The young woman looked out at the faces below her in the smoky club,
standing above it all like a angel with a guitar. The stage lights glimmered
off the silver strings of her electric blue guitar as she sang her song of loss
and sorrow. In this moment, she was the song she sang, drawing the music out of
her instrument and herself.
this now, gently strumming the strings of the electric blue guitar around. It
came so easily, as preternatural an instinct as drawing breath or the beating
of the human heart. Her blue-white hair tumbled into her face, but she made no
motion to flick it from her eyes. She and the music were one and the same now,
and she liked it that way.
The only name she had was Grey, and the blues were
the only sound her soul made.
Her green eyes were half-closed as she strummed the
strings, coaxing gentle sad notes from the electric instrument. The crowd has
completely fallen away now, there was just her and the music at last.
"Now there's nowhere to go,"
she sang, slowly, deeper
than her usual voice. "And I'm running out of life."
She strummed the last note, opened her green eyes
and looked out at the audience. They were clapping like their lives depended on
it. They were with her. She smiled, resisting the urge to bite her lip and
smudge her black lipstick on her teeth.
She smiled, wider now, and nodded her head.
"Thank you," she said into the microphone. "Thank you so much.
My name's Grey ... and I've got one
more set. Stick around."
I hear the distant echoes of
Mocking me as I try to make
you stay ...
The young man at the back table had watched the entire performance with
a thoughtful look on his face. The cigarette he had been smoking was burned
down to the filter, so caught up in the song He had forgotten it. Something
inside him had been touched by it, like calm water disturbed by a stone dropped
"Hey, Kienan," the bald man sitting on the
other side of the table said. Kienan Ademetria blinked and looked over at him.
His companion pointed at the lady on stage, her back to the audience as she
lifted off her guitar. "She's incredible, isn't she?"
Kienan flicked his cigarette into the ashtray. He
looked at Grey, shaded in red as the stage lights went down. For a second, he
could have sworn she looked back over her shoulder at him. "Yes," he
said, watching her walk off stage. The accumulated smoke from the bar made it
look like she were a ghost stepping back into some spirit world he could never
be a part of, only apart from.
"Now you know why I picked the White
Reflection," Carl Drayton said. He eased his large burly frame back in the
creaking wooden chair. His bald head gleamed as the house lights came back up
and the din of conversation from people at the tables grew into a steady
murmur. "I love this club. Always try to stop in when I'm in the
"I meant to ask," Kienan said, running a
hand through his chestnut hair. He shifted in his seat; suddenly aware he was
on his braid. "You don't usually work the Frontier. What are you
doing on Kuran?"
"Got a job," Drayton said. 'Private
contract. I figured I'd see how I liked working in your style."
"Hm," Kienan said, waving the waitress
over for another drink. Kienan's "style," as Drayton had so
euphemistically put it, was murder. Years ago, Kienan had killed to survive.
But enough of that had given him a taste for it, and so now he killed because
it was all he knew.
Kienan had been born on a nearby colony that was
slaughtered by a race of alien buried near the planet's core. He had fought
alone against them, Killing any he came across, living on the rage of seeing
his friends and family butchered and bathing in their blood. As an act of
revenge, he triggered the destruction of the entire system. His past swallowed
in starfire, his present colored by burning rage, Kienan had dedicated his life
to mastering the skills of an assassin. It was almost as though he had been
bred for the purpose.
Kienan mulled it over. It wasn't so much what
Drayton had said, as much as it was Gray. Had she looked at him, or had he just
imagined it. And why was that making him think of the colony?
Kienan took out another cigarette. "I thought
you gun-hunters fought other people's wars and whatnot," he said. "I
didn't know you were trying to horn in on my profession."
"It was an offer I couldnt refuse,"
Drayton said. "Three million for a simple hit. Couldnt be any
"Three?" Kienan said. "I usually get
ten for private commissions."
Drayton turned, shocked, and smiled at him. He was
putting him on. Kienan smirked back at him.
"Sure you do," he said. "I know you
Kienan. You'd take a job for 1 credit, if you thought it was right."
Kienan exhaled again, making more ghost shapes on
the dark. "So you say," Kienan said. " I just do
What comes naturally," Drayton said with the weariness of someone who had
heard it a million times before. He looked back to the stage at Grey, who was
beginning her next set, a cigarette still dangling from her lips as she tested
her sound levels. "Why you keep muttering that line like you think it's
clever, I'll never know. You need a woman, I think. Hey, why don't you try for
Kienan raised an eyebrow, his emerald eyes narrowing
on Grey, who was bent over, plugging her guitar into her amplifier. "She's
a little young for me, don't you think? She doesn't look a day over
Drayton smiled and sighed, shaking his head.
"And you, my dear friend, aren't much over twenty yourself," he said.
"Tell me you're not still carrying a torch for that girl, what was her
name ... Sil-something?"
Kienan's face darkened suddenly. "No," he
said. He made a gun with his thumb and his forefinger with his right hands.
"I'm over it now. I accept it, I broke her heart," he said, pulling
Kienan mused. I saw her again. Not even a week
ago. But I think we finally decided that we were done with each other. Now all
that's left are the embers of once was.
He closed his eyes. It only hurts every now and
"Good to hear," Drayton said. "Don't
get me wrong Kienan, I liked her OK, but something about that girl told me she
was gonna get you killed one day."
Kienan smiled around his cigarette as he lit it.
"Yep," Drayton said. "She seemed to
live to complicate your life."
Kienan took a long thoughtful drag on his cigarette.
"Ex-Girlfriends always do, don't they?"
"Then for God's sake Kienan," Drayton
said. "Get yourself a new one. Only way to escape the past is to stop
living in it."
Because I'm running out of
Seeing shadows of angry
An hour later, Grey unplugged the guitar from the amplifier. Last call
had been an hour ago and most everyone was on their way out of the club. Her
gray-gloved hands switched off and unplugged the amp, gently rolling up the
cord for the guitar and setting it on the stage. She began to feel a strange
compulsion and felt around in her jean pockets for a cigarette.
She looked up. In the hand in front of her she saw a
cigarette and a lighter.
"Lucky I was here," the golden-skinned man
with the dark green eyes said, an easy smile on his face. Grey smiled shyly and
took the cigarette as the man lit it for her.
"You read my mind, mystery man," Grey
said, lighting up.
"I hope I'm not getting in the way of you
cleaning up," the man said. "I just wanted to tell you how much I
liked your performances tonight."
Grey bent over her guitar, checking the strings and
pickups for any signs of wear and tear before she put it away, the cigarette
dangling from her lips as she glanced over to Kienan every now and again. She
thought he looked way too nice for this place. He wore a tailored white silk
suit that, despite the dirtiness of the White Reflection, didnt seem to have a
spot of dirt on it. His voice was rough and smooth all at once, rare for people
this far out in space, most of whom had a very neutral mode of speech.
Must be all the smoking,
"I was hoping you liked it," she said,
looking at him curiously. "You kept staring at me the whole time. I was afraid
my top had come undone or something."
"You saw me?" Kienan asked, blushing a
"Well, you're not a regular here," Grey
said. "Plus even in a dark bar that white suit of yours stands out like a
supernova. And thirdly when someone stares at you for three hours straight,
you'd have to be dumb not to notice."
"I didn't mean to stare," Kienan said,
almost hurt. I was just ... really
captivated, I guess. This is the first time in a long time I've been in here.
The name's Kienan."
"I'm Grey," she replied, reaching under
the stage for her guitar case. She reddened a bit. Well of course he
knows who you are dummy, she thought. Stop acting like a goddamned
schoolgirl. She turned to him and sat down on the edge of the stage,
looking at him. "Y'know, I hope you don't think me odd for asking this,
but ... "
Kienan looked himself over. "What?"
Grey pulled her guitar case free, wiping the sweat
off her brow. She smiled and looked at him. "Well," she said, her
voice still carrying a hint of mischievous childishness to it. The smooth line
she had been spinning in her head had fallen from her fingers and she was
groping for some reason to keep the conversation going. "How do you keep
your hair like that?"
she thought bitterly. Very smooth. He's really
going to ask you out now. You can talk about hair care tips all night.
Kienan scooped up his braid in his right hand.
"I get that a lot," he mused. "What about yours?"
"What about mine?"
"Well," Kienan said. "The last
blue-haired person I met was Rigellian."
Grey grinned around her cigarette and looked at him
as she leaned over the stage to get her guitar. "Is this where you ask me
if I'm a natural blue?"
"I dont know. Is it?"
Grey smiled and put her guitar in her case. Kienan
looked over at it. "A Fender Stratocaster," Kienan said. "You
have refined tastes. This things looks to be at least two centuries old."
Grey smiled. "I love that guitar more than life
itself. The only time I feel alive is when I hold it in my hands and I'm up
here. Do you play?"
Kienan smiled and nodded. "Piano," he
Grey closed the guitar case and hopped up on the
edge of the stage. "They say all piano players are melancholy borderline
psychotics," she said with a smile and a raised eyebrow.
Kienan smiled and lit a cigarette. "They also
say all guitarists are tortured and self-destructive."
"They certainly talk a lot don't they?"
Kienan smiled. "Yes," he said. 'They
Grey smiled at him. "Look, uhm," she said
shyly. "Will you be around tomorrow night?"
Kienan took a long, thoughtful drag off his
cigarette, exhaling it slowly. "I can be."
"Well, I'm only playing the first set tomorrow
night," she said. "If youre here
... well, maybe we could go out?"
Kienan smiled. "It's been awhile since I was
asked out by a woman."
"Then you dated the wrong women."
"Hm," Kienan said, his mouth forming a
thin line. "Heard that before." He smiled and dropped the
cigarette to the floor, grinding it out with his foot. "All right, Grey.
You've got yourself a deal."
"Tomorrow at ten, OK?" Grey asked, smiling
still. Kienan smiled back, a little tighter
-- smiling wasn't something that came all that naturally to his face --
Grey watched him go and grabbed her guitar case. She
slid off the stage then stopped as she looked at the clock, her smile fading a
bit and her face darkening with worry.
I hope I miss that date, Kienan,
she thought. But I have
a funny feeling I won't.
Grey made her way upstairs, smiling. In the shadows,
Drayton slipped out of the White Reflection through a side exit. He had seen
the whole thing. As Kienan walked out of the entrance, seeming a little lighter
than he had in awhile, he wondered whether it had been right to urge him on to
Grey like that. Especially with what was about to happen.
You almost drove away all of
But shadows still remain
inside my soul ...
Kienan thought. I must be out of my mind or drunk. Maybe both.
He shrugged off his white silk jacket and hung it on
a hook on the wall. His apartment was much as he had left it six months ago.
Kienan rarely stayed on Kuran long enough on to need his apartment except to
shower or change his clothes, The jobs he received took him all over known
space, and even at top speed it took weeks to go from one end of it to the
other. Months of dust on everything were nothing new to him.
He was thinking of Grey, and of how she had looked
at him. And how it made him feel when she did.
Kienan cautioned himself. You know how it starts.
They look at you and you melt inside. You immediately want to reach out to
them. But they always hurt you. They can't understand you. Don't keep beating
your head against the wall.
You can't even love someone properly, he said.
Remember what happened last time.
He tried to push the image from his mind.
Recriminations. Sorrow. A woman he loved and tried to save, but instead
destroyed. Unlike Silhouette, his first, she would never return to him so they
could put it all behind him.
There was only her ghost in his heart.
That experience had hurt him so much he had done all
he could to stop pursuing it, like something he could lose his taste for if
only be denied himself long enough. The trouble was, the more he denied it to
himself, the more he wanted it.
You've already ruined two women,
he thought. Why make it
three? She'll only hurt you.
He loosened his tie and unbuttoned his shirt, taking
a deep breath. He leaned against the wall and sighed, as if he'd been unable to
breathe until now. But it wasn't the suit. Just the memories.
He made a mental note to check in with his ship
tomorrow morning and finished unbuttoning his shirt. He lazily tossed the shirt
to the floor and then slid out of his trousers. He left them in a heap and
walked into his bedroom to the closet, changed into some looser sweats he used
for training, lay down on the bed, and stared at the ceiling.
He felt tired, but couldnt sleep. Too much was
going on in his head and his heart.
The apartment was empty now, but Kienan had grown
not to mind it so much. He was comfortable in his solitude. There were the
ghosts of memory here, as with everywhere he went, Kienan seemed to drag them
along behind him. Nights of passion, bitter recrimination. Tears in the dark,
whispered love in the night. Every breath reminded him of it.
Sometimes, when he was alone and feeling hurt he
listened to the echoes in the place and hurt a little bit more, felt the
absence and loneliness a bit more than he usually did. And sometimes, though it
was very rare, it hurt enough that the tears in the dark were his own.
But Kienan had set those memories aside tonight. He
was thinking of Grey. There was something about her, something familiar and
something he couldn't quite put his finger on. He liked Grey, but it was his instinct
to size up anyone and everyone as a potential threat.
Because they'll only hurt you in the end,
he thought cynically.
He mulled it over, coming back in his mind over and
over again to when their eyes met, how she looked at him and smiled when she talked.
He finally put his finger on what compelled him so.
Kienan thought. She has the same eyes as I do.
Not just that they are the same color, but the same shadows. The same sorrow.
He mulled it over a bit longer, sighed and turned
over, resting his head on the pillow and trying hard to sleep. He would worry
about it tomorrow. Too much time with it in the state his mind was in would
keep him awake all night.
And I'm running out of hope,
Hearing echoes of bitter
Grey leaned against the wall outside the White Reflection, her gloved
fingers holding her cigarette in trembling hands. Where is he? She
wondered angrily. If he doesnt show up soon, I'm going back in. I'm already
afraid of chickening out. I shouldn't have asked that Kienan guy out. I knew
what I had planned, but ... I just
forgot about it for a ...
Grey dropped the cigarette and stubbed it out with
her white booted foot. She felt the muzzle of the pistol against her temple,
smiled and tried very hard not to move.
Here it is,
she thought. Finally, it'll all be over.
Carl Drayton held the gun steady, wanting to close
his eyes, but willing himself not to. Grey had warned him all right. The
slightest hesitation on his part would endanger them both.
he thought, trying to will himself to pull the
trigger. It doesn't matter that she's only seventeen, and you've got a
daughter the same age, she's not what she appears to be, she said so
Before Drayton could pull the trigger, Grey's hand
reached up and seized his arm, pulling it with such force she tore it free with
strength that should have been impossible for a woman her size. Drayton,
whether because of the shock of having his arm ripped out of his socket or
whether because it were true, saw Grey change right in front of his eyes as if
in slow motion, too shocked to scream.
Her green eyes became a hateful glowing red and the
color from her golden skin darkened and became a sort of flat weathered gray,
like a gravestone. It would be the last thing Carl Drayton saw.
Grey seized his head in one hand and threw him
against the wall of the White reflection with such force four of his ribs
broke, and the concrete wall buckled. Drayton had barely enough time to process
this before Grey struck twice more, breaking his spine and his neck, ending his
Drayton slid down the wall, dead and bleeding
profusely. The wet floor of the alley behind the club seemed to make the pools
of blood even thicker than usual. Grey blinked once, twice, the red of her eyes
reverting to the tranquil green they had been. She looked down at what was left
of Drayton and nearly threw up.
she thought. Not again.
Then she grabbed her guitar case and ran back inside
You gave me faith to find a
A belief that I could begin
again with you ...
Kienan leaned against the bar, puzzled. Drayton said he came here
every night that he was in the colony, he thought. Wonder why he hasn't
been in? He waved the bartender over.
"Hey," he said to the thin man behind the
bar. "Seen a guy? He's a regular; he comes here every night to hear Grey.
Six foot six, bald head, old guy."
"Yeah," the bartender said. "Yeah, I
know him. He got killed around back last night."
"What?" Kienan asked. "Just outside?
Are you serious?"
The bartender nodded. "Tore him to bits. No one
Kienan nodded, slipped him some money and turned
back to watch Grey finish her set. Drayton's dead, he thought. And
right here, at this club. Doesn't make any sense. It's been years since he was
here last, even longer than that since he lived here full-time. No enemy would
have waited that long. How the could the big score he was talking about have
anything to do with this place?
He wasn't working last night,
he thought. He never
partied and worked. And who in the hell could tear him apart? There arent that
many aliens on Kuran, especially here. Humans sure as hell dont have the
strength to rip someone apart like that.
Drayton was a friend, and a longtime one for Kienan.
He didnt have many and tended to hold on to the ones he had. He had to see to
this. He had to know.
Looks like I'll be calling in some favors tomorrow.
Someone tapped him on his shoulder. Kienan turned
around, amazed that he was so tense he barely felt the touch.
"Hey," a female voice said. "Buy a
girl a drink?"
Grey was standing behind him. Kienan smiled a little
and chided himself for letting her sneak up on him. She moved like a ghost,
he thought. I should ask her to teach me that trick.
He waved the bartender over and he poured her a shot
of what Kienan was having.
"Heard you had some trouble here last
night," Kienan said, throwing back his shot. The Altairian whiskey burned
as it went down. "Guy got killed outside the bar after hours."
"I didnt hear anything about it," Grey
said, drinking hers slower and more deliberately. She coughed as she finished
it. "How can you drink this stuff?"
"Practice," Kienan smiled. He slapped some
money on the bar and took Grey's arm. "Shall we go?"
And it leaves marks
On a soul that can never be
"Chopsticks," Grey said, frowning as she tried to capture the
rice in the bowl before her. "I had no idea you were Chinese."
"I'm not," Kienan said, easily scooping up
the rice in his bowl. "I just like rice."
Grey tried to emulate him and succeeded, a little
less relaxed than he did. She wiped a piece of rice off her chin.
"Obviously. I don't think I have the hand-eye coordination to work
Kienan laughed. "But you can play the
"Well," Grey said, giggling a little.
"I've had more practice doing that."
"Maybe you should try it without the
gloves?" Kienan asked.
Grey frowned. "Uh, no," she said. 'That
would be bad."
Kienan raised an eyebrow. "Why? I had noticed
you never took them off."
"Nope," Grey said. "Never."
Grey blushed. "Well, I have a bad habit of
burning myself with my cigarettes. When I was a kid, the docs said I had some
sort of tactile deficiency. I have no idea what that means, but the upshot of
it is it's hard for me to feel anything."
"Interesting," Kienan said. "And yet
you learned how to play the guitar. And well."
"Yeah," Grey said. She smiled at the
"I admire people who turn a fault into a
strength," Kienan said. "It's
... hard to do."
"What do you do, anyways?" Grey asked.
Kienan stared at her. Grey immediately felt like
crawling under the table.
"Never mind," she said. She bit her bottom
They looked at each other for a minute; an awkward
silence seemed to have filled the room. Finally, Grey decided to break the
silence with a stupid question.
"Where are you from?"
Kienan blinked. "Where did that come
"I've been wondering ever since I first heard
your voice. You look different from most spacers. For one thing, you have a
hell of a tan. Most folks who live in colonies are like ghosts."
"Where are you from?"
"I asked you first," Grey said, smiling.
"Caldera," he said quietly. "And
where are you from?"
"Cythera," Grey said with bitterness so
deep Kienan felt it in the emphasis on the syllables.
"I thought Cythera was a dead world,"
"I thought the same thing about Caldera,"
"Well," Kienan said. "I got out
before that happened." When asked questions like this Kienan found it worked
better to tell the truth, but to leave out anything useful. It seemed to go
over better than a straight lie. At first, anyway. "What about you?"
"I don't remember," Grey said. Kienan
could tell it was the truth. "I only found out what happened later. I
don't think ... I want to
remember, really. What about you?"
Kienan nodded. Grey smiled, desperate to break the
mood. "What are the odds that two orphans like us would me in a big
universe like this, huh?"
"Pretty long, I'd imagine," Kienan said.
"Me either," Grey said, fighting against
the silence that threatened to engulf the conversation. She looked Kienan in
the eye. "I like you."
"Why?" Kienan asked.
"Because I feel like you understand me,"
Grey said. "I've felt alone for a long time, like I was out of step with
everything around me. And you kinda seem like that too. Like you're outside of
all of it."
Kienan raised his eyebrow and drank from his teacup,
looking up at her as he looked down into the dark liquid. Suddenly he wanted a
cigarette very badly. "I'm that easy to read?"
"Not at all," Grey said. "I still
don't feel like I know the first thing about you. Except that you're a lot like
Kienan smiled around his teacup. "I'm not as
cute as you, Grey, but it's sweet of you to say so."
Grey giggled. "I mean, youre lonely."
Kienan looked away for a moment. He had been turning
the thing with Drayton over in his head and half-listening to her but now not
only did she have his full attention, he also felt uncomfortably pinned down.
He heard himself inhale sharply, as if someone had caught him with a surprise
Grey's eyes fell and she fumbled around in her jeans
for something, suddenly very embarrassed. "Sorry," she said.
"Said too much, didn't I?"
"It's all right," Kienan said.
Kienan nodded. "I'm just not used to people
saying what's in my heart before I tell them myself."
"I'll tell you what," Kienan said.
"Let's just say ... I'm dreaming
my way through life. And I'm a little afraid to wake up."
"Kienan," she said. "You just said what
was in my heart."
It might not be too late for
you to save me
And take me from this
pathway I tread ...
The next day, Kienan sat on a metal bench in a kids playground,
smoking a cigarette and watching the kids run and caper through the playground
in front of him. The merry-go-round in front of him turned slowly and lazily. A
group of kids had just jumped off and now were dizzily making their way to the
Last night he had been turning over what happened to
Drayton in his mind, and now he had Drayton and Grey playing on his mind today.
Why had she lied about hearing about it? There was
no way she couldn't have -- even if she only came in for the set, the whole
place would have been talking about it. Why had she evaded most every question
He ground out the cigarette. More than that,
he thought. Who am I to say that anyone's hiding something? "You never
tell anyone the whole truth," Sil used to say. "It makes people
crazy." If she only knew. Grey may have nothing to do with the murder, but
I keep thinking of how Drayton stared at her, like ...
"Hey," a young girl's voice said.
"Hey, you, with the girly braid!"
A young woman of sixteen was standing on the
merry-go-round holding the rails. "You living out your second childhood or
Kienan smiled. "Hello, Angela."
Angela Anastazi stepped off the merry-go-round and
sidled up to Kienan on the bench. "Hi dad," she said.
"I really wish you wouldnt call me that,"
Kienan said flatly.
"But it annoys you so," Angela
said. "Besides, youre a damn sight more a dad to me than my real father
ever was. Anyways, you asked for the meeting
... what do ya need?"
"Two favors," Kienan said. "Both of
them for ... our friend
Angela smiled. "Ohhhh ... OK," she said. She looked around. "You know it
feels good for you to say that without laughing for a change. Hey, where are
your two friends?"
Kienan looked puzzled. "My two
Angela tousled her hair and curved her arms over her
chest in the shape of two massive bosoms.
"Oh," Kienan said. "Vain and
"The Boobs and Booty Brigade, yes," Angela
Kienan smiled. "They're on the space
ring," he said. "Besides. This isn't their game. I need to get some
info, and to do that I need an in to these addresses." He handed her a
folded piece of paper and gently put it in her hand. "And I need them
"Gonna be hard," Angela sad.
"Nightshade likes to case the places she goes in before she goes in."
"With one of the addresses, that won't be a
"Oh," Angela said. 'Well, then, go
"No time," Kienan said. "Gonna do
some work of my own on this. The other address might be tough. It's an
apartment on the top floor of a club."
"The White Reflection."
"Hm," Angela said. "Tricky. How long
does Nightshade have?"
"I want you
... her ...
there at eleven," Kienan said.
"Unless the unexpected happens, she shouldnt be upstairs until one."
"She?" Angela asked. "I'm spying on
your girlfriends now?"
"Not exactly," Kienan said.
"Not exactly spying or she's not exactly your
"Both," Kienan said. This was one of the
games he and Angela played. Angela liked punching holes in Kienan's boat, and
Kienan let her, mostly because she knew she didnt have any malice in her heart
for him at all.
But at the moment, he didnt feel like smiling. The
more he thought about Grey the more worried he felt. Not because of what he
felt, but because of what he was starting to believe and what he wanted to
believe and how far apart the two things were.
"All right," Angela said. "I'll do
"You dont need to wreck the places. Just look
around for documents, correspondence, no valuables. And come by the apartment
when youre done. Test out my locks."
"Take all the fun out of it, why don't
Kienan smirked. "You sure complain a lot."
Angela laughed. "And you talk too much."
Because I'm running out of
Silent screams and a broken
Grey blinked and stretched, lying alone in her bead. She checked the
time. Deep into the afternoon, she thought. I sleep any later and
I'll be a vampire. What time did I get in last night? So hard to remember. Damn
Kienan for making me take that shot ...
my head feels like it's got wet newspaper in it ...
She looked at her hand and was surprised that she
had fallen asleep in her clothes again. She sighed, swung her legs over the
side of the bed and rose to her feet, peeling her clothes off one by one.
She looked at the clock again. Just enough time
for a shower and a wash for these things before I have to set up for tonight's
set, she thought. She wondered if Kienan would be there tonight as she
padded into the bathroom and ran the shower.
She couldnt remember making plans for another date
with him, but she wouldn't mind seeing him again. Idly she stuck her hand in
the now-steaming water, looked at it and glumly sighed. Nothing.
She looked at the bathroom mirror and waited until
it was fogged over and stepped inside. She thought about what Kienan had said,
about dreaming his way through life.
she thought. I should write a song about it. Lord
knows, I've felt the same way myself. Except when I sleep, I never dream.
She rubbed soap all over her body into a nice lather
and washed it off, still feeling nothing as the water splashed against her
yellow skin like a driving rain. She rinsed herself off, still mulling about
her life of dreams as she toweled herself off.
She wrapped the towel around herself; she felt a
sense of panic shoot through her. What if he finds out? She wondered. What
if he finds out what I did here and the other places? Would he understand?
Probably not. But what if he did. What would be
worse? Him not understanding ... or if
She scooped up her clothes and took them to be
washed. She sat in a folding chair in front of the washer and thought about it.
Then she tried to cry, but couldn't.
Tell me that my dreams can
Stay by my side and make
them all come true ...
"Hello ladies," Kienan said, stepping onto the bridge of his
ship, the Silhouette. "Vain, Mirage, you two have really outdone
yourself." The two women on the bridge were clad in their work coveralls
and smudged with grease, but their beauty was barely diminished by the grime.
Kienan smirked a little as he waited for them to
answer. For artificial lifeforms, they were quite human sometimes, especially
in their need to look busy when he came onto the bridge. Mirage, even now was
busy picking up tools, her brown bangs hiding her eyes as she did so.
"Kienan," Vain said, brushing her blonde
hair away from her face. "I thought you were staying on the colony level
until we finished the repairs and refit."
"I was, but I need some things from the
ship," Kienan said. "And some time with Conscience. Is she
"Yes," Conscience said. Conscience was the
third of her kind, like Vain and Mirage. Unfortunately, she had been severely
damaged and nearly lost. To save her, Kienan had merged her with his own ship,
in effect making them one.
"Conscience," Kienan said. "I need
all the data you can find on a planet called Cythera. Also, I need you to
create a database for me ... starting
from the time Cythera was classified a dead world and continuing to the
present. Look for ... instances of
especially brutal murder, people getting torn apart, that sort of thing.
Download it onto a data crystal."
"I will," Conscience said.
"Trouble?" Mirage asked. Kienan could have
sword she sounded almost hopeful. Much like Kienan, they seemed to grow more
anxious the longer they spent out of action.
"Not sure," Kienan said. "Right now,
just a few things that dont add up."
"Should we go with you?" Vain asked.
"That won't be necessary, ladies," Kienan
said. "It's more important we get the Silhouette in working order
so we can get out into space again. But if I need help, I promise to call
Kienan smiled at them and left the bridge. He had
some things he needed to pick up from his quarters on the ship, then a long
night of studying the data Conscience would provide. And that was before
Nightshade showed up ...
And you use your anger like
Shutting me out and closing
me in ...
Grey finished her set with a quavering voice. He wasn't here,
she thought. She couldn't see all too well down on the sea of upturned faces,
but she had been able to feel him all the other times he had been out there. So
where was he tonight?
I scared him off, she thought, glumly unplugging her amp. I
scared him off by prying too much. Me of all people! God, why couldn't I just
leave it alone?
she reminded herself. Maybe he's not mad. Calm
down girl. Maybe he won't find out about all the others, about Cythera, maybe
he'll be different. Maybe he'll understand why you dont react to his tough,
why you lock yourself away whenever he gets mad or whenever something gets a
little dangerous you run away ... the
other's didnt understand, but he might.
But what if he doesn't want me at all?
She shut her guitar case with a hard snap of both
straps. The adrenaline from the crowd reaction to her set had died a bit and
she was feeling tired again. She hung around for a bit, dangling her legs off
the edge of the stage like a child cooling their feet in a brook.
Waiting for him.
After a half-hour, she sighed. The crowd was
beginning to file out at last and she felt terrible. Embarrassed and a little
disappointed. She looked at the guitar case on her lap and decided to open it,
slide the guitar out and strum a tune.
The manager walked past, surveying the damage the
crowd had done. "Hey, Rick," she said. "I'm gonna just jam for a
bit Ok? I figure I'll play you guys out."
Rick stared at her for a second, ran his fingers
through his long stringy blond hair and smiled. "I dont think the
janitors have ever had an accompaniment."
Grey smiled. "I'm not your usual
musician," she said, smiling. "Besides, I wanna practice a new number
I'm thinking of adding to the set."
"Go ahead," Rick sad.
Grey plugged in and went over the notes in her mind.
It was an old song, one for piano, really, but she thought she could carry it
off. She tapped the microphone, and got feedback. She smiled.
"Ladies and gentlemen," she said.
"Soft remembered dreams
of sweet compliance,
Seamlessly fitting yourself
into my world ... "
"You had a bit more trouble with the locks this time," Kienan
said to the woman clad in black leather who stood before him. She ran a hand
through her white hair and took her wraparound mirrored glasses off as she
shrugged the heavy satchel off her shoulders.
"You got good locks this time," the woman
known as Nightshade said. She tossed the satchel to Kienan who snatched it out
of the air and opened it, taking out a fistful of data cylinders out. He was
sitting at his terminal in the living room; his brow furrowing as he sifted
through the data Conscience had given him.
"Thanks," he said grimly.
"Something wrong?" Nightshade said,
heading for the wash basin in his kitchen
"Let's just say I hate being right,"
Nightshade said. She wandered in to wash the color
out of her hair while Kienan read report after report of men killed in
progressively more gruesome ways. The men had a few things in common despite
being from space colonies and planets along the Frontier.
First they were all gun-hunters, contract killers,
or run of the mill assassins. Independent operators, all.
Second, they were all killed outside of blues clubs
in the worst parts of every colony space colony from Axanar to Nereus.
Perfect place to hit someone if you want to
guarantee the police won't step in,
Kienan thought. He looked at the satchel. He had
the worst feeling he would find out what he suspected was true. First, that
Drayton had been commissioned to kill Grey. Second, that Grey had killed him in
There was a third angle, but Kienan wasn't sure he wanted
to go down that road just yet. He took a deep breath and reached inside the
satchel as Angela wandered back out, the white color she used as Nightshade now
rinsed out and returned to its true dark color.
She read the frown on Kienan's face and sat in a far
chair. She had known Kienan ever since he had plucked her off the streets and
while she knew very little of his life, she knew what that face meant -- stay
out of his way.
"What are you reading about?" Angela
"Cythera," Kienan said. "It appears
the UEF did a test of some nanomachines called reapers there. You unleash them
into an atmosphere and activate them with an energy signal. Then they kill the
population and reanimate the corpses, which spread it around until the whole
planets infected with them. Total chaos. It continues until the whole planets
full of zombies or they destroy themselves trying to kill the zombies. Then you
send out another signal and the reapers self-destruct."
"Nasty," Angela said.
Kienan nodded, taking a nervous drag off the
cigarette he had been working on since he began it. Uncomfortable memories of
his own experiences with monsters and chaos were swirling around him, trying to
find cracks in his armor. The ghosts of Caldera were never far behind him.
"Hey, uhm," Angela began. "I know
youre in the zone, but that last place you wanted in? That girl's?"
"What about it?"
"Did you know she doesn't eat?"
Kienan looked at Angela as if she'd just grown a
second head. "I've seen her eat," Kienan said. "Maybe she eats
out a lot. She works most of the time she's up."
"Nope," Angela said. "There'd be
signs. People bring stuff home to snack on, just in case. It's human nature.
Candy wrappers or food bags in the trash. The smell of takeout food in the
kitchen. None of that."
"Didn't have to look," Angela said.
"I'm good enough that when I go in I can read a room like someone taking
the temperature of water with their toe. Gypsies always know, Kienan"
Kienan leaned back in his chair and sighed. Then he
looked over at Angela, slowly rising from his chair. He thought of when he and
Grey had been out the night before and she had barely eaten. He thought it was
just shyness, because she wanted to talk but
he thought. It's what you were afraid of. Look at
the data on the screen and think about what happened. Really think about it. I
told you so.
Kienan stood up suddenly, his green eyes dark and
very sad. "Stay here," he said, as he made his way to his bedroom. He
didn't want Nightshade involved any deeper than she was already. What he had to
do now, he had to do alone.
It was a path he had walked many times before,
always alone. And it wasn't a path he wanted company on. Not when it led to
Grey, and what he must do, and how he knew he'd feel after it.
"Where are you going?" Angela called back.
"Out," Kienan said. He walked over to the
bed and opened the satchel he had brought from the Silhouette. He looked
down and sighed, taking out his gun belt.
Because I'm running out of
Silent screams and a broken
Now there's nowhere to go
And I'm running out of life.
Grey opened her eyes. The janitors had filed out, but she was still
struggling with the song when the door opened. In walked Kienan, but he looked
almost the complete opposite of the angel she had seen walk in two days ago. He
was clad in black and red and he looked very well armed. But what seemed the
most different about him to Grey were his eyes. There was no shine in them at
all. Just a calm focused fire, like the kind of rage that would blind you if
you stared at them long enough.
He's not pretty anymore,
Grey thought. Just very
"Kienan?" She asked.
Kienan stared at her and didn't say a word.
She put her guitar away again and sighed. She looked
at him and sighed. "I guess you know," she said.
"About the killings? Yes," Kienan said.
"About Cythera? Yes. What I don't know is why or how, exactly."
"Is that why you came ready to kill me?"
"I came ready for anything," Kienan said.
When he passed through the shadows of the darkened club, Grey swore he looked
inhuman, like the devil himself. "I'd just as soon not kill you."
"Even if I want you to?" Grey asked. She
sighed. "I'm sure you found out that I was the one that paid all of them
off, up to Drayton."
"You put out hits on yourself and killed every
one of them?" Kienan asked, his red-gloved hands passing his holsters.
"I didn't mean to," Grey said. "I
couldn't help it. What they did to us
... on Cythera, with the reapers
... it was screwed up when I made my escape, I think. So instead of
killing me, they protected me, healed me, kept me young."
"I don't think that's what happened at all,
Grey," Kienan said, drawing his pistols. "I think you got a mild dose
of the reapers when they unleashed them into Cythera's atmosphere and on the
journey out, you died. But because you got out before they'd been fully
activated they kept you alive -- barely."
"That sounds crazy," Grey said. 'I'm
alive! I made it out!"
"Then why can't you feel anything?"
Grey stopped suddenly.
"You haven't felt anything since you left
Cythera, have you?'
Grey shook her head.
"So the reapers in your body were responsible
for killing those people. That explains why you could tear apart a man twice
your size. They take over, an unconscious reflex, like adrenaline kicking in."
... you've got to leave. Please," Grey pleaded gently. "I
don't want the same thing to happen to you, but I can't help it. When it
happens, I wont have any way to stop it and I couldn't
... not to you."
"I know," Kienan said, cocking his pistols.
"Kienan, If you care about me at all --
"I do," Kienan said, a touch of sadness in
his voice. "That's why I'm going to end your pain."
With that he pulled the trigger and the stage was
torn to bits as Grey leapt out of the way. One of the bullets hit her amp and
the sound system squealed with feedback. Another nicked her guitar case,
sending a cruel streak over it and blasting one of the hinges off it. Grey
leapt out of the shadows, her eyes blood red and glowing, skin as pale as a
ghost's. She threw Kienan against a table, which broke under his weight and
caused his guns to slip from his grasp. He rolled to his feet as she dove for
him and kicked her in the back of the head, once, then again.
She grabbed his ankle when he tried for a third and
threw him down to the floor, grabbing a piece of the table and attempting to
pound it through his chest. Kienan blocked it, headbutted her and drove his
knee into her stomach, trying to throw her to the ground.
Grey threw Kienan off her and he landed against one
of the columns that supported the bar. He saw white light behind his eyes and
looked for his guns. It was too dark and he was too dizzy to look for them at
She reared back and punched at Kienan who slid down
the pole as her fist and forearm traveled through it. While her hand was
trapped, Kienan struck her over and over again with his elbow hoping to keep
her off balance so he could make a grab for his guns.
Unfortunately, she got a lucky shot against his
throat with her free arm and sent him wheeling backward against the bar. Kienan
leaned against it and flipped back, kicking her and pushing her back, his hands
sliding behind the bar and closing on a bottle of whiskey. He brought it up and
slid his free hand into one of the pouches on his belt.
"Catch," he said lobbing the bottle
underhanded at her. She caught it and Kienan threw the object he had in his
other hand at the bottle. The small throwing knife struck the bottle, breaking
it and splashing her with whiskey. Kienan grabbed his cigarette lighter from
his pocket and lit the whiskey in her clothes on and on her body. As she
flailed and burned he dove for his guns, found one, rolled to his feet and
emptied the clip into her burning body.
She fell backwards, still burning, but not as bad as
he'd hoped. She lay there for two seconds then got back up. Kienan grit his
teeth and holstered his gun. Those reapers are amazing, he thought. Anything
I do to her, they'll fix almost instantly.
Fight the reapers then, not Grey.
Grey leapt at him again, grabbing him by his red
vest and slinging him against the bar again, this time so hard Kienan could
almost feel his vertebrate cracking. He reached behind him and drew his knife
from its place on his belt. His blade, the Midare-Giri was an ancient weapon won
in fights not unlike these.
Except when I killed my opponents there,
Kienan thought bitterly. They
usually stayed dead. Grey charged at him again, then time sensing the kill
was near. Kienan kept his knife in the dark, out of her vision and wait for her
As Grey fell into his arms, hands to his throat
Kienan drove the knife into her with as much force as he could and activated a
hidden switch in the hilt of the blade. Energy traveled into Grey's body
disrupting the electrolytes in her blood as she tried to crush his throat in
her grip. Her body shuddered, then she stopped suddenly, her hands relaxing.
She blinked twice, her eyes reverting to their usual green.
She looked down at him, eyes shining. She was crying
... f-feel," she whispered. "Th-thank you
Kienan cradled her body very gently against hers. He
hold her in what could have been considered a loving embrace, in another time
"Kienan," she whispered, breathing and
speaking now extremely difficult. "Don't
... be afraid ... to wake
up ... from the dream."
She slumped against him, quite dead at last. He slid
the knife from her body and carried her to the stage, opening her guitar case.
He laid her down on the stage as if she had fallen asleep there, and laid her
guitar on her chest, folding her arms over it. Then he closed her eyes.
He sighed over her and gave her one last cigarette.
He didn't light it, but he did light his own. As he lit it he looked down. A
piece of paper was under his foot; obviously it had fallen out of the guitar
case when he moved it. He scooped it up, cigarette dangling from his lips.
If only you had told me of
Gave me a chance to make
Regrets and empty promises
are all I have now
To fill the space you left
inside my heart
Kienan thought bitterly. He
reached back to touch Grey once last time. She was playing my song.