Who am I? I am the best there is. With both humility and confidence, I tell you that there is no one better at what it is I do. Should you need someone found, I will find him. Should you need someone injured, I will injure him. A man killed, house demolished, a planet destroyed—all of these things and more are well within my power. Simply point me in the right direction, and deposit the right number of credits in my account, and then what needs to be done will be.

Who am I, you ask? Why, I am the best there is, but you may call me Samus Aran.

-Registered Bounty Hunter Samus Aran
Official transcript of first exchange with Galactic Federation personnel


AKNOR RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT MILITARY BASE
GALACTIC FEDERATION PLANET: ER458
CODENAME: PLANET TÜM

"Well crap."

The words escaped Private Leeland Emmerich's mouth as soon as he heard the order, but he managed to hide them in a mutter and under a breath just enough that no one else in the mess hall really noticed, or at least they pretended not to. None of two hundred soldiers eating at the time even bothered to look up, preferring instead to continue poking sluggishly at their food as if they hadn't heard anything at all. He glared at the unsympathetic and disinterested faces that would actually get to finish their meals. It was his shift to do the unloading, but he hadn't thought the ship would actually arrive yet, so he'd decided to do something productive with his time — like eating lunch. Nothing arrived when it was supposed to in the Federation Military, after all. "Hurry up and wait" was unofficial military policy, proving no matter how much time went by, some things just didn't change.

Until today, anyway.

"Private First Class Emmerich, please report to the loading station," the slightly feminine artificial voice repeated from the overhead speaker, this time subtly more forceful.

He shoveled some mashed potatoes into his mouth and gulped down his orange drink so quickly he almost choked. His profession was a universally tedious existence, interrupted only by brief interludes of extreme terror, a fact true even for one so far from any front. They were housing Metroids here, after all, deadliest creatures in the known galaxy.

"Private First Class Emmerich, please report to the loading station immediately."

It didn't look like he'd have time to finish his food after all. Oh well. Lee popped one more mint into his mouth then stood up and began walking away, leaving his tray and trash behind him. Those sitting around Lee gave him a few sour looks. Like him, they knew they'd be the ones who'd have to take care of clean-up for him. Lee winked, and in return a few gave him some very un-soldierly single finger salutes. Well, that was what they got for being apathetic to his plight.

He left the mess hall and began to head down the winding corridors that eventually led to the surface, hands in his pockets as he whistled a delightfully cheery little tune slightly off-key, the memory of his lost food fading quickly. He kept an easy pace, trying to stave off the inevitable task that lay before him. He wasn't in a hurry to get out there by any means.

Lee considered himself a generally easy-going guy, but he hated going outside. It was freezing. It was always freezing. Lee's home planet had been sunny and warm, a tropical paradise in every way, something which made the contrast of his current home-away-from-home all the more undesirable. ER458's unofficial name was "Tüm," and even though the proper pronunciation was "toom," invariably everyone eventually pronounced it as "tomb." An icy tomb. It was definitely fitting. Planet Tüm was several million kilometers farther from its sun than Lee thought it had any right to be, and the result was a world that was just a worthless iceball. But of course one assumes that the ice might melt from time to time. Oh no, no, no. It never rained, hailed, or snowed (and hadn't in several thousands years, the geologists told them) but it never—never—went away. The ice just built up in layers, endless layers that made the climate seem even colder. Even the special suits they wore to make it possible to survive on the surface couldn't get rid of the cold completely. Going outside without a suit was suicide, but at least you'd probably go numb pretty quickly, half a minute at most. With the suit on it always felt cold, if to an irritatingly tolerable, non-life threatening level. As he continued his ascent to the surface, he found himself already getting the shivers just thinking about the whole thing.

"Lee!" the other soldier on duty shouted back around the corner, discovering that Lee hadn't arrived and wasn't coming quite fast enough for his oh-so-enthusiastic tastes.

"I'm coming, I'm coming. It's not like the supply ship is going to leave if we don't hurry or anything," Lee mumbled back as he continued up toward docking bay at a slightly quicker pace. A little while later, he made it to his destination and started getting into his suit.

The powered suits they wore not only provided protection from the elements but also increased their strength enough that carrying a ton or more of the tremendously heavy cargo wasn't a problem at all. Well they were called "suits" but in reality, powered suits were much larger and bulkier than the name implied, giving off the impression of huge, mechanical gorillas. Luckily, they weren't necessary for all movement here as they had been on some other worlds Lee had been assigned to earlier in his career. This planet was slightly more massive than the 1.0 gravity kept constant on the Federation starships, but it was easy enough to adapt to. After a few weeks of training, much less all of the time he'd been on Tüm, it was second nature. All things considered, it wasn't really that bad of a place to be stationed.

Then the outer doors opened, and Lee felt a cold wind hit him. Maybe the Federation would send some of the newer, better-insulated suits out to Aknor, but as far out in the East as they were, Lee wasn't going to hold his breath. He sure would appreciate having the more efficient heating system on the new models, though. His skin was one big goose bump.

Nothing native lived on planet Tüm, not even bacteria, and there were no other buildings on the planet besides the Federation research base. Something like 95 percent of that was underground, and for good reason. Lee couldn't imagine having to feel this cold all of the time. The single tower that rose out of the ground and provided access to the base was the only man-made structure that marred the natural "beauty" of planet Tüm. Well, that and the landing area, but it was usually covered by ice and therefore impossible to see. Often, the powerful winds sent drifts of ice everywhere, further limiting vision.

Fortunately, it wasn't too bad today. They could see with their own eyes, so they didn't have to rely on sensors, as was the norm. Electronic equipment was always a bit spotty on this planet anyway. The experts thought it had something to do with a magnetic pole irregularity, but everyone knew they were just guessing. No specialist in his right mind was going to come out of his way to study some far-flung planet just so he could discover the cause of a problem everyone already knew about and dealt with. But the result that anything an electronic device said couldn't be trusted as much as it could everywhere else in the Federation.

The supply ship landed and was closer to the actual landing area than usual. Maybe the pilot was getting better. The guy had certainly had enough practice considering how many opportunities he'd had over the years. Most of the time, the guy missed where he was supposed to be by at least 200 meters. Not that Lee could blame him. If just walking around was tough to judge, manually piloting had to be close to impossible.

Lee and his partner unloaded the cargo onto the large hover carrier anchored to the ground to keep it from blowing away. As Lee took the first load inside, he remembered the time he'd forgotten to secure the carrier—and all the fun he'd had tracking it down as it blew across the ancient lake bed. His commanding officer hadn't needed to punish him further.

A few minutes later Lee finished putting the last load onto the carrier and started to take it in when he saw the shape of another aircraft in the distance coming his way.

"Hey, Danny! We expecting two shipments today?" Lee asked the other unloader over their comms.

"Nah, just the one. Why'd ya ask?"

"I think we'd better put the base on alert," Lee said. "There's another ship coming, maybe more. Can't really tell; you know how it is. Better have 'em do a scan. They may be Federation but then again, they may not. Just to be safe, you'd better go warn everybody inside."

"What're you gonna do then?"

"Stay out here," Lee laughed. "If they are Federation I want them pissed off at you for putting everyone on alert for no good reason and give me a promotion for welcoming them."

"And if they're not?" the man said.

"Then I'll give them a different kind of welcome," Lee replied. He tried to lighten the mood as much as he could. "Don't worry about it. This suit has enough weapons to hold off a small army until I can get me some help, if I need it. You're wasting time; just get out of here. I'm sure I'll see you in a few minutes."

The other man backed slowly toward the base entrance. "Alright, well, you take care of yourself. If things don't turn out okay, you just wait until we can get reinforcements up here, you hear?"

"Sure, sure."

The doors began to close, and Private Lee Emmerich watched as his fellow soldier went back down into the base. The heavy blast doors finally shut with a low boom, and Lee turned back toward the shapes coming at the base. No, those weren't Federation ships at all. Even from that distance, it was easy to tell what model they were. He knew what they were, and they weren't a small army by any means.

Space Pirates. Arguably the only real resistance to peace and unity in the galaxy and certainly the only organized group. They weren't a threat to the Central Planets anymore and only a mild threat in the far reaches of the North and South Quadrants, but they still had power and influence in the West Quadrant where their home planet Zebes resided. Or rather had resided, according to the rumors that were coming in these days. Out in the boonies of the Federation, confirmation of anything was scarce. Still, Zebes was far from their only base of operations and no ship would even think of passing through Space Pirate territory without their permission. It was suicide. Every now and then, border raids flared up into small wars, but that was expected, and they were no real threat. Tüm was on the outer edge of the East Quadrant, though. Space Pirates here in such a great number meant something very bad was going on. It meant the Federation either hadn't been able to stop them from coming through weeks' worth of "safe" territory or hadn't even known they were there. He couldn't decide which was worse.

Starships were still coming in to the point Lee lost count. The alarms had started going off inside the base, but it didn't appear that the Pirates really cared about stealth now. The Federation supply ship attempted to escape, but it wasn't armed and was shot down after getting just a few meters off the ground.

Just when the pilot was getting the hang of it too, Lee thought, but regretted it immediately.

He switched on his camera system so those inside could watch what he was seeing. The Space Pirates were occupied with unloading themselves and their equipment. There was no hurry nor was there any need to be. There wasn't a Federation warship within three weeks distance of Planet Tüm. All by himself out on the surface, Lee knew he'd be the first to die, but not the last. They hadn't designed the base to defend against this many attackers.

He wasn't going to try and get back inside; they wouldn't let him anyway. They would hold their position from behind that door and let the automatic defenses soften the attackers then they would blast the Pirates as they bottlenecked at the entrance. It was a sound plan but from what Lee was looking at it wouldn't matter.

The Space Pirates came at him then. Most looked like giant mantises while others looked like large, green humans with grasping forelegs instead of hands. They moved on two legs but the general impression was still insectival.

The Space Pirates bounded across the ground at amazing speeds, some on two legs, others dropping down on all fours, still others jumping far distances using their powerful hind legs. Lee had seen some flying creatures but they stayed in the sky farther back. And unlike him none of them seemed bothered by the cold at all. Lucky bastards, he grumbled forgetting the seriousness of the situation for the time being.

He thought back to his basic training, so long it seemed to him now. Color could be used to recognize the danger level and methods of attack each of them possessed, if only he could remember it. Heh, he wasn't even middle-aged and he was already losing his memory. Recently, he'd been briefed on some of the new breeds that had been identified, and he thought of that. Some of them could only use their claws to rip and tear. Some could shoot electricity from close range shorting out his suit. Some could spit an acid that would easily burn through his armor and then his body. And some were worse than that. He couldn't let them get close or he was done for, that much he knew.

Lee started firing his high velocity rounds at the lines charging at him. A number of them fell and got back up, a few fell and stayed down, and more shrugged off his shells like they were pinpricks. Ricochet bullets flew everywhere. Lee wouldn't have believed their carapace could be that strong if he hadn't seen it with his own eyes. He sent a stream of flaming napalm around him in a small arc then back again in a wider arc. They had come into the range of the automatic guns and the .50 caliber weapons fired short five round bursts at the horde. Those caught between the flames were cut down almost immediately. The mantis creatures died in the dozens as they attempted to breach the flames but they could not. Apparently, they didn't like fire… He launched the two missiles on his back in to the swarm and two fairly large explosions followed, sending bodies and parts flying in the air. They all looked as if they were about to attempt another rush. He readied himself for what he assumed would be his last moments and began to send up a prayer to God.

Then suddenly, they all stopped, drew back, and Lee began to think his prayers had been answered.

Then a shadow appeared in the sky that blotted out the weak sun.

A great red beast soared in the air, its giant wings beating the air. An armor of scales and tough hide stretched over its powerful muscles, claws covered the brute's feet and hands, and a giant forked tongue emerged behind rows of cruelly spiked teeth. Its almost skeletal tail was as sharp and deadly as everything else about the monster. The beast was lean and sinewy as if everything not needed for killing had been stripped away by some malevolent creator. The beast landed not far from the entrance, its impact seeming to shake the very planet itself. The mantis creatures became silent; their chittering ceased.

Lee too was in awe, and his breath caught in his throat. He knew the name of this monster, this blight of the cosmos, and he whispered its name in fear.

"Ridley."

As if hearing the sound of its name the beast bared its teeth and let out a thunderous roar. The .50 caliber weapons began firing at it but the red beast crushed the automatic guns with his mighty claws easily. Then it turned a yellow eye in Lee's direction.

He fired his weapon and sprayed napalm but to no avail. The great maw closed over Private Leeland Emmerich, and with a scream and a crunch of bones, he was no more.


TWO DAYS LATER

The acting commander of Aknor base looked down into the atrium watching a stray Metroid hover through the lowest treetops. It moved slow; the weight of the planet kept it from going to the top of the protective glass. But the bio-food stomping around the atrium with it was slower still.

The captain, promoted to colonel by casualty and necessity, watched the eyeless, thick-skinned quadruped graze on some of the abundant green foliage that filled the atrium, using its snout and massive jaw. Whatever planet it had come from originally didn't lack in predators, but none of them could tear through the herbivore's thick hide. A herd animal, it was so large that any to try to eat it were likely to be crushed or trampled on. Federation scientists had since bred and engineered them to be larger, thicker, and more resilient yet.

Also eyeless, with no discernible sensory organs, nevertheless the Metroid knew exactly where to find its bio-food. Though twice a man in height and wider than tall, it resembled a transparent jellyfish but with fangs instead of tendrils and in the air rather than water. It was awful, monstrous and yet completing lacking reason, malice or empathy. There it floated around the bio-food, which stomped and kept its flank to Metroid but otherwise 800,000 years of evolutionary conditioning and five years of intelligent Federation design made for a remarkably patient victim.

The predator circled around once more, let out an almost cute chirp, and dove into the back of the lifeform that had been made solely to feed it.

The Metroid had a cluster of three organs inside that resembled nuclei and as the fangs began to dig into the bio-food's back, these organs pulsed and swelled, as if aroused. Aknor's commander had seen the Metroid was hungry, looking pale white instead of the usual green, but now it began to fill with color. A rush of purply fluids began to swirl inside the monster. The bio-food bellowed in unfamiliar pain and fell over but the Metroid remained latched until the herbivore's skin stretched tight and cracked.

The Metroid finally released its grasp and flew, heavy, leaden and almost drunk. It bumped into a tree trunk, then into a rock. It was almost comical, the equivalent of a bloated tick on a weeklong binge inside a dog's ear, but even now you could shoot a cannon at the thing and the membrane skin wouldn't burst. Less than five minutes later, the fluids inside it had stopped roiling and began to leak out from the same, solitary orifice they'd come in. Then in moments, the Metroid emptied itself of everything, all blood, bile and organ pieces falling with a wet slap into a pile on the ground. The Metroid seemed completely unaffected by the stronger gravity now and flung itself around every part of the atrium, its drunk turning manic. It practically glowed green and if hooked up to the proper equipment, could power a space platform on its own for a month. But the Federation still hadn't figured out how to build the proper equipment, and in their efforts to do so, they'd lured pirates here and gotten everyone killed.

The acting commander of Aknor base was supposed to be working on his plans for a counter-offensive to try to reach the surface before ammunition and able-bodied soldiers ran out completely. Of course, even if they did make it to the surface, it wouldn't matter. Federation aid was still too far away and their sensors told them Space Pirates continued to arrive. There was a faint hope the equipment was messing up but it didn't matter. They were all dead men. All that was left was to make sure their deaths counted for something.

A corporal turned lieutenant ran into the atrium viewing area and stood attention for a moment, but didn't wait to be acknowledged.

"Sir, the Pirates've occupied all floors 'cept basement XII. We're doin' our best but I reckon the Metroid lab and atrium'll be taken from us soon, sir. What should we do?"

"What do you think?" He sighed heavily. "Kill the scientists in a way as quick and painless as possible and destroy all the Metroids you can. Burn any hard copy files we have and put magnets to the computers, then destroy them. If we still have any samples of Metroid DNA on location, get rid of that as well. Don't leave anything intact that they might be able to use."

"But sir, the scientists?"

"The Space Pirates can't have them or what's inside their heads. You haven't seen what Pirates can do to a man have you? The researchers would thank you, given the choice. But even if we survive, if those Pirates get that data, the Galactic Federation itself and everyone in it will be in peril. We must not let them get that information. Hurry, before all is lost."

The man ran off, and the commander watched as the Metroid flew equal to his height. Fangs quivering with excitement, it began to tap against the glass directly in front of him, testing it.


Note: This is a 'grimdark' post-Super Metroid space opera begun circa 2002, prior to Metroid: Fusion's release, and continued before being removed after concluding in 2006. Previously titled, "The Best There Is" and rated T, late chapters may argue for upgrading that. It's been updated slightly but retains most of its original plot and dialogue. Revisions may include continuity errors; please point them out where they're found.