent," Algrim said, waving him away.
"Get your launch cycle underway. But . . .according to the tower, youre
last in line to be one of the last going up."
"That's fine sir," Straeger said. "I
have one more stop to make as it is."
Vain said over his communicator. "We've got trouble. Two more ships coming
in, and they're launching fighters. Forgive me for saying so, but your
ex-girlfriend has compromised us without even realizing it."
"I know," Kienan said, arming his weapons.
"But if we're lucky, we can slip past the first wave at least without a
fight. There's a pulsar at 124 by 200 by 70 . . .let's fly close by it to shake
their sensor trails."
"Confirmed," Mirage said. "The first wave
is on the other side of the pulsar, and I dont think they've seen us. Theyre
heading away, moving towards the gas giant. Maybe our trap will get sprung
"Maybe so," Kienan said. "Now listen.
We go in ready for a fight, but our first priority is to get back to the
planet. Kill as many fighters as you have to, but remember, we're on a
timetable ladies. We're trying to narrow down the places Algrim could be
-- he's either on his ship or on a base
below. We're not here to battle fighters."
"Roger," Vain said. "I have an idea
on how to search the command ship. Kienan, I suggest we break formation. With 4
fighters to chase instead of a group of three they'll have a harder time
nailing us down. And it really only matters that one of us gets through."
"I understand," Kienan said. "Ladies,
dont get yourself fragged."
"As if a little thing like death could keep us
from your side," Mirage said. "We'll see you on the planet,
The two Angelfish fighters broke off from Kienan's
flight path, each taking oblique paths to the same goal. Yes, they felt they
belonged at his side, and would die to protect him. It didnt mean he was in
any hurry to see them go. They were, in the end, all he had, and he was as
devoted to them as they were to him. He just rarely showed it.
How else can
you explain all the trouble I took to make sure Conscience survived nearly
being destroyed by that alien so long ago? And it's good to know they'll never
leave. Not like . . .
focus on the mission.
cleared the pulsar and made its way to the planet. Kienan could detect a ship
guarding the planet, but only one. Good
to know something had gone right, he thought. If I can find a low orbit point, I can enter the planet's orbit on the
far side and be on the ground before they even know I made it in.
He gunned his engines. Here's hoping he's on the planet and I'm not going down there for
brought the Umbra into the atmosphere
under no power, just under the aft of the Ragnarok.
Blanketed by the massive ship's exhaust, no one detected the Umbra's dive into the atmosphere. Once
in, Silhouette activated her scanners and searched for an energy signature like
the one that had brought her so far.
She didnt have to wait long at all. Twenty kilometers from here, south by
southwest, she thought. Now let's
find a place to quietly set down . . .
came to rest in the center of a small ring of rocks, its landing struts sinking
into the fine desert sand. Silhouette set to work, shutting down he systems and
lowering herself down from the cockpit.
As the cockpit closed behind her, she opened the
rear cargo hold. First she grabbed her silver pistol and her knife, holstering
both of them on the places on the thighs of her suit. The she grabbed her laser
rifle and a bandolier filled with explosives, which she strapped around herself
as she shut the hold and checked the rifle. She climbed up onto the rocky
circle and lay on her stomach, peering through the viewfinder at the compound
that protruded from the forest.
she thought. Better armed than your
average garrison, but only foot patrols. Those I should get past easy, but
it'll get worse the closer I get. Which I dont know where I'm going because I
cant see it. Girl, you set the bar too high for yourself.
She slipped the rifle onto her back and pulled the
hood of her suit over her face to keep the sand out. Once that was done, she
made her way, walking in a catlike crouch, towards the compound, searching for
a gate or some way she could slip inside without attracting any attention.
banked slowly below the Ragnarok, narrowly
dodging another fighter squadron before she slipped out of sight. Only ten, she thought. A light workout, but if we're to get to the
planet, it's business before pleasure. Now let's see if I can't eliminate one
of the possibilities and get a scan of the ship.
Vain skimmed the surface of the Ragnarok, keeping her position so constant as not to trip the
massive battleship's proximity alarm.
At least, not until she was ready. The ship drifted
slowly over the mile-long underside of the Ragnarok, until Vain's cold eyes
narrowed on her target. It was a dangling mast of antennae . . .the central
sensor node, where all data --
communications, defense, planetary data was sent in a direct like to the
Ragnarok's computer core.
Vain released two small missiles from the underside
of her Angelfish fighter without triggering their launchers. They drifted
towards the sensor node and Vain banked the Angelfish at a near-90 degree angle
towards the planet below.
While the Parasite weapon intended for the trap was
as good as useless now with them so close to their objective below, Vain was a
big believer in planning ahead. After all, they would still have to deal with
this cruiser on their way out.
would go so much smoother if it were on their side, Vain reasoned. As the
Angelfish was pulled into a hard bank that would have killed a normal pilot,
Vain calmly tapped buttons on her console.
going to tell me it's a 100% match," Straeger said, slipping off his
glove. He stared at Indiga indifferently as he lay the weapon on the table.
"Youre going to say, "That's right Agent Straeger, this is a better
preserved version of the organic technology found at Durga."
"I thought you had a low psi rating,"
Indiga said, crouching over two dishes of samples from the ship.
"I don't need to be a telepath
to know that," Straeger said. "Algrim calls this a place of destiny.
I'm beginning to think he's correct."
Straeger disassembled his lens weapon, his eyes
darting about the room. Of course, he
thought. All the troops have been
scrambled to perimeter duty in case the intruder gets past the fighters and the
starships. And this is a low-priority section . . .
"How much is there?" Straeger asked,
opening the liquid battery source for the Lens.
"Well, they havent hit bottom yet, but from
what we've uncovered, there's enough to complete 100 of the Phantom-type fighters," Indiga
said. "And it should be easier this time, because these samples are so
fresh. Once they got in the lab and we did a side-by-side comparison with the
Durga sample, they almost burst the dish trying to merge with it."
"Really?" Straeger asked, moving towards
her. "Can you show me?"
"Yes," Indiga said, sliding the three
dishes into a line. She pointed to the one in the middle. "That's the
Durga sample. The other two were taken from the ship earlier in the day."
Straeger smiled. "Is that right?"
Then he seized her by the vox collar and slammer her
head into the lab table causing the specimens to bounced with the shock. He
yanked her up by the hair and stared into her face. She was dazed, but still
He tore the vox collar off of her neck and drove a
chop against her neck. She drew in breath in shock as much as pain, but before
she could, Straeger seized her around the neck, gently squeezing as he reached
into her mind, overstimulating her sleep centers and blowing synapses. Finally,
he let her drop to the floor. They'll
find her after the business with the intruder, he thought. But they'll assume it was something else.
Skanda will see to that.
He picked up the center dish and walked over to
Indiga's vox collar, grinding it under his heel. There was a hiss of
electricity and a quiet shattering of circuits. Since every vox collar has to be specifically calibrated, she wont be
able to tell anyone the truth until I'm ready for her to. At least in any way
anyone important will understand.
He poured the sample inside the empty fuel cell for
his Lens. It roiled and thrashed about as he closed the assembly and put the
And then it was Straeger's turn to double over in
pain. Darkness blasted through his mind with the force of a house being
obliterated by a hurricane. Information ancient and unknowable flooded his
mind. Images from his own life coalesced with images in the shadows of
forgotten time, and just as suddenly as they began, it was over.
Straeger got his bearings again, finding himself
laying on the floor, staring at Indiga, unconscious and bleeding a few feet
away. Straeger felt himself bleeding and placed a white-gloved hand to his face.
Yes, he thought. Blood from my nose. But why?
He looked down at the lens on his arm and smiled,
understanding what had happened. But before he could fully muse on the
possibility of having a weapon more powerful than anyone, even Riven and
Algrim, could comprehend, a signal came through.
" . . . Agent Straeger, please respond!"
It was the tower commander.
"This is Straeger," he said, trying to
compose himself. "Go ahead."
"Youre clear for launch," the tower
commander said. "Some of our fighters report positive contact with the
Straeger's brow furrowed. "Tower, please
confirm: I thought there was only one
"So did we. But our fighters are detecting
three, coming in fast and moving to engage."
Straeger's red eyes opened wide. One intruder was
enough to help his plans along. Three was a complication he didnt need,
especially since in ten minutes, Skanda's people were going to attack this
compound. Clearly, Straeger should be elsewhere getting his plans back in