"...so you see, the particle beams oscillate across the front of the ship and repel the dust and debris that builds up on the viewports or cameras," R-Stl explained to the wall.

"...and you call these things 'windshield wipers?'" Adam asked, still sounding amused.

"Well, according to the definition you gave me, they are similar in function yet far removed in design. I imagine your 'translation filter' or whatever you call it found the phrase 'windshield wiper' to be a rough approximation."

"Huh," Adam said. "That's... interesting."

Jacobs let himself smile a little as he continued tapping away at the console near his seat. This was the scientific computer he'd be using to monitor Samus's vital signs once the mission began, so he wanted to familiarize himself with it and make sure it was in full working order beforehand. The Luminoth tech was, as Adam had said, unfamiliar and more advanced then their own. Not only was it based largely on fiber optics, it utilized the light and dark energy the Luminoth had researched during their war with the Ing, allowing for computers that worked like lightning but took some work to figure out. Still, he was starting to get the hang of things; Adam had translated the Luminoth text into English for him, so he just had to figure out which button did what. All that was left now was to sync the console to the replacement arm cannon he and Justin had fashioned for Samus.

He stood up carefully; for all their advanced computer technology, the Luminoth's inertial dampeners left a bit to be desired. Jacobs imagined many of the specifics of space travel had been lost to them after making Aether their home planet. The ride was comfortable, but it did get bumpy at times. Still, that was only half the reason for his caution; given the way Samus had treated him at the mission briefing, he wasn't too keen on having to interact with her.

The few short steps to the front of the ship took less time than he had hoped. He reached out to tap her shoulder, hesitated, then, with a sigh, withdrew his hand and just spoke up. "Hey, Samus?"

She glanced up at him. "Hm?"

"Can I borrow your arm cannon for a moment? I need to sync it to the computer so I can..."

"Oh, yeah," she said, nodding. "Go ahead." She turned back to her console, currently displaying a radar readout of the surrounding area. Blank.

Just like her expression.

He muttered a sheepish "thanks" as he picked up the arm cannon and carried it back over to the console. "Yeah, she likes me all right," he muttered to himself as he began entering codes.

"I wouldn't worry about it too much if I were you."

It took all of Jacobs's nerves to not jump out of his seat. "What the—Adam? Is that you?!"

"Of course."

"What are you doing?!"

"Listening to you. My computer core is plugged into this console, remember?"

Jacobs lowered his head, hoping he could hide his reddening face from both the others on the ship and from Adam's electronic eye. "Keep it down, will you?" he hissed.

"I am keeping it down." It was true; Adam's speakers were working at a small fraction of their maximum output. "I was human once, remember? I know how you feel."

"Right," the biologist grumbled, resuming his work. "I'm sure a former military commander knows how a scientist in the company of three soldiers feels."

"R-Stl is a researcher," Adam reminded him. "And our Pirate friend is a non-combatant. We're not even letting him near a weapon, if we can help it."

"But he's still a warrior, and R-Stl wouldn't be able to do half the things he's done without at least some combat training. What do I have?"

"Enough knowledge to outfit Samus with the power to regain all her abilities, for one."

Jacobs tried unsuccessfully to suppress a smile, but shook his head nevertheless. "I'm no fool, Adam. Samus may be grateful for that, but that's where it ends. As far as she's concerned, having me along makes this into more of a babysitting gig than anything."

"You don't know that."

"No, I don't. But it's what I would feel in her position."

"I'd think that says more about you than her, then."

Jacobs remained silent for a moment before sighing. "What do you care, anyway?"

"I care because, despite what you seem to think, we need you. You're the only one who knows enough about that procedure you performed on Samus to be able to tell if something goes wrong—and if it comes down to it, you're the one most likely to save her."

"Something which basically everyone else on this ship has already done," Jacobs noted.

"Then I'd say that this mission is your chance to do it yourself."

There was another pause before Jacobs began to stand up, rolling his eyes. "Whatever."

It was the sort of "whatever" a teenager gave when he knew he would lose an argument with his parents. If Adam had a mouth, he would have smiled.

Jacobs walked back across the ship and handed the weapon back to Samus. "All right," he said. "I've set it to transmit your vitals back here. If something starts to go wrong, I'll hopefully know about it before you do." He offered a weak smile.

"Good work," Samus said, distractedly.

The biologist let out yet another sigh. "Right." He headed back to his seat.

"Hey, wait," Samus said, reaching out and grabbing his hand. "Take a look at this."

He turned around, surprised. "Huh?"

Samus motioned to the weapons control panel she was sitting in front of. Jacobs looked down at the radar display. Something was beginning to appear at the edge of the screen; not a contact, but a large, fuzzy mess.

"Some sort of interference?" Samus said, not taking her eyes off the screen.

"I'll see what I can find," Jacobs answered, already moving back towards his station. He jumped into the chair and swung around to face the console, and immediately began scanning the surrounding area.

The results were not what he had expected. "Erp."

"What is it?"

"It's interference, yes, but not intentionally produced. This is some type of energy bleed."

"Energy bleed?" Samus glanced back at him, confused. "From what?"

"Perhaps that?" R-Stl said, pointing forward.

Everyone turned to face the viewscreen, and their eyes widened in shock. They were approaching a small planet, one largely red in color, and between them and it, floating several thousand kilometers off the planet's surface, was a large orbital cannon. The barrel of the weapon seemed to be almost as big as the Scorpion itself; a single hit from it would surely tear the small ship apart.

And there was more than one. It seemed they were placed in a grid around the planet, probably as some sort of proximity defense system. It would take a large armada to be able to blast a way through and assault the Pirate base.

"Is this it?"

R-Stl glanced over his displays. "We're about where we're supposed to be. Either this is the Pirate's planet, or they've somehow moved it."

"Or we were given faulty directions," Samus said, turning around to face their Pirate companion.

"This is our—their—base," he confirmed. "And that is our defense grid."

"I never would have guessed," Adam grumbled. "How do we get past it?"

"As I've said, the method of disabling the grid is adaptive. It changes periodically. I'll need a closer look at that grid before I can figure out how to safely enter the planet's atmosphere."

R-Stl looked at the main viewscreen, then back at the others, his alien face displaying a very uncomfortable expression. "Exactly how close a look can we get before they open fire?"

"The cannons are automated; they'll only attack us if we cross the boundary they form without first disabling them."

"So they only shoot when they can hit each other or the planet?" Samus asked, arching an eyebrow.

"The cannons are well-armored, and, if one were destroyed by an errant shot from another, it wouldn't be difficult to replace. As for the planet, the facilities are all underground, so all they'd suffer is a few cave-ins. To them, that's an acceptable risk."

Samus turned back forward, biting her lip. "OK, so a direct attack is a no-no. I guess we'll try to get closer." She reached forward and pushed a few buttons on the weapons console. "But I'm powering up the dark cannon, just in case."

"That won't do any good," the Pirate reiterated.

"It does me."

"All right," R-Stl interjected before the argument could continue. "We'll go forward, but slowly."

The Scorpion began to drift towards the planet, R-Stl keeping an eye on the defense grid as the Pirate peered intently at the planet. Finally, he gave a start, the restraints grinding against his exoskeleton. "There!"

"What? Where?" R-Stl looked at the screen, not seeing anything.

"Over there—about two hundred meters to port."

The others stared at the viewscreen before Jacobs pointed at a small dot floating between two of the cannons. "What, that?"

"Yes! Fly towards that ring."

R-Stl glanced at the Pirate uneasily, but nevertheless began piloting the ship towards the thing Jacobs had pointed to. Sure enough, it was a metal ring; relatively large, but dwarfed by the cannons around it. The outside of the device was large and bulky, with multiple identical protrusions along its outer edge, but the inside was a simple, smooth loop, composed of multiple glowing panels. Jacobs peered at the device for a moment. "Are those... holographic projectors on the outside?"

"Yes," the Pirate answered simply.

"And on the inside...?"

"Motion sensors. Any ship that passes through the ring will activate the device."

"All right, and what does it do?"

"It projects a series of holographic rings through which the ship must be flown. Once we've passed through all the rings, the perimeter defenses will be disabled long enough for us to get past them."

A long silence fell over the ship. The Pirate looked around at them. "Is something wrong?"

"We." Jacobs was rubbing his head. "We have to fly through rings in order to disable the cannons?"

"Yes, in order to enter the perimeter. After that, we'll be safe; only objects that cross through the cannons while they're active are subject to attack. Anything already inside the field can pass out of it unharmed."

"No, no, back up," Jacobs grumbled. "We have to fly through rings in order to disable the shield?"


"This is your advanced adaptive security system which only a Pirate would know how to get through?! This is why we had to bring you all this way?!"

"Jacobs..." Samus said warningly.

"I'm sorry," the biologist growled, "but I just can't get past this! The Pirates are planning a massive assault to take over the galaxy, and the key to bypassing their defenses is just proving you have basic flight skills?!"

"It could be worse," Samus offered. "All it took for me to infiltrate the Pirate homeworld is flying in through an air duct."

"It is far from as simple as a quick test of piloting ability," the Pirate interjected coldly. "There will be next to no margin for error. The pattern is likely to be one familiar to Pirate pilots, a sort of maneuver taught in the early stages of development. If we are to have any hope of disabling the cannons, we'll need to spot each ring a second before it appears."

"Unless we let you fly, right?" Samus answered coldly.

The Pirate's face distorted into his version of a smile. "Sadly, no. Even if you were to let me go, I don't have the necessary training. I'm a trooper, not a pilot."

"That is true," R-Stl admitted. "Watching him fly that frigate yesterday was a bit like watching Jacobs fire a weapon."

"Hey!" Jacobs yelled.

"Oh." Samus fell silent. "That bad, huh?"

"I'm right here, you know," the biologist grumbled.

Samus glanced back towards the biologist's workstation. "Adam? You think you can handle it?"

"I can access both the propulsion system and the sensor array," the computer replied. "So yeah, I can handle it—as long as R-Stl will let me."

The Luminoth nodded his agreement. "If what the Pirate says is true, Adam's reflexes will serve us much better than mine. Go ahead."

"All right," Adam said, his synthesized voice full of apprehension. "Everyone, strap in."

"Not a problem," the Pirate mumbled, rolling his eyes as he motioned to his restraints.

Jacobs looked over at him, surprised, as he fastened his safety harness. "Did... did you just make a joke?"

"Hang on," Adam said, and the ship rushed forward.

As soon as they had passed through the metal ring, a shimmering, violet, iridescent one appeared a ways off to the right. Immediately the small ship swung around to starboard, and rocketed towards the new ring. The next ring appeared almost directly behind them, but a quick Immelman turn put them back on track, and they blasted through it.

"Just out of curiosity," Jacobs said to the Pirate in a low voice, "Just how powerful are those cannons?"

"You know how they interfered with the radar when you first saw them?" their captive muttered back.

"Yeah," Jacobs said, nodding. "A side effect of energy bleed-off, probably a result of being kept at a constant state of high charge."

There was a momentary silence.


"Don't worry," Samus called. "Adam knows what he's doing."

"Hey, just so we're clear, 'starboard' means 'left,' right?" the computer asked.

Samus shot a glare at the console. "Adam!"

"I'm joking, I'm joking!"

"Shouldn't you be concentrating on flying right now?"

"Look, I'm hooked into systems that use a base-three number system, fiber optic connections, and a power source more advanced than some people even know exists. I am concentrating, and I've still got enough memory left over for a LAN party. We're fine."

One of the cannons started to flash red.

"Um." Jacobs pointed at the cannon. "You sure about that?"

Adam was barely able to shift the vessel to the left enough to avoid the energy blast lancing out from the giant weapon; everyone found themselves being tossed back and forth, held in place only by their restraints. No sooner had the cannon released its shot than it began glowing again, charging another one. Jacobs turned to the Pirate, eyes wide with terror. "I thought you said they wouldn't shoot at us until we crossed the perimeter!"

"They wouldn't!" The Pirate yelled back. From the look on his face, he was as surprised and frightened as any of them. "I mean, they shouldn't! I mean..."

"OK," Adam shouted, "Now I need to concentrate!" The ship's braking thrusters fired suddenly, and everyone was thrown forward in their seats. Another blast rocketed by right in front of them; were it not for the vacuum of space, Jacobs suspected his eyebrows would have been singed.

"It must be a malfunction!" The Pirate shouted. "None of the others are firing, so something must be wrong with this one!"

"That's just peachy," Samus growled. "All right, Adam, forget the rings. We're going to have to–"

"No!" The Pirate shouted, right as another blast narrowly missed them. "If we do not complete the rings, the other cannons will begin firing as well! We'd never survive that!"

"So I have to fly through the rings and dodge that thing?!" Adam asked.

The Pirate only nodded fearfully.

"Like you said, Samus," he grumbled. "Peachy."

They were all thrown to the side again as the ship swung around and blasted forward. They passed through yet another ring right as it was about to disappear; a blast passed mere inches behind them as they did so.

"How many more of these do I have to do?" Adam asked, the stress audible even in his artificial voice.

"It can't be many more," the Pirate answered, sounding like he was trying to reassure himself as much as anything. "One—maybe two."

The Scorpion zigzagged through space towards the next ring, narrowly dodging more shots left and right. After what seemed like a lifetime, they passed through it. "Damn!" Adam yelled. "Hang on, everyone, there's one more!" The ship swung around again, and the roar of the ship's thrusters increased to deafening levels. They blasted towards the last ring at an incredible speed, as the cannon's targeting sensors attempted to compensate, and the mighty weapon fired one more blast.

"Uh-oh," Adam said, almost too soft to be heard.

"What?!" Samus shouted.

A second later, she got her answer as the blast grazed the side of the ship.

The lights flashed out momentarily as the ship's power was all drawn into the shields. When they came back on, Samus found that the entire ship's interior seemed to have turned on its side. As soon as she realized that her chair had fallen over, she quickly undid the restraints and stood up. Looking around, she saw Jacobs pulling himself up, the Pirate dazed and still unable to move, and R-Stl lying motionless on the floor. Looking up at the viewscreen, she saw the final ring, growing ever closer. While the thrusters weren't firing, they nevertheless coasted right through it before it disappeared.

The ship's speakers came on, as a computerized voice contacted them from the Pirate base. "Access test completed; access to planet granted. Defense cannons disabled."

"Thanks for nothing," Samus mumbled.

She then looked back at the viewscreen. They had drifted around to face the rogue cannon once more, and despite the what the computer had said, it was charging another shot. "Adam!" she called. "Adam, we need to move!"

"I'd love to," the computerized voice came, "But I'm not in a position to do much moving right now."

The voice came not from the ship's audio system, but from the small, tinny speaker mounted directly on Adam's core. Samus whipped around to find the core lying on its side, several feet away from where it had been before. While most of the cables connecting it to the Luminoth vessel were in tact, several had come unplugged after they were hit. The realization hit her quickly; Adam was no longer in control of the ship.

She turned around and dove for the controls, only to find someone else's hands on them. She turned around, surprised. "Jacobs?!"

"No talk," the biologist growled, hitting the accelerator as hard as he could. "Dodging now."

The ship leaped forward right as the cannon fired. The shot raced right past their tail; there was a small but terrifying sound of wrenching metal as the blast took off a thin layer of armor.

"Jacobs..." Samus said warily.

"I can handle this," Jacobs said, his eyes not leaving the viewscreen. "Go take care of the others."

She eyed him uneasily. "Are you sure? Have you flown before?"

"Of course! I'm fully trained for a Scimitar-class medium fighter."

"Scimitar-class..." Samus shot him an uneasy look. "That's not from Star Fox, is it?"

"Of course not!"

There was a brief pause.

"...it's from Wing Commander."

Samus sighed. "Move over."

"No, please!" Jacobs shouted. He tore his eyes from the viewscreen, and when they met Samus's, she was taken aback by just how fearful he looked. "Look, Adam's unplugged, and R-Stl's out cold. Your record shows you let computers fly you more often than you fly yourself. Right now, I'm the most qualified pilot here. And I can do this." He paused to take a breath. "I have to do this. Please, Samus. I need to to trust me."

She didn't trust him. But she also knew that she couldn't afford not to. His eyes were full of fear; his gaze betrayed the growing knowledge that these moments might be his last. And yet, that fear hadn't caused him to freeze; it had caused him to grab the controls, and steer them to safety. She knew she needed to act fast, but she couldn't help but linger in that moment, as she looked into his eyes...

...his eyes which were decidedly not on the viewscreen.

"If you're going to fly, then fly," she said forcefully. "Don't just stand there gaping at me."

Jacobs quickly turned back forward, blushing. "Right," he mumbled. "Sorry."

"Keep avoiding those shots," she called, moving to the back of the ship. "I'll see what I can do about the others."

She knelt down by R-Stl and began feeling him. While she was barely familiar with Luminoth physiology, he seemed to be breathing, and she could feel what she hoped was a heart beat. Nevertheless, he was out cold, and she doubted she had time to resuscitate him now. She went over to the Pirate's seat; before he even had a chance to look up at her fearfully, she hit the release on the back of his chair, and the restraints sprang open. He glanced up at her, utterly confused. "What..."

"I need your help," she said. "Get over here."

She crossed over to Adam's core; the Pirate soon joined her. They knelt down together, examining the mess of cords. "All right, how do we fix this?" Samus muttered.

"How am I supposed to know?" The Pirate asked, still confused.

"You're not," she replied, glaring at him. "But I figure you can't possibly make things worse." She tapped on the computer itself. "Adam, can you help us?"

"I can tell you when you try something that doesn't work," the tinny voice rasped, "but without being able to see anything, I'm not going to be able to do much else."

"All right, trial and error it is." Samus looked at the Pirate. "You, grab a cord, and start plugging."

Another bolt whizzed by, too close for comfort. R-Stl began stirring. "Hrrn..."

Jacobs risked a glance over his shoulder at the Luminoth. "R-Stl! Are you awake?!"

"I... yes, I think so..." R-Stl blinked, looking around with a mystified expression. "What's going on? Where are mother and father...?"

Jacobs looked back at him again, his eyes widening in realization. "Oh, balls. Samus!" he yelled. "R-Stl's coming to, but he seems to have some brain damage!"

"No!" the Luminoth shouted suddenly. He waved his hand in the air, rubbing his temples at the same time. "No, I'm fine. I remember now." He looked around, blinking in confusion. "Why is Jacobs flying?"

"Testosterone," Samus answered. "He needed to show off."

"Is there a contest or something?" Jacobs growled. "Insult the biologist, win a shirt?"

"I wish." Samus motioned to R-Stl. "Jacobs can keep us away from those blasts for a while. Right now, we need you to help us with Adam. You're the only one who knows how he's supposed to be hooked up to the ship's computer."

"OK," R-Stl said, kneeling down and squinting at the mess of cords. "Let's see... if I remember correctly..."

"If you remember correctly?!"

"I wasn't the one who hooked him up originally," R-Stl growled, "and I just hit my head against the control panel, so you'll forgive me if I'm a little unsure of myself."

Samus sighed. "I will, but only if we live long enough."

"All right," R-Stl said, grabbing some wires. "Help me get these untangled, and we'll see what we can do."

"Quickly, please," Jacobs called.

Samus looked at him. "I thought you wanted to fly!"

"I wanted to keep us from getting blown up. The best way to do that then was grab the controls, and the best way to do it now is to hook Adam back up."

"We're working on it," R-Stl shouted, rubbing his temples again, "and it would help if you'd all keep your voices down." He plugged a cord back in to Adam's computer core. "Did that work?" he called.

"I think so," Adam said, his voice coming from the ship's speakers this time. "Let me try firing the thrusters."

The main viewscreen was suddenly filled by a woman's face. "Details are scarce, but inside sources have indicated that there is already a retaliatory mission underway to the Pirate's new secret base. Our sources refused to comment on whether famed bounty hunter Samus Aran was involved in the..."

"No!" Jacobs yelled. "Look, as much as I like the news, I kind of need to be able to see what's going on out there!"

"Hang on!" Adam shouted. "I'm trying to turn it off!"

"What did I say about keeping it down?!" R-Stl growled angrily.

The news broadcast disappeared, and was immediately replaced by a bolt rushing straight towards them. Jacobs let out a startled cry, pulling back on the steering control almost hard enough to snap it. The ship was barely able to pull up, and the bolt raced by their underside.

"OK!" R-Stl yelled. "Try it now!"

"...Yes!" Adam shouted. "I'm back in! Jacobs, let go of the controls; I'm taking over!"

The biologist released the controls, falling back into R-Stl's chair. Another bolt was coming at them from starboard. "Adam..." he said warily.

The ship suddenly executed an Immelman turn, and the bolt rocketed by, missing them by several meters. "Told you!" Adams shouted excitedly. "I'm back in the saddle again!"

"Thank God," Jacobs sighed, leaning back. "If you'll excuse me, I need to go fall over."

He fell over.

"All right, one crisis resolved," Samus said. "Now what do we do about the cannon?"

"It'll keep shooting at us, even if we manage to land on the planet," the Pirate mused. "It's too heavily armored for us to attack from the outside; the only way to disable it would be to shoot it straight up the barrel."

Samus glared at him. "Does anyone have a plan that isn't tantamount to suicide?"

"Wait!" R-Stl called. "Our weapons aren't powerful enough to deflect a shot, but if we can build up enough power onto one, perhaps we can cause it to reverse and destroy the cannon from the inside!"

The Pirate blinked, confused. "Build up...? Weapons do not work that way!"

"The dark beam does. Samus"

Samus leaped into her seat. "Charging!" A rhythmic whine spread throughout the ship as power was channeled into the mighty dark cannon that made up the Scorpion's tail.

"Adam," R-Stl called, "Immediately after you dodge the next shot, fly directly towards the cannon. The only we'll be able to do this is if we fire directly up the barrel."

"I agree with what Samus said earlier about suicide," Adam said, "but I guess I'll have to trust you guys on this one. Redirecting."

Another bolt flew by them, and everyone found themselves off-balance as the ship suddenly turned and began flying directly towards the cannon. While the orbital weapon began glowing with the charge of another shot, dark energy began to crackle around the ship's own massive cannon.

"We've got a full charge!" Samus called.

"Hold it as long as you can," R-Stl replied. "Wait to shoot until the blast's already coming toward us."

Jacobs looked up from his position on the floor. "Does this seem really stupid to anyone else?"

"Yes," all four of the others replied simultaneously.

"Right," he said. "Just making sure."

The cannon fired, and the bolt of energy nearly filled the screen.

"Now!" R-Stl screamed.

The shot from the mighty dark beam almost knocked the small ship back as it blasted out of the cannon. It hit the orbital cannon's shot, and at once splashed over it like a disgusting black liquid. The cannon blast continued to shoot forward, but at a severely slowed pace, and its bright color was diminished significantly by the dark energy clinging to it."

"Again!" R-Stl yelled. "Keep shooting!"

Samus loosed blast after blast at the oncoming shot. The dark beam was never meant for rapid fire, but Samus was still able to get impressive speed out of the weapon. Each round wasn't nearly as strong as the initial charged shot, but as each one hit the oncoming cannon blast, it spread more dark energy over it, causing it to slow even more."

"What is that stuff?" Jacobs said, looking at the bizarre liquid-like energy spreading over the blast.
"Grape jelly," R-Stl said. "Dark energy that can build up and slow or freeze objects when fired in large amounts. As you can see, it can also effect certain typed of energy."

Jacobs gave him a disturbed look. "And you call it grape jelly?"

"Can we discuss this later?!" Samus yelled, still firing.

As more and more shots hit their mark, the oncoming blast continued to slow down, then stopped completely, then began moving in the opposite direction. Samus continued shooting at it, but it soon became pointless as the shot was traveling too fast for the dark beam blasts to catch up to it. The blast raced back up the barrel of the cannon that had fired it.

For a second, all was quiet, and then the orbital cannon exploded. The flames stood in space for a moment before fizzling out, and "grape jelly" flew everywhere—including on the outside of the Scorpion.

The ship's inhabitants let out a sigh of relief. Samus looked at Jacobs. "None of the other cannons are firing?"

The biologist pulled himself up onto his chair, and looked at the console intently. "Nope. Looks like we successfully disabled them; I guess this one just got up on the wrong side of the assembly line."

R-Stl returned to his own seat as well. "Adam," he said, "Would you kindly activate the windshield wipers?"

A thin red beam was seen on the viewscreen as it passed over the ship. Within seconds, the goo that had built up from the cannon's explosion was gone.

"Much better," R-Stl said, sounding happy for once.

The Pirate returned to his seat voluntarily, and once again the restraints closed around him. "So," he asked, "what now?"

"We do what we came here to do in the first place," Samus said, standing up. "Adam, take us down."

The ship turned slowly in space, and began descending towards the planet. Samus walked over to Jacob's workstation. "Jacobs, can you scan the planet?"

"Sure," he said. He turned to the computer and began running the scan, when he suddenly felt Samus's hand on his shoulder.

She leaned down close to him, lowering her voice. "Jacobs, you did a good job. You're right; you were the only one conscious at the time who could fly well enough to keep us alive."

Jacobs found himself blushing again. No matter how much Samus belittled him, no matter how much he grew to resent her, he still cherished it when she complimented him. "Thank you," he mumbled.

"I'm sorry about that crack I made about testosterone," she said.

He lowered his eyes. "In your defense, you were right. I did kind of want to show off."

"Well, don't."

"It won't happen again," he sighed. "I'm sorry."

"That's not what I meant," she replied.

He looked up at her, surprised. "What...?"

"You don't need to show off, Jacobs. You're valuable enough to this mission without having to prove to me that you can do something like fly in a combat situation. If you try pulling stunts just to show off, all you're going to do is put yourself in danger. Stop trying to convince us that you're important to the mission; we're already convinced."

Jacobs blinked. "But... you, R-Stl, and the Pirate all have combat training, and..."

"And you can't seem to hit anything but a Pirate's shoulder. So what? That's not why you're here. We all have combat training, and you know what? That means you don't have to. We're here to take care of you."

He pursed his lips. "I hate being taken care of."

"So do I," Samus admitted. "But you're here to take care of me—to make sure the X-infusion functions properly—so I guess it's something we're both going to have to deal with it."

With that, she stood up and started towards her own station.

"I told you she didn't hate you," Adam said quitly.

"Will you just be..." Jacobs was distracted by the computer beeping to indicate the scan had been completed. "...quiet..."

His eyes widened in shock. Without a word, he grabbed Samus before she could leave. She turned around, startled. "What? What is..." She trailed off as her eyes focused on the image on the screen. "Oh, you have got to be kidding me..."

The Pirate and R-Stl turned towards Jacob's viewscreen, but couldn't figure out what had their human companions so perturbed. The display showed a general layout of subterranean tunnels and caverns beneath the planet's surface, and there didn't seem to be anything strange about it. "What's wrong?" R-Stl asked.

"I recognize it from Samus's old mission files," Jacobs breathed softly. "The Pirate base on this planet is, room-for-room, almost an exact replica of the cavern system on Zebes."