Just A Girl
By
Lewis Smith


Click here to see the story illustration for Just A Girl



www.gunmetalblack.com


Dawn breaks on another rainy day.

Sunset begins one more endless night.

I don't believe this will ever end

Trapped in a circle of used to be ...

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.

She did 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 your laughter,

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 in it.

"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 neighborhood."

"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 couldn’t refuse," Drayton said. "Three million for a simple hit. Couldn’t be any easier."

"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 her?"

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 seventeen."

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 the "trigger."

Of course, 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 then.

"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 time,

Seeing shadows of angry faces ...

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, didn’t 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, she thought.

"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 little.

"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?"

Nice going, 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 don’t 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 said.

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 do."

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 you’re 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 -- and nodded.

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 my darkness

But shadows still remain inside my soul ...

A date, 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.

Don't, 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 couldn’t 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.

Her eyes, 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 words ...

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 doesn’t 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 ...

Click.

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.

Do it, 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 herself ...

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 pain.

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.

Oh God, she thought. Not again.

Then she grabbed her guitar case and ran back inside the club.


You gave me faith to find a new salvation

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 saw anything."

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 aren’t that many aliens on Kuran, especially here. Humans sure as hell don’t have the strength to rip someone apart like that.

Drayton was a friend, and a longtime one for Kienan. He didn’t 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 didn’t 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 erased ...

"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 chopsticks."

Kienan laughed. "But you can play the guitar?"

"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."

"Why?"

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 compliment.

"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 lip. "Sorry."

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 from?"

"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," Kienan said.

"I thought the same thing about Caldera," she replied.

"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 me."

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, you’re 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 punch.

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.

"Really?"

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 kid’s 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 monkeybars.

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 about herself?

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 something?"

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 wouldn’t call me that," Kienan said flatly.

"But it annoys you so," Angela said. "Besides, you’re 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 Nightshade."

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 ... friends?"

Angela tousled her hair and curved her arms over her chest in the shape of two massive bosoms.

"Oh," Kienan said. "Vain and Mirage"

"The Boobs and Booty Brigade, yes," Angela said, smiling.

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 tonight."

"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 problem."

"Guy's out?"

"Guy's dead."

"Oh," Angela said. 'Well, then, go yourself."

"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."

"Which 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 shouldn’t 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 girlfriend?"

"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 didn’t have any malice in her heart for him at all.

But at the moment, he didn’t 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 it."

"You don’t need to wreck the places. Just look around for documents, correspondence, no valuables. And come by the apartment when you’re done. Test out my locks."

"Take all the fun out of it, why don't you?"

Kienan smirked. "You sure complain a lot."

Angela laughed. "And you talk too much."


Because I'm running out of faith,

Silent screams and a broken spirit ...

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 couldn’t 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.

Poetic, 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 he did?

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 last forever

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 online?"

"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 don’t 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 you."

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 a wall,

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?

Wait,
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 don’t 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 didn’t 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 don’t 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. "'Blood-red Angel.'"


"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," Kienan said.

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 self-defense.

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 asked.

"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 you’re 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."

"You looked?"

"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 ...

No, 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 faith,

Silent screams and a broken spirit.

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 scary.

"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?" Grey asked.

"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."

"Kienan ... 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 won’t 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 the moment.

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 to charge.

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 again.

"I can ... 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 and place.

"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.

It read:

If only you had told me of your feelings

Gave me a chance to make things right

Regrets and empty promises are all I have now

To fill the space you left inside my heart

"Blood-red Angel," Kienan thought bitterly. He reached back to touch Grey once last time. She was playing my song.