The elevator clicked away the floors with polite almost silent beeps. The only indications of motion in the small room were distant mechanical vibrations from larger machines in the station. The carpet under her feet had been embellished with the insignia of the Galactic Confederation. It gave disgruntled commanders and cadets alike the momentary satisfaction of stepping on an intergalactic symbol of authority. Angseth stood as she always had, since she first had the privilege of standing in one of these elevators, dead-center of the insignia, wings extending from the ball of each foot, spreading across the blue and white symbol. She stood patiently, the lights seemed to vibrate and pulse with their own flow of energy, creating a low humming noise that was just this side of tolerable.
Phantom limb was back again. The pain always returned when she became tense. Her brain vainly sending signals to nerves that were no longer there, and some ingrained instinct in the back of her mind was telling the rest of her body that something must be wrong with that leg. Something had been wrong with that leg for over ten years now. If she listened to the pain, Angseth would be convinced that her leg was imbedded with spikes and trying to push through the floor. She shifted her weight, her cybernetic leg pressed up against the thin fabric of her dress blues. The phantom limb faded away a little, the pins and needles feeling lessened. She had a replacement leg back on her ship that was more comfortable, but this one had less girth and weight so it didn't appear to be such an eyesore under her dress uniform.
The elevator was blissfully quiet, no sappy music, no other riders, just herself, the white metallic walls and the Galactic Confederation insignia on the floor. This made her feel a little better, it allowed for the opportunity to steel herself against the coming political cluster fuck that was going to be the remainder of her evening. The elevator began to emit a low whine-like noise, the breaking mechanisms had been engaged and the elevator would soon pick up another passenger. If Angseth was lucky she could make her face appear as disgruntled as possible and her would-be companions would be frightened into taking another elevator.
The elevator came to a stop and the doors hissed open. Angseth could hear a slight ring as her ears popped when the pressure equalized. The face on the other side was familiar, and welcome. Angseth felt her bitterness melt as her companion joined her in the room and the doors closed.
"Good evening Captain. That scowl could have shattered glass."
"That was the impression I was aiming for Lieutenant." Angseth replied, her voice deep for a human female, yet holding that certain air of authority she had been trained for. She shifted her weight again, leaning on her cane to help maintain her balance. Perhaps…perhaps they would leave her alone tonight. Perhaps they wouldn't insist on hearing her life's story at the reception, or want to see the scars the past had left on her psyche.
"I didn't expect we would have been invited to this wedding. I barely even know either the bride or groom."
"That doesn't matter. All that matters is that we show up and look presentable. Military weddings must be the worst."
"Presentable? My Captain doesn't look very comfortable in her dress uniform."
"I'm not. It's too tight across the chest and I feel as if I will burst out of it any moment now."
"Didn't you have time to have it altered?"
"This is after it was altered."
Lieutenant Briar lifted his clawed hands in surrender. He could pick at his Captain only so much before she snapped. But he couldn't resist one last jab. "I thought they required all female officers to wear a dress. I wouldn't mind seeing you in one."
"I have no dress strong enough to withstand the pressure from my cybernetic leg."Angseth replied, his statement missing her entirely. "Even though I'm wearing the lighter one. The only setback is that since I haven't broken it in yet I still walk with a bit of a limp."
"Hence the cane."
Angseth nodded in agreement. Lieutenant Nevada Briar was her second in command as well as the chief security officer aboard her battle ship. He came from a world that had joined the Confederation about fifteen years ago. The people were cat-like with a few differences. Briar had feline-like features with slit amber colored eyes, his ears rested toward the back of his skull and were made a stiff cartilage that resembled bone more than soft tissue. When he pinned them back it they seemed to vanish entirely. His body was covered with mostly course fur with small patches of plate-like scales at his elbows, knees, and along his spine. His hands and feet had non-retractable claws that had to be trimmed or ground down on a monthly basis.
The elevator began politely beeping away the floors once more. Angseth and Briar stood for a moment in comfortable silence when he spoke up again.
"Do you know of any new orders once the wedding is over?"
"Not as of yet. Is patrol of the Outer Reaches boring you?"
"Yes…and no." Briar said folding his arms. "Life on a station is amusing at most, however I feel that our time could be better spent than attending weddings."
Angseth tried to stop the smile from crossing her lips, but failed. Lieutenant Briar had read her mind. He wanted off this hunk of metal more than she did. "Admiral Mirson has invited us to see his third daughter wed. All this is only a formality. We will be underway again in the next seventy two hours. Then the two of us can go back to counting the nebulae and quasars and other untouchable universal phenomenon."
Briar gave an audible sigh. "Seventy two hours to kill. You are so generous Captain Angseth."
Angseth shifted her weight again, already wishing this day was over.
The bride, as with all brides, was beautiful. The bridesmaids stood in a row, arranged by height, all of equal shape, and perfectly complementing the groomsmen. The groom was nervous, his groomsmen seemed to be consumed by that tense laughter of young boys told to be quiet, sit still, and behave for a few minutes. That was one of the only comparisons that Angseth had for them. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they were like a platoon of cadets that had just narrowly missed their first incoming shell attack and even though they had lost one of their own, still giggled madly in that they survived.
Angseth and her officers sat near the back of the chapel, in the middle of one of the many pews lining this traditional hall. Angseth felt that in all the years that humans had been out conquering the universe, why couldn't they just knock their heads together and make a more comfortable bench? Lieutenant Briar sat at her right and her chief engineering officer, Lieutenant Serec, sat on her left. They were both as quiet and uncomfortable as she. Neither of them wanted to be here. Watching people they didn't know say their "I do's" the flowers, the lights, it all seemed too much. Especially after getting back from patrol on the Outer Reaches. Through most of the ceremony she had seen her two officers out of the corner of her eye shuffling around in their seats. Briar seemed to have the worst of it since he had to sit at a certain angle to allow for his tail to rest comfortably. Aside from the shifting, to the other guests they seemed like a matching row of Moai, each sharing a stoic and identical expression.
The music had stopped and now the pastor was going into a sermon about loyalty in love. Angseth began to tune it out; she didn't need a lecture on loyalty. Instead she amused herself the way she normally did in these situations, she meditated. She searched all the faces in the room, all eyes were on the bride. At the end of each aisle someone had placed a large bouquet of flowers. No, flowers would not do this time. She searched the floor at her feet, then finally pulled her cane closer, shifting her weight again. Topping her cane was a large piece of black quartz carved and sanded into a smooth sphere. She stared into the black depths, no flaws or specks present to catch the light. Lights and flowers reflected on its surface, hovering over the pit of darkness within the sphere. The light caught it at an odd angle, for a moment creating what looked like a purple glow.
Purple. Dark Purple. A room filled with dark purple stones.
Angseth quickly averted her eyes, then lifted a hand to cover her face. She hoped it looked like she was crying for joy. However the ruse didn't convince her officers. Aside from shifting, this was the most she had moved in the whole ceremony.
"Captain?" Serec inquired.
"I'm alright." Angseth let her hand fall away. "Just a mild flashback."
Serec nodded but exchanged a concerned glance with Briar. He then faced the front of the chapel, seemingly interested in the ceremony. But his question was directed toward Angseth. "How is the leg?"
"Uncomfortable." Angseth closed her eyes trying to let her mind clear. If she didn't calm soon the nausea would do it for her. Behind her someone wept softly. Thankfully her leg had stopped aching the moment she took her weight off of it.
"—You may now kiss the Bride."
Angseth looked up at that moment to see the brides veil lifted. Before she had just been some lace-covered ghost from this distance, but now she could see the brides blue eyes and blond hair. Angseth looked down at her cane again, recovered, then looked back up at the bride.
Yes, blond hair, but brown eyes. Not green, not blue, due to the way this day was going, not even purple.
Why do I keep thinking of you?
Angseth took in a few deep breaths as the guests cheered. She didn't feel like celebrating, she didn't feel like being here. The organ started up and the Captain barely noticed the bride and groom skip past her row. The congregation stood and began filing out of the chapel.
Angseth didn't stand. The room felt too small with too many people. Briar stayed at her side supporting her the way one would a sick child. Serec stood and began fencing questions. "No, the Captain is fine," and "yes we will be there."
Briar whispered close to Angseths ear. "Vera, would you like me to escort you back to your room?"
Angseth shook her head. "No, I promised Mirson that I would attend the reception."
"It isn't mandatory."
"If you two wish to leave then I won't hold it against you." Angseth snapped, trying to regain some sense of control. She leaned on her cane and let her head rest on the back of her knuckles. She didn't need any more memories of Aether tonight. No, tonight it wouldn't be the other CO's to try to get under her skin, she was her own worst enemy in this respect. She braced herself and pulled herself upright. Her cybernetic leg came out of sleep mode to help her correct her balance. Briar stayed at her side helping her to her feet and led her through the crunch of guests trying to leave the chapel.
Samus Aran. How many years has it been?
The reception hall was loud and noisy even before most of the guests had made it inside. Briar stayed at Angseths side, leading her through the crowds after the dizziness she had felt in the chapel passed. Eventually the small walk-way they traveled opened up and she stepped into the main hall. Angseth had been in this hall once before almost 10 years ago now. When she stood before Admiral Mizzen as he placed her pilot wings on her dress uniform. The hall was different now, filled with more people but still teeming with all the sounds and smells that came with celebrating. She shook Briar loose, then found a balcony to stand near. The balcony overlooked the main dance floor where men in uniform and ladies in multicolored dresses bounced along to music. From previous experience the hall would take her a moment to adjust to.
Most of the ceiling and one wall was transparent. Either it was created from skillfully crafted glass, or a field of some kind was in place. The windows gave a clear and stunning view of the planet below. Syren crested just below the rim of the glass, casting a blue glow against the darkness of space. This view was enough to give her vertigo the first time she set foot in here. Now that she had a moment to enjoy it, she could adjust. Angseth just had to remember not to look up for the rest of the night. Briar stood at her side, admiring the view along with her.
Tables had been set out on the many levels of the room, each with a centerpiece of fragrant flowers taken from the four corners of the universe. Even from this height Angseth could spot her favorites, rare "Lilies of the night" cast bio-luminescent multicolored shapes on the tables.
"Enjoying the view?"
"Very much. But Mirson will have my ass if I don't go down there and rub elbows with some of his friends." Angseth reached for Briars arm again and tore her gaze away from the high ceiling.
"Do I get to pretend to be your date this evening?"
"Might as well. Can't hide forever." Angseth gave him a smile, and began walking toward the nearest elevator to take them down to the base level. This elevator had transparent walls that provided a view of the whole room as she traveled. This didn't bother Angseth as much as the view from the top balcony. She could however make out her own reflection in the glass.
Angseth was never very happy with her physical appearance. As humans went, she was short. Standing at a grand total of five feet four inches. She was also stocky, very unattractive for human females. She hailed from a heavy world that had higher gravity than normal planets, so her muscles were nicely toned, however it was considered too manly for most human standards. Her hair was cut short, as per regulation, however she kept just enough length to give it body. More than once she had been mistaken for a man, and she knew of all the rumors and names they called her behind her back. However none of them could fly or shoot like she could, a skill she kept up even as the years went on. Briar often told her that humans were too critical, and she was perfect and beautiful in his eyes, and for the most part, not too many alien races cared about her appearance. Since there were over two hundred recognized different sentient species that were members of the Confederation, Briar insisted that one races standards of beauty could not over-ride all. Angseth had often rolled her eyes at this, especially when one of her new human cadets would call out "Hey mister!—oh shit it's the captain."
They stepped out of the elevator and onto the ground floor. Directly in front of her was a set of stairs that led to the dance floor. People danced as the live band was just getting started. Angseth maneuvered her way through the tables and crowds. Briar had split off and was going his own way. Angseth headed for the bride, the most easily noticed landmark in the room. Angseth would congratulate her, say hello to Mirson, then hopefully be on her way before anyone noticed that she had left. As long as Mirson was alone, then she stood a chance, if he had friends, he would want to start bragging. Twenty steps away from the bride, almost there…
Angseth froze in her tracks, trying not to let the disgust fill her eyes.
Admiral Mirson called out to her again, surrounded by no less than five other men. All human.
"Admiral," Angseth forced a smile to her lips, then began taking exaggerated limping steps over toward him. If he saw that she was in pain, perhaps he would let her go, perhaps she could politely duck out and get some sleep in her room.
"I'm so happy you could make it."
Angseth gave up all hopes of escape. His companions looked too pleased with themselves. Story-time everyone! She stepped forward and shook the Admirals hand. "Your daughter is absolutely radiant! Congratulations!" The group closed around her like an ameba with its latest prey. All eyes fell upon her.
"Gentlemen, I'd like to introduce Captain Angseth. The sole survivor of the Aether incident." He set his hand on her shoulder and displayed her to the group like some kind of trophy.
I might as well have that changed to my official title. "Captain Angseth, the Sole Survivor of the Aether Incident" Angseth thought bitterly. I wonder how much it would cost to have that engraved on my leg. She scanned the faces and shook hands all around. She felt cheated, she knew most of these men. They had all heard the story before. However two of them she didn't recognize. They were sizing her up, and she returned the favor. One of them she could place right away, a scientist from Rovien. He was tall, easily six feet nine inches, which meant that if she were to look him in the eye, she had took look up. He had long white hair and red eyes, an albino….or a clone. The second man was also a human male about five foot nine, roughly Briars height now that she thought about it. He had blue eyes and dark brown hair, not an entirely unattractive combination. He also appeared to be very young. Early twenties. Perhaps he was an Ensign that the Admiral was fond of.
The Admiral was an older gentleman, thin and thinning white hair combed over almost perpetually red skin that grew redder the angrier he became. In her younger years Angseth had placed bets with men in her fighter wing to see who could get him to turn the darkest shade. Angseth won everytime. The Admiral also had small brown eyes, he looked like someone whom you expected to die any day now but through some miracle or cosmic joke was still around year after year. Angseth didn't like his eyes. They pierced, scrutinized and most of all, were hard to read. Right now he seemed to be happy, but the shade of his skin told her otherwise. Code Orange.
"Captain Angseth I would like to introduce you to Captain Thomas, and Science Officer Svenson. Gentlemen, this is Captain Angseth."
"Captain Angseth." Thomas, Mr. Brown-hair and blue-eyes held his hand out to her. "It is a pleasure to finally meet you. I have wanted to ask you so many questions about Aether and of course your studies of the bounty hunter Samus Aran."
"I'm afraid there is isn't much to tell Captain Thomas." She scanned his eyes and body again. Captain? A nickname? There was nothing about him that spoke of the rank "captain" save for the twin white bars on his uniform.
Captain Thomas didn't seem to notice her rebuttal. His blue eyes were alive with excitement. This boy was young. Early twenties, and probably had never seen a moment of real combat in his life.
S.O. Svenson had been quiet this whole time, his arms folded and red eyes scanning the room nervously. The other officers that been accompanying Mirson had let for the time, and Svenson seemed to be keeping a subtle eye on them. Angseth found her attention drawn back to Thomas. Mirson stood behind Thomas, his face no longer reading pleasure but that usual scowl Angseth had become accustomed to. That look was a warning. She would comply with his desires or feel his wrath.
"Is it true you fought alongside The Hunter?" Captain Thomas still drilled at her, sipping from his glass of champagne.
Between this young man's insistence and the disapproving scowl from the Admiral, Angseth felt the smile fade from her lips. She was tired of telling this story, a summary would probably keep this boy happy for weeks, although it would not sit well enough with the Admiral.
"I did not work alongside Aran. I was a young Private who had just had my first experience with an interspatial anomaly. If it were not for The Hunter, I would be dead. She was the one who single-handedly dealt with the Pirates and the Ing, returning the light to Aether. I could only follow in her wake."
"Amazing to think that you lived to tell the tale." S.O. Svenson interjected. "You lived to tell it over and over again. How I pity you Captain." His tone didn't hold much conviction. He didn't seem to be happy to be here either. His arms dropped to his sides, then went around to behind his back. It was a gesture that Angseth had become familiar with, her own hands never left the small of her back except when she was carrying something. Thomas was smiling like an idiot. "However I personally feel that Aran is no more pious than the pirates she fights. The civilized world had no need for vigilantes."
"And that is the only thing we can disagree upon Svenson." Angseth felt her voice raise in volume just slightly. Svenson had touched a nerve. "Samus Aran is one of the rare forces of nature that this universe must accept. And as with all forces beyond our control, we can only choose to live with it, to fight it brings only suffering."
"What a poetic statement." Svenson snickered. Obviously amused by this outcome.
"I only speak of what I have seen, and have come to know in my years as a Captain in the Confederation." Angseth looked between Thomas and Svenson, neatly perched in the middle behind them was Mirson. His face had turned that now familiar bright red color. Angseth knew that she had better make a speedy retreat before the Admiral erupted. "I'm sorry but I must leave you now. Gentlemen. Admiral, congratulations." She turned, leaning on her cane even more to pull off such a tight turn. This leg would be thrown to the bottom of her footlocker as soon as she arrived back at her room, never to be seen or heard from again.
"Angseth." Admiral Mirson called out to her.
Angseth paused, looking over her shoulder at Mirson.
"I wish to speak with you tomorrow, at 1100 hours."
"I will be there sir." Angseth searched the room for Briar, who was perched against the bar, sipping some bright red concoction. She walked toward him, using the cane to smooth out her gate.
"Bitter isn't she?" Svenson commented once Angseth was out of earshot.
"Did she loose that leg on Aether?" Thomas asked.
Mirson grabbed a glass of champagne, his face regaining some normal color. "Don't let her fool you. Angseth is one of the better battleship captains available to the Seven Fleet Admirals. She will be more than meet your expectations." He sipped the champagne. "She didn't loose her right leg on Aether. That was lost in an accident involving her fighter."
"I would like to read more on her. She seems like an admirable woman." Thomas set his glass down.
Svenson watched as Briar took Angseth's arm and led her out of the hall. "She seems to be rather close to her Lieutenant."
"She is." Mirson replied. "I've told her not to make herself to noticeable while she is here, rather disgusting."
Mirson set the champagne down and addressed the men. "Good evening gentlemen, I hope you enjoy the remainder of your stay."
Angseth sat in front of a holo-screen, watching random events and the occasional cheap game show that broadcast on the stations TV signals. Everything was just as boring as she remembered. She never understood how so many people could find entertainment value in all of this. She lifted the remote and turned off the holo-screen. Sleeping was not going to be easy tonight. Between the pain in her leg and the slowly rising memories of her time on Aether, all she could do was hobble around her suite and hope that exhaustion would kick in. That was harder to do without Briar there.
Vera stood from her chair, and grabbed her cane. She had taken off the cybernetic leg, and still hadn't put the other one on yet. The cane would help her get around for the time.
Why do all these memories come at the most inappropriate times? Why all these horrible dreams?
She limped into the kitchen, and began to sift through the cabinets looking for a glass.
Twenty years ago. For so many years I've had that experience hovering over my head like an ax. In the past few days my thoughts and dreams have been clouded with memories of Ing and Phazon. I want to know how much is triggered by stress, and how much are real concerns.
She found a glass and began running the water on the tap. The glass filled and she turned the water off. She lifted the glass and held it to her lips, the smell of chemicals drifted from the cup. Chemicals used to purify and remove all other forms of life from the water so that she may use it. She slowly forced herself to drink. Immediately her stomach began to churn, the combined smell and taste of fluoride, plasteel from the pipes, all traces and residue present in the water. She lowered the glass and tried to calm her gag reflex.
I remember…the water from Torvus Bog was smooth. It smelled of life. Aether was pure, the plants were dangerous, and so were the animals, but they were still alive, they thought, lived, and breathed.
There was nothing in the room save for the hum of electricity all around her, the taste of iron in her mouth, heavy chemical-laden water in her stomach. Angseth turned to walk back into her bedroom, then quickly turned back to the sink. Her body convulsed then forced up the water from her stomach. For a moment she stood gagging until her muscles stopped tensing. She reached for a paper towel to wipe her mouth. The electric hum of the room built in her ears. White noise.
Angseth stood up, then looked to the nearest light in the ceiling. "Lights off." She called out. The light in her suite dimmed until there was darkness. She took her cane, then moved through the darkness until she came to her bed.
For the longest time she had been afraid of the dark, afraid of the things that could hide in the dark. However it stood to reason that the Ing had often come in the daylight, unafraid of the sun. It didn't matter whether one could see it coming or not. It was still there.
My body is rejecting all of this, it rejects the chemicals in the water, it rejects the sounds in my ears, it rejects my artificial leg. I am beginning to think that it rejects artificial people, people without any ties or roots to the earth, people like Svenson and Thomas, and especially Mirson.
She lay down in her bed, looking up at the dark ceiling. There were still points of light in the room. Small lights that lined part of her cybernetic leg, the clock, power-save lights on various appliances, all of these in her state of half-sleep looked like stars. In the dark, memories would come to her, points of light like these. Each star waited to be studied, or ignored, however one of the brightest stars in the heaven of her memories had its own unique label and constellation.
Angseth lay dieing. The gate was still closed. The gate would remain closed for a very long time. No one would open a gate that served no purpose. She had done her job, and held her post. She had been told, if falsely, that if the gate was down, the base would be safe. She had closed this gate with her life and with any luck; her spirit would continue to haunt this plane until the end of time. She could have ensured that the gate would stay closed longer if she just had more bullets. Angseth had no desire to die on this planet, her body eaten by all these alien creatures. The last log in her data book, now that she had been going over it, seemed to be very childish. She threw a fit over not getting placed on the main entry team into the splinters lair. True, she could out-shoot everyone here, but only provided she had enough rounds. Perhaps Captain Exetor was right, if she would just stop talking about the Hunter long enough to train a little harder perhaps she wouldn't have ended up in this situation.
As long as Angseth had been in the Marines, her mind had been filled with wonderful stories about a lone bounty hunter that often took on federation missions for a price. The bounty hunters name was Samus Aran. Not very many people had any concrete information on Aran, even Aran's gender was in dispute. Angseth had collected as much information as she could in the four long years she had been a marine. Tales of the Hunters adventures had reached almost every mess hall in the Federation, and the stories were swapped and traded like cards or talismans. For the most the stories served to entertain, but Angseth felt that she was one of the few who actually believed. The idea that a female bounty hunter could destroy an entire infestation of pirates was enough to keep Angseth at the shooting range long after everyone else had turned in for the night. The stories that Aran could solve and bypass intricate security systems of ancient civilizations encouraged Angseth to learn more about their own. When most of the members of her platoon were out drinking, Angseth had locked herself away in a library reading up on battle strategy.
A lot of good all that did now.
Baker had stopped crying about ten minutes ago. Angseth couldn't be sure because her armor had been compromised and her HUD had lost half its functions. One thing she was sure of, Baker had stopped moving. For the time being, the bugs had retreated into the walls, burrowing deeper into the solid rock around Angseths fellow marines. She had been told to close the gates, but the little bastards didn't need gates. They simply dug through the walls. They came up from the floor, hell a few of the more dangerous ones pulled themselves out of thin air. The splinters had been bad enough, they resembled oversized crickets that screamed and had the ability to chew through just about anything. On their own they weren't too hard to deal with, one or two shots and the majority of the colony would move on. Then the Purple Shit started coming. The term had been coined by Baker, who had been the first one to really get a good look at it. He had been standing near the main computer terminals when a gooey dark purple almost black mass came out of the crack in the wall next to him and began slithering across the floor. This caused Baker to ask aloud, "What the hell is that purple shit?"
Angseth still had no idea what the Purple Shit was. At first they assumed that it was a kind of fast moving fungus, or perhaps a plankton-like plant colony, or some other natural explanation. The Purple Shit had sniffed around the main computer terminals, the walls, past the feet of a few marines before disappearing back into another crack. This subterranean base was just full of surprises. A few days later they witnessed something else remarkably odd. They had been passing the time, watching a few splinters duke it out for mating rights, when the Purple Shit oozed out of another crack and slithered up the fighting pair of bugs. That was when they learned that the Purple Shit had extremely strong mutative qualities. It engulfed the splinters and began altering their physical structure. The end result was something out of a nightmare. The new creatures pounced upon the few marines posted there and killed two of them before alarm had been raised. Angseth remembered firmly that it took twenty rounds each to kill the newly mutated splinters. Twenty rounds were too much ammo to waste on one fast moving creature. Within twenty four hours their entire base had been overcome by these mutated creatures, but it didn't stop there. The Purple Shit had even engulfed both the living and dead bodies of the Marines fighting it. Angseth would never forget the pain that moved through the platoon when they had to take down one of their own.
Now here she was, the last wave had all but annihilated her squad. If there was anyone left alive she hoped that they had made it to the signal beacon. The signal beacon had been damaged upon atmospheric entry, and didn't have enough juice to put out a strong enough signal. At least that was what her CO had said.
Angseth had been around long enough to know when someone was lying through their teeth.
She could feel her blood pooling in her armor. She had never wanted a slow death, if anything, all she prayed for was to go out in a blaze of glory, just like in the holo-movies or the comics. Thankfully she had been injured enough that the pain she was in didn't matter any more. The gate was closed.
Angseth could hear something in the hall. Another Marine? Rocks slipping from the wall? Maybe a splinter looking for a meal? Plenty to be found here. Please wait until after I die before you start munching okay?
No, footsteps. Had to be footsteps. There was too much rhythm to be anything else. The footsteps came closer. Had help finally arrived? She would remember the sound of an incoming marine vessel, especially if it had as rough a landing as they had. The Atmosphere on Aeather was thick with electrical and radioactive phenomena. Even as they had landed and looked up at the new sky in this world, they could see what had looked like some god had tried to over lap two completely different sections of sky. It was simultaneously stormy and sunny. At first you looked, there were clouds, the next time you looked, bright blue. The sky changed so much, no wonder their ship took a pounding on the way in.
The sound stopped outside the gate. A thought crossed her mind that perhaps it was one of their zombie buddies searching for leftovers. Angseth had never wanted to be dead so much in her life. Zombies eat the brains of the living don't they? The most frustrating part was Angseth couldn't turn her head to look at the gate. She could see the bottom of Bakers shoe just fine but she lacked the strength and ability to turn.
The gate rattled. Angseth had already been laying still but now she was seriously playing dead. The gate was firm thing, it didn't rattle. The gate was made from the finest alloys; it would take something very strong to rattle it. No, no human would be getting in here. A human would be welcome, or any one of the one hundred thirty four races that called the Federation home. Anyone but those god-damned possessed splinters. The gate rattled once more, bolts creaking in their sockets, but holding. One long moment passed, and Angseth became aware of another sound. It was something mechanical, something that whirred and hummed like a spent holo-generator. She could now feel a vague rumble move through her body. There was a tunnel to her right, one of those damn splinters had dug it, the one that got the drop on her, the one that had run up her body and imbedded its claws into her chest and legs, screaming and fighting the entire time. Angseth had grabbed it and slammed its body into the ground, then clubbed it to death with her fists and rifle. Five more of its friends then jumped her.
The entrance to the tunnel was just outside of her line of sight, but if she could manage to move her head just slightly, she could see what new torture was coming her way. It took all of her strength, but she managed to budge her head the inch or so to bring the tunnel into view.
The rough walls of the tunnel were nothing new, chipped and scraped into existence by many little clawed feet. There was a light, a soft glow that had some kind of thickness to it. Much like a holo-screen, as if you could pick it up and work it to your will. The rumble was still mild. The light grew brighter, and Angseth felt much confusion mixed with fear at the sight of her own reflection cast upon a smooth sphere-like surface. The sphere was gold in color and had a seam down the middle, where the light was spilling forth, humming from power within. While it had a near-mirror finish, it wasn't without flaws, slight scuff and drag marks marked the surface, distorting Angseths reflection. Next to this work of art Angseth felt tiny and useless. Fear had settled to the back of her mind and curiosity took the fore. She hoped that this wouldn't be some new threat. Was the Purple Shit just a method of clearing out the trash so this thing could move in?
The sphere rolled by and stopped almost dead center of the room. Angseth watched as cracks began to appear in its surface, and joints began pulling apart letting the light within spill out like liquid. The sphere pulled apart in what looked like a duck-and roll maneuver, it emptied a fully armored person into the room. The individual gained their feet, and began looking around. Angseth stared at the legs of this person, caught somewhere between delight and dismay.
She had died.
And Samus Aran was here to lead her into the afterlife.
The station was a huge monster of metal and forced breeding of many alien technologies. It had no discernible shape and when a new wing was needed, it was simply built upon the outer hull. The result was a far-reaching interlaced spider-web of metal and plasteel. While it served mainly as a military command post, it also had very many Civilian sectors and business. The Naval offices were located on one of the higher decks, which provided an unobstructed view of Syren. Admiral Mirson had one of the larger office complexes. An entire three decks had been set aside to accommodate all of the people and workspace that went with his office. All of his secretaries had their own offices, all of his lackeys and advisers, and most of the rooms were impressive spaces. Mirson after all was one of the Seven Fleet Admirals, and it was his duty to ensure the safety of everyone within this sector of space.
Angseths routine patrol aboard her craft, the Mabus, took her through all seven sectors and into the employment of all Seven Admirals at one point or another. Her home was within Admiral Mizzen's territory, and she wanted to get back there as soon as possible. Through the majority of her travels, the Admirals left her alone, the Mabus was considered a training vessel, and she often had a crew composed of mainly first-time voyagers into space. When conducting marine actions, the Admirals preferred to have seasoned troops on hand. Due to this, Angseth saw very little action these days. That suited her just fine.
Angseth stepped into Mirson's office, and took a moment to pause. His office also featured one of those huge floor-to-ceiling windows that gave a commanding view of Syren below. The sun was just peeking over the horizon and tinting had come over the window. The view at first left her feeling a little disoriented, even claustrophobic in a way. For all intents and purposes it looked as if they were about to crash right into the planet. Mirson had decorated his office in a minimal yet tasteful way. The walls had exposed beams, showing the architecture of the station, the floor was covered in high-pile cream-colored carpet, the furnishings very expensive woods, including his huge desk, wood with a granite surface. Along the walls hung plaques and holograms of memories and awards. Angseth actually liked his office, just not the red-faced old fart behind the desk.
The desk sat in the center of the room, U-shaped with a few papers and holos surrounding it. In front of the desk were three leather chairs. From the grain of the skin and subtle striped pattern, Angseth guessed they came from some poor dinosaur like creature. Two of the chairs at either side of the desk tilted and creaked as restless individuals waited patiently. She only caught a glimpse of one of the occupants, a wisp of long white hair, and could guess who the other would be. Captain Thomas and Science Officer Svenson.
Captain Angseth stepped fully into the room and saluted smartly. Admiral Mirson waved her over. "At ease. Please have a seat Captain." He gestured the third chair.
Angseth sat down, and saw that her suspicions had been confirmed. Thomas was on her left and Svenson on her right.
"I have new orders for you Angseth." He reached into a drawer and pulled out a holographic data disk. Angseth didn't take her eyes off him as she reached out and took the disk. His skin didn't seem as red today, not like it had been last night. Nope, today Mirson had what looked like a tan. As if he had been spending some time basking in the sun. Lucky bastard.
Angseth kept her gaze focused on him, or some other fixed object. If she spent too long looking out that window she might get motion-sick.
"The view again Captain?" Mirson inquired.
"Its…always been impressive." Angseth instead fixed her gaze on the disk in her hands. "I assume this is a briefing?"
"Yes. Science Officer Svenson had requested that you would personally assist him."
Svenson turned toward Angseth. "Despite my attitude last night, I was delighted when I heard that you would be attending the wedding. We have different views however I know skill when I see it."
Angseth tried to read those red eyes. Svenson had not made a good impression on her, and this just felt like a front.
Admiral Mirson spoke up again. "Svenson is the captain of a science vessel bound for SR3-88 to conduct a series of experiments. Both yourself and Captain Thomas have been assigned to guard his vessel and proposed research facility on the planets surface."
Angseth felt herself straighten up in her chair. SR3-88 had been destroyed over ten years ago, complements of everyone's favorite Bounty Hunter. The planet itself had not been completely wiped out of existence, but it was definitely uninhabitable. She couldn't help but ask. "What is the nature of this research?"
Svenson answered with a smirk. "Metroids, Captain."
Angseth allowed her features to show her confusion. "I had been lead to believe that all Metroids had been destroyed, that they are an extinct species."
"There are, and until last week that was indeed true."
Admiral Mirson spoke again. "Last week we received a report from a scouting vessel claiming to have seen a Metroid on its home world."
"I thought that SR3-88 had been declared off-limits."
"Recently several research teams have received approval to entrench themselves in orbit around SR3-88 in order to study its sun more closely." Svenson pulled up a few files on a holo-projector on Mirson's desk. "SR3-88-SOL is a highly unstable star. Recent studies indicate that it is composed of many gasses commonly found on worlds able to support life. However lately it has shown signs of destabilizing."
Angseth raised an eyebrow. "So you wish to step into the path of a supernova?"
"Not just a supernova Captain, but the makings of life itself." Svenson made direct eye-contact with her. Angseth steeled herself against his gaze. He was trying to analyze her, to break her down into key components, and she refused to let that happen. He gave her nothing but a stoic gaze. "Are you familiar with the Big Bang theory Captain?"
"Yes, of course."
Svenson continued. "Then you know that all life in this universe sprang from one concentration of matter. There have been theories as to the composition of this matter, but everyone agrees that it is highly volatile."
Angseth could see where this was going, and it was foolish. "You suspect that SR3-88-SOL is created of this volatile matter and wish to find a way to harness it. The only way you feel you can do so is to find the last existing Metroid and study it's ability to drain the power and life-force out of anything it comes across."
Svenson's jaw dropped. He didn't see that one coming.
Thomas began laughing at her side. "Sharp as a tack Captain Angseth!"
Svenson closed his mouth and recovered, slipping into his stoic expression once more. "I should have paid more attention Captain. I shouldn't have expected anything less."
Angseth straightened in her chair. Her good cybernetic leg had slipped into "sleep" mode. "It is foolish to attempt that kind of power. Some things in this universe are meant to be left alone."
"Your comments have been noted Captain Angseth." Mirson spoke. "However, this mission is not to harness that power. Please explain to her Svenson."
"SR3-88-SOL began to grow unstable as the Metroid population was taken from the world. If SR3-88-SOL were to go supernova, in essence another 'big bang' then all life as we know it would be obliterated."
Angseth turned toward Svenson again, her eyes seeking out his red ones, hidden behind his white hair. "If that were to occur Science Officer Svenson, it would be known as an Act of God. It is not for mortals to decide the fate of who should survive and should not."
"Religion and Science were never good bedfellows."
"Sometimes it helps to have faith in something other than our own arrogance Svenson."
An awkward silence fell over the room. Angseth noted that Mirson's face was getting slightly redder, but not enough to denote an eruption. Svenson had retreated back behind his curtain of hair, looking out at her from the strands, the safe wall of the consciousness. Angseth remembered when she had done that, back when she had long hair. Her mother used to call it "hiding." Is that what Svenson was doing? Keeping her at arms reach, peering at her from behind his hair?
Thomas was the one to break the silence. "The reports do not lie, you are a fiery one Captain Angseth."
Angseth looked away from Svenson, and back to the disk in her hand. Why was it whenever the conversation was getting hairy they all referred back to her temper? "Do I have to option of turning down this mission?"
Mirson leaned back in his chair, his skin loosing the red hue. "I'm afraid not Angseth. Not while you're on my payroll."
Angseth allowed her dissatisfaction to show.
"However your comments and request will be recorded when I write my reports. Your concerns have not fallen on deaf ears."
As Angseth turned the disk in her hands, she began to seriously wonder.
"Captain? Captain?" Lieutenant Briar stepped into one of the many bars the station had to offer. So far he had been making the rounds of all the local haunts on C deck, the ones that Angseth would usually frequent. The meeting had been over six hours ago, and still no sign of the Captain. This was his next to last bar he would check for her, then it was onto the different training rooms. Usually, just a quick sweep of the area was necessary to tell if she had been there. He stepped into the bar, and up to the Human behind the counter. "Excuse me."
The bartender looked up from his work, then nodded. "What can I get you?"
"I was wondering if Captain Angseth had come in here this evening."
The bartender pointed to a booth in the corner. Briar felt his tail twitch in anxiety when he turned and made out the slumped form of his captain seated at the table with what seemed like an entire nights worth of glasses surrounding her. Briar knew from previous experience and lost bets that heavy-worlders had a high alcohol tolerance. Angseth had one of the highest he had seen, however judging from the complete dinette set around her at the table, she was making an honest attempt at inebriation.
"Captain." Briar walked over and sat down on the opposite bench of the booth. "I finally found you, why did you break off contact?" He lifted his hand and moved her head to the side. "Is everything alright?"
"I have received new orders." She said it as if that explained everything. Angseth lifted her head from the table. "We will not return to patrol on the perimeter. We've been handed a death sentence."
Briar sat quiet for a moment. His feline features not betraying any of his inner thoughts. Angseth found that to one of the more curious points about him. "Vera, what is bothering you?"
Angseth met his eyes at the mention of her first name. They stayed a little too long. His features only showed determination and concern. She sat up fully and ran her hand through her hair, then began to shift glasses aside, arranging them by type. "We are to escort Science Officer Svenson's vessel to SR3-88 and establish a base of operations."
"That's standard. I don't see how it could be a death sentence."
Angseth once again rested her head in her hands. It was unfair. One should never have a hangover without at least a minor buzz. "He says the mission is to study the relationship between Metroids and their sun."
"Metroids are extinct…perhaps a few might have escaped on Tallon IV, however—"
"I think…I think they're trying to take down the Hunter."
Briar grew silent. Angseth could practically see the wheels in his mind turning. "That…would be disastrous."
Angseth nodded. "I feel that this is a power play. The Confederation has been slowing coming apart at the seams due to the new trade regulations and zoning laws. The Seven Admirals have been pushing for more power in the senate. It's only a matter of time before one of them comes forward and withdraws their territory from the Confederation. I would bet any amount of money that the first would be Mirson." She felt Briars hand cover her own. "Nevada."
"Vera, we will make it through this. We've been through tough situations before." Briar said softly.
"There's something else." Angseth lowered her hand and covered his.
"I've put in for my retirement. This will be my last mission."
"What will you do after this?"
"Move into Admiral Mizzen's Territory. Finally get married to you." She said softly. "It's always been dangerous to show our affection in Mirsons territory. The Humans here don't really see it our way."
"Right now that isn't important. If you're worried about saving face Vera, I think the time for that has passed. The only thing I want to see right now is the smile back in your eyes. When we make it back from SR3-88, I will transfer to a permanent location within Mizzen's territory. You may want to quit the Confederation, but I haven't given up hope yet." He kissed the back of her knuckles. "We will be happy."
Angseth smiled, the headache fading away slightly.
"That's what I wanted to see." Briar gently set her hand on the table. "When do we leave?"
"I received a two day extension on our stay to prepare for the mission. Captain Thomas will also accompany us."
One of Briars ears shifted back. "Two battleships? Why would…Vera, something doesn't add up."
"It doesn't rub me the right way either." Angseth sighed, and finished corralling the glasses at the end of the table. A waitress was heading over with what looked like her tab. "I'm sorry you had to find me in such a state. The last thing my crew needs in a situation like this is for their Captain to start loosing her shit." She noticed that Briar was still holding her hand. "That said I really don't feel like returning to my suite this evening."
"Will you be sleeping aboard the Mabus then?"
"I was thinking about it."
"Would you mind any company?"
Angseth felt her smile widen. "I wouldn't mind company at all."