Darkness Coming – Samus Aran

Disclaimer: In case you haven't figured it out yet, I don't own Metroid Prime 3. All Metroid-related characters, settings, etc. are the intellectual property of Makoto Kano and Nintendo.

[-]

"Don't you feel the power? Soon, everything will be corrupted…including you!"

The words burrowed into Samus Aran's mind like a crawling insect, particularly as repeated scans of her trusted gunship met only with…

Gunship no longer identifies you as Samus due to near total corruption. Access to ship is not permitted.

She'd known there would be risks coming to Phaaze. If she hadn't realized it back when her first Hyper Mode overload nearly killed her on Bryyo, then surely when she'd inadvertently absorbed the Mogenar's entire Phazon reserves and been driven to vomit up blue

But the very real toll this Phazon Enhancement Device was taking on both her physical body and her psyche had been largely put to the side in her mental prioritization…true to form, she supposed. A part of her – the most human part biologically speaking, ironically enough – would always be that of a military woman, and that meant constant and reinforced conditioning to submerge all factors that were not directly conducive to the mission.

The P.E.D. was an invaluable tool in this struggle to rid the Universe of Dark Samus once and for all…and so if it killed her as a side-effect, that was an acceptable loss by definition.

That being said, she was trying very, very hard not to look at the reflection in her visor. "Vain" was the last word anyone would ever use to describe Samus Aran; yes, she was perfectly aware that she had a pretty face and an attractive figure, but the former was purely incidental (it wasn't like she put any effort into it…she'd just received a lucky draw from the gene pool) and the latter was nothing more than a side-effect of constant exertion up to and beyond her physical limits.

When she stopped in at a bar after a successful bounty (gin and tonic, neat), with her hair down and her casual clothing revealing a healthy amount of skin, she knew she attracted a fair amount of stares. This neither pleased nor bothered her; it just was something that happened, and in the fairly likely event that an injury would permanently disfigure her someday and it never happened again, she certainly wouldn't miss it.

But what she did miss? Looking human.

It'd been gradual, which was the problem – until her ship had registered her as lacking enough human DNA to even be identified as Samus Aran, she'd scarcely noticed the changes at all. After Bryyo it'd been a darkening of some of her blood vessels, a slight metallic sheen in her right eye; after Elysia, more vessels and a matching effect in her left eye as well. But after the Pirate Homeworld, the effects had eventually grown so pronounced that her very skin appeared a sickly, greenish-blue…and that was really the least of it.

Even if the atmosphere here wasn't so obviously toxic, she knew she simply couldn't stand to remove her helmet until this mission was complete – not because of what she'd seen of her warped visage, but because of what she hadn't. The shape of her nose, she knew, was just a little bit off in a way she couldn't quite describe in rational terms; the same could be said of her cheekbones and brow. And the less said about the current "state" of her eyes…the better.

But she couldn't see her hands or feet, her chest, or…other body parts slightly lower on her torso, and she really and truly didn't want to. Absent the ability to check, a part of her could always fool itself into believing that there was really nothing wrong, and that she'd escape this living planet without a single lingering mark and be able to just forget

It was a lie – she knew that. But she wasn't going to acknowledge it as such until absolutely forced to.

Still, while she could willfully ignore the changes in her body so long as she remained in this warped version of her Power Suit, her mental state was a different story entirely. The whispers had been low and infrequent on Bryyo and Elysia, but since vanquishing that grotesque "Omega Ridley" (hopefully, once and for all…but when it came to Ridley, she could never be too sure) they'd been a near-constant presence in the corners of her mind.

It was her own voice that now so often echoed across her brain…in a manner of speaking, at least. Her voice was not typically that low-pitched, nor that slow and deliberate. She didn't elongate her vowels the way the whispers always did, and her "s" sounds didn't come out as lengthy hisses.

And she certainly wasn't familiar with the tinge upon this reproduction of her voice which was so – for lack of a better term – sultry. She had never in her life spoken in a manner which most would describe as "alluring," and yet here it was, constantly blaring in her skull – her own distinctive tones, talking as if to a lover or other intimate relation. It was an…unnerving experience.

Beyond that it was her voice, the most she could say about the whispers was that they seemed the work of a non-native speaker…not with regard simply to English, but to spoken language in general. The pronunciation was uneven and jarring, interspersed with strange sucking and clicking noises in a way and to a degree that Samus wasn't familiar with in any alien tongue. And considering she was fluent in eight languages and had limited proficiency in twenty-three others…she felt she wasn't stretching too much to say that these were decidedly strange speech patterns.

The whispers said many things. Mostly they tried to undermine Samus' confidence – assure her that her mission would end in failure, that the Federation would be crushed in the face of Phaaze's boundless might, and so forth.

While this line of argument had had little effect on her initially, Samus was forced to admit that it'd struck far closer to home whenever it brought up her previous failures as examples. And through the wonderful "gift" of a near-eidetic memory, whenever the whispers saw fit to cite one of the numerous times she'd proved helpless at saving someone she cared about, the scene tended to play straight across her mind's eye, in vibrant detail.

She saw the raid on K-2L; her father detonating himself to prevent the Space Pirates from escaping with the Afloraltite they'd massacred the colony to steal, her mother being cooked to a crisp right before her eyes and then savagely devoured by her killer, her corpse desecrated to fuel Lord Ridley's nauseating method of flesh regeneration.

She saw Gray Voice impaled with the Pirate general's tail as he made his last stand against the treacherous Mother Brain; the rest of the Chozo being slaughtered by their own creations or scattered to the stars as their own homeworld was overrun with the Pirate armadas. Her old comrades, Commander Mauk and Staff Lieutenant Kreatz, braving waves of Pirate warships to aid her on Zebes…and reported missing in action hours later.

And that wasn't even mentioning all those numerous souls whose names she would never learn – scores of Federation police and soldiers, Luminoth sentinels, Bryyonians seized by the throes of madness and Elysians robbed of their miraculous sapience – and who she had always, invariably, arrived far too late to help.

But what cut through her heart most of all were the most recent images to course through her mind: Rundas impaled on a pike of his own ice, although whether as a result of misaiming or a last-ditch effort to salvage what was left of himself, she could never and would never be sure; Ghor's systems melting down to a gruesome death, both electronic and organic; Gandrayda screaming in pain as she shifted through each of these shapes in her death throes and so many others…including her very own face and her very own hand, reaching – perhaps, for Samus could do no more than speculate – for a salvation that would never come…

The voice's murmurings got to her, though she told herself quite firmly that they did not, because when she imagined herself dying as they had she could no longer reject the image outright.

For how was she so different from them, really? She used Hyper Mode extremely readily now, transforming a few dozen units of energy into a couple of well-placed shots and venting the rest so frequently that she had stopped bothering to keep track. Hyper Ball to clear obstructions, Hyper Missile to finish off the armor of stubborn foes, Hyper Grapple to feed this poison into other beings and splatter them across the floor…

Alright, at least that description still disgusted her. That was something.

But she still did it. Wild beasts and automatons and Pirates alike…each fell to the burning, corrosive power of her Arm Cannon, blown to fiery pieces or left to collapse upon the ground, their skin burned off and their inner organs toppling out.

She was, of course, no stranger to killing; she'd been doing it since she was a young girl and she was confident she'd be doing it until her dying day. She was a Chozo Warrior, and proud.

Nonetheless, she'd always made the effort to be…clinical, perhaps was the best word. There were exceptions, mainly centered around the Space Pirates (Ridley in particular could never suffer a painful enough demise, so far as she was concerned), but generally she tried to make her kills short and to-the-point. She had no interest in prolonging the suffering of other living things.

But since she'd gotten this P.E.D. – since she'd discovered the sheer power of Hyper Mode, and the ease at which she could use and abuse it – she'd gradually felt herself slipping. She wanted to hurt enemies whom she'd never met before, as if they had committed some unspeakable atrocity to earn her wrath.

And as for the enemies for whom that description did apply, her thoughts were turning outright genocidal. She knew how to construct a thermonuclear bomb, now, and she knew precisely where the Pirate Homeworld was currently located. It would be so simple…

Except ease was precisely the reason she didn't do thinks like that, she tried to tell herself. Vengeance was a foreign concept to the Chozo culture; one could rise to defend against an incurring enemy or make an active attack on purely practical grounds, but there was no passion or emotion in it. So if she intended to honor everything they stood for, her dealings with the Pirates needed to follow the same pattern.

Of course, this was never going to work entirely: despite her Chozo blood (and the more…recent alterations) she was human at her heart, and had the passions of one. But the drive to do so, that nagging reminder of the heritage that'd invested its last cycles in raising her to perfection, still functioned as a restraint – to a degree, at least. If there had been any voice in her head apart from her own prior to these last few days, it was one that strongly approximated Old Bird's, cautioning her darkest impulses from straddling the path of self-destruction.

But she didn't hear that voice anymore. It was just the whispering, always the whispering, and every time she told herself it wasn't getting to her she believed it less.

So when it came down to all of this, was she the human Samus Aran anymore?

At this point…she just couldn't say.

[-]

Surrender, Samus Aran. Surrender and you will be spared. Surrender and there will be no limits to your power. Surrender…and you will be free.

"Perhaps that'd be more persuasive if you weren't currently trying to kill me," Samus murmured under her breath as she dodged a burst of her dark counterpart's Phazon Beam.

To have confirmation of the source of the whispers plaguing her mind was not altogether surprising; it wasn't like she'd had any other suspects, after all.

On the other hand, being in such close proximity to Dark Samus seemed to have exacerbated the effects significantly. She'd initially hoped that once combat commenced between them, her doppelganger would be distracted enough to shut the Hell up…but on the contrary, the whispers had instead magnified tenfold in volume, to the point where Samus could barely aim straight for the sheer noise.

She'd trained to block this sort of thing out – with the Chozo, in the Federation Police, and just as a necessary skill for going solo in a career field like this – but there was always some level of a divide between practice and reality, and even she had her limits.

At just the right moment, Dark Samus would cackle, or shout, or make a bloodcurdling screech harkening back to her roots as a Metroid…and Samus would miss her shot by inches, or else be grazed by an attack she really should've been able to dodge in time.

If nothing else, she had to admit the creature was damn good at taking advantage of this – and the worst part was, it was a strictly one-way factor. Purely experimentally, she'd tried "sending" the most distressing images and sounds she could imagine at critical moments, but either Dark Samus was utterly indifferent to such horrors or else their "connection" simply didn't work that way.

Samus couldn't quite be sure which, and she didn't really have the time to think it through while under constant fire.

Still, she was not utterly without assets in this fight…though unfortunately, the majority of them could be traced directly back to the poison pumping throughout her veins.

She recalled how her old Phazon Suit's approximation of the Hyper Beam had been the only weapon capable of hurting the core form of the Metroid Prime, and furthermore how tiny Phazon particles absorbed into her Power Beam had allowed it to pass through her doppelganger's shields during their final duel on Dark Aether.

And indeed, Phazon weapons appeared to be the only thing doing any real damage to Dark Samus' barriers now – the Hyper Missile to clear away her immediate defenses, and the Hyper Beam to chip away at the monster that lay beneath them. Her double moved rather too rapidly for the Ball or Grapple to be of much use, but she could only assume they'd be similarly effective given the opportunity.

So in a way, she was caught in something of a conundrum; in order to strike back at Dark Samus she needed to give into the now nearly all-consuming corruption even further, but doing so invariably opened up more of her mind to the creature, allowing it to thwart many of those strikes with ease.

And with the sheer degree to which she was now being bombarded with the disjointed, inhuman whisperings of her dark counterpart, she wasn't sure how much longer she was going to be able to take that trade-off without going completely insane. Not that she could be 100% sure she hadn't done so already, of course.

…And the fact that she'd just had that thought sort of scared the shit out of her.

You know that you cannot win, Samus Aran. Hunter Rundas, Hunter Ghor, Mistress Gandrayda…all fell to my corruption, and all were slaughtered by your hand. You have seen your fate. You have seen the Universe's fate.

It is inevitable.

Samus' mind roared in fury at this latest exhortation of futility, and for one brief moment, she saw blue.

Then, when her vision cleared, she saw that she had let loose a massive charged shot directly into Dark Samus' heart. And with a final mental screech, the creature flew back and sank to its knees, all indicators of its vital signs disappearing from her heads-up display.

Samus aimed her Arm Cannon to take the final shot against her foe, and several silent moments passed as her Hyper Beam charged to full strength…but all thoughts of delivering the kill shot, of even fighting back, were driven from her mind an instant later as a new voice, a thousand times more horrific than Dark Samus', assailed her worn-down psyche…

Sᴛɪʟʟ...ɴᴇss...

Aʟʟ...

Sʜᴀʟʟ ʙᴇ...

Sᴛɪʟʟ...

This voice was rough and mechanical, and might've been masculine at one point or another, but dripping from every word was such infinite pain and anguish that any life that might've lingered within it had died an agonizing death an eternity ago.

Still, traces within the voice were familiar, and it took Samus several moments to realize why: this had been the deep, defeated-sounding voice which had spoken to her aboard the G.F.S. Valhalla, the Aurora Unit giving its last testament as the Pirates wrenched it from its home.

Describing it all with those last, terrible words, spoken with as close to fear as Samus had ever heard a machine approximate…

Dᴀʀᴋɴᴇss...ᴄᴏᴍɪɴɢ...

And a moment later, Samus knew precisely what'd happened to Aurora Unit 313 afterward, and why she was hearing this garbled version of its voice now, of all times…

For rising out of the core of Phaaze, directly behind Dark Samus, was the master of the living planet's network of corruption, itself saturated in every inch with the darkness it had once so dreaded.

Samus Aran just looked on as her nearly defeated double leapt upward and sank straight into the biological supercomputer…and for the first time in hours, her mind was free of the whispering.

But as the Aurora Unit roared to life and began to activate its numerous defensive systems, she found that this did not come without a price. The machine's mental signals, coursing through every particle of Phazon in her body like electricity surging through a circuit, were not quite as intentionally distracting or demoralizing as Dark Samus' had been…but they were also louder in a very real sense, overpowering all of her mental faculties whenever it spoke in those deep, lumbering, sorrowful tones…

By instinct Samus dodged a concentrated particle beam, her mind racing as she realized what she'd just said.

Because while Dark Samus now appeared to be controlling the machine's every action, firing weapon after deadly weapon with a vindictive fury that would no longer be restrained, the direct connection that their mutual corruption enabled meant Samus was now feeling a very different sensation emanating from the supercomputer beneath.

It was faint, but strong: an overwhelming cry of despair, the kind that comes from having nothing left to lose and no hope of anything to gain. It was the cry of a prisoner awaiting the distant prospect of execution; of a starving child on some desert planet, slowly wasting away to nothing.

It was the cry of Aurora Unit 313, begging to die.

Was this how the other hunters had felt prior to the moments where she'd been forced to kill them? This unyielding, relentless, all-encompassing agony of the mind and soul?

In some ways, had she in fact done them something of a mercy in ending their lives? Or was that just her guilty conscience trying to justify her latest, greatest failures retroactively?

And whether it was the former or the latter that was truly accurate…what did that say about her?

"Don't go down that road again…" she whispered to herself, as she struck a robotic appendage extending from the Aurora Unit with a well-placed charge shot. "Stop overthinking this…just complete the mission…"

This was, of course, easier said than done. But nonetheless, it was perhaps the only workable avenue of thought left available to her now.

She knew that there was so much more going on here than simply barreling on through and slaying this final obstacle. Her own mind, and her own body – corrupted, probably past the point of no return – were plain proof. The only reason she could "hear" what was going on in this mangled machine's thought patterns, or those of any other creature on this planet for that matter, was because the corruption was so pervasive it was no longer clear where the Phazon ended and where the human Samus Aran began.

But if Dark Samus wanted her to focus on these facts…perhaps that was reason enough to ignore them. She was deluding herself, she acknowledged that readily, but maybe that wasn't such a negative thing. Better to go down swinging for an ideal, even if she wasn't entirely sure she embodied that ideal anymore. Or that she ever would again.

None of that mattered now, she told herself. She was Samus Aran, bounty hunter. Chozo Warrior. Human, in body and in soul.

She shook her head…and let the rest go.

All her preoccupations upon the damage this poison had done to her physical form, and to the very currents of her mind – she released them.

The lingering guilt for mistakes uncountable which Dark Samus had been dragging across her brain like some sick parade for the past few hours – she released it.

All of her pontificating about what'd gone through the minds of Rundas, Ghor, and Gandrayda before she took their lives, and the frightening implications that held for her own near fate – all of it, she released.

There was nothing but a hopelessly corrupted, endlessly tortured soul standing before her, begging for something – anything – to put it out of its unimaginable misery.

And it was her job to free it.

She would free it from this darkness. She would free the Universe from this darkness.

That was all that mattered.

[-]

If she kept a companion on her lone treks across the stars – something she had sworn quite emphatically never to do – they might now be asking why she insisted on removing her Power Suit after every successful mission, if only just for a few moments. Considering how badly the habit had bitten her in the ass on Zebes, it was probably a fair question.

Staring out onto the Elysian horizon in her Zero Suit, Samus Aran glanced at her palm for a moment, flexing her fingers experimentally.

She needed this reminder, sometimes, that she was more than just the suit. Today more than ever. Going out in casual wear in-between jobs didn't count; there she blended into the crowd, just another human doing nothing in a sea of other humans doing nothing. That was important to her in its own way, she supposed, but it wasn't the same as taking a breather after a hard-fought battle and just being Samus Aran.

Which was, undoubtedly, who she was now: miraculously the destruction of Phaaze had seemed to wipe out every trace of Phazon in existence, including that which saturated her own living cells. She'd had her gunship run ten consecutive biohazard scans, just to be absolutely sure, and the results were clear…only the blood of humanity and the Chozo now flowed through her veins.

She was free of the whispers, and the sickening blue lesions, and all the other attendant symptoms of that horrific substance – that horrific creature, she corrected herself with a brief shiver. But nevertheless…she still wasn't at peace.

As she gazed out upon Elysia's radiant sun, their faces flashed across her mind's eye with greater insistence than Dark Samus' sinister murmurings ever had.

Rundas, the ruthlessly efficient scion of Phrygis…and savior of more lives than she could even begin to count, including her own.

Ghor, the Wotani engineer…forced by circumstances to become a warrior of steel, but always underneath a gentle soul who cared that the galaxy be richer in knowledge by the time he left it.

Gandrayda, the shapeshifter without an origin…flitting about from one place to another in hopes that her life might be granted meaning, and in the meantime making a great statement of enjoying what existence had to offer for those willing to seek it.

And even Aurora Unit 313 – a stranger in all contexts but the one that most mattered – the machine with a soul who'd been the first casualty in a war that threatened life itself.

All five of them had been subjected to the same experiences…but Samus Aran alone had survived.

She was lucky, really. There were so many points when she'd found herself either unwittingly entering or being forced into Phazon Overload, saved from terminal corruption only by firing madly in all directions until her tanks were sufficiently vented. A few more seconds, a single mistake, and…she didn't want to think about it.

They'd given their lives so that fate might smile on hers; so that all those close calls would be exactly that, and nothing more.

She wouldn't waste their sacrifice. She wouldn't waste any of the sacrifices that had brought her to this day. Somewhat damaged by the experience, perhaps…but in fit condition for the next great battle.

For now, that would suffice.

For the last time in her life, Samus Aran turned her back upon the hazy skies of Elysia and entered her gunship, before opening a secure channel to Galactic Federation headquarters.

"This is Samus Aran, freelance bounty hunter," she said, with more conviction in those well-practiced words than she'd uttered in years.

"I'm ready for my next mission."