Metroid Fan Fiction ❯ Red Hands ❯ Red Hands ( Chapter 1 )

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Copyright 2021 by Eric J. Juneau. All rights reserved.

This story is in no way intended to infringe on the established copyrights and trademarks of Nintendo Co., Ltd. It is for entertainment purposes only and is not intended for sale. It may be freely distributed providing that no alterations to the story are made.

The characters and incidents portrayed and the names in this story used herein are fictitious and any similarity to the name, character, or history of any person, living, dead, or otherwise, is purely coincidental and unintentional.


Red Hands

by Eric J. Juneau




Young Samus walked around the tent. The Chozo had shooed her away, but the canvas had a ripped seam in the back she could slip through. What were they doing?

All kinds of birdpeople were inside. So much so she couldn't move without touching one and alerting them.

One turned toward her.

"What are you doing?" he snapped. The Chozo pressed his clawed hands against her back, pushing her toward the exit. "This is no place for a fledgling. Away. Away."

Someone in a raspy voice said "Is that the young human?"

Samus recognized that voice. That was Hazel Wing's voice.

Hazel Wing was her friend. He was one of the oldest Chozo, but he always had a kind smile and a story to tell. She didn't see him much, but Samus liked him. Why were all these people with him?

"She shouldn't be here," said a Chozo. "She's interrupting the grief ritual."

"I am the one dying here," said Hazel Wing in a turtle-slow voice. "I believe I should have some say in how I do it."

"She's human. And besides she's too young to see this."

"I'm nine," Samus said.

"Let her stay, Thistle Tail," Hazel Wing said. "I request it. Death is no stranger to her. Let her see one that is pleasant. A life well-lived."

Some of the Chozo grumbled, but the one pushing her stopped.

"I sent a message to Red Hands and he did not come. So the youngest of our tribe will have to stand in. Perhaps it is a selfish request," said Hazel Wing.

"Red Hands is the selfish one," said a Chozo. "Is he here? Paying tribute to his father? No."

"Hush, Sable Eyes," said another Chozo. "Do not add strife to his last moments by remembering past mistakes."

"Red Hands is not a mistake," said Hazel Wing. "His sins are mine to bear. I nourished his brain on my own resentment. On the old ways, when we were proud and war-like."

"Who's Red Hands?" Samus asked.

Silence. Hazel Wing lifted his head. With a slight movement of his fingers, he beckoned her closer.

Thistle Tail muttered "Great one, there's no need to tell her-"

"Red Hands is my son," said Hazel Wing, ignoring the interruption. "He has left us."

"Where is he?" Samus asked.

"Somewhere. Out among the stars."

"I thought Chozo didn't leave."

"All but Red Hands," Hazel Wing said. "He has the anger and war of our youth in his heart. Remember when I told you about the metroids?"

"Uh-huh," Samus said.

"We created the metroids to keep other species under control. Then we lost control of the metroids. When we interfere with nature, we make things worse. Always. So the Chozo decided to become observers, content to live with nature, rather than control it. Not everyone agreed with this idea, and I was one of them."

"But you always said we should leave nature alone. That it'll work itself out."

"I believe that now. But you did not know me from that time, when I raised Red Hands otherwise."

"Mebbe... mebbe he heard the message. And he'll come back."

"I never believed he would return. I poisoned his mind against his own people. I told him the Chozo were false-faced. That they scooped from the river with one hand and muddied the water with the other. Red Hands absorbed this. He was in the time of learning and unlearning, much like you."

"But you're his dad, aren't you? It's not your fault if he..." Samus trailed off as she lost words to say.

Hazel Wing touched Samus's hand with his dry crinkly one. "Your courage is slow, but only for now. You are a proud warrior and so is he. But I'm afraid he will fight until he dies, never making real change in the universe."

The little girl begun playing with Hazel Wing's emblem--a two-toned chevron of red and yellow dangling off his neck. Hazel Wing smiled.

"You like that trinket?"

"S'pretty," Samus said in a shrugging voice.

"What you hold is my family's crest. One day, you will grow up and leave this place," Hazel Wing said.

"Nah-uh. I want to stay here," Samus said. "It's scary out there."

"But you must. You will want to be with your own kind."

"But I have Chozo DNA now."

"You tread both worlds. But the Chozo is a race in decline. In time, you will be the only one left on Zebes and you will venture out. I want you to remember something for me."

Sable Eyes whispered "Elder one, no."

Hazel Wing continued. "If you see such a symbol out among the stars, find how it came to be. And if it has an owner, please give him a message. Tell him his father has joined the tail of the great comet. Tell him that hate has never made a difference in the world. That darkness cannot drive out darkness."

Samus nodded, feeling the red and yellow emblem with her fingers, committing it to memory.

"You must do this," said Sable Eyes to Samus. "To deny a dying Chozo's request is a great dishonor."

"She is a child," said Thistle Tail. "Do not place such a burden on her head."

"That is enough," said an important-looking Chozo. "Get the little girl out of here. This is upsetting to both her and the elder."

Some Chozo tugged her away with their leathery hands. Others attended to Hazel Wing

"You cannot rejoin the great sailing comet of the galaxy with such worries on your brow." Sable Eyes tucked Hazel Wing into his straw bed.

"To the contrary," Hazel Wing rasped as Samus left the tent. "I feel as if my wings have returned."




"No bounties, yet?" the bartender asked.

"Nope," said Samus, not looking up from her PDA.

"Maybe you'll have to get a real job, huh?" The bartender gestured to himself.

Samus glared at him from the tops of her eyes. She hadn't come to this dive bar for conversation. She came because the city was having some kind of celebration. And this was the only bar that didn't give a shit about it or anything on the upper layer. It wasn't decorated red, green, and yellow, full of streamers and holographic fireworks. Every time she took a sip of beer, she could feel the grit of coal dust on the bottle. That was how she liked it.

Must have been how Galactic Federation soldiers liked it too.

A troop of four crashed through the door like rhinos. Their hair was oily and disheveled and they smelled of ladies' perfume.

"Quick, get in here. This one doesn't look crowded," said the only blond one.

"Get some seats before they fill up."

"No worries about that," said the bartender. "What'll you have?"

Each of the four shouted individual drink orders at the same time. The bartender didn't ask for a repeat and attended to each one.

"What's with this town. Is it a holiday? Can't find an open bar anywhere on the upper plate," a trooper said.

"Mega cities, man."

"You boys just get back from a mission?" the bartender asked.

"You know it," said the blond one. He appeared to be the leader. They all had the same rank, but this one had a few more ribbons. "Get this--they sent us all the way to the edge of federated space, just to pull us back. Spent more time in hypersleep than working the mission."

"Trouble out there?" the bartender asked.

"It was nothing. They sent us to check out some raids they thought were coming from the neighboring moon colony. No one's even dead. We get to the moon, I don't even think they have space travel. Waste of our time."

"So they send us cronies to deal with it," said the brown-haired one. "We're the Ghost Choppers. We've got better things to do than paw through a bunch of yokel barns."

"Wasn't a total loss. I got this out of it." A third soldier pulled something out of his hip pouch and set it on the table. It was a flat wooden chevron, fist-sized, with one red arrow and one yellow.

"What is it?" the bartender asked.

"Dunno. Found it somewhere. It's a souvenir now. Going to give it to my girl. Tell her it was a piece of art she can hang on the wall."

"Tell it was used in fertility rituals," one of the soldiers ribbed.

Samus stood from the stool and walked around the bar. "Where did you get that?"


She must have looked ridiculous to everyone--she in her leotard confronting four military men in padded uniforms. A little bird against a squad of tigers.

"The emblem. Where did you find it?" Samus asked.

"Some colony. Independent one, outside the federation. Why?"

"It's not yours," Samus said. "Give it to me."

The men spoke at once.

"How do you know? You weren't there."

"Slag off, cyberbitch."

"Yeah, you didn't have to deal with a bunch of cranky colonists. They're lucky we didn't lift more than a piece of wood."

"It doesn't belong to you," Samus said.

"The hell it doesn't," said the soldier who owned it. "I served the mission, spent two relative months in hypersleep. A little souvenir's not too much."

"Last chance before I take it."

The soldiers who were sitting stood up, forming a phalanx. Their leader said "You better take your bleeding heart somewhere else, lady. We're not-"

Samus grabbed his wrist, twisted it, and flung him to the side. His momentum carried him into the bar headfirst as he contorted to avoid having his ligaments torn.

"Holy-" one soldier said.

The others didn't waste time talking. Three rushed at Samus, one with long auburn hair coming first. Samus delivered a knife hand strike to his neck, a cross punch to the stomach with the other arm, and--while he was doubled over--a drop elbow to the square of his back. He collapsed unconscious.

Samus vaulted over him into a diagonal flying kick. On impact, the second one staggered backwards and landed against the wall, while she landed on one foot.

The final trooper staggered in place, unable to decide whether to face her or retreat. He received a hook kick followed by a roundhouse.

Samus grabbed the token left on the bar counter. The captain moaned. She yanked his head up by the hair.

"Where did you get this?" Samus asked.

"Get slagged," he said through red-foamed teeth.

"Wrong answer," Samus said, and slammed his head into the brass rail.

Didn't matter. She knew where to find the right answer.

Samus marched through the Galactic Federation Police building for Precinct 588-B. She zeroed in the middle of the cubicle farm, where an LED nameplate read "Lieutenant Eaton."

"I need to know where the Ghost Choppers' last assignment was," she said.

"Aw, geez, Samus, what are you doing? There's protocol here. Did you even sign in?" Eaton raised his arms in exasperation. "Tell me there's not a hallway full of bodies behind you."

"The Ghost Choppers. Where were they?" Samus asked.

"Can I at least ask why?"

"I need to know where they found this." She tossed the red and yellow chevron on the table.

"Nice arrow. What's it point to?"

"Someone who needs to get a message," Samus said.

"You know they have e-mail now," Eaton said. "How do you know they're still around? One of the Ghost Choppers could've yanked it off a trash pile 'cause they thought it was pretty."

"Someone's been looking after it. It's been kept up. The wood's not deteriorated or rotten."

"Some old granny could have hung it in her window, like a suncatcher."

"It's a Chozo family crest."

Eaton picked it up. "Doesn't look like a Chozo artifact. Don't they usually have more whatchamacallits and geegaws? Like your power suit?"

Samus didn't respond.

"Look, you know I can't disclose where our deployments go. That's confidential information," Eaton said.

"Not asking about all deployments. Just one. Their mission is over and it's not classified. Or it is and the Ghost Choppers need a lesson about loudmouthing."

"I look forward to receiving the incident report about whatever you did to them." Eaton typed into his computer. After a few seconds, he held up a dismissive hand. "Look, it's Class 8-JB. I can't tell you anything about it."

"Class 8 is a low restriction," Samus said.

"Still means only Galactic Federation Police can access, not citizens. And you're not Galactic Federation anymore. You're a Space Hunter." Eaton bowed his head. "Look, you've done good work in the past. Damn good work. I'm giving you this chance to walk away."

"I'm trading in that chance to know about this mission."


"You can arrest me if you want. I'll find out one way or another. Someone always talks or lets something slip."

Eaton's eyes shifted behind Samus. Two men had arrived, holding paralyzer rifles. Samus noticed them out of the corner of her eye, but didn't turn her head.

She hunched over the table, barricading the lieutenant with her forearms. "I will find out. Black market, deep web. The information is always out there. And going through those channels just keeps the scumsuckers in business. Or you could tell me now and we avoid a long variance. Your choice."

Eaton let out a deep breath. He held up his hand, giving the wait signal to the two officers, which had become four. While the mission data loaded, the four became eight, then ten. All watching the woman in the center of the room.

"Fine, they were sent to Cirinus. It's a developing planet, way out on the edge. Got some reports they've been raided by the independent settlers on their moon."


"Outside Galactic Federation jurisdiction. Maybe stealing supplies. Making a hoopla. No one killed."

"Not space pirates?"

"Not space pirates, or you know there'd be a massacre. Just your regular old humanity." Eaton's eyes shifted from the computer to Samus. "Course you know you can't go to the moon since it's independent. Not without federation permission. And there's no way you're getting permission after this stunt."

"Not your concern," Samus said.

"I'm serious. They only grant access if you have a reason to be out there. And you definitely don't."

"On the contrary." Samus picked up the emblem from the desk.

"Look, the area's been vetted. There's never been Chozo presence there."

"There will be," Samus said.

She turned and began walking out of the office. The dozen accumulated officers jumped. They reasserted their rifles and pistols, but didn't fire. The ones at the front parted to let Samus through the double doors.

Samus's gunship floated above dilapidated brownstones and cracked roofs. It was tethered to a minaret with a sign reading "Lelma's Provisory Tethers and Plots."

Lelma's was devoid of amenities and security systems. But Samus didn't need that--she just needed power.

She climbed across tottering ladders into the access port on top. The hatch opened, presenting the hardlight platform. She descended into the ship.

Recirculated air enveloped her, replacing the dusky thick above the rooftops. She returned to the cockpit chair and programmed coordinates for Cirinus. The multiple screens filled with information about location, fuel consumption, time dilation, and social history.

Eaton was right--Cirinus marked the boundary of federated space for its area. And some yokels had been grandfathered into a permit to settle on its moon, also lushly habitable. But independents weren't supposed to interact with Galactic Federation territories. Looked like someone broke that pact.

Her far console lit up with a message indicator light. It was from Eaton. Pre-recorded, the coward. She slid the cockpit chair across via hydraulic arm and opened it.

"Look, Samus. I know this Chozo stuff is important to you. And I don't know why, but I asked if there was a way to get you to Cirinus's moon. No dice. Not even a transport hauler's scheduled for years. But the planet has a request for..." Eaton paused as he read. "...additional forces to escort 'hazardous equipment' to their city. Don't know what that's about, but it almost fell off the radar, it was so low in priority. Sounds like a good angle for a Space Hunter. Maybe they have a way to get you to the moon, if you ask nicely."

The message ended.

Samus had already searched for bounties or solicitations in that area of the galaxy. Nothing remotely close. The edge of the galaxy was a quiet place. Uncivilized, but unpopulated. The core systems held the trade, the politics, the excitement, the delictum.

An escort mission was beneath her. No space pirates to fight against. No alien creatures or interdimensional threats. She had saved whole planets. She'd blown up whole planets. But she sent her acceptance without reading past the headline.

A babysitting mission. Samus ground her teeth as she entered the coordinates and detached the tethers. Then she stood and shedded her clothes as she walked to the aft compartment, where her cryostasis pod was.

She dreamed about Hazel Wing. And the mournful wails and songs sung at his funeral.

Whatever was happening on Cirinus could start a war. The Chozo had already been in a war. Several. And it led to their extinction. If a new one could end before it began, there might be hope. Of course, someone had to listen to that hope.

Samus stopped thinking about this when the beacon for Vesta Base returned her ping. This was the rendezvous point for the mission.

Vesta Base was a transportation port, set leagues away from its mother city of Delnida for safety reasons. If a nuclear-powered vessel crashed during landing or takeoff, it would wipe out the centuries of work here.

Samus's ship was cleared to land instantly--no muss, no fuss. One nice thing about out-of-bounds planets--bureaucracy diffused the further out one went.

A few decontamination protocols later and Samus stood on the landing pad. Black craggy mountains surrounded her. Jagged and prickly, like part-stone, part crystal. Dark mauve and obsidian sparkled within the spines, reflected from the stars.

Cirinus's moon hung above like a ceiling decoration. It filled up half the sky, close enough to reach out and touch.

"Samus Aran?" An attendant in a white uniform, complete with round hat approached her. "It's good to meet you. I'm Headman Clement, I'm coordinating this little adventure."

Samus remembered the name--it was attached to the job request.

"We're glad you're here. We'd almost given up hope the Galactic Federation would send someone. But when we heard it was you, we delayed the convoy until you arrived."

"The Galactic Federation didn't send me. I'm here on my own," Samus said.

"Ah, I see. Then you'll expect to be paid, I'm sure. Um, I'll have to talk to my boss about getting that arranged. But if we can't then-"

"Never mind that." Samus took in the immediate area. The spaceport had been carved in the middle of the saw-toothed mountains. What they were standing on seemed like the same orchid-colored material, just pulverized.

"Why do you need an escort? Do you have enemies?" Samus asked. The Galactic Federation would never settle a planet with existing colonists or apex predators.

"Well, let me explain the whole thing." Headman Clement gestured for her to walk with him.

They treaded across the glittering purple sand, moving closer to a wide fissure. And a giant cylindrical engine at its tip.

"So we need to get this through the canyon to Delnida. It's an outer range Paracelsus Mark V-22Z energy generator. It actually uses some of the applied science from metroids. Thought you'd appreciate that."

"I don't."

Clement coughed through the silence. "It's also using isotrionic crystals. Hence why we can't airdrop it into the power plant. If something goes wrong, it could blow a chunk out of the planet. So it's good old terrestrial navigation from here."

"Then why do you need me?"

"Last time we took something through, everyone was killed."

"Killed how?" Samus asked.

"Bullets. Metal slugs. Didn't think anyone made them anymore. But they massacred the drivers and destroyed the thermobaric viriditron they were transporting."

"Who killed them?"

"No idea. Scrubbed the area in and out. No people, no guns, no trace of black powder. Like they appeared from every which way, then vanished."

"Then use an alternate route."

"That's the rub. This time we've got none. There's only one other path that can fit this baby's girth. And, unfortunately, it has a bedrock full of phi radiation. It would contaminate the Paracelsus's power cells."

"Then clear a better path."

"Wish we could, but the council-leader is pressing us to get this installed on the immediate. You know how politicians are. So it's through the canyon or bust."

They approached the lead vehicle--a small Jeep. Two APCs idled behind it. Then next in the convoy was the Paracelsus lying on a flatbed with pulsing mag-levs. The force keeping it aloft was so strong Samus could feel her bones vibrating. Then a Hummer, a small Jeep, and another APC after that.

A handful of people were gathered around the lead Jeep, including one driver who said. "We got our gal?"

"This is Samus Aran. Samus, this is Commander Cousens, military liaison. And Everit's our head on this game. Samus, you'll be riding with him."

"My gunship," Samus said. "I don't leave it behind."

Cousens said "That'll be difficult. See, we're afraid flying vehicles might be a liability if they catch some ordnance. We've only seen bullets, but these attackers might have rocket launchers or railguns that can scope out the sky-"

"Then find a flatbed to strap it to. I need it for my power suit. Without it, I'm dead weight."

"Not much weight," Everit added.

Clement sighed. "I'll find... something." He turned to Cousens. "You can start your safety checks."

"Good. We'll leave in one half hour."

Clement clapped the metal door and the two headed off in different directions.

Now alone with Samus, Everit said "Looking forward to busting some isotrionic crystal rustlers?"

"They were real bullets?"

"Little metal balls." Everit held up his thumb and fingers. "Ain't much to look at. But one to the brain at high velocity'll get your attention."

"It'd be the last thing to get your attention. Why ammunition? Why not blasters or paralyzers? What do they want?"

"Beats me," Everit said. "Maybe that's all they can get out here. Or they make it themselves. Living on the frontier takes a bit of ingenuity. Plenty of puzzles to solve. But I bet that's why you came out here, right?"

Samus pursed her lips, not wanting to admit he was right. "I came here because I'm more interested in that moon."

"The moon? Really?" He craned his head to the sandy-blue orb. "Just an independent colony up there. If the Galactic Federation isn't interested, why do you care?"

"Made a promise to someone. A long time ago."

"If you got a plan, you wouldn't mind letting me in on it?"

"I don't have a plan. But my business doesn't involve you."

Everit's eyes widened. "Come on. I've been thinking about that moon since I got here. It forces people to stare at it, it's so big. Figure if a bunch of croppers want to settle it, got to be something interesting up there. Something worth having. Maybe something the Galactic Federation don't even know about yet."

"That kind of curiosity will get you killed."

He chuckled. "That's why you do what you do, isn't it?"

"What I do?"

"Curiosity of the unknown. That's why you're out here. It's like a fever. Like an itch, but a good kind. The kind that drives you on. Whether that next big hole might be a chunk of gold or a giant saglfomr worm."

A flatbed truck approached the convoy from the center landing pad. Her yellow and orange gunship was strapped on top.

"The difference is I can deal with the giant worm."

From start to finish, the trip would take a day and a half. Traversing the canyon wasn't the difficulty. The heightened caution and heft of their load would keep them from quick movement. A 500,000,000-kilogram object, even under maglevs, couldn't disobey the laws of physics.

Since Samus was meant to provide protection she had to ride in the leading Jeep with Everit. His incessant questions couldn't have been more unwanted.

"How do you get into a tiny ball like that?"

"The suit partially transforms me into energy. The Chozo were experts in life science and biometric power. Plus Chozo DNA helps bend my muscles and bones."

"You got Chozo DNA?" He said "Chozo" like the word wouldn't fit on his tongue. Choh-oh-Zo.

"Integrated with my human DNA. Otherwise I wouldn't have survived the conditions of their planet."

"Zebes, right? Last Chozo world. They're extinct now, aren't they?"

"Yes," Samus said. "Supposedly."

"Bet Zebes is full of valuable artifacts though. Temples and technology."

"And mutated predators. And acid rain and volcanic eruptions. I'm sure space pirates took whatever was valuable. Planet's better left cold."

"Scarcity creates value. There's always something left behind. Between you and me, we could clean out that planet and have enough to retire on, I'm sure."

"You wouldn't make it past the first cave."

Everit laughed. "That don't stop a folk from dreaming, huh? You know, I got a friend who's got got a metroid talon. Rarest thing in his collection"

"No, he doesn't."


"There's no way he has any part of a metroid," Samus said.

"Why, sure he does. Showed it to me. Little claw on the bottom of their-"

"Metroids are nearly indestructible. The only way to kill one is to flash freeze it. The sharp drop in energy destabilizes their cellular structure. And still you have to use an explosive to destroy it, which shatters them at the molecular level. So there's no way your 'friend' has a metroid claw."

"Hm, well. Guess you'd know better than him."

Samus said nothing.

The comm crackled. "Captain Cousens, checking in."

The driver hit the link. "Everit here. Everything's hunky dory."

"See anyone yet?"

Samus rolled her eyes. If she had seen anyone, she would have told them. There would be no need to check in.

"Nothing but rocks, captain," Everit replied.

"I just get the feeling we're being watched. Keep your eyes on the rim. That's the most likely point of attack. Good vantage point."

"I still don't understand why anyone would attack us. It would be a hundred percent suicide rate if anything went wrong," Samus said. Even if they surrendered, what would their attackers do? Take the giant power source home?

"I don't know either, but I'm not a fool and it's not worth the risk. Just follow orders. We'll get you home in one piece."

Samus gristled at being told to "follow orders" as her mind flashed back to the Galactic Federation police.

She leaned into the microphone. "We're driving right into their clutches."

"If there are clutches to drive into. That's why you're here though. I'll contact you at the next checkpoint. Over and out."

Samus leaned back. She hadn't said it, but she had the feeling someone was watching them too. Just no idea whom.

Samus didn't have anyone to relieve her shift. So when stations were changed out, Samus got some sleep in the Jeep's passenger seat. The private who'd replaced Everit was thankfully less chatty.

A radio voice calling her name woke her up. "Miss Aran? Miss Aran? Hey, Samus."

Samus woke with a start. "What?"

"We got some breakfast in the APC behind you, if you care to have some. Drone delivered it up."

Food would be good now, hot or not. Samus glanced at the driver. He was fine. Wide-eyed, inexperienced, low ranking, but fine.

Samus climbed out of her seat and through the sun roof. The convoy drove steadily and close enough there was no problem jumping to the hood of the next car. She unscrewed the top hatch and entered the APC.

The hold was half full. Soldiers used the bench to eat their breakfast sandwiches, fried potatoes, and rehydrated gravy.

Captain Cousens handed her a clear plastic bag with a foamtech cube inside. "Compliments of the Delnida contingent."

Samus was surprised to see him--his last comm put him in the transport behind the Paracelsus. But she took the bag and sat in the corner of the car. Cousens followed her.

"Still ain't figured out who'd be watching us," he said.

"Anyone from Delnida have a grudge?" The cube hissed as she opened it, releasing a chemical that raised the food's temperature to palatably hot.

"Not a soul. Everyone's looking forward to the Paracelsus getting installed. It'll bring us up to the energy potential of core planets. For the city, at least."

"What about observers? Any bystanders watching the convoy come through?"

"Not here. Civilian approach is quarantined within three clicks. And we ain't carrying any supplies to raid, except for the big one."

"What about the colony on the moon? Any trouble from them?"

"Never heard of them, never seen them. If someone hadn't told me there was a colony up there, I wouldn't know it exists."

"They got a way to visit if things go south for them?"

"Not a one. And that I do know. They're xenophobic. Never make contact."

"How about the other way? Anyone visited them?"

"It's forbidden," Cousens said. "Only communication has been the treaty. If it's happened, I don't know the consequences of it. We don't know what kind of firepower they have. I've heard visitors speculate about going there. Never heard anyone tell what they saw."

"That's not much of a treaty enforcement. Going to start seeds for an outright war between the colonies. And they won't win."

"I know that. But what are we supposed to do? Read the 'Terms & Conditions' to every soul here? We're supposed to be expanding this planet. Encouraging population growth. And we can't do that if we set up bureaucratic checkpoints that won't be observed anyway."

Samus chewed her hash brown. "You trust the moon colony?"

"I trust them not to be the one to break the peace. But gods knows what Pandora's box it'll open when it does break. We can only protect others to a point. It's a planet--lots of people have personal space transport and every way up is a point of egress. If they provoke an act of war... well, what would you do?"

"I'd shoot them," Samus said.

Cousens snickered. "I bet you would." His PDA chirped a pleasant sonar ping. "Excuse me."

Cousens stood up and spoke into his comm.

Samus relaxed, believing she'd be left alone. But Cousens's empty spot prompted someone else to fill it.

"Kinda funny. We keep talking about them 'up there' and us 'down here'. But to them we're the 'up' and they're the 'down'," Everit said. Gravy coated the whiskers around his mouth.

Samus occupied herself with her breakfast sandwich so she wouldn't have to say anything.

"I was thinking last night, you said you were on Zebes. So you must have seen some Chozo temples."

"More like shrines. They were all underground. Not a lot of space for a place of worship."

"Oh, so not real elaborate? No traps or anything."


"Is that where they stored their treasure? I'm sure they didn't have banks," Everit said.

"Chozo didn't use money. They found wealth in the peace of their existence and scientific discovery."

"Uh, yeah, me too. You think there's any more temples out there?"

"All the ones I know are already in the database."

"How about some that aren't in the database?"

Samus stopped eating and regarded him.

"Miss Aran?" Captain Cousens approached them, holding the comm away from his ear. "Looks like we're getting close to the area of the last raid."

Samus nodded. "I'll get my armor on."

Cousens walked away.

"Armor. That's that power armor you have, right?" Everit asked.

Samus stood. Her silence was her affirmative.

"That is one pretty piece of hardware. I mean, there's tech that does what yours can, but not all in one package. How much damage you think that thing can take?"

"Depends on how much energy is stored. With an infinite supply, anything short of the entropy of the universe," Samus said.

"Even a tetraton nuke? Wow. I don't know why you don't sell it. Or better yet, sell copies."

"It's not reverse-engineerable, only modifiable. And I'm the only one who can wear it."

"Because of your Chozo blood, eh?"

Samus scowled. "Why are you so interested in the Chozo?"

"Hey, it's nothing to me. I'm just giving out some free advice. A Space Hunter's not the kind of career you retire from."

Samus walked away. She had work to do.

The flatbed with her gunship was the only autonomously driven vehicle. All the rest had military or scientists on board.

Samus climbed in, then backed against the starboard wall.

"Armor preparation. Code X-G-7-9-H."

The floor and walls flipped opened. Samus stood still while robotic arms slipped on the modular parts of her suit. She stepped into her boots, thrust her arms into the right arm cannon and left glove. The body pieces and helmet closed around her. All sealed with a pressurized hiss.

When Samus emerged, she was able to jump across the convoy to the point vehicle. Everit looked up, startled, through the sunroof.

"Whoo. Now that's what I'm talking about," said Everit. "Gonna take on the world. Can take on anything in that beauty."

Samus scanned the environment with her visor. Nothing special. Composites of the surrounding rock were what she expected. No unusual atmospheric gases. Tectonics a little high, but a world like this had to be unstable. More importantly, no life forms anywhere, except for sickly lichen and moss.

"Samus, we're about to hit the site now," Cousens said over the radio.

There it definitely was, at a clearing in the canyon floor. The ground was covered with a splotch of ebony char, raying out like a black sun. Tiny pebbles dotted the surrounding area--no big stalagmites or formations.

"Reading no lifeforms anywhere but our own," Cousens said. "You see anything?"

"Nothing," Samus said, eyes on the canyon rim.

Something whizzed upwards, fast as a laser, leaving an air trail.

"Sir," a soldier on Cousens's radio band said. "I'm reading high velocity impacts."

"From what?"

"I don't know, sir."

"Well, find out!"

"Protect the payload!"

Objects zinged by them at the speed of sound. High pitched whines. Metal clamored as the projectiles impacted the metal trucks. First one, then a dozen, shooting fast as raindrops. They were hitting her power suit too, but making no damage, ricocheting off too fast to scan.

"I can't see who's doing it!" said a voice amid the chaos.

"Paracelsus armor down to seventy-three percent. But a lucky shot could-"

"I know what a lucky shot could do," Cousens roared.

Something exploded behind her, from the rear of the convoy--probably the tiny Jeep.

"Rear GP gone, sir."

"Armor at fifty-seven."

"Find out where they are!" Cousens yelled.

Samus jumped off the Jeep's roof. Everit crouched within the driver's well, head darting left and right.

"Samus!" Everit shouted.

"Stay inside," Samus commanded.

She set her visor to isolate the area in front of her. But the projectiles were too fast to lock onto for a scan. Shots pinged off her helmet, disorienting her and resetting her efforts. Until she caught a lucky break.

Pure lead, oblong-shaped, like a bullet. But not a bullet--no sounds of gunshots. Trajectory originated from the sides, not above.

In fact, none of the trajectories were aiming down. Whoever was shooting at them was at their lateral sectors. But that didn't explain anything--there was no one by the canyon walls. Unless they were invisible. But her X-ray scanner didn't detect a presence.

It did find something else--tiny holes in the wall. They looked like pockmarks, but each aperture led to a tiny tunnel. Thin branching capillaries reaching all the way into the ground. Not worm tunnels either. Completely straight.

Samus eyed the ground beneath her and activated her thermal vision. A wide lava tube stretched perpendicular to the canyon, about thirty meters below. But that wasn't the cause. The surface rock was quartz, silica, and igneous rock--no magma getting through that.

She pushed her visor's power to its limits. Something was under the magma. A molten lead deposit. Molten because of the volcanic heat above it.

They weren't being ambushed. Their heavy load was pressing the magma closer to the lead. The pressure forced the lead out through the tubes, like some sick version of a geyser.

Except in this case, the metal cooled fast along the way, hardened, and became high-velocity projectiles. Samus was used to planets trying to kill her but this was a new one.

"There's no one there," Samus said into her radio, then explained the situation. "It's not an assault, it's environmental. We need to relieve the pressure underneath us."

And how the hell do we do that?" Cousens asked. "We're a transport convoy. We didn't bring any drilling equipment."

"Thirty-two percent!"

Samus looked down the convoy, hoping an idea would occur. She'd have to do this one herself.

She jumped, reaching a height of twenty meters, and fired her arm cannon into the ground. The fiery energy pulses blew a crater open, spraying shrapnel and jagged rock shards.

Samus tried again, charged up this time. The coronaburst forced anyone, if they weren't running in a panic, to shield their eyes. Splotches of glowing red magma oozed out of the crater. The temperature gauge on her suit filled to critical levels.

Cousens yelled in her ear "We are running out of time!"

He was right. This wasn't working fast enough. She spun into her morph ball.

Now only a meter wide, she rolled into the puddle-sized pool of lava. Gravity dragged her down into the slag. Her armor suit screamed as energy levels plummeted like a countdown.

Samus torqued her body, forcing herself to fall faster, using bombs to propel her descent.

There it was. The bottom of the cavity, bulging like an infected boil.

Samus unwrapped herself, slowed by the thick molten rock. The vibrant pink of her energy reserves dwindled to dead gray.

Floating in the red hot like an unborn baby, Samus aimed her arm cannon. Regular missiles wouldn't cut it--punching through needed the extra speed. She switched to the few super missiles she had and fired. Muffled explosion after explosion pelted the caldera's floor.

As her last energy drained, a geyser of molten lead shot toward her face.

It's funny the thoughts that come at death. Samus wondered if she was, in fact, underneath the Paracelsus right now. But the pressurized wave cut off her thoughts as it carried her up through the crust.

Samus was only out for a few seconds. Her armor suit, though shrieking to get out of danger, still had a few units left. She rolled toward a shadow that ended up being the underside of a truck.

"Zzz-Sam-... zzz-Sam-s-d-... re-d me? You did it! It's stopped."

Voices in the background yelled. "Energy shield's at two percent, but climbing." "Reroute energy to reserves! Keep that bastard afloat." "Casualty report!" "Emergency personnel, check-in."

Cousens voice rose above the din. "I don't know what you did, or why there's a huge-ass volcano in front of us, but you saved the day. What happened?"

"I'll explain..." she took a breath. "...later."

There were no further incidents within the canyon. The lava cooled in little time and they were able to ride over it as the Paracelsus regained shielding. Total casualties were one truck and the four people in it, a dozen seriously injured. Cousens considered that a strong victory, seeing as defeat was total planetary destruction.

The medical bay treated Samus for a touch of heat exhaustion. The engineers gladly brought her power armor back to one hundred percent. Since she didn't need to ride point anymore, the captain offered her a spot in his APC. She accepted, and spent most of the time resting and looking out the window.

Past the canyon walls, the starscape of Cirinus was actually beautiful. Though the landscape was still craggy, saw-toothed purple rock, the starfield of a foreign system kept her engaged. Millions on millions of little white dots against a black canvas of time.

The carved path became a road at some point, meaning they were close to the city. What Samus saw up ahead filled her with more dread than diving into a pit of lava or facing an assault from every space pirate in the galaxy.

A banner reading "WELCOME HOME, HEROES".

"Come on, Samus. PR is part of the job," Cousens said as he climbed out of the vehicle.

PR wasn't part of her job. Samus got the feeling Cousens relished the attention as much as the power of command.

The crowd wasn't large. A banner hung over a stage and podium, where an important looking man was grinning and clapping his hands.

"That's Council-leader Pliny," Cousens said. "He organized this op."

Samus barely noticed. She was suppressing the PTSD from the spouting balloons, holographic streamers, crystalline star globes, and lots of rainbow-colored lasers. Judging by the uniforms of the crowd, most of them consisted of power plant workers. Probably the council-leader had forced them into taking PTO to attend.

Samus followed Cousens up to the stage, while the council-leader continued his speech. The stage looked hastily constructed. Maybe modular and portable. A black shuttle stood out among the taupe skids and landcrawlers in the distance. Its shiny black exterior reflected the starfield, making it look like either a stealth vector or a luxury vehicle.

"What's that?" Samus asked Cousens.

"Oh, that's Pliny's. An intrasystem limocraft, luxury edition. Takes it everywhere. You see it, you know he's there. Never has a speck of dirt on it."

Samus expected the council-leader had used it to zip over and make his public appearance. Then he would return to the city, leaving everyone else to get back to work.

Cousens nudged Samus, indicating she should pay attention.

"And she needs no introduction, but I'm going to give her one anyway," Pliny said to mild laughter. "Our dictionary defines valor as 'boldness or determination in facing great danger, especially in battle'. And in the history of the universe, I only think of one example when this word comes to mind. She is responsible for eradicating the menace of metroids. Eradicating the X Parasite. Eradicated the space pirates, or so we hope." More mild laughter. "Saved several planets and removed the threat of phazon. My people, you thought you'd never see her in the flesh, but here she is--Samus Aran!"

Wild applause broke as Samus walked past Cousens to shake hands with the council-leader. This wasn't an unfamiliar scenario. Even the Galactic Federation held award ceremonies hosted by aspirational officials.

But if they were expecting a speech out of her--forget it.

Lights flashed and clicked as autonomous journal-probes took pictures. The council-leader continued his speech and bad jokes. Samus stepped into the background, hands behind her back, looking disciplined.

Subtly, Samus began shifting backwards until she was at the backstage edge. Then she walked down the risers.

"Where are you going?" Cousens asked.

"I don't need all this pomp. I need supplies for the trip back. Fuel and food. And they're not going to be here."

Cousens opened his mouth to protest, but stopped himself. She wasn't under his command, she was a volunteer. Plus she had just saved this planet--she could do what she wanted.

Samus took a complimentary conveyance into the city. The Delnida concierge AI pointed out to several stores for supplies. She picked the cheapest ones, then entered a route.

At the first store, no one else was inside, which wasn't atypical. All she had to do was grab things, check out, and be onto the next.

"Say, we just keep running into each other, don't we?" Everit said as he walked past.

He stopped. "Getting used to the planet?" Samus didn't respond. "Don't get much sun, but it's good climate. What are you doing here?"

"Buying supplies," Samus said. This was a supply depot after all.

"Oh yeah? Same. Gotta stock up while I'm in the city. Guess you got a long ride home, huh?"

Samus nodded slightly.

"Where you heading next, soldier?" Everit asked.

"Don't know."

"That ship of yours need any fuel? There's a decent fuel depot in the south part of the city, if you want directions."

"I don't need fuel," Samus said.

"Say, let me ask you something. Seeing as you own your own craft, you must know a lot about ships. What would I look for in a good interplanetary craft? I need something with a sturdy cargo hold."


"Yeah, not a lemon. I've seen the scrap metal locals try to sell and it ain't worth a chunk of dirt. I want a good ship. Strong. Take a lot of hard distance travel."

"How many engines?"

"Oh... maybe four. B-class."

"Four'll take you from one end of the galaxy and back."

"Well, what do you got?"

"Relativistic forty-four megahertz. Field-exclusion gluino for a power source."

"Aw, you got a scout ship," Everit dismissed her with a hand wave. "You're a Space Hunter. All you need is to get from one bounty to another," Everit said.

"And what do you need it for?" Samus asked.

"Well, if I could tell you that, I woulda already, huh?"

"Then I can't help you." Samus looked away, hoping an employee would appear. Even a bot would be welcome.

"Doesn't seem you're trying very hard," Everit said grimly. He brought himself up to full height.

"Hard enough," Samus said.

"How much money you make on the average? You save planets and all, but you've only got a fancy suit of armor and a scout ship. You could make more."

"This a bounty you know of?"

"Of a sorts. Long as I get what I want."

"And what do you want?"

"I want a ship. A fast ship. Ship that'll pull through when there's trouble. There's some choice ones around here. I figure if you and me work together-"

A man wearing a supply depot uniform burst out of the door, holding a widescreen PDA. "I just found it. Service- oh."

When he noticed Samus, he stopped and coughed. "This is... what you were looking for."

"Ah." Everit took the PDA from him. "Much obliged." Everit tipped his hat to Samus. "Nice talking to you. Maybe we'll see each other again... but I doubt it. Doesn't seem like we run in the same circles."

Everit walked out the store. Samus watched him, made sure he kept walking. "What did he want?" she asked the store clerk.

"What did he want? To buy things," the young man said innocently.

"What did he buy?" Samus asked. "A ship?"

"What? No. Just parts and tools. Some food. Nothing unusual."

"What tools?"

"I dunno. Hand held-tools. Mechanics. Stuff you'd use for fixing anything. Weirder part was the food. All vicey-stuff, you know? Sugary snacks, couple boxes of spices, frozen meats. Nothing unusual, just not very nutritious."

Samus turned back to the door, where Everit had exited. She doubted what he'd said--they would be seeing each other again.

Takara Sheppard's house was a rectangular box with sharp corners. No decorations. It looked more like a shed or a storage container. Dwellings on this part of the planet--the boundaries of the core city--looked the same.

Its door had a simple "SUMMON" button. No voice pattern or retinal scanner--just a fisheye camera. Samus pressed it.

After a few seconds, an old man with a fuzzy cream-colored beard opened the door. "Yes?"

"Are you Takara Sheppard?" Samus asked.

"Yes. Don't recognize you."

"You wouldn't. I wanted to know about the raid here a few months ago."

"Raid? Oh, yes, right." He scratched his head under his brimmed cap. "Well, the city already reimbursed me for everything I lost. And I told the Galactic Federation police everything I know."

"I'm not from the Galactic Federation police," Samus said. "I'm a Space Hunter. Investigating independently."

"Oh. Well... what do you want to know? Not much was taken. Just some crop stores, some replaceable equipment."

"Crops? You have a farm?" Samus didn't see a wide planting field when she came in.

"Right under your feet." He stomped his clodhopper on the linoleum floor. "Fungal farm. Edible, medicinal. Anything that'll grow, really. I'm on a government contract to see what'll thrive and what won't. It ain't much, but it's honest work."

"What happened when the raiders arrived? Did you see them?"

"Sad to say I didn't. And neither did the cameras or drones. Wrecked my storehouse getting in, but my homestead's all right. That's the advantage of having a farm underground.

"Is that how you got the head injury?" Samus asked. "From them?"

"Fraid not." He rubbed the fading lump on his forehead. "You got a good eye. Thought it had healed up. Naw, when I discovered it, the damage was done. This is from tripping over my own feet running to my storage shed." He grumbled. "First you, then the Galactic Federation. Why you all bound and determined to say I was hit?"

"I'm not. Just sussing out the truth," Samus said. "How many do you think there were?"

"I caught about six sets of footprints. But I might have missed a few, seeing as how they were here and gone like a comet. Wager they came over in a shuttle, hooped around, took what they needed, then up and left."

"'What they needed'? Why do you think they needed anything?"

"They only took basic resources. Food and supplies. Left the valuable stuff. Heck, my cultivator alone is worth more than my last month's crop."

"Any ideas where they came from?"

"Galactic Federation has no idea. Vapor trail had dissipated by then."

"Do they think they came from the city? Or went out to the borderlands?" Samus asked.

Sheppard chuckled. "You think they came from the moon, don't you? Police thought the same thing. And tell the truth, so do I. That's why I don't plan to press charges."

"You don't?" Samus asked, betraying some genuine surprise.

"My grandfather was a colonist. I know how hard it is to work a planet. Anyone who wants to settle a fresh stake must have some down-deep determination, no matter what it is. They wouldn't be swiping from me unless they needed to. And I'm more than happy to let them."

Samus nodded. "Anything you didn't tell the police that you care to tell me?"

Sheppard chewed his lips. "You've got no love for them, do you?"

"I used to be one. Their policies didn't agree with me."

"Well, let me tell you, I ain't got none neither." Sheppard nodded his head emphatically. "Came in here, left a bigger mess than those raiders. Only thing I didn't tell them about was a feather I found after they'd all gone."

"A feather?"

"Little soft downy one. Now there ain't no birds here on Cirinus, you can imagine. Just winged lizards, lepidoptera. Don't know where it came from. Hell, maybe one of them was wearing a down jacket. But it caught my eye, that's for sure."

"What color was it."

"Red, as a matter of fact. Dull red, like blood."

Samus nodded. "Thank you. That's all I need to know."

"Much obliged for your checking in. I'll tell you anything you want. I think you got a better head on your shoulders than those bureaucrats."

They said their goodbyes. Samus walked back to the courtesy autocar, formulating her next steps.

The trick would be getting to the moon without drawing attention from the anti-invasion guns. They would be hidden in ground cannons and satellites. If she learned their locations, she could plot a course to avoid them. Or she could finagle a permit from Council-leader Pliny. Play the "you owe me" card.

The PDA on her belt clicked, indicating a notification. She unhooked it from her her belt. A quik-message from Cousens. She thought she was done with him. Maybe someone wanted another publicity appearance.


Samus vanquished the urge to crunch the PDA in her hand.

"Once again, I'm utterly sorry this happened." Council-leader Pliny steepled his fingers on his desk. "We take theft very seriously on Cirinus. Rest assured this hijacker does not represent the people of Delnida."

"He's not from here," Samus said. "He's a freelancer. Black market relic hunter."

"Everit Gibbons," Cousens read from his PDA. He stood to the side, dressed in a clean uniform, his hat tucked under his arm. "Been on my squad about six months. Not sure where he was before. I get the sense he likes to travel."

"Well, so much the better then. Good riddance. I'm sure the Galactic Federation's surveillance system is tracking him and they'll find him. In the meantime, if you'd like, I can have my assistant talk about scheduling passage on the next transport. Or you can stay in one of our fine hotels. My treat."

"You won't find him," Samus said.

"Wh- what makes you so sure?" Pliny stammered.

"Your security systems only have Hera-class processors and X-2F01 sensors with version 4.0 specs. Inefficient. Substandard."

"I beg your pardon," Pliny said.

"Samus, I'm sure it's the best they can get this far out," Cousens said.

"If you do manage to notice him, he'll already be gone," Samus spit. "Send your Galactic Federation representatives after him."

"Well, frankly, Miss Aran," Pliny said, regaining his composure. "Allocating federation police would take them away from our citizens. It's not a Cirinus ship. And this incident isn't Cirinus's responsibility."

"I think it is," Samus said, lowering her voice. "My power suit is on that ship."

"You're an independent contractor."

"Space Hunter," Samus corrected.

"You came here of free will. The blanket terms of the job state anything you bring with you is your own. In other words, your ship is not my responsibility."

"The asshole who took it is," Samus said.

Pliny leaned back. "And Captain Cousens will deal with that per his discretion. But from what I know, you entrusted the ship to his care in the first place."

Captain Cousens made an imperceptible shrug at Samus. A lot was said in that shrug. My hands are tied. I'll do what I can, but it won't be much.

"They made me surrender it because of your damn energy core. Which I saved."

"For which we are grateful," Pliny said. "But that gratitude doesn't extend here. Your transportation to and from our planet isn't part of Cirinus's civic duty."

Samus slammed her hands on the desk. "You want to talk about civic duty? Didn't you just make a speech about how many times I saved the galaxy?"

The council-leader grinned. "We're trying to work with you, but you're rebuking our goodwill. Doesn't incentivize us to hold out a helping hand."

Samus stayed hunched over his desk.

Then she stood back. She smiled.

"You're right, Council-leader. I have been unreasonable. I need to be patient. I'm sure I can find different transport if I look hard enough."

"There we go," Pliny smiled. "That's the spirit."

Samus waited ten minutes. Then she took an elevator to the government center's parking area and stole Council-leader Pliny's shuttle.

Two quick hacks on the door--one for VIP stall next to center's entrance, one for the shuttle itself. If she'd had her power suit, she could use its high-efficiency computer to hack the code. Or simply rip the door lock off. But her suit was on her gunship, which she was trying to get to in the first place.

It smelled like old cologne and beer. Right after she engaged the engines and headed straight vertical, she powered on the air circulators.

They would never fire on this thing. For one, the vehicle was probably alpha-cleared for the entire system. For another, once Council-leader Pliny realized his luxury limocraft was missing, his first order would be to find it. Then he'd pause and give his second order: "Don't shoot it!"

But they certainly tried their best to discourage her. First, police pointing out laws she was breaking. Then politicians cajoling. Then military ordering.

"Samus, there are better ways to make contact with them than this. You could cause an interplanetary incident," Captain Cousens said over the intercom. They'd finally put him on after three other military adjuncts she'd never heard of.

Samus pulled out a beer from the cryo-mini, set her feet up on the console, and listened.

"We're not sure what ordnance they're carrying, but they could use it. And you being Space Hunter, in a Cirinus shuttle, landing on a self-governing colony... that's a legal snafu that could go on for decades."

True--whoever was on the moon could take her down. Or capture her. Or kidnap her as a hostage. This vehicle wasn't prepared for combat. But she wasn't figuring on dying one way or the other.

"I don't know why you want to see them so bad, but let's go through the official channels for this, huh?"

Exactly what she didn't want to do--go through anything official. Her ship being stolen had just sealed the deal, but she'd always intended things to go like this. If she was going to do any good, it would have to be her alone. Not one army versus another.

Samus shut the radio off and had another beer.

Cruising to the moon only took three hours--a straight shot up, a quick orbit, then a flip-around.

A load of dust kicked up when the ship settled--Pliny would have to take it through a wash when he got it back. The sandy-white land was dry, but it was good fertile soil. Prairie grass and tiny purple wildflowers undulated like an ocean amid islands of flat-packed dirt. It reminded her of old pictures of Zebes.

Her gunship hovered a hundred yards away--the tracking signal shouting into the void. The thief hadn't done anything but take it for a joyride. Maybe that's all Everit could figure out--her UI wasn't a universal design.

The first thing she did after turning off the S.O.S. was to put on her power suit. As the modular components slipped on, she ordered a utility scan. The hijacker hadn't placed any trojans or booby traps--further indication he only wanted it for transport.

Armored up, she ascended. Her visor lit up with data about her surroundings--air quality, wind flow, infra-red, sonic waves, material composites... and tracks.

Standard issue military bootprints heading away from the ship in an easterly direction, like she expected. The power suit's speed made quick work of out-pacing them.

Then one set of tracks became two. The second, smaller set followed for about a hundred yards. Then the two tracks became none. No sign of scuffle. No insight into what happened. Samus peered into the distance.

A Chozo temple lay ahead. Its steeple had rounded spires, harvest gold trim, and straight-line veins pulsing with teal power.

Impossible. She had never seen a real one. Only pictures. Chozo never made it out this far. And furthermore--this temple was new. It wasn't a ruin. This building could only be a few dozen years old. It couldn't have been real.

But a real Chozo warrior was running out toward her.

He was encapsulated in Chozo battle armor--suppurating plates of dark-rust and lava-red. Whoever this was was small and lithe, long limbs augmented by technology. He held a two-headed spear across his chest.

"Stop!" Samus commanded.

He didn't stop, of course. He thrust forward. Samus stepped aside. He swiped at her middle. Samus rolled back and fired a weak shot.

The warrior dashed, jumped, then stabbed her in the chest. Of course, the points clanged off her body armor. Before Samus could grab him, he somersaulted off and regained distance. His fighting style matched what she knew of Chozo martial arts.

"I'm not here to hurt you!" Was there anything she could say? "Caeck qirc graw." It was the only phrase she could remember from her studies--"what is your name?"

The warrior straightened up. But he didn't attack.

"Your pronunciation is terrible," he said.

"I know," Samus said between breaths. She detached her helmet and (as was her habit) fanned out her blonde hair. "No beak."

She opened one of the compartments on her leg, then pulled out the red and yellow emblem. "I think this belongs to you."

The warrior didn't move for a moment. Then the area around his neck hissed as the armored plates retracted. He took off his helmet.

Underneath was the head of a Chozo male. Younger than she had ever seen (though still middle-aged and wizened). His beak was pointed and sharp, not having reached the thick hooked shape of his elders. Solid red eyes bore into her.

"Where did you get that?"

"Doesn't matter. It's yours, isn't it?" Samus asked.

The Chozo didn't say anything.

"Another of my kind came here. A man. I followed his tracks to about here. Then they disappeared," Samus said.

"He was a boorish man. He brought cheap vices to tempt and influence us. Sugars and fatty foods and spices. It did not work. He was easily captured."

"I figured. What happened to him? Did he say what he wanted?"

"He wanted what all of your men want--more. More resources, more valuables, more wealth than they could ever use. He is under my custody, until we decide what to do with him."

"We? Are there more Chozo here?"

"Kindred in spirit, but not in body. I am the only Chozo. I think I shall be the last."

Samus nodded. "Will you let the man go? He's no threat to you, and I can take him back with me."

The Chozo grimaced, gripped his spear tighter. "You honor me by speaking my language, such as it was. It is a tongue I have not heard for a long time. But there is no honor in serving a people that will not respect boundaries."

"For some of us, respect comes slow. I request you have patience."

"Patience is like a birch tree. It bends and it bends and it bends. It can bend far. But eventually it becomes old and breaks."

Samus paused. Then her power armor hissed at each seam. The chestplate opened. She loosed herself from the stilt-like boots, then the arm trappings, like stepping out of a small mech.

"I'm not in my armor now. I will exchange myself for him. You can do with me what you will."

The Chozo's eyes narrowed. "Is this a trick?"

Samus rolled her eyes. "In the history of asking 'is this a trick', has anyone ever said 'yes'?"

The corners of the Chozo's mouth curled up. "My name is Red Hands."

"I know," Samus said.

Samus followed Red Hands into the settlement. He didn't restrain her like she expected. Maybe now that she was armor-less, he didn't consider her any threat.

A low fence surrounded the settlement. Sentients of all types were working standard agrarian tasks--carrying water, tanning hides, constructing and welding, playing with children, grazing the ostrich-like dachora. There were some ceratopsids, some elfins and n'kren, but lots and lots of humans.

A few looked up at the foreign woman in a skin-tight azure suit walking through their grounds. But they didn't say anything.

"You're the leader?" Samus asked.

"As you know leaders," Red Hands said.

"Who are all these people?"

"Like-minded individuals who have followed me on my journeys. I have visited many planets, seeking wisdom and spreading it. Many acceded so strongly they would not be denied more and followed me. They forced themselves under my wing, but I accepted them. Eventually, I decided we must have a home. Like a new-sprouted tree, we need room to grow into a forest. Room and time."

He led her into the Chozo temple. The tall ceiling gave the room an intimidating feeling of humbleness and piety.

Four guards rushed to Red Hands side. He didn't acknowledge them. Instead, he headed further into the temple, down a narrow set of spiral stairs made of stone.

Two floors below the surface, Red Hands opened the door into a spacious holding cell.

"Where's the human you captured?" Samus asked. "Is he still alive?"

"I do not bargain for dead men," Red Hands said.

"Then you're willing to negotiate."

Red Hands didn't answer, but opened the door. He waited for Samus to enter. She did so without any cajoling. Red Hands shut the door on her.

"You think you have tricked me. But I have done the tricking," he said.

"You have?"

"Now I have two prisoners instead of one. This means you are beginning to fear us."

"Are you trying to build a new Chozo empire?" Samus asked.

Red Hands laughed. "If fate decrees it to be so, then so shall it. But it's a future I won't see."

"Then why all this? Your temple is based on the design of your ancestors, so you follow the Chozo ways."

"Far from it," Red Hands said. "The Chozo were strong once. They were architects of the universe. Enlightened. Then when other species became stronger, the Chozo withered and died. And why did they weaken? Because they chose to."

"Bullshit," Samus said.

"They withdrew from the galaxy because they were frightened of its monsters. And when you have the power to take action, but don't, you are no better than your adversaries. You are responsible for the victims left behind. Victims like you, Samus Aran."

He pointed a taloned finger at her behind bars.

"Yes, I know your history. The space pirates killed your parents. Then your surrogate family on Zebes. The Chozo could have stopped the carnage before it started. But chose not to. When they stopped using their technology to end the evil forces in the galaxy, they became weak. Now the galaxy is rife with them." Red Hands grew rattled. "They had the technology and intelligence to stop it. We could see through time. And we did nothing." He stood back. "No more."

"Except there's one problem," Samus said. "The Chozo already tried that. Phazon, metroids, Mother Brain. Every time they interfered with the natural course of the galaxy it ended in disaster. Not just disasters that could destroy planets, but dimensions. I know. I was there."

"I may be the last living Chozo," Red Hands said. "And I will not let my species be remembered for the very thing that caused its extinction. We will grow and we will fight. Already the galaxy is taking notice, or that man wouldn't have come here."

"I hate to break it to you, but that's got nothing to do with you," Samus said. "He was convinced you were hoarding some resource up here. Gold or ammolite or something."

"He said as much," said Red Hands. "Then still we have succeeded, as we have removed a glutton from the galaxy's fold. Your presence means the Galactic Federation is taking notice of us too, or you wouldn't be here."

"Again, hate to break it to you, but I'm here on my own. I'm not part of any Galactic Federation force."

"Nonetheless, they would not let the galaxy's hero die in a prison, forgotten. They will meet. They will discuss. And this will augment our reputation."

"You think kidnapping defenseless people is how that's going to happen? Do you have the gift of prophecy or something?"

"You don't need it to know how luddites will behave," Red Hands said. He turned and walked out of the cell.

Time passed. Maybe a solar cycle. There was no way to tell--the gaol had no windows and Samus had no chronometer.

A light clicked down the hallway. Usually the two guards on either side of the door were hidden in the dark. But Red Hands, holding an elec-lantern, illuminated them as he past.

"What'd you do with my suit? I assume it's safe?" Samus asked as Red Hands walked up.

"That is a Chozo artifact. One you don't deserve."

"I have Chozo DNA. I was raised by Chozo. I deserve it as much as you."

Red Hands grimaced. "You were merely gifted our abilities. I was born with them."

"Who is more worthy of a thing? The person born with gifts or the one who earned them?"

Red Hands hesitated, then looked away.

"The Galactic Federation contacted you yet?" Samus asked.

"They will. They will negotiate terms for your release."

"You know I'd be surprised if they even send a response. I'm just a woman in a galaxy full of heroes."

"The only one who wears Chozo armor."

"The only one who can. But I'm not going to live forever. And the Galactic Federation knows it. Space is big and I'm one person. And so are you."

"Pitiful lies," Red Hands said. "You have defeated the Phazon menace, the space pirates, the metroids, the x-parasites. You are indispensable."

"The only reason a hero exists is because, a long time ago, someone made a mistake. And the Chozo have made a lot of mistakes," Samus said.

"Those mistakes end here. I am teaching my flock the old ways of the Chozo. How to use our technology to fight back," Red Hands said.

"You don't know what you're talking about. You raid for supplies, not to intimidate."

"They serve both purposes. Fear is like wind--it can be felt, but never seen."

"You're not strong enough to take on the city, let alone the entire galaxy. And I think you know that. What do you plan to do if the Galactic Federation doesn't respond? Keep us here? For years?"

"For a prisoner, you speak big words."

"Then hear some big words from your father. He gave me more than just that trinket before he died."

Red Hands regarded the chevron on his belt.

"Before he rejoined the great comet, he said hate has never made a difference in the world. Darkness does not drive out darkness, it only creates more," Samus said.

Red Hands paused. "I'm done listening to you. A prisoner says anything to regain freedom."

"You're still young. You have a lot of people listening to you. Turn their heads away from hate. I don't care what you use your cult for but not this. Not for Hazel Wing's sake. But the Galactic Federation isn't going to listen to you and they're not coming for me."

"They will come," Red Hands said. He turned on the heel of his clawed foot and left.

Three days passed. Samus could tell by the meals she was served. They ate well here. An agricultural surplus meant a promising future for a new community. Small wonder their leader was so ambitious.

Red Hands entered the cell, his talons clacking on the concrete floor.

"Any response from the Galactic Federation?" Samus asked.

Red Hands didn't answer.

"Any ships nearby? Communication chatter?"

Red Hands didn't answer.

"You... did tell them I was here, right?"

Red Hands didn't answer.

Samus smiled. "Or, like I'm betting, no one's done anything. Am I right?"

He fingered a small device in his palm. Like a data stick but with two lights--one lit red.

"Others say I shouldn't come down here. They say my resolve grows weaker each time I do," Red Hands said.

"Or maybe it's just changing direction."

"Like the wind," Red Hands said. "I told them I would rid our planet of you."

He pressed the button with his feathered thumb. It lit green and the cell door clunked, unlatching.

"I have your human waiting for you. Tell the Galactic Federation that I let you both live. That when I held my talon at your throat, I let you go. Maybe then they'll take us seriously."

Samus pursed her lips. "Why?"

"When I lost my emblem, I was desecrated," Red Hands said to Samus. "No one could know my sorrow. It was my last possession from my old life. When I lost it, I took it as a sign to break all ties with my past. But it was a sign the past was coming back for me. Now I think maybe I lost it for a reason."

Samus nodded. "You know, while I lived with Chozo, I didn't believe all their mystical mumbo-jumbo. I still don't. But I also know the universe is full of things we can't explain. Yet. Maybe this is one of them."

"Maybe," Red Hands said.

"If you ever want to join the Galactic Federation, you could petition. They could use a leader like you."

"First I must learn to lead the people who already want to follow me, before I can lead those who don't. But maybe someday."


The guards were holding Everit at the top of the incline, rope binding his legs and wrists. She cut the leg-ties, then shoved him forward.

When she asked about her Power Suit, they told her it was waiting safely in her ship. On Red Hands order, they found it and activated its return beacon. It had marched itself home. But they must have studied it first, to come up with ideas for their own technology.

"So this is where we split up, right? There's two ships. You go your way, I'll go mine?" Everit asked.

"I'm sure the mayor wants his ship back. I'll tow it back. And you get the holding cell," Samus said.

"Or, or," Everit said. "We join forces, right? You a bounty hunter, me an black-market dealer. A new team."

Samus shoved him forward, throwing him into the field.

Everit stumbled through the reedy prairie grass. When he came to a halt he suddenly started chortling. The laugh grew from a snicker to full blown maniacal howl.

"What's so funny?" Samus asked, shoving him forth.

"Those apes. They are hoarding something. And they don't even know it."

"What do you mean?" Samus asked.

"Look at it. It's everywhere. Cyressus perralchilcum. Reaper's flower. Rare as hell, but they've got meadows of it. You refine the leaves, it makes a black powder stronger than condensed trinitrotoluene. There must be enough here to blow a solar system out of place."

Samus looked around. Little purple flowers stuck out among the sandy-yellow wild grass. Indistinguishable from any other wildflower, but they covered the plains as far as the eye could see.

The gunship rose over the next hill, now within their sight.

"You think he knows what he's got here?" Everit asked. "Or what he'll do if he does?"

"I'm sure he'll figure it out," Samus said. "He's a smart boy."