Samus stepped up from the Last's fallen body and slowly climbed the wide bronze steps up to the dias of the Apotheosis Gate. Her suit reformed around her with a shimmer, armored boots finding balance among the torn and melted scars across the ground. She stood alone before the great arch glowing with warm golden light; light that vanished into the slowly boiling darkness held within.
The massive room was still crowded with a seething swarm of metroids, though many had collapsed to the ground, drained by the loss of life energy that had fueled Samus' last hyper beam. However, the area just around Samus formed a circle of empty space, the mass of fanged creatures flowing and parting as she walked. Whatever strange truce held the metroid's unknown minds still held for the moment, though the particularly weakened members of the swarm were beginning to attract clumps of observers who seemed more hungry than helpful.
Samus looked out over them, this sea of things she had called monsters, but now her thoughts were no longer steeped in fear or distrust. She understood them. She understood their hunger, she understood their hate, she understood the perfect death that was their creation and she understood the unquenchable life they represented. They were fire made flesh. They burned away everything they touched, but when the long cold dark came they were beautiful.
Then Samus Aran, the ultimate hunter, the M'etroid, reached out her golden hand to brush against the light at the edge of the Apotheosis Gate.
Reality rang like a chime. A shiver in space washed across the battlescarred chamber and beyond, out the great statue eyes that gazed off at the dark expanse below, over canyons glowing with distant feeble lights from the colony and the Diomedes. Then Samus looked to her side and an unfamiliar chozo was standing beside her on the dais, appearing without a sound.
The illusory chozo's robes were a complex pattern of dark red and purple, so interwoven that to a human eye they might look brown. It was a perfect compromise between the baroque golden embroidery of the Last's robes and the weary austerity adopted by Old Bird and Grey Voice. The mysterious figure's feathers were black, his eyes were sharp, and he loomed above Samus with a height great for even a chozo.
He was not real, merely some recording of , but Samus listened anyway.
The voice was as loud as any dream. "Behold and stand amazed, last child of the Chozo. I am N'traikotlatin the Immovable Bastion, final master of our disbanding empire. In this moment, I am overseer of this temple. I speak these words in a distant time, though I now cast my eyes up to the mountain slope where you stand, where we will build our final invention. My calculations see you, but you are shrouded in shadow. Do my people stand beside you?"
There was sorrow in this recording's voice, but also a deep anger. "That you hear my words means we chose to flee. The Heart equation promises us perfect immortally, but it is immortality by abandoning everything; the illusion of matter, of time, of life itself. At its discovery we judged this evil; the cost too steep. But then we learned what waited for us here."
"In our galactic wanderings, on an ancient world we found ancient ruins, a dead planet in sunless space. Deciphering what remained happily filled centuries for legions of our sages. Agelessness had taught us patience, and the promise of eternity gave us peace. Then we read what the ancients had discovered. We knew that they had looked up at our same sky, until they watched half its light wink out."
Samus felt his dread press against her heart. This was what the Last had spoken of. The fear that had fueled her final desperation. What waits in the darkness of the stars.
The illusion of the long gone N'traikotlatin loomed above her as he said, "There is a force in this universe, a force of darkness and cold. It surges forth and galaxies lose their stars by the billions. The strange shape of this universe is explained by slaughter. That ancient dead world floating in space had died as its own sun vanished. They were mighty, mightier even than we at the height of our foolish empire. They failed."
"The doom is coming, and awaits every creature that lasts to meet it. We build weapons, we make plans, but with each passing moment our fear grows. We delve the future, but in every vision, in every calculation, we can not stop it. In many we make it worse. So we even as we break ground on our final chariot we will also take its power to build a gate, a doorway away from failure and from death."
The voice in Samus' suit did not join in to offer its opinion, but she did not need it to. She could feel Old Bird and Grey Voice as if they stood beside her. She could feel their own shame, but greater than that, the weariness that tempted them. The universe was long, and immortality heavy. Endless battle was a yoke no neck should bare.
The vision of N'traikotlatin raised one hand, "You know our choice, but as you stand on the mountain you have your own. You can follow us, and join the new path through the gate we will build. In our new existence you are loved, that is certainty. Perhaps in that perfect existance beyond fear we find some way to combat the Star Eaters but that path is beyond the sight of time. Step through that door and you will join us in peace and unknown eternity. You will be safe. You will be able to rest."
Then he raised the other hand.
"Or you can stay and try to fight the doom in flesh, to follow it to the sleeping heart of darkness. That future we can see, and with perfect certainty we say if you stay you will die. Every trail of that path ends with death. And only in one out of ten thousand does your death make a difference. We stared at better odds and by your eyes you know we chose to save ourselves. This is our shame. This is our cruelty. This is our failure and our love. You, our unknown, impossible child, we give to you all we can. A choice. A single fork in the path, and knowledge to see where those trails lead. Now, this moment is yours."
The thousand year old memory vanished and Samus was left alone at the threshold of the Apotheosis Gate, their gift to her. One step away waited her family, her chosen people. Through that gate waited eternity in heaven, hers by right. Here in this existence waited only more toil, ended only by failure and death. More endless tests, more endless battle, to be torn down again and again until there was nothing left. She had proved herself enough, and her reward waited to be taken.
Samus' armor shook as she laughed. Those lofty seers; they really had never understood her. They actually thought there was a choice.
She turned her back on the gate with a smile. Behind her, the golden glow of faded away and yet the room grew brighter as the black portal vanished. Samus stood on that dais before the great windows that pierced the outer wall and the orange shields that covered them swelled in strength. The bronze floor under her feet trembled and rocked, thrumbing with energy as new power surged through every wall of the temple, through every chamber, beating like the blood of a living giant.
Everything became clear to her at once, the final clues dropping together in her mind. Samus stepped backwards to stand beneath the golden arch, now empty once more, and the corner of her lips were still up in a smile.
The final chariot, he had called it. Those pompous dusty birds. No one could deny they had style. Ten thousand ways to accomplish something and they would choose the most time consuming and difficult just because it would be dramatic.
From her position before the gate, an arc of floating orange holograms flickered into existence before Samus, displays and indicators. In response to the same invisible signal, the swarm of metroids flowed back, vacating the front of that massive room. Samus flicked her eyes across the displays but returned to stare out the viewports of the statue's eyes once more. Yes, this would do. After all, she was in need of a new ship.
She raised her arm and in a tearing rumble the temple rose with it.
Alarms screamed across the nearly vertical Diomedes bridge as a new earthquake rocked the crashed ship's unsteady perch. Yin clutched tight to her emergency seat, until in the corner of her eye she caught sight of one of the external view monitors. Then she fell limp from shock as she realized what she was looking at.
The slope of the great volcano around the Chozo statue exploded outwards, the magnitude of destruction creating the illusion of slowness. In the heart of it all was the great stone monument, a sculpture larger than Diomedes, ripping itself from the mountain out of which it was carved. Only the statue was no longer made of stone. Where before Yin had glimpsed one patch of the statue crack to reveal a substrate of gold, now the entire surface fell away, head to toe, stone skin calving and crumbling in great sheets. That statue had only been sheathed in stone; beneath it was made of pure and shining gold.
Across a mile around the statue, more golden metal ripped free with it, breaking up from the solid rock. They were vast expanses of curving struts and rounded hull, like some massive creature breaching from a grey stone sea. It was as if half the temple was tearing free of the ground that bore it. The flank of the volcano and half the high plateau all shattered as a structure erupted from beneath the surface.
It was a ship. A golden ship that dwarfed Diomedes to an insignificant remora. The titanic sculpture of the seated chozo rose from its midst like a naval ship's conning tower, one golden hand still outstretched. Beneath that figure was the ornate expanse of a starcraft woven from loose golden strands the width of skyscrapers, birthed from the solid earth as if it had grown within.
Unphased in the way only an AI could manage, the Aurora volunteered her voice amid the chaos of the awestruck Diomedes bridge.
"I have now determined why the upper half of the chozo temple complex was outfitted with five battleship grade reactors. However, I still must say, constructing a starship in situ through solid rock is an incredibly inconvenient manufacturing method."
Nakamura's eyes were locked on the display that filled the wall of his room. Watching that display meant his eyes did not linger on the bare spots of his confiscated relics, or the restraints fastened around his wrists. But in this moment, phrases like "confined to quarters pending investigation" were meaningless to him, as were the ironies having brought a full tribunal court with him on this ship. Right now he was sealed in this dark chamber as the floor trembled from distant rumbling, but he stared with hungry wist at the rising image on the screen. A ship the size of a city, tearing free of the earth.
Then he spoke, murmuring as if there was anyone to hear him. "For centuries, human researchers have looked at the work of the chozo and imagined a race of birds that long ago lost their wings. That nature had somehow forced a choice between endless freedom of flight and holding a humanoid shape. But that's just another human delusion. The Chozo never had wings."
Then with slow care born of long practice and recitation, he forced his mouth to twist into words meant to come from a beak.
"But from the first day we stood under the sky and dreamed we could fly. We dreamed of the rise. By the strength of our hand, we make our own wings."
Samus stood on the expansive, battle-scarred bridge of the Starship Metroid as it rose through the planet's atmosphere. The golden web of the gate structure arced behind her, holographic displays floated in the air at her waist, and before her the wide glowing portholes of the great statue's eyes slowly turned towards the stars.
The planet sank away, the Ember of Light slumbering in long awaited night. Samus had considered waiting for a bit, picking up some followers if they wished. But no, they did not need to fight, and Samus was bad at goodbyes. Also, she was technically breaking her parole. One tiny gesture of one finger through a holographic button opened a high bandwidth upload line to the Diomedes in case Adam wanted to jump back onboard, but the rest of them had done their part. They deserved rest.
Samus was onto her next mission.
Clouds and atmosphere parted around the massive golden ship, high whisps fading to nothing. Then, finally, the sun rose from behind a slowly shrinking planet that could no longer block it with shadow. If you go high enough, you will make your own sunrise. The sun was always there, just hidden by the illusion of darkness.
Samus held out her hand and at her command the great ship gently rotated against the star-dusted expanse. She sought out her destination, the darkest part of the sky. The place where no stars shone. The swarm of metroids crowding the rear of the massive bridge chamber writhed and shifted as they sensed her intent. The final hunt was calling.
Her heading was set. She just had to go there.
She clenched her hand.
A moment later Samus frowned as she noticed the ship was not actually going anywhere very fast. The slow dramatic acceleration was very good for the grand exit, but was not actually doing much to eat up interstellar distances unless she decided to test her own unaging. Samus waved her hand around the holographic displays, flailing through settings and control options trying to find something that looked like a "fast" option or a parking brake to disengage.
Then her golden gauntlet brushed through one particular floating symbol and the ship trembled.
From across the flanks of the golden mile beneath the statue, jets of energy flared out. They were not engines, at least not in the sense any of the humans watching from the planet's surface could understand. They were strands of energy that seemed ephemeral and yet solid, a pure white core rainbow colors shimmered like an aurora. That energy expanded, grew, and melded, until each of the eminations was as large as the sprawling ship itself, larger, great wings as large as the entire planet they left behind.
Then the shining wings flexed and the ship blasted forth, out of the solar system, leaving behind the empire of the chozo, the federation of humanity, and the dominion of the Space Pirates. Like an angelic comet, that blinding light raced into the heart of all darkness.
Samus sat in the cramped pilot seat of her red gunship, as the cloudy skies of Zebes sprawled beneath her. She was returning home. Home to a planet long abandoned; abandoned and taken by creatures that made her heart seethe with rage. The Space Pirates; they had burrowed down into the halls and chambers Samus had grown up in, setting down sickening roots as they managed to fend off even a Federation assault force.
That was why the Federation had given Samus this contract. Her service record and the string of completed marks tagged to her hunter's license provided legitimacy, but the deciding factor was that she knew this planet, knew it better than any invader ever could. She was the best choice for this infiltration mission, the best choice to sabotage planetary defenses and destroy the target, some bioweapon the Pirates had stolen off a Federation ship. She would just not mention in the briefing that looking down at those skies made her feel like a child once again. A child who once she set foot on those stones would have to kill the second person she had ever called "mother".
It had been eleven years since Samus last saw Zebes and she was now an adult by any consideration. She had killed, she'd had sex, she drank, she'd served in war. She had received an academic degree and two suspended sentences. During one three-day weekend she had been married, divorced, adopted, and disowned. And in all that time across the galaxy she never found any evidence that her chozo parents had ever even existed, no whisper of contact or rumor of their passage. In the wider universe, that entire species had been considered long gone before Samus was born. No one could tell her why.
As the red gunship dropped into the atmosphere, all power dialed down to minimum to escape detection, Samus consulted the prophecy meditation diagram she had composed during the trip into this system. Staring at it as the cabin shook and rattled from the buffeting air, she could just feel the faintest touch of what her parents had called the Path. It reassured her. She was ready, and she could feel the universe tense with anticipation. Everything that came before was training. Now it was time to begin.
This was her first real mission: Mission Zero.
Samus smiled. It might even be fun.
Kiber-2272, Zegar-1161 shared a confused look as the metal-reinforced corridors around them finally stopped vibrating.
1161 hissed, "Ok, what was all that rumbling? It felt like we were moving."
2272 waved a claw with the confidence he really hoped he could convince his body to feel. "Eh, it's probably nothing."
The Actual End
Author's Note: Thank you for reading my story. I welcome and encourage all feedback.
Please feel free to tell me things you liked and things you didn't. What was your favorite fight? Your favorite setting? Your favorite flashback? If you have questions I will answer them, if you have complaints I will try to rectify them, and if you have unstructured exclamations I suppose I will just try to match your energy. I will at some point go back and clean up already posted chapters and so welcome all feedback about any part of my writing.
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