Samus hadn't been sleeping well lately. None of them had. The realm of dreams had become yet another battlefield. Mostly it was Kirby and the creepy psychic kids defending the place from constant raids by that goddamn flying purple jester and their evil twin. It was futile. Those two owned the territory, they were at one with it. Dreams were something Ness and Kirby had a lot of experience in but the jesters lived there, had survived in the wilds of nightmare all their life. And sometimes their boss came out to play and that was basically all hell breaking loose. That had happened last night. Nobody had gotten any sleep.
Her ship's systems woke her up, firstly to tell her that her heart rate was dangerously accelerated, then to try and give her another heart attack by suddenly sounding the combat alarm. Hitting the buttons for the tactical grid and the observation port, she saw the other ship careening in on full afterburners, spewing a hail of lasers. About the same size as hers and clearly as heavily specialised to a similar function, it had come out of nowhere. How long had her assailant been stalking her?
Shields automatically up at full, she ordered evasive maneuvers and an answering missile volley. No point in talking it out if they were that determined already. Bloody hell, she thought to herself, Sega aren't letting up lately. When were they going to end this senseless war so she could do something that actually paid her a decent wage and...
Something silenced her rant to herself, something she saw out of the corner of her eye. The attacking ship had suddenly veered close enough for her to spot the logo and it looked familiar: a coiling white dragon with ferocious fangs. It was a weird design for a dragon, looking more like a cat's head on a hairy caterpillar's body. Any bounty hunter worth their salt knew that logo.
Samus yelled out an appropriate swear word in Chozo.
If they'd managed to hire the Harrier, they meant serious business.
"I don't care that they paid me double," he told his friend firmly, patting the dragon on his gargantuan fluffy feline head. Uriah answered him with a rumbling purr and a series of curious chirrups. The coils of his body were wound around the boulder where the man lay with his head on his folded arms, staring up at a magenta sky studded with cyan stardust. His laser cannon, the same size as him but fitted with an anti-grav unit so that it was actually lifting him most of the time, sparkled in the moonlight. His ritual of cleaning it and checking all the parts took up most of his morning and he felt uneasy today, what with the pink blob chasing him through his dreams and the subsequent unwelcome job offer at four in the morning, so he'd taken twice as long.
"They called me 'probably a cyborg'," he complained, "And they said I had a 'weird bird motif going on'. And they expect me to go after the galaxy's most dangerous bounty hunter, on my own, for only twice as much danger pay as usual."
Uriah licked his face, which he claimed to hate but always seemed calmer and more focused after. Shouty humans were not fun to be around when you were a dragon trying to take one of your many naps. He'd already told his tiny but still reliable friend that he had no intention of getting involved in any more battles that were neither necessary nor involved the dragon realm, which he had a duty to stay and protect. He approved of Opa-Opa being too busy to cause any problems but otherwise the whole thing was, frankly, a mess, and only reinforced his opinions of tiny creatures who were not Harrier.
"You know, they say that Samus is a beautiful woman under all that armour, if you could actually get that close to her and live," Harrier told the dragon, "If we were on the same side, I'd totally try my luck with her."
"You claim not to be interested in the dangerous female human, but you have talked about nothing else all morning," pointed out Uriah, speaking telepathically in broken, thickly accented but still coherent Palman, a language Harrier also happened to speak, "You seem like a good match, from your description of her. Also, the army will return and pester you again if they really want this doing, which will interrupt my nap again, so maybe you should just go out and take care of the job now."
"In other words, you want me to go away so you can go back to sleep. I don't understand how you sleep through all this, Uriah," he gave the dragon a confused look.
"I am a powerful psychic, as old as NiGHTs, and we dragons have our tricks," Uriah yawned, showing off rows of pointed teeth the size of Harrier's head.
"Look, fuzz-face, this job... she's a class above the scum I usually get hired to clean out and there's a good chance either myself or her won't come out of this alive, so..."
"I was under the impression that this was the case for all of your commissions and that we already had an understanding in place."
"Just keep this place intact through all this bullshit," he sighed, yawned, stretched and sprang to his feet. Slinging his cannon over his shoulder, he sprang into the air, allowing the gun's anti-grav to kick in and float him to the cockpit of his ship.
"Persistent bugger, aren't we?"
She'd managed to establish hailing frequency and the Harrier had quite happily accepted. So far there hadn't been any electronic warfare nonsense by either side, partly out of honour between professionals, partly because they were in the middle of a raging ion storm and it was all either of them could do to keep their own systems from going haywire. Their targeting systems were both slightly askew and they couldn't see a thing over the visuals except crackling purple mayhem. Their communications channel was cutting in and out, full of static, but they could sort of make out what each other was saying. It was something to do while they weaved in and out of electric storms, dense asteroid clusters and as close to wormholes and suns as they dared go, trying to shake each other off and then then suddenly reappear behind the other for a killing strike. Their vessels were both designed for this, both equally matched, neither of them giving ground at all. They'd both tried cloaking up but could both scan each other down again. Their top speeds were equally insane.
"Underneath your helmet... they say you're a bit of a..." static cut through this last word, "That true?"
"Catch me and maybe you'll find out."
"You gonna turn around and fight properly?"
"Nah, I can do this all day, and it saves having to risk my ass in the complete..." several words were drowned out by static, "Back in Zebes at the moment."
"This place looks like shit. Why's it so drab? Why's it all look the same?"
"You should go to Kirby's hell if you want your eyes melted out of your face."
"Rather go back home," he admitted.
"You giving up this early?"
"Nah, just worried about my homeland," he said, "There's another rumour going around, y'know, that while we're fighting this war, both realms are tearing themselves apart. The new is eating away at the old."
"Yeah, a bunch of us have a deal to fight it off as long as possible. Heard you guys have got it worse, though. That you just lose contact with whole sectors."
"Uriah and Opa can deal with it."
"If you say so," she shrugged, "Look, we're coming up to Nowhere Island territory. There's some weird iron curtain across that place. Lucas told me that time and space gets weird. The ion storms get more intense, there are a few wormholes. Our links back to central command are both gonna get cut off in mysterious circumstances and, unfortunately for them, nobody will be able to track us here. I've got things I want to discuss."
"Fine with me."
"Okay, if you want to not actually fly right into something that'll kill you in an instant, follow me closely."
With that, Samus hit the afterburners, accelerating to full speed again and the Harrier followed suit. In a second, they were gone.