“Stand down!” the words cut clearly through the air and I stopped, a breath of relief crossing my mind. But that part was faint, distant, pushed to the back as I kept my eyes fixed on the two marines in front of me who still held had their guns pointing at me.
They had not fired yet, but I was already anticipating, predicting and planning exactly how to move if they attacked. However, the faint sigh of relief in my mind steadily grew in power as I watched the marines throw down their weapons.
With a deep breath I felt battle ready muscles relaxing and turned towards Anthony who still stood with his gun aimed at Milona Saenz. Leaping down to the lower level I made my way through the fragmented metal and glass towards Milona, keenly aware of the unmoving or barely moving bodies around her.
I walked straight up to Milona Saenz, looking straight into the face of the battle hardened woman in front of me. What I saw above all was fear, Milona was afraid and yet trying desperately not to show it, fear and worry as her eyes dashed around between the bodies behind me.
“You could have walked away,” I said with a heavy sigh, breaking the silence. “This did not have to end the way it did.”
Milona’s head sank, it was clear she knew that as well. However, it was soon raised again, determination flaring in her eyes, “and yet you are the one who has lost. This station is unmoving and you have no way to catch up to the Valhalla,” she said trying to sound calm.
I looked at Anthony. “Do a sweep of the area, make sure we got them all.” I then cut off my external communicator for a second as I raised Anthony. “You know what to do.”
Anthony simply nodded, keeping his weapon trained on Milona, but I did notice the Rezbit drone nearby slowly and quietly slipping out of the room.
“Adam is already heading over to warn the Federation, the first fleet will be ready for you,” I said confidently as I turned back to Milona.
“As if we have not planned for something like that. His words will not be headed, our people will make sure of that,” said Milona.
“The same type of people who just tried to stop me?” I asked as I glanced back across the room.
Milona said nothing as she simply looked around the room slowly again.
I broke that silence. “Let us take a walk, I don’t like having to constantly look over my shoulder in case your people try anything stupid.”
Milona seemed a bit worried, but slowly nodded, looking towards the other marines for a second. “Tend to the wounded, I will be back,” she said trying to put on a brave face.
We headed out of the room and into the corridors of the space station, Anthony following us, his gun still trained on Milona.
“What will happen to us…those of us who are left?” asked Milona, sounding slightly more nervous now that the other marines were not there.
“Only what you choose to happen. When I leave this station, I will tell the Federation where you are and whether you are still here when they get there will be your choice,” I said simply, “provided you find a way of the station before they get here, of course.”
“Really? After what happened here you are just going to walk away?” asked Milona, seeming in slight disbelief.
“Milona Saenz,” I said with a tired sigh, “your men fought a horrible battle on Norion, but you were neither alone, nor forgotten by the federation, even if there were things the Federation could have done to help you.”
“I and other bounty hunters were on Norion because the Federation hired us. Maybe not to fight the war which would become the Phazon conflict, but it became part of our job,” I said and sighed as I remembered that conflict and the lives lost, “we were four, Gandrayda, Ghor, Rundas and me…I was the only one who survived the conflict.”
Milona seemed about to say something, but I interrupted her, my voice becoming filled with the bitterness I felt. “But those three bounty hunters did not die to pirate forces, oh no, they were corrupted and I was forced to kill each of them myself…but not before they all attributed to the victory; they sacrificed themselves for the mission.”
“And if we, the marines, had had the weapons we needed? How many fewer would have had to sacrifice themselves?” asked Milona her own voice filled with bitterness.
“Fewer, no doubt, but let me ask you a question in the same area,” I said calmly, “what had happened had the Federation, the very Federation you have betrayed, not summoned us bounty hunters to Norion? If you had just had those weapons, but not us. Do you think you could have fought your way past Ridley and activated those generators?”
Milona was silent for a long time. “I…I don’t know…we might have been better set in the short term, but whether we could have defended the planet against the Leviathan seed…” mumbled Milona slowly before suddenly raising her head and glaring at me, “but why do you ask that? It is not what happened! Had we had better weapons as well as you being there, less people would have died! The Federation in its current state is…”
“The very ones who hired us to fight your war. Without us, Norion would have fallen and a much longer and more painful war would have followed,” I said without a moment of doubt.
“And three hunters gave their lives to make it happen, just as you lost people. They chose to fight, even if not all of them chose to die and right now, you are planning to rip away the lives of people who did not choose to fight or die, who simply want to live. That Is what I can’t agree with.”
Milona was silent for a long time, but finally snarled. “Why does that even matter. We are both stuck here now. Adam has left, the Valhalla is gone and our ship wont land again unless I give the order…and I won’t.” Though her voice was firm in the end, it broke a bit as she continued, “we…we have come too far to stop now.”
“No need for you to say a word,” I said with a confident smile as I turned towards Anthony, having just received a message from him. “We got it?”
“We got it, just disabled the pilot of the Anhur-class ship,” said Anthony confidently, his voice distorted by the suit.
“What, what are you…how?” asked Milona in bewilderment.
“That drone did not go to sweep the area, it did a very careful spacewalk to your waiting ship,” explained Anthony quickly. “We had many ideas for how to get a ship. Hoped you would just land yours and keep it there, but props for realizing that as a bad idea. Even so you needed and exit strategy eventually and it was just a matter of locating the ship once it left and either Samus or a drone could spacewalk to it and with a bit of finesse enter through the rear maintenance hatch, no one ever expects that.”
“You were just keeping me occupied!” snarled Milona as she turned to me.
“I was, I feared you might realize what was going on had I just left you in peace,” I said as I met her gaze, “but I meant every word I said. You are involving innocent people in your stupid plans and I am going to stop you!”
With that, Anthony and I headed for the hangar leaving Milona behind.
“You will never catch up to the Valhalla in time!” shouted Milona angrily but it was clearly just a last desperate exclamation and I knew the answer.
“Yes I will. The Anhur-Class should be just fast enough knowing that the Valhalla is far from operating at peak ability. I will be leaving the pilot here, no idea what condition the ship might end up in,” I answered firmly and was about to leave when a thought crossed my mind. Looking behind me for a moment, I smiled, “oh and I don’t mind if you try to escape the custody of the Federation, gives me one more bounty to hunt.”
Milona shouted several profanities after us, but we ignored it as we headed for the nearest hangar. Locating the signal of the Rezbit drone I spacewalked to the ship, quickly taking control from the unconscious pilot and bringing the ship in to pick up Anthony and dumping the pilot on the station.
With that done I punched in the coordinates taking us back towards Federation space and rerouted as much power as possible to the engines. We were far behind, but we were not out of it yet. I only hoped Adam had managed to convince the core of the Federation of the approaching danger.
With the coordinates locked in I turned to Anthony. “Think you could take it for a moment, want to see if the ship has any supplies we could use,” I asked.
“Off course,” said Anthony who had removed his helmet for the moment.
I moved into the back of the ship when suddenly I heard Anthony’s voice over the speaker. “Is this thing on?” he asked and I answered him.
“It is; can you hear me?” I asked out into thin air as I started rummaging through the crates, finding food supplies at first.
“Good,” said Anthony and there was a brief pause, “so about what happened back there…”
“What is it?” I asked slowly, though I had a feeling what he wanted to talk about.
“I just wanted to say that I was honestly not entirely sure we could handle it, but you really proved me wrong. I mean they never even stood a chance,” said Anthony, before slowly adding, “it was honestly a bit scary after the lengths you went to in order to use nonlethal methods against them up till now…”
“I wish I did not have to do it either, but I judged the situation too dangerous to hold back on and I was right,” I said even as I opened a create and found what I was looking for in the form of a crate filled with weapons. Reaching in I removed the energy capsules from the weapons, absorbing their energy into my suit. A number of warnings in my suit vanished as my energy levels climbed, “my shields were running at just 20% of effective strength at the end of that last engagement.”
“What…it was that close?” asked Anthony sounding surprised and a bit worried. “But you did not seem like it was that bad…are you hurt.”
“No I am not hurt,” I said with a small smile before continuing, “I just did not want to worry you…” I started but then corrected myself, “I did not even think myself that it was bad.” I sighed a bit as I made my way back to cockpit, speaking as I went. “Avoiding showing pain is all a part of my tactics when I fight Space Pirates…and in this case those marines. The less hurt I seem, the more unnerved my opponents become and the greater chance they turn and run.”
I walked into the cockpit and Anthony turned to look at me even as I removed my helmet, breathing deeply even as I placed it down on a raised area, before sitting down in the co-pilot chair.
“What do you mean when you say ‘I did not even think myself that it was bad’ then? Surely you must be a bit worried?” asked Anthony himself seeming worried.
I cast him what I hoped was a reassuring smile as I spoke, “it is a matter of mentality.
When I land on a planet, infiltrating a Space Pirate base or similar alone I can’t afford to constantly worry. If I start worrying that I won’t make it, I might lose focus…and I also can’t afford to worry about the people I am fighting.”
I leaned forward, resting my arm cannon against the side of the ship. “When you get down to it the Space Pirates are an intelligent species. But they have done horrible things and I can’t find it in myself to really treat them as anything but monsters…and, much to my own horror, I consider that a good thing,” I said slowly. “Not caring about them makes it easier to focus, easier to kill, easier to play the part of ‘The Hunter’ as they have come to call me and it works as many panic just at the sight of me.”
I sighed again and breathed in deep. “But then there are humans. I know that not all humans are monsters, I worry about their friends and loved ones if I am forced to fight them and I seek to do it nonlethally,” I said slowly in a low voice, not feeling too well myself as it all came out, “but then along comes Milona and her gang. I knew I could not hold back against them, but at the same time it is much harder to shut everything out because they are humans…indeed I could not shut everything out because you were there, I needed to focus on protecting you…”
I did not say it, but Anthony had also made it easier to regard Milona and her team as just faceless adversaries I needed to kill. Because I needed to protect him, I valued him far more than the lives of Milona or any of the humans I had killed…and that scared a part of me. I did not regret fighting them or even taking their lives, but how little I cared in hindsight just because Anthony had been threatened, that was scaring me.
Anthony was also silent as he sat by the controls. “I think I know what you mean,” said Anthony slowly, sounding both worried and not entirely confident in his own words. “But you are saying this happens every time you encounter Space Pirates?”
“When I am alone, when it is just me and them, yes,” I said slowly.
Anthony turned his head towards me and to my surprise he was sporting a wide grin. “Poor bastards then, almost makes me feel sorry…” he started but then broke down in a chuckle, “nah, you know what, I am not sorry that ‘The Hunter’ can put the fear of death in their sorry asses.”
I chuckled a bit as well and gave him a thumbs up, surprised by his reaction, but not really about to dispute it either. I did not feel sorry in any way for the Space Pirates.
Anthony chuckled a bit longer as well, but then his expression became more serious as he turned to me, “but hey, don’t lose yourself in being this hunter of Space Pirates. You are still the 7th platoons’ princess to me and I would hate to see you hurt, physically or otherwise…”
“Same to you Anthony,” I said with a reassuring smile and then more seriously continued, “how are you holding up?”
“Well my suit could use a recharge, took a few nasty hits in the end though my shields held,” said Anthony, “any energy capsules back there?”
“A few still left, hopefully enough,” I said, “but how did you feel about fighting marines?”
“I would lie if I said I was confident in it, but what happened was done out of necessary as you already said,” said Antony slowly, “what matters is protecting the Federation and the people within it, the conspiracy forces has to come second.”
He turned his head towards me and grinned a bit, “still I hope they give me some time off after all this. Been one wild ride.”
“And it is still not over, stay sharp,” I reminded him.
“No need to tell me twice,” answered Anthony confidently, “think you could take the controls again while I find those energy capsules?”
“Off course,” I said as I moved over to the pilot seat even as Anthony headed to the back of the ship.
He returned moments later, disassembling his gun as he went, checking and cleaning it, once again. “That suit of yours ever need a touch up?” he asked as he sat down in the co-pilot seat.
“The onboard computer systems keep track of damage and repairs if possible, but I have needed replacement modules a few times due to excessive damage,” I answered.
“Can’t imagine what is needed for inflicting ‘excessive’ damage to that thing,” grinned Anthony, “orbital strike? Close encounter with a volcano?”
“Try exploding space station, thieving parasite aliens and…well…yet another, but different parasite,” I answered.
Anthony seemed about to say something more when a loud beeping noise came from my helmet.
“A message it seems,” I said as I put on the helmet, connecting to the suit computer and finding the message.
“It is from Adam,” I vocalized as I opened it.
Samus, I hope this message reaches you well.
The attack has begun with spread Zebesian Space Pirates attacking the Federation core worlds. Small force, but enough to cause panic and confusion. Can’t get through to command or the first fleet, someone or something is intercepting and blocking my transmissions, probably conspirators.
Thrusk and Merak are harassing the Valhalla outside the core world systems, but unable to do much. They are being jammed as well when trying to contact the core worlds, though we remain in contact.
Hope you are catching up.
I quickly relayed the message to Anthony who picked up his own helmet even as I formulated a reply and updated our navigation based on the attached coordinates for the Valhalla’s location.
“We should be able to intercept the Valhalla just before it enters the core world systems,” I said as I looked over our data, my onboard computer running the calculations.
“Good and then what is the plan?” asked Anthony.
“Well this is Milona’s ship, we might be able to get close before they start gunning for us, though I am preparing a few of my personal identification codes in case the first fleet starts taking potshots at us. With any luck we can board before any guns become an issue,” I said and brought up my old layout plan of the Valhalla, cross-referencing with my map of the Olympus where the data was incomplete from damage.
“From there we disable the main reactors and strand the Valhalla in space or if it has entered atmosphere, bring it down short of its target,” I said quickly, “after that we escape in an escape pod.”
“You make it sound so simple,” said Anthony with a slight smile.
“Well things will probably not go that smoothly, but that is why I rarely make a detailed plan. You can never count on it to stick,” I said.
“Not complaining either, I let Adam do the planning anyway. Maybe he will have some updates to it when we get closer,” said Anthony.
“Probably,” I said as I leaned over the controls again, “I have sent him the plan as it is now, so for now we just need to catch up.”
“Well then, let’s do it,” said Anthony as he slammed an energy capsule into his cleaned rifle.
It took a while to catch up to the Valhalla, during which Adam kept us updated on what was happening. The conspirator’s frigate was making it hard to make a move on the Valhalla.
During this time Adam noted a number of strange capsules in the Valhalla’s docking bay, looking almost like bombs or escape pods from his opinion, but he was unable to determine exactly what it was.
Finally, we entered the same system as the Valhalla, catching up as it was passing the outer planets of the system, no doubt setting up the jump to the core worlds. As we approached I could see my gunship dancing around the frigate, trying to draw its attention even as two Anhur-class frigates tried to maneuver past the frigate.
One managed to get through, targeting an open spot in the Valhalla’s hastily patched defenses and firing its own high energy canons upon the patched up parts of the hull. But the repairs, though fast, had clearly not been sloppy as the shots seemed to have no effect at all and only served to draw the frigates attention on to them, forcing a hasty retreat.
As we approached an encrypted broadcast went out from Adam as he changed direction, heading straight for us. “Open fire on me, make them think you are Milona. I will return fire and you make a run for the Valhalla,” he said quickly.
I did not answer but simply turned to Anthony who was already bringing the main guns online. We opened fire, scoring a few hits as I watched my gunship change direction rapidly, using its superior maneuverability to get behind us.
From there high energy blasts started flying past us and I threw the ship forward at full throttle, weaving about as if trying to throw him off as I headed towards the Valhalla.
The Valhalla responded to this, rotating a few of its repaired guns in our general direction, but much to my relief they fired upon my gunship, forcing him to break off even as I took my ship down under the Valhalla and into its hangar bay.
“You ready for this?” I asked even as I brought the ship in for landing, spotting several Zebesian Space Pirates outside in the hangar bay.
“Let’s end this!” answered Anthony with a determined expression as he put on his helmet.