Chapter 7: Brain Scratch

It took a special kind of person to appreciate Norfair. The deepest of Zebes' mostly subterranean territories, it resembled an oven the size of a country, the entire network of caverns blazing hot at all times. Even those which didn't actually contain molten lava were still uncomfortable. The denizens had all adapted to the fires, and in some cases even taken them into themselves, as a means of survival. Even the few examples of plant life capable of living in Norfair were dangerous.

As a result, Samus Aran's mood was far from happy as she sneaked through the caverns quietly and carefully. When she was older, she would be confident enough to come through heedlessly like the wrath of some ancient god, but on her first expedition, she was more careful about avoiding Space Pirate detection whenever possible. Finding a safe spot, she paused for a moment to take a breather and examine her map.

"Almost there." She muttered to herself. "Horzat said Ridley's chambers would be right through here. Time for the hard part." She had already eliminated her first target, the Pirate Lord Kraid. Actually finding the mad scientist had been more difficult than killing him; a clone of Kraid had almost fooled her, and it had only been chance that had revealed the actual Pirate Lord's survival. Ridley, on the other hand, was the Space Pirates' greatest warrior, and besting him in combat would be an extremely difficult proposition.

"Normal Drakars are bad enough." Samus remembered the first time she had tried to bring one in and winced. "This guy'll probably make them look like amateurs."

"You talking about Ridley?" A deep, dark voice whispered, and Samus jumped.

"Who's there?" She growled back, looking around wildly.

"Somebody who's interested in you." The voice replied, echoing around the chamber. "If you want to take Ridley down, I know how to do it."

"Really." Samus replied calmly, now carefully peeking around boulders in the chamber. "How's that go, then?"

"Ridley's only weakness..." The voice paused dramatically. "Is drama. He's a total showoff, and can't resist playing anything all the way to the end of the line. Personally, I think it's his ego."

"I guess that makes enough sense." Samus' eyes narrowed. There was only one boulder unchecked that was large enough to hide the speaker, if her thoughts were correct. Curling into her Morph Ball, she dropped a Bomb and uncurled instantly, then grabbed the tiny sphere and lobbed it over the boulder.

"Yeow!" The speaker yelped as the bomb went off. A moment later, a massive Drakar the size of a hovercar loomed up, perching on the boulder like a gargoyle. "That's harsh, lady. You didn't even give me the chance to make my entrance." He grinned wickedly, but made no move to attack just yet.

"That was the idea." Samus replied calmly, keeping her blaster trained on him. "Sorry. I can't stand drama, myself."

"Really? Well, that's a shame." Ridley shook his head. "And here I figured we'd have a lot in common. Samus Aran, right? You've got a pretty hot rep for a new kid in the business."

"My reputation precedes me. I like that." Samus admitted. "You figure things out fast. I've only been here a couple days."

"Probably wouldn't have if you'd come for me first, but killing my buddy Kraid was kind of a tipoff." Ridley shrugged expansively, his wings stretching. "That kind of thing does tend to make people pay attention to you around here. Kraid wasn't exactly, well, me, but he wasn't a pushover either."

"Pretty good for a pencil neck, I'll give him that." Samus nodded slowly. "You're not pissed off because I waxed your friend?"

"Nah. He'll get better." Ridley made a face. "Figures Draygon and Phantoon'd be off-planet right now, though. If you'd bumped one of them off, I'd have thrown you a goddamn party. The sooner those two vacate their positions, the better. Almost a shame you won't be able to go after them now... unless..." His blazing golden eyes glittered. "You're a bounty hunter, not a Federation employee. What do you think of the Feds?"

"Not exactly a fan, but they keep the peace." Samus answered after a moment. "And more importantly, they pay my bills. That's all I really ask of them."

"Right, right. But there are alternatives, you know." Ridley's grin widened, a million deadly fangs interlocked. "If Draygon or Phantoon were to have an accident that made their resurrection impossible, somebody else could become a Pirate Lord in their place. Those two both got tickets right to the top for joining up, so Mom could be talked into repeating the procedure with an even more promising newcomer. She'd probably appreciate having another girl around the round table to balance out all the testosterone, too."

"Are you seriously trying to recruit me?" Samus asked after a moment of dumbstruck silence. "I come in here, rampage through your home turf, kill off your friend, find you to do the same. And you give me a fucking job offer?"

"What can I say? I like talent when I see it." Ridley spread his claws. "And sister, you've got it. Come on, you can't tell me you're up to your eyes in morality. I know enough about your career to know that would be bullshit. It's a great gig, especially now that we've got the Metroids. Once we get those babies down to an art, we'll finally be able to get the edge over the Feds. Just think about it for a moment. Why not?"

"Two reasons, I'm afraid." Samus smiled a little. "I'm a free woman, and I like it that way. I don't take orders from anybody, and I'm never going to. Of course, if that was the only reason, we'd still probably be able to work something out. But there's something else you wouldn't be able to figure out from looking into my career."

"Oh?" Ridley leaned forward. "What's that, then?"

"The Space Pirates killed my parents." Samus dropped the smile. "I was four at the time."

A moment passed, then another. Finally, Ridley sighed deeply. "Fair enough. I can understand that. A damn shame, but I get it." He stretched his claws out before him, still grinning. "All right, then. Only one way this can go now, and I'm still gonna enjoy it."

"You some kind of kill freak?" Samus raised an eyebrow. "I hate amateurs like that."

"Please. Murder alone holds no joy for me. I'd appreciate it if you didn't compare me to twits like that in the future." Ridley turned his head and spat derisively before staring back at her. "I am a warrior, Aran. The thrill of the fight is my greatest pleasure. Nothing's more fun in my eyes than the glory of combat, especially with a worthy opponent. Call it a species peculiarity. I don't know if it's cultural, biological, or both, but where I come from it's considered the high point of living."

"That's what I've gathered. Even a Drakar as fucked-up as you has that much in common with the rest of the planet, huh." Samus acknowledged. "Was wondering if you would. I get what you're saying, though. It is kind of a rush, isn't it? I'm with you when it comes to shits who just like killing. But when you actually have to work for it... now that's a different story."

"I thought that you might." Ridley said, golden eyes glowing. "You're strange for a human, Samus. If it wasn't biologically unlikely and disgusting to think about, I'd wonder if you had any Drakar blood in your heritage. As it is, I'm just wondering what exactly happened after you turned four to make you turn out this way."

"You're too sharp for your own good." Samus narrowed her eyes. "That's no business of a dead man. And thanks for that mental image, by the way. Look, are we going to just stand around chatting all day, or do you want to get to the good part?"

"Well, if you put it like that..." Ridley spread his wings. "Let's give everybody watching on Pay-Per-View a show worth seeing!" Screeching, he blasted into the air, and swooped down like a thunderbolt.

"Damn straight." Samus raised her cannon and fired without fear. "Hope you know how to go out with a bang, Ridley!"

Old times... seems like it's been forever since then.

For once, Samus didn't need her alarm; her eyes shot open of their own volition, several moments before it went off. Even so, she remained motionless in bed for several moments before rising.

"Seeing the scaly bastard like that must have touched off those memories." She muttered to herself as she headed out into the common room. To be fair, there was less chaos than she had expected; nothing had actually been broken by the curious Etecoons, simply strewn around. Falar and her chick were examining the food stores.

"Oh, hi, Samus." Sa greeted her; the three of them were cleaning out a jar of jam. "Uh, sorry about the mess. We'll clean it up, I promise."

"Appreciated." Samus winced. "I'm going back out, then."

"Very well." Falar nodded, then froze, her eyes widening as she came across a carton of eggs. Slowly, she turned to stare at Samus in horror.

"Oh, god." Samus covered her face with one hand. "Computer, explain what a chicken is to Falar, okay? I'm off." Leaving the ship, she walked off, muttering to herself.

With the power down, the solitude of the station was even more creepy, but it was still preferably to talking with Adam. For some reason, Samus was in absolutely no mood to play their little game of information control at the moment; her instincts were screaming at her to go find something hostile and kill it. Following the map, she quickly located a hidden passage to the reactor core and crawled through.

As soon as she entered, Samus found herself confronted with a human-sized, bipedal insect, both arms raised to slash at her face as it buzzed down out of the air. "KiHunters. About time they grew up." Diving out of the Space Pirate replicant's way, she fired up and fried it, then stood again and looked around. From a ledge at the top of the chamber, she could see the problem clearly; a yellow network of vines clogged most of the hotel-sized room. More importantly, though, a dozen more KiHunters were present as well, all eyes on her. Yelling gleefully, Samus charged.

Though the Pirate replicants were not apparently sentient, they were still intelligent enough to pose a challenge, which Samus accepted happily. For the moment, she simply stopped worrying about the tougher issues, and let herself focus on the matter at hand. Kill or be killed. The network of vines parted with a shot, and she jumped through them easily, closing in on lone KiHunters one at a time to dispose of them. By the time those giving chase had cleared the vines with their acidic spit, she was done and moving on to the next target.

When there were only a few aerial replicants remaining in a group, Samus rose to meet them. Fearlessly jumping through the group as she fired, she aimed downward at the apex of her leap and continued to attack. Hitting the ground amid a shower of scorched body parts, she shot behind her to nail the only survivor as it came for her and casually wiped the splatter off of her faceplate. "Well. That was fun." Smiling, she turned to examine the reactor core.

The yellow vines were already beginning to regenerate from the damage her and the KiHunters' weapons had done. As she watched, scorched ends simply shed the damaged matter and sprouted anew. "All right, there's no point in trying to clear this." She deducted. "The only way to fix this is to find where it came from. Gotta get the backup online first, though." Consulting her map, she located it, then frowned at the inactive hatches. "Good thing secret passages got thrown in this place like they were going out of style."

Hold it, wasn't there a hatch stuck open up near the top? Across from where I came in? Could have sworn I saw something like that.

"Huh." Glancing up, Samus saw that such was indeed the case. Something about the way the thought had ran through her mind still seemed off, but she ignored it and climbed up to the top of the room. Sure enough, the hatch opposite her entrance was jammed open by the remains of a Zero's cocoon, left there when it hatched into a KiHunter. On the other side, she found a network of catwalks leading down into towards the room which would contain her target. Zebesian replicants, just as numerous as the KiHunters had been turned to stare up at her.

"All right. Round two." Samus just grinned wider, dropping a Power Bomb. Although only one of the enemy was actually close enough to be destroyed by the blast, the light from it blinded the rest for a moment, and Samus hurled herself across the air to the opposite side of the room. Landing under one Zebesian and in front of another, she immediately shot the replicant latter, then fired a missile upward. The impact hurled the upper replicant forward, screeching, to fall to the bottom.

Enjoying herself immensely, Samus began sniping from her position, dodging and weaving the return fire easily. She managed to down three more across from her before beams started coming through the floor below her feet. Grabbing the rail, she swung down and kicked one Replicant in the face, then shot the other two before they could recover from their surprise. Dropping to the floor under the next salvo of blasts, she methodically snapped the stunned Pirate's neck before rolling up into the Morph Ball and flinging herself down the catwalk.

The advancing Pirates whirled as she shot past them, but to no avail; another Super killed one, and the impact knocked another two over the rail. The last stood his ground, firing fearlessly, and was shot down without ado. Smiling a little, Samus dropped ten feet onto the two who had fallen, and executed them calmly; the first one had died from the distance. Smiling a little, she locked eyes with the last remaining replicant, who charged, screaming. The result was obvious. Stepping over his smoking corpse, Samus saw the Eye Guardian awaiting her, and continued towards it.

"Now that's what I'm talking about." She muttered to herself happily, destroying the oversized eye. Humming a little, she stepped through the hatch it covered, which was also jammed open-in this case, by some scattered tools. As soon as she was through, the floor fell out from beneath her, and she tumbled a good fifteen feet before landing. The power suit's shock protectors kept her from breaking anything, but it still winded her for a moment before she pulled herself up. "Can't believe I fell for that. All right, get out here, whatever you are!"

"Your request is acceptable." A low-pitched voice hissed from above her. Looking up, Samus saw blazing light and hurled herself to the side, as flames blasted down at her. The source of the attack was obvious; a huge arachnid, jet-black with a hideous, oversized head. Clinging to one wall, it glared down at Samus, then advanced, scuttling diagonally downward.

"The yakuza." Samus snarled, dodging it and firing. Her beam sizzled harmlessly against its carapace. Growling, she tried missiles, with a similar lack of effect. "You've got to be shitting me!"

"This lifeform was a great boon to us, indeed." The yakuza chuckled drily, continuing to clamber around oddly; its limbs could apparently only move it at an angle, making it easy to predict. "Hence why it was chosen for your execution here. The Samus Aran among the Kindred easily predicted your plan of action for us."

"Whoop-de-fucking-doo for it." Samus growled, looking the arachnid's body over. Joints? Maybe... everything else is covered. Even eyelids. What-oh! Pausing above her, the replicant had opened a tusked and fanged maw, and the red glow of fire was emanating. Before it could spit the flaming substance again, Samus aimed and fired.

"Ahhh! Fool!" The yakuza shrieked, head reeling back. The fires flew wide, missing Samus entirely. "You only prolong the inevitable!"

"And you apparently shop at Cliches-R-Us." Samus retorted, adding an Ice Super, which bounced off a fang as the replicant closed its jaw. "Tch. That's the problem with you X. No imagination, even when you're sentient. And you call me predictable."

"Imagination is unnecessary for the Kindred. We are already the most superior form of life in existence." The yakuza boasted, coming down for her again. "Only the abominations could pose a threat to us, and they were rightfully obliterated, leaving us free to expand. All life in this universe will join us, Samus Aran. It is only a matter of time."

"Yeah, I was afraid of that. Aw, no." Samus muttered. Distracted by its words, she had accidentally ran into a corner, and the replicant was coming for her. Seizing her in its foremost legs, the yakuza retreated further up the wall, dragging her with it. Stuck to her with some kind of natural adhesive, the legs holding her began pulling away, stretching her painfully further and further.

"You see? It is as I warned you." The replicant said, its green eyes glittering. "Despite all your struggles, you still perish!" Suddenly dropping, it slammed Samus into the floor, all of its weight bearing down on her. "Now you will-awk!"

"Big mouth." Samus said calmly, ignoring the pain wracking her body. "Bad idea." In the instant of the impact, the yakuza had dropped her, and she had taken advantage of its speech to shove her blaster into the maw. One, two, three, four missiles fired before the screaming beast backed away from her and onto the wall once more.

"Fine! Then I shall rip you apart, piece by piece!" The yakuza shrieked. Explosions suddenly wracked its body, and the legs fell off, leaving the limbless trunk to fall for a moment. Before it hit the ground, a gruesome hole opened itself in the replicant's rear, and a burst of flame flared, launching it spinning into the air.

"What the fuck?" Samus yelled, before being smashed into the ground by the gyrating remains. "Ow!"

Must be some kind of suicide move! Her mind realized. A normal one wouldn't do this unless it was already going to die, but these freaks don't even care!

"I hate X. I really, really do." Samus shook her head, firing an Ice Super, which was flung away harmlessly. Can't nail the weak spots when it's spinning that fast! As soon as she had thought that, the answer presented itself. Passing above her, the yakuza righted itself for a moment, long enough to spew something dark and disgusting. Dodging it without bothering to look at it, Samus waited for the next attack, then fired in the instant that she could be assured of hitting her target.

"You still continue to fight back!" The replicant snarled, smashing Samus flat again. "You are illogical. Unworthy!"

"Do you ever shut up?" Samus wondered aloud, returned fire once more. Now that she knew how to hit it, she could focus on the bouncing, tracking where it would land and avoiding those spots. In less than half a minute, her efforts finally paid off, and the beast began shaking violently.

"What? What is this-GYAH!" Shrieking, the yakuza spasmed, jaw opening and closing wildly.

"Pain isn't natural to you X. You can't stop your fake bodies from reacting naturally, but you don't attach any further thought to it." Samus explained, watching the replicant writhe. "You don't even keep track of how wounded you are. You didn't even notice when you died. You're through."

"How..." The yakuza's voice trailed off, and it slammed into the ground, unmoving. When the Core-X appeared, Samus was ready for it, and shattered its shell without taking a hit.

Just do it, girl, she thought to herself. You need what it'll give you. Take it like a pro. Steeling herself, she snatched the Core-X out of the air, then calmly walked over and sat down in a corner, waiting for the nightmares to come to her once more.

Fortunately, the yakuza's last memories weren't nearly as traumatic as Gori's had been; mostly, they involved simply being bored in its prison, until the X eventually came and infected it. When they ceased, Samus stood immediately and returned to her mission. A systems check cheered her up considerably; the Core-X had restored her Space Jump capabilities, allowing her to somehow defy the laws of gravity and inertia by making repeated leaps at the height of her previous ones. For all intents and purposes, a form of flight.

With that, it was easy to soar out of the trap pit and locate the auxiliary power generator. The rush of power returning to the station was audible, and the lights flickered back on instantly, to Samus' pleasure. The next room over contained a Navigation Room, and after a moment of thought, she stepped up to the terminal. "All right, Cerebro. Backup power's a go. Now we get to find out what did this in the first place, right?"

"Indeed. The lights are back up, and so are recharge stations-not that you generally need those." Adam commented. "Unfortunately, elevators and hatches are still down. Without the main power up, we're in a less than optimal situation."

"I found the problem, at least." Samus said, making a face. "Some kind of vines all over the reactor. Regenerate almost as quickly as I burn them."

"Vegetation choking the reactor core components... unfortunate." Adam said after a moment. "That sounds like the Nettori from Sector 2. You'll need to get there and kill that Replicant in order to restore power, then."

"Right. Good news is, if those things got in here, there'll be a way to get into Sector 2 without using the elevators. I'll follow them back to the source." Samus decided. "Um. Look, this may sound weird, but. Have I seemed different in any way lately? Behavior-wise, I mean?"

"Not that I have been able to detect." Adam replied after a moment. "Do you have some cause for worry, in that regard?"

"Probably not. Just feeling weird." Samus shrugged it off. "Anyways. Keep thinking about my offer. I've got work to do."

"Samus, wait." Adam spoke up as she turned to go. "You realize you are basically asking me to commit treason against the Galactic Federation."

"Oh, please. It's not that big a deal." Samus glared back over her shoulder. "I'm putting more pieces of the puzzle together the longer I'm here. It's only a matter of time before I figure it out myself. Finding it out from you would just be faster and more convenient. Plus, a lot of what was here is fucked now anyways, so whatever the plan was will probably be scrapped even after we clean the X out of here."

"Indeed?" Adam's voice took on a faint note of derision. "I believe you are bluffing, Samus. What we've found here is hardly enough to begin seeing the entire picture."

"Maybe what you've found." Samus retorted. "What makes you think I've been sharing everything? For example, the fact that Renpou personally told the lead scientist here what was supposed to be going on? He's in this up to his neck, if not even deeper."

"What?" Adam made a confused beep. "You... I see. The human replicant. What exactly did you see, Samus?"

"Enough. I'm not going to make this easy for you." Samus turned away again. "That'd defeat the entire point. Choose, computer."

"Choose, you say." Adam said, blank and toneless again. "Between you and the Federation?"

"No. Wouldn't ask that, or trust it." Samus shook her head. "Between the Federation and yourself. You willing to die for them?" She walked out, and Adam didn't try to stop her this time.

The reactor room was full of KiHunters again, and she took the time to kill each and every one of them before examining the vines. Eventually, she found them coming from a crack in the wall under where she had originally entered the room, and climbed up to roll through as a Morph Ball, using Bombs to open her path as she went.

Eventually, the vines began moving; twitching oddly, but making no move to attack. Shortly after they did, Samus fell out of the crack, and uncurled to find herself facing a huge mass of them blocking her path. "Well, this is super. No way I'll be able to clear this out before it comes back." Muttering obscenities under her breath, she walked forward anyways, and once again, the floor fell apart beneath her feet. Tumbling down, she doubled her curses, then glanced below her and turned white.

A moment later, she landed on the unsuspecting SA-X, knocking it flat.

"Fuck fuck fuck fuck motherfucker!" Samus screamed, suckerpunching the monstrosity in the back of the head, then firing an Ice Super. Without waiting to see the results, she leapt to her feet and dashed for the only exit she could see. Just keep running, just keep running, fuck! Before her, a wall of bendezium blocked her path. No time to blow that! I'm dead! No no no no no!

Shut the fuck up! A voice in her mind screamed, even louder. What are you, a fucking civilian? You have ice missiles. Use one. Power Bomb. Use another. Then run again.

"What is... what..." Samus shook her head, still terrified. Almost automatically, she did exactly as the voice instructed, turning around and blasting the SA-X with another Ice Super as it fired its beam. The blast hit her in the gut, slamming her into the wall, but her own shot flew just as true, freezing it for a moment. Dropping the Power Bomb, she uncurled and fired again as the ice wore off, then bolted through the remains of the barricade.

Good. Keep moving, rookie. The voice taunted her. This was a trap. It knew you'd come here. There'll be more crap in your way to keep you from escaping, so be ready for that. If you can handle it, that is. Maybe you'll just die here, whining. Like a little bitch.

We are going to have a long talk about this soon, asshole. Samus thought back, anger mixing with her fear. Once I actually live. Seeing more vines ahead, she began frying them, then reeled as a Super Missile hit her. Freezing the SA-X again, she returned to clearing the path, remembering to re-freeze it before running again, her back on fire. Another shot burned into the wound, and she barely managed to stay on her feet, rounding a corner. Can't keep this up-oh, shit! A dead-end!

Duct! It can't see you right now! The voice pointed out. On your left!

"Finally!" Samus whispered, leaping up and pulling the grate out of the wall with her hand and tossing it inside before crawling in herself. Come on, come on, fall for it... A moment later, the SA-X ran in, then stopped, looking around. You realize if it figures this out, I'm dead meat.

Yeah, but that's not gonna happen. The voice assured her. If I've got the right idea, that thing's copying you. It's got your form and instincts, but not your experience. It's a rank amateur. No idea how to dodge whatsoever. It'll never think of this.

"Bitch." As if to confirm the voice's words, the SA-X snarled the epithet before turning and leaving.

Don't get out just yet, the voice cautioned. It'll probably stick around for a while to try and catch you.

Don't have to tell me that, Samus thought back. Now that it was gone, she felt free to be fully pissed-off. All right, you. No more playing subtle. Who are you, where did you come from, and how do I get rid of you?

I'm your conscience, Samus. the voice said, dripping innocence. You've finally undergone enough mental trauma for me to get through. Now then, let's talk about your gambling habit. Not to mention, you drink far too often. And the violence? We have to do something about that.

You're about as funny as my taxes going up. Samus scowled. Try again, lunkhead.

All right, all right, you got me. You're going crazy and hearing things. The voice chuckled. I'm entirely a figment of your imagination. All the stress got to you. You've finally cracked.

Two strikes, asshole. Samus growled incoherently. I will fucking turn myself in to the Feds for mental treatment. I'll do it. Don't tempt me.

Bullshit. You wouldn't do that if I was a goddamn multiple personality. The voice sneered. Come on. You want me to just tell you? That's disgusting. I think it might even be sacreligious. I'll give you a hint, okay? What's the worst possible answer you can think of?

"Well, that's reassuring." Samus muttered, then put some thought into the question. None of the answers she came up with were pleasant, obviously. Clarify. Worst as in people I want to murder with a white-hot spoon? Or worst as in people who annoy the hell out of me?

Heh. Combine the two. The voice chuckled, and suddenly it had depth and tone and mocking sarcasm, and Samus knew it.

Oh, no. No, no, fuck no. She swore vehemently. You have got to be shitting me. Karma's a two-dollar slut and I'm in her asscrack. You're Ridley. Get the fuck out.

Bing bing bing, we have a winner. The Drakar snarked. Look, sister, I didn't exactly buy the ticket and take the ride intentionally myself. Last thing I remember is going out back in Norfair, and then bing-bang-boom I've got the penthouse suite in your cerebral cortex with no explanation whatsoever. You've got more of an idea about what's going on here than I do.

I'd call bullshit, but that does sound like just my luck. Samus fought down the urge to slam her head against the floor of the duct. Let's see. First time I heard you was... when I found your corpse. Accidentally drained something. Metroids suck, and being one sucks more.

Whoa-hoa-hoa now, that's new. Ridley said. I'd ask if you were joking, but you wouldn't find that one funny. Metroid? You? Damn. That, and the new look... you've been through the wringer since Zebes, haven't you?

You don't know the half of it, and I'm not particularly interested in telling you. Samus crawled out of the duct and looked around, then slowly began creeping back towards the vines. The SA-X failed to reappear, and she found another crevice in the floor where the plant growth was coming from. I don't believe this shit. Just try and keep quiet until I can find something to do about this?

And why on Zebes would I do that, now? Ridley sounded amused. I saw what's left of my body, Samus. I'm dead for good, this time. Way I see it, bugging you is about the only thing left that I can do, now. So forgive me for not wanting to be bored out of your skull. Can't exactly read a book or watch holovids like this.

"This is hell." Samus spoke aloud now that there was no danger of the SA-X. "I died in that crash after all, and now I'm in hell. Suddenly, it all makes sense." Shaking her head, she blew away some encroaching KiHunters. The environment had changed around her, moss and lichen growing on the stones, and now she was walking past other plant life. Checking her map, she nodded. Sector 2, all right. Hope I'm close, now. Unfortunately, the vines went up through the center of the ceiling next. "Damn. My planet for my Spider Ball."

If you owned your own planet, the Feds would have collective apoplexy.Ridley snickered. So I say go for it. After you just use a Power Bomb here, that is.

"Oh, right. Up near the ceiling, and bring the whole thing down on my head. Super." Samus checked her map instead, then kept walking. "Better idea. I'll just get into the room above this one the right way."

You know, sometimes you are no fun at all, Samus. Ridley complained. Fine. Be logical. See if I care.

"Happy to, thanks."Samus found a double-level service room nearby, and Space Jumped onto the upper half easily. Back on the trail of vines, she continued along it as well as she could; they were thicker and heavier now, and several times she had to make detours where they were impenetrable, blasting KiHunters the entire time. "Man, why are these suckers so numerous all of a sudden?"

Maybe this Nettori thing eats them. Ridley suggested. The yakuza did. That's why the Federation wouldn't let that planet in. Something about sentients eating other sentients kind of gets to them. I wonder why.

"Bite me. Hard."Samus growled as she came across a KiHunter tangled in a mass of vines. They had penetrated its exoskeleton in a dozen places, and it looked sickly and pale, but made no moves to attempt escape. Making a disgusted face, Samus killed it with a missile before pressing on. "And the X just go along with it. Well, on the bright side, now I know there's something in the galaxy even more fucked up than you Pirates."

You think so?Ridley replied dryly. Hey, the vines are turning green! Think that's significant?

"Maybe." Samus admitted grudgingly. Following them through a crevice in the floor, she dropped down into the heart of the infestation.

Vines of varying thickness covered every surface of the chamber, with eight massive vertical ones evenly spaced around the walls. Half of the floor was demolished, and in trenches were huge pink flowers, fanged maws in the center of their blooms. On the ceiling, smaller flowers had begun releasing drifting pollen, which was probably acidic to the touch. Finally, dominating an entire wall was the plant monster's core, from which the vines all grew.

"A Golden Torizo." Samus stared, recognizing the active, violent form of Chozo statues. "The Feds found another one of those and used it for their experiments. Bastards." Aiming carefully, she fired a missile into the unmoving statue, then another, before a speck of pollen began burning into the back of her helmet. Wincing, she leaned forward, then tumbled.

Oh ho! What's left of the floor is tilted towards those carniflora! Ridley chuckled, amused. Not a bad setup, here. Kraid couldn't have done any better.

"Glad your sense of aesthetics is satisfied, or whatever." Samus muttered under her breath, extending her arms and grabbing the other side of the trench. Unfortunately, some pollen settled onto her back, and she jerked involuntarily, tumbling in. The flower immediately began crushing her, and it took several moments before she could climb out, by which time the air was thick with pollen. Muttering curses under her breath, she turned her beam upon the drifting menace, clearing it out before returning to the statue.

"Pollen flowers would probably just grow back, since they're hooked up to this thing." She reasoned. "Only way is to take out the source." More missiles slammed home, and some of the vines growing out of the statue fell off. For its part, the statue showed no response to her attacks. More pollen sent her down into another flower, and she took more damage before escaping, irritation rising further."What it's got for a mind is probably comatose. What the fuck were the Feds thinking?"

That it would work, and that the benefit for them would outweigh the losses, of course. Ridley explained. That's what really matters. It always amused me how you were so adamant that they were the good guys and we were the bad guys. There's really not all that much different about the Feds and the Pirates. Some of them are just in denial, that's all.

"And by that, you mean some of them are actually good people." Samus snapped, burning more pollen out of the air and continuing to missile the core. "Important distinction there."

You think Horzat and Tarna were freaks, then? Ridley continued, his smirk almost audible. Or how about your pal Firk? I saw you getting buddy-buddy with him after you fried Draygon. Just because you've got a grudge against us is no reason to stereotype, Samus.

"Never claimed I was exactly a moral pillar, either. That's the point, really." Samus blew more vines off of the statue, then cursed mildly as she fell into a flower once more. "Damn! All I need to know is the Federation signs my paychecks, and I never get tired of frying Pirates."

For now, Ridley added. Wonder what you'll do if the Feds ever piss you off as much as we do. I don't know the whole story with this place here, but I'm guessing that might be pretty soon. Whoa! Nice one! The statue's head had crumbled under the missile onslaught, leaving a bare stump on the Torizo's shoulders. Another one bites the dust, eh?

"Not quite. Living statues don't play by the same rules normal people do." Samus remembered grimly. Sure enough, the stump began firing laser beams, and the rest of the room continued trying to kill her as well. The first lasers hit Samus head on, knocking her head over heels into another flower. When she pulled herself out, her energy levels were beginning to lower dangerously. "I am getting seriously pissed off at this thing, right here."

So what are you going to do about it? Ridley challenged.

"I'm going to stop shitting around, that's what." Samus answered, dropping a Power Bomb. As she had predicted, all of the plant life simply grew back within the space of a few seconds, but that wasn't the point; the air was completely cleared of pollen, and Samus was able to concentrate on avoiding the lasers and returning fire with charged shots. When the pollen drifted too close, another Power Bomb cleared it away once more.

Eventually, the remains of the Golden Torizo crumbled apart, the rubble shedding its vines and falling to the floor. In the instant that it did, the vines themselves underwent a similar transformation, decaying into dry brown husks and then further into nothing but dust, spreading outward from the core and then out of the room. Samus' eyes, however, remained locked on the core as the leftovers shimmered and took the form of a one-eyed Core-X.

"It'll have a beam upgrade." Samus grinned, nailing it. "Damn straight. I deserve a treat after this headache." Obliterating the shell was easy by this point, and Samus nabbed the insides, her smile widening as she saw what the reward was. "Plasma Beam. Beautiful." The Plasma Beam didn't add any unique properties to her main weapon, but instead simply ramped the charge up heavily, making it much more effective at simply burning through anything she didn't like and some things she did. "About damn time."

Not bad. Rookie. Ridley jibed. Maybe you'll make it through this one alive after all. Now what?

"Now, we get out of here." Samus sighed. "If I can remember the way out of this freaking arboretum." Around her, she heard a faint humming restart, and crossed over to a hatch, which opened directly. "At least the power's back on. So that's that problem out of the way. Five bucks says when we get back to the front door the next one's already going to be waiting for us."

One, I don't have five bucks. Unless you take ghost money or whatever. Ridley commented. Two, even if I did I wouldn't take that bet. I know how the universe goes just as well as you do, Samus. Nice try.

It was worth a shot. Samus shrugged, crushing the transparent remains of a Zero's cocoon underfoot as she moved on. Like you said, I've gotta keep myself entertained somehow.

We appear to have to come to terms. Ridley agreed.