a Metroid fan-fiction
Disclaimer: The characters, events and locations of the Metroid universe belong to Nintendo and Retro Studios. I don't own them, nor am I profiting from this venture. All other characters and situations are mine; if you want to re-use them, please ask first. Attack lawyers may be checked at the bar; they'll be returned when you leave...
This story is set post-Fusion, and like the vast majority of the games in the series, is rated T for violence and language.
Soundtrack: "Prelude," zircon, from the Antigravity album, and "Operation Market Garden," Michael Giacchino, from the Medal of Honor: Vanguard soundtrack.
Prologue: The Broken Sword
Task Force Aegis, Nereid Sector
"N-space reentry in three, two, one... and bubble down," Helmsman Peter Wilson muttered to himself. "God, I hate N-space transits. Two days of bus drivin', with our asses hangin' out for all the galaxy to see."
As one, the vessels of Task Force Aegis - the battlecruiser GFS Claimh Solais, the frigate GFS Dunkirk, the assault carrier GFS Paul Young and her complement of Marines, and the non-combatant ship tender GFAS Hestia - returned to the normal universe in four identical boils of energy as their hyper bubbles dissipated. The task force had recently completed a major reconnaissance of Space Pirate holdings in the Crux Sector, and up to this point, they had made their escape completely undetected. However, their route home contained one major bottleneck: the Nereid Traverse, a cluster of some fifty-odd white dwarfs and neutron stars that, thanks to their collective mass and spacing, effectively prevented faster-than-light travel.
Thanks to the miracle of physics that was the Alcubierre bubble drive, FTL travel provided the most perfect cloaking system ever devised. Although a ship under way still radiated energy and heat as normal within its hyper bubble, the enormous tidal forces at the bubble's edges prevented all forms of mass and energy from entering or exiting, rendering the ship all but invisible. The bubble itself, propelled at several times the speed of light by the warped space surrounding it, defeated all lightspeed sensors through sheer speed; by the time a laser or radar could achieve a trace, the bubble and the ship within would be long gone. Normal or "N" space, on the other hand, offered no such safety cloak. Stealth systems could minimize or mask the vast majority of a starship's electromagnetic spectrum emissions, but they weren't infallible, and they did nothing for the visible spectrum - any sufficiently motivated observer could look out a porthole and see a vessel under EM stealth, no matter how good that stealth system might be. To a spacer, N-space travel in a hyper-capable ship posed many of the same dangers as a submariner might experience on the surface, along with the same distinct feeling of nudity.
"You hate the whole damn universe, Wilson," commented his counterpart, Petty Officer 2nd Class Stephen Taylor. "You hate N-space, you hate hyper, you hate flying, you hate the ground, you hate the Navy, you hate civilians. You want to take a shot at death and taxes while you're at it, too?"
"I don't like havin' that bounty hunter on board, either," Wilson continued, ignoring Taylor's riposte. "Dude gives me the creeps, for one. And nobody knows nothin' 'bout him."
"That would be a big part of the point, Pete," Taylor replied, adjusting his helm controls. "One, he's a private military contractor, he's not exactly going to advertise what he does for a living. Two, he's special ops. You expect him to walk around with a big sign on his chest saying 'Ask me about being a secret agent'?"
"No, it's more 'n that, man. Dude don't talk to no one, he don't take his armor off, ain't no one seen him in the chow hall, the racks or the head. That ain't natural, man."
"So? Probably he lives in officers' country. They wouldn't make him slum it with us."
PO1 Christine Andrews, the engineering technician, glanced over at the bickering helmsmen. "Men," she grumbled, shaking her head at their conversation. "Honest to God, you're all clueless. You don't see me or Emmons in the racks or the head – do you think we're unnatural?"
Taylor grinned lasciviously at that. "Yes, Andrews, I do think you're unnatural. Goddesses are unnatural by definition."
"In your dreams, flyboy. On second thought, don't."
Wilson shook his head, ducking and dropping his voice low as though to impart some great secret. "Yanno what I think? I think... he's a robot."
Taylor burst out laughing at that, which earned them both dirty looks from the XO. In a quieter tone, he continued, "Pete, have you ever seen an autonomous combat vehicle? They're three meters tall and on six legs. You couldn't even fit the computer core in a human-sized body."
The fire control tech, Sandra Emmons, just sighed good-naturedly. For her money, the bounty hunter was actually quite nice, once you learned to look past the armor.
"Well, he could be a cyborg," Wilson countered. "A robot body with a human brain inside. I seen an old vid 'bout it. Dude was a high-hat, got shot all to hell and they put his head on a robot body, an' he was all wastin' bad guys left an' right an' the people who built him was really bad guys too an'--"
"Whatever, Wilson. You're a paranoid freak and you watch way too much bad science fiction, has anyone ever told you that?"
"Aw, c'mon! What theory have you got that's better?"
Andrews shrugged, leaning back in her chair. "Try this on: 'he' is really a she. ...No, really, this is no shit - I heard it from Huether in Damage Control. This Marine, Dawkins I think her name was, went down to the armory one night on her off watch 'cause her rifle was acting up, and there was this tall blonde chick in there working on the hunter's armor suit. Now, she'd never seen anyone like that aboard before, but figured she was just one of the armory techs, so she gave the girl her piece and asked her to fix it. Thing was, when she asked around later, the section supervisor told her that not only did he not have any such tech on his crew, but there wasn't even supposed to be anyone in the armory that night. So she goes busting back down there, all in a panic because she thinks there's a stowaway aboard who's got her rifle, and finds it in the small-arms locker, in perfect working condition, with a note taped to it saying 'For PFC Dawkins: You're welcome. S.A."
Wilson and Taylor both thought about that for a second, and then began to snicker. "Good one, Andrews. You really had us going there."
"Stow the chatter, people," Lieutenant Commander Patel, the executive officer, said crossly.
A new voice joined the conversation a second later, that of the sensors tech. Unlike the helmsmen, his contribution was strictly business. "Conn, Sensors. Possible contact bearing 233 mark 015 relative. Signal keeps fluctuating, can't determine a range to target."
"Noted," the XO replied. "Designate contact Uniform Five."
"Contact so designated." On the tactical plot, a large holographic "tank" in the center of the CIC, a yellow line marked "U5," the fifth unknown contact they'd encountered on this mission, winked into existence just above, ahead and to the left of the blue icons representing the task force ships. A moment later, the line resolved into a series of icons, hovering well above them. "Conn, Sensors. Uniform Five positively identified. It's a Space Pirate convoy. Three Corsair-class frigates and one Blackbeard-class battlecruiser. Range to targets 15,000 kilometers. Recommend redesignation as Hotel Twenty-Nine through Thirty-Two."
Patel frowned at that. This far into Federation space, a Space Pirate attack squad would have to be either hopelessly lost or suicidal. "Redesignate Uniform Five as Hotel Twenty-Nine through Thirty-Two. Helm, make your course 045 mark 090. Comms, call Commander Malkovich to the CIC."
"What's the situation?" Commander Adam Malkovich said as he arrived in the Combat Information Center moments later.
"Sir, we've detected a group of Space Pirate warships in the area," the XO replied, indicating the four "Hotel" or hostile icons on the tactical plot. "We're running a target motion analysis on them right now, but it looks like they're following us."
Patel nodded at the unspoken question. "Working perfectly, and they've been running since we dropped out of hyper; and nobody's going to get an optical at fifteen thousand K. As far as anyone knows, we don't even exist."
"You think they've made us?" Adam asked, folding his arms as he studied the tac plot.
"Not sure, Sir. On the one hand, they aren't doing anything unusual, but on the other, there shouldn't be Space Pirates in this sector. We've claimed the Nereids for years." Patel sighed, scratching the back of his head. "Something smells, and it's not the recycling system."
"Conn, Sensors. I have a transient... no, multiple transients on 270 and 125 relative..." A fraction of a second later, the tech ripped off his datashades, leaping up to yell over his commissioned counterpart. "Missile launch! Multiple missiles inbound!"
"Maintain present course and speed," Adam countered. "They're probably trying to flush us out. We're stealthed, they won't be able to get a lock."
The sensors officer's next report gave the lie to the CO's confident pronouncement. "Conn, Sensors. We've been locked up - they have missile lock. Range eleven thousand kilometers and closing. Sir, we have a radiation warning."
"They broke our stealth? How...?" Patel whispered.
Adam said nothing, looking over the tac plot to the XO. By anyone's logic, this scenario should not be happening. The odds of the Pirates finding them in Federation territory, defeating Federation stealth, and risking a war by firing on them unprovoked were astronomical, to put it lightly.
"Sir, those missiles have nukes," the sensors officer repeated.
"Sound Condition Red. Helm, evasive maneuvers. Weps, launch countermeasures," Adam replied. "Comms, hail them. Tell them they're in Federation space and they have exactly ten seconds to SD those missiles and clear the area before we start shooting."
"Aye, aye, Sir. Executing evasive pattern Sierra One."
"Conn, Weps. Countermeasures away."
The crewman at the communications console shook his head. "No response to our hail, Sir. They're jamming the whole low band. Nothing's getting through."
A moment later, the sensors officer added, "Conn, Sensors. Hotel Fourteen is turning broadside to. Missile launch – Hotel Twenty-Nine and Thirty have fired. Another Pirate squad just dropped bubbles at 125 mark 120 relative, range seven thousand kilometers. Two more Corsairs and a troop carrier, Hotels Thirty-Three through Thirty-Five. Hotel Thirty-Three is launching small craft."
Patel folded his arms, grimacing. "Bastards are trying to flank us."
Adam nodded once, his expression deadly serious. "I know. Scramble the Rapier squad. Comms, tell Hestia to clear the area and have Dunkirk and Paul Young get on the troop carrier. Weps, put a rail salvo in that capital ship. See if that doesn't make them change their minds."
"Aye, aye, sir," the weapons officer echoed. Over his tactical communications link, he continued, "Helm, maintain present course and speed. Fire control, make ready the main battery. Sensors, please advise when you have target lock."
The deck trembled under their feet and the lights flickered as the colossal kinetic accelerator guns began their warm-up program. The guns' firing capacitors began to bank vast amounts of power from the ship's main reactors, as massive tungsten-steel rails, each tipped with a depleted uranium penetrator, slid into the launch coils. The rails carried no warheads, but they didn't need them; their own mass was warhead enough. As they traveled at fractions of the speed of light itself, the rails' kinetic energy upon impact would dwarf any mere chemical or nuclear explosion.
"Weps, Sensors. Hard lock on Hotel Thirty-Two."
The weapons officer glanced at Adam, who nodded. "Fire."
The Claimh Solais rocked hard under the guns' recoil as five rails leaped from the launchers, crossing the distance between the two ships at .25c. At such short range, the enemy vessel had no time to dodge or defend against the sure doom streaking her way. The impacts lit up the Pirate battlecruiser in a hellish blaze of energy, obliterating most of her midsection and breaking the ship's spine. As the amputated remains of the bow drifted helplessly away into space, the battlecruiser's remaining fuel bunkers ignited in the stern, finishing what the Federation weapons had started.
"Conn, Sensors. Five for five on that shot. The Blackbeard's had it."
"Conn, Weps. Reloading. Four minutes to cap charge."
"Good," Adam replied. "Target the Corsairs next. Sensors, how's the rest of the force doing?"
"Conn, Sensors. Paul Young is deploying Marines to the troop carrier. Foxtrots One through Fifteen should make boarding in five minutes, give or take. Dunkirk just scored a Corsair. She's--hang on, got transients... Dunkirk took a direct hit up the stern from one of the remaining Corsairs. Nuke warhead. She's launching escape pods..." The sensors officer looked up from his datashades, his face ashen. "Sir, the Pirates' small craft are moving to intercept. They're... they're firing on the pods."
A sickened hush fell over the CIC. Servicepeople in life pods were universally considered to have surrendered. By firing on the pods, the Pirates had just murdered prisoners of war – also universally considered to be a war crime.
"Conn, Sensors. We're detecting another Pirate force at 000 mark 175, range fifteen thousand kilometers. Two capital ships and five frigates. The force at 125 is moving to intercept us. Hotel Thirty-Four and Thirty-Five have both fired missiles. Range fourteen thousand kilometers and closing. Radiation warning."
"You know the drill," Adam countered, and once again the battleship threw up its shield of countermeasures and evasive action. The countermeasures managed to draw off all but one of the enemy munitions, which continued its unerring flight toward the Federation vessel.
"Conn, Sensors. Seven missiles hit the countermeasures, one survived. Range two thousand kilometers and closing."
"Helm, come to 090 mark 000. All ahead emergency," Patel barked. "Sound colli--"
Nuclear fury engulfed the Claimh Solais' stern as the Pirate missile detonated several hundred kilometers from her hull, and unsecured people and objects turned into projectiles as the ship lurched and twisted under the force of the explosion. The lights flickered and died, replaced a moment later by the red emergency lighting, giving the ship an even more hellish appearance than the damage would have indicated. Improbable though it seemed, they had gotten off lucky; the missile's warhead had been improperly fuzed, activating well before the missile actually struck the hull. Had the missile made contact, they never would have felt a thing. As it was, nearly a third of the crew had either died immediately or been doomed to a slightly slower but no less certain fate, courtesy of the vast amount of radiation generated by the explosion.
"Status," Adam managed to choke out, hauling himself to his feet as smoke filtered through the air.
"Conn, Engineering," Andrews said in a somewhat unsteady voice, wiping blood from a nasty cut down the side of her face. "Reactors all offline. Engine room says the Chief Engineer's dead. We have emergency power for maneuvering, and life support is still operational, but that's about all. Damage control teams are deploying, what's left of 'em."
"Conn, Sensors. We're more or less blind. Radiation flux killed everything but the optical sights."
No response came from the helm, as the seats were occupied by an unconscious man and a corpse.
"Conn, Weps. Main guns 4 and 5 are offline, and 3's giving bad power readings. Coils must've got torched when the nuke went off."
"Conn, Comms. We've lost hyper comm and radio, laser comm is still OK. Hestia reports she's being locked up, requests assistance. Rapier squad commander says they're holding their own, but reports several dozen inbound Shrikes and Coffins and says they can't keep them off us much longer."
Adam stared at the now-frozen tactical plot for several seconds, which resembled the grasping claw of an amusement park game as the Pirates' forces encircled his remaining ships in three dimensions, cutting off any hope of escape. Nor could they stand and fight toe-to-toe with the Pirates, at least not if they expected to win. As powerful as the Federation ships' kinetic guns were, they simply couldn't fire and reload fast enough, and now he didn't have enough of them. Finally, with the FTL communications systems destroyed, he had no way of calling for help or even notifying the Fleet of his command's fate.
"Your orders, Sir?"
The commander's eyes probed the data, searching for any possible gap in the Pirates' offensive front. After a long moment, he shook his head slowly. Another few seconds passed, and then Adam looked up from the plot with a strangely calm expression. "Order all non-essential crew to the life pods. Signal to the rest of the task force – whatever's left of it – that we are abandoning ship. I will stay aboard and continue the fight as long as she'll hold out, and then scuttle the ship."
"Then on behalf of the bridge crew, I'd like to respectfully decline, Sir," the XO replied. "You can't fight the ship by yourself."
Adam paused, looking at each man and woman in turn. "Does he speak for all of you?"
"Yes, Sir," the weapons officer said, followed by the sensors officer, who added, "Those bug bastards killed my brother at Tau Ceti, Sir. If they want both of us, they're gonna remember the cost."
"The Pirates are going to murder us anyway if we go to the pods. I'd rather go down fighting," said the communications officer.
"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all," Adam said quietly. "Call a medic up here to take care of the wounded. Mr. Patel, you have the conn. I'll see to the destruction of the file systems. Pass the word for our special operative to come see me in the ready room ASAP."
Alone in his ready room, Adam sat before his computer terminal, waking it out of sleep mode and calling up the command subsystems. An identification prompt greeted him, as a standard palmprint plate slid out of a recess built into the control board. He pressed his right hand to the touchplate, leaving it there for the authentication system to run a DNA scan. A moment later the machine bleeped, flashing a new message across the screen.
Identity confirmed: SN #877534112 CDR Adam Malkovich
Please select a command from the main menu, or select "Help" for Technical Services.
He selected the security sub-menu, and instructed the computer to purge its data banks, starting with cryptography and ship's logs, and then proceeding to navigation, weapons and engine control at his next prompt. Even if the Pirates did manage to capture the Claimh Solais, they would find nothing but an unflyable mountain of metal.
Purge cycle initiated. Please wait...
For just a moment, he allowed himself the luxury of self-pity as he watched the progress bar inch across the screen. None of this had been in the cards when they had left Earth a fortnight ago. Their mission had been top secret, unknown to all but a select handful of Navy intelligence officers, and up to that point, it had proceeded flawlessly. They had roamed the Crux Sector at will, operating behind enemy lines and infiltrating their facilities with impunity. The hardware taps, kernel-level override mechanisms and old-fashioned viruses the infiltration teams had left behind would hamstring the Pirates' operations for months, and the data they had collected from their computers and communications would inform Federation defense planning well into the future.
And yet, somehow, the Pirates had managed to learn of Task Force Aegis' existence and set a trap to kill them before they could deliver their information. Adam knew with certainty that the Pirates could not have broken their stealth, as the task force had sailed through the entirety of the Pirate Alpha Fleet without so much as a sniff. Which, in turn, implied that the Pirates must have acquired at least one mole within the Department of Intelligence, who had told them where and when to find the task force at its sole vulnerable moment – while transiting the no-hyper zone of the Nereid Sector.
Well, it wouldn't be the first time the spook squad got our people killed, he thought morbidly. Unbidden, his mind drifted to the conversation he'd had with Captain Hackworth three weeks before: his careful presentation of the evidence, the surprise and slow anger in the DFDI officer's eyes. He had believed his action would save Federation lives. It was just a bit rich, he thought, that it had come too late to save him and his command.
The whine of the ready room hatch startled him out of his musings, admitting a large, faceless humanoid figure in bright yellow and red powered armor. "You sent for me?" it said, in an inflectionless, synthesized voice.
"Thank you for coming so quickly," Adam said absently. Looking up from his terminal, he continued in a much more direct tone, "Lose the brain bucket, Lady. Nobody's looking, and I'd rather say this face to face."
The armored figure considered that for a second, and then reached under its helmet's chin for a hidden release mechanism. The helmet came unsealed with a hiss of pressurized air, and the hunter pulled it off and casually tucked it under its - or rather, her - arm.
"All right, Adam, spill," she said, with the hint of a smirk. "Either we're all going to die and you want to say our last goodbyes, or else we're on one of those make-over shows and this is when they break the big surprise. I hope it involves a new paint job - this primary colors gig is getting kind of boring..."
"Smart ass," Adam chuckled at his favorite protegé's teasing, but the levity didn't last. "And sadly, you're more right than you know."
"On which count?" she replied.
"Our cover is blown and we're under attack from a Pirate raiding force. As a result, I'm giving you a new mission: data courier." He stood and walked over to the wall safe, palmprinting it open and removing a stack of optical disks from within. "This is our final report – everything we've collected on Pirate operations during this mission. Your job is to make sure it gets to the Defense Ministry."
"So we'll still make the report ourselves," Samus said diffidently, with as much of a shrug as her armor would allow. "Big deal if the Pirates found us. We'll wipe the floor with them and be on our way. Just another day at the office – or am I missing something?"
"Your confidence is inspiring, but I'm afraid this might be going down a little differently." Adam folded his arms, his expression deadly serious. "I don't know if you saw the tac plot on your way in, but to make a long story short, we have been screwed in detail. There are three Pirate squads surrounding us. Cap ships, frigates and destroyers, troop ships, small craft, the works. Dunkirk already went down, and the Pirates launched a strike against her escape pods. Killed every last one."
Something ugly glittered in the hunter's cool blue gaze at that statement.
Adam shook his head at Samus' unspoken declaration. "I know, but now isn't the time. You may as well know that we're next. Paul Young got her boarding craft away, but those poor sons of bitches won't have a ship to come back to. The hit we took killed the engines and two-thirds of our main battery. And of course, the Hestia is just cannon fodder. Barring divine intervention, TF Aegis will cease to exist within the next ten minutes or so."
Samus frowned deeply, not liking the commander's words one bit. "You can't just roll over and let them kill you. There has to be a way out. You've done it before."
Adam just sighed, turning his palms upward in a what else can we do gesture. "They have the numbers, the weapons and the tactical advantage. The absolute best we could hope for is to take some of them with us. Which we'll do, but that doesn't leave the Council with anything but a few neatly folded flags. This intel needs to get through to Daiban, and you're the only one who can do it."
"And I'm supposed to leave you here to die?" Samus shot back. "Adam, think about it. You have a career, a wife, a family. I'm disposable – bounty hunters are a credit a dozen. If anyone 'needs' to get that data out of here, it's you. Let me stay here and deal with the Pirates. You go."
"That isn't your call to make," Adam said, not unkindly. "I can't abandon my command."
A distinct note of desperation crept into the hunter's voice. "Adam, please, this isn't right--"
"It's part of the game, Samus, you know that. Some must live and some must die. I'm telling you – ordering you – to live." Turning back to the command console, he tapped in a series of codes, unlocking the hatches along a path leading to one of the Claimh Solais' fighter bays. "Get down to Bay Two, there's one Rapier left that you can use. Do not let yourself be tracked by any hostiles. Once you're past the hyper boundary, make all speed for Daiban and deliver this data to the Minister of Defense. Any objections, Lady?"
The old phrase drew an unwilling half-smile, even as it tore at her heart. "No, sir."
"Good." Adam studied her for a long moment and then smiled, taking her helmet from her and locking it back on her head, in much the same manner as a father checking over his child's coat and boots before sending her out on a rainy day. "You've always made me proud, Samus. It's been an honor to know you."
"I..." There was so much she wanted to say, but the words choked in her throat, and it wouldn't have felt right to say goodbye in the helmet's voice in any case. Instead, she tapped a lightly closed fist against the left side of her chest plate.
"I know. Go on, get out of here."
Eight minutes later, as a lone single-seat fighter edged out of the Nereid Traverse and winked away into hyper, a quartet of nuclear fireballs bloomed, faded and died among the silent stars.
Author's Notes: "He would understand that some must live and some must die... He knew what it meant. He made that sacrifice once."
PO1 Andrews' reveal of Samus' identity is a bit of an inside joke: "This is no shit" is universally understood in naval jargon to signify a sea story, which, of course, is 100 percent unadulterated B.S. No wonder nobody believed her. ;-)
Since several people have asked about various concepts in this chapter, here are some fast explanations:
Navigating in space requires two things: a directional system capable of dealing with four axes of travel (X, forward/back; Y, left/right; Z, up/down; and time), and a fixed reference point from which to relate positions and distances. Thus, directions in space are always written as (XY bearing) mark (Z bearing) (reference), where the reference can be either absolute (some fixed point in space, such as a star) or relative to the ship's bow which is arbitrarily set at 000 mark 090. This universe uses the metric system exclusively. Short distances are given in kilometers; longer distances use the various light-time fractions (light-minute, light-year, etc). For reference, a light-second is 299,793 km.
Ships under faster-than-light drive are referred to as in "hyper," despite the fact that there isn't a separate universe of "hyperspace" like you see in Star Trek or other sci-fi-universes. "N-space" is spoken shorthand for "normal space," or the conventional universe. FTL drive works by creating a "bubble" of normal space which is propelled along a region of warped space, such that space in front of the bubble is compressed and space behind is stretched. (This is a real-life concept; search Wikipedia for "Alcubierre drive.") Astute readers might have noticed that bubble drive travel has an upper bound on range; if no matter or energy can escape a hyper bubble in operation, eventually the ship will start to take damage from its own heat and radiation emissions as they build up within the bubble. To avoid this, an FTL ship must drop bubble every so often to "vent" this energy. Thus, a ship's range in FTL is limited by how large a bubble it can generate; larger bubbles take longer to reach this energy saturation point, but require much more energy to generate and maintain. Speed, conversely, is dependent on how powerfully the drive can warp the space around the bubble, which favors a smaller bubble (less energy for bubble creation leaves more for warping).
Also, I'm in the market for a beta reader. In particular, I'd appreciate assistance with plot and pacing. If you're interested, drop me a PM.
Edited 9/26/08: acronyms removed for clarity, and tech notes moved from Chapter 1 to prologue. Thanks to those who pointed this out.