Approximately 48 hours after the conclusion of Metroid Prime

Tallon IV

Samus Aran sat alone at the controls of her gunship, far above the planet Tallon IV. A few days ago, she had destroyed a large Space Pirate base of operations, and had vanquished the loathsome creature the Space Pirates called Metroid Prime, avenging the Chozo it had murdered with its radioactive Phazon.

At present, Samus had no other jobs to do, so she had set her ship to orbit the planet while she recovered from the injuries she had sustained during her battles with Ridley and Metroid Prime.

Samus leaned back in her chair and put her arms behind her head. Her Chozo powersuit stood behind her like a giant metal sentinel. Sometimes, when she was bored or had to think about something, she would talk to the empty suit like it had a mind of its own. She recalled that, as it was being designed for her by the Chozo, they had offered to give it limited artificial intelligence to assist her in her missions. She had rejected the voice systems, saying that it would distract her if the thing was talking to her while she was blowing away Space Pirates, but accepted the mission-assistance programs and upgraded sensors.

"Oh, well," she said to the empty suit, "at least I got some upgrades while we were down there. I think that plasma beam might come in handy on my next job." Samus stared into the blank visor for a moment.

An alarm on her console beeped at her. Samus swung her chair back around to face the bank of monitors and keyboards. "Well, well, what have we here?" she said as she enhanced the magnification.

A ship had reverted to realspace a few thousand kilometers away. As she studied its outline, she didn't immediately recognize the design, but it looked vaguely familiar somehow.

There was nothing for parsecs around this system. Nobody would just stumble across Tallon. That was why the Chozo had chosen this world. If somebody was here, they were either looking for her, the Chozo, or the Space Pirates.

Samus wasn't taking any chances She activated the cloaking device and cut the lights. Now the other ship's sensors, if they registered her gunship at all, would dismiss it as floating space junk. She set the laser cannons to slow charge, so she could blow the other ship away if it made any hostile moves.

Samus Aran waited, like a spider in its web, to see what would happen next.

Davin Ortry hit the braking thrusters on his ship and set the sensors for system-wide sweep. He had finally figured out where the Space Pirate frigate had fled to, and it was payback time. Some of the pirates on this particular frigate were among the ones who had murdered his entire family except his younger sister Malysa, who was dozing in her bunk a few meters away. He thought she was too young to be tearing around this sector with him, one step ahead of the Galactic Federation and the Space Pirates. Both organizations were after the Ortrys for the theft of certain high-tech weapon systems and this ship, which they had lifted from a Federation shipyard a few months ago, before it was to be sent off to some bounty hunter.

But, they didn't have any family Davin could leave her with while he pursued his revenge on the pirates who had murdered their parents. He still had nightmares about hiding under his parents' bed, trying to keep his little sister quiet while the brutes ransacked the house, stepping over the bodies of his mother, father and uncle as they smashed all the furniture, looking for something. Davin still didn't remember what, try as he might.

Malysa stumbled into the cockpit and mumbled something unintelligible at him.

"What?" he said. "Try that again."

She shot him a glare that teenage girls the universe over have mastered, and repeated, slower this time: "Are we there yet, dweeb?"

Davin grinned and shook his head. "Sure thing, banshee. We came out of hyperspace just a couple minutes ago."

Malysa yawned, showing off the overlarge canine teeth that were an Ortry family trait, and adjusted her T-shirt, an old one of Davin's. Personally, Davin enjoyed his unsettling smile, but Malysa hated hers and was always bugging him to let her get them fixed. "I look like a vampire!" she often reminded him. Of course, he would then remind her that it was better to look scary in their present line of work.

She ran her fingers through her tousled electric blue hair in an attempt to straighten it. Her natural color was jet black, the same as Davin's, but she frequently changed it, depending on her mood and on how the teen vid stars were wearing theirs.

Davin shook his head again. He personally thought she looked ridiculous, but he was trying to let her have as normal a childhood as possible. If the girl wanted to dye her hair and get fake tattoos, she was welcome to it as long as none of it was permanent. At sixteen, she was beginning to mellow out a little, but she still had her quirks. Still, sometimes he was glad he brought her along. It got lonely out there on the spacelanes, and he was glad to have someone to talk to in the monotony of hyperspace.

He reached over and mussed her hair as she sat down beside him in her custom, ultra-comfortable chair, one of the few things he had splurged on when he got this ship retrofit at a black-market shipyard a few parsecs from here.

She adopted a mock-furious expression and stuck her tongue out at him. He rolled his eyes. Malysa stretched her fingers and settled them over her keyboards as the teenage computer wizard prepared her own sensor sweeps. She reminded him every once in a while that he didn't know how to use the sensors properly, and he should just let her do it. Of course, he let her think whatever she wanted.

"Do we have the ugly buggers this time, or is this another red herring?" she asked as she reviewed the sensor readings. Malysa's hatred for the Space Pirates matched Davin's own.

Davin pointed at one of his own monitors. "This drive signature is a couple days old, but it's definitely the Orpheon. Looks like it had a reactor problem and crashed on the planet somewhere. I don't know what this other one is, the one that follows it down there."

His sister peered at her screen. "Looks similar to readings I've seen of Samus Aran's ship. Think maybe that Aran guy was here and went down to take a look? This was going to be his ship before we uh... appropriated it." She cocked her head. "I hope Aran isn't still here. I've heard he gets painful revenge on people who screw him over."

Davin chuckled, but raised the shields anyway.

Samus continued to peer intently at the newcomer. Suddenly, it popped into her head where she'd seen that ship before. It had taken her a few minutes because it looked so radically different from the last time she'd seen it. It was her ship, the one the Federation was building special for her in appreciation for the countless jobs she'd taken on for them over the years. She'd almost punched a hole in the monitor when she'd gotten the communique from the Federation shipyard, saying that her new ship had been stolen and had escaped into hyperspace before the Fed ships had been able to catch it.

That was it, all right. It had more weapon emplacements, and another pair of engines besides the ones the original design had called for, but it was definitely her new ship. Instead of the original orange and black, it was now midnight blue with gunmetal accents.

Samus chuckled softly to herself. Whoever had modified it had done an excellent job. After she threw the thieves out the airlock, she might keep most of the modifications, if they were up to her own personal standard.

Her hand hovered over the firing control for the forward ion cannon. Before she fired, Samus stopped herself. What were the thieves doing in the Tallon system, anyway? Did they know she was here? She decided to ask them before she blew them into space. It would satisfy her curiosity, anyway.

The back of Davin's neck began to tingle a few moments before the first blast hit them. From the way Malysa was scratching, he knew she felt it, too. Something wasn't right.

"Davin, let's go. Something creepy's going on here." He wasn't sure, but Davin thought he detected a tremor in her voice.

"Way ahead of you, sis." Davin began slapping controls, arming the lasers and preparing to dive for the questionable safety of the planet. "Go make sure my suit's charged up, and get in an EV suit just in case."

Malysa must have been scared. She didn't even pretend to argue with him. She was on her way to the back when an ion blast hit them on the port side, only partially deflected by the augmented shields Davin had designed and installed himself.

Another supercharged blast hit them again in the same spot and almost flipped the ship on its axis. He heard Malysa grunt in pain as she was thrown into the wall, and a muttered curse as she picked herself up.

Davin wrestled with the controls as he strained to see where their attacker was. His sensors weren't registering anything.

"They must have a cloaking device. Man, do I wish we had one of those!" Davin quickly wiped some sweat out of his eyes and took the ship into a barrel roll, followed by a stomach-twisting corkscrew maneuver as he looped back in the direction of the hyperspace point. No point in crashing on the planet.

Their opponent wasn't going to allow that. A third ion blast blew a hole in the shields long enough for the other ship to slip a missile in and take out the rear shield generator.

"Who is this guy?" he heard Malysa hiss from behind him.

"Beats me. He's on me like stink on a Space Pirate. I can't shake him!" Davin threw a few of his choicer curse words at the enemy ship, wherever it was. If this kept up, they were going to be destroyed before long.

Another two ion blasts in rapid succession took out his engines. He was effectively dead in space. Davin smashed his fist into the bulkhead in frustration. He was better than this. How had the other ship disabled him so quickly?

He heard the clicks and hisses of his sister sealing herself into an EV suit coming from behind him. "I sure hope it's not Aran," she said.

"Hey, shut up. That's not even remotely funny."

"It's not meant to be."

Davin hissed a curse under his breath as his opponent finally turned off his cloaking device. It was indeed Samus Aran. The other bounty hunter's ship had its menacing lines pointed right at him, every laser cannon and missile launcher locked on to the front viewport.

Malysa chose this moment to come forward again, dressed in an EV suit, sans helmet, and dragging Davin's battle suit behind her. She dropped his suit with a clunk on the deckplates and motioned him out of the pilot's seat. He rose and crossed to where his suit lay on the deck.

It was standard procedure for them to confuse potential enemies by making them think Malysa was alone on the ship while Davin prepared a nasty surprise for boarders. Another of his special modifications, carried over from their last ship, was a life-sign masker that disguised his life-sign as a power relay when he wasn't in his battle suit. That didn't give off anything that sensors could interpret as organic. It worked surprisingly well, and had gotten them out of a few tight spots over the course of their career.

Davin snapped his helmet into place and ducked into the back, near the hatch.

Malysa Ortry took a deep breath and stole a quick look back at her brother. He caught her glance and winked at her through the visor of his helmet as he primed his weapons and ducked out of sight behind a bulkhead. She forced her features into a passive mask and waited for Aran to hail.

She didn't have to wait long.

Malysa answered the hail and the mysterious bounty hunter's armored visage appeared on the main screen.

"This is Samus Aran. I believe you have something that belongs to me." The cold, mechanically filtered voice held no trace of mercy or sympathy.

Malysa struggled fiercely not to let her nervousness show. Ordinarily, she wouldn't care, and would possibly even smart off, but she had heard things about this Aran. She had heard that he cared not for the personal safety of his prey, only that they reach his employer alive, if not necessarily intact. Unless ordered otherwise.

"This is Alysa Beneten. I believe you are mistaken, Mr. Aran. I purchased this ship new. And legally, I might add. I can show you the receipt."

That was at least partially true. She and Davin had taken the precaution of doctoring up registration papers for the ship, with all of them making it look like they had owned the ship for far longer than they actually had. It was possible, after all. The basic ship the Federation had modified for Aran had been available for about a year now.

Aran's inscrutable visor stared at Malysa for a few moments, as if waiting for her to blurt out the truth, which she nearly did.

She was saved when Aran transmitted again. "Prepare to be boarded."

Samus checked her weapons as she waited for the docking procedure to finish. The two hatches sealed together with a hiss of equalizing pressure.

She scowled. She hadn't expected a teenage girl to be aboard. What she had expected was a hotshot space jockey or possibly a Space Pirate who had stolen her new ship to learn about her superior weapons and technology. Samus couldn't shoot that girl and dump her into space. She certainly didn't have room for a stowaway, though.

Samus drifted through the null zone where the two ships' artificial gravity fields canceled each other out and landed on her feet in the other ship.

She found herself looking into the business end of what was obviously a weapon. What surprised her, though, was what was on the other end of that weapon.

It was a man in a Chozo power suit.