Chapter 4: The Duel
Kienan raised his pistols and fired at Doublecross, who became a blur of movement, his swords deflecting some of Kienan's shots and moving to avoid the rest. Behind him, Cross took careful aim and fired just as Doublecross finished.
A hot bolt of plasma zinged just over Kienan's left shoulder, barely missing the barrel of his pistol. He fired back, and Doublecross blocked the shot. Cross fired again, this time hitting her mark. The blast struck the side of his pistol, the force of the impact tearing it from his grip.
A thin smile played over Doublecross' lips as he charged forward, the edges of his swords sluicing through the layer of water on catwalk. His eyes met Kienan's, the smile on his face now a mad grin.
Kienan backpedaled slightly, buying himself a foot and a few seconds as he reached behind, drawing his knife as he took aim at Cross with his remaining gun. Cross rolled to the side as he opened fire, sending a few shots his way.
Kienan lowed his gun just as Doublecross advanced on him, swords raised. Kienan blocked one of them with his knife, slamming his forehead into Doublecross' collarbone and sending him reeling. Kienan shoved his knee into Doublecross' stomach, blocking Doublecross' attempt to slash off his arm with an underhanded strike.
Kienan glared at Doublecross, his eyes flitting to his swords momentarily. Something about the design was familiar, all right, he thought. The fighting style as well. Blocking with the sword held normally, cutting with the other sword in an underhand grip.
Kienan jammed his knee into Doublecross's stomach again and again, trying to break the stalemate. Doublecross gasped and retched as he fought for air. Kienan bought the butt of his knife against the swordsman's windpipe, trying to choke the air from him and crush his windpipe.
He would have succeeded, had Cross not tagged him with a lucky shot to the shoulder.
"Put him down, Ademetria," the cold-eyed gunslinger said.
Kienan let Doublecross slip from his grip, surprised more by the non-lethal shot than anything. Doublecross rocked back on his heels, catching his breath as Cross moved up behind him.
"I see . . .you forgot about Cross," Doublecross said, his laugh a dry cackle. "You might as well give up. You're fifty stories up, and hopelessly outmatched. One of us will finish you, it's just a matter of time."
Kienan holstered his pistol and sheathed his knife. Much as he hated to admit it, Doublecross was right. In a straight-up battle he was only one man, and both were so accomplished he'd have to focus on one to kill them, and in that time, the other could easily kill him.
"It certainly looks bad for me," Kienan said, a thin smile playing over his lips. "But I'll be damned if I'm going to let a couple of low-rent poseurs like you be the ones who kill me."
With that, Kienan threw himself off the catwalk, into the murky, rain-soaked abyss below them.
* * *
Reficul emotionlessly surveyed the readouts from the various terminals. "The revivification process is underway," he said. "Vital signs appear to be normal, or at least as close to normal as I can determine from the records."
Mendel watched as the being inside the unit began to stir, like a princess being awakened from a magic sleep. As the chemicals holding her in stasis began to evaporate it was a bit easier to make out just how different from the image of his beloved sister J-3 was.
In addition to the blue skin and the horned ears, her body was crisscrossed with darker blue patterns, especially on the edge of her forearms and on her legs. Her eyes, which opened slowly were a strange shining silver. No pupils.
And yet, I still feel it, Mendel thought. This does feel like Jayla.
J-3 began to move, roused further from her sleep by the sound of the blower fans circulating the evaporating chemicals out of the chamber. Her chest rose and fell as she began to breathe normally. She attempted to move, but found herself restrained.
"One of us should help her remove the umbilicals," Reficul said.
"I'll go," Mendel said, sliding off his jacket. "No offense Doctor, but she doesnt know you or Sabre, and I dont know if she could handle a shock like that so soon after waking up."
"Of course," Reficul said. He watched Mendel walk over to her, removing the six cables that were hooked up to the clone and pondered the curious obsession humans placed on family.
Mendel is so eager to believe that this clone is his departed sister that he's willing to overlook the evidence of his senses, he mused. It is as if his need for a surrogate family to replace the one that has failed him as much created this J-3 as did his mother's cloning experiments.
Mendel was about to remove the last of the feeder tubes when J-3's hand reached out and grasped his. Mendel looked into the J-3's silver eyes with more fear than eagerness, owing more to the almost-painful strength of her grasp.
"Mendel?" J-3 asked. Her inidgo lips parted in a smile.
"Jayla?" Her brother asked, a tangible desperation in his voice. "It it really you?"
"Well, who else would I be?" J-3 asked, releasing his hand and removing the last cable herself. She smiled even wider and threw her arms around him. Mendel shivered for a moment, then his body relaxed and he embraced his "sister" once again.
* * *
"He killed himself, rather than have us do it," Cross said. "He's even more of a lunatic than we'd heard."
"The hell he did," Doublecross said. "He wanted to buy himself some time, so he did what we'd least expect. He's under the catwalk." He looked around, then pointed to a rusty set of ladder rungs on the side of the tower next to the elevator.
"Go down there and pick him off."
Cross looked at her companion incredulously. "You must be insane. I'm not going down there."
"You wont have to," a voice called from behind them. "I'm right here."
A shot rang out and Cross hit the deck, blood soaking through her clothing as she sank into the water, blood pouring from her thigh. Doublecross whirled around, his hands reaching behind him for the pair of throwing daggers he kept on his belt. His eyes met Kienan's as the two daggers flew towards the assassin.
One of the daggers caught Kienan in the side, shearing through his body armor. He bit back the pain and caught the other, snatching it out of the air as he turned painfully, the blade flicking through his fingers as he used the momentum to throw it back at Doublecross.
Doublecross drew one of his swords and smacked the dagger away, positioning himself between Cross and Kienan. Kienan smiled, gun and blade drawn.
"You still won't escape, Ademetria," Doublecross said, moving to keep himself between Kienan and his companion. "You got hit just like Cross did . . .and we've still got numbers on our side."
"But I didnt get hit twice," Kienan said, gesturing with the barrel of his gun at Cross' prone form.
"What?" Doublecross said, glancing down. He grimaced when he saw one of his own throwing daggers sticking out of Cross' shoulder.
"If youre going to bring a partner, maybe you should look after her while you're looking after yourself."
Doublecross lunged forward, spinning in the air as he drew his other sword. Kienan, caught him just below the ribs with a kick, shoving him backwards long enough for him to take another two shots at Cross.
"STOP IT!" Doublecross smashed Kienan across the face with the butt of one of his swords. Kienan retaliated by turning his blade to an underhanded grim and slashing Doublecross across the chest, firing at Cross again.
Doublecross used his sword to strike Kienan's gun, causing him to fire in the air. Kienan turned the pistol in his hand, holding the barrel against his forearm in time to block Doublecross's sword. Doublecross used the leverage to kicked Kienan away and turn to Cross.
"Charge me up," he said to her. "This is the end for you, Ademetria."
Kienan tossed his pistol aside--the strike had been deep enough to ruin it. Now all he had was the knife and the micro-explosives in his belt.
Cross painfully raised her pistol and fired at Doublecross, who once again became a whirling blur of motion. However, instead of deflecting the bullets, his blades seemed to be absorbing the energy, the green jewel in the hilt beginning to glow an orange color, then a brilliant white.
Kienan watched, feigning surprise as Doublecross slashed at the deck, the white-hot blades carving deep gashes into the catwalk as he moved closer. Kienan pretended to stumble backwards after one of the blades struck close to him, then pushed past him as Doublecross slashed deeper into it.
"Nice trick," Kienan said, drawing his knife again. "I wondered why you swordsmen acted so confident when everyone else had energy weapons."
"You'll take that little trade secret to your grave," Doublecross sneered.
"I wouldnt say that," Kienan said, his free hand balling into a fist. "Maybe we all will."
There was an explosion behind Doublecross, who was so close and so startled he nearly dropped his swords. The catwalk lurched underneath them, supports connecting it to the elevator shaft suddenly breaking loose. The rain and blood that had been pooling on it suddenly began to run down into the newly made gap. Cross struggled to find a handhold as her wounds made it too hard to get to her feet.
Kienan walked over behind her, and she weakly raised her pistol towards him. Kienan smirked as he slapped it out of her hands, holding onto the dagger still embedded in her shoulder as he disarmed her. With a twist and a sharp pull, he tore the dagger free, looking over the gap at Doublecross.
"You had to make this personal, didnt you?"
Kienan said nothing, merely tossed the dagger aside and leaned over, squeezing the wound it had made in Cross' shoulder with a sadistic smile. He could feel the vibration of the catwalk under his feet. Across the gap, Doublecross seethed, the white-hot blades burning the rain into steam.
"You were right--two is usually better than one," Kienan said. "But what works for you can also work against you. I could tell you were more than partners by the way you moved. Made sense then if I could get the drop on your just long enough . . .and inflict a little pain on one of you, youd get a little too angry and a little too sloppy."
"Is that what you think?" Doublecross said, raising his blades. "Seems to me I'm standing in front of your only means of escape."
"Huh," Kienan said. "So you are." He stepped behind Cross, keeping an eye on the unwounded arm she had wrapped tightly around her side. He grabbed her hair and pulled her neck up, laying the edge of his knife against her throat.
"Thing is, I have her, and there's no way you can close the distance fast enough to stop me from cutting her throat," Kienan said. "The last thing she'll see is you leaping to her rescue. Unfortunately, all you'll get for it is the spray from her jugular in your face."
His emerald eyes held Doublecross' dark brown eyes in a steely gaze.
"So I'm supposed to let you go, and Cross goes free?"
Kienan shook his head. "You were both as good as dead the minute you decided to attack me. Now its just as question of when. We can stay in this stalemate while she bleeds to death or I can slash her throat and end her pain right now.
"What's it to be?"
* * *
Jayla-2 stared out at the yawning expanse of space. She stood alone in the observation lounge of the Silhouette, contemplating the space between the stars. She'd come here the night she'd been restored to herself, and it had been her favorite place to come on the ship because she'd delighted in looking out at the stars. They'd seemed so limitless and brilliant, like jewels in a crown.
Over the last six months, that had changed. Now the stars, like everywhere else for everyone aboard the ship, held untold peril, instead of jewels, they were like eyes, always searching for them, always hunting them down.
I knew what I was getting into when I chose to stay here, she thought, her own reflection staring back at her in the glass, a ghostly image fading into the starfield. I knew it would be hard, and be dangerous, but I stayed.
Because this is really the only home I ever knew. Even before I was aware of things, before I even knew what "home" was. Moreso than Kuran, this is where I belong.
Her mind drifted back to a conversation she and Kienan had had together. She looked over her shoulder, as if expecting to find him there, as he had been when they spoke.
"You actually kept me here, when I was . . .what did Vain say, "Feral?"" Jayla-2 has said. She'd only recently learned the details of her past history as her mother's retribution, and that she'd actually nearly killed him.
Kienan nodded. "I kept you here and tried to learn or find someone who knew how to restore you to the woman I remembered," he said. "Unfortunately, your mother was way ahead of her field and, well . . .it turns out I'm not that smart."
Jayla-2 grimaced. Over and over again she'd made sure that people never mistook her for Jayla Kyren, and the association with her via her mother and her creator irked her slightly.
"But you never gave up," Jayla-2 said.
"No," Kienan said. He looked away for a moment. "I never give up on anything, Jayla-2."
"Vain said that's what you might say."
Kienan looked away. Despite himself, he smiled.
"Kienan," Jayla-2 began nervously. "If something happened to me, would you try to find me?"
"You mean rescue you?"
Jayla-2 blinked. "Not . . .exactly. Just . . .if we weren't together, if we'd been split up somehow. Would you come and find me?"
Kienan grimaced. "I'm not sure I understand," he lied.
"I just . . .when we were on Kuran and you were being hunted down--"
"I remember," Kienan said. The circumstances that had led to their being on the run was a constant sore spot with him.
"I was the one who made everyone come to get you," Jayla-2 said.
"So I heard," Kienan said. "It was a very stupid thing to do."
"How can you say that?" Jayla-2 asked. "You did the same for me?"
"Jayla-2, its not exactly the same thing--"
"To me, it is," Jayla-2 said.
"I . . .I'd do whatever I could to keep you safe," Kienan said. "But that might not necessarily mean the two of us would be together."
"No," Kienan said.
"I dont know," Kienan said. "But it's not something you have to worry about, Jayla-2. I'm not going anywhere. I promise."
Jayla-2 looked around the empty room, as cold and silent as the galaxy outside her window and pondered his words. Right now he was light years away, with no way to contact him, no way to make sure he was all right.
I dont even know where he is, Jayla-2 thought. And we cant send him a message, because Vain says they can track us through the beacons. All I can do is wait for him, and trust him to keep his word.
Jayla-2 leaned her head against the glass, her long black hair falling forward and covering her face like a shroud. Under her feet, the Silhouette rumbled quietly as outside the galaxy continued its eternal slow spiral. She felt the vast distances between the stars like a cold ache in her heart, trying desperately to salve the ache by repeating his words silently to herself.
Take him at his word, she thought. He never broke a promise to you.
Right now, that seems like the hardest thing to do.
* * *
Doublecross made his choice, closing the distance and leaping to the damaged half of the catwalk. With the added weight of the swordsman, the catwalk groaned and swayed and everyone momentarily lost their footing. Kienan hit a small switch in the toe of his boots, magnetizing himself to the catwalk as Cross and Doublecross reached for a purchase of their own.
Kienan eyed his opponent. Doublecross thrust his swords at Kienan, but he was too far down the ever-increasing slope, Kienan knocked the swords away with a swipe of his knife, causing Doublecross to slip backwards on the rain-slicked catwalk.
Kienan slowly moved a step back up the catwalk, using his magnets to gain higher ground. Doublecross won't waste another chance, he thought, and as soon as Cross clears her head she'll try something as well. If we keep fighting like this, we'll all fall when the catwalk finally gives.
It's stupid to keep fighting with all of us losing ground.
Doublecross moved into position behind Cross. Clearly he'd found his balance. Cross blinked, her black lips parting into a thin, cruel smile.
Kienan reached behind him, finding a small cylinder on his belt and clipping one end to a hidden hook on his belt. He raised his knife in a blocking stance, waiting for Doublecross' attack.
Cross turned painfully and fired a small pistol at Kienan's feet as Doublecross moved forward, the tips of his swords scraping the edge of the catwalk. Kienan stepped into his path, pulling the cylinder from his belt and firing it at the pylon behind him.
A thin but very strong line of cable fired from the other end of the cylinder as Kienan caught Doublecross with a slashing motion, catching Doublecross' shoulder. He pressed a button on the cylinder and was sent hurtling backwards as the cable pulled him back along the length of it, out of Doublecross' reach.
Doublecross gouged one of his blades into the deck of the catwalk, which was now beginning to slope straight down. Behind him, Cross lost her grip and fell screaming into the gray rain-soaked depths below. Doublecross climbed onwards, not seeming to care anymore.
In his mind, all that mattered now was killing Ademetria, and certainly not for the sake of business of reputation anymore. He shoved his blades into the catwalk, using them like parallel bars to flip up onto the deck. He made his way to the ledge of the catwalk, rising to his feet, swords drawn. Behind him, there was a great scream and rending of metal as the catwalk tore free and fell down into the city below, just as Cross had done.
"We're not through, Ademetria," Doublecross said.
"Oh yes we are," Kienan said. "You just dont know it yet."
Doublecross surged forward, pivoting on one foot and sending his blades in twin whirling arcs towards Kienan, who rolled with the first swing, using the momentum to roll onto Doublecross' back and smash him in the side of his face with his elbow while using his other hand to wrench Doublecross' other sword loose.
Doublecross turned again, and this time Kienan parried his blow with his own sword. Kienan kept to a mostly defensive posture--he'd had some training with swords, but nothing quite like this. He continued to parry Doublecross, waiting for an opening.
Doublecross sensed his uncertainty with the blade and while Kienan parried him, he began forcing Kienan back to the gap where he intended Ademetria to follow his beloved Cross.
Kienan kept his eyes on Doublecross' legs. He'd unhooked himself from the zip-line he'd used to pull himself back from the gap, but hadnt reeled it in. It lay there, coiled over the deck, the silver release just an inch from his left foot.
And standing in between the coils was Doublecross.
Kienan met Doublecross's next attack, an overhead slash meant to break his block with equal pressure, holding him back with all the strength he could muster. His foot reached out for the release button.
There was a quiet sucking sound as the reel engaged, snagging one of Doublecross legs. Doublecross relaxed his force for a second and Kienan used his to push him back as the reel tied around Doublecross legs. Doublecross turned his sword down, using a quickly thrust to slice the cable off.
"Pathetic trick, Ademetria," Doublecross said, raising his sword again. He rocked onto his toes, poised to strike.
It wasn't a trick, Kienan said, lunging forward with his sword in a close guarding stance. Doublecross tried to take his head as he stepped to the side, but Kienan rolled to the side, using the momentum to roll to a standing position just as Doublecross finished his initial swing.
It was a diversion.
Kienan turned, swinging his sword and trusting his instincts. There was a quite tearing sound as he took Doublecross' arm off at the elbow. As he finished the motion, he caught a glance of Doublecross' shocked face, unable to believe he'd been defeated.
Kienan pivoted again, moving into a short spin as he tossed the sword into the air. He snatched it out of the air with his other hand and cleaved Doublecross' head from his shoulders.
Kienan heard Doublecross' body hit the deck and relaxed. He looked over his shoulder at the headless corpse and relaxed, bringing himself out of the stance. He tossed the sword aside and kicked Doublecross' body off the deck as he rifled through his belt for another zip-line cylinder.
That was the first problem in six months I've been able to solve the way I'm used to, he pondered, firing the piton into the other end of the deck as he anchored his end to his side. Then he carefully made his way across the improvised rope crossing, his long braid, now soaked with rain and blood dangling below him, the gentle wind and gravity almost gently yanking him down.
It's nice to know there are some things in this universe that still respond to being hit hard, he thought, shimmying across. It may not be the most mature way to handle it, but it felt wonderful.
Reaching the other side, he swung his legs over, using the various support beams that had been torn loose as handholds. His satisfaction would be short-lived, of course. However enjoyable dallying with those two had been, he still had to complete the mission that had brought him to this gloomy planet.
He had to get back to the Silhouette, before they left without him. He opened the door to the launch pad, and walked as fast as he was able to the ship moored in front of him.