Samus's feet were almost a blur as she hurried through the Rebenada's darkened corridors. She did not run. Every step was deliberatly softened lest her footfalls echo metallically down the halls. Her eyes adjusted to the inky blackness; she could see well enough with the aid of Warrior's watery light.
She paused at the numerous hatches in her path, opening them without difficulty and quickly leaving them behind. Only the final door gave her trouble because the laser would not cut through the tougher shielding which protected its controls. She melted the screws away and heated the metal to a weakened state before kicking in the shielding and prying it loose with her hands. The more delicate parts of her palm hissed and skin remained where it came in contact with the metal. But her hands stayed functional and that was enough, for now.
The hatch opened up to a single room the size of a sector. Each step landed silently on her heel, the foot rolling forwards until the toe left the ground for the next step. A whisper from her lips made Warrior flare like a tiny nova, forming dancing shadows over orderly rows of equipment. But it was not nearly enough to see the far corners of the sector. Her hand rested briefly on the metroid, letting it feel the vibrations made deep in her throat, and its light again retreated to a candlelight ember. The relative coolness of Warrior's skin soothed her throbbing hand although she regarded the bloody print she left behind with distaste. She spat on her hands, wiped off as much blood as she could on her dress, and flexed her fingers carefully to test their stiffness.
The darkness here was not so stifling compared to the corridors. Some machinery whirred and glowed faintly, operating on power separate from the main lighting systems. The nearest windows along the outer walls framed a panoramic view of SR388, glowing poisonously rust and yellow, the sickle boundary between day and night clearly visible. The planet was striking enough to make Samus pause and look. A sizable chunk of material was missing from the surface of SR388 where the BSL station struck it with such explosive force. She could see it even from this distance, an overripe fruit bleeding from a monstrous, crater-sized bite. She turned away.
The power suit had been dismantled and was attached to a variety of equipment, each part being independantly studied in a separate area of the sector. The closest piece was the arm cannon which Samus reached for greedily. She brushed off the wires attached to gun, loosened the vicegrip holding it in place, and stuck her right hand in. The arm cannon came to life at her touch, immediatly facilitating the growth of new skin over her wound. She toggled the cannon's controls and the other portions of her suit answered, beaconing to each other with sounds and light, yearning to be whole again.
She took one step towards her helmet but stopped, attracted by the flickering of a nearby moniter. At first she could make no sense of the blue holograph flickering in and out of existence. Upon closer inspection, she realized it was a map of the Rebenada, including parts she had been forbidden to access.
She leaned in and blinked. There were parts of it, whole sectors, that didn't exist in reality. The sectors were labled all the way up to '22' while Samus was certain that they only ran from '1' to '15'. She couldn't recall seeing three large satellite dishes on the far end of the station when she first set eyes upon it. It might be a blueprint for some future extension. Or it's a map of what the station used to be like. Samus sought out her helmet. She would have to download this information.
It was then that Warrior let out a warning hiss which Samus echoed, hearing its cause a split second later. "Warrior! Come!" She flipped up the hem of her dress. The metroid zipped to its perch and Samus fumbled to smooth her garment over it right as Ferdinaz and his procession poured into the room. They threw beams of light over exposed surfaces, making the huntress shield her eyes as several focused on her. The Commander strode purposefully forward as his soldiers either followed him or circled around, guarding key pieces of the power suit. Samus remained where she stood, partially obscured by a desk and the flickering holograph lighting up the lower contures of her face.
"What are you doing here?" Ferdinaz growled, stopping some distance from her as he saw the arm cannon.
"I want my suit." She replied. "Some alarm goes off and suddenly I'm locked in my room? I have enough experience with self-destructing stations to want to be prepared to survive them."
Ferdinaz scrutinized her, narrowing his brow. Then he shook his head. "I'm sorry. It was just a small failure in the generators that knocked out the doors and lights. They'll be up shortly. You didn't need to panic."
"Did other people panic? I saw no one in the corridors. And what kind of small failure accounts for several power lines going out at once?"
"That was my doing. It's standard procedure to lock down the sectors in the nature of these sort of situations."
"What situations? I have never heard of such procedures."
"Ms. Aran, you are distraught." He took a step closer and held out a hand, palm up, like for a frightened child. "You can wait it out in your room. Before you know it the crisis will be over. I have several men working on the problem."
"You sent people?" She appeared incredulous. "To the 15th sector, right? Where the crisis originated. You want to waste more lives? Why didn't you just eject the whole sector like you did with all the others?"
"What?" Ferdinaz's transition from pacifying to outraged was instantaneous. "What are you talking about?" Behind him, someone's weapon clicked.
"That's why the Rebenada's shaped like this, right?" Samus continued as if she didn't hear him. "Long and flat. All those hatches. It's made so that the furthest and most dangerous part can be broken off when something screws up, right?"
"Samus, you will return to-"
"Holy shit, Ferdinaz." She cut him off. "There used to be at least 22 sectors. That's 7 sectors lost since B.S.L. How long will it be before accidents coincide and the entire station is screwed over? And if you're experimenting on what I think you are, then there's more at stake than this one research station."
The Commander was silent for a moment, his breathing slow and deliberate. The whites of his eyes, the only parts of him visible against his blue-tinted silhouette, seemed to protrude and vibrate. He came to a decision. "Markriel. Aehche. Apprehend her." A human wearing pricision sensory weapons stepped in front of Ferdinaz and a Yuslin guard to Samus's right lumbered forward. "But be gentle." Ferdinaz added as the two soldeirs started circling the woman. "The rest of you: hold your fire." And despite saying that, he unholstered his own weapon. He glowered at Samus. "I don't know how you came to these conclusions, Ms. Aran, but you are clearly not of sound mind right now. This is for your own safety."
Samus threw Ferdinaz a disdainful look before turning to the Yuslin, offering the other guard an opportunity to fumble with his crosshairs. She raised her arm cannon and downed the human without so much as a glance in his direction. It took two shots, the power beam was not at its full potential. And in that time, the Yuslin, much faster than his huge bulk suggested him to be, charged at her.
Samus motioned to roll away but stumbled when she remembered Warrior attached to her. She swung her beam cannon and the Yuslin, whose arms were even faster than his legs, grabbed it, lifting her up with one hand. Samus rotated her arm severely, a testament to her flexibility, fighting like a wired cat. But not even with her Chozo strength could she wrest free of the Yuslin's grip. The huntress dug her other hand into the alien's blubbery arm, twisted towards him, and sank her teeth into his wrist.
The reaction was instantaneous. The Yuslin screamed and flailed his arms, sending Samus careening across the room. Ferdinaz watched, mystified, as she hit the wall with her hands and feet, pushed against it, and landed on the floor with a controlled tumble in a way impossible for a pregnant woman. The Commander glanced back at the Yuslin who was whimpering and nursing his arm from an invisible wound. He turned again to the bounty hunter and it was his belated discovery that she could not possibly be pregnant.
Without anything obstructing it, he could see that the bulge on her stomach was massive beyond what was natural. He had half a mind to ask what sort of alien parasite her intestines were playing host to when the bulge disappeared and indeed an alien parasite emerged from beneath the hem of the dress.
"NO ONE SHOOT!" Ferdinaz immediatly roared. It was to their credit that the guards obeyed their Commander, although a few had their weapons trained on the new arrival. Most of them knew what a metroid looked like and what it could do. They had no chance against it with their conventional firearms. Afraid to move, their eyes followed the metroid as it considered which fleshy morsal to devour first. But Ferdinaz watched Samus, finding himself unable to tear his gaze away from her. She stood there with a relaxed pose, annoyed, bored even. Her dress now reached her calves and accented her streamlined form. She was the eye of the maelstrom, the central calm of chaos surrounded by the guards and the metroid orbiting her head.
"Everyone, put down your weapons." She said, her voice carrying far in this spacious room. Some of the guards obeyed, some looked to Ferdinaz and only started disarming when they saw him do the same. "And go over there." She pointed to the brightest corner of the sector where she could keep an eye on them all. "Except you, Ferdinaz." She cocked a finger. "You're coming with me."
I had entered a garden of sulfur and pumice fed by endless springs of lava. Acid bled out of every pore of the planet, eating away at the very earth from which it emerged. The heat was enough to erode my vision. Could the Chozo have lived here? But they must have. Their effigies lined the cavern walls and pillars carved by their hands lay fallen across my path. I stepped upon them gingerly, unwilling to awaken another one of their ancient sentinals. Perhaps this was a gentler place in the past, before the arrival of the Space Pirates. Before my arrival. I could survive here with the Varia suit. And it was to my disbelief that anything else could.
Indigenous creatures, those who thrived and were comprised of inferno, objected to my intrusion into their realm. They posed little threat to me but their malice matched the hostility of Lower Norfair. Even Space Pirates rarely came down here; the two I had encountered were of the most formidable variety.
They were Zebesian Elites. No different in appearance to normal Zebesians except for their mottled black exoskeletons with the texture of just-cooled lava. They arose from the shadows like extensions of the stonework, their hissing like the extinguishing of a fire. They moved in unison, their heads bowed, sizing me up.
"Hmm." I said to myself, bracing my legs.
And, as if that slight movement was a trigger, they both hurled a bladed claw at me and leaped, attacking from above as I threw myself aside to avoid the projectiles.
"Shi-!" I barely touched the ground before I rolled into a ball. Their feet crashed simultaneously on either side of my spherical form and I believed myself to be momentarily safe. Then one of them kicked me!
Getting kicked as a ball might have been amusing if I could see myself, if I was someone else, if I didn't unfurl in midair right as my back collided with an outcropping of rock. It hurt like hell but kept me from plunging into the lava. Did the Pirates find this funny? They were deadly serious. I morphed again just as another blade sailed over my head.
These two were not faster than me although it felt like it. Because they never hesitated, because there were two of them and they fought as one. And now that I knew this, they would never catch me off guard again.
Do they honestly think they can defeat me? They are not worthy.
On my feet, I unleashed sheets of ice along the porous floor to make their acrobatics treacherous. They were unfamiliar with ice, not expecting it in this sweltering furnace. They squawked in astonishment as they landed after a jump and glided right past their destination. In this way they exposed their backs. I selected one to embed a super missile into. My target faltered, shrieking. The other Pirate quickly moved to distract me, this time using the ice to his advantage in delivering a sliding kick intended to connect with my ankles. I took to the air in a screw attack and practically fell on top of the injured Pirate.
"Keruskvieum!" He cried, trying to untangle his limbs from my legs and scrambling to climb upright. I took special pleasure in shoving his face into the ground, leaning all my weight against the back of his head. I awkwardly positioned the barrel of my gun arm into the wound at his back.
The other Zebesian hurled a blade in desperation. But since I would have to forfit my victim to dodge the weapon, I let it connect, taking the blow just above my visor. With that claw sticking out of my helmet like the lid of a cap I churned up the Pirate's insides with another super missile and watched the resulting carnage come out of his mouth.
The ice had become water and it was bubbling into steam. I stood up in that fog and wrenched the blade from my helmet, making a sound like twisting metal. It was bloody. My head ached like blood was appropriate but this was not my blood, it was blood from the dead Pirate transfered from my hand onto the appendage. The groove it made on my suit was disappearing as if it had only been a crease from a furrowed brow.
The outline of the remaining Space Pirate wavered in the mist as if he was also going up in smoke. He was warier now. Keeping his distance. Afraid. He probably trained with his partner to such a degree that the prospect of fighting alone never occured to him.
"Right," I muttered, too tired to taunt with any vitality. "You're next." The clouds evaporated like an unveiling.
I made the first move, just like the Zebesians' first move of launching a projectile and charging to where the target will move to avoid it. The Pirate jumped out of my missile's trajectory and leaped again to dodge my lunge. But I didn't lunge, I only feinted the move. He twisted in the air to face where he anticipated I would be after passing under him except I backpedaled and ended up behind him. I took aim between his back muscles, at the ridge of his spine.
At such a close range my adversary was blown right off his feet and sent tumbling into the lava. If he shrieked as he was incinerated, I didn't hear it; it happened so fast and my ears were still reverberating from the shockwave of the super missile.
In this hard-won chamber I felt it was safe to rest, if only for a moment. I lowered my gun arm, rotated my shoulders, registered the thick heat. It had been many hours since I landed on Zebes, so long that the planet would have orbited its sun at least once by now. I wasn't tired, not physically. It was my mind that felt stretched and frayed. Too long without sleep would do that, too much thinking without respite. Too many trials without a glimpse of my goal. My child.
And yet I knew there were only greater challenges ahead. Those two Zebesian Elites would not be standing in the depths of Norfair just to idle. Restless with hope and anxiety over what might await me, my urgency quickly overcame my mental fatigue. When my trials are over, there will be all the time in the world.