---Chapter 1: Sand Trap
"The Sand Trap. It's one squatty planet with nothing but miles and miles of black sand. Sand that kills. In every grain, every hand full, there are microorganisms carrying a whole menu of deadly diseases. Hell, half the crap they carry we haven't even heard of yet. One man was said to have grown a couple extra limbs before freezing up like a Popsicle when he tried to do a little sand surfing. Only the native sand snakes have hard enough scales to keep the organisms out, and they don't stop by the base often enough to be studied. Now, who in their right mind would want to finance a facility in a place like this? Why? Because there is money to be made, that's why.
"The little bastards found in that sand can also make some pretty useful material when mixed with the right stuff. The CX-912 substance known as 'Zon' is shipped to us every three days. Now keep in mind, one day out here lasts 84 hours on this planet. We're real far from the nearest sun, so don't get any ideas it's scorching hot on this rock. On the contrary, it's bloody cold. Anyway, then every five days we get the RT-90 substance known as 'Phasagen' that makes it so you can peel the hull off a capital ship. It's potent stuff, but it needs oxygen to do its thing.
"So, to continue our little chemistry lesson, after you mix Zon with the sand and Phasagen with the sand, you get substances 'A' and 'B', respectively. The Zon makes the organisms reproduce like there's no tomorrow, and the Phasagen kills off the organisms. When you add 'A' to 'B', you get one interesting show. The chemical juice given off by the dead organisms has a reaction with the juice given off by the living organisms and it mixes. When it's all said and done, you get the chemical cocktail, 'Zonagen'. I've heard from some experts that it's real close to Phazon on the atomic level. You know? The stuff that used to pop up on this far away planet... Never mind.
"Just incase you forgot; the name is Seb Tanner. Nice to meet you, even though we've never forgotten the Federation's favorite general. And if you know any of your friends that need a biological weapon that doubles as a power source, tell me, ok? Usually a bio-weapon pretty much does squat to robots and protective suits. But Zonagen is special; it carries a radiation that screws with anything using circuitry. This same radiation can also be processed for fuel; Carefully, I might add. We have barrels of it sitting around in secure containers just waiting for a buyer. I won't lie. Sometimes we cut some corners due to the budget squeezes. Too bad all the funding you diverted from our project went into a facility Samus Aran blew up.
"You still sore about that? Big deal, at least we're still around. Zonagen makes whatever crap the Space Pirates and Samus have look like Play Dough. Look at it this way, next time the Pirates try to dig into some planet or facility, you can release Zonagen and use whatever left over to run an entire city. It's useful for war and peace, and isn't that what you want? What is there to think about? You still there? Are you listening to me? Good, cause you always wanted a way to deal with the scum of the universe that didn't include running to Samus Aran with your tail in-between your legs. And you just got it."
It was the third time Sebester Tanner had listened through his message. He began to like it more and more with every playback. With the volume turned up as far as it could go and the door to his office wide open, he was just praying someone would walk by and hear it. Acting as the general manager of the Sand Trap facility was cut and dry, nothing was popping anywhere. It went like clockwork, and Tanner could have never expected efficiency to be so boring.
A couple years ago, Sand Trap was the cutting edge. All the hallways could be sealed and cut off from the rest of the facility at a moments notice just incase a leak or security breech occurred. Even though important pipes could be seen running along the walls of the circular hallways... it was no easy feat to break them open, not to mention the countless backup systems in the works. The whole facility supported it's own environment and had to due to the sandstorms which could easily pump in tons of deadly black sand through older external ventilation shafts.
Tanner didn't quite look the part of a factory manager either. Any sort of regulation or dress code passed down by the Federation died a long time ago. Where he was usually required to wear a jumpsuit and nametag, was now reduced to some brown slacks, a white shirt, and a necktie that was hardly tied. Next on the list of his haphazard appearance was his hair, shooting off in who knows how many directions, as spiky as can be. Someone told him that his hair resembled a porcupine, even though he hardly knew what one was. A lot of Earth animals had died off ever since space had been conquered, a lot of animals colonists would never see except in text books and documentaries from ages ago.
"Seb? What are you doing?" A tall lady asked.
Someone had stuck her head into the room, as if getting a good look before entering.
"Come on in, I'm just reviewing my message to the Federation HQ."
He played a little bit, and successfully drew the woman into the room. She appeared much more professional than he did, with a red jumpsuit and nametag. This uniform was also complete with a helmet used for sanitary purposes; it hid every strand of hair on your head, making it look like a bowling ball without the holes.
"Jeez Tanner, you haven't even encoded it." The lady realized, looking over the properties of the message on the main screen.
"So?" He huffed. "Forget that, whadya think about it?"
"God, General Graves is going to tear your head off when he sees this. Why haven't you encoded the message yet? Anyone with a 21st century TV could intercept this."
She moved her hands toward the keyboard to go about the encoding procedures, but Tanner quickly slapped them away.
"Don't touch." He commanded her. "I want it this way."
"Have you gone nuts? If a two-bit criminal sees this... or the Space Pirates-"
"Tch. Space Pirates..." Tanner scoffed. "We could only be so lucky. How they gonna get in anyway? It's not like they're gonna land outside and cut a hole through a wall. The sand'll kill em' before they take five paces."
Now the woman was just staring at him. He stared back and stood up. From this view, it was easy to see his tall and lanky figure, and how the woman's figure was much more petite.
"Been freezin' our asses up here for five years. Years of work Victoria. You should know. You and your team have been breaking your backs since day one. What have we got to show for it? A warehouse full of crap no one is ever gonna use. That is, if we keep following protocol and sniffing the fumes of other projects put ahead of ours."
"This isn't a contest-"
Tanner snapped his fingers and cut her off instantly.
"I'm not asking for first place. All I'm asking for is some recognition. Ever since Samus Aran brought those damn parasites," He paused and made a motion with his hands. "The 'Metroids' to the Federation, we've been put on the backburner. And the way I see it, if we can't get recognition from the very people we're working for. Then I want to see it from someone else."
Those cold, hard eyes of Tanner's easily overpowered the deep and methodical eyes of Victoria and she could only look down toward the ground. It's hard to argue with the truth when it smacks you across the face with such brutality.
"Goddamn Samus Aran." Tanner huffed and walked over a corner of his office where an old table could be found. "She's a one-man Armageddon. Did you hear? They didn't want to invite her to the party celebrating the end of the Space Pirate episode cause they thought she'd blow the place to hell before the night was over with."
"Samus is a woman?"
Tanner's teeth dove into his lip. He wasn't supposed to disclose information like that. The Federation bigwigs had a thing about Samus. The more a mystery she was to the universe the better. Frankly, he was surprised that it wasn't public knowledge already with all the people she came in contact with. Mess up a bar here, blow up a gang hideout there, all in the name of bounty hunting. Safe to say, whenever she came to mind, Tanner felt like hitting someone.
"Go on, get outta here." He said after awhile.
"Not if you're going to send that message without encoding it. It's regulation to encode all outgoing messages concerning Project Blackdie."
He turned around and put his hands on his hips and just looked at her. Victoria didn't quite know what to do.
"You gonna take on an ex-Marine? Hope you get lucky or something?" Tanner gave a cruel laugh. "Go on, get outta here."
Eventually his cold stare chased her from the room. He took a deep breath and sat back down... that was the closest thing he got to excitement after hearing the B.S.L. Laboratory got turned into scrap metal. And just as he vowed, he sent the message in its most vulnerable form. With any luck, the Federation would send a platoon of Space Marines to relocate the facility within a week. Even if they didn't, he was sure someone would show up.
His mind soon drifted to the facts surrounding the B.S.L. disaster. Everyone who was anyone in the Federation knew that it was Samus's fault the station did a belly flop onto the SR-388 surface. They tried to hold her for investigations, but no one wanted to mess with the universe's foremost Space Pirate killer, and simply kept tabs on her as she went about her business. In the end, to Tanner's dismay, all they did was give Samus a slap on the wrists and fine her a couple million credits.
Tanner was breaking a stylus pen in his hands as he thought about how the rest of the story played out.
Samus Aran paid her fines on the same day they were brought to her. She was a top dollar bounty hunter, and probably had more money than she let on. It was easy for anyone to see whatever she fought for wasn't about the money after that.
"God damn broad." He muttered. "I haven't even met you and I already hate you."
A light on the main screen in his office flashed for awhile. A cargo freighter with a new shipment of Zon had arrived. Protocol said he would oversee the arrival of each appointed shipment. Needless to say, it was getting on his nerves. He grabbed a sand colored suit coat and started to stalk the halls. He had to take the elevator to the topmost floor where the spaceport was located. Course, he wasn't in any hurry, it took awhile for the room and the freighter to be decontaminated of all the sand it picked up on the way down to the surface.
The cargo elevator zipped him to the spaceport level, where several monitors displayed the level of contaminants in the landing bay. It was only 30%. Every year the process took longer and longer since the funds to maintain the system never came anymore. It was only a matter of time before the rest of the facility wasted away in the sand as well. In order to do that, it'd have to take some twenty plus personnel with it, all humans.
Speaking of which, there were three who were hanging around the airlock having a smoke. Tanner knew them all because most everyone on base was ex-something from the military branch of the Galactic Federation.
"What are you losers doing away from the living quarters?" Tanner greeted them. "This freighter's got it's own crew and equipment for moving containers around."
An average sized man with a strange set of goggles pushed over his eyes spoke first. The white jumpsuit made it clear he was a technical expert of some sorts.
"Just thought we'd let them know there are still people in this sandcastle."
"You don't count as a person Scratch. Hope you haven't forgot that."
"Yeah." A big bald man laughed. "You're more like... one-and-a-half."
The bald man's only defining characteristic was his long black beard. It was a wonder how he kept it so clean in the line of work as the head of facility maintenance. Scratch gave a punch to his gut. The last man in front of the airlock shook from head to toe, thin and frail. He tried to avoid making eye contact with the others. His blue jumpsuit placed him in the environmental branch of the base, to predict sandstorms and other anomalies.
"The Worm Guy here to see the family out the window?" Tanner asked, pointing to the frail man.
"They're not... worms!" The frail man stuttered. "They're... fully-grown... serpents adapted... to.. resist... the black sand..."
"Hence, sandworms." Scratch persisted.
A blue light went on above the airlock. 95%, it'd open soon.
"What if I told you this would be the last shipment we'd ever get?" Tanner began.
It was at 96%.
"We'd ask why." The bald man responded.
"You need a reason to escape this crapshoot?"
97%, a hiss could be heard. The bald man shrugged.
"I suppose not. Still, just like when we were in the Galactic Army. We don't like being left in the dark."
Tanner took out an old pack of cigarettes and took one out to light up. All eyes were on him now, including the Worm Guy's.
"I'm thinking about relocating. Whatdya think guys? Maybe Big Blue? Or uh... L7? Grape Gardens?"
The men across from Tanner had a heartily laugh as the blue light turned yellow. 99%. But they all stopped once they realized their boss was serious about the moving part. All of them began to consider what the repercussions would be. The airlock door slowly opened up, swinging sideways.
"What do you think gentlemen? Stay here and get swept under the mat by the Federation?" He began to move through the open airlock to enter the landing bay. "Or we could find other's who appreciate our work."
Now Tanner was too far away to be heard or to be talked to. The group of men just shifted uncomfortably around the door, looking at each other.
"Damn, he's serious isn't he?" Scratch asked.
"Never seem him like this before. We better tell the others."
Scratch gave a hard stare.
"Suppose he's kidding and we go mouthing off getting the whole base in an uproar. We'll be cut from the project and locked away for sure. Assuming the Federation doesn't bury our asses for all the trouble."
"Hell, the Federation doesn't care about this place anymore. They got other stuff-"
"That's... what they... said about... the B.S.L." the Worm Guy interrupted. "See how they... turned out..."
Scratch and the bald man didn't know that, and soon began to shuffle off in different directions. The Worm Guy waited a couple more seconds and took a deep breath, then followed after Tanner to the landing bay.
-To be continued...
--Next Chapter: Job Offer