Gunmetal Black 3 Chapter 2 - Man Of Constant Sorrow
The spinning metal
blade sank into the deadwood tree inches from Ariana Sanchez's eyes. Her pupils
dilated on the gleaming blade as if there were a real possibility it were going
to free itself and come after her again. She stared at it for a minute that felt
more like five and slowly looked to the man who had thrown in.
"I came out
here to be alone," the man said. He stood silhouetted against the sun, his
face in shadow, only his blue-green eyes and the sheen of sweat off his skin
standing out against the blazing midday heat. In his hand, Ariana could see
another two of the throwing blades, pressed between his fingers. In his other
hand he held a long sword, oddly shaped around the handguard and set with a
light green jewel.
"I s-saw you
come through town," Ariana stammered. "I've never seen a swordsmaster
before. I ... kinda wondered what you were doing here."
you," the man said, putting the throwing blades back into his belt. He ran
his hands through his grey-streaked black hair. "I came out here to be
"You could be
alone anywhere," Ariana said. "Why come to Axanar?"
His eyes narrowed
on her. "I came for the waters."
water here that the colonizers didn't bring when they settled," Ariana
the man sighed, sheathing his sword. "It appears I was misinformed."
fun of me," Ariana frowned.
the question," the man replied. "There's a difference."
The man looked at
her and sighed again. Ariana was young, seventeen if she was a day. Her eyes
were a deep brown and seemed to be steeped in a kind of darkness that shadows
innocence. Her manner told him she had lived on this colony all her life -- she
had grown up around the same people, and she liked it that way.
Except for a
curiosity about outsiders, he
thought. He frowned. He had seen that look before. Unfortunately the woman who
used to look at him that way hadn't been able to hold onto her innocence as
"Maybe I'm on
the run from the syndicates," the man said after awhile. "Maybe I
left behind a woman. Or maybe I'm some escaped killer from a prison transport.
In any case, no kind of person you should be associating with."
it," Ariana said. "I've seen killers. You dont have the eyes of a killer."
lot different from what you see on vids," the man said. "You wouldnt
patronize me," Ariana said, her voice rising a little. "You think we
dont have killers here? There's a whole building full in the colony."
he said. "I saw. I'm sorry. I didnt mean anything by it. I just... came
out here to be alone. I'd just as soon leave it at that, if it's all right with
yourself," Ariana said. "You just looked like someone who could use a
friend." She reached into the pocket of her baggy pants and tossed him
The man opened his
hand and caught it, his eyebrow raising in surprise. It was an apple, a
freshly-grown one too. A rarity on a barren colony like this.
Ariana looked at
him for a second then shook her head and turned back toward the village.
the man said, drawing his sword. He tossed the apple up in the air and slashed
at the apple twice, catching it in the palm of his hand. Ariana turned around
in time to see the apple split into four slices, cut so precisely even the
seeds inside were split in half.
"Thank you for
this," he said to her, the edge out of his voice. "Would you like to
He held out the
apple slices to her. Ariana nervously took one, her eyes never leaving the gleaming
sword in his other hand. She bit into one and looked up at him.
Ariana," she said. "My father runs the hydroponics farm at the south
end of the colony."
it," he said. "Lovely place." He looked at her and smiled,
sheathing the sword again. He took a bit of the apple and looked at her.
"And you can call me Sinclaire."
In the darkened
lower hold of the Silhouette, Kienan sat cross-legged on the floor in
front of the cryogenic unit. The shape inside -- vaguely female but at the same
time something entirely other -- looked down on him, haloed in pale blue light
and looking for all the world like an angel passing judgment.
But Kienan wasn't
looking at her. His eyes were fixed on his palm. In his other hand he held a
gold and silver coin on a chain and was lowering the chain onto his palm,
watching the metal links pool in his hands.
He looked at the
coin. On the face of it was a single Chinese character, "Angel." He
had given this to a lover a couple years ago. Jayla Kyren.
He held the coin in
his hands and looked up at the cryogenic unit.
But youre not
quite that dead, are you; he
silently asked the thing inside the chamber. You're in there, part of its
DNA, sleeping like a genetic ghost.
He rubbed the coin
between his fingers. And I'm planning to wake you up. I'm almost asking
myself what right I have to try. There's not a day that goes by I dont think
of what we were like together.
He closed his eyes.
A memory flashed behind them -- Jayla and he, their legs tangled together in
silken sheets, in the afterglow of an afternoon spent making love. Then another
flash, Jayla leaning against the same bed, her eyes rolled back in her head as
the arm-injector around her wrist pumped a dose of AHM into her. Then another,
him walking out on her as she threw the injector at him, her bleeding red eyes
streaked with tears, accusation on her lips.
He closed his hands
over the coin, his emerald eyes snapping open.
a voice called from behind him. Kienan's emerald eyes followed a trail up the
black and red bodysuit of Mirage. "Vain's finished loading the Vroom.
Youre ready to go anytime."
Kienan said, getting up from the floor. Mirage watched him, her eyes going from
him to the cryogenic unit. She saw the length of chain dangling from his hands
and immediately knew what was going on.
"As soon as we
know anything, we'll try to contact you," Mirage said, trying to sound
reassuring. "Though, I have to say, these aliens -- "
Haxan," Kienan clarified.
" -- The
Haxan," Mirage finished. "Well, the logic behind it escapes me. We've
been in contact with and studied the leading scientists in the field. Magic ...
er ... was never considered. I don't get the concept, Kienan."
think it'll work," Kienan said.
"I think the
odds are against it," Mirage said. "But you know Vain and I, Kienan,
if we can make it happen for you we will."
"I've spent my
life fighting the odds, Mirage," Kienan said. "And I know you will.
We all do what we're made to do, don't we?"
He handed her the
coin. "Take good care of it," he said. "It's all I have of her.
Found it in the bottom of a box full of torn photos." Mirage studied his
face as he said it. There was more, but se knew it wasn't her place to pry.
He sighed and
looked at her. "I dont suppose there's any way to change the plan
the information Silhouette gave us and the rest we found at the Armillary is
correct, the Haxan are dangerous to humans. They could kill you, or make you
kill yourself willingly. You cant expect us to put you at risk. We're your
bodyguards after all."
protect me from myself now?"
"If we have
to," Mirage replied. "But you've got my word ... if the Haxan try
anything with her, we'll make them pay for it."
"I guess this
is one of those times when being emotionless helps," Kienan sighed,
looking back at the cryogenic unit. He turned to Mirage. "There are times
when I envy you."
If you only
Mirage looked at
the coin. Kienan fumbled in his pockets for a cigarette and lit it, taking a
long drag on it as he walked past her. "I'll be in the docking bay running
a pre-flight check on the Vroom."
did that five minutes ago," Mirage said. "All systems green."
around the cigarette. "Then I'm gone. Good luck. And Mirage?"
not you succeed with the Haxan, I expect you ladies back."
"Where else would we be?"
The massive green
body surged to life, almost shattering the support frame it was encased in.
Reficul turned angrily to Khitan, shoving him aside and hitting a series of
buttons on his console and sighing as the creature before them stopped
"I told you to
keep the nutrient mix balanced once we brought it out of hibernation."
Reficul snarled. His red eyes flit to Toran, who stepped forward from the
shadows. "If you kill him before the machine can make the necessary neural
connections, both the machine and the driver are as good as useless."
machine looked much like Toran, only bulkier, with leaves of armor plating
covering most of its body. In the center of it's silver mask, along with the
standard twin horns on either side of it, a long black horn protruded above his
eyes, making his impassive features seem to be locked in a permanent scowl.
Khitan said to the machine standing before him. "Speak. Do you
turned to Khitan. "Yes," he said.
Khitan turned to
Reficul. "He is functional. No damage."
him," Reficul said, his voice neutral. "Now tell him to stop
struggling. Once I've completed loading the combat and maintenance data, we'll
unlock the frame."
Khitan turned to
Uragenax and muttered to him in their native language. Reficul would have
turned his vox collar to receive it but he wasn't that interested. There were
still three units still to bring online. And the matter of whom would pilot the
Reficul closed down
the data link and walked over to Uragenax, uncoupling him from the maintenance
frame and allowing him to move. Uragenax stared at him as he did this, offering
Strange, he thought, pulling wires and feeding tubes from the
back of Uragenax. He shouldnt be this docile for a soldier drone. If
anything, he should be as aggressive as Toran.
He stepped away
from Uragenax, looking at Khitan. His azure lips contorted into a frown. Clearly
there is more going on here than I am privy to, he mused. But we'll see
how long that lasts.
He wheeled another
unit out on its frame. This one was a sinister black-armored thing, so polished
light seemed to be sucked into it and so slight it seemed to be lighter than
any shadow it would ever cast.
right," Reficul said. "Get the pilot ready Khitan, and this time, do exactly
what I tell you."
crescent-shaped ship Chimera scythed through the sea of stars in
silence. Aboard the ship, Toriares set his final set of coordinates then
relaxed. While the safety fields in the cabin of the ship was designed to
prevent the danger of nausea and unconsciousness that accompanied traveling in
Space Drive, he had always insisted that when the ship shifted into it, he felt
butterflies in his stomach.
It passed as the
ship pierced the veil. Red lights streaked against black, shifting to blue as
the Chimera flew on. Toriares rested his hand on his cane, now collapsed
and resting on the arm of his chair.
Kienan had often
asked him why he carried a cane when everyone else in the galaxy packed a gun.
Toriares had given him a different excuse every single time. Once he had told
him it was a holdover from the sjambok his ancestors had carried in the African
veldts on Earth, both tool and weapon in one. Another time he had told him it
was something he had always carried as he recovered from a childhood illness.
And once he had told him he carried it because "it made him look quite
All of these were
true enough, of course, but not the whole truth. Growing up alone on the
streets of Khalis, a Khephren colony, surrounded by aliens and suffering from
bone deficiencies (a common enough ailment in humans born on worlds with
gravities different from Earth) he had learned to survive by his wits on the
streets, protecting himself with a simple wooden stick.
I hated those
streets, Toriares remembered,
turning the cane in his hands. I hated always having to fight off Khephren
sentinels, other criminals who tried to rob me. Hated the aching in my legs as
I fought them and how weak I felt. I could never win against hem, I could only
hold them off and run when I could.
Then a man named
Kolu had taught him the sjambok while his medicines healed the young beggar.
Toriares soon grew from an urchin living on the streets, to a man skilled
enough to attract the attention of a representative of the Blue Dragons, an
Earth Syndicate that was seeking to extend its power to the outer systems.
Toriares became an
assassin, one of the best. Until the day he met Kienan Ademetria.
plays cruel tricks on us, he
thought. The day I met my best friend was also the day I put my sister in
jail. At least I was able to guarantee her safety. I wonder some times if
Kienan would have pleaded the same case for me?
He didnt have an
answer to that question. Kienan was an odd man. Toriares called him friend, and
Kienan had, when pressed, said the same about him, but it was less what he said
and more what he did that truly told Toriares how he felt.
I was hard on
him some days, easy on him some days, and I cant remember how many times I had
to silence him before he could question a directive, he reminisced.
But if he held
it against me, he never said so. He's risked his life to save mine at least
twice, against odds Id have run from. Even when I told him to leave me, he wouldnt.
He thought about it
for a minute. Kienan was a criminal, a murderer who ruthlessly hunted and
killed his targets. Toriares had seen him shoot through an innocent woman just
to kill his mark.
most evil man in the galaxy is my best
friend, he thought, his lips slowly spreading into a smile. Toriares hated
dichotomy, but he knew a clever joke when he heard one. Even when the joke was
your story?" Ariana asked, wrapping her serape over her shoulders as the
desert winds picked up. The sun was high in the sky and a long night of
sandstorms looked to be on the way. "You're a ... professional
"That was the
plan," Sinclaire said. He sat against a large rock, the guarded manner in
which his spoke and set his eyes only on the patch of sand in front of him told
Ariana just how much of the real story she was getting. "I wanted to learn
the sword to be a hero. Go from planet to planet, right wrongs, that sort of
happened?" Ariana asked.
that living a heroic life is easier said than done," Sinclaire said.
"And that "hero" and "villain" are in the eye of the
"Is that why
you came here?"
"I came out
here to think," Sinclaire said. "I ... learned something about myself
recently. I didn't much like it. I needed time to think about who I am and what
I'm going to be."
"A hero or a
point, I just want to be a human being, Ariana," Sinclaire said.
Ariana blinked. It
sounded almost honest.
"I have to go
back to the city," she said. "Come with me? You could meet my father
... see the gardens ... "
down at the sands. "No," he said. "Thanks, but I should probably
stay out here. I don't want to get you in trouble."
"Suit yourself. Look ... if youre out here tomorrow, I could come back.
Maybe bring another apple."
"If you want.
I ... dont know where I'll be."
Ariana started to
walk away then stopped. "Whatever you think you are," she began,
marshalling the words with the courage to say it in equal measure. "Hero,
villain, or human being -- that's between you and you. But you can decide not
to be alone."
With that, she
began walking away, her boots sluicing through the sands as she walked slowly
back towards the city below. Sinclaire pondered what she said, then drew his
knife from behind him. His brow furrowed as he idly stabled the sand. Then he
looked up slowly as she walked away, sighed and got up from the rocks,
adjusting his grey scarf to cover his swords and his head.
Why is it
everyone seems to know the way except me? Sinclaire wondered, walking fast to catch up with her.
findings," Khitan said. They stood in an observation room, watching the
five Sekhmet below. Five of the units were activated, but errors had become
evident in their locomotion engines. To allow the machines to correct the
problem, Reficul had suggested they walk around in circles until they were able
to compensate for the deficiency.
to solve the problem, Reficul mused.
But it would give me time to question my Sekhmet friend.
support systems function at 98% efficiency," Reficul said. "Well
within optimal working order. No difficulties coding the units to the Sekhmet's
neural pathways, either, which is surprising given the older examples of your
technology I worked from. I think by tomorrow we can begin mounting weapon
systems on the units."
"You only gave
me five subjects," Reficul reminded him. "Unless you plan for me to
transfer you into Unit 6, I'm afraid you'll have to ferry it back to Dosa Hive
intended that I be transferred into Unit 6," Khitan said.
"I wont do
it," Reficul said. "Not until you answer some questions. Why are you
putting aberrant drones into the test units?"
Khitan asked. Despite his Sekhmet unctuousness, he almost sounded like someone
attempting to sound shocked by the mere suggestion of deceit.
them to be alternately willful, aggressive, belligerent, or meekly
obedient," Reficul said. "I know the Sekhmet mind quite well, Khitan,
and I know you breed your solider drones as reactive and obedient. They only
fight when challenged. They are, to use a human expression, spoiling for a
"You were paid
to build us specialized transport units," Khitan said. "Not to
only control on their aggressive tendencies," Reficul said. "Until
I'm assured that they're not dangerously unstable, I will not transfer you to
obey," Khitan said with certainty.
"You may be
right," Reficul said. "But until I know for sure, I shall hold Unit 6
as ... insurance. And you'll be my insurance against them."
Khitan stared at
him for the longest time, the black eyes of his machine studying the Oneiran.
After a few tense moments he turned back to the units below.
"The Dosa Hive
is an experimental colony," Khitan said slowly. "As you have been
working to specialize our transport machines, we have been working to create
specialized sections of out population."
breeding," Reficul said. "Breeding more than the soldier, worker,
Khitan said. "The six below will return to Dosa hive and be used to breed
drones designed to pilot their respective units."
Reficul pondered it
for a moment, watching Toran slowly go from a limping gait to a smooth walking
motion. "I can see the use of it," he said. "I can also see why
you'd like to keep it secret. It sounds like you're preparing to build an
The small red
shuttlecraft was raised into the travel pod on the dorsal section of the Silhouette.
Inside it, Kienan was busy staring at maps and star charts trying to find his
rendezvous point with Toriares. The Ruby Vroom was smaller than the
other ships they used on the Silhouette, and had no Space Drive of its
own, having to rely on the Silhouette's travel pods or a special one-use
module to travel faster than light.
"I'll keep a
special comm channel open," Kienan said as he checked the calculations for
the travel pod's launch trajectory. "When you know something or are on
your way, send a signal. One word reply. Let's not take the chance this will be
"Will you be
close to the Vroom?" Mirage's voice called over the communication
"Far as I
know," Kienan said. "But I'll key my remote receiver to relay it to
me whenever I am planetside. Then I can bring the Vroom and get back."
Kienan," Vain said.
reaching for the pack of cigarettes laying on the chair in the navigator's
station. "It's my vacation," he said. "What could go wrong?"
show up again," Vain replied.
"Far as I
know, she's back on Earth," Kienan said, taking a cigarette out and
lighting it. He furrowed his brown at the indirect mention of Silhouette.
"Far from where I'll be. Besides, she did give us the information on the
Armillary and the Haxan."
nearly got you killed rescuing her from a Rigellian base," Mirage said.
"You do have a
point," Kienan said, taking a drag off his cigarette. He sighed and leaned
back in his pilot chair, sadness around the edges of his eyes. He sighed and
took another drag off his cigarette.
I honestly hate
to go, he thought. But is it just
because of Jayla or because of Vain and Mirage?
he said. "Good luck. Please ... come back to me safe." Despite
himself, he smiled.
promise, Kienan," Vain said.
The travel pod
shuddered into position as the launch elevator moved it above the ship. Kienan
closed his eyes, taking another drag off his cigarette and bracing himself for
the launch. He tugged on part of his safety harness to make sure it was secure
as the travel pod's engines surged to life.
The travel pod
fired from the ship like a silver torpedo before it vanished into a shimmer of
red and blue.
And Kienan was
From the bridge of
the Silhouette, Vain and Mirage watched the place where it had been. If
they could be said to feel anything at all, it could be termed a quiet aching
Slowly the massive
ship turned in the opposite direction, it's maneuvering engines glowing
white-hot as it turned like a sailing ship in rough seas. The engines faded and
the Space Drive took over, and in a flash of red and blue energy, they were