Theodore Svenson felt severely outgunned. He had been before authority figures and tribunals before. Testified on his or others behaves, given evidence, paid numerous parking tickets, and had otherwise had previous experience with all forms of justice. Yet in all of his years of running around the galaxy making money as he pleased, he had yet to encounter a group that was as tenacious in keeping him confined. Commander Bearn and the newly appointed Captain Briar had spared no expense to ensure that their prize didn't escape. Apparently they had done their homework when it came to Svenson's almost godlike ability to evade capture in almost any situation.
The former Science Officer sat on a metal chair in the middle of the conference room. Four guards surrounded him, armed with capture nets and grapple beams, along with taser rounds if the need arose. The guards he could understand, the chair likewise, but what poor Theo couldn't wrap his mind around was the abundant use of restraining equipment on his person.
His ankles had been bound by two different pairs of high-grade restraints. The cuffs of the first set took up most of his calf, and bonded to their mate using electromagnetic locks. Those would have normally had been enough to keep him still, but Bearn had gone one better and included a second set of restraints wrapped around his thighs that were in turn tethered to his wrists by use of a beam, elastic yet unbreakable. His wrists were bonded together by another set of magnetic cuffs, and that prevented his limbs from moving even an inch. A heavy collar around his neck was locked to the metal chair he was seated on via a thick chain thwarted any attempts at escape. To add further insult to injury, the cargo net they had used to restrain him earlier had been wrapped around his body and locked to the chair as well. Svenson's small frame seemed to be on the verge of collapse under all the weight.
"Well." Admiral Mirson began. "At last we meet."
"I will have all of your jobs for treating a citizen of Free State Rovien in such a horrible and inhumane manner! Do you think you can just go around the universe locking up anyone you feel? You will hear from my lawyers, my lawyers' lawyers, and every last media outlet I can get my story to!"
Mirson took a long drag off his cigar, pondering the logistics of a gag on Svenson. "You don't appear to understand your situation Theodore."
"I understand my rights! And that you are breaking many laws and codes that were set into place with the founding of the Confederation!"
"Theo," Mirson placed his cigar in an ash tray, leaving it to burn and fill the room with scented smoke. "Right now there is no Confederation, and I don't care if I must order Commander Bearn back there to pull out each one of your fingernails to gain the information I need."
"Torture is illegal-"
"In other areas of the galaxy. But as of right now, neither the Salem, nor any of these fine Captains or their crews exist. As far as the rest of the Confederation is concerned, they don't care about what happens out here on the edge of the Outer Reaches. And if you had anything to do with these fine Officers losing their ships, crews and comrades, I pity what will be left of your soul when they're done. Now Svenson. If you have anything to say, spit it out now." He picked up his cigar again. "Why were you heading to SR3-88?"
Svenson sat still for a full minute. All the gathered Confederation officers' formerly placid expressions now turned concerned and accusatory. It didn't take long for him to calculate that any one of these Captains could hold a grudge and even if he were released, one of his ships in the future might have an "accident" when a military vessel was concerned. Adding to this miss-matched gathering of races were three Chozo. He assumed one for each of the ships docked outside. Svenson glared at Mirson, who was the only one in the room smiling. "Oh you're good Admiral. But I did nothing wrong, let alone threaten the lives and crew of these Captains."
"Then tell your story and let us decide." Fleet Admiral Ar'getni demanded, her normally placid and professional exterior beginning to wear away.
Svenson sighed. "Well, first I want to be comfortable." He lifted his hands and the cuffs around his wrists and feet fell away.
"I can see that you're an escape artist as well." Mirson commented.
Svenson settled back in the chair, his legs were still bound by the other set of cuffs, with a twist of his platinum-colored hair the collar fell away. "I was hired by Bounty Hunter Weavel," The net dropped and pooled around the chair. "To deliver a bunch of supplies covertly to SR3-88. This is nothing new for me. I've been a mule for many agencies over the years and have even taken a few jobs from the Confederation itself-I can supply a list if the price is right- what alarmed me was the assignment of two battle cruisers to escort me to my destination. Normally I would have one escort, something small like a Corvette-class gunship, or a Confederate exploratory vessel. When I heard that I would be assigned a battle cruiser, and two of them, I was completely taken off-guard. I know Angseth could see it, and now I know why Tomas didn't care."
"Can you remember what you delivered?"
"The usual. Basic living supplies, food, some mining equipment, raw materials, nothing terribly out of the ordinary for a basic colonization."
Captain Briar interjected. "The Mabus recorded a total of thirty-eight probes sent down to the surface of SR3-88," he sat back down, his feline features showed none of the worry that was eating him up inside. Angseth and Weavel had left only ten minutes ago, but it already felt like an eternity.
Svenson crossed his legs, the remaining set of cuffs dropping off. "That sounds about right. During the deployment of the probes, our communications were cut by Captain Thomas. I finished up my business and left as quickly as I could. Thomas had no need for me, he wanted to Mabus."
"And that's all?" Admiral Mirson asked.
"Yes, sorry there isn't more to it, but I grabbed my money and left. Ditched the ship, cleared its logs and records, then sold it for a tidy profit. Then these morons come to Rovien and apprehend me…"
"I'm sure you're grateful considering that we distracted Weavel from apprehending you first." Bearn commented.
"I was in control the entire time. I was under no threat." Svenson examined his nails.
Arget'ni leaned back in her seat. "So far his story collaborates what Captain Angseth and Hunter Weavel have already told us. We can confirm supplies were delivered to SR3-88, but were they for a peaceful colonization, not the establishment of a military base."
The Chozo began signing amongst them selves, until the one in the center raised its hands to silence the other two, then stood to ask a question, unlike the others it didn't use a vocal translator. "Theodore Svenson," Ah. A female. "I am Ambassador Solstice of the Ltaoclazeuq. I understand that you have distanced yourself from the Socrates and the cargo it carried, but do you remember if you may have carried any weapons or ammunition to deliver to the planet?"
Svenson thought for a moment. "No."
"Any chemical or physical components that could be then assembled to make weaponry?"
"Unless you consider rubber band guns a threat, no."
Solstice sat back down, instantly the other two began signing away again, and once more she silenced them. "Admiral, we have a problem…and a solution."
"I'm all ears Ambassador." Mirson gave her his full attention.
"If the Siafu are indeed unarmed, as the evidence before us suggests, then the newly announced campaign to annihilate them will not be viewed favorably by the Ltaoclazeuq. If Ridley is voted in as a System Admiral, then such an action will only fuel their indifference for the Confederation boundaries. The Chozo have no pity for those who attack unarmed foes."
"That is a problem…and your solution?"
"The Eolian will use its sub-dimensional beam to transport itself and another vessel to SR3-88 to turn back the incoming armada." Solstice announced. "I give full permission to use our technology."
"And what about Syren I? Or Annubus IV?"
Solstice appeared to struggle with her words. "Risking our lives and standing within the Ltaoclazeuq, we will assist on these fronts as well."
"Can I go now?" Svenson called out from the middle of the floor.
"Stay put Svenson." Mirson pulled up a few holos of the ships that were still left relatively intact after the battle. "Fleet Admiral Arget'ni, you will accompany the Eolian to SR3-88. I want Captain Rikaet of the Sherman to accompany the Aphelion to Annubus IV, and Captain Briar of the Mabus, the Corona shall be your escort. I will be on board for that journey. Time to get my chair back. Dismissed."
Solstice rose to her feet then headed for the hall to make arrangements. As soon as she left the room, a familiar shape lifted from the wall and followed her. "Wait! Solstice!"
The Chozo turned. "What is it Sacul?"
"Let me go with you."
"Those chemicals you work with must be going to your head. Do you know what will happen if I bring an Acopiltaczet on a Ltaoclazeuq ship?"
"No worse than when you impersonated an Acopiltaczet long ago. Look, I have a high-grade enough PLASMA that should at least get me by at a glance."
Solstice rubbed her forehead. Something that Siairus had done that all members of the research team had picked up. "Why are you willing to risk you life like this?"
Sacul folded her arms. "Because. As far as I'm concerned I don't belong to either nation. But I am a proud tax-paying citizen of Rovien. And I will do my best to defend my home and business there."
Solstice seemed humbled by this, and then turned and continued up the hall. "Hurry up. We have a lot to do in very little time."
"Thanks Solstice. You won't regret it!"
Weavel quickly moved into the newly opened chamber as soon as the doors slid open wide enough for his bulk. Angseth held back for a moment, her hand covering her nose and mouth as if that would do something to alleviate the burn in her sinues. Dim light from the tunnel behind them slowly illuminated the room beyond.
This new chamber was large and cylindrical in shape. Standard grating covered the floor, and could be removed in sections for maintenance on the many cables and pipes that ran hither and yon. Along the walls were five doors, each with a status light above them showing red. All of them had been locked and coded. In the center of the room stood a computer terminal, complete with an advanced cybernetic interface. The room felt like a tomb with a residue of stress and fear in the air, as if something very bad had happened and the walls themselves refused to acknowledge it.
"Which one do we try first?" Weavel asked. "They don't appear to be marked."
Angseth tilted her head upward, her abused muscles protested but another rush of Phazon calmed them. She spied a second deck, and a third, each with its own set of doors. Slowly she turned her attention back to the doors on their level, then walked the circumference of the room, pausing by each one. The smell was unbearable. "Not here," she pointed at the deck above them. "Not up there either," she dropped to her knees and traced a finger along the joints in the grating. "We go down."
"How can you tell?"
"It doesn't stink down there, it smells...almost pleasant," Angseth shakily gained her feet and walked to the terminal in the center of the room. "Help me find some kind of control for the elevator. There has to be a way down," she reference the pale green holo screen, the blackened veins in her face seemed to flicker for a moment, glowing brighter blue as she studied the glyphs. "There are two more floors below us."
Angseth reached out for the hologram and a small arch of blue light jumped from her fingertips. The holo changed, now depicting the rooms around them and the status of the occupants. This confirmed her suspicions. Lesser copies were housed higher, and master copies were lower. Each one had been engineered to suit a specific purpose. Some of the clones were designed to be shock troops, others were for infiltrations, and still others served other individual functions.
Weavel found a switch on the wall and pressed it. The entire floor, terminal and all, slid downward slowly. He joined Angseth and each of them took defensive positions to cover the other as the lift stopped. Once again they were faced with five heavy doors, identical to the ones above complete with red locking indicators above the frame.
"Does the holo say which one she is in?" Weavel asked.
"No. It lists all of these as Mastercopies, along with a serial number. Its trial and error from here." Angseth approached the first door, and rested her hand on the keypad. Once again the Phazon surged through her veins and into the control circuits for the door. The keypad beeps and the door rolled to one side, then locked into place.
Like the main cylinder, the room beyond was circular. Encompassing the entire rear wall was an elaborate refrigeration system with a capsule-like pod in the center. Inside the pod was a woman, clothed in a blue bodyglove and sleeping serenely. Angseth turned and stepped back into the main cylinder. "Thats not her."
"How can you tell?" he asked again.
"When I last saw Samus, she was in her armor, she had become fused with it," Vera hit the keypad and sealed the room off. Perhaps that particular "model" was used for spying? In any case, it reminded Angseth too much of "mother" to be of much comfort. She moved to the next door, with Weavel following behind her.
The next room had the same layout, except instead of a woman in a tank, this was an armored being. This creature looked up as they entered, and Vera took a moment to study this specimen. The helmet, and most of the armor components were the same, but then eyes and definite facial features became visible. The plating shifted and moved, golden lips parted in a effort to create words. Angseth scanned the rest of the body. Hips, breasts, musculature, all formed in chitinous golden red. She turned and went for the door when she saw toes flex where boots should have been.
"Not this one either?"
"No. The one we're looking for is something out of your darkest nightmares. Not this gynoid."
The creature in the tank screamed, then began beating fiercely on the glass. Both Weavel and Angseth froze when it began to speak.
Its voice was sensual and heavy, and not entirely unpleasant, almost comforting to a degree, yet the nature of its words chilled the souls of both Angseth and Weavel. "Wait! Please! Let me out! I can hear them calling! They are calling me! My children! They are calling me!"
Angseth slowly turned on her heel. If that golden tidal wave three blast doors down made it in here to retrieve their mistresses, then everything they had fought for would be for nothing. "Weavel, keep an eye on the door above us. Make sure we don't get any unexpected visitors."
Weavel backed out to the main cylinder, able to watch both the doors above them, and Angseth.
She walked across the floor to the cryo controls, and searched until she found a series of cables and hoses. They were part of the system that would circulate the coolant in the tanks as well as filter any impurities. Trying to keep her focus on the task at hand, and not the pleas of that thing, she rested her hands on the pipes.
The Phazon didn't need much coaxing this time. It surged through her body and into the coolant. From there it seemed to ignite everything inside the pipes. The energy raced through chilled crystals and into the containment tank. The clone began to spasm, then scream. The Phazon cut it off mid-breath, then coursed over its armored plating spreading cracks as it traveled. Angseth pulled her hands free of the cables and limped to the door where Weavel waited.
"No life signs," he reported. "Should you have wasted so much time?"
"You may think of it as wasting time. I consider it insurance," her voice sounded cold and empty. Weavel knew he was in dire straits when he, the cyborg, was the one showing a range of emotions. He closed the door, leaving the now blackened husk in the tank, alone in the dark.
Angseth moved to the next door, sniffing the walls and seams in the plasteel, much in the way an animal would. Weavel had been watching her mental capacities slowly decline, and found it both terrifying and perversely fascinating to see the more primal part of the human brain at work. She passed that door, then continued to the vault on that far side of the cylinder. "Here, this one has to be it," she rested her hand on the keypad once more, and let the Phazon flow through her. Weavel watched her struggle to control the surge of energy this time. Angseth could sense the Phazon flitting away from her, drawn to some other place.
Oh no you don't, it belongs to ME.
The door rolled open, and immediately the tone and mood in the air had changed. There was still the ever-present anxiety, but there was also a sense of clarity above it all now. This chamber was larger and filled with more equipment. The center of the room was dominated by a large cylindrical tank filled with gel-like coolant. When at room temperature, the gel would harden to near tritainum strength, however when kept below the freezing point, it was elastic and mailable.
Laying on the bottom of the tank were large chunks of gold and red glass. After scanning them, Weavel felt his circuits become numb when he realized that they were pieces of Arans Varia suit. Swimming through the gel was a squid-like creature, with long segmented tentacles and a pod-shaped transparent central body. Contained within the central body was a human skull. Pieces of tendon and muscle still clung to the nearly opaque jawbone, eyes still rested in hollow sockets, rolling around endlessly searching for something unknown.
Angseth inhaled deeply, fists clenched at her sides. "This is her."
Weavel's gaze darted from one to the other. He couldn't believe that thing in the tank was the Damned Woman, his Golden Mistress.
Samus stopped swimming back and forth, and instead paused in the water, tentacles extended around her jellyfish like in the filtration currents of the gel. She turned slowly, both blue eyes fixed on Angseth as her body descended to the bottom of the tank, and began to pull the scraps of armor closer. Long segmented pieces threaded through the armor, twisting together to form limbs. The glass armor snapped and locked around the tentacles until it formed completely.
Standing in the gel was Samus Aran, her golden armor shining and transparent. Muscles made of writhing tentacles twitched and moved under the surface of the armor, while her skull sat like watered milk behind the red glass of her helmet.
Vera watched as traces of Phazon—her Phazon—traveled through the cooling system and eventually into the gel. The Phazon then arched toward Samus, entering through her booted feet then traveled like lightning along her body.
I had forgotten that you were once infected by the Phazon Madness too. Do you remember what it was like? The rush of power? Do you miss it? Do you still crave the sensation of rain on your skin?
The Phazon settled on Samus' right arm, before collecting in the energy core of the power cannon. The bottle-green weapon began to glow with an inner light.
"Weavel, you might wish to go somewhere else. This is between me and her now. As it always has been."
"We are not here to kill her!"
Angseth licked her lips, her mouth felt dry and barren. "She has something of mine, and I want it back."
And that was all there was to say. Gone were her memories of Aeather, or dust, blood, pain and death. Gone were her thoughts of comrades, of her career, of her fighter and the Mabus. Gone were her thoughts of Briar, and the sacrifices he had made for her happiness. Gone were her budding feelings for Weavel, reduced to only a footnote. Now there was only her golden idol, her goddess, her drive, anger, frustration, sadness and love all rolled into one perfect being. Somewhere along the way her admiration for Samus had turned to envy, and envy to jealousy and jealousy to anger. The Phazon in her veins fed from all of these things, empowered her. Now Vera only wanted to prove herself. For too many years her dreams had been haunted by that off-hand careless wave, and the sound a rifle dropping into her lap, as if she were no more than an insect running all over Aeather chasing a ghost.
But no more.
Like so many others, Vera wanted nothing more that for Samus to understand who she was, and to take notice.
And the Phazon, oh the Phazon sensed a feast. A Metroid-Chozo-Human feast. Angseth thought that she had tasted the depths of the Madness before, but this was so much more intense. This was all of her memories, cares, responsibilities and complete sense of self dissolved into blue light. Long dead instinct and rage filled her. Angseth's body became engulfed by a burning flame, made all the more intense by pure lack of emotion.
Weavel stood back to what he felt was a safe distance when the air around Angseths body began to ignite, but it didn't behave like any fire he had ever seen. No, it was more like glowing blue ripples, like the weight and graceful tumble of flowing water, rushing and pouring over her limbs out of the joints of her armor. The more he watched, the more he could feel the Phazon pulling on his own body, trying to seduce him with primal lusts. Power, wealth, glory, and all of the sensations his body no longer had the proper facilities to fulfill, pulled at his soul. He had never been in the bright blue passion of a Phazon embrace, but if it did feel anything like this, a constant surge of power, confidence and security, he could understand why it drove its addicts insane.
He tried to move toward the door, but the Phazon Angseth was emitting washed over him, separating his organics from his hardware, singling them out ever as new mutations took place in his cellular structure. Weavel's HUD gave one feeble beep before going completely dark.
Samus, on the other side of the glass, raised her Phazon-charged arm cannon. She fired once, thrice, five times in the space of a moment. The tank shattered, spilling gel across the floor of the room. It hardened as it went, creating crackling patterns along the steel grating. Aran jumped out of the tank, spinning once in the air before landing in a crouch, ready to fight.
"Bring it you conceited bitch," Angseth hissed, blue smoke spilled from her lips, partly Phazon, partly an effect of the cooling atmosphere.
Aran didn't spring, didn't jump, flip or pounce, or any other movement. No, she began firing. Her big green power cannon began belching out flaming orbs of Phazon charged plasma at an alarming pace, all the while Samus strafed to either side, simultaneously making herself a difficult moving target while keeping her own crosshairs fixed on Angseth.
Vera took three full shots right in her torso before stumbling and sliding back in the still-drying gel. She extended her burning blue Battlehammer and used it to knock away subsequent shots. She needed to get closer. Every last instinct was telling her to get closer even if it meant her death. In retrospect, maybe leaving her helmet behind hadn't been such a good idea.
The Hunter continued firing, and Angseth brought the Battlehammer up to shield her face. She quickly scanned the room for anything of use, then spied a computer terminal that had been covered in dry gel. Angseth jumped backward, landing on the console, then sprang higher into the air. As predicted, this gave her a moment to strike while Aran recalibrated her targeting system. Angseth descended, twisting in the air as she prepared for a full-powered swing of the Battlehammer. This left her wide open to two more spine-wrenching shots. She came down, the inside of the blade just barely grazing Samus' pauldron as the damned woman turned to one side at the last moment.
Angseth's strike continued downward, the Phazon charged scythe connected with the dried gel, shattering it in an explosion of blue light. She cursed as the shockwave traveled up her arms, splintering and cracking her armor clear to her shoulder.
Aran continued to gracefully dodge, and using the momentum from her turn, kicked Angseth square in her side, jostling kidneys and internal organ. Vera's breath left her in a rush as her body crumpled, folding over Samus' leg before falling to the ground. Aran shifted back a step before leveling the powercannon at Angseth's unprotected head. Angseth's hand went to her side, more cracked armor, and most certainly cracked ribs.
"I really wish, you would quit pointing that thing at ME!" Vera withdrew the Battlehammer and stood with a roar. She screamed her frustration and indignation, her Phazon-charged fist aimed directly for Aran's damned smug face, well, what little of it was left after the Metroids.
Samus shifted her left in an attempt to dodge Vera's forward lunge. Angseth lost her main target or Aran's head, but gained a new one.
The Power Cannon.
Instantly, Vera knew that if she could take the power cannon out, the playing field would be leveled, and all that she would lose was a crappy cybernetic arm.
Long ago, Mervera Angseth would joke around with her troops about the size of Aran's power cannon. Since Angseth had been up close and personal with the thing more than once, she had bet that she could fit her entire fist inside the barrel. Now, decades later, she had the unique opportunity to test that theory.
Vera followed through on the punch, and felt her knuckles graze the outer rim. Alright, so her fist wouldn't fit, but if she extended her fingers and folded them together, then her whole hand was able to enter the barrel. Aran, with a sudden rolling of her floating blue eyes, saw Angseths intentions and fired.
Oh no you don't! Angseth drew on the Phazon swirling in her body and centered it in her fist. She was beginning to understand that using Phazon wasn't about the amount of power she had, the trick was in focusing it. She hoped that this would be enough to block and contain the shot in the arm cannon. Vera felt the plasma burst hit and burn away the cybernetics nerve endings, leaving only the barest skeletal structure, but that was as far as the blast went. Angseth rammed her arm into the power cannon right up to the elbow, and the sudden metaphorical euphemism of her action drew a guilty smile from her lips.
The Phazon was suddenly no longer under her complete control. For a moment Angseth almost panicked, but some deeper instinct made her stay. Blue energy and light flowed from her body and soul, transferring down the length of her cybernetic arm and into Aran. Samus stepped in closer and reached out with her left hand. Cold glass-like fingers grazed Angseths neck, as if to grab it, before relaxing and resting against her abused skin.
Wave after wave after precious wave of energy left Vera. Of all of the things that she could have forgotten, it would be that Aran had the abilities of a Metroid. Samus was draining all of the power and life from Angseth's body, but it was not an altogether unpleasant sensation.
Horror flickered to anger, and Angseth found the strength to grip Samus' arm cannon with her left hand. "You want my Phazon? Then take it!" instead of fighting the flow of energy, Vera embraced it. She expelled all she could summon, her breath left her with the sensation of standing in a flood of raging water. Samus' grip tightened on her neck, and Angseth felt her knees grew weak as her life force fled her. She could sense and feel the Phazon reacting to Aran's energy, feeding her hunger. The reactions caused cascading fluctuations that rebounded back to Angseth, jarring both muscle and bone. From the core of her spine to the soles of her feet, the energy used her as a conduit. Her heart pounded faster, every breath was hard won, only to be lost again to the next wave and ripple of energy. It pulled at her emotions and body before coming to a crescendo, becoming more intense until it felt as if her entire being was eroded away in a wash of light and power.
Dark cracks began spreading along Aran's armor, marring the brilliant glowing golden surface. Angseth watched with growing dread as the cracks penetrated deeper and the armor became opaque. The power cannon was the first to give, its bottle-green color grew more dull with each burst of energy before flaking away to ash.
No, I wasn't trying to kill her! Vera lacked the strength to pull away or even breath. With one last burst of energy, the world ceased to exist or even matter.
Vera wasn't unconscious but she wanted to be. She didn't like this new sensation flowing through her body, it felt wrong, bad somehow. Like that time on Aeather, motionless with blood pooling in her armor. The world was dark, her limbs wouldn't respond to her efforts to move. Familiar and firm hands grabbed her shoulders, and pulled her into the light.
She coughed then whispered a name, "Weavel?" Air returned to her abused lungs, and light to her burning eyes. The world slowly came into focus. She was still in the same lab, all the surrounding equipment had been destroyed, and what remained of the gel had been pulverized. "Samus? Where is she?"
"I just came back online, I don't know where she is."
Angseth pulled her arms and body from the scorched ash surrounding her. "No, she was right here," she pulled up her right arm, and saw only the remains of her cybernetics. The fingers twitched and refused to obey her commands, they were useless to her. "She was right here..." Vera remembered Mother, and all of those other clones that had been reduced to dry ash from her bursts of Phazon. "No, she's-" she drew herself on all fours and began to sift through the ashes around her. "She...I didn't...no Weavel, help me!"
She heard a crunch nearby. Angseth turned toward the sound, her panic quickened her reflexes. A pale delicate hand lifted from the ashes. Vera crawled toward it and held it in her left hand. The thin fingers closed around her palm, too thin, skeletal almost. Angseth brushed the ashes aside, uncovering a forearm, then a bicep and finally the curved shell of a helmet. Very slowly she began to pull at the dome, feeling it crumble under her touch.
First she revealed thin pink lips, followed by a small yet delicate upturned nose. More of the helmet broke away, exposing smooth cheeks and closed eyes. The pale face seemed peaceful, as if Samus were in a deep restful sleep. Her thin brows showed no sign of strain, yet no breath stirred the ash near her lips.
"She's not breathing," Vera quickly cleared off the ash and remains of armor-like shell over Aran's chest, then leaned in and pinched her nose shut. She covered Samus' lips with her own, and using what little strength she had left, breathed into her, filling the Hunters lungs for the first time in almost a decade.
Vera drew away, steadying herself before covering her lips again. Samus suddenly coughed and Angseth sat back on her heels. The Hunter didn't awaken, but continued to breathe on her own. "Oh thank the Goddess."
Weavel came closer and Vera continued to break away the ash and dried gel, freeing the rest of Samus' body. There didn't appear to be any injuries. Samus still wore her bodyglove, but it had faded from blue to grey. Carefully Angseth lifted Aran's head and shoulders from the ash, feeling her own back protest in response.
"Weavel? Can you help me lift her?"
The cyborg knelt, his metal frame hadn't taken as much abuse as Angseth had, but he still felt mentally exhausted. Just keep pushing, just keep trying for more. If he was captured of destroyed along the way, at least he would be able to rest knowing that Aran had been freed. He lifted Samus' body from the ground, one hand supporting her shoulders, the other under her legs.
"Goodness, how long is her hair?" Angseth commented. Now that Aran had been pulled from the remainder of the ashes, she could get a better look. Vera remembered from the stories that everyone insisted that Samus was a blond, and midway down to the ends of her mane, she was. But from scalp to mid-length, her hair was firey red, that then faded to orange, then blond.
Weavel braced Samus' head on his shoulder, then used his free hand to collect her hair and sweep it over Aran's shoulder and lap to avoid stepping on its considerable length. Angseth remained kneeling on the floor for a moment, breathing heavily. Her gut didn't feel right, and it worried her, she had been worried before, but this was different.
All of the Phazon had been flushed from her system.
Vera braced her foot on the floor and tried to stand. Her leg and back wouldn't respond. After another moment, and another heavy breath, she reach out to steady herself on Weavel's leg. Weavel once again returned Aran's head to his shoulder and grabbed Angseth with his free hand. He gripped the plasteel of her gorget, which then crumbled in his fingers. "Dammit."
"Your armor has been severely compromised," he grabbed her bodyglove instead and pulled Angseth to her feet. Vera struggled but finally managed to get her legs under her. More pieces of her armor cracked and fell away, like chunks of wood turned coal. She leaned on Weavel for support. The air felt too heavy, and she had difficulty breathing. "Lets go, we have what we came for."
"Okay," Angseth remained standing for a moment, then began to shuffle slowly to the door. Normally she would have looked back, eased her mind with one last glance of a job done, but now she doubted her ability to make it out alive. Weavel led her to the lift, still holding Samus in his arms. Once Angseth had shuffled aboard, he initiated it's upward climb. The effect of the world moving around her was too much, her stomach churned and something much deeper shifted. Her mouth filled with fluid and she began to retch.
Blood, thick, pulpy and black spilled onto the grating at her feet. The lift ended its short journey, but she continued. Weavel watched, helpless and concerned. He no longer needed his scans to tell him that she was dieing, now he could practically smell the death on her. Her body was giving up, and his chances of defending both of them on the way out of this trap were nonexistent.
Angseth finished and recovered enough to walk. "I really hate puking."
"You'll feel better when you see starlight again."
"Yeah...I will," she finished shaking off the last remains of her broken armor.
"We will need to back track a bit, but not by much. Can you hold out?"
Vera nodded. "Or die trying."
She was still coughing. Weavel shifted Samus' weight, reached down, grabbed Angseth's frayed collar yet again, and yanked her back to her feet, then continued shuffling up the service hall. The hall ended in freight elevator, obviously used for moving large equipment. Their progress was slowed, not only by unconscious Aran, but every few feet Weavel would need to pause and grab Angseth, drag her to her feet, only to watch her stumble and repeat the process all over.
With Aran's head on his shoulder, he activated the door switch on the freight elevator, then grabbed Angseths collar and dragged her inside. He propped her against the control panel, then braced Aran's head on his shoulder as if carrying a child to bed for the night. He didn't say anything, he didn't want to say anything. Their chances of leaving this place alive were steadily declining. He tapped the button to close the door.
Weavel couldn't watch over both of them, he knew that, but not once did Angseth say anything foolish about leaving her behind. Then again, she had never asked him to wait for her either. No matter desperate of dire, he wouldn't leave her anyway. They had come this far together, and they would leave it together, even if Vera was only a corpse by then.
Admiral Mizzen's troops would undoubtedly be here soon, if they weren't already waiting in ambush. Weavel had confidence that he could deal with them, but it would be a difficult battle lugging around two injured humans. Even so, it was only conjecture in the very unlikely event that the Chozo hadn't already invaded.
The elevator began its climb upward, and Weavel took cover to one side of the doorway. This was about as ready as he was going to be in case of an attack. His body had taken a slamming between the clones and the rush of Phazon. Part of him needed immediate calibration if they were going to be of any further use. He was tense and alert, already anticipating the worst.
His com cackled and he jumped, startled.
"Whoa there, take it easy bolt-breath," Sand chimed in, and Weavel felt the more tense parts of him relax in knowing there was at least a friendly voice at the other end of the line. "Just paging in to tell you the lifts are under control."
"Where have you been?" Weavel asked, agitation now beginning to creep into his thoughts.
"Keeping the guards off your butt. Did you get her?"
"Samus? Yes, she's here."
"Awesome! Hey, uh, get your can topside as soon as you're able. The honorable Admiral had mobilized a sizable amount of Marines to come and kill you. If you continue on this course, you should encounter a series of lifts to get you to the flightline, from there grab whatever you think can make it off the ground. The lifts are large and should offer some cover, but you need to move fast. Good luck!"
Weavel's head twitched to the right once, then twice. "Good luck? Good luck! Is that all you can fracking say is Good Luck?!"
Sand hesitated. "What was that?"
The usual amber tint to his vision flickered with a hint of green, veined with blue. "Frack off."
"Oooohhh, I think you blew your inhibitor there. You should be careful."
"I know what I need to do," he shifted Samus' weight to the other shoulder and arm. "Just...keep me posted on any changes."
Sand blipped out without saying another word.
For the moment the elevator was moving, for the moment they were safe. But it would soon stop, and despite Sand's warning, Weavel was unsure what awaited them. For a moment he rested his gaze on Angseth. Somehow the stupid marine had managed to gain her feet again, and stood leaning against the wall. Most of her armor had crumbled away but still clung to her body in some areas, mainly along her back, calves and forearms, but even those pieces threatened to fall away if she moved too much. Her head was completely exposed. At least the black Phazon lines no longer crossed her cheeks. He couldn't babysit them both, let alone take on an entire forts worth of marines with them in tow.
"Sir?" Angseth responded.
Weavel paused before speaking again. "Keep your shit together."
"Sir, yes sir," she mumbled. "I admit I have no idea where we are sir. Didn't think I drank that much last night."
Either the explosion or the Phazon, possibly a combination of both had made her mind weak. It hurt and infuriated Weavel to see this woman that he had come to admire degrade to such a condition. Why couldn't see just pull herself together? Why did he have to be the only one to keep a level head? But he already knew the answer to both questions; Angseth couldn't. It wasn't that she didn't want to, but she couldn't after all she had been through and seen. Weavel had the benefit of his metal body and support logic circuits. If she had been one of his Siafu troops, he would have left her behind to cover their escape. But Angseth wasn't one of his men, she was a Confederation Captain, and if the Siafu were to have a prayer of establishing independence, then he would need to ensure her safety just as much as Arans.
The elevator jerked to a stop, and he extended his plasma scythe, ready to take on whatever was coming his way. The door rolled open, revealing a large loading bay filled with rows of cargo crates, each kept under heavy refrigeration. Weavel could only guess what they contained. A few marines stood near the crates, ready to load them onto another more powerful incline lift, that under normal conditions was a relatively easier and more stable way of getting goods to the surface. A few marines turned when the door to the fright elevator opened and an alarm was raised.
Weavel slung Samus over his left shoulder, then grabbed Angseths collar in his left hand, leaving his right free to maneuver as needed. Keeping his head down, he dragged Angseth over to a nearby stack of crates and into cover. He leaned her against the side and quickly peeked into the bay. A few pulse charges flew over his head in response. "Private, stay here until I come for you," he returned fire, taking down three marines that were advancing on them. "Sand!"
"Can barely hear-"
"Open the gate on the lift!"
"Can't. They locked me out before I got a chance, but I'm working on it."
"How much longer?"
"Eh, gimme thirty seconds."
More marines came running, holding position behind crates and firing upon him. Weavel retreated behind the crate and crouched next to Angseth. "We need to get to that lift."
"Where's my rifle?"
"I guess you lost it," Weavel decided to just play along with the crazy person. There was no arguing with crazy. Once again he risked a glance around the side of the crate and fired a burst. In that split moment he read the layout of the bay and saw their next destination, another pile of crates closer to the lifts gate. "Stay close Private."
Although he lacked the facial features to properly express it, the cyborg winced all the same. Hey Briar, I got your woman back to you, but she...she's not quite all there if you know what I mean. Weavels gaze shifted to Samus. And you had better wake up soon too.
Angseth struggled to her feet again. Her stance was still shaky, but with the help of the crates she managed to stay upright. Weavel pointed to the next stack of crates and waved her on. He lay down cover fire as both of them left their current hiding place. He didn't expect to hit anything, his targeting system had to be recalibrated if it was to be of any good. Angseth stumbled again and went down just before a volley of pulse shots passed through the space her head had formerly occupied. Weavel stopped firing, then grabbed her once more and dropped her behind the safety of their next stack of crates.
They still had further to travel and the the gate offered nothing that could be used as cover. Weavel exchanged fire with the marines as he tried to come up with a plan that wouldn't get them killed. He ducked back behind the crate, then looked Aran over to make sure she hadn't been hurt during the firefight. The gate's control panel flashed red, then burned steady green. Sand had gotten through.
"Now all you gotta do is hit the button and climb on. The walls of the lift are re-enforced with a field generator so that should provide some protection from the pulse charges."
Weavel was too far from the gate to just reach out and hit the activation switch, and they would still be at the mercy of the marines while waiting for it to open. He covered his head when the corner of the crate exploded, spilling ration cans on the floor. Angseth giggled. "Always suspected the poundcake could stop a bullet."
Weavel ignored her and grabbed one of the cans, salisbury steak, and then lobbed it at the control panel. By the mercy of the gods, it hit the activation switch and the gate began to rumble open.
"DO NOT LET THEM ESCAPE."
Weavel felt his circuits grow cold for the fifth time that day. He didn't know the source of the voice, but very few things in this world or others would cause his internal components to vibrate. Whatever had bellowed those orders was huge.
Before advancing, Weavel took a quick glance at the terrain beyond the gate. The lift itself was a large open platform big enough to park two Daimlers in side by side with enough room left over for a few smaller scout vehicles. It didn't offer much in the way of cover, but it didn't need to. Still there were sparse piles of crates. The lift would serve well enough to get them away from the grey and blue plasteel swarm of multiracial marines that seemed to ooze from every corner of the bay.
The ground began to vibrate with the footfalls of something massive heading their way. Weavel didn't want to stick around long enough to find out what kind of big nasty the marines had in wait for them down here.
Once the gate had opened far enough, Weavel left his refuge, Arans head on one shoulder and Angseth's collar gripped tightly in his hand. With a prayer to the Siafu gods on his mind, he closed the distance and crossed the threshold of the lift. Pulse charges shot past him, one hit him square in the back while others splashed harmlessly against the force fields of the lift. Weavel stashed Aran and Angseth behind a stack of crates on the lift before activating the controls. The Marines rushed forward, either firing in vain attempts to hit either the cyborg, the two women with him, or to shut down the lift. Sand had already locked down the external control panel, rendering it useless. The gate slid shut, blocking the sea of marines on the opposite side of the barrier and the platform began its slow and steady ascent.
Weavel took a brief moment to regroup and run a brief systems check to see if the blast had any lasting effect. His scans revealed that the shot had only cause superficial damage, easily enough ignored in light of more pressing matters The lift steadily gained speed, but still had over a way to go before it reached the second platform. Hopefully Sand would already have the second lift waiting for them, if they survived that long.
Angseth righted herself again, leaning against the control panel, Aran was still on the floor at her side. The lift was now high enough that Weavel could afford a glance down at the distant marines gathered at the base of the lift. He quickly jumped to attention when the sound of thunder began pounding from below. For a moment the cyborg struggled with his extensive memory banks to identify what could make such a sound.
"Out of the way fools! Stop that platform!"
Once again Weavel's frame vibrated with the sound of that voice. The feeling of steady rolling thunder grew louder, echoing up the incline shaft. Knowing that he could still be made a target, Weavel carefully peeked over the lip of the lift to see what could cause such a horrible pounding, and felt his joints lock up in terror.
Down the slanted incline, running full speed between the large toothed tracks, was a large red being covered in brilliant white armor. Chain and scale-mail skirts swayed before four cloven-hooved feet as they pounded the concrete. Spears and other weaponry were carried along the beasts back with a shield made of planar force fields held before it, protecting a vicious dragon-like face. A huge rack of horns and flared bone protrusions scraped the ceiling as Weavel watched. The concrete sparked under the beasts hooves, filling the shaft with both the rumble of thunder and flicker of lightning.
"What in the name of the Dark Creator is that?"
Angseth's head tilted to the side. "Oh. That's my Boss."
Admiral Mizzen charged, spear and horns lowered as he ran at full gallop up the incline, then once he drew close enough to the lift, he jumped. All ten tons of meat and armor ripped through the defensive field and onto the platform, slamming down in a shower of sparks and reverberations that threatened to knock the lift from its track. Weavel was tossed backward as the defensive field bowed outward then snapped back into place, locking behind the massive warrior.
"I gave you a chance Angseth," Mizzen growled as he lowered his spear, crossing the distance between them with disturbing ease.
Angseth slowly lifted her abused gaze and fixed them on the massive form. His white plate was like moonlight in the dark tunnel. "Admiral?"
Mizzen kept his spear trained her on her, as he bent at his front knees and scooped up Samus' motionless body. Before the Admiral could retreat with his prize, something small and cylindrical exploded against his pauldron. Mizzen paused, his curiosity and rage building as he examined a concoction of gravy and meat dripping off his formerly clean armor plating. Dropping Samus to the ground, Mizzen turned his full attention to Weavel., whom had landed in another crate filled with rations. "That." he hissed, his breath hot and steam-like as it shot from his nostrils. "Is the LAST hit you will land, Pirate."
Weavel extracted himself from the crate, mentally fortifying himself for the battle to come. The Admiral roared, and Weavel opened with a volley of pulse-shots, which Mizzen deflected easily with his shield. Weavel didn't want to use anything more powerful than that for fear of hitting Aran or Angseth. The Admiral took two massive steps, crossing the platform with alarming speed, then brought his horns around. He activated an energy shield around the crest, and punted Weavel into another stack of crates. The cyborgs body destroyed the crates, effectively removing all cover from the platform. "Angseth!" he shouted as he righted himself. "Protect Samus!"
Mizzen snorted. "Protect her indeed. Fine job the both of you have done so far," he wheeled around, the armor plating on his skirts rattled, and once again he advanced on Angseth and Aran. This time keeping his shield and a grapple beam ready. The spear had been returned to a sheath along his side. Weavel began to fire on the massive creature again, and Mizzen brought his shield around, this time throwing it at the cyborg like a disk. Weavel stumbled backward as the unexpected planar energy impacted with his chest, the shield bounced back to the Admiral, who caught the disk casually as he activated his grapple beam.
Somehow Angseth managed to shake out of her stupor in time enough to grab Samus and attempt to pull her out of range of Mizzen's grapple beam. Even after such a hit, Weavel fired off two more shots as he stumbled backward, throwing off the Admirals aim as he tried for Samus again.
Filled with calm rage, Mizzen fixed the shield to his arm, then pulled a spear from his back, this time giving his full attention to Weavel. "It seems that I will have no rest until you have been killed," the Admiral said, his voice caused a light rumble through the platform.
Weavel stood ready, fully anticipating the battle to come. The more that he drew the Admiral's attention, the longer Angseth and Aran had to get away. He flicked his Battlehammer from his wrist, its formerly yellow-green tone now had taken on hints of blue. Fear, worry, anxiety and yes excitement flickered across his thoughts. Never before had he faced someone like System Admiral Mizzen. Foes such as these were the stuff of legends. Facing an Argoth was suicide in any field of combat, let along one on one, hand to hand. Considering this opponent was twenty feet tall and wearing enough armor to coat a small cruiser, Weavel in his comparatively fragile shell of metal was horribly outmatched.
Mizzen hit the platform with the butt of his spear, issuing a challenge. Weavel Carefully chose his own fighting stance. The metal and concrete platform rattled for a moment, but continued upward. The two warriors studied each other, playing out various scenarios in their minds before some unknown signal was given.
Using his jump-jets, Weavel sprang forward and upward, getting inside Mizzen's guard and dragging his Battlehammer down across the Admirals chest and torso. Mizzen in turn, reared up on his back legs, bringing his front hooves down hard and fast, shaking the platform and all on it. Weavel narrowly avoided getting stomped, but used the moment to charge a pulse shot, yet did no damage to the armored beast save for a small scorch mark. Weavel felt that he might as well grab more of the ration cans to toss at him, as they would have the same effect. Mizzen spun around and bucked with his hind legs, his massive tail swept whip-like through the air. One of his large hooves landed squarely on Weavel's chest, cracking his armor and sending him into the corner of the platform and against the containment field. Without missing a beat, the cyborg bounced off the wall and using his jump-pack, flew back at his enemy.
The confusion and weariness gradually left Angseth's mind. She didn't know if it was the sudden presence of her commanding officer or the sensation of Aran's bare cheek against her hand. For this moment, she had regained her sanity. Carefully Angseth pulled Samus closer, cradling her head firmly in he left hand, while scooping the remains of her cybernetic right under Aran's legs. She stood, shakily at first, but regained her balance. Behind her she could hear Weavel and Mizzen engaged in combat. Part of her wanted to help Weavel, but the rest of her knew better, she stood no chance against her Admiral. One step, then two. The lift was growing closer to the end of its track, and already she could see the second one open and waiting for them in the distance.
Mizzen suddenly snapped around and flicked out his grapple beam, raising his shield against another of Weavel's puny bursts from his Battlehammer. The beam locked onto Angseths cybernetic leg and swept her off her feet. She fell forward, landing hard on her elbows with her face planted firmly on Aran's stomach. With a flick of his wrist, Mizzen pulled Angseth backward, leaving Samus exposed.
"No," Angseth protested, then scrambled to her feet again. Once again that arc of energy flickered and caught her feet. This time, Mizzen cracked it like a whip, sending her airborne. Angseth felt her breath leave her as the concrete fall away from her fingertips. There was a moment of weightlessness and then gravity took over. Her hips were the first to hit, followed by her side, shoulder, then with sickening force, her skull. She slid five feet, leaving a trail of discarded and burnt components behind her. Angseth felt every last jolt of her bodies impact with the ground. Her head felt as if he were on fire, and she didn't need to touch it to know she was bleeding. There was already a smear on the floor. But Samus was okay. That was all that mattered.
Weavel watched her fall, and through some deep emotion, he found the will to bellow. For once he was angry at his cybernetics inability to fully express his rage. Instead of a venting explosion of vocal fury, his body reacted. He let loose with another volley of blue-tinted plasma fire. "Over here bastard!" He jumped for Mizzen, Battlehammer extended to its fullest.
Mizzen stopped his advance on Samus, and instead found his attention drawn to the enraged cyborg. He raised his energy shield once more, but this time selected another weapon from his back-mounted arsenal, an energy mace. Weavel raised his Battlehammer just in time to counter the first swing of that ball of sparking fire. The energy chain wrapped around his plasma scythe twice before he was able to flick it away. Mizzen chuckled at his opponents confusion, then used this opportunity to punt Weavel with his crest of horns again. Weavel ducked as the horns swept before him, tucking and rolling to the Admirals side.
Weavel took this moment to pull himself onto the beasts back, and selected a spear from the side sheath. With a digital roar, he buried the spear into Mizzen's armored back. The Admiral reared upward, dumping Weavel to the ground, but not before the cyborg broke the shaft of the spear, leaving the leaf-shaped head pinned between plates of armor and dense flesh. The cyborg clattered to the floor, rolling and flinching away and Mizzen brought his hooves down around him. The Admiral saw an opening and reached down and grabbed the annoying pirate. Weavel felt his body lift into the air, and Mizzen squeezed, popping joints and artificial musculature before tossing Weavel clear the defense field and off the side of the platform, into the path of the lifts massive tracks.
Weavel rolled to the side narrowly avoiding the lifts cogs. The platform was coming into dock, and if he stayed, he would be crushed. Using the last of his jump jets, he shot upward and grabbed the metal safety net of the landing between the two lifts. He extended his Battlehammer and ripped a hole in the netting, then rolled through just as the first platform touched the landing strip.
"Aran," Angseth croaked, then pushed herself to her feet again. Her thoughts oddly were clearer, more focused. The lift was now coming to a stop. All she had to do was hit the button near the gate and she could leave. "Come on," Angseth hoisted Samus up, and began limping toward the gate.
With Weavel out of the way, Mizzen advanced on Angseth. "Vera. Stop."
Angseth shuffled a little faster.
Weavel watched as Mizzen drew another spear from the sheath on his back and made ready to throw it. He searched the landing for some kind of weapon. He kicked over the first supply crate he found and by the grace of the Siafu gods, a shoulder-mounted missile launcher spilled out. Weavel picked it up, removed the safety restraints, loaded up a tube from another crate and took aim at Mizzen. He didn't want to hit Angseth or Aran, but it was a risk worth taking. He depressed the trigger switch and the weapon bucked on his shoulder, sending a rocket screaming for the System Admiral.
Mizzen raised his shield against the ordinance, his massive form sliding backward from the blast, causing the entire platform to rock. Emboldened, Weavel fired again, and was rewarded with pushing Mizzen back another few feet. Now that Angeth had a bit of a lead, he took a moment to accurately target the third and final shell on Mizzen's head. The Admiral, sensed this greater threat and raised his shield, flying backward off the opposite edge of the lift and to the incline below.
Weavel dropped the empty launcher then ran and opened the gate to the lift. "Hurry! Get over here!" he could already see Mizzen's massive rack of horns peeking above the distant edge of the platform.
Angseth came forward slowly, holding Aran out before her. "Take her, I can't-" she gasped. Weavel accepted Samus from her arms and returned her head to his shoulder.
"Lets go," he held his other hand out for Angseth, and saw a flicker of blue on the corner of his optics. Angeth took one step, then fell, but this wasn't like all the other times. Something was different, off. She looked up at him, her eyes wide and frightened.
Slowly Angseth looked down at her chest, and at a familiar leaf-shaped blade that protruded from the middle of it. "Weavel..."
"Cap..." Weavel felt his limbs grow weak as Mizzen pulled himself over the edge of the platform. "No," he dropped Samus and reached for Angseth. "Vera," he stepped over Aran to reach her. "Vera, VERA!"
Mizzen stood full and upright on the lift. "Now fight me."
Weavel's inhibitor finally gave. "Vera!" he reached for her shoulders to catch her before she fell. No, she's okay, she's gotta be okay, come on she's survived worse than this!
The cyborg never registered the sudden flicker of blue that consumed his vision, nor the equally consuming vibration in his chest cavity. Suddenly, standing before him was an armored being. The make of its armor somehow familiar, yet different. For a moment his anger and grief faded as he assessed this new threat. Large pauldrons on the shoulders, narrow body and hips, but it was the helmet that was different.
Chozo. Weavel's scan confirmed.
Said Chozo placed its hand in the center of Weavel's chest, and before he could protest, a stun charge slammed into his circuits and through what was left of his internal organs. Distantly he felt his body connect with the decking. Several more Chozo closed in. Two stood guard over him as another collected Samus from the ground. Angseth remained unmoving and untouched.
Wait, Weavel tried desperately to either speak or send a com signal. His optics began to grow dim as he used his last power reserves. Help Angseth, more multicolored balls rolled by, heading for areas deeper in the Pentacle. You damned jaded birds!
Before his vision fully faded, he looked at the back of the Chozo that had collected Samus. Peeking around its ornate red bicep were two blue eyes; wide, alert, curious, and calculating. His body shut down, suddenly calm and relaxed. Their mission was successful. Samus Aran was awake, now literally safe in the arms of the Chozo.
Weavel wished that Angseth, no, Vera could see her.