Samus: I belong to Nintendo, as well as my ship, Adam Malkovitch, Metroid, and all that. The soldier doesn't, though. He's DragonGirl's.

chapter ii: meeting at the conference

Samus and the soldier-suit arrived at the ship without further incident, thankfully. "I'll go up first," she said, and stepped into the lift. It raised her into the ship, and she jumped off so the soldier gcould get in.

Welcome back, Lady, Adam said. Was your-

Whatever he was about to ask was cut off by static, at the same moment as the lift brought the soldier up. "So now-" the soldier began, but Samus held up a hand, frowning at the computer screen.

A second later, the static cleared. Mission successful? finished the computer.

"Yeah," she agreed. "Well, except for the space pirates."

Except for-

"You sit back here," she told the soldier before Adam could ask. "There's only room for one in the cockpit." She opened the cockpit door and sat down.

"I'm deactivating now," the soldier said. "Let me know when we're there, alright?"

"Okay," she agreed, and closed the door. "Set the destination to the conference site; we're going directly there."

Done, Adam said. So, what's this about space pirates?

"Nothing much," she said, and deactivated the Varia Suit. "Is something wrong with the ship's systems? There was static when we came in."

Some kind of feedback. It's gone now. And, by the way, stop avoiding the question.

"I said it was nothing," she repeated more forcefully.


She sighed. "It was just a...skirmish."

A skirmish that drained nearly half of your energy?

That made her smile a little. "It's only that the situation is...well, it's more complicated than we thought."

How so? he asked.

"Well, for a start, our soldier friend is a robot," she said, and activated the thrusters. "The pirates apparently wired up the inside of the suit as an experiment. I'd guess they wanted to use him as a soldier, but that didn't go exactly as planned."

But you're confident he can be trusted?

"For the moment, yes." She leaned back in the chair. "He says that his thought processes are run through a memory chip in the suit, containing the memories of the soldier who it belonged to.
After a moment, she added, "He also helped me fight off at least a dozen space pirates, for what that's worth."

A dozen? Adam echoed. That seems like a lot. Are you sure you shouldn't be in stasis?"

"No, I'm fine," she said. "Just repair the suit. Anyways, point is, that is a lot to be chasing a rebel experiment. That's what he's coming to the conference with me. There's something funny about him."

Yes, he's clearly more than he seems, the computer agreed. Hm—if his thoughts are run through the record chip, then he'd probably be essentially a copy of the original soldier. Did he mention who that was?

"No," she said. "That's another problem. The space pirates thought that might cause them trouble, and put a damper on the chip. He might have the personality and loyalties of the original soldier, but he has no memories."

There may be a way to remove the damper, he said thoughtfully.

"So we both hope," she agreed. "If he can remember who he is, it might explain an awful lot."

It certainly might. He paused, images flickering rapidly across the screen as he thought. What else happened, aside from the pirates?

"What do you mean?" she asked, though she had the feeling she knew.

Something's bothering you, he explained simply.

She frowned. "During the battle—when the space pirates attacked—he gave me an order."

An order? Adam paused, and she had the feelign he was laughing at her. How did you take that?

She hesitated and looked at her hands, thinking. "I obeyed him," she said quietly. "I don't even know why—I just did."

Soldier's instinct, he explained. She looked up, curious. You were in the middle of a fight and you didn't have time to think. If he gave the order with enough force, your subconscious would have responded since your brain wasn't fast enough. The holograph displayed an image of a girl in uniform, a slender girl with cropped blonde hair and a solemn look in her eyes. You may not be in the GF Forces any longer, but you've still got something of a soldier in you, Lady.

Samus looked away from the girl in the holograph. "I wonder-" she began, but she stopped, biting that thought back and pushing it out of her mind. "Anything else you can find out about the soldier?" she asked instead. Anything to make him display something else. There were too many memories attached to that picture for her liking.

Apparently he understood, because the image vanished at once, leaving the holograph empty while he scanned the trooper. A moment later, the new information appeared. There's not much, he said. Or, at least, not much we didn't already know. The suit belonged to a basic GF Marine, though it's a different design than the most current suits. I'd say he was probably a soldier a good five years ago, maybe longer.

"No codes or anything?" she asked hopefully.

Nothing. Whatever the pirates did to it, it's doing a good job at keeping any information locked up. I scanned the helmet, but I couldn't find any sign of the damper. Maybe when he's awake I'll try it again.

"Guess we'll see." She sighed, putting one foot up on the controls. "How much farther is it?"

ETA in 3.27 Lm and counting.

"Awesome. Is my suit ready?"

Of course.

"And the soldier's?"

Energy fully replenished. You're both set to go.

"Perfect." She leaned back, smiling a little. "In that case, let's just hope the conference goes smoothly. If we're lucky, two weeks from now we'll be flying off on a new mission-all questions answered, no loose threads, and another job well done."

Something tells me it won't be that easy, he warned, and she knew he was right. Realistically, nothing could ever be quite that simple. Still, she was in an unusually optimistic mood, and it never hurt anyone to hope.

The ship landed in the docking bay at the edge of the official Neutral Zone. Samus activated her own suit, then went to the back and reactivated the soldier. He sat up suddenly. "Good, we're here," he said, and got to his feet.

"Hold on a minute," Samus told him. "Adam—the ship—he wanted to scan you while you were active, to see if he could find out more about that limiter."

The scan initiated, but the systems were cutting out again. Scan—scanning-kkkzzzkk- Adam managed. Ah, the interference—SYSTEM ERROR—feedback is causing-

Samus ighed through her teeth. "Of course," she said darkly. "There have to be a lot of signals going on here, especially right at the border of the Neutral Zone. Give him a minute."

Recalibrating, Adam said. The static went away, except for a few flickers across the screen. Scanning. Please don't—kkkkkkkzzzzkkkk-ahhh-

His voice cut out, and numbers flashed across the screen for a few seconds before it dissolved into static again.

"Does it usually take this long?" asked the soldier.

"He usually doesn't have to do this at all," she said, frowning. "It might be something that'll take care of itself in an hour or two. In the worst case, it'll need a total recalibration, which could take a day or so. Regardless, we don't have time for this. Let's go."

The lift carrried them down one at a time to the platform, where they were greeted by a conference official. His nametag said his name was Kilian. "You must be Miss Aran, right?" he asked, holding out his hand.

"Samus," she said, and shook it. "And this is...ah. A soldier. Who came with me. To, um, help."

"Excellent," said Kilian, distracted. There was something sort of frantic about him—in the harried tone of his voice, and the look in his eyes. "There's a few other GF Marines here; you can room with them, sir, there's space. Miss—ah, Samus, you'll be staying..."

"I can sleep in my ship," she said at once. "I won't be needing a room."

"Oh. Oh, good." He nodded and audjusted the sleeves of his uniform. "Right, so, then I'll show your friend—sorry, I didn't catch your name-"

The soldier glanced at Samus for help. "Cayman," she said quickly, and then wished she hadn't. It was the first name she'd thought of, but General Cayman was an important soldier, and there was definitely a chance he was at this conference.

However, if Kilian recognized the name, he didn't point it out. "I'll show Cayman his room, then," he agreed, and hurried towards the door.

"Cayman?" asked the soldier quietly.

"A soldier I knew once," she said. "He was—a friend, I suppose. It was just the first name that came to mind."

"Fair enough."

"Listen," she continued, glancing ahead at Kilian before looking back to the soldier. "I'd really prefer if no one else knew exactly what you are. It's not that I think these troopers are untrustworthy—I'm sure they're not, if they're here to protect the conference leaders—but they won't be likely to trust you if they know you were created by them."

"That makes sense," he agreed. "I'll be careful."

"And don't let on that you aren't human, either," she whispered. "That'll just raise questions. Introduce yourself as Cayman—if it turns out he's here, I'll talk to him. He'll play along if I explain enough."

"What if they recognize the name?" he asked.

"Make something up! Say you're, I don't know, from the same colony and it's a common name there. They don't know you're not telling the truth."

Kilian stopped in front of a door. "It's right here," he said. "If you get lost, you can check on the map—there should be room assignments posted around. I don't think any of the others are here yet—oh, I've got to run. Enjoy your stay, both of you!"

He sprinted off, still looking flustered and strained. Samus watched him until he turned the corner and vanished, and then turned to the soldier.

"I'm going to explore this place a bit," she said. "You can come along if you want. I'd like to make sure everything's on my map before the conference starts."

"I'm coming," he said quickly, and followed as she continued down the hall.

Four blocks of buildings had been designated for the conference, not including the docking areas around the edges, or the barricades set up around the Neutral Zone. Roughly at the center of the area was their temporary meeting hall, a large building which ordinarily served as the planet's capitol. The central tower was six stories high and mostly for show. It was in the wings on either side that meetings would be taking place, in large, boring, rectangular meeting rooms.

Around the meeting center were all kinds of other buildings—transmission towers set up as temporary television studios and broadcast centers, office buildings converted into rooms for the conference leaders and the soldiers there to protect them, warehouses where the things removed from the buildings were being kept until the conference was over.

"I can see why you want this all on your map," the soldier said as Samus led the way towards the center of the complex.

"Mm-hmm," she agreed coolly. "Especially because as a soldier—of a sort, anyways—I have to be ready to report anywhere on the complex."

"Of a sort?" he asked. "Aren't you in the GF Forces?"

"I was," she explained. "Part of an elite team in the Federation Police, back when they existed."

"Didn't you want to stay with the forces as a Marine, though?"

She laughed. "I left before the system changed. Well, sort of." She shook her head. "I still work almost exclusively for the Federation, but now I'm a Hunter."

"Oh," he said, but there was something in his tone that sounded uncertain. "Is that...a bad thing?"

"Not for most people, no." She sighed. "I'd rather resign completely. The problem is, I don't have a choice as of right now. See, I dunno if you'd remember this, but if you're still with the GF troops after your first year as a cadet, you get a five-year contract. If you change your mind after that, too bad, because you're stuck."

"That sounds vaguely familiar," he agreed. "I'm...sorry?"

"Whatever," she said. "I've got less than a year now."

"That's good, I suppose," he said. A few seconds passed. "Why are you so desperate to get out of the Federation?"

Her eyes narrowed behind the shield of her visor as she turned her head to look at him.

"If you don't mind telling me," he added hastily.

She looked away, back up at the shiny, window-covered central tower of the capitol right ahead of them. "The situation changed," she said at last, "and I didn't like the new one."

He ducked his head and didn't reply to that. She entered the building, and he came in a few steps behind. It was even brighter and more chrome-and-glass on the inside than it had been on the outside, if that was possible, and a few people—officials and some soldiers from various systems—were walking around on the balconies.

"You can wait here if you'd prefer," she said. "I just need to get the names of the conference rooms."

He followed her anyways as she visited the big meeting rooms one at a time. No one spoke to either of them, but a few of them looked at Samus with mild interest. Even the ones from outside the Federation had an idea who she was. She was too used to it to care one way or the other about it; after all, it wasn't unusual for people to look at her.

Something that was unusual finally happened as she was walking out of one of the rooms on the third floor. At the same moment she came through the door, someone walked in at the other end of the hallway. He froze when he caught sight of her, and his eyes narrowed. For a moment, he stood there, watching her, with a look that might have been either fury or fear on his face. Then, without a word, he turned and sprinted out the way he came.

"What was that about?" asked the soldier.

"No idea," she replied grimly, "but I intend to find out. Let's go."

A/N: UGH. I hate hate hate the ending of this chapter, but there was nothing else that worked. IT'S SO HARD TO WRITE THIS AS A STORY! T_T Anyways, I hope you enjoyed the rest of the chapter, and found the end to be at least satisfactory! Hmm, lots of intrigue in this chapter! And some character building! Yay! The next one will be better, I promise...:P