Gunmetal Black 3 Chapter 3 - Shadow On The Road Behind
Vain and Mirage
stood before the frozen form of the woman in the cold room, both of them
staring at the temperature status indicator on the side of the unit.
"Are you sure
this is a good idea?" Mirage asked.
Vain raised an
eyebrow, punching a series of keys on the control unit. "Not really, but I
want to be sure that Conscience's control of Jayla-2 is complete. If we do meet
these Haxan, we'll have to move her, and Id rather have her walk out on
Mirage said. She was nervous. It had been a year since Kienan had injected
nanoprobes from one of their sisters into Jayla-2. Once altered sufficiently
they had allowed Conscience to move the clone's muscles and keep her docile.
Save for a few
small tests over the months, they had kept the clone in her cold sleep. Kienan
wanted her to recover herself as he remembered her, and sought other solutions
to the problem.
In the meantime,
Mirage mused, we'd kept a wild beast in the hold
of our ship for a year and a half. I should have tried harder to convince
Kienan that a pet would fulfill the same need in his life.
Vain said. "Status on shutting down unused sections and ETA for arrival at
out target point?"
green," Conscience said. As more of her mind was freed from the
maintenance of the ship, Conscience found it easier to speak, but haltingly.
Despite Kienan's best efforts there were some things he had been unable to
repair. "ETA is ... six hours at full Space Drive."
ready?" Vain asked. Mirage put her hands behind her back and crossed her
right," Vain said, tapping a series of keys. "I'm starting the cycle
chamber hissed as the freezing solution dissipated. Vain and Mirage readied
themselves, in case the clone reacted in the usual feral manner it had when
The clone lifted its
arms slowly, as if in a dream, resting them on the sides of the chamber. Vain
was tense, never taking her eyes off Jayla-2.
Vain asked. "You ARE in control of her, arent you?"
having as much trouble controlling her as she did last time," Mirage said.
"Usually Jayla-2's movement's are so jerky because she's fighting against
feeling any resistance, Conscience?" Vain asked, still in her ready
resistance," Conscience said. "No ... brain activity."
Vain shouted incredulously, going to the status
console. "That's not right -- even when we woke her up the first time
there was some higher brain functions."
functions are ... absent," Conscience said flatly. "Autonomic
Mirage said. "At least it's not total brain death."
enough," Vain said irritably. "Conscience, walk her around the
Jayla-2 walked with
halting ease around the room. The clone's muscles, slightly atrophied from
months of cold sleep caused her to limp a little.
Conscience replied. "Higher brain functions still read as ...
Vain said. She closed her eyes and sighed slowly. "Keep her walking,
Conscience. She needs to shake off the muscle atrophy."
Conscience did as
she was told. Jayla-2 walked out of the door, slowly trudging down the
corridors. Vain sat down at a desk near the cold unit. Mirage started to pace
back and forth in front of it.
"If he knew,
Kienan would kill us, wouldn't he?" Mirage asked.
say," Vain said. "We had no way of knowing what being in cold sleep
that long would do to her mind."
"So now we've
got a body without a mind being controlled by a mind without a body,"
"So it would
Mirage looked at
the chamber. She thought about the coin on the chain that Kienan had given her.
How was that bauble supposed to be the key to restoring her, especially now
that we've brought her out only to discover that she's a total blank?
She didnt have an
answer. And that worried her.
Deep within the
command center for the colony, Reficul watched the Sekhmet testing their new
weapons systems. They were all activated now, at last. The last few to be activated
had gone smoother. Apparently by denying Khitan the prize of the final suit it
had given him incentive to cooperate with Reficul. At least for the moment.
drifted back to his initial contact with the Sekhmet. Through a partner they had
contacted him, knowing of his experience with artificial humanoid machines.
They contracted him for six units, each one designed for a specific tactical
Toran's suit was
designed for high-temperature environments like volcanic worlds. The alloys
that comprised his armor were designed to withstand consistently high heat
while a cooling system protected the pilot. His body was also lean enough to
allow for maximum speed and mobility in cramped quarters like caves.
Uragenax was the
template for the frontline soldier of the Sekhmet. Slow, lumbering and heavily
armored, Uragenax was designed to take as much punishment from the enemy as
possible and was equipped with the strength to return it in kind.
Devorax was the
infiltration and stealth unit. His body was thin and lightly armored. Unlike
the others his weapons were few and built in -- two shaped energy projectors on
his gauntlets. The rest of his body was equipped with sensor jammers and sound
suppressors. While Devorax was unable to completely shift into invisibility, in
complete darkness he couldnt be detected until it was too late.
Zularax was one of
the units Reficul was especially proud of. Designed to sabotage heavy machinery
and bases, Zularax was equipped with seven robotic grubs (fashioned
appropriately enough, Reficul thought, in the image of the Sekhmet themselves)
which could detach themselves from his body and eat any metallic or organic
compounds they came across. Disgusting, but a powerful psychological weapon.
The last of the
team, Volaran was designed for high-speed atmospheric combat. Equipped with the
most weaponry of any of the Sekhmet was equipped with a special drive system
that allowed him to fly as fast as a starfighter and with enough
computer-assisted directional guidance systems to allow him total control.
The beeping of his
personal communications unit interrupted his review of his work. He pulled it
from his belt and flipped it open. He grimaced as he recognized the code.
here," He said.
a female voice called over the comm unit. His partner never transmitted her
image over an unsecured channel. It was one of many precautions his very
paranoid partner took to ensure her identity was kept secret. "How goes
things with the Sekhmet?"
everything has gone as expected," Reficul said. "I must confess that
I'm amazed at how precisely things have followed your timetable."
There was a curt
laugh on the other end of the receiver. "Well, I'm not all powerful,"
she said. "But I am all seeing. Are they ready?"
fitted out their weapon systems yet," Reficul said. "It appears we
were given the very least of Sekhmet society to work with. The patients will be
... difficult to say the least."
expected," she replied. "If everything is still going according to
plan, I see no reason to delay. Fit out their weapon systems and begin the
sending someone for me?"
Doctor," she replied. "I'll call again in two days time, and if
everything is set I'll have a ship en route to get you out of there before the
Sekhmet have begun slaughtering everyone on the colony in earnest. See you
The channel was
terminated suddenly. Reficul closed the communications channel and stared at
it. Even though he agreed with her ideals and had been her partner for years,
he didn't believe he'd ever get used to hearing death and destruction commanded
in the calm voice of a child.
Toriares smiled and
flipped the switch on the Chimera's tracking system. Ten light years, he
thought. I'll be there in no time. He sat back in his chair, watching the
shifting colors of Space Drive shimmer above the canopy.
He found himself
drifting back to his days with Kienan. To the beginning of their third year as
partners. They had, for the past two years previous, played a game in the
cityscape of Kuran colony. Like children in a vacant lot they chased and hid
and sought one another, the challenge being to find the other before the
tolling of the New Year.
They were at a dead
heat. The first year, Toriares had flushed Kienan out easily by turning the
power off on a holographic sign he was hiding behind. The year afterwards,
Kienan had found him after an oncoming train car disrupted his grasp on a
But that year
was different, Toriares thought. That
year he didnt want to play. I remember him reluctant to go even. The first
year I remember him being so eager to show me up. The second year he didn't
even gloat about winning. And the third ...
Toriares had found
Kienan sitting on the ledge of a building overlooking Hantu Street, the main
street of Kuran's low quarter. At the end of the road was the headquarters for
their masters, the Blue Dragon Tong.
Toriares had felt
surge of worry go through him as he quietly made his way to sit beside him.
Something was wrong, he knew, because Kienan looked for the entire world like a
man thinking of jumping to his death.
smoked a cigarette. Below him, people were celebrating. The quiet report of
fireworks sounded hollow and the lion dancers below seemed far away from him.
Toriares clacked his cane against the lip of the building where Kienan sat.
Kienan looked up at him slowly, his emerald green eyes deep and thoughtful.
Behind him, a flickering neon sign cast long shadows over his face.
Toriares leaned on
his cane and looked over at the crowds below. "Cheerful people,"
Toriares said. "They have nothing, they live in the most godforsaken part
of this colony, but tonight it doesn't matter. Everyone's happy."
Kienan repeated, taking a slow drag off his cigarette.
except you, I guess, Toriares said, smiling and sitting down next to him.
"Determined to keep the tie this year?"
"I ... "
Kienan started to say and then exhaled, blowing a thin stream of smoke into the
neon-soaked air. "I dont know. It feels different this year."
"I don't know."
Toriares looked out
at the crowd. "Silhouette."
"Yeah," he said. "Part of it's her. Part of it's you."
me?" Toriares asked.
getting married in three months," Kienan said. "I guess it's changed
things for us?" Toriares said, searching Kienan's face for some sign of
what was bothering him. He knew better than to ask directly -- it wasn't
Kienan's way to volunteer anything.
Kienan took another
drag off the cigarette, exhaling through his nose and breathing a stream of
smoke out as replied. "Not just for us. For ... what I want. For Sil and
Toriares smiled and
looked at Kienan. "You know" he began, rubbing his cane between his
hands. "If you want to marry her I'll stand up at the wedding."
Kienan looked so
shucked he nearly let the cigarette fall from his lips. "Me? Get
that's exactly what I said when Neferta'ri proposed to me," Toriares said.
"Even the expression on your face is the same. Yes, Kienan. I know how you
feel about her. Why don't you ask her?"
Kienan took the
cigarette from his lips and looked at it, and seeing it was nearly spent tossed
it out into the crowd below. "She doesn't want that?"
talked to her about it?"
"We dont talk
much," Kienan said.
"Well, I know you
don't," Toriares said. "But you don't have to talk to her. Have you
listened to her?"
know," Kienan said. He sighed. "I dont think she wants me to. I'm
not the guy to marry."
Toriares took a
deep breath and looked at Kienan.
"It scares you
that bad, does it?"
Kienan blinked as
if lightly slapped. "What?"
"How you feel
about Sil," Toriares said. "That's why you left her back there at
your apartment to come out here and sulk. You desperately want to be with her
but can't for the life of you figure out why she would."
straight ahead, then started fumbling for a cigarette.
Toriares said, staring down at the lion dancers below. "You're afraid of
yourself. Afraid you can't possibly give an inch, do anything to break up your
comfortable little rut, and why? It's not like you'll cease to exist because one
day you woke up and decided to be a different kind of Kienan Ademetria."
Kienan said, lighting a cigarette.
change anytime you want."
"It's not that
simple," Kienan said flatly.
that simple," Toriares replied. "You just have to have the courage to
grasp it. Otherwise you'll be stuck in a loop, dying a little inside and
becoming more isolated and alone. Is that what you want?"
"I don't know
what I want."
surprised. It was perhaps the first utterly honest thing Kienan had ever said
"I can teach
you how to fight," Toriares said. "But I cant tell you what you
want. I can't tell you what you should do with Sil and I can't point you to
what will fill that emptiness inside you. I can only tell you something someone
told me a long time ago. People pay for what they do and they pay an even
dearer price with what they allow themselves to become. And the way they pay
that price is in the life they lead."
Kienan pondered it
for a monument, staring at the cigarette in his hands. "What does that
Toriares looked at
him, his eyes quietly sad all of a sudden. He opened his mouth to say
something, but was jarred out of it by a sound from below. Streams of light
streaked high into the skies, illuminating the colony's city sprawls as the
reflectors from the colony's solar panels struck the particles and simulated a
brilliant blue explosion of light in a way that would fool someone who had
never seen fireworks before.
To someone who had
the whole exercise seemed false, artificial, and more than a little futile.
"It's a new
year," Kienan said.
is," Toriares said, sighing and suddenly feeling just as afraid as Kienan
of what the new year would bring.
seen a place like this," Sinclaire said, idly rubbing the red apple in his
white-gloved hands. After a week in the desert outside Axanar they were less
white than usual, but it seemed to be right.
He sat on a small
bench, surrounded by lush apple trees that grew with such strength and flower
he almost felt he was back on Earth again, not an abandoned colony hundreds of
light years away. The air felt clean and for the first time in years Sinclaire
felt life all around him like the embrace of an old friend.
But I can't
return the embrace, Sinclaire
thought. Because my hands are dirty.
Paolo Sanchez sat
next to him on an old empty cargo box, watching Sinclaire watching his hands.
Behind them Ariana sat on one of the limbs of the apple tree, dangling her legs
like a child on a swing. "I built this garden myself," he said.
"After the supply transports stopped coming, we had to fend for
Sinclaire bit into
the apple. "Lucky they had a hydroponic scientists here."
"I'm not a
hydroponic scientist," Hector said. "I came into space as a
dockworker. They hired me for the Axanar trip after the Century Plan
"So, how did
you do all this?" Sinclaire said, chewing the apple thoughtfully.
"I'm not calling you stupid, I just -- "
"It had to be
done," Hector said. "We'd been forgotten out here. No one was going
to help us." He stood up and looked at Ariana. "I remember the most
frightening thing were those first months when we realized no one was going to
tell us what to do anymore. Those were bad times. We were angry. We felt
another bite of the apple. "So what did you do?"
"We did what
had to be done," Hector said. "We made our own way, and against all
odds, against the hateful slow spinning of a galaxy that couldnt care less
about a hundred fifty people on a barren planet, we prospered."
idyllic," Sinclaire said. "Didnt Earth ever try to reclaim the
Hector said. "But after awhile I didnt mind. I realized that we hadn't
come to this place to be forgotten. No, we came to forget."
what?" Sinclaire asked, taking another bite of the apple. While the apple
was red ripe and delicious something about it didnt taste right anymore. Maybe
it was just how food tasted after eating so little in the desert. Or maybe it
was that Hector's story stirred things inside him. He looked at the dirty
gloves over his hands again.
ourselves," Hector said. "We thrived only because those who stayed
cast off who they were before -- dockworkers, soldiers, whatever and became who
they needed to be to live."
ever miss it?"
Hector shook his
head. "Some do," he said slowly. "But most realized that they
were living for someone else and not themselves. They found it here. It's
amazing some days. You go into the city and people greet you. Enthusiastic and
excited, like children discovering the world, seeing it through new eyes.
People come here to forget, but they also come here to remember."
"Sounds like a
dream," Sinclaire said. He grimaced. He hadn't meant that to sound bitter
or sarcastic, but it hung in the air like a challenge.
"We all dream
of being a child again," Hector said. "Even the worst man in the
universe. Especially the worst man."
his eyes and smiled. "I don't remember being a child," he said.
"But I ... wouldn't mind learning here."
Hector gestured to
the swords Sinclaire carried on his back. "I dont need a swordsman,"
he said. Sinclaire's eyes fell and he looked through his dirty gloves at the
dirt at his feet.
sun-weathered face broke into a smile. "I can, however, use some help with
the bushels of apples I'm getting ready to take into the market in the
Sinclaire looked up
and saw Hector smiling and laughing slowly and gently under his breath. Ariana's
laughter rang out above him, and after a time, Sinclaire joined them, chucking
as he took off his dirty gloves to reveal clean hands beneath them.
travel pod burst out of Space Drive like a bullet from a gun, breaking apart as
a sleek small red shuttlecraft pulled away from the debris like a shooting red
Kienan sat in the
Pilot's chair of the Ruby Vroom, eyes closed, thinking as Toriares had
of times gone by. Unfortunately Kienan's memory was less rosy, even compared to
the curious mixture of hope and terror that seemed to stretch before him three
years ago when Toriares tried to tell him something. Kienan couldnt remember
it now, but he knew it was important.
I hope I can ask
him again, Kienan thought. It felt
strange for him to miss anyone, or to admit to himself that he did. But
Toriares' absence had weighed heavily on him, the first brick in walls he
hadnt been able to stop himself building.
But he always
returned to that ledge every new year. Even after he had pushed Silhouette out
of his life in the cruelest way possible and done everything he could to
drifted back to the end of last year. After Sil was gone for good and Jayla had
disappeared. In a painful kind of irony he had seen her through the window of a
building across from the ledge he sat on.
Lotus Land was run
by a thoroughly disreputable man named Gao Shu Fan. It was a brothel, the
oldest in the city. It was also where Jayla, her brain addled by despair and
drugs had ended up.
danced in the window across from him even now. Kienan sat on the ledge behind
the now sputtering and flickering neon sign, cursing himself for a million
different things all at once. His hands shook, but he refused to reach for a
He had tried to
take her from that place once before, only to be rebuffed and sent away by her.
He had been so willing to take her away from it. He wanted to save her.
His stomach turned
as he remembered the fear he had felt that night. Not because anyone in the
building was any kind of threat, but because as she spoke to him, her voice
quiet and sad, the certainty of things had begun to sink in and a door had
slammed shut to him forever.
And despite his
strength and skills there was nothing Kienan could do to stop it. His mind
flashed back on an image -- himself, younger, drowning in blood, a clawed hand
holding him by the back of his skull and forcing him down into a thick sticky
pool of blood. He held his breath as he remembered the worst of it -- the
horrible feeling that he would die and there was nothing he could do about it.
feeling futile, lost, and utterly alone. His triumph over dying hadnt
prevented him from losing the battle to save her from herself.
But he had come to
the ledge again. Not just to see her, but because he was hoping, far back in
his mind that it was deeper than subconscious that Toriares would come. That he
would know what to do.
Kienan felt a shock
go through his heart as the light to Jayla's window shut off, throwing a black
shroud over the night, even as thousands of people celebrated below.
he thought. The name rang loud in his mind, like
someone calling out.
friend," a voice came over the Vroom's communication unit. Kienan
looked up through the canopy of the Vroom and saw the bronze crescent of
the Chimera above him.
Kienan closed his
eyes again, and very slowly began to smile.