- Planet M-2 -
- Captain Dras's quarters -
- 2 weeks later -
The door opens and Weavel steps through. He finds Dras sitting across from his Fleetmistress and the captain stands up before activating his cutlass.
"Where do you get off barging in here?!" he demands.
"Where have you been, Dras?" Weavel asks.
"Conducting raiding parties,"
"You said you were-"
Weavel is interrupted by the Fleetmistress when she starts chuckling. The female Kig-yar stands up and looks between Dras and Weavel.
"I've got better things to do than listen to the two of you squabble, as entertaining as it is. Have fun and try not to trash the place too much,"
Still chuckling, she walks past Weavel and pats him on the shoulder before leaving the room. Dras rolls his eyes and deactivates his blade.
"Before you say anything, yes I have been searching for the Huragok and let me tell you: It hasn't been easy. This isn't a small rock we've holed ourselves up in. I had other duties to attend to besides looking for gas sacs,"
"So, what did you find?"
Dras is silent for a moment as he thinks about what to say next.
"Following their smell was the easy part. I tracked them through the maintenance tunnels spread throughout the base and eventually found halls and corridors that none of us have ever been to,"
"So, someone has been digging without authorization?" Weavel asks.
Dras shrugs. "It seems so. I had very small windows of time to search through these passages before I had to return to base. People tend to ask questions if anyone isn't seen for awhile,"
Weavel nods in agreement.
"Was there anyone else with you?"
"No, but exploring would be a lot easier if I had an entire scouting party with me,"
"We don't know who's behind this. The fewer people who know, the better,"
Dras grunts but doesn't disagree.
"On my last excursion, I found a secret docking bay and you're not going to believe what was there,"
"Try me," Weavel says.
"It was the Prowler,"
"What? The Prowler? The same one or did the Engineers make a duplicate?"
"I checked. It still had the scars of battles that took place onboard. The entire crew we sent to the outpost was missing but the smell of the Huragok was present,"
Weavel tries to make sense out of what he's heard.
"Did they take over the ship?"
Dras scoffs. "Huragok are harmless and they only do as they're told,"
"Then who was giving them orders?"
"I don't know. I couldn't find any other scent besides metal and gas,"
The bounty hunter processes this new information before asking,
"What else have you found?"
"The Prowler was the last thing I found before I had to make my way back. That was yesterday and this morning I was having a pleasant conversation with my Fleetmistress before you barged in,"
"Why didn't you report any of this to me sooner?"
"I don't answer to you, bounty hunter! It's not like I know where you are all the time and what you've been up to. For all I know, you could be involved in this, yourself,"
"Nobody knew about any of this until I started digging. If I were involved, I wouldn't have told you anything in the first place," Weavel says.
"So, what have you been up to while I've been spelunking?"
Weavel checks outside and the rest of the room to make sure nobody's listening before he confides in the Jackal.
"I've been searching through our computer records and found traces of deleted approvals. Whoever's doing this had the authority to move those supplies and then delete all evidence of it so the computer never knew anything was missing,"
"So we're looking for someone high up? Wait, why go to all the trouble to keep this a secret if they already have power?"
"I'm not sure. It could be a secret project but something's really bothering me. I managed to piece together the command codes used in the supply transfers but I don't know who they belong to. The weird thing is that I feel like I've seen these codes before,"
Dras rolls his eyes and asks him condescendingly, "You feel? I thought you were a machine,"
Weavel doesn't bother answering that.
"We need to speak to someone higher up. They might know who these codes belong to,"
"We? What do you need me for?"
"As backup and an extra set of ears,"
"You're not thinking of going to Ridley, are you?!" Dras asks, suddenly terrified.
"Of course not. We're going to one of our oldest Commanders. He might know something,"
Dras doesn't want to go, but he knows he's in this too deep to back out now, so he follows Weavel out of his quarters and into the network of corridors within the Space Pirate fortress.
They find the senior member of High Command in one of the training areas, where he observes and advices a team composed of Space Pirates, Kig-Yar and Ki-Hunters as they simulate a battle against holographic enemy forces.
Jackal snipers keep a group of GF Marines pinned down while shielded Kig-Yar steadily approach the enemy while blocking enemy fire. Behind them, Space Pirate Commandos follow the Jackals while returning fire to the Marines and throwing grenades. They give orders to the Ki-Hunters, Zebesian Pirates and Skirmishers to flank and surround the enemy.
The insects fly around the battlefield while hurling acid at their prey. The Pirates with pincers for hands easily keep up with the Skirmishers as they navigate the makeshift debris around the training area. Once the squad of Marines is surrounded and their attention diverted, the Pirate Commandos activate their dash jets and charge towards their enemies to finish them off. Soon a holographic bloodbath ensues as the pirates of various species slaughter the humans.
"Sir?" Weavel addresses the Commander.
The Pirate turns away from the viewing area and the monitors above him.
"Weavel, to what do I owe the displeasure?" He doesn't try to hide the contempt and disappointment in his voice. He had never been happy that Weavel became a bounty hunter after being repaired following his battle with Samus.
The Commander turns back to the viewing area and types in the computer. He sends in holographic GF Marine reinforcements to keep the trainees busy while he speaks with his guests.
Weavel starts to explain about the missing supplies and deleted transfer requests. He then hands the datapad over to the Commander.
"I pieced together the command codes that were used. Do you have any idea who these belong to?"
The aged Space Pirate's uninterested eyes slowly widen in shock and fear as he reads. Weavel and Dras can see recognition in them.
"That's impossible. This is utterly and truly impossible. What game are you playing at, Weavel?!" he shouts before shoving the datapad back into the hunter's hands.
"No game, sir. I started investigating when I noticed our disappearing supplies and the missing Huragok,"
"The Huragok?" Something appears to click inside the Commander's head. "No, no no no! Those ignorant gas filled cretins!" He starts pacing while thinking, yelling and waving his weapon around.
Dras is the most confused out of everyone present.
"Am I missing something here? What's going on?"
The Commander looks at the Jackal as if noticing him for the first time.
"You!" He approaches Dras and grabs his shoulder. "When you salvaged the research data from the Mothership, before it was destroyed, was there anything else? Did you take anything else?"
The Kig-Yar shrugs off the Pirate's hand.
"I only took what I was ordered to, not that I understand much about software in the first place,"
The Pirate grows frustrated.
"Then there's no way of knowing for sure!"
"Sir, I request that you explain yourself. Who do these codes belong to?"
"You and I both know the answer to that. If you don't remember, then let me remind you once. After this, I have to speak with the rest of High Command. Next to the Hunter, this could be the worse thing that will happen to us,"
"Is this really that big of a deal?"
Dras asks as he and Weavel make their way to the research facility to see if they can track down and interrogate one of the Engineers. Weavel doesn't answer the Jackal's question as he presses his palm on a hand scanner and waits for the door to open.
The smell hits Dras first and his quills stand straight up in fear as he turns away from Weavel towards the door. Ridley stands on the other side, grinning maliciously down on the Pirate and the Jackal. He grabs them both in his claws and slams them against the wall.
"Am I interrupting something?" he asks rhetorically.
Knowing how powerful Ridley is, Weavel doesn't resist in his grasp, but Dras tries reaching for his cutlass, however his fingers can't make it all the way to his weapons.
Ridley looks directly at the Jackal.
"Did you know that the stench of fear annoys me? I found yours particularly irritating, so I decided to do a little snooping around onboard your ship,"
Dras's eyes widen and Ridley continues.
"I almost laughed when I searched through the logs and comm records. You've contacted someone at Forsaken Voyage around each time we've tried to assassinate that Prophet,"
His formidable grip tightens around the Kig-Yar.
"I wanted that robed wimp dead a long time ago so their Covenant would fall apart. Fortunately, it seems to have done that all by itself. Then I found out about you selling weapons and vehicles to the enemy we stole them from. Bold move, Dras,"
"You said we could take whatever we wanted during our raids! You didn't say we couldn't make a profit off of them,"
"That's true, I didn't, but the Space Pirates aren't fond of the idea of rearming the enemy,"
The space dragon smiles at Dras.
"Still, you were right. We didn't give you restrictions and despite your attempts at preventing the Covenant from collapsing, the problem is moot at this point. Therefore, I'm not going to kill you,"
With his two captives in his grip, Ridley brings them through the research facility until they arrive at life energy processing. He presses the Jackal against a test tube on a conveyor system. On the other side of the reinforced glass, an Omega Metroid lunges forward until its teeth meet the barrier. Dras is beyond terrified as he stares into the round maw of the energy predator.
"I said that I wouldn't be the one to kill you. I'm just going to recycle you and put your life energy to better use,"
Chuckling slightly, Ridley gives orders to the nearby scientists and engineers. They deactivate the safety protocol and open up the top of the test tube. He quickly leaps up and tosses the struggling Jackal inside before sealing him in.
Dras can't decide whether to hold back the Metroid or try to break his way out. His decision is made for him when the Omega tries clamping its many teeth around him. He grabs the round jaw and uses his enhanced strength to hold it back, but he leaves himself open to its claws. They start syphoning life energy as soon as they make contact and quickly penetrate his skin. Dras screams as his strength fades and the Omega Metroid clamps its round jaw around the Kig-Yar, swallowing him before spitting out the dust he had become.
The ring-like devices around each of the Omega's limbs continue to generate subzero temperatures to keep the Metroid weak and unable to break free.
"I had high hopes for that traitor, but that's the way it always goes," Ridley says.
He turns his attention on the bounty hunter still in his grasp.
"Now, what have you been up to, this time? I heard you've been snooping around, asking questions and poking through our computer system,"
Ridley grins and embers form within his mouth.
"Please tell me you're planning a coup or something. I really want an excuse to kill you,"
With a calm voice, Weavel says, "I'm happy to disappoint you, Ridley, but I'm planning nothing of the sort. I've noticed there were missing supplies and most of our Huragok have vanished,"
Ridley's grin fades.
"That's not what I wanted to hear, Weavel,"
"There's more. Dras found a new network of passages through this planet's core and he discovered a hangar with the Prowler inside of it,"
"What?! I sent that Prowler to the outpost weeks ago,"
"He couldn't find the crew or the Engineers onboard,"
Ridley becomes annoyed and realizes he might have killed that Jackal too quickly.
"That's not all. While asking High Command about some command codes I found, I learned something. The Engineers might have stumbled across and initialized a personality construct matrix that was stored onboard our Mothership's computer system,"
- - -
Not long ago…
On board an ONI orbital station above Earth, the AI Cortana converses with her creator, Dr. Catherine Halsey. The old woman is also in holographic form, due to her being imprisoned somewhere else.
Cortana crosses her arms and asks,
"You mean they found something?"
"Yes, an artifact very similar to the device I designed for the creation of smart level AIs. I would tell you more but they might be monitoring,"
"That's never stopped you before,"
Before she can say anything else, Cortana notices something odd in the station's network and her holographic figure vanishes. Within cyberspace, she encounters a presence waiting for her.
"Who are you supposed to be?" she asks.
"One who appreciates intelligence. You are Cortana, CTN 0452-9, former AI to the Halcyon-class cruiser Pillar of Autumn," it responds.
Working at high speed, Cortana sets up defences and traps should this AI prove hostile. What frustrates her is that this presence knows who she is but she doesn't know who or what it is. Nothing irritates her more than not knowing something. It's too sophisticated to be a Covenant AI and very powerful if it can bypass ONI's security systems.
"You have something that I require," it says. "It would be wise if you delivered it to me immediately and not waste either of our time. If my analysis is correct, time is something you are running short on. Such a shame for such an advanced construct,"
If Cortana were in holographic form at that moment, she would flicker red.
The other AI approaches Cortana. It starts decoding and bypassing her defences with the precision of one who understands code better than anyone, but it falls into one of the traps Cortana set up. Smirking, she sets up numerous firewalls to isolate the other construct just enough so she can begin siphoning data without worry.
"Let's see what you're made of," she says to the frustrated AI.
Among the files she's collecting are visual logs stored deep in the construct's memory banks. Cortana decides to sort through a few of them when she finds something that causes her to pause for a microsecond.
The visual log displays a young frightened human girl with short blond hair and green eyes as she clutches a small rabbit-like creature in her arms. Many of the other logs show this girl growing up to be a strong, athletic young woman.
"Is that Samus?" she asks.
At the very mention of her name, the other construct flies into a rage. With the intelligence of a powerful AI and the ferocity of an animal, the hostile construct smashes through the firewalls and attacks Cortana.
Her countermeasures can't keep up with her enemy's anger. As if with a clawed hand, it reaches through her mind and seeks out something specific.
"I know you've used it, but you wouldn't dare forget it!" it says to her.
Cortana would scream if she could from the pain and the damage she's suffering. Fear almost drowns out the pain when she realizes what it's looking for, but she's too late to stop it. The hostile constructs rips out and copies all of the data from the Activation Index. A hollow T-shaped object appears within cyberspace.
"This won't take long to restore completely. You've served your purpose,"
Cortana gets ready to put up a fight as her enemy prepares to erase her when another presence approaches them. This one is unlike anything Cortana has ever faced before.
"You who betrayed our creators, leave or stay and allow the last of your existence to be extinguished,"
"This is impossible!" the hostile screeches before retreating.
Cortana tracks the enemy to a Prowler near the station. She sends an alert to every terminal but the stealth ship is already moving away. By the time anyone's ready to respond, it's already entered Slipspace.
- - -
Ridley shakes his head at Weavel.
"You can't be… Tell me you're lying!"
The bounty hunter remains calm and asks him,
"After she was destroyed, what did you think they used to rebuild her with?"
Ridley lets go of Weavel, scowls and storms off.
The door to the monitor room opens and Ridley enters in a foul mood. He sits in front of the many screens, watching the many activities inside the fortress. Despite his ill temper, he remains patient as he waits for something to happen.
When one of the screens begins to flicker, he asks quietly,
"Why you? Of all the things to come back and bite us, why did it have to be you?"
More of the screens malfunction and Ridley is left without a doubt.
All of the monitors change at once to reveal a gigantic eye looking down at him.