Samus Aran was jarred from her sleep by a loud beeping coming from her gunship's mainframe computer. She sat up a bit too quickly and experienced a bout of lightheadedness, but quickly recovered enough to dash forward to the cockpit.
"Finally," she muttered. "You won't get away with this, Pirates."
She had been tracking a Space Pirate freighter for weeks on end. Though the manifest she had downloaded from the Pirates' database showed only rations and weapons, she knew better; this freighter was carrying several crates of Phazon to an undisclosed location. She had nearly eradicated the mutagen once and for all, almost losing her life many times in the process, and had made it her single goal in life to finish her mission, thereby saving the universe.
As she watched the freighter grow closer and closer on the radar screen, her ship suddenly went dark. She cursed the worn electrical system and felt her way to the wiring panel near the aft lavatory. One solid bang with her fist caused the lights to brighten enough for her to find her way back to her quarters and fetch her utility light, which she in turn brought back to the wiring panel.
"How many times will I have to do this before they'll fix this stupid thing?" she muttered as she turned off the power and found the soldering tool that was cleverly stashed near the bank of wires for just such emergencies. She quickly reattached the loose wires and restored power to the ship, and then made her way back to the cockpit after replacing all her tools. "Now I can get you guys for what you've done."
She still hadn't forgotten Tallon IV. The last remnants of her childhood and of the Chozo, crumbling before her very eyes as a result of the Space Pirates' abuse of the planet—it was a sight she had never been able to keep from her mind, even after the ordeal on Aether when she had first met her Phazon-corrupted clone, so aptly named Dark Samus. Now that her evil half was gone forever, along with most of the Phazon in the galaxy, she could focus on the sweetest thing: revenge.
She strolled her way through the stark, deceptively spacious hallways of her tiny gunship, hoping the Pirates hadn't seen her floating in their wake, and reached the bridge with murder on the mind. She would kill two birds with one stone: she would cleanse the galaxy of Phazon once and for all, and she would eliminate the threat that the Pirates posed to the neighboring planets, all while exacting vengeance on the Pirates for the problems they had caused her.
She sat in the pilot's chair and grasped the stick firmly. Easing the throttle forward, she smiled at the warm hum of the engines pushing the ship along in the icy vacuum between stars, ever closer to her target. Her finger hovered over the trigger in momentary hesitation as a lump formed in her throat.
She had always had qualms about killing for no reason, and this freighter was unarmed. There were no fighter escorts, and no external gun turrets. She was out of their radar range, out of their scopes and traveling in the dying fringes of their engine wash where none else would dare travel. She placed her finger on the trigger and gripped the stick tightly, gritting her teeth against her conscience.
Finally, she jammed the throttle all the way down and let go of the stick. "I can't do it," she sighed. She was about to turn the ship about and make her way back to Galactic Federation Headquarters to report the freighter and its hidden cargo, but something in the distance caught her eye. It grew steadily larger until it finally slowed to a stop near the Pirate freighter. "What the—?" she murmured as she eased the ship forward for a closer look.
The new craft was a capital ship—that much was obvious—and instead of the typical grey and black of the Space Pirates, it was painted an organic purple color. She saw writing on the side she did not recognize, and tried to fly close enough to scan it and send to the GF for analysis. But when she came within half a click, a blue ball of plasma exploded from one of the cannons.
She shouted, a habitual reaction for space combat veterans such as herself, and threw the throttle forward as she began to evade the shots. The stars in her view spun out of control as she ducked, weaved, and dipped away from the turrets' horrifyingly accurate shots, and finally laid down a few shots of her own. But it wasn't enough; one ball of plasma connected with an aft engine, turning it into shrapnel.
She turned tail and flew away from the ship, shoving the throttle as far forward as she could, hoping to escape the deadly turrets on the capital ship. As soon as she was past two clicks, the guns stopped blazing and she was able to once again fly in peace. She flipped several switches and sighed as the ship leapt entered hyperspace.
"Blast it, find that ship! I want that guy's hide nailed to my desk!" The Master Chief hadn't seen Captain Morrison so irritated in quite a while. He did, however, have good cause to be frustrated; their entire operation had just been jeopardized by a lone ship attacking the Covenant capital ship that filled their view.
"Calm down, Captain," urged Chief. This was no time to get out of sorts over a minor setback.
"Calm?" bellowed the captain in retort. "How can I remain calm when this whole thing is shot to hell by some hotshot? Follow the capital ship and send some fighters to get that other one!"
"They're running, sir!" shouted the copilot.
"I don't give a rat's better end! Kill their engines before—" The large Covenant vessel vanished into hyperspace. "Son of a… Follow them!"
"We can't, sir. The drive isn't responding."
"Not responding? What the blazes is wrong with it?"
"It was deactivated."
Chief knew what this meant: there was a stowaway onboard. "I'll take care of it," he said apathetically, as if he did this sort of job in his sleep. "Just give me a pistol and I'll get that drive working again."
"Take mine, Chief," called Anton, a gung-ho Marine that was always eager to kill something or somebody. He tossed the weapon to Chief and gave a thumbs-up signal.
"I'll take good care of it," Chief replied. He holstered the weapon and made his way aft to where the large hyperdrive generator was located. It was a precision machine; a speck of dust in the wrong spot could cause a complete overload, which would destroy the ship. The maintenance team was constantly tending the massive generator, cleaning it and replacing worn parts as necessary, but they didn't appear to be present.
Soon, Chief knew why. Several of the crew workers lay dead in the halls with plasma burns characteristic of Covenant weaponry. "What do you think, Cortana?" he asked the AI in his helmet system, the one that he had taken from the Pillar of Autumn before its crash on the first Halo.
"Looks like Covenant to me," she replied. "I would suffer a guess that they saw us coming and sent a few Grunts, or maybe some Jackals to sabotage."
"My guess is they sent Brutes," Chief muttered. He hated the burly anti-infantry units that the Covenant was ever more often sending to do the smallest of jobs. "But at least they didn't send Hunters."
"There are tracks on the ground matching the size and stride of a Grunt," observed Cortana. "They're somewhat expendable, so that's my guess as to what the Covenant sent."
Chief chuckled wryly. In every mission he fought against the Covenant, Grunts made up the vast majority of the opposing forces. They were most effective in packs, but a lone grunt with a plasma pistol could do some serious damage to any Marine, and not even Chief's MJOLNIR armor was enough to repel the damage.
He crept through the halls to the hyperdrive generator, and as he neared it, he noticed a trail of bright cyan blood leading in the direction of the bulkhead. He cocked the pistol and readied it to fire as he tried to open the massive blast door. When he entered the correct access code, the panel flashed red and beeped sourly. "It's not working, Cortana."
"They must have changed it," she mused. "If I was in the ship, I'd be able to open it, no sweat. But seeing as how the AI on the Chance and I have had a considerably rough past together, I probably won't be able to do so."
"You had a past together?"
"Onyx and I were written side by side. Once we were activated, I saw some incorrect code and pointed it out to his programmer, who fixed the code while Onyx was still running. Pretty painful process. Now he's bitter toward me."
She sighed and accessed the ship's comm. system. "Captain Morrison, this is Cortana."
"Go ahead," the captain replied over the radio, his drawl cutting through any static.
"The engine room bulkhead is locked and Chief and I can't open it. Could you have Onyx give it a whirl?"
"No," replied the bitter AI. "You're not going in there and screwing with my engine."
"I'm sorry, Onyx, but we must."
"No. Chief, I'm fine with, but you? I don't think so."
"Just do it, blast it," grumbled the captain. "I can easily erase you and replace you with another AI that's newer and smarter."
"Fine," muttered Onyx. The bulkhead slid open slowly, and Chief heard the startled sounds of a busy Grunt whose soliloquy was interrupted by the clang of the door.
Once the noise subsided and the Grunt began talking to himself again, Chief made his way silently into the room to see the perpetrator making use of the drive's control console. If he shot now, he would no doubt eradicate the problem, but at the same time he would damage the console and potentially overload the drive. It was an unhappy choice, but he finally worked his way down to the console and up behind the Grunt. He grabbed the alien in a choke hold, put the gun to its head, and pulled the trigger, spattering the bright cyan blood all over his visor.
He wiped the fluid from his view and went to work diagnosing the problem. Cortana helped somewhat, but there were some things that Onyx didn't allow Chief to do, such as rebooting the drive's control computer. Finally, after an exorbitant amount of wasted time, the drive was finally back up and running. The captain was not impressed in the least bit by the charade, and threatened to crash the ship into a nearby star if the two AI programs didn't ease up on each other.
"It's not me," Cortana defended. "Onyx is the one that is holding the grudge."
"That's just because my programmer was too tired to shut me down in order to debug."
"Shut up, you two!" the captain barked. "Chief, is the problem fixed?"
"We can jump any time."
"Good. As soon as I've shoved my fist up that hotshot's—"
Chief couldn't bear to hear anymore grumbling, and he shut off the comm. channel.
"Wanted some privacy?" Cortana teased.
"Something's not right about this. I want to know exactly what was on the freighter that the Covenant capital ship picked up, and I want to know exactly where it came from. Since nobody knows that, I'm going to have to find it out for myself."
"And how are you going to do that?"
"I'm going to do a little bit of interrogation with our so-called hotshot."
Samus's heart pounded in her chest as she glanced at the rear-view monitors. Two other ships were hot on her tail, and they were gaining fast. With one damaged engine, even hyperspace wasn't enough to outrun them, and soon they were within firing range, where they stayed.
"Unknown spacecraft, identify yourself," crackled a voice over the radio.
"This is Samus Aran," she replied. "I am a bounty hunter and I was tracking a Space Pirate freighter. Now you'd better tell me who you are and why you're following me."
"We are of the United Nations Space Command, Marine Corps division. We were tracking a Covenant battleship when you interfered with our operation, thereby jeopardizing interplanetary security."
"Listen to me," Samus snapped. "The Pirate freighter I was tracking was hauling enough Phazon to kill an entire planet, understand? If this Covenant thingamajig was the capital ship that picked up the freighter, then you're chasing the wrong girl. Let me go so that I can repair my ship."
"Because you have jeopardized interplanetary security, we have no choice but to haul you back to the Chance."
"What do you mean 'haul me back'?" Her question was answered when her ship's computer was hacked and her engines shut down. She tried everything she could think of to flush out the attackers, but to no avail. The three ships reversed direction and came out of hyperspace near a large grey ship bearing a strange insignia and the name Chance.
Her ship was piloted to a docking bay, where several armed soldiers were there to greet her. When she left the gunship, one of them took her hand and ordered her to come along with him to the bridge, and she followed without question; she was unarmed and the soldiers were showing no other hostility toward her.
"What is the meaning of this?" she demanded once they reached the bridge. She broke free of the soldier's grip. "Who is the captain?"
She looked to find the man who was talking and laid eyes on a burly, broad-shouldered man with an angular face and a box chin. His brown hair was combed back and held in place by some means, and he stared her down from behind a pair of dark sunglasses, and he was dressed in a well-fitting uniform that was covered in a splotchy green and brown pattern. The letters UNSC were stitched in black above the left breast pocket, along with his name and rank: Capt. A. Morrison. "Well, Captain," she asked, "why am I here?"
"As you have already been informed, you interfered with a highly sensitive government operation, and inter—"
"Yeah, I know, interplanetary security may be at stake."
He took off his glasses and a series of gasps filtered through the rest of the crew in the room. "Let me make one thing perfectly clear, little missy. You will never interrupt me again."
"And you will never call me 'little missy' again," Samus fired back. "My name is Samus Aran. Miss Aran to you."
The captain ground his teeth. "I don't give a rip what your name is, or what you want to be called. This is my ship, and you will play by my rules. And my rules dictate that you will answer all of my questions, or else I'll have to resort to more…unconventional means of obtaining the desired information. Now I'm asking you nicely: what were you doing attacking a Covenant vessel?"
"I didn't attack. They shot first. And for your information, I was minding my own business."
"Well it looks like your business is our business." He replaced his glasses and turned, walking toward the star-filled viewport. "What was your business, anyway?"
"I was following a Space Pirate freighter that was hauling a highly radioactive mutagen known as Phazon. I was going to destroy it, but I couldn't force myself to. But that's when that…Covenant, you said…capital ship came up and tractored in the freighter. I flew in to investigate and they shot at me. Naturally, I shot back. I never fire the first shot."
"A softie, eh?"
She charged forward and roared at him, "I am not soft! I'm just as hard as you!" Several crew members snickered, but she ignored them. "For your information, I have single-handedly saved numerous planets from the Pirates and their mad science. How many planets have you saved?"
"None on my own, but one of my crew saved the galaxy. More than once."
"Well I want to meet this so-called warrior and give him a piece of my mind."
A door slid open behind her and she turned to look at who came through. He was tall, decked out in heavy green armor, and wore a helmet that obscured his face behind a reflective gold visor. She expected to hear the whir of servo motors as he walked, but his joints made no noise except that of his armor rubbing together.
"Morrison," he said, "I am never going to do anything on this ship again unless you tell Onyx to make up with Cortana."
"Ah, Master Chief," the captain said, smirking as he looked over his shoulder. "Meet Samus Aran. Miss Aran to the both of us."
She wanted to punch the captain square across his square jaw for mocking her, but refrained. "And is this your notorious galaxy-saver?" she chaffed.
"Why yes, it is," Captain Morrison replied. "And I trust him more than I trust you."
"What's this about, Captain?" asked the soldier.
"Chief, this is the guy who screwed our operation."
"As I was saying to the captain," Samus explained, "I was minding my own business when the Covenant ship came up and fired at me."
"I believe her, Captain," Chief replied. "She could shed some light on this situation."
"Just send me on my way and I'll slink off to Galactic Federation headquarters and mope."
"Sorry to interrupt, Captain," said one of the many people sitting behind computer screens, "but we're having trouble tracking the Covenant vessel."
"Then fix the problem, Private Hawkins."
"I don't know what the problem is," she replied. "We're not getting the standard signature."
"Which way did they go?" Samus asked.
"They headed bearing sixteen by eight by twenty degrees astro-north."
"Astro-north?" Samus wondered.
"No matter where you are in the universe," the captain explained, "Polaris is north. Back home on Earth, it's just plain north. But out here it's astro-north, and you have to have three coordinates to find your destination."
"Well, if they headed that way, we should narrow down their possible destinations," Samus suggested.
"There are millions of planets within their range," the captain scoffed.
"Then track the Phazon."
"I'm sorry, missy, but we don't have the proper equipment to track an unknown substance across vast distances."
"It has a unique alpha-beta-gamma radioactivity signature," Samus replied. "Track that and you'll find them." She gave the details about Phazon's unique mutagenic radiation and told Private Hawkins to program the ship to follow the signature wherever it went along the Covenant ship's trajectory. Once Hawkins understood, Samus smiled at her cleverness.
"That's a nice trick, missy," the captain said. "But I'm afraid it won't work."
"It will work."
"We have the signature, sir," Hawkins announced.
Samus chuckled. "I'll be on my way." But when she reached the door that led back to her ship, Chief stepped in front of her.
"No, Miss Aran," he replied, "you will be staying with us for a while longer."
She turned and looked at the captain, only to see a sneer split his face as the ship jumped into hyperspace in pursuit of the Covenant ship. "You do realize that this is kidnapping."
The captain laughed. "You're not a kid, and we're not napping. Enjoy your stay aboard the Chance."