Gunmetal Black 3 Chapter 1- From A Reflective Point Of View
stretched out on a bench in the large conference room, smoking a cigarette and
enjoying the silence. It was like the rest of his ship, shrouded in darkness,
the only light in the room came from small fluorescent bars in the walls and
the glow of holographic display windows slowly rotating above the table in the
was, to all appearances, an old dilapidated freighter, making its way through
the stars like a slow silver bullet. Inside, however, it was state of the art
-- Kienan had spared no expense to make his home as comfortable as possible and
as deadly as he was himself.
Kienan's home was
in the stars and he was at home in the darkness between them. From this ship,
he pursued his profession. Kienan Ademetria was the galaxy's most dangerous
assassin. And if he was sent after someone, no force in the universe could keep
him from accomplishing his mission. He cared nothing for borders, or obstacles,
or people sent to thwart him -- he was relentless, as inexorable as death
The legend that had
accrued around him didn't matter much to Kienan. He was merely doing what came
naturally. It wasn't a passion, or a craft, it was something he did without
thinking. It was a reflex response.
He looked over at
the display on the table. In a three-dimensional grid illuminated in ghostly
blue, there rotated a model of the local star systems, a stretch of space
called the Frontier. It was a relatively new place for humans like Kienan to
dwell in, sparsely littered with colonies and alien worlds, but steeped in
ancient secrets left before the human race has been born.
One of those
secrets Kienan was mulling over right now. He took a long drag off his
cigarette and blew a stream of smoke towards the holographic model, framing the
galaxies and space colonies in a nebula of pale blue-gray smoke.
Eight months ago,
Kienan had taken his ship to a darker corner of the frontier, to a dull brown
planet scarred with storms and impacts and footprints of races long gone.
Inside this planet was a place ancient and forgotten.
That was what Silhouette called it,
Kienan thought. But it was more than an old navigation tool. It was a model
of a chunk of the Frontier even the explorer ships hadn't found. An ancient map
of the galaxy.
Kienan said, staring up at the clear dome and watching the stars lurching
forward quietly. "Overlay the data we got from the Armillary onto the
starmap and plot a course."
the disembodied female voice responded. Conscience was the third of the same
series as Vain and Mirage. Not androids or machines in the truest sense, but
something unique, and something special. They were Marionettes, and they were
Kienan's family, not that either would admit it.
Kienan had no place
in his life for family, friends or lovers, so he said. But that hadnt stopped
him from doing all he could to save the women he loved, or stopped him from
saving Conscience when she was nearly destroyed.
It's a lot to do
for someone you don't care about, he
Kienan blew another
stream of smoke at the star model again and sighed. He hated dichotomy.
Axanar was a small
sprawling colony on a barren world on the other side of the Frontier. Used as a
jump station for explorers and colony builders, in the decades since and as the
colonizers had moved further and further into the Frontier, Axanar was all but
For the pilot of
the long golden ship that slid into the atmosphere like a metallic shark it was
just as well. The dull skin of the ship was battered by the hot winds of the
planet as it made its way towards a structure at the far end of the city. At
the height of Axanar's importance to colonial ambitions it had been a center of
ship repair and resupply, a place to turnaround ships and get them ready for
the last stretch of the journey deeper into the Frontier.
But now its
edifices were rusted and worn from the dust storms. It loomed over the city
below like a tombstone, but it was not at all tomblike.
The ship hovered
over a disc-shaped landing pad behind the main building and began its landing
cycle. The ship came to rest, small jets on the underside of the ship
intermittently spitting out exhaust gasses.
man in the red jacket had watched the ship come in from an alcove that led to
the landing pad. His indifferent red eyes observed as a ramp in the rear of the
ship opened. A small hexagonal box was wheeled out, followed by a being clad in
white and silver armor.
While he looked
like a man, the stiffness of its movements told a different story. The
white-armored being's face was a silver mask with two black eyes fixed in an
angry glare, framed with two black horns.
The man who had
been watching them stepped out of the shadowy alcove and walked towards the
white armored creature, sliding his fingers inside his black shirt and
adjusting a device around his neck.
They met in the
middle of the walkway, the man regarding the empty ebony eyes of the creature.
spotted?" The blue-skinned man said.
came the response, electronically distorted. "We were not spotted. Is
man moved aside to let the white-armored creature wheel the box past him. He
looked down at the box, reading the geometric writing on it. He looked back up
at the creature. "I've completed five units already, Khitan," the
blue-skinned man said. "Unit 6 is, due to the nature of the work, taking
longer. How many specimens have you brought?"
Khitan responded. "We work in -- "
"Units of six,
I know," the blue-skinned man said. "I know all about the holiness
you Sekhmet place in the number six."
"Then you are
also aware of our desire for this operation to be resolved with haste, Dr.
Reficul," Khitan said. The synthesized nature of his voice made it
difficult to determine how he intended the comment, but Reficul chalked it up
to the Sekhmet's natural impatience with what were, to them, slow-minded
Not the first
instance of prejudice I've had to suffer, Reficul thought, bemused and bitter all at once.
down at the shrinking shape of the prison below and sighed. It wasn't often he
got to see his sister, and even when he did, it never seemed like long enough.
He sighed as the
orbital ferry began to ascend through the atmosphere. He had been responsible
for putting her in jail all those years ago, He and Kienan, as a matter of
It was better
than the alternative, he thought. The
people I worked for wanted her dead. After five years of repeating it to
myself, it doesnt sound any better, though.
Hm, he thought, chiding himself. Good thing you quit
the syndicate when you did. When you cant make decisions without
second-guessing what youre doing. The slowing down your body does is just
confirming what you already knew.
He thought about it
for a while, tapping his cane on the deck of the ferry. Three years, he
thought. Three years since I left the syndicates behind. Three years since I
told Kienan he was ready to work without a net.
I think about
him now and I can't help but feel a little guilty.
His calm brown eyes
looked at the swirling atmospheric patterns outside the window as they finished
their ascent. He had never considered himself a family man, but spending two
years shaping someone like Kienan -- a prodigy at the art of assassination, if
such a thing could be said to exist -- he felt as though he'd come to know him
and even like him.
That's why he stayed
in touch. Kienan was gifted all right, but he was also the loneliest man
Toriares had ever known. And though he would never say so to his friend, he
pitied him. Even the bizarre extended family he had for himself on that ship
seemed like a pale substitute for the real thing.
The worst thing
for him is to be alone up there,
Toriares thought. I felt better about leaving when it was him and Silhouette --
they were in love, and there'd be more for him than just the life.
Toriares reminded himself. You saw the seams
showing in that relationship and got out anyway. It was more important to you
that you get out, because you were afraid you were losing it. Because you were
second-guessing yourself, because you weren't sure of what the next move was.
everyone always looked to you for the next move, you were afraid youd be shown
up as fallible.
He was jarred out
of his self-deprecation by a shudder as the ferry slid into the docking
elevator of the planetary space ring. He sighed and shook his head, undoing his
seatbelt and rising from his chair, gently flexing his legs.
He stepped off the
ferry and into the concourse of the space ring, turning instinctively to where
his ship was birthed. He had an eight-hour haul in Space Drive staring him in
the face before he rendezvoused with Kienan at Axanar.
And if the trip up
had been any indication, his mind wouldn't leave him alone for a second.
trouble with the past, Toriares
thought, his cane tapping along the deck of the concourse. It casts a long
shadow and it's always right behind you.
silently along the corridor to the main room as lightly as she could. She felt
infinitely more comfortable in her black and purple bodysuit than in that
swimsuit, but a simple change of clothes couldn't keep other, more ephemeral
anxieties away. Kienan hadn't asked for her and didn't much like to be
interrupted. But she couldnt help herself. She just had to know he was all
right and that he wasn't angry with her.
It was almost a
human reaction, she mused.
She had been
feeling guilty since the Nara assignment, when she'd nearly shot Kienan while
he'd hung on the back of the war machine. It bothered her more because as a
machine she shouldn't have made that mistake at all.
She was a machine,
after all. A machine made in the image of a woman, but different. Allegedly
perfect. And she carried herself as such. While Mirage was more than happy to
imitate the more annoying habits of Earth women, Vain took the other extreme.
Most people found
her the colder, more direct and controlled of Kienan's assistants. It wasn't
that she was built any differently than Mirage -- in fact all three were the
same model with cosmetic differences. It was just Vain's choice to hold herself
It works fine
for Mirage, she thought. She
takes the point with Kienan, and her recklessness suits her well. But she and
Kienan need someone to protect them. Someone strong.
She blinked. Almost
She pushed it from
her mind. Machines dont doubt, she reminded herself. Stop it. She tentatively
glanced around the alcove into the conference room, almost tense at the thought
of Kienan catching her looking in on him.
Kienan was asleep.
Vain tiptoed inside and walked over to the bench he was laying on. The
cigarette he had been smoking was mostly ash now, but Vain took it gingerly out
of his hand and stubbed it out, taking care not to disturb him.
She looked over her
shoulder at the display on the table and sighed. More data from the
Armillary, she thought, slightly annoyed at the memory of it. It's an
obsession with him.
Not his only
one. One obsession leads to another with him.
She looked down at
him. He looked almost peaceful. His eyes were closed serenely, taking deep easy
breaths as his long braid cascaded down his shoulder and snaked down his arm
like the hand of a lover reaching for his hand.
Mirage's voice called, Vain rolled her eyes, and if she could have reached
through the communication system to strangle her she would have.
here," Vain replied quietly and tightly, looking down to make sure Kienan
didnt wake up. "Do you mind turning it down a little?"
Mirage said, bringing her usual boisterous voice down to a bemused whisper.
Vain nodded. "What is it?"
"I just heard
from Toriares," she said. "He says he'll be rendezvousing with us in
about eight hours. Far as I know, Kienan hasn't gotten the Vroom ready
for the trip."
"I'll see to
it," Vain said, the familiar steel returning to her voice as her irisless
black eyes looked down on Kienan. She ran her hands through her blonde hair,
pushing it back over her shoulders. "For now, let him rest."
worried about him, aren't you?" Mirage asked.
Vain walked away
from Kienan's sleeping form and looked over her shoulder at him. "Arent
Mirage didn't say a
word, but Vain knew her thoughts as well as she knew her own. It was the
feelings she was having trouble with.
She looked away
from Kienan and walked out of the conference room, not noticing Kienan
half-opening one emerald eye and watching her go.
He looked over at
his hand, realizing he'd left his cigarette burning. When he found that there
was no cigarette in his fingers he looked back at Vain turning the corner and
walking out of the room.
angels, he thought, smiling a bit.
He looked up at the
stars and, after a time, went back to sleep.
The inner structure
of the control center was far from dilapidated. It was, however, sparsely lit,
because as far as the citizenry of Axanar colony knew, the control center was
deserted except for the maintenance crew that came in every six months to make
sure the automated climate control circuits were still running.
But deeper within
the control center was Reficul's lab, well hidden from tech crews or curious
civilians. In the spare darkness of the room were six frames, standing about
seven feet tall. Inside five of them were creatures who looked much like
Khitan, with certain changes made to each one. The sixth one was unfinished and
looked like the kind of skeleton one would see in a doctor's office.
Or the laboratory
of a mad scientist.
Reficul opened the
hexagonal box as Khitan watched. Though not able to read minds, Reficul could
tell the Sekhmet was already impatient and eager to finish his business with
him and return to his people.
The Sekhmet were
xenophobic aliens, who responded with swift and brutal action when their
territory was violated. They were insectile in nature and communicated near
instantaneously thanks to the hive-mind structure of their society.
That has certain
advantages, I suppose, Reficul mused, pulling a foot-long hexagonal cylinder
from the box. The clear glass was frosted with refrigeration liquid, the water
within was green with nutrients for the organism within.
your unit?" Reficul asked, examining the readouts on the side of the
cylinder. Khitan nodded. "I assume you'll want them transferred as soon as
again. Reficul smiled and handed the Sekhmet the cylinder. "Then I'll need
you to begin the de-hibernation cycle," Reficul said. "I didn't
design your machines with recovery units."
Khitan held the
cylinder in his hands. "Why were you unable to do this?" His broken
syntax made Reficul frown. Sekhmet was as hard for his vox collar to translate
as his own Oneiran language.
machines you gave me for a baseline didnt have them," Reifcul said,
pulling another one of the cylinders from the box. "If you had trusted me
with current examples of your technology, I could have perhaps incorporated it.
I didnt know about it, so I didn't include it."
trust outsiders -- "
"Not even the
ones you pay very well," Reficul said. He sighed and handed the second
cylinder to Khitan. He made his way over to a console near two of the frames
and began hitting switches on them. "So tell me, Khitan -- if your own
scientists could have designed specialized biomechanoids for your people, why
answer. He was busy deactivating the hibernation module. There was a hiss of
hydraulics as one of the frames turned around. The figure suspended in the
frame was armored in red, looking much like Khitan, but far more sinister
looking. Even dead and empty, it looked like it burned with rage. Reficul hit
more switches on his console and the spinal column of the armor opened up and
the forward sectioned leaned forward.
answer?" Reficul asked, taking the module from Khitan. Already the cylinder
was warm and Reficul could see and feel the organism within moving around as he
slid it into the carriage in the spinal column. "The problem, my dear
Khitan, is in your society."
There was a small
whirring noise as the armor moved back into place. It looked like it was
straightening up after a heavy load was moved off its shoulders. "The
Sekhmet's way is based on consensus and obedience -- whether from Queen or
drone. That makes you powerful, because you can move as one, swift to action
because thought and action are one and the same."
Reficul connected a
small hose to the back the red armor. And hit more switches.
"Unfortunately, it also means you are totally uncreative. After all, a
worker ant has no need of dreams -- it is born to work, to push dirt along the
tunnels of the anthill.
why you came to me," Reficul said. "Because I can dream when you
The frame began to
shudder and the armor within spasmed and shuddered. Like a drowning man
expelling the last of the air from his lungs it thrashed about, suddenly aware
of its ability to move. Finally it went limp. Khitan set aside the hibernation
unit and moved closer to Reficul, and if Sekhmet were capable of such things,
Reficul would have called his attitude as tense.
The orange eyes of the
red armor glowed. Reficul smiled and disengaged the frame. The red-armored
creature slowly moved away from the frame as Reficul reached behind it and
removed its umbilical hoses.
Khitan said to the red-armored creature. The red armored creature turned
towards Khitan and for a minute, the harsh, grating sounds of their language
filled the chamber.
turned to Reficul. Reficul nodded and looked down at his console. "My
systems show complete restoration. Life support calibrations are at 90% and
rising, actuation controls are at 98% and according to my data, the sensor
suite is fully activated.
tells me," Khitan said. Khitan walked with Toran over to the table with
the next hibernation unit. "Prepare Uragenax's unit for activation,
Reficul. We will activate him next."
"What of my
onboard weaponry systems?" Toran asked. "I am eager to give them a
planned," Reficul said. "For now you will assist us in activating the
forward, but Khitan waved him off.
Khitan warned. "You are in command of the scientific aspects of this
mission, but only I command the unit. That is the order of things. My men will
not respond well to an alien ordering them."
tightly as a massive green-armored unit was wheeled out on its frame. "Of
course," he said. "I meant no offense. Please explain to Toran that
the sooner we finish activating the rest of the units' suits, the sooner the
field tests can begin."
More grating noises
passed between them and Toran took the hibernation unit and began de-activating
it as Reficul opened the green unit's entry hatch. He pondered Toran's
uncharacteristic aggression, much more than the impatience most Sekhmet had for
Even for a
soldier drone that seemed positively aggressive,
he thought. But it's just as well. Soon the rest
of the units will be activated and they can test to their heart's content on
the people in the city below.
whatever else we have differences of opinion we have, surely my Sekhmet friends
and I share a common belief in the expendability of humankind.