Gunmetal Black 3 Chapter 5 - Where Do We Go Now?
flew into orbit of Axanar, its crescent shape seeming to slice through the
perpetual night of space. Kienan watched as they flew underneath a small orbital
docking station and into the atmosphere below.
up here?" Kienan asked, fumbling for a cigarette. The whiskey had done its
work well, but Kienan was used to the hangover by now. What would have been
sledgehammer blows of pain inside the head of an average man was only a steady
migraine to Kienan.
Toriares shook his
head. "That dock hasnt been used for years, Kienan," he said,
smiling, "The Chimera's brand-new. I dont think its a good idea
to park it on a deserted orbital dock."
Kienan checked a
scan of the planet below. "But you do think it'll be OK in the desert
Toriares said, starting his landing cycle. "Most Khephren colonies are
desert worlds. She'll be fine, Kienan. You have got to learn to trust me."
"I'd be doing
a better job of it if I knew what was down there, Toriares," Kienan said.
"Nothing more or less dangerous than a free human colony, Kienan. And one
"In good time,
Kienan," Toriares said. The Chimera banked slowly through the early
morning skies of Axanar, the sun painting the sky a milky pink color. They flew
over the main city and the command center, both of which looked deserted from
this high up. Toriares flew low over the sea of sand below, the trail from his
flight reshaping the surface of the dunes below. They came to a small mesa just
outside of town. The Chimera's landing jets fired and blew the layers of
dust off the rocks as the ship set down.
The engines roared
and then whined, seeming to sigh as they shut down. "Okay," Toriares
said, unbuckling himself from the pilot's chair. "We're here."
Kienan rose slowly
to his feet and stretched his legs, he idly stared out the window of the ship. Another
desert, he thought. Just like home. I feel on edge just being out here.
He checked his
pistols. Fully loaded, with four more clips should he need them, plus a few
other boxes of ammo still on the Vroom.
And as always, the
Toriares eyed him
curiously as he took a long brown cloak from a closet in the rear of the
cockpit. "Expecting trouble?"
Kienan said, holstering his guns. "Besides, I was always taught to be
prepared for the worst."
Toriares said, wrapping the cloak around his shoulders. "Who taught you to
be so paranoid?"
around his cigarette. "You did," he replied. "And you do
the same damn thing, Toriares. What I cant figure out is how you manage to be
so insanely calm about it."
"It's all down
to patience," Toriares said. "And true patience is a master's final
lesson. C'mon, Kienan. Let's go."
seen anything like it," Mirage said, looking over the readouts. "In
terms of design it shouldnt even be flying. No kind of propulsion I can
recognize, no weapons ports, any access ports of any kind. Vain, they shouldn't
even be able to get in and out of it."
held position before the Silhouette, silent as space, small but somehow
threatening in its strangeness before the ship.
are you sensing anything from it?"
Conscience replied impassively.
There was a shimmer
between the three of them. The ghostly image of a woman, her white skin covered
in many tattoos, appeared before them, idly walking around the cockpit, looking
over the ship as if she intended to buy it.
Mirage reached for
her submachine guns, but Vain raised a hand. "Let them have a look,"
she said. "I recognize the clothing from the records at the Armillary.
That's a Haxan, all right."
The shape turned to
Vain, looking at her, almost through her, the severe expression like that of a
teacher who'd caught a student talking out of turn. As she looked at her and
then at Mirage, her expression softened. She raised an eyebrow, then put up a
hand. A circle in her palm glowed and she vanished.
have wanted to see who we are," Mirage said. "If they left centuries
ago humans, much less mechanical versions of them must be inconceivable."
Vain said, leaping up from her seat.
bay." Conscience said.
Mirage said, drawing her guns. "No sign that they launched a
idea," Vain said. She reached behind her. Her two knives were sheathed in
holsters against the small of her back. She didnt want to go in heavily armed,
but this was a nasty surprise.
capable of what I expect, Vain
thought, a gun wont do much good anyway.
Vain and Mirage
stepped off the bridge, quickly making their way down the stairs. The main
landing bay was two decks down and moving as quickly as they were they didnt
have a lot of time to come up with a plan before they got there.
Vain said, looking over her shoulder. "Shroud. Even if they detect you,
maybe they'll see we mean business and be more inclined to talk."
and seemed to ripple out of existence.
happens Vain, I promise not to shoot first," Mirage said.
Vain said. This will be hard enough, she thought. Theyre nervous,
we're nervous and any misstep will certainly result in mutually assured
through the main door into the landing bay. Two of them, dressed the same as
the third, whom Vain recognized from the image on the bridge were idly walking
around the launch bay, waving their hands over equipment, ships, anything. Vain
caught sight of strange circles on their palms.
circuitry, she thought. Not only
sorcerers but cyborgs as well?
The leader caught
sight of Vain and pointed over her shoulder.
your companion to make herself visible and to sheathe her weaponry," she
said. "We intend no harm."
"You've got a
funny way of showing it," Mirage said, shimmering back into view.
"Coming onto our ship without invitation." She paused for a moment,
looking at the leader.
"How'd you see
"I and my
sisters have implants in my eyes that allow us to see several spectra at
once," she said. "It was a simple matter of making our sight discrete
enough to see the displacement of the photons around you. Nearly as simple as
traveling along the line of energy that your ship happened to be intersecting
and appearing here."
Simple," Mirage said, shaking her head. "Who are you?"
"I am Lady
Ravenna," she said, bowing to them. "These are my sisters, Lady Kayt
and Lady Illiel. You searched for us and you have found us. We are the Haxan.
Or more precisely what's left of them."
"You were left
behind?" Vain asked.
custodians," Kayt said. "Guardians, if you will."
Illiel said. Mirage cocked an eyebrow. The way they spoke, it was almost like
talking to Conscience, only split into three.
Mirage repeated. "We saw in the Armillary that the Haxan left known space
to follow the lines of energy out to the stars. Nothing in there about being
"It is not
something we discuss openly," Ravenna said, looking at Illiel.
"If I might
ask," Vain said, deciding discretion was the better part of valor.
"What made you decide to speak to us?"
"We have never
seen a ship like this," Ravenna said. "Nor a race like yours. True
mechanical life was, so far as we knew, beyond even our powers to create."
"The ship is
primitive, not far removed from technology we employed centuries ago,"
Kayt said. "But you are unlike anything we have encountered, and even as
custodians we are eager to expand the boundaries of our knowledge."
"I hate to
disappoint you," Vain said. "But we aren't any kind of
"race" at all. We're part of a set of four, one destroyed, one
damaged beyond recovery. That leaves Mirage and myself. My name is Vain and we
"Vain ... and
Mirage," Illiel asked. "Your nomenclature is ... peculiar."
someone named "Illiel," Id say -- "
Mirage," Vain said. "We've come asking for your help."
that you've been able to reunite souls with bodies before," Vain said.
"We have the body and the soul, but we need your assistance to reunite
Ravenna eyed Vain
curiously. "It is an art we've had experience with," she said.
"May we see the subject in question?"
course," Vain said. "Right this way."
The five of them
stood in perfect formation as Khitan walked around them. Behind him Reficul
watched, bored with the regimental nature of it all. Finally, Khitan spoke.
ready," he said. "All data indicates you have adjusted to your new
bodies and weaponry. Therefore, I have decided that your first mission begins
glowered at Khitan as he walked past.
"You will go
to the city below and begin exterminating as many humans as you can. Destroy
the city -- burn it, level it, and do not stop until no human draws air on this
opened and closed, a thin line of acidic saliva running from them. He seemed to
be drooling at the prospect.
"We will claim
this colony for the Sekhmet," Khitan continued. "You will be the
vanguard that lays the groundwork for the hives that will eventually replace
the crude settlements of the humans."
impassive blank helmet Volaran absorbed all of this impassively. All he was
eager to do was to test his wings.
"Now that you
are ready I can explain to you why this lone beachhead is so important to the
future of the Sekhmet. The royal hives have calculated that the greatest danger
to our future is that which the humans represent. Our contacts with them have
been tense. They are not like us. They are fractious where we are united. They
debate. We do."
Keeping to the
shadows, Devorax silently absorbed all this, seeming to fade in and out of the
spare darkness of the command center.
nature represents a threat to our order," Khitan said. "And it cannot
be countenanced. And so we will eliminate that chaos."
Khitan stopped and
regarded Uragenax's massive form. He looked into his eyes, as black as his own
and gave them their final instructions.
said. "And kill until the sands soak up every drop of blood."
hair fell over her eyes as she looked over the strange creature in the
cryo-unit. "What race is this one?" she asked Vain.
doesnt have a race," Vain said. She and Mirage were leaning against the
far wall, watching the Haxan glide about the room, examining their technology
and Jayla-2 with equal curiosity. "She is, as far as we've been able to
determine, a substantially altered clone. Her base genetic material is human,
Kayt said. "I sense it within her. A curious creature. Made of many, but
at the same time empty inside."
"Do you have
the token?" Illiel asked.
Vain fished in the
pouches of her belt for the necklace, walking over and handing it to Ravenna.
She looked it over, then looked back at Jayla-2.
"It will be
difficult," she said. "My sisters and myself dont have the power to
bind her soul back to this body."
"I thought you
said you were trained in the practice," Mirage said. "Now which is
Ravenna said. "But our experience was limited to binding souls back to
their own body. This one is close to the essence I feel in the token,
but different enough to make things uncertain."
"So we came
all this way for nothing, then," Mirage said.
Illiel said. "What you ask is difficult, and the results are uncertain,
but not impossible. But to do what you require will necessitate what could be
best termed as extreme measures."
correct," Kayt said. "We must secure an artifact of our order. It is
the only thing that could facilitate the binding properly."
"I concur with
my sisters," Ravenna said. "We will require the Soulcaster. The
binding spell requires the outlay of a great deal of energy, and the Soulcaster
is the only device that could control the energy involved."
you dont have it?" Mirage asked, already not liking at all where this was
Ravenna shook her
head. "It belongs to Jaevin, the head of our order."
would we find him?" Vain asked.
"He is easy
enough to find," Ravenna said. "He is the man we hold prisoner."
through town, smiling along with Ariana as they meandered past street vendors
and restaurants with open doors. The place felt alive, and Sinclaire felt alive
himself, for the first time in a long time.
he thought, the words tinged with a certain irony.
He wondered to
himself why he hadnt even gone down into the city when he'd been dropped off here.
But then he remembered. Up until recently he hadnt wanted to see anyone, much
less walk through a whole town of anyones.
Ariana held his
hand, swinging it as they walked. They passed by a man with sad eyes strumming
a guitar and singing a sad hopeful song. Sinclaire fished in his pockets for
the few credits he had and threw them in the upturned hat at the musician's
The musician nodded
as they walked past. Sinclaire smiled, the song setting the rhythm for his gait
as he walked with his friend. Despite the fact that he'd spent last night
sleeping under a tree with cold desert night air whistling around him he felt
And the fear that
had enfolded him during the night was gone. The suns felt warm on his skin and
despite himself, he was smiling.
Ariana was smiling
too, at least until they came by a strange building. It was peculiar in that no
one stood in front of it -- no vendors, no musicians, no one. In fact people
who walked by Sinclaire crossed to the side of the street to avoid it.
Ariana looked at
the building hidden by the high stucco wall and her face fell. Sinclaire raised
an eyebrow, curious.
said to her. "What is it?"
Peace Hotel," she said. "That place I told you about before? The
building full of killers?"
His eyes were fixed on something peculiar. At the central arch where the wall
opened (there was no gate) there was a huge grey stone, obviously not of this
world. Plunged into the stone was a blade.
blade, Sinclaire thought. One of
my order. But why?
in there somewhere," Ariana said. "They set it up here a long time
ago. Killers, thieves, people in trouble ... they go in there and never come
prison, then?" Sinclaire said.
Ariana said. "More like a sanctuary. Within the walls of that place, they
cant be touched or killed for what they did long ago. It's a ticket to a new
life ... but one that only goes as far as those walls."
his eyes. I could have ended up here myself, he thought. Had it not been for
Silhouette getting me out. It feels so strange to still be beholden to her
after all this time.
Sometimes I feel
linked to her, no matter how far away I go from her.
They walked past
the place hurriedly and turned a corner. Out of the corner of his eye Sinclaire
could have sworn he saw someone familiar moving towards the gates of the Peace
Hotel, but it was hard to be sure.
nothing, he thought.
"I told you I
was a woman of my word, Doctor," the voice on the other end of the line
said. "So are we on schedule?"
Reficul said. "The Sekhmet are preparing to wipe out the town."
"To make a
statement against the encroachment of chaotic humanity on their ordered
society, yes," the voice came back.
Reficul said, genuinely surprised. "How did you -- ?"
my dear Doctor. Remember?"
course," he said. "Forgive me. They intend to launch their attack
within the next two hours. You have already sent the ship to pick me up, I
"He's en route
to you now," she replied. "By the time the massacre is well underway,
you should be long gone, Doctor. You really must have more faith in me."
Miss San -- "
Doctor," she cautioned, her voice carrying the lilt of a teasing child's.
"You've been warned. No names."
"I beg your
pardon," he said. "My nerves are on edge. The Sekhmet have been
difficult. I look forward to quitting their company."
"Wont be long
now Doctor," she said. "Trust in me as you have these past ten years,
have I ever led you astray?"
Reficul said. "Not once."
not," she replied. "Then trust me now. My man will be coming to
collect you soon. For now, find a nice spot and enjoy the mayhem, Doctor. It
should be quite spectacular."
Toriares and Kienan
walked together through the streets of Axanar. Toriares drew long lazy lines in
the fine sand covering the streets as they walked. Kienan made no effort to
disguise himself or his danger. Passersby took one look at him and then down to
his guns, and hurriedly crossed the street to avoid him.
Kienan didnt much
care what they thought. He was too busy trying and failing to relax. He felt on
edge. Felt too many eyes on him and a sense of danger he couldnt quite place
but was utmost in his mind, like a loud noise that seemed to be just below his
They walked along
the wall of a large hotel looming in the distance. Finally Toriares spoke.
"I stopped by
and visited an old friend of ours before I came to see you," he said.
"Marasi's getting paroled in a week."
Kienan said. Toriares' sister had left her mark, both because bringing her down
had been Kienan and Toriares' first job together and because Marasi had lashed
Kienan across the back with her razor-chain and made the scar on his back a
perfect "X." He took a breath. "How is she?"
"Seems to be
holding up well enough," Toriares said. "Scared, though, just like
everyone who serves a long time and gets out. I figure she'll end up having to
inside the gates. The tip of Toriares' cane was pointing at a sword jammed into
a stone. He couldnt make heads or tails of it at first, and then something
Hotel. I didnt think this place existed, really," Kienan said. "Hard
to believe the syndicates could agree to consider one place sanctuary."
honest, Kienan," Toriares said. "I hate to think of her having to
live the rest of her life there but that's all that's left for her. You dont
go from ruling a syndicate to being an ex-con without a lot of enemies waiting
for you to come back out."
"If it makes
you feel any better," Kienan said, reaching around for his shoulder.
"I don't bear her any grudge. I know she's family and I wouldnt do
anything to hurt her."
"I know you
wouldn't, Kienan," Toriares said. "I just want you to think about
what you'd do if you were in Marasi's position -- no syndicate to call your
own, hunted, always on the run. Where would you go?"
"I'd do what I
always have," he said, "I've survived in a place where everyone
wanted me dead before."
"Yes, but a
whole galaxy?" Toriares asked. "You've got two choices. Either keep
running as long as you live or take up a room here."
Kienan said. "But Toriares, understand this isn't even an option for me. I
could run, I could be hunted, I could even get unlucky and get dead, but to
walk through that gate would be giving up."
"I guess I
knew you couldn't," Toriares said. "I just ... Kienan, you understand
that if anything were to happen, I couldnt help you, right? No matter how much
I'd want to."
Kienan looked down.
"I know," he said.
He was about to say
something more when he saw someone out of the corner of his eye. His emerald
eyes focused on something on the person's back and his narrow eyes became an
"Excuse me for
a minute," Kienan said, moving past Toriares. "I think I see someone
Toriares said. He said, blowing his white hair out of his eyes. So much for
my appeal to his better nature, he thought. He hurried after Kienan,
praying he wasn't intending to do anything foolish.
Kienan walked with
purpose towards the man in the cloak, his boots making soft sighing noises in
the fine sand. As the man came more clearly into view, Kienan found himself
reminiscing where he'd seen him before.
fighting him on a roller coaster in Nereus, using every dirty trick to try and
best the master of swords so skilled he could swat every single gunshot of
trading barbs with him, both of them trying to needle the other into another
fight. There was something about the two of them that made it impossible for
them to share the same space without a fight starting.
Most of all, he
remembered the man's arms around Silhouette.
He tapped him on
the shoulder. "Excuse me," he said.
around in time to see Kienan's red-gloved hand sailing towards his nose. Fist
met bone with a satisfying crack and Sinclaire tumbled backwards, one hand
reaching for his blades. Kienan was way ahead of him and kicked the side of
Sinclaire's knee, dropping him into the dirt.
"What are you
doing?" Ariana said, rushing towards Kienan. She was stopped short by the
barrel of Kienan's pistol pointed between her eyes.
"If you dont
think I'll shoot a child, believe me, youre wrong," Kienan said,
crouching down and putting his foot on Sinclaire's throat. "Been a long
time, Sinclaire. Do you remember what I promised I'd do next time we met?"
the blood from his nose matting with the gritty sand.
"Good. I was
hoping you did," Kienan said, drawing his other pistol and pointing it
under Sinclaire's chin. "Because this is where I send you to hell."