Gunmetal Black 3 Chapter 9 - Eyes Without A Face
Vain watched as
Cerberus' jaws snapped just inches from her torso, looked up past the body of
the mechanized beat at Jaevin and smiled. The jaws snapped at her again and
caught her, biting down hard. Vain felt her interior skeleton strain under the
bite of the robot demon and grinned even wider.
"This is the
end for you, machine," Jaevin said. "When I merge you with Cerberus,
I'll be able to study your strange technologies at leisure. A hobby of mine,
"What about my
... sister?" Vain asked.
"I might leave
her intact," Jaevin said. "I've been alone here for centuries ... the
concept of having a disciple is ... intriguing."
"You fancy ...
yourself ... a god ... or something?"
"I havent the
power of a god," Jaevin sneered. "I never claimed to. I am a prophet,
machine. I point life in a direction it must go in order to survive."
right?" Vain asked, feeling her legs go limp as her hydraulic lines were
punctured by the beast's jaws. She closed her eyes, and sent one last command
to her sister.
Jaevin looked down
on Vain through his spectacles with a mixture of disdain and sympathy. Lying
there, fluid leaking from ruptured components, eyes closed, she almost looked
like she was asleep.
he chided himself. Machines don't sleep. Still
... she is almost real. Real enough to die even.
His eyes narrowed
on her. It was strange, watching her pass like this. He'd never seen anyone die
by his command before. The people who perished thanks to his Apocalypse Weapons
were abstract, faceless, numbers on a data scroll too impersonal and too
faceless to ever truly be real. Before that, the few adventurers who'd come to
face him at the Haxan's request were so inept the Machine Golems or Cerberus
eliminated them without his intervention being necessary.
he thought. This is ... different...
Jaevin blinked and
waved at Cerberus. The beast stopped itself from chewing on the Marionette.
"The spells of
binding," Jaevin said, staring at his hands. The cybernetic implants on
his forearms were beginning to glow as they drew power again. "Theyre
gone ... my power has returned."
Jaevin, unsure this
was a dream, clenched his hand into a fist. He'd been so long without access to
the energies of the universe, he'd almost forgotten how to wield them.
What do I do
with this now? He wondered. It was a
question so simple that he felt like an idiot for thinking it.
It was a question
he'd never answer.
There was a sound
like thunder as the air above Jaevin's head seared, leaving behind a trace of
ozone. For a frozen second no one moved, not Jaevin, not Cerberus, not Vain.
Then Jaevin fell
backwards, his spectacles tumbling from their place on the bridge of his nose
as he fell backwards off Cerberus. Cerberus whirled around to investigate,
dropping Vain as he did so.
Vain, being closest
to the ground, hit first. Then Jaevin's glasses, finally the fallen sorcerer
himself. Cerberus turned around, his spidery legs scraping the ground as he
looked upon his fallen master.
Vain's eyes opened,
streaked by amber fluid. She smiled again, seeing Jaevin flat on his back.
Looks like it
worked. Vain thought, willing her
self-repair systems to patch the damage Cerberus' bite had done to her.
Unheeding her will, she enjoyed her triumph from one knee.
Cerberus poked at
his master with one of his legs, like a child poking their parents to wake
them. Nothing. He tried again. Jaevin didnt move. He scooped his fallen
creator in his arms, his baleful red eyes, looking into Jaevin's open, startled
eyes. He turned his master gently and saw the neat hole, the width of a pencil,
in the top of Jaevin's head.
Jaevin was dead.
The hole was so perfect it was absurd. No blood came forth, no tissue was
oozing from the wounds. No, whatever had caused it had cauterized its own
his master and reared back. And like any faithful dog whose master was lost to
him, he howled. As he did so, seams Vain hadnt detected in the bizarre machine
began to show, then split. Cerberus literally fell apart, unable or unwilling
to face life without his master.
Vain rose to her
feet. She frowned at her white gloves, now thoroughly soaked in her hydraulic
fluid. Her self-repair systems had patched her systems enough to operate at 65%
of her peak efficiency.
On the mend, but in
no shape for more fighting, Vain thought, clutching the Soulcaster as she went
over to see to Mirage. Vain's sister lay there unmoving, as she had for the
past few minutes thanks to Jaevin's spell. Vain turned her over onto her back
and searched her for signs of damage.
down the Soulcaster, she touched a greasy gloved finger to the side of Mirage's
nose six times.
Vain was crouched over her, and she looked like hell. She and Vain had endured
tough missions before, but Mirage had never seen her sister this banged up.
"How long ...
?" Mirage asked, her memory systems immediately compensating for the time
she'd spent shut down.
minutes," Vain said, picking up the Soulcaster again and rising to her
feet somewhat unsteadily. "Long enough."
Mirage looked over
at Jaevin's lying in the ruins of what had, up until a few seconds, been
Cerberus. "What happened?"
balancing on the Soulcaster. "You might say it's a case of Deus Ex
"You mean Deus
Ex Machina, sister," Mirage said, inspecting the corpse of Jaevin.
Vain smiled. "Marionette. It was Conscience who struck the final
thought the binding spells were proof against any orbital attack."
until I told Conscience to order the Haxan to drop them," Vain said.
"Then it was a simple matter of Conscience pinpointing Jaevin's power
buildup and targeting him."
"So my plan to
handle all this from orbit -- "
" -- Was good,
but you were thinking too big." Vain said. She straightened. 80% at last,
she thought. "Once I had the Soulcaster from Jaevin, it was easy enough to
deal with him quickly."
Mirage asked. She stared at Vain's damage. "Was that before or after you
lost your arm?"
Vain smiled. She
didnt have an answer. Instead she turned at looked at Ravenna, Illiel and Kayt
over her shoulder.
Reficul cradled the
data pack in his hands a few timed before handing to Kyra.
I've learned from the Sekhmet on artificial body construction," Reficul
said. He produced a large plastic case from underneath one of the worktables
and begin collecting his scattered data clipboards and other tools into it.
"Somewhat behind us in some respects but I think with a blend of their
techniques and my own ... I think Project: Avatar may be within our
"I can hardly
wait," Kyra said, staring at the data pack in her tiny hand. To the
untrained eye, she looked like a child attempting to work out the intricacies
of a puzzle toy. "It's a risk to all our plans for me to be away from
"I was under
the impression that was why Omega was here," Reficul said. "To
Omega glanced away
from the screen for a moment to regard Reficul. Then his eyes returned to the
screen, still freeze-framed on Sinclaire.
"Omega has his
role to play," Kyra said, walking over to another bank of computers.
"Just as you do, Doctor."
She brought up a
readout of Khitan's new machine. Her brown eyes cut back to Reficul, busy
filling his travel cases.
he was the last of the Sekhmet from that lander, Doctor?"
Reficul said, closing the latches on it and setting it on a loading cart.
"As per our agreement -- one pilot, the rest in nutrient blocks. I managed
to get away and clandestinely check the ship for extra personnel. I found none."
Kyra said. "These ... people ... who've been giving us so much trouble,
they've killed every Sekhmet but Khitan, correct?"
loading a portable computer onto the cart.
manage to stop them from wiping out the colony?"
Reficul stopped and
looked at Kyra. "Strangely enough, no," he said. "Whoever they
are, they care very little for the people of the colony so far as I can
Kyra said. She frowned. She kept it to herself, but she was worried. The
colony massacre, the involvement of the Sekhmet, all of it was proceeding the
way she knew it would ...
... but the
details were wrong. Most especially, the two strangers and Sinclaire weren't
supposed to be here.
At least that's
how I remembered it, she thought. No,
this was supposed to be a forgotten colony with a hotel full of reformed
criminals and six Sekhmet we'd arm with Reficul's technology in exchange for a
look at their own. To test their new abilities, they wiped out every human in
slaughtered the Sekhmet and we sent a distress call.
She looked at
Omega, his masked visage impassive, his eyes fixed on Sinclaire.
Things are the
same, but not quite the same,
Kyra thought worriedly. I dont like unknown variables. Still, they have all
but dealt with the Sekhmet problem for us. I should thank them.
And I intend to.
Whomever wins, I'll ensure Omega eliminates them swiftly.
All except for
Sinclaire. I hadn't intended to approach him so soon, but who am I to argue
with the hand of fate?
I've already seen the pages on which it's already written.
Behind her, the
loading cart whined to life, carrying Reficul's equipment to their ship. Kyra
turned to see Reficul staring at her screen.
see how your last model performs, Doctor?" Kyra asked, cocking an eyebrow.
"I've seen some quite impressive efforts on the part of both man and
machine tonight, Miss Sandoval," Reficul said. "I'm curious to see
who wins the final contest."
"Ahh, so to
you, this is a duel of opposites," Kyra said, giggling and betraying her
age momentarily. "And where do we stand in this battle, Doctor?"
"As you always say, to both absolutes, we are the challenge ahead. We
are the future."
Omega continued to
stare at the screen. Sinclaire was coming closer. He could feel him, like a
signal in his mind, growing louder with the nearness of his brother. He
couldn't remember being this close to his brother or sister, close enough to
feel them on this level.
What would happen
when he saw his brother? Omega had no answers. No one did. So Kyra told him,
over and over again.
knows the future, Omega," she
said. "No one but me."
"He was the
best of us, once," Illiel said as Ravenna and Kayt prepared Javein's body.
Vain regarded the
Haxan curiously. "If he was so great, why did you imprison him here?"
does not erase his life, machine," Illiel said. "He was brilliant,
even in his madness. That he wasted his gifts in this way saddens me and
diminishes our order. We were champions of knowledge once, separate from the
others. Now we are ... "
them," Mirage said, sidling up next to her sister. "You Haxan used to
set yourself apart from the races who sought your council. You wanted to be
outsiders, but youre not as different from the people you fled."
not," Illiel said.
"What will you
do now?" Mirage asked.
"We ... do not
know," Illiel said. "We are free but ... we have no purpose. We are
released from our mandate regarding Jaevin but a purpose further than honoring
our bargain is beyond us."
words, you dont know," Vain said.
Ravenna began to
chant, and the three of them fell silent as they watched Kayt and Ravenna wave
their hands over Javein's body, the cybernetic panels on their bodies beginning
Jaevin's began to
glow as well. Brighter and brighter they became. Finally, the glow seemed to
envelop his body.
Finally, Kayt broke
the silence, her face illuminated by Jaevin his body enveloped in the heart of
a nova-like glow.
darkness we are born,
From stars we
In life we follow
In death we
reunite in stars and darkness.
Javein, become a
Return to the
That we may
And one day,
flared once more and was gone. Kayt and Ravenna's implants stopped glowing and
the ritual was over. Vain noticed, despite the utter illogic of it, that the
very planet had seemed to sigh as Jaevin passed.
ridiculous, Vain thought. No
planet could grow to miss a lonely prisoner on it. That's as ridiculous as
... a machine
beginning to feel human?
Vain pondered it
for a time. There was no clear answer. Her future was as murky as Illiel had
found her own. The irony didnt escape her, but it wasn't quaint enough to
In fact, it felt a
her and Vain was jarred from her reverie.
Jaevin and recovering the Soulcaster we are in your debt, Vain," Ravenna
said. "As is our custom, we will grant each of you a boon."
Vain handed Ravenna
the Soulcaster. "Well," she said. "I'm reasonably certain you
remember the first one. Restore Jayla Kyren to her body."
Ravenna took the
Soulcaster and bowed.
"It will be
Sinclaire stood in
the back of the Vroom, holding onto one of the support handles. He could
have sat, but he didnt feel like it. Being here, this close to Kienan and
Toriares worried him. It didnt feel right, the three of them working together.
tried to kill Toriares six years ago and Kienan tried to kill me three hours
ago, it's certainly an unlikely partnership, he thought. Toriares, I could see, he's always been one to do the
right thing in his own way.
But Kienan ...
what kind of stake could he have in this?
More than that, there
was the buzzing he'd felt in the back of his brain for the last few minutes, a
pressure just behind his eyes. Pressure that was getting stronger the closer
they got to the control center.
What could be
waiting there? And why was the feeling so familiar?
He looked out the
forward canopy. Suddenly he was reminded of Silhouette for a reason he couldnt
place. Focus, he commanded himself. Focus.
The Ruby Vroom
streaked towards the command center, its forward weapons ports blasting a hole
in the outer doors. Kienan's eyes danced over the readouts.
readings," he said. "Whoever was here, couldnt be many of them.
Either that or they left awhile ago."
suppose they left on account of us?" Toriares said.
us?" Kienan said, looking over his shoulder. "I'm sure a Sekhmet
platoon would leave because their efforts to massacre a small colony were
thwarted by a beat-up assassin, his retired mentor, and an idiot with a stupid
hairdo and a set of steak knives on his back."
Sinclaire glared at
him. Kienan smiled thinly.
The Vroom moved
into the inner courtyard of the control center. It was an oval distance, desert
surrounded by various run down and half-finished constructions with the main
building looming in the distance. The structures cast long shadows over the
fine sand, like hands of darkness reaching for the small red shuttlecraft.
Kienan glanced at
his readouts and rearmed his weapons.
yourselves," he said. "Someone's coming."
Ten seconds later,
the Vroom fired it's weapons at the shape rocketing towards them from
the darkness. It moved so fast it was like a dark violet comet. Before Kienan
could return fire it had seized the hood of the Vroom and Kienan was
nearly eye to eye with Khitan.
Khitan engaged his
rocket boosters, pushing them hard enough to upend the Vroom and send it
spinning into one of the walls. Kienan fought the protesting controls as
Sinclaire fell to the deck of the Vroom.
Kienan hit a series
of switches above his head and the Vroom regained its balance. Kienan
fired wildly at Khitan, who slipped away from the Vroom's powerful but
slow-firing forward guns.
Khitan raised his
right arm. Now it was his turn. The fusion cannon in place of its right hand
glowed and blasted the Vroom with a blazing stream of energy.
Kienan banked the Vroom
in time to avoid catching the beam through the Vroom's canopy. Instead,
it sliced into the Vroom's port engine, nearly pulverizing it.
The shuttle hit the
ground, hard and Kienan hit the release button on his safety harness. "So
much for doing this easy," he said, turning to Toriares as he grabbed a
weapon from a rack behind his seat. "Looks like we do this the old
Toriares watched as
Khitan flew towards them. Toriares put his hand on the release for one of the
shuttle's hatches. "Another of those new types," he said quietly.
quietly to another hatch and nodded. "With a fusion gun," he said.
"He moves faster than the rest of them. Sinclaire?"
Sinclaire moved to
another hatch as Kienan watched him cautiously. "I'm here," he lied,
his thoughts focused on the now impossible to ignore pressure behind his eyes.
you keep him occupied while Toriares and I unload on him."
Sinclaire was about
to protest, but relented and nodded.
outside, his low-power rockets churning the sand as he floated a foot above the
ground like a ghost. He scanned the interior of the shuttle for signs of life,
but either the sensor suite wasn't calibrated properly or the shuttle was
proofed against it.
A shadow moved and
spiked every sensor in his suit. Khitan swerved to avoid his assailant as
Sinclaire landed, his swords cleaving the sand. He slashed at Khitan while he
was crouched, but Khitan was already a yard away, readying his arm-cannon for a
shot at Sinclaire.
Two modules on
either side sprang open and Sinclaire caught a hint of red in the spare light
of the courtyard.
maneuvering jets spat stabilizing charges as he righted himself to take his
shot. Sinclaire's muscles tensed, ready to move. This Sekhmet was built for
space combat, he thought. Its jets are a little too strong to work in
the atmosphere; that's why he's having trouble nailing me.
He reached into his
scarf for a handful of shurikens. Hit in the right place, I could blow his
arm clean off.
Then it happened.
Khitan was knocked spinning by the phalanx of gunfire as Kienan and Toriares
fired at the Sekhmet at that moment. Frustratingly it wasn't causing any
damage, just nudging him back.
Kienan grit his
teeth, his red-gloved hands slipping to the second trigger on his rifle. He
pressed it, firing a grenade at Khitan. Khitan's head disappeared in a plume of
fire and one of the machine's stabilizing wings was blown off but apart from
some scouring on his armor, Khitan wasn't damaged.
cartwheeled in front of Khitan to allow Kienan time to reload. Khitan narrowly
missed him with a burst from his arm cannon and would have taken him with the
second shot, had it not been for Sinclaire's attack.
Sinclaire by the neck and threw him aside like a dealer tosses a card. Kienan
rushed in and dragged Toriares off while Sinclaire rained shurikens on Khitan.
heavily armored," Toriares said. "But I think your grenade blew a wing
off the thing."
Kienan said, ejecting the spent shell from the first grenade. "I think we
can take him with the Vroom's gravity gun."
"How do you
imagine we're going to get the machine moving again, Kienan?" Toriares
asked. "This guy nearly blew one of the engines off, remember?"
"It can fly --
barely -- on one engine," Kienan said, firing another grenade at Khitan's
back. "Enough to give us our shot, anyway. Get in, get her running, and be
ready to take the shot when I give the signal."
"And what are
you gonna be doing while I'm doing all the heavy lifting?" Toriares said,
firing another volley at Khitan, trying to open up the damage Kienan's grenade
Kienan got to his
feet, readying another grenade. "I'm going to buy you some time."
Kienan glared at
him. "Make it fast."
"I think it's
better I dont answer that question," Toriares said, smiling. "I have
a shuttle to get running."
Kienan smiled and
charged over to where Khitan was tracking Sinclaire with a sustained blast from
his arm cannon. The energy release was so powerful it was fusing the sand to
glass under Sinclaire's feet.
Kienan fired a
grenade at Khitan's faceplate and rolled with Sinclaire out of the way. Khitan
made a noise that almost sounded like an expression of rage and raised his arm
Kienan aside and tried to tackle the still-quick moving machine. Khitan lowered
his arm cannon as he righted his flight and raised his left arm.
The clawed hand on
his left arm, rocked from its mooring on his elbow, launched by a rocket charge
towards Sinclaire. It struck him full-force in the stomach, shredding through
body armor, flesh and bone until he could feel the machine touching his spine.
God damn it,
Sinclaire thought in odd moment of clarity. This
had just healed. His hands tightened on his blades and he swung wildly,
slicing the claw's guide wire in two.
one of his swords and tore Khitan's claw from his stomach. Kienan rolled in
front of him, laying down a stream of cover fire.
bad," Kienan said.
is," Sinclaire said. If I'd been a little slower I think he'd have ...
killed me with this."
"Well, I hate
to ask you for favors," Kienan said, ejecting another grenade shell.
"But I need you to throw me into the air above this guy's head."
mad," Sinclaire said.
another burst from his gun. "It's been remarked, but I'm serious. I need
to get up and over him."
Sinclaire took a
deep breath, his internal organ healing painfully and separating again as he
breathed. "Let me ... get this straight ... you want me to throw you ...
at the Sekhmet trying to kill us?"
you say so?" Sinclaire said, gritting his teeth as he heard Khitan's
rockets roar to life as he closed the distance between them. He seized Kienan
body and in a variation of how he threw him during the fight pushed his legs
against Kienan's stomach, propelling him high in the air.
Kienan soared high
above the Sekhmet, catching Khitan's eye as he flew over him upside down. As he
passed over the Sekhmet's head he aimed his rifle downwards and fired a grenade
into his thruster-pack.
underneath him, five yards away when the grenade exploded. Kienan landed wrong,
tumbling into the sand and feeling his wounds reopen, harsh sand slipping under
He stood in a
half-crouch, so sick with pain he held his rifle in a trembling hand. Khitan
tried to swing around and get in a position to fire, but upon triggering his
thrusters, he found himself flying into one of the small buildings in the
Sinclaire rushed to
Kienan and lifted him to his feet, bracing him with his shoulders." Kienan,
that was easily the stupidest thing I thought Id ever see anyone do."
sense," Kienan groaned. "Any machine with ... so many thrusters ...
needs ... a balance mechanism. Knock that out ... "
Sinclaire said. He heard a noise in the distance and saw Khitan blast his way
free. He had abandoned his flight-pack in the crash and was instead walking
back from Kienan to the Sekhmet and back again. "Can you run?"
Kienan glared at
him. "Two whole steps."
Sinclaire said. "You know, youre the last person I wanted to die
mutual ... but we're not dead yet," Kienan said, hearing the wounded whine
of lift engines behind them. The rear end of the Vroom flew past them,
and in the spare light of early dawn they could see Toriares at the controls.
One shot,Toriares, Kienan thought. Make it good.
There was a heavy
sigh followed by a humming noise as the RubyVroom's rear gun
armed. Toriares watched the display as it acquired Khitan and locked onto him.
Toriares muttered, flipping the fire control switch. "As Kienan would say
... go to hell."
The gun fired once,
sending a gravity-well shell screaming towards Khitan. Khitan, unable to fly
away at high speed, was struck full force. The armored suit blasted outward,
spraying shrapnel in every direction as the ground beneath hollowed out into a
glass bowl. There was a flat thunderclap, and all that was left of Khitan were
a few bits of metal.
turned about and Toriares hopped out, leaving the engine idling. He looked at
Kienan still braced on Sinclaire's shoulder.
"You look like
hell, Kienan" Toriares said, smiling.
Kienan said, reaching for a cigarette as he slid off Sinclaire's shoulder.
"That's why this is the last vacation that you pick."
Sinclaire looked at
them curiously. "This was your ... vacation?"
Kienan nodded as he
reached for his lighter. The effort was etched into his face.
"Unfortunately, trouble seems to ... follow us. But then ... you probably
what?" Toriares said. He walked over to the remains of Khitan. "He
had to be the last of them."
"Can you be
sure?" Sinclaire asked. The battle had taken his mind off the pressure in
his head, but it was coming back. If anything, the more he healed up, the more
pronounced it became.
showed minimal energy readings," Toriares said. "We would have picked
up readings from a ship or signatures off their battle armor."
they only send ... six?" Kienan asked, coughing slightly around his
sure," Toriares said. "But if there had been backup squads, they
would have swarmed us the minute this one trashed the Vroom. That's how
they fight. That's how they think."
"I dont like
it," Kienan said. "We should go down and make sure. Destroy the
command center. That way if any of them are hiding there, they'll have a hell
of a job digging themselves out."
Sinclaire thought. The Sekhmet might be gone but
this isnt over yet. Whatever's down there ... is calling to me.
some explosives on the Vroom that would flatten this place,"
Toriares said. "We'd have to plant them pretty far down in the foundry
them," Kienan said, tossing aside his cigarette as he walked past
Sinclaire towards the Vroom.
Kienan opened the
rear hatch of the Vroom and Toriares stood up, brushing the sand off his
clothes. Daylight's coming, he thought. Had it only really been a
He heard a heavy
thunk behind him and turned his head, only to find the point of a blade at his
throat. Toriares looked over at the Vroom. Kienan lay on the ramp,
unconscious. Sinclaire stood in front of Toriares, the point of his sword
resting on the retired assassin's throat.
"I'm afraid I
cant let you go down there," was all Sinclaire said.