This is a disclaimer:
I don't own the IP or characters of Metroid or Mass Effect. This is just a stupid fanfiction project. So don't sue me, darnit.
"I don't like this one bit."
"You're not the only one who doesn't. But she's reliable, and she's the one they suggested for joining the Spectres."
"Reliable? She's a loose cannon!"
"She proved herself during the Skyllian Blitz... Held off an entire army long enough for reinforcements to arrive."
"And we all know how she did that, don't we? With that--"
"Despite Parliament's misgivings, she's still seen as a hero. Humanity needs a hero right now. And she's the best one we've got."
"... I'll make the call."
Sol System, en route to Eden Prime via Charon Relay, May 9th, 2183, 1733 Zulu
Systems Alliance Space Vessel Normandy...
The hangar bay of a space ship was always, as a rule, the coldest part of the ship. Even worse if the ship recieved regular traffic, like a massive passenger liner, the cargo deck of a freighter or the launch bays of a fighter carrier.
For a frigate like the Normandy, it should have been much warmer. Frigates didn't open up their launch bays in vacuum except under special circumstances. They were small enough that putting boots on the ground was a lot easier by simply landing the ship.
And aside from the rack for an M-35 Mako armored fighting vehicle (which Normandy hadn't actually recieved yet), this shuttle bay was empty, save for an armed security detail, the ship's captain and one other 'guest'.
The 'guest' turned to the ship's captain, looking at the tallish, dark-skinned human with a guarded expression. "I'm given to understand that you worked with this mercenary before," he observed in an equally guarded tone.
"I have," Captain David Anderson repplied. His 'guest' stood out among the Alliance Navy crew. He was the one and only turian aboard the Normandy. "I worked with her while she was still serving in the Alliance Marines, ever since she was selected for N7 training."
"Your crew don't seem happy to be having her aboard." The turian cocked his crested, mandibled head at the armed side-boys. To a one, they all fussed nervously over their M7 Lancer assault rifles – the standard shoulder-arm of the Alliance Navy and Marines. A simple, but rugged and reliable mass-accellerator weapon.
Anderson glanced at one of the marines – Corporal Richard L. Jenkins, a green kid who just arrived from infantry training on Mars. Top marks, which explained why he was heading up the detail, but he was excitable and very green. And that excitement seemed to infect the whole squad. Jenkins was also just a bit too loud, probably not realizing that the Captain and thier turian 'guest' could hear him:
"I heard she faced down the leader of the pirates at Torfan herself," he chattered. "Blasted him and his top lieutenants to dust then set charges and blew up their whole base."
A young woman in the squad looked almost as excited as Jenkins, "I heard she still had blood on her armor from the Blitz when she stormed their base."
The captain caught the eye of the marines. He didn't say anything. He didn't have to. He'd learned long ago how to get his point across without even saying anything – far less having to take official cognizance. So he leveled his best 'shut up' glare at Jenkins... who promptly straightened his spine and cleared his throat pointedly at his detail, the captain's order to shut up and pay attention to their job working it's way all the way down the line, all without a word being said.
Anderson sighed. The subject of their gossiping had once been something of a protege of his. A kid from an Element Zero mining colony so new it didn't even have the dignity of a name, only a numerical designation: K-2L. A young girl that had watched everyone she'd ever known murdered by batarian pirates and an up-and-coming leader who sparked what amounted to a small rebellion against the Batarian Hegemony, by siezing a whole sector of their space and killing anyone who objected. As messily as possible.
Anderson had little use for pirates or slavers of any species, but his antipathy was a candle next to the roaring furnace of hate that his young protege had for them. A fact that had the young woman put under a none-too-figurative psychological microscope when she was nominated for N-School training. Not that training was exactly what happened to her.
It hadn't been an Alliance ship that had rescured the abandoned, traumatized little girl form K-2L. It had been a ship belonging to a race that even the far-reaching Citadel Council had little contact with, partly because they didn't care much to involve themselves in interstellar affairs, and partly because they were nearly extinct at the time.
They'd taken the young girl, and – for reasons known but to them and God – had trained her in their nearly-forgotten warrior arts, genetically modified her with parts of their own DNA, and armed her with a weaponized suit that outperformed any modern weapon known to any Citadel-aligned race by a terrifying margin. All of which raised the hackles of nearly every government who heard about it, and all for their own reasons.
When the young woman came to enlist in the Alliance Marine Corps and attended N-School in Rio de Jinero, back on Earth, she wasn't there to learn. She was there to demonstrate what she already knew by second nature.
And that was the simple facts of the matter. When people started talking about what she could do, the tales grew in the telling by leaps and bounds, until eventually, you couldn't recognize the factual report that had started them. By now, the young lady had a reputation as a one-woman-army and a relentless hunter.
Which may as well have been true, if what Anderson had heard in the years since then had been accurate.
"I'm not worried about any incidents," Anderson replied to the turian in black-and-red armor. "But you never mentioned something, Nihlus... Why did you nominate her? She's not exactly known for toeing the line."
Nihlus Kyrik, an officer of the Citadel Council's Special Tactics and Reconnisance division, twitched his mandibles slightly. Anderson had learned from experience that turians emoted more with their mandibles than any other part of their mostly-rigid face. But he wasn't sure if the Spectre was expressing amusement or irritation there. "I have a few reasons," he said somewhat evasively, "not the least of which being that I believe she can do the job."
"Won't get any argument from me there," Anderson observed.
"I didn't think I would," Nihlus continued. "But aside from that, Spectres aren't rank-and-file always-follow-orders soldiers. We have to show that we can think independently and take action against major threats without needing to be ordered."
Anderson grimaced, remembering reading a report from when the object of their discussion did exactly that – and then some. An incident which led to her dismissal from the Systems Alliance Marines. Or would have, if she hadn't resigned before they had a chance.
The ship slowly growing in her viewport was unlike any human ship she'd ever seen. Human warships tended to be elongated rectangular hulls with backswept 'wings' that housed the drive systems of the ship and weapons running the length of the main hull. Turian design tended to do the reverse, the main drive being housed in the primary hull with weapon systems housed in the wings. Asari vessels were elegant hollow-centered ships with sleek wings projecting at right angles to the primary hull, and the hollow center being used for both primary propulsion and used as their main mass accellerator cannon.
But the frigate – and it was even a bit small to be called that – didn't fit any of those, exactly. She had the backswept wings of a human ship, but her primary hull was smoothly tapered, ending in a sharp, chisel-shaped nose. The word "NORMANDY" was stenciled in black against it's white hull and the hull number "SR-1" was in white against it's black wings.
It had 'prototype' written all over it.
She had no idea why her old mentor had asked her to come aboard. She had even less idea why she accepted. But as her gunship's computer exchanged impersonal, automatic handshakes with the Normandy and it's shuttle bay officer and got her clearance to land in the single hangar on the ship's belly, she pushed her uncertainty aside. There were few people she respected more than David J. Anderson. He'd accepted her at a time when she desperately wanted to belong, stuck by her when things got tough and gave her every opportunity to show the brass in the Alliance that she could be an asset to them. If he'd still been her commanding officer at Torfan, she might still be an officer in the Alliance Marines, instead of an independent bounty hunter.
As her ship slid through the thin mass-effect shield seperating the bay from the cold vacuum of space she let her eyes look over the people assembled in the bay. And as she did so, the visor of her helmet linked up automatically with her ship's computer, identifying each one and displaying their name and rank when she glanced at them. She felt her mouth quirk slightly into a smile as she turned her glance towards her old mentor. He'd not changed much since she last saw him. Maybe a few more lines on the face, more gray in the hair. But she still saw the same solid dependability in his stance and his eyes. Not to mention the new rank bar on his shoulders. He'd been promoted since last she saw him.
But the figure beside him proved perplexing. As she felt her ship slow to a stop, her mouth turned to a frown. The personnel database in her ship came up with nothing. That might mean nothing if she was using only an Alliance database, since the man was turian. But her ship's computer had updates from the military, law enforcement and criminal ID databases of almost every Council government. But when her visor highlighted him, it came up with the terse reply of "Data Not Found".
But even that puzzle got tucked away in her mind as she looked over the party of marines again. They were armed. And not with the standard shipboard sidearms, but with full-on assault rifles. Lancers, it looked like.
Considering everything she'd survived, much less fought.... much less defeated...a single fire team of rifle-armed marines posed as much threat to her as a six-year-old with a slingshot loaded with marshmallows. But it was still an unwelcome sight, considering that these were her potential employers – she hoped.
She stood up from the pilot's couch as her ship's engines spooled down and the landing gear took the full weight of the ship. Well, fine. So the Alliance didn't trust her. Nothing new and different about that. Best way to defuse a tense situation with people you didn't want to fight was a show of good faith. And as her armored boots stepped onto the single-person lift in the center of her ship, she rose up to let everyone in the hangar see her show of good faith.
It started with her dropping down out of her ship on a the lift, fully armed and armored. Unlike the combat hardsuits of most civilizations, she wore a suit of thick armor plating, colored red on the helmet and upper torso, yellow on the lower torso, upper legs and upper arms and fiery orange on the shoulders, boots and the left gauntlet, sheathed in a selective-reaction energy field that could switch on and off aroudn individual places on the armor at her merest thought. Enclosing her right arm was an integrated weapons system that could switch between simple jacketed pulses of energy to minimanufactured concussive missiles, electromagnetic wave streams, to directed cryogenic pulses, just by changing the gesture of her right hand. A glowing green visor covered her face, and the shoulders were improbably bulky, housing energy cells and shield generators. But with so much of it controlled by her thoughts instead of her body, it took intense concentration simply to wear, far less fight in.
Anything further from what most mercenaries in the known galaxy would be armed with would be difficult to imagine.
She kept her arm cannon pointed at the ground and raised her left hand to wave at the ship's captain before her voice came over the helmet's external speaker:
"Samus Aran, requesting permission to come aboard."
Flight Lieutenant Jeff Moreau sat in the helm couch at the very nose of the Normandy, letting his eyes idly sweep over the increasingly familiar hapatic displays, taking note of their readouts absently as the starscape slowly drifted outside the viewport and the slightly-brighter pinprick of the star called Utopia grew in the distance. He was arguably the best pilot in the entire Systems Alliance Navy. A disticntuion he'd worked long and hard for, working his ass off at the Academy to the exclusion of almost all else, putting in long hours of flight time in a Trident fighter, endless, tedious freight and personnel runs in a UT-47 shuttle, and the monotony of standing the helm watch on the dreanought McKinley. Which wasn't a bad resume for a man who couldn't walk without crutches thanks to a degenerative bone disease.
Of all the assignments in his past, that last one was probably his least favorite, as massive capital ships were just flatly a pain to fly, handling like a pregnant boulder. He'd almost put in for a transfer when one came to him unasked. While he wasn't fond of a starship's helm position, at least it was a comparatively fast and nimble frigate.
Of course, if he'd known the kind of frigate he'd be flying, he would have run so fast to his new assignment that his shins would have broken. Not as hard for him as others, but.... well, you get the point.
The SSV Normandy was unbelievably fast and nimble, pulling accelleration curves that would make even a fighter pilot sit up and take notice of.
Not that that was what he was taking notice of right now.
Normandy was just cooling down after a Mass Relay jump. Technically speaking, such a maneuver was tricky, extremely technical and could easily rip a ship apart if done improperly, with a Mass Relay generating a tunnel of Zero-Mass Space between where you were and where you were going on the other side of the network. True the margin of error wasn't nearly as bad these days as it was when Admiral Grissom made the first Mass Relay jump through the Charon Relay, but it was still something most helmsmen got nervous over. Moreau (who vastly preferred to be referred to by his callsign; "Joker"), on the other hand, could do a Relay jump in his sleep. He only paid close attention when he wanted to shave a bit off the old drift record. Which he had, squeaking in under 1500 k.
But now that it was over, he'd let his attention wander a bit to one of the 'passengers' aboard the ship. Normally, passengers were absolutely forbidden on the bridge/CIC deck. But right now they had not one but TWO exceptions to that rule aboard. One being that Spectre, Nihlus. And Spectres, top covert agents of the Citadel Council literally were given a blank check to do anything they pleased in pursuit of their mission – the defense of Citadel Space and it's inhabitants. Obviously, that wasn't a kind of authority the Council dropped on just any Joe Schmo.
But the other passenger didn't even have that excuse. The only reason she was up here was because the Captain vouched for her.
Well, Joker thought to himself, glancing aside as the other passenger stepped closer to the viewport, if I have to have a passenger on the bridge, at least this one isn't hard to look at.
Like most of the crew, Joker knew Samus Aran by reputation, but had never met her. Since resigning from the Marines and becoming an independent bounty hunter, few people, if anyone had seen Aran when she wasn't wrapped up in that super-high-tech power armor. Which Joker considered a shame, though he had the good sense to keep that opinion unvoiced.
Samus Aran wasn't wearing her 'Power Suit', as she called it. She wore only a dark blue jumpsuit that she wore beneath it, covering her from neck to toe... and clung a bit more closely to her than an Alliance uniform did. Beneath that massive armored suit Samus Aran was tall - close to 1.8 meters - lean and athletic. And while Joker knew she was closer to thirty than she was to twenty, she looked more like a high school escapee. And that long blonde ponytail she wore didn't help dissuade that notion. At least until you looked her in the eye. Her face was bautiful, but one look in those baby-blues and you could tell. She'd seen some shit, and it left it's mark on her.
Joker reminded himself to stop staring as Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko sat down beside him at the tactical console. Joker absently scratched at his (completely non-regulation) beard as the tac officer parked himself. Joker hadn't known Kaidan long, but he knew that Alenko was one of the original human biotics, people who could manipulate telekinetic dark energy fields with their minds. Beyond that he was a fairly easygoing fellow, but also a pretty quiet one. Though compared to the bounty hunter Samus, he was downright loquacious. "Joker," he said by way of greeting.
"What's it look like."
"You just missed the Spectre," Joker remarked sarcastically. "God only knows why he was watching over my shoulder during the jump... Hate that guy."
Joker shifted in his chair. Damn thing was uncomfortable by design. Apparently the military mindset suggested taht making the helmsman uncomfortable reduced teh chances of him falling asleep at the wheel, so to speak. But damn, what he wouldn't give for a little padding. "He just rubs me wrong. Lurking in the background while we shake down the ship. It's a milk run, why have a Council Spectre aboard?"
"The Council helped fund construction of the Normandy," Alenko repied with unruffled calm while his hands danced idly over his tactical controls, running a random drill on the tracking yeomen in CIC.
"With a ship of mixed human and turian design, they were bound to send someone to give them a report."
Joker gathered himself for a caustic remark about 'the official story' when an unexpected voice opened up. "Bullshit."
Both lieutenants glanced aside to look at the normally-silent Aran. She looked down at them, arms crossed beneath her breasts. "They have half a hundred diplomatic attaches back on Earth. If all they wanted was a report, they'd have picked someone from their turian delegation."
Alenko gave her a scolding look. "Yeah, except for two things," he pointed out. "They'd need a 'diplomatic attache' with military experience and who had security clearance."
Aran returned the look, still coldly calm. "... All turians are military."
"That's an exaggeration."
"Is not," Samus contradicted flatly. "Their entire adult population is part of their military hierarchy."
Alenko blinked. Less because he was offended by the bounty hunter arguing with him, but more because this was more words than either of them had heard her say since she came aboard.
"They're not all combat forces, obviously, but they all recieve combat training. Police officers are actually military police, construction workers are army engineers, farmers are part of the supply corps... you get the idea."
Joker twisted around in his chair, careful to not move his legs. "Where'd you learn all that?"
Samus shrugged. "Job out in the Terminus Systems. Can't talk about it."
"Why?" Joker asked sarcastically. "Military secrets?"
"Joker!" the helmsman's console suddenly barked in the voice of Captain Anderson. "Status report."
"Just cleared the Mass Relay, sir," Joker responded automatically. "Should be hitting orbit within the hour."
"Good," came the terse reply. "Alert Engineer Adams that we'll be running the IES system for our approach."
Joker wasn't surprised. Among the new technologies and design features of the Normandy, was a pair of systems that could render the ship practically undetectable. The Tantalus Drive Core, and the Internal Emissions Sink.
Normandy's drive core – a sphere of Element Zero down in the bowels of the ship – was actually three times the size of a standard frigate's core, more suited for a heavy cruiser than a little ship like this. But it also had the capability of generating a localized gravitational shift that the ship could 'fall' into, letting them accellerate without firing thier main thrusters, which would light up like a supernova on any LIDAR scan. Combined with the IES system capturing all of the ship's waste heat in an internal heat sink, the ship was practically invisible to the devices typically used to detect a ship in deep space.
The drawbacks were that the Tantalus Core was massive. And massively expensive as well. Element Zero was a rare commodity, still not fully understood by the galactic community – certainly not to the point where anyone could create synthetic eezo. So eezo miners – like Samus' own parents – found themselves in a highly-sought-after and well-paid business. If not for the intervention of a marauding band of batarian space pirates, Samus Aran would probably have been a fabulously wealthy heiress living on some paradise world like Beckenstien.
"Aye, sir," Joker acknowledged, his hands dancing across the floating, glowing control board to signal engineering. Almost immediately, he heard the main drive cycling down and the ambient temperature of the ship to rise, almost imperceptibly, as the ship's heat vents closed down.
"Better brace yourself sir, I think Nihlus is looking for you."
"He's already here, Lieutenant," came the reply. And the Captain's voice was not amused. "Tell Aran to meet me in the com room for briefing."
Joker shook his head. He had nothing but respect for Captain Anderson – the man was the next best thing to a living legend in the Alliance Navy. One of their greatest special forces officers and one of the first recipients of the N7 designation. But the man needed to lighten up. Seriously.
"You heard?" he asked over his shoulder.
"Yep," came her more characteristically terse reply, along with the sound of her shoes on the nonskid deck.
Joker turned towards Alenko. "Is it me, or does the Captain always sound pissed off?"
Kaidan muttered, "Only when he's talking to you, Joker."
Samus walked down the gangway past a row of enlisted ratings on either side of her. About half the stations were unmanned right now, since most of those stations were backup tracking stations, unused unless the ship was at alert status. Those that were there made every appearance of being absorbed in their job, but from the way the hair on the back of her neck stood up, most of them glanced over at her as soon as she passed. Well, except for the engineering watchstanders – they were fairly absorbed in that newfangled stealth system the Captain had made a brief mention of to her.
Once upon a time the unwonted scrutiny would have bothered her, for a number of reasons. When she'd first enlisted in the Alliance military, she'd been only eighteen years old and hadn't lived among human beings for the last fifteen of them. The looks she recieved from people because of that – and, she admitted to herself, because of her looks, and how little her 'Zero' suit, as Old Bird had called it – left to the imagination. She'd gotten into more than one fistfight because of it, simply because she didn't understand why everyone was staring.
It had taken a long time for her to change that. She still wasn't exactly comfortable with certain people drooling over her, but she'd learned to not be bothered by people who only looked, feeling a lot more comfortable with herself now than she ever had during those damned-awkward years. Though people who made rude comments – or worse, tried to grab at her – would still find themselves bleeding on the floor. And as her reputation as a bounty hunter had grown, she'd learned to take the looks she got from that reputation in stride, even if she didn't really care for everyone treating her as an outsider.
As it was, she chose not to even acknowledge the looks she got from the Normandy crew. Even if she had stayed in the Marines, her Chozo power suit and genetic modifications would make her an outsider even among her fellow N7s and Marines, half of them looking at her like some kind of freak, while others saw her as something far worse.
Some, however, she was grateful for. Lieutenant Commander Pressley, the ship's XO and Navigator for example. He was actually older still than the Captain, having never shown any particular desire for a command of his own, but he still exuded an air of tough competence. As Samus passed him by he gave a polite nod as she passed his station along the side of a delta-shaped wedge of consoles clustered around a holographic tank that displayed the ship's operational status or the navigational map. He didn't stop her, but there was definite curiosity in his eyes. She'd had an off-duty talk with the XO down in the ship's meagar galley. Apparently, Pressley had some suspicions about this 'training mission' to Eden Prime.
And Samus didn't disagree with him. While testing out a new system on a prototype starship was no doubt an important and highly classified operation, it was essentially a milk run. And the entire crew of the Normandy knew that Anderson had been hand-picked specifically for this mission. One of the most decorated special forces soldiers in the Alliance didn't show up specifically for a do-nothing mission.
Far less for one of the Council's hand-picked super-agents.
The whole crew knew something else was going on, but most of them had the good sense to keep it to themselves.
Most of them.
"What do you think, Commander?" came an over-enthusiastic voice from just ahead at the back end of the CIC delta. Corporal Richard Leeroy Jenkins had led the security detail that met her in the hangar. His hand came up to the band of the beret he wore on his homely-featured head along with his standard dark blue BDUs. "We won't be staying on Eden Prime too long, will we? I'm itching for some real action!"
The gray-haired woman beside him gave the young marine a scathing look. "I sincerely hope you're kidding, corporal," Doctor Karin Chakwas admonished harshly. "Your 'real action' usually ends with me patching people up in the infirmary."
Samus gave the corporal a number-two glare of her own. "First of all, Jenkins, I'm not a Commander. I resigned. I'm only here on the ship at Captain Anderson's request. And second of all, it's thinking like that that gets people killed for no damn reason. So cool it."
Jenkins recoiled, but the excitement in his eyes didn't diminish. And Samus winced internally at the sight of it. "Sorry ma'am...But the waiting's killing me! I've never been on a mission like this before! Not with a Spectre on board!"
"It's no different from any other mission," Samus remarked dismissively. "Probably won't even see him while he does whatever he was sent to do."
"Easy for you to say," the corporal went on, heedless of the ship's doctor rolling her eyes. "You proved yourself on Elysium and Torfan. Everyone knows what you can do. This is my big chance! I need to show the brass what I can--"
Jenkins was cut off suddenly by a blue-gloved middle finger flicking against his forhead. It should have been nothing, but it stung and knocked him back on his heels. The corporal blinked and took notice of an angry-looking Samus Aran. "You follow your damn orders, marine. You do your job. People who go looking to 'prove themselves' get killed."
Jenkins suddenly looked less like a trained marine infantryman and more like a puppy who'd just been swatted with a newspaper. But that was the last Samus saw of his face as she turned away and rounded the bulkhead divider to the short passageway between the CIC and comm room.
As the door slid closed behind her, Samus let out a breath she'd been holding. She shouldn't have snapped that hard at him. But that attitude of his had rubbed her all the wrong ways. Reminding her too much of the slaughterhouse the Torfan moon had become. It had been her last mission as an Alliance Marine, and something that still gave her nightmares. Not the least of which had been because of what they had found there.
She'd come down to Torfan as Lieutenant Commander Samus Aran, Alliance N7, her Chozo Power Suit colored gray and decorated with the red stripe on the sleeve she'd earned from the Interplanetary Combatives Training Course in Rio. Everyone knew her. She was the Hero of Elysium, who held off an entire army of pirates and slavers who came to the idyllic colony on that world, intent on thieving, kidnapping and murder. Everyone knew her. Everyone wanted to shake her hand. Everyone had been glad to see her. Not a single one treated her as an outsider.
And she'd let it go to her head. She felt invincible after Elysium, and it had translated down through her subordinates. They would have followed her anywhere and believed they could come out unscathed. And she'd led them into a trap.
Images of her marines lying prone on the ground with meter-wide glowing parasites sucking them dry of their vital energy flashed through her mind, along with the mocking hissing laughter of the pirates' leader... that monstrous, winged beast...
Samus suddenly felt dizzy. She almost pitched forward into the com room's hatch, catching herself with her left hand while her right rose up to wipe the cold sweat off her face.
Even now, years after she had resigned from the Alliance to return to the Chozo homeworld of Zebes, to destroy the Pirates' base on the world she'd called home since she was three years old, leaving the central complex and it's rogue biological supercomputer a smoking ruin... she still had nightmares. Of the Metroids and Mother Brain... and especially of Ridley.
Samus wrenched her thoughts away from thinking of them, summoning all the vast mental discipline the Chozo had instilled while training her to use the power suit they had given her. Focus on the mission.
When she opened up the door to the Normandy com room, she almost felt calm again. Almost.
The turian was there. Nihlus, his name was. Learning that he was a Spectre had answered the nagging quesiton of why his information didn't show up on the databases logged into her ship's computer. But despite answering that question it also left a number of others. Such as the one that was on seemingly every member of the Normandy crew's mind. 'Why are we treating a milk-run test drive like a covert operation?'
The turian turned around. Samus absently studied the white face-paint pattern he wore on his semi-rigid skin. "Hunter," he greeted her calmly. "I was hoping you'd get here first. It'll give us a chance to talk."
Samus met the Spectre's eyes and suddenly felt herself tense defensively. There was something unnerving about that look. Which, she supposed, was the whole point. "I'm not known for being chatty," she answered, trying to deflect that penetrating gaze with mild sarcasm.
Not that it did a lot of good. "I'm interested in this world we're going to. Eden Prime. I hear it's quite beautiful."
Samus frowned at the topic. What was this? Small talk? "If you're on vacation, sure."
"It's not just some vacation spot, though is it?" Nihlus started coming around to his point. "It's become something of a symbol for your people hasnt' it? A perfect little world on the edges of civilized space. But," he looked back at the images on the holoscreen, depicting the idyllic landscape of the world in question, "how safe is it, really?"
Samus had been sitting on her irritation, having a fair idea of where Nihlus' roundabout inquiry was going. Because Samus truly despised discussing politics.
As something of an outsider to humanity herself, Samus could sort of see what people were talking about where the Alliance was concerned. They'd only burst onto the galactic stage a few decades ago, shortly before Samus was even born when the turians had attacked the human colony on Shanxi, after destroying several Alliance research ships blindly activating a Mass Relay. A practice that every species in Citadel space had deemed reckless, dangerous and patently illegal. The short-lived 'First Contact War' was ended after a single counter attack by the Alliance fleet before the rest of the Council took notice and defused the situation diplomatically.
But in that short amount of time, humanity had expanded further and faster than any race that had come before it. Even races represented on the Citadel, like the short, rotund volus or the massive, quadrapedal elcor had been mere representative clients to the Council, but had not yet gained a seat on the Citadel Council Now there was talk of adding a human representative to the Council after only thirty or so years. Which didn't exactly sit well with races who'd been patiently waiting their turn for centuries.
But with half of humanity looking at Samus and treating her like as much of an alien as the turians, since she'd been raised by the Chozo and infused with their DNA to help her survive on their homeworld of Zebes, Samus didn't feel like any of it really mattered to her.
"Probably about as safe as K-2L was before Ridley and his batarian pirates showed up looking for eezo," she said flatly.
Samus hid a smile at Nihlus' reaction. The space pirates led by Ridley (a name that he'd actually been given by her own father, Rodney Aran, referring to the monster as 'some Ridley Scott-looking motherfucker') had been pursued relentessly by the turian military for almost three years before they had arrived on K-2L, and their failure to end their threat early had rankled among the Hierarchy's fleet since then, especially as the number of his followers had grown since then. And though Nihlus was no naval officer, he still flinched noticably at the none-too-subtle dig at the Hierarchy's failure.
Nihlus might have responded to that, when the hatch behind Samus slid open again and Captain Anderson spoke up. "I think it's time we told Samus what we're really doing here."
"This mission is more than just a simple shakedown run," Nihlus declared almost immediately.
Samus hid a smile as she sensed the turian Spectre rushing to change the subject. Struck a nerve, had she? "I already figured that out," she told him.
"We're making a covert pickup on Eden Prime," Anderson began, coming to a stop in the center of the room. "That's why we needed the stealth system operational."
Samus looked Anderson in the eye. "Must be something big," she observed. "With all the secrecy." She glanced at Nihlus and then turned back to Anderson. "And firepower."
"A research team on Eden Prime unearthed some kind of beacon during an excavation," Anderson continued. He lifted his left arm and a holographic display lit up around his left forearm. Samus didn't pay much attention to it. Omnitools were as ubiquitous as they were versatile, using micromanufacturing cells and mass effect fields to create almost any tool on the spot, as well as a plethora of data storage, communication and even combat functions, depending on the framework loaded into it. This one, Samus knew, would be linked to the ship's command interface, a privilege only the senior staff enjoyed on a ship this small. And one Anderson used as he spoke into the audio pickup: "Open image, Excavation twenty-two-tack-five. Security Authorization; Anderson, eight-one Madrigal."
The holoscreen that Nihlus had been using suddenly changed from a soothing landscape to a still image of the excavation he was talking about. A huge, bulky device was being hoisted up out of a geometrically perfect hole in the ground. Samus guessed it was the beacon they were referring to, but that wasn't what caught her eye. What caught her attention was the strange combination of glowing green lines, along with the gentle horizontal curves along with perfectly straight spires. It was a design aesthetic she'd seen any number of times when she went to the Citadel. Or travelled through a mass relay.
Anderson saw the recognition in Samus' eyes, but he gave voice to it anyway. "It was Prothean."
The name of the species sent a slight chill down Samus' spine. The Protheans – a race that went extinct almost 50,000 years ago, but upon whose ruins and lost technology – the Mass Effect technology made possible by Element Zero – the technology of every spacefaring civilization was based. With one notable exception. When a similar device was found on Mars, it had thrown humanity's technology ahead by almost two centuries in a hundredth of that time.
"So," Samus surmised, "you brought me in because you expect there to be trouble."
"I always do," Nihlus agreed.
Samus hid another grimace. "Of course you do."
"There's more, Aran," Anderson went on, heading off more sarcasm from the bounty hunter. "Nihlus isn't just here for the beacon. He's also here for an evaluation."
Samus arched a golden eyebrow. "Evaluating what? And why do I need to know?"
Anderson caught her eye with an unwontedly serious expression. "Evaluating you."
Samus looked sharply at the two of them. "I have a feeling I'm not gonna like this."
"The Alliance has been pushing for this for a long time," Anderson explained. "Humanity wants a larger role in shaping interstellar policy – more say with the Citadel Council."
"Captian, political discussion puts me to sleep," Samus complained. "And I already know the story, remember?"
Anderson nodded as something passed unsaid between the two of them. Anderson had actually been the first Alliance officer with whom she had confided the true scope of her Power Suit's abilities during the first few days of N-school. She'd been keeping it hidden away – molecularly disassembled and stored as an energy pattern within the Zero suit's nanocircuitry. Anderson had reciprocated, telling her a little – though not all – of how he was once considered for becoming the first human Spectre – but that mission had ended in disaster, and he had taken the blame, leaving Anderson with a stigma that followed him around in Council territory.
"What does any of that have to do with me?" Samus asked warily.
It was Nihlus who answered after watching the exchange between the two humans curiously. "You held off an entire enemy battallion single-handedly during the Skyllian Blitz, survived an ambush at Torfan that should rightly have killed you, and destroyed a pirate research facility all on your own," he recited, referring to her most noteworthy actions as an Alliance soldier and her first independent combat action as a freelancer. "And that was only the start. During your career you've displayed unparalleled ability in tracking down the most dangerous and untouchable criminals in some of the worst corners of Council Space and beyond." The turian straightened, coming to the point. "That's why I put your name forward as a candidate for the Spectres."
Samus blinked, not bothering to hide her surprise. Her? A Spectre?
Sure, every reason that Nihlus had cited was a good reason why she would be considered a capable and resourceful operative, but he had glossed over several reasons why the Alliance and the Citadel
Council didn't trust her. The Alliance didn't trust her because of the simple fact that she was raised by the Chozo and given an infusion of their DNA. She wasn't a hybrid, but she had gained some of the physical capabilities the withering Chozo had lost over millenia of introspection and embracing diplomacy and science over martial might. But the Council didn't trust her because of much the same reason. The Chozo were hardly unknown to the Council races. In fact it had been widely rumored that the Chozo had, at one time, coexisted with the legendary Prothean race. Neither Samus nor the Chozo themselves had ever confirmed nor denyed that. Samus, because she didn't know, and the Chozo for reasons they only knew. And since then, Samus had done a number of things to keep people from finding out for sure, by denying access to the Chozo's homeworld of Zebes to archaeologists, historians and treasure hunters on multiple occasions.
Samus' confusion slowly started being pushed aside by a sudden burst of anger as she realized what this all meant. For one, it meant that the Citadel Council wanted her working for them, instead of doing things her own way. It also meant that she was now squarely in the middle of a political game being played by two governments, neither of whom cared much for her; the Alliance Parliament, and the Citadel Council.
"Nice of you folks to tell me about it before deciding my future for me." Samus' tone of voice could have stripped paint off of walls.
"This is bigger than hunting down criminals for pay, Aran," Anderson told her in a tone she recognized. Admittedly, he used it a lot more often with her when she was a raw recruit from boot camp and was acting out. Hearing it again now made her shoulders straighten out of sheer spinal reflex.
"I know you're not a big fan of politics, Samus," the captain went on in a much less abrasive tone, "and yes, you're squarely in the middle of them right now. But you've always said you meant to make a difference in the galaxy. Promised someone that you would be in fact." He smiled slightly as Samus looked sharply at him as he referred to what the Chozo had meant for her to be. "Well, here's your chance to do that in a big way."
Nihlus ignored the byplay between the two humans. "I'll need to see your skills and temperment for myself, hunter," he told her. "Eden Prime will be the first of several missions together."
Samus gave Nihlus your full attention. "One question: Why me? Humans aren't exactly the most popular folk in the galaxy. Me in particular."
Nihlus lifted his chin slightly. "That may be true, but not all of us see humanity as a threat. Some see great potential in humanity. I for one believe the Alliance can offer a great deal to the galactic communty. And to the Spectres." He waved a hand. "I don't care that you're human, Aran. I only care if you can do the job."
Samus swallowed another objection. Much as she hated it when people decided her path for her, she had to admit that the two men had good points. She felt the undeniable lure of the challenge laid before her even as she chafed against being led down any path by her nose.
Drawing a deep breath, counting backwards from twenty in Chozic and letting it out, she looked up at Nihlus and Anderson. "So, where do we start?"
Anderson didn't even bother hiding a smile of triumph as she stopped objecting. "We'll be landing on Eden Prime soon. Once we're there--"
The overhead speakers suddenly buzzed harshly before Joker's voice overrode them all. "Captain! We've got a big problem!" There was no trace of the irrepressible sarcasm that Joker was known for in that voice.
And Anderson's voice was equally devoid of the gruff irritation he usually had when he talked to his helmsman. "What is it, Joker?"
"Transmission from Eden Prime, sir! You'd better see this!"
Technically, a subordinate was supposed to wait on the response from his superior before taking action, or at least deliver a coherent verbal report before awaiting orders from said superior. Joker had dispensed with the formalities and simply routed a video feed to the com room without waiting. Samus and Nihlus flanked the Captain to watch.
And Samus' blood ran cold as she watched. The point of view was shaky and moving around as someone used a portable video pickup to try and record what was happening. But the only coherent thing it showed was a woman in Alliance-issue combat armor pushing him to the ground and firing off into the distance with an assault rifle. Then it panned quickly over to more folk – these in civilian-grade hardsuits and not wearing helmets following suit, and then spinning around again to show a panicked-looking man in the same military-grade armor and helmet shouting into the camera feed, though his voice was drowned out by gunfire and the sharp detonation of grenades in the background.. "We're under attack- -heavy casualties! Nee—ediate evac! We need--!"
The perspective changed again as the man shouting into the camera collapsed, dead and the camera swung around repeatedly again, showing the civilian-armored shooters suddenly stop, looking up at something in awe.... and terror. But it started swinging wildly again as explosions rocked the lush green grove the fight was taking place in with only a brief glimpse of something black in the sky before it turned to static.
"Everything cuts out after that," Joker supplied. "No comm traffic at all... there's nothing."
"Reverse and hold at 38.5," Anderson told the computer abruptly, having caught the same glimpse of it as Samus.
The image reversed and held on the specified time. Whatever it was, it hung in the sky, fingers reaching down from the clouds like a giant, malformed black hand, wreathed in scarlet sparks here and there. There was no way to be sure of the scale of the thing, but Samus guessed it to be big enough to snatch a cruiser out of the air. Not at all a comforting thought.
"Status report!" Anderson's commanding tone cut through the tense air in the com room.
"Seventeen minutes out, captain," Joker replied. "No other vessels in the area."
"Take us in, Joker. Fast and quiet.... This mission just got a lot more complicated.