The 10th bell of the day reverberated throughout the makeshift Chozo monastery, and Samus Aran felt saved by it.

"Tomorrow, we will further discuss those pebbles of the path to enlightenment," said the black, giant humanoid bird in the center of the room, ringed by 11 more, slightly smaller Chozo – and one pale Human girl. "Hopefully tomorrow the One Who Was Foretold will be able to share with us some wisdom on the nature of contentment and desire," Full Wing said as Samus rose from the meditative crouch, bringing her head up to the shoulders of her still-seated Clutchmates.

She nodded sheepishly, and fled the stonecraft room with as much haste as appeared dignified and not to be fleeing. As she passed a window, the dim red glow of a dying sun hovered in the corner of her eye and she felt comforted with the reminder that in a million years, they'd all be dead.

In the immediate future, the schedule allotted the next half-hour to cleansing the mind and spirit, reflected symbolically in the ritual bathing the Chozo enjoyed so much. The "doctrine of tripartite purity," and if keeping one's mind and spirit clean weren't hard enough, Chozo considered nudity taboos shallow and barbaric, so the martial exercises designed purely for her left her filthier and more needing of physical cleansing than her fellows.

Samus felt a corner of her mouth tug upward, but suppressed it. Her beaked saviors disapproved of oral expressiveness as "unbecoming" and after four cycles in their protection, she could feel the reflex draining out of her. To her benefit, she supposed.

She did legitimately enjoy the baths, of course. It was the only time she wasn't being questioned, measured or watched. So many classes, special sessions, exercises. Even at night, she had to sleep in the nest with the rest of her Clutch. Even in her powered suit, always someone was in her ear, counseling, chiding, occasionally applauding. But then, there was another reason she enjoyed washing herself.

Reaching the bathing corridor, Samus went to one room modified to fit her scale and got into the tub. The first and last baths of the day were communal, but all the rest left her to herself. She spread her arms and legs to the sides and felt the water flow out to meet her, warm and welcoming as the softest bedsheet. She sighed and let her arms float free on top of the rising water, enjoying the sensation as part of her forearm broke the plane of the water's surface while the rest stayed below. The otherwise imperceptible currents of air cooled as it brushed against her dampened skin while what was fully submerged was surrounded with warmth.

Not for the first time she wondered if her caretakers' disdain of all things mammalian was justified, especially as of late when she had so many more places to keep shorn of wretched fur. The tickle of wind brushing the ends of her surviving fine hairs was like paradise, so perhaps they showed wisdom in limitation as she was able to focus even more on the tactile delight.

She sent her right arm fully below the water to feel her belly, taking pleasure in its unflexed softness while she could truly relax. Her left arm came up to her nipples and the hard muscle of her chest that lately had been growing flabby no matter how much she trained. But her fingers loved her breasts and in turn they loved her fingers, and the sensation, though unequal, was mutually enjoyed. Rising out of the water enough for the cool air to meet her damp chest, she felt the dark mammary circles grow out and stiff, and her breath drew short as each time she traced her fingers over herself, a faint jolt of goodness shot from one point on her flesh to all the rest.

She let the hand below the water go lower, but only teased the part that wanted most for touch as the hand went farther, to her right thigh, and squeezed. She bent her left leg just enough to bring her knee up to the surface and her other hand departed from her chest to stroke the knee and finally in turn its thigh. Under the water, her hands joined at the thighs' mutual termination and began in earnest to call upon the divine wave to crash upon her.

The lusty organ of yen between her legs already had gorged itself on the tantalizing yet felt, and now engorged she could no longer limit herself to teasing; from now on, it would tease her as she ached for the Long Great Moment to arrive.

Samus closed her eyes and continued to rub between her legs with her left hand while her right made amends to other, neglected portions of her body.

Fingers together, she held her right hand directly above her smooth head and let water drip and run down, first this side of her skull, then another, then another. The joy of the unexpected and uncontrollable.

She exhaled deeply and breathing in could swear she was tasting the universe on her lips, its mysteries on her tongue. The Great Masters instructed the Fledglings like herself to use the ritual bathing for meditation and prayer. Well, there was more spirit in her than all of their rituals, in one small moan than all their songs. There was more unity in this moment with herself than peace with all other living things.

But she was alone; thoughts of her mastery over her own pleasure were spoiled once again by the desire that someone else might desire to cause it in her also. Someone whom she couldn't control but might surprise and even control her.

There was another Fledgling, smaller than the rest but still half again taller than herself. Kune was sweet and kind toward her, though like the rest, he hardly seemed to notice except when the Great Masters were pointing out something she'd done wrong or not fully.

But his hands were soft. She had felt them on her shoulders once when he'd approached her as she'd stood in the communal bath as the others sat. She'd been looking out a window at a wide expanse, thinking of days gone by and wondering if the present surpassed the past or were all the same. Perhaps her face hadn't been properly impassive, but he had seen her, called her Clutchmate, asked her how she was feeling that day and seemed to have been genuinely interested, though she couldn't bring herself to tell him.

She had seen him labor at one of his "minor works," a prayer book written onto a single feather, a verse on each barb. It had taken him 100 cycles and apparently, he'd made no errors. Kune's fingers were delicate and masterful, sure and strong.

She thought again of the day in the bath when Kune had come up to her but this time in her imagination there was no one but the two of them together and he moved one hand to the nape of her neck and the other spread her legs apart…

She heard herself moan in delight and became worried perhaps it was too loud and someone walking nearby might have heard. Then she began to worry that her worry had distracted her too much and the divine wave would require more supplication than she had time for now.

But no, there it was in her toes, there in her lungs the breath that felt as though she'd been running for an hour, there the heat burning her skin so she marveled that the bath water didn't boil.

And, ah, there it was.

Her head snapped back and her mouth opened – first requiring her to fight not to shout and immediately after, her jaw left agape so she couldn't even force out a whisper. Her fingers didn't dare venture to what was now a rod sparking with electric ecstasy. But she dared them to, and where before she'd almost worn her shoulder out applying force, now the slightest touch felt so intense it almost hurt her with rapture, beautiful agony, little death.

"Samus, are you hurt?"

In the afterglow of it, blood still filling her ears, she was sure no one had actually said anything, and what she'd heard had been no more than delusion. But this was a product of wishful thinking more than anything. She opened her eyes and turned her head to see him rushing toward her.

"Samus?" Old Bird asked her again, now looming three meters over her at her side. "My Egg, are you ill or suffering?"

"I'm—I'm fine, Father," she replied, quickly pulling herself up and out of the water. It seemed inherently stained in some way and once out of the tub, she pressed the command to send away the bath. As she watched the water swirl away all too slowly, she began to consider the possibility that her salvation and subsequent adoption the day her pirates raided her colony had not in fact been a blessing and she might have been better off perishing with her parents and the rest.

And though she tried to turn away the conversation to something else, still her new father pressed on and in desperation she told the half-truth that for her, this was surely the path to enlightenment, or felt so. Always, he had interpreted the prophecy this way, that the salvation she might bring the galaxy was the peace of spiritual unity among all things. He was not in especially significant company in this interpretation.

Understanding the premise of her ruse or perhaps misunderstanding it, Old Bird expressed elation and called for an emergency meeting of the Old Masters. Then Samus was sure she would rather have died than still be alive to endure this.

The Masters questioned her, and she answered as best she could, feeling their disdain for her as keenly as she felt the embarrassment she continued to heap on Old Bird. But they didn't understand really what she did, as shown by their request for her to demonstrate, for their benefit, the technique that had brought her such rapture and understanding.

Samus said she would need the bath, and Long Beak suggested they rejoin with her to her bath. Then she admitted she was still too inexperienced in the method and didn't think she could replicate it for them with them in the same room, huddled around her so; her spiritual mind did not have such resilience yet. They said they understood and would try to think of something, in deference to Old Bird's prior reputation if nothing else. She was allowed to leave while he stayed behind, and she didn't want to imagine the conversation he had with the Masters without her.

The next day, Samus went to her small bath, relieved to see no crowd of elders huddled around it waiting for her as she'd half expected. Praise the Lord of Hope – they would allow her privacy again. The worry that they might try to sneak a glance from around the entry or observe her surreptitiously was quelled by her knowledge of Chozo character. They were brilliant, but they were also austere and blunt and had no interest in deception.

She turned on the water and stepped into it, then sat and stretched out as the warm water rose to cover her. Not today but someday soon she would be able to sing the song of herself again, unmolested.

She tilted back her head, eyes closed, and sighed. Life would be endurable again, rather than just enduring.

She opened her eyes and it took a moment to realize what was hanging above her. Then she closed her eyes and sank deep until she was completely submerged.

Above her, the hologram recorder beeped and waited.