Chapter 10:

Angseth was choking, her head underwater, fluid in her lungs, clawed hands holding her under. She struggled against the hands, weak, and fighting back that primordial fear of drowning. Humans couldn't live underwater. Pain ran screaming through her mind, down her spine and through what was left of her limbs. The fluid filled her lungs, and she gagged, even though she wasn't quite drowning, her body still supplied with enough oxygen. After a moment her body became lucid and she felt numb. Maybe she was drowning. Angseth pushed against the clawed hands, against the heavy fluid.

She opened her eyes and watched the last bubble of air leave her lips. The water around her seemed to have been tinted pink, whether it came from her blood in the water or something else she couldn't tell and frankly didn't care. Vera watched the bubbles rise through the water. They took on a dark purple hue as they broke the silver surface.

Phazon,

She relaxed, her panic subsided and the hands lifted from her body. She could see smoke-like wisps of purple rising from her pores toward the surface of the water. The smoke looked dead, dangerous. Startled, Vera looked past the surface of the water toward faces peering down at her.

Chozo…

Angseth remembered the one on the left. Smoky blue feathers framing another white mask-like arrangement of feathers around its green eyes. It peered through the water at her, its expression unreadable. More purple wisps came from her pores and clouded the fluid, which had the wrong weight and texture to be water. Either the fluid held a sedative, or she was just that tired. Angseth closed her eyes once more. Her body relaxed and everything seemed to settle once more. For the moment she was safe.


Angseth awoke again to the sound of light rustling. There was no danger here, some deeper instinct told her. She was warm; sensation came back to her fingers and toes. She lay on something soft, inviting. Her body naked save for a gown much like a large soft cotton T-shirt. The room was dimly lit by soft glowing shades of orange and pink. The effect was very soothing, like a sun set. Angseth sat up slowly, her body relaxed, muscles loose and responsive. Soft things ran down her arm and settled against her bare leg.

Feathers?

She looked around and discovered that she sat in a large basket, with white and brown downy feathers surrounding her. The cotton T-shirt she wore had alien words or glyphs across her left breast. The room was oval shaped with curved walls and floor. The only other fixture in the room aside from the basket in which she sat, was a small button-like fixture on the ceiling. It cast a light pink light down on her. Angseth still felt sleepy, almost dizzy.

Its like I'm sitting in a large egg. She pondered. The air was pleasant and clean. I can remember the Sheegoth, losing my right arm. The Fluid, purple smoke…what does that mean? Angseth turned her attention to her right arm. It stopped mid-bicep, her flesh neatly stitched over the stump. Upon looking down at her right leg she discovered all traces of cybernetics had been removed.

"What the hell?" Angseth ran her fingers over the sensitive skin. She hadn't seen her leg this naked in years. With a sigh she flopped back into the basket, and watched the feathers flutter up around her. She still felt very tired. "One arm and one leg down. Two more to go." She ran her fingers through her hair. Normally the loss of a limb would have sent her into another depression, however her mind either hadn't registered the fact yet, or she genuinely didn't care. Angseth felt perfectly content to remain here surrounded by the feathers in this basket.

Stop.

So soft, so inviting.

Wait a minute.

It would be so easy to just sleep again.

I'm not thinking like myself.

Just sleep.

"These aren't my thoughts." She sat up again, this time fixing her gaze on that small red button on the ceiling. That had to be where it came from. Even though she had no psychic talents, she knew when someone was trying to guide her thinking. "I don't know who you are, but stop that subliminal shit right now. Show yourself!"

Just go to sleep Vera, dream good dreams. If the light goes away, the pain will return.

Angseth shook the thought away. "I'm willing to take that risk!" She began to search the basket and room for a weapon of some kind. Nothing new turned up. Vera began to ponder the practicality of using the basket itself to hurl at the ceiling. Just as this thought crossed her mind, the pink light went out.

The sensation that followed was one that Angseth would never forget. Immediately her leg, arm and to a greater degree, her back simultaneously sang with their respective aches and pains. Her body was letting her know that all was not well. She fell back into the feathers, and assumed the fetal position. Sore wasn't a strong enough word to describe the pain running through her body. Vera closed her eyes and tried to think past the pain. The feathers were no longer as soft, but still smelled sweet. She suddenly sensed another presence in the room. Angseth opened her eyes and forced herself to look up at the visitor.

At first it seemed that nothing had changed, but then she noticed a few more additions to the room. Perched at even intervals on the walls surrounding her, were several multicolored spheres. Each of them had been placed about halfway up the wall. Another cramp rocked her body as she examined the spheres. Bright sharp pains in her joints punctuated slow dull aches as she moved. Angseth focused on the sphere directly before her. If she focused on that, then she could push the pain away, and eventually surpass it.

A breeze blew over her skin, almost like the shift in air she felt while standing under an air vent. For a moment Vera took her attention from the spheres before her and glanced at the button on the ceiling. The soft pink light was back. However "light" wasn't the right word. The last that she had checked, light had no easily discernable weight. She could feel this light settle on her skin. Moreover she could feel it soak into her skin. If she would just rest, then the pain would go away.

Angseth didn't want the pain to go away, the pain let her know that she was still in the physical realm. Beside that, she had been in pain before, and this wasn't pain, this was soreness, and when one is sore, isn't it just better to sleep it off? All creatures rested when they were in pain, it was a natural response to physical trauma.

I have never owned an animal or even encountered them outside of the odd mission. This line of logic won't work with me. Angseth thought bitterly.

The longer the light stayed, the more her body began to relax, the more she felt her aggressions slip away. Vera clung to one fear, that of more injury to life and the few limbs she had left, the rest she allowed to become subdued in the light. Slowly that one last fear even became little more than a curiosity. She opened her mouth and tried to speak, her tongue seemed to have relaxed as well, causing her words to slur.

"Friends? Or will you try to kill me?" Now that it was out, the question seemed ridiculous.

The spheres were silent. They no longer felt so strange.

No harm will come to you Marine. Rest. Matters will be discussed later.

Angseth really had no choice, rest was a good idea and damn these feathers were comfortable.


Waking up this time around was more conventional. Angseth's eyes peeled open, her body no longer had that effervescent feeling, and in its place was something she could only describe as a hangover. Nausea, muscles that felt as dry and unyielding as bridge cables, and her head seemed to weigh twice what it should. Vera moved her right arm to push herself to sit; however her elbow didn't connect. She turned her attention to that arm, and felt memories rise about previous nights. Even though she could remember raising the gun and pulling the trigger with her toe, the fact that her arm was now gone still hadn't set in fully.

You'd think that I'd get accustomed to waking up and finding my limbs missing.

Angseth stared at the stump for a few moments, still trying to process the memories of Tallon IV. Had she really blown her arm off? And what was that sudden burst of strength she had? She remembered climbing on top of the Sheegoth, and pulling her arm out through its head. She could remember the blue tinting in her vision. Normally she would have blamed it on fluctuations in her visor due to heavy damage, but at the time she wasn't wearing a helmet. Her head began to ache as she tried to make sense of everything. Vera soon turned her attention back to what was left of her arm. It really is gone. No more writing with that hand, no more two-handed sports. The more she focused on her pale bruised flesh, another thought occurred to her. I will need to drain my entire savings account to buy a new arm and leg, and find a reputable cybernetics doctor. That was something else she didn't want to think about. When she had been fitted for her cybernetic leg, the calibration process had been very painful. The human leg contained well over one thousand different nerves that had to be tested. Vera could only say "ow" in so many different pitches. If Nevada hadn't been there, she would have killed that mechanic.

Nevada,

She missed him. He was probably worried sick about her. Vera still remembered sitting in the cybernetic doctor's operating room, some egghead at her feet, tightening and loosening different screws. Nevada had recommended this guy. Nevada had also been the one to read her emotions, and make the necessary precautions. When the calibrations had gotten particularly painful, he held Vera back, and placed the thickest part of his forearm in her mouth, giving her something to take her aggressions out on. She had drawn blood, leaving a scar that was still visible to this day. Angseth didn't discover until much later that bites of this nature were considered a form of foreplay on his world. Small things that turned out to be very big things endeared him to her.

Angseth took in another breath to clear her mind and calm herself. "I'll be back as soon as I can Kitty. I love you."

I have to be strong, I need to keep my head or I will never see Nevada again. A half-chuckle left her throat. I can always buy new limbs, my head would be a bit harder to replace.

This time she rolled to her left, and pushed herself to a sitting position. The light above her had gone from pink to blue. Now that she took notice, the whole color scheme of the room had changed. The light seemed more natural. The orange and red sunset had been replaced by what appeared to be daylight as seen through frosted glass. The room was sparse, save for herself, the basket, and the feathers filling it. Angseth's hand suddenly jumped to her neck, yes, the necklace with the fang was still there. She felt relief come over her. They had removed all of her clothing and the remains of Jones' armor, from the look of things, did a wonderful job of cleaning up all the blood and gore that had covered her body. The spheres were no longer perched on the walls around her.

Angseth stretched and her gaze fell to the opposite end of the basket. Leaning against the side of the basket was a primitive prosthetic leg. It reminded her of her first one, a leather cuff went around her thigh, with a swivel joint in place of the knee. The shin was just a long metal shaft that ended in a foot-shaped piece of metal. She immediately reached for the leg, and pulled it toward her. She also noticed a pair of pants set at the end of the basket. "Thank goodness." Vera sighed.

Her first task wasn't going to be easy. She needed to get the leg strapped on with only one arm. Angseth pondered it for a moment, then slipped the cuff over her thigh, and braced the foot against the end of the basket. She then used her left hand to pull the straps so they were snug, not tight. Now for the second order of business: Pants. Those took a little longer to pull up to her waist. They were lose, like hospital scrubs, and just as comfortable.

"Ok Vera, here goes." Angseth swung her legs off the side of the basket, and felt her feet connect with the floor. She carefully pushed herself to stand, and wondered if her subconscious remembered more about walking on a prosthetic than she did. Her balance was off, and the stump of her right arm stuck straight out, as if to help compensate. She still had all the aches as before, but the nausea had subsided. Angseth shuffled a couple of laps around the basket, loosening and tightening straps as needed. On her third lap, she almost tripped over another sphere on the floor. Vera almost jumped, and raised a hand to her chest. Just like the night before, no warning, no sound, just a sudden presence.

She took a step back and almost lost her balance, and then recovered, leaning on the basket. "You guys need to stop doing that." She ran her hand through her hair, one of her many nervous gestures.

The sphere rolled backward a few feet, then stopped. The joints in the sphere began to take on an inner light. It seeped from the cracks and seams, becoming brighter as panels pulled apart. Angseth remembered that Aran had the same technology, a Morph Ball. There was a sound like an electric egg cracking open, and then standing before her was one of the Chozo.

The Chozo were a bird-like race that seemed to be as old as the universe itself. Through all of the expanding the Confederation had done since its beginning, they had yet to discover territory that the Chozo hadn't already conquered, used, then moved on. While the Chozo played only a minimal role in interstellar politics, their influence and political sway was immense. They had been one of the major donors of technology, if not culture. Vera's mind raced through the mountains of files and studies done of Chozo culture, and realized that she still hadn't the vaguest idea of how their society and laws worked. She didn't even know one scrap of their language. Surprising since she spoke seven languages fluently, and could at least say "yes" and "no" in twenty others. Angseth had been able to pick up languages faster than most people. Yet the Chozo were just simply elusive. All this added up in her mind that she was really out of her league here. She had no idea if this place was a hospital room or jail cell, or if this Chozo before her was a nurse or executioner. The lack of information made her very nervous.

As Angseth stood looking up at this creature, the thought occurred to her that she had never understood just how tall the Chozo were. All the scans and holos she had seen of them didn't do any justice. This one stood at seven feet easily. It had expressionate bird-like eyes, and a shiny black beak. Light gray feathers lay smooth against its skin. Angseth herself stood at only five feet four inches. She had to look up a long way to meet the Chozo eyes. Angseth had grown accustomed to taller beings, so what difference did two feet make?

The Chozo lifted its left hand/claw as well as its right. The right it placed on its chest, over its heart. The left began to trace symbols in the air, forming tight precise shapes. Sometimes the fingers folded, other times they spread and created new forms. Angseth watched fascinated trying to read into or make sense of the symbols. A headache began to settle in, almost as if her brain couldn't completely wrap around what she had just seen.

"…with me."

Angseth snapped her attention away from the hands and focused her attention on the Chozo's eyes again. "I'm sorry, could you repeat that?" She had been almost hypnotized by the patterns traced in the air. The Chozo began to make the patterns again, Angseth fought not to watch, instead she focused on the voice. She knew the voice was a universal translating device, but the speech was smoother than anything she had ever encountered before.

"Please turn and place your left hand behind your back. I have instructions to bring you with me."

Angseth hesitated for a moment but slowly turned around, placing her left hand behind her back, typical of a prisoner escort. The chances of this place being a hospital were diminishing rapidly. She looked down and saw another sphere on the floor. This one was blue, with a red almost flame-like pattern on the plates. If they were planning on killing me, they've already had plenty of opportunities. Vera studied this new addition and then felt a clawed hand grab her wrist. This startled her, and she took a moment to calm herself. Right now it didn't take much to set off her adrenaline. She was high-strung enough being in an unfamiliar environment, with creatures she had never met before, and missing two very important limbs. Angseth wasn't certain how the Chozo felt about her presence and the chances that she would be welcomed with open arms were very slim.

"Please follow behind the sphere, move slowly."

Angseth kept her eye on the ball as it rolled away from her toward an opening in the wall. Some of her anxiety faded and became replaced by curiosity when she noticed that the flame design stayed stationary even as the sphere itself moved. She looked over her shoulder toward the first Chozo. "Where are you taking me?" Confederation law stated that they owed her at least that much information.

"The tribunal wishes to speak with you. Your fate will be decided then."

Angseth faced forward again. The sphere rolled through the opening, and it widened enough for Angseth and the Chozo to pass through. Your fate will be decided then. That line didn't sit well with her. Fear crept in, compounding what had already been present. She hadn't been this afraid since she held her ground against the Splinters. The Chozo were apparently very tough on trespassers.

They stepped into the hall, filled with more natural seeming light coming through the same frosted glass. Angseth looked away from the sphere at her new surroundings. The walls were smooth, the walls ceiling and floor all the same hue. Almost as if she were walking in a giant seashell, very disorienting, almost sterile.

"Please continue moving forward."

Angseth turned her attention back to the Morph Ball before her. It rolled, it's blue flames flickering just above its glossy surface. They continued down a gentle slope, the only remote landmark in this barren hall. No doors, no windows, only even light and slowly sloping floor. Eventually the sphere stopped, and light began to seep from the joints. Vera stopped and stood still as the Morph Ball split apart and another Chozo appeared before her. The flame design seemed to transfer to its armor. The Chozo behind her let go of her wrist and stood to her left, while the other took a place on her right. The wall opposite her appeared to melt away, revealing a large room. In the center of the room sat a blue cube that seemed to be made of some kind of gel.

The Chozo escorted Angseth into the room, and stopped just shy of the cube. Vera soon observed that the room seemed to have been composed of two layers. The first layer being the area she stood in. A force field separated her from the other layer of the room. She couldn't make out many details in that layer, the field distorted her view. The field began to clear when the wall closed behind her.

At first there only seemed to be colors, directly before her, mainly red, to her left, blue, and her right, green. Soon the colors sharpened, and Vera began to make out three Chozo, each seated, perhaps even perched, and clad in very ornate robes. The garments themselves were not as impressive as the large headdress each wore. Until she knew proper titles to address each with, her mind assigned each of them a temporary name according to their dominant color scheme.

Directly before her sat Red, seemingly the elder of the three. He wore many layers of red robes in many different hues. The effect was much like a sunrise that had been twisted and woven into fabric. His claw-like hands appeared soft, with neatly manicured nails, trimmed short and painted dark maroon. His fingers were covered in gold rings, most of them set with red stones. Some as dark as pomegranate seeds, others glowed with an inner light. The hem of his robes bore designs that seemed deliberate, almost as if they could be writing of some form. Angseth's eye followed these designs along the hem of his robe until her attention became drawn to his beak. It too, had a dark maroon color, then painted, or perhaps even carved with intricate designs, different from the ones on his robes. Dark feathers led to the base of his headdress, it extended almost three feet off his head, sweeping back like some kind of elaborate exaggerated crest. Feathers, bells, and precious metals glistened, chimed and shifted with every move and twitch of his head. Angseth then ventured to look Red in the eye. Deep brown set in a mask of white feathers locked onto hers, and for a moment, Vera felt her heart stop, as if he had looked right through her and saw every last secret her body possessed.

She quickly looked away, taking a moment to examine Blue and Green. They wore robes and headdress of a similar kind in their respective colors, neither of them however met her eyes as Red had.

"Please be seated." Red spoke. Except he wasn't speaking, he wore another universal translating device on or near his person. Angseth tried to listen, but had been captured by the intricate and delicate patterns his fingers traced in the air. She felt like a cat that had trained her gaze on the hops and skips of a sparrow.

Vera tore her gaze away, and then took a seat on the cube. It was firm, yet soft. She turned to face the tribunal. She had been through plenty of inquisitions before, and thus far, this one didn't appear to be any different.

"State your name, rank and planet of origin." Blue spoke.

Angseth took in another tense breath, she felt nervous and afraid. Nevada. She swallowed her anxiety and spoke aloud, meeting Blue's eyes. "My name is Mervera Diane Angseth, Captain of the Confederation Battle Cruiser Mabus. My commanding officer is System Admiral Mizzen of the Orion sector. I claim no home world." The last wasn't entirely true, she had no home world, but still paid the taxes on Osiris VI, where she owned property.

Red, Blue and Green seemed to speak amongst themselves, due to all the finger shaking and hand flailing. After a moment, they turned back to Angseth.

"Are you aware of the warrant for your immediate capture?"

Angseth felt those words hit her, even though it didn't really surprise her. She answered truthfully. "No, I was not aware of any warrant."

"The warrant had been issued by System Admiral Mirson. What was your business on Tallon IV?"

"I…" She thought over her words. If she told the truth, then she would also need to admit that she was away from her post. There was no use in denying it. Vera didn't want to face a panel of Chozo telepaths. "I had been looking for a sample of Chozo writing to use to aid me in translating a data file I had received from the Bounty Hunter Samus Aran."

Red spoke. "We found this file when searching the data banks on your ship. It reveals nothing of interest."

"Were you not briefed on the dangers of Tallon IV? Perhaps you completely ignored the satellites?" Green demanded.

"I, I had known."

"What has removed you from your post?" Blue asked.

Angseth closed her mouth. She didn't like it when people became pushy, regardless of what race they were.

Red suddenly let loose a loud squawk. Deafening in the silent room. Angseth almost jumped. Blue and Green calmed, silenced for the moment. Red then spoke. "Enlighten us, How did you come to Tallon IV?"

Angseth stood from the cube. Her right leg had begun to ache. "I had been assigned to escort a science vessel to SR3-88. En route we received an SOS from a deep space station, the Seattle. Upon reaching the Seattle, we discovered Gamma Fleet Pirate activity, as well as Aran and Pirate Captain Ridley engaged in heavy combat. Their battle had destroyed the fusion reactor in the heart of the station. Gamma Fleet then retreated, and Aran gave chase. I then authorized the release of several fighters to assist. I joined them. When the Pirate ship warped out, Aran and I were caught in the wake. I chose to join her in pursuit."

"Why?"

Angseth looked to the floor, a smile creeping over her lips. "I owe her one."

"Angseth. The sole surviving Marine of the Aether incident?"

"I am, only because of Aran's help."

Silence all around. Not even Blue had anything to say. Then Green asked, "Tell us how you came across this file?"

"In our pursuit of the Pirates, we landed on an uncolonized world. Strangely, within twelve hours, Confederation Marines has landed with the intent of our capture. It was then that Aran transferred that file to me. We were captured, I escaped and she…" Angseth tried to fight back the rising tide of memories of that thing in the tank. "She was taken prisoner. I had hoped that if I were able to read the file, then I could help her."

"I don't believe that." Blue retorted. Angseth was beginning to see that he was a bit of a skeptic. "Why give the information to you?"

"I am curious as well." Green stated. "Why not contact her people?"

Angseth answered truthfully. "I don't know."

"This information, however insignificant, bought you a new lease on life." Red announced. "When you had been found, our soldiers were willing to allow nature to take its course. Then you spoke of the Hatchling."

Angseth let this sink in. She didn't know how to begin thanking the Chozo for saving her life, but she did have questions. For a moment she searched for the words. "I have very few memories after I was found, before waking up in the room back there. I remember being held underwater, or something like water. I saw smoke rising from my body, it was purple in color. I just want to know what it was."

For a moment the Chozo seemed confused. By the way they looked at each other, large multicolored headdresses jingled and swayed until they all reached a conclusion. Angseth wished that she had waited until a more appropriate time to ask.

"This 'smoke' was Phazon. You had been infected with the Madness. You were at death's door, yet you still managed to summon your ship and cry out to our troops. Your body had been thoroughly saturated with Phazon radiation. Even after our efforts to purify you, some radiation remains. Our scientists are baffled at your ability to move at the moment."

Angseth sat down again. This was all news to her.

"Your arm could not be saved. The remnants of your cybernetic leg had to be removed for sanitation purposes. The artificial collarbone in your right shoulder was untouched, and therefore not removed. The scaring on your left shoulder appeared to be an old wound, so it has not been touched."

Angseth felt a blush come over her cheeks. The heavy scaring on her left shoulder had been caused by Briar during one of their more active lovemaking sessions. Did the Chozo know that? After so many years she didn't embarrass easily. That one little mention did it. Her right collarbone had been replaced years ago when she first test-fired the Sigel-hopefully still tucked away in her ship. Herself and Briar had traveled out to a shooting range on some desert planet that had often been used as a firing range for low and high-quality ballistics. At the time she felt that she had been conservative, setting up a large sheet of alloy against a hill of gravel. Both to test the Sigel's range and spread of its shots. Briar had been standing roughly twenty behind her when she stood, braced her feet and looked down the sight of that gun for the first time. When she had fired, the kick back of the Sigel broke her collarbone, and sent her airborne. She sailed twenty feet, slammed into Briar, and continued traveling with him another one hundred feet before both of them hit the ground, rolled ass over head and eventually skidded to a stop. The shot itself had gone stray, slammed through several large piles of gravel, then tore the arm clean off some experimental mechanized power armor almost a mile away. Briar had pulled her to her feet, then both of them hauled ass out of there, laughing the entire time.

Angseth brought her attention back to present.

Green spoke again. "What do you know of our Hatchling?"

"Only what I have told you."

"We have not heard from the Hatchling in many years, this is the first time any outsider has given us any information about him. That alone was enough to buy your life. There had also been the warrant for your arrest. We are bound by treaty to surrender any fugitive."

Angseth sighed. "I cannot speak against the treaty, but if I am surrendered, may I request to be returned to Admiral Mizzen? Mirson is likely to shoot me on sight."

"Why do you feel this way?"

"I have evidence that could get him in a lot of trouble."

"Was it upon his orders that the Hatchling was taken into custody?"

"I have reason to believe so."

"Why?"

"I am not at liberty to say at the moment." Angseth hoped that they wouldn't pursue this line of questioning. Not that she wouldn't answer them, but she would feel more comfortable after being briefed by Admiral Mizzen. "I had hoped to find that information in the file."

Blue thought for a moment, then asked, "Samus gave the file to you, with no instruction, no orders, no indication as to what should be done with it?"

"Nothing at all." Vera's gaze darted between the three of them, she didn't like the silence. "Why? What was in it?"

Red stood, his long robes pooled around his ankles. "We must discuss this among ourselves. Please return the Marine to his room."

His? Angseth stood as the two other Chozo flanked her, and began to lead her out of the room. She bit back panic, and tried to reason away her fears. Chozo were known for their respect of law, and they would return her to Mirson, the one who issued the warrant. Mirson wouldn't be kind. Even though none of these fears were entirely founded. Angseth was more afraid of lack of knowledge about this situation, than if they had just told her fate.

"Please follow."

Angseth cast one last glance over her shoulder. Her eyes met Reds soulful orbs. In that one glance she relaxed. She would not go back to Mirson.


Back in her room, Angseth found a small hover table with a tray of food. Her escorts left, each one rolling silently away from wherever they had come. Vera walked over to the table, and downed the glass of water in one gulp. She felt thirsty, very thirsty. She hadn't noticed it before because she had felt threatened and under stress. On the tray sat two bowls, one filled with golf-ball sized lumps, pale green in color. The other contained meat, lightly seared and as her nose told her, heavily spiced. Vera poured herself another glass of water and sat down on the basket, pulling the hover table closer. She suddenly realized that she hadn't eaten anything in over forty-eight hours, maybe even longer. She had also lost a lot of blood back there on the Phendrana Drifts. For some reason the food didn't interest her as much as the water.

I need to at least eat something.

She drank more water, savoring the flavor. The water tasted so very good. Vera couldn't detect the slightest hint of chemicals; it tasted and felt as fresh and pure as water should be. After her second glass, she finally turned her attention to the food. She picked up a small fork and stabbed one of green balls. It reminded her of some over-sized pea. It had a soft rind on the outside that tore as she lifted it. Inside was a darker green ball. Hesitantly, Vera took a bite.

It tastes like boiled soybeans, like Edamame.

At least it didn't taste as foreign as it looked. Vera helped herself to another, and then turned her attention to the meat. She picked up a piece and nibbled it. The texture was…off. It wasn't like any other meat she had ever eaten. Was it even meat? Or was it some kind of dried vegetable? She had no idea what it was, but it tasted great.

I'd probably pay a lot of money for a dish like this in a Confederate eatery.

For once the water didn't take center stage. Once she had tasted everything, Angseth dug in with gusto. The food was finished off all too quickly. Once again she reached for the water and finished off the pitcher. After eating she made a lap around her room, inspecting the walls trying not to dwell too much on her fate. Her memories of Tallon IV were still fuzzy. Had she really shot off her own arm?

The Chozo don't appear to be a threat to me at the moment. I do want to get back to the Mabus, if that's even permitted now. I can't shake the feeling that Briar may be in trouble. I need to call him and see if he's okay.

She sat down again, and looked at the empty pitcher of water. She should have rationed it.

Okay, now I'm bored.


Vera wasn't sure exactly how long she spent bouncing off the walls in this room before another sphere appeared at her feet. The room was just as smooth and uninteresting as the inside of an egg. Angseth even thought that she could amuse herself for a while looking for a seam of the doorway in the wall. Nothing. This lead her to believe that the door was one solid piece of the wall that would break down at the molecular level, then reformed as they left. Made sense. Can't break a lock on a door if there is no door. If they could render their own body mass down to the size of a beach ball, then non-living objects must be no challenge at all.

She was also trying her best not to focus too much on her missing arm. It had taken her months to get over the loss of her leg. Which brought about another thought. If a limb is gone, is it still considered missing if you know damn well what happened to it? Her leg had been cremated. She kept it in a little jar on her desk, nice conversation piece. Her own arm, as far as she knew, was still pinned between the now decomposing jaws of that Sheegoth. Perhaps some explorers in the future would come across the fossil and have themselves a good laugh over it. Maybe her arm would be mistaken for some odd variety of fish.

The thought caused her to giggle again, little girl fashion. Her mother would have said that it was very unbecoming of a woman in her mid-forties. Briar called it her "nervous giggle". A kind of high-pitched squeak that was muffled by her closed mouth, and/or hand, sleeve, random wall or unfortunate sentient being. Yes, she knew that she only giggled like this when she was nervous, and trying to relax herself. No wonder so many people stayed away from her in basic training. Before joining the Marines she had never held a gun before in her life. The first time a power rifle dropped into her hands she tried to hold back the nervous giggles, and eventually turned her com off to avoid disturbing those around her. Turned out that she was a natural with a weapon.

The giggles eventually turned to tears. She wasn't full out crying, but the traitorous drops of water crept from her eyes. Yes, she was now without two limbs, and it would cost her everything to replace them. For the moment she rolled over in the basket, and stared at the button in the ceiling.

The giggle fit had been at least an hour ago. At the moment Angseth amused herself by grabbing up feathers from the basket and sorting them by color. The feathers were all colors of the rainbow, leading her to think that they were artificial. This time the sphere that rolled into the room from nowhere wasn't the blue one with the flames, this one was red colored, with some intricate design engraved in its surface. Angseth looked up from a pile of blue feathers. She had been wondering if she should take the extra step and separate the different hues of blue when she heard the sphere enter. She peeked over the edge of the basket and looked down at the red ball.

"Hey, I thought I told you guys to knock from now on." Vera pulled herself from the feathers, and slid out of the basket. The now familiar glow came over the joints in the ball, then with the same cracking noise, another Chozo stood before her.

This one didn't wear blue, but red armor, this time without the helmet. This was the first time she had the opportunity to get a good look at a Chozo that hadn't been heavily decorated or covered in armor. The Chozo were bird-like, but that still didn't quite explain it. Small round eyes, framed with white feathers. They had beaks, and their beaks varied as much as the different species of birds on Earth had. The one standing before her had a beak much like that of a sparrow or swallow. Small, yet precise. However this is where all the bird similarities ended. This one had a mask of green and white feathers around its eyes, as well as a feathered crest that swept back from the crown of its head. The power armor covered the rest of its body, yet when it moved its head from side to side, Angseth could make out scales peeking out from the power armor. She remembered Confederation records mentioning feathers as part of Chozo physiology, but not shiny gem-like scales.

The Chozo before her lifted its right hand and covered its heart, while the left hand made more complex gestures and signs in the air.

"Please follow me."

Vera took a step, then noticed another ball behind her. How do they do that? Teleportation? Gotta be teleportation. She followed, trying not to look back at the ball rolling just shy of her heels.

This time she was led through a different set of halls, all still smooth like the inside of a seashell. Vera could imagine a hoard of these little gumballs rolling through these halls at top speed in one big multicolored mass. The thought brought a smile to her face, yet terrified her at the same time. She couldn't think of any tactic to fend off an attack like that. Maybe a really big golf club. She snorted, and brought her hand up to cover her mouth to stem off the giggles.

Her two escorts left her standing before a definite doorway. The door was outlined in gold-colored metal, twisted into complex shapes, which seemed to hold some kind of meaning. The signs and symbols seemed too deliberate for just decoration. The space inside the symbols was another door like all the others she had encountered. Cream-colored and seemingly a part of the wall. The dominant color here seemed to be red. Red paint, red stones, and red gem-like pieces decorated the symbols.

As Vera stood admiring the doorframe, the door itself melted away. Light poured over her and she gasped.

Before Angseth had no clear grasp of her exact surroundings, no sense of place or purpose of her room. Now she could see her surroundings, and make sense of all of them. The room before her was large yet modest. The walls were painted light tan, with numerous symbols carved into them. The floor was covered in what seemed to be a red-colored rug. It didn't seem much like carpeting, but more like a giant woven grass mat. More of those odd gel-like cubes had been placed in random areas of the room, creating places to sit. In the center of the room, a structure that could only be described as a desk stood. Holo screens flickered at all locations of the room. Seated behind the desk was Red. Angseth had taken to calling him Big Red in her mind. The Chozo were a tall race. Red seemed to have both height and girth. Big Red's intricate headdress had been removed and placed in a stasis field to the right of the desk.

All of these things were unique and wonderful, however it wasn't the items, or even Big Red himself that attracted her attention. The entire rear area of the room from floor to ceiling seemed to have been sliced away, providing a tremendous view.

Angseth was on a ship, a very big ship. From this point she could see continents and vegetation extend for miles beyond the window. The horizon even curved, a hint of blue atmosphere glowed at the edges of trees and buildings. Within this vast growth stretched silver rivers, lakes, cities, temples, and near the edge of her vision, even a desert. This office hovered above all of this life, darkness and stars pulled at the edges of the window, framing all of the wonders below her.

I had always heard rumors of these great ships. But I had never had the opportunity to see one.

"Captain?"

Vera tore her gaze away from the view, and focused her attention back into the room. Big Red had stepped from behind his desk and motioned with his right hand for Angseth to come forward.

"Captain Angseth, I have some news for you."

Vera walked toward the desk, then stopped suddenly. She had walked right into a holo-conference. Around her she saw several holo screens hovering around her, some depicted unfamiliar Chozo, others were blank placeholders. She felt as if she were standing in a circle of people and also knew that elsewhere; her own image would be displayed on holo-screens somewhere across the cosmos. Angseth just prayed that she wouldn't be wearing hospital scrubs in those holos. As soon as she stepped into the ring, she snapped to attention. There came a familiar voice behind her, low and deep, as if some god were bellowing from the inner reaches of a dark cave.

"ANG-SETH!"

Vera involuntarily tilted her head to her side, and her hand immediately went to the small of her back as she turned to face the holo screen.

"I called it didn't I? I knew this meeting would be about you. What kind of hunch did you follow this time? What little space fairy popped onto your head and said 'Vera, per-haps it would be fun to get lost on Tallon IV and have the Chozo come and rescue us' Do you have such a sprite living in your head Captain? Why are you standing there Captain? Why are you standing THERE instead of the bridge of your SHIP? Did you have another lapse of sanity Captain? SPEAK."

Angseth resisted the urge to rub her ears. She instead called out. "I was unaware of this meeting SIR!"

Big Red's computerized translated voice cut through the tension. "Captain Angseth, is this your commanding officer?"

"Yes. Admiral Mizzen."

Admiral Mizzen's voice boomed through the com once more. Angseth noted that even with their advanced technology, the Chozo interface system still struggled with Mizzen's voice. "At ease Captain. You've already ruined my day, don't make it any harder than it already is."

Vera's shoulders relaxed. She really wanted to sit down.

"Now that all parties are present, lets get this over with. Angseth, keep your pie-hole shut until I ask you something. Can you manage that for ten minutes, or do I need to ask this fine gentleman here to get some extra help to restrain you?"

Vera had to struggle to keep a smile at bay. Admiral Mizzen was one of those military types that seemed to get too caught up in the role. New recruits found him impossible to cope with, but Angseth learned years ago that if one just sat and listened to him, what he said was actually damn amusing. The sad thing was that most people didn't know how to relax long enough to just play along.

Admiral Mizzen was an intimidating figure. He was the tallest of all the System Admirals, and the biggest. To Angseth he resembled a dragon, some big red and orange fire-breathing lizard. He didn't actually breathe fire, but he did have red scale-covered skin, complete with an orange horned crest framing his head. No matter how many times she had been in his office, Angseth still had trouble meeting his dark purple eyes, ever since that first time she dared to look into them.

Big Red spoke. "This meeting has been called in regards to the extradition of Captain Angseth."

Mizzen appeared genuinely surprised. "Extradite? What did she do wrong now?"

"As I have already explained, Captain Angseth had been apprehended on the surface of Tallon IV. She had received life-threatening wounds from fighting the wildlife,"

"Sounds like something she would do."

"-We have nursed her back to health, and discovered that Admiral Mirson had issued a warrant for her arrest. However, since you are her Commanding Officer. . ."

Mizzen seemed to chew on this for a moment. First off, the Chozo didn't apprehend anyone, wounded or not. However Mizzen knew the rules and regulations enough to see that the Chozo had left him a loophole. Angseth read this thought as it crossed his features. She knew how he felt. She didn't like getting funneled anywhere either. They would just have to trust the Chozo for a moment, and hopefully they wouldn't make them eat too many of their own words. Finally Mizzen said.

"I was not aware of any such warrant, on what grounds had it been issued?"

Red pulled up a file. "I am now sending you a copy of what we had received."

Mizzen read it aloud. "Captain Mervera Diane Angseth—That's you—is wanted as a suspect and for questioning in the atmospherical disruption of planet FQ3-59. She is also wanted for aiding a known and wanted criminal. She is to be considered armed and very dangerous. Angseth was last seen in her fighter—Vera what is this?" He set heavy purple eyes on Angseth.

"I have never heard the warrant sir." She responded flatly. She knew that gaze. Mizzen had pushed all joking aside and was now dead serious.

Admiral Mizzen rubbed his forehead and then said. "Mervera, I want you to tell me everything. Everything that had happened since you first set foot on Syren1."

Angseth looked at Big Red and the other silent Chozo faces. "In present company sir?"

"Especially in present company."

She couldn't argue with that, or with Mizzen, it would do her no good. Vera drew in a deep breath, and began talking. She spoke of the wedding, Thomas and Svenson, her new orders, her suspicions, the Seattle. Here she needed to repeat herself several times when it came to her encounter with the pirates, and the Hunter. She left no stone unturned, and they spent a good three or four hours questioning her about FQ3-59. Angseth hoped her audiences weren't too skeptical. It all sounded unrealistic in this telling. Her memory slowly came back to her as she spoke about Tallon IV and how she came there. However she didn't mention the Bounty Hunter Weavel. She knew that she should have, she had orders to, but some little voice in the back of her mind stopped her from even hinting at his name for the moment.

Mizzen became silent for a long time after Angseth had finished. Big Red came over and offered her a glass of water, which she drank eagerly. Earlier Red had levitated one of the cubes over for her to sit on. Vera had finished off a second glass when she noticed Mizzen watching her. He waited until she had set the drink down before speaking again.

"Let me see your right arm Vera."

Angseth stood and rolled up the sleeve, exposing the bruised stump. She could see his purple eyes darting around, examining the wound; finally he slowly nodded, then leaned back in his seat. Angseth let the sleeve fall loose again. The Admiral focused his attention on Big Red.

"We have a serious problem here."

"Indeed we do. Aran is a member of the Chozo. We do not appreciate our people getting arrested without good reason."

"I understand, however I personally cannot overstep Mirson's authority to get Aran back."

"Perhaps an arrangement can be made?"

Mizzen weighed his options. "Captain Angseth."

"Sir." She answered

"How badly do you want your hero back?"

"Sir, I owe her my life."

Mizzen's voice suddenly dropped an octave. Angseth knew that tone had the ability to shake objects and people he happened to be in the same room with. She had always liked that voice.

"Captain Mervera Angseth."

"Sir."

"I am removing you from your post aboard the Mabus temporarily. Lieutenant Commander Nevada Briar will take your place. Your new assignment will be aboard the Chozo colony ship Araia to assist their forces in recovering one of their own-since you have first-hand experience. Chairman Arashe, please use this little firecracker wisely. She is now officially under your command. Beat her if she misbehaves. You hear me, flog her until she is within an inch of her life begging for mercy from the heavens."

Big Red bowed deeply, with surprising grace. "Thank you for this most generous gift Admiral."

Gift? The word stuck in Angseth's mind. The Chozo didn't need her, they had plenty of their own…unless Mizzen was trying to gain some leverage in the Chozo community. Since she had been officially posted here, Mizzen now allied himself with the Chozo, and by accepting her, they had allied themselves with him.

I hate being used as collateral.

"Vera." Mizzen said as he noticed her expression, caught between a pout and disgust. "Don't go off and do something half-cocked like you've been prone to do. Let me handle this."

"…sir."

"What was that Marine?"

Angseth corrected "YES SIR!"

Big Red, his name now known as Arashe, smiled gently.

"Be good Mervera, I mean it." Mizzens final words were fatherly in tone.

Angseth began to let go of a breath she didn't know she had been holding as the holo faded.

"My what a friendly soul." Arashe commented. "Are you sure you wouldn't have preferred Admiral Mirson?"

Angseth paused, the words still sinking in. She smiled, and tried to cover it with the back of her hand. Stop it, you're old enough to have gained control of the giggles by now.

"Dear me child, what have I done?"

She held in the giggles until her face turned red and they became replaced by hiccups. When she woke up this morning she thought that she would be dead by nightfall. Her new post was almost as bad. She was terrible at Public Relations.

Arashe had settled into his seat, and Vera took the opportunity to sit down again. Arashe held out a glass of water and Angseth took it. The hiccups faded. Next would be the tears. She could at least hold out on those.

"Prison cells simply wont do for an ambassador of the Confederation. We shall remedy that."

Angseth covered her face with her hand. She wanted to sleep. She just wanted to curl up in her bed aboard her ship, next to Briars fuzzy body and sleep.

"Vera," Arashe held out a handkerchief. "Relax. You're safe now. Mizzen just ensured that. You have been through quite a bit."

Angseth looked up at the Chozo, her hand trembled and she struggled to hold the small square of fabric. "Thank You."