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Guilt and Justice

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Gasping helplessly for air, Ridley cowered in the corner of his chamber, his tail curled around him. His wings spread and twitched. He hissed and spat. His hands covered his eyes, which were shut tightly. He could feel his claws digging past his dermal layers and into the muscles of his face. Shivers ran up and down his spine. Ridley hadn’t eaten or slept in days. He’d been lost in a limbo--a Hell--and unable to regain himself. The shadows cast by the items strewn around his room loomed ominously on the walls. There was nowhere for him to hide; not even under his bed, where he was too big to fit.

 

What a shame, to be reduced to this. Ridley had never felt such anguish and anxiety in his life. He had engaged in countless battles, slaughtered countless foes, bore countless wounds. But there had been no wound so damaging as this. The leader of the space pirates was damaged beyond repair. He’d tried to rebuild himself time and time, but the nightmares never left him. The pain still lingered everywhere in his body. He was damned to suffer for as long as he lived.

 

As blood ran down his face, Ridley smiled. He dug his claws deeper into his cheeks and began to laugh. This endless pain set his soul at ease, in a disturbed way. This was what he deserved. Now that he was suffering, he owed no debts to the one who bestowed this torture upon him. He and her were even, and Ridley didn’t have to feel guilty anymore. This was the best fitting punishment Ridley could endure for breaking his one friend, his one little girl.

 

For breaking Samus Aran.

 

* * * * *

 

“Mama? Papa?”

 

The little girl toddled through the wreckage of her home, her hands clenching her heart. She sniffled as she peered around. Mangled bodies and burnt foliage lay in all directions around her. Samus bit her lip, determined to not cry. If she cried, her knees would lock and she would fall. Falling meant that she would be immobile and vulnerable to whatever had struck the planet. The little girl put one hand to her throbbing forehead. She wondered if she’d broken her skull when she fell down. All Samus knew was that the world had gone dark for a while. 

 

“Mama…? Where are you?”

 

Samus stopped. Her heart began to thunder loudly in her chest. A few meters in front of her was a reptilian creature, unmoving, perched on a rock and seemingly examining the torn world. It resembled a dinosaur or even a dragon in shape and size. She whimpered, unsure of whether to run, stand still, or approach it. Something in her brain was sounding an alarm bells. Suspicion crept into the child’s mind. She’d seen this thing before… but where? Perhaps in one of her storybooks? What Samus did remember, though, was the Chozo who’d arrived and befriended her before any of this happened. He called himself Old Bird. He was nice and wise. He’d told the little girl that appearances meant nothing when it came to someone’s character. Samus nodded and forced her hands to her sides. Whatever-- who ever--was in front of her could help her find her parents.

 

“Excuse me, Mister…”

 

The pirate scratched his chin in thought as he surveyed the disaster he’d brought on the colony. The stench of burning flesh and gunpowder, while still comforting and familiar, fell stale on his nose. Ridley sighed. Every bit of excitement had left his body since he stepped foot on the planet. His fingers weren’t twitching in anticipation. His tail remained still. The fire in his eyes was dim. Hunting lesser species had become somewhat of a tired hobby. He and his crew infiltrated. The natives ran. Blood coated the land. Rinse and repeat. The alien had been sitting on his haunches, waiting for anything new to come by and entertain him. Whether it be an idea or some warrior that could last more than a few seconds against him, Ridley craved something different. Something harder than what took a swipe of his claws or a swing of his tail.

 

“M-M-Mister…? Can you help me, please?”

 

Ridley craned his head to the side. It was the cute little human girl whose mother had pushed out of harm’s way. Out of his way. Had she somehow forgotten what had happened, or was she surrendering herself? Either way, she’d walked nearly a mile to get to where he’d sat himself down. What an idiot she was, to come back for a second chance at death! Ridley prepared to cut her in half, but stopped when they locked eyes. The pirate parted his mouth in a savage grin. What a fool he’d been to try and kill her. With her large eyes, smooth skin free of blemishes and scars (besides the bruise on her forehead, but that would vanish), and her head of blonde hair, she was cute indeed. Adorable, even. If a fearsome monster such as Ridley found the child to be so pretty, then someone would pay quite a pretty penny for her. Whatever the customer did with her would be none of Ridley’s business, of course.

 

Yes, perhaps he could find a new hobby in this sort of filthy business that many other pirates did. Trafficking never interested him, but admittedly, Ridley had never been so close to a child for this long. Any other little girls or boys that had the misfortune of meeting him were quickly dispatched. But looking at the human child sparked something in him. It seemed like fate, almost. What a convenient first victim.

 

“Are you lost, little one?” he cooed to the best of his ability. His voice was gravelly and loud. Samus flinched at the sound, but held her ground.

 

“Yes. I’m looking for my Mama,” she whimpered. The child forced herself to smile. “Um… You don’t look like Mama or Papa or anybody I met before. But that’s okay. We can still be friends.”

 

“That’s good.” Ridley’s smile faded for a split second. He had no idea how to come across as anything but menacing. He could just grab the kid, but she might kick and scream and, by extension, attract the attention of one of Ridley’s comrades, who would surely question him. Though the leader himself retched at the thought of doing anything to a whelp, he figured that someone would be craving something to satisfy their needs, and… well, Ridley didn’t want to sell a used and possibly broken item. Until he found a proper consumer, she would need to be under his care in secret. “What’s your name?”

 

“Samus. What’s your name?”

 

“Ridley,” replied the alien. For some reason, the name sounded familiar to Samus. “Did you not see what happened, Samus? What happened to your mommy and daddy?”

 

Samus shook her head, the blonde locks bouncing innocently around her chin as she did so. It took all of Ridley’s willpower to not burst out laughing.

 

“I’m so sorry, Samus, but a monster came to this place and killed everyone.” When tears rolled down Samus’ face, Ridley failed to suppress a snort. “You’ll be alone forever on this planet… unless, of course, you come with me.”

 

Through her sobs, the child nodded. “Thank you,” she managed to say. “Thank you, Mr. Ridley… You’re a good friend.”

 

And you’ll be a good profit , the pirate thought.

 

Samus stumbled over to Ridley, unable to keep her cries from shaking her body. She fell onto Ridley’s tail and wrapped herself around it. “Mama and Papa are dead…” she wailed. Ridley rose his tail up so that Samus met his eyes. He smiled, hoping that the child was too little to tell that it was ingenuine, and extended a hand to awkwardly pat her head. 

 

“Come, Samus. Let’s go back to my ship.” He stood, letting his tail droop to the ground. But Samus stayed put. Ridley scowled. “Get up. We need to go.”

 

The girl whimpered. “I can’t… my legs feel weak.”

 

Shaking his head, Ridley reached down and roughly grabbed Samus by the back of her shirt. He held her at arm’s length and walked. She reeked of sweat and dirt. The first thing he would do once they stepped aboard the ship was throw her in a bathtub.

 

* * * * *

 

It’d taken time, but Ridley had managed to get a large bucket full of scalding water and a few bars of soap from the bathing room to his quarters without being noticed. He flung the door to his chamber open. Little Samus shrieked and fell off of Ridley’s bed.

 

“Get in,” he barked once he slammed the door behind him. Samus stood on her toes and peered over the bucket’s edge into the water. “Have you never seen a bath before, kid? Get in!”

 

“Right now?” whimpered Samus.

 

“Right now. You’re filthy. You smell.”

 

“Oh… Okay…” The girl shifted her gaze from the bucket to Ridley, who stared back at her expectedly. 

 

“Get in!”

 

“You have to turn around first!” said Samus defiantly, making a circle in the air with her finger.

 

Ridley felt a growl rise at the back of his throat. It was bad enough to harbor a smelly brat who wouldn’t stop crying. He wouldn’t tolerate the impudent scamp telling him what to do… even if he was about to do it regardless.

 

“We have different parts. It doesn’t matter,” he hissed.

 

“No! Turn around!” 

 

Ridley opened his mouth to reply, but Samus started to whine, her lower lip quivering. He let out a grunt of frustration and turned around. “I’m going to count to five. You’d better be in by then, or I’m dumping you in there myself.”

 

A loud splash sounded behind him.

 

“Okay, you can look now.” 

 

Ridley turned back around. Samus peeked her head out from the bucket. A puddle of water surrounded the makeshift tub. Suddenly, the girl gasped.

 

“Oopsie… I forgot the soap. Can you get the soap?”

 

Ridley scooped up the soap and begrudgingly threw it in, frustration burning in his stomach. As long as he kept her reasonably happy, the human wouldn’t do anything that might attract unwanted attention. Sure, the monster could simply break her spirit or cut out her tongue or something, but that would most likely diminish her price. Besides, he’d never done something like this before. The endless maiming and killing, while fun, grew into a tired and predictable act. Hiding something so prone to accident like a child would be much more of a challenge. And Ridley always welcomed a challenge.

 

Perhaps he could even make a business out of it. He’d collect unsuspecting little girls and raise them to the best price. Ridley allowed a quiet laugh to escape from his mouth. To make the highest profit while keeping his game secret from the others sounded like an entertaining hobby. 

 

“Ridley?”

 

How long had Samus been saying his name? Ridley looked over his shoulder. “What is it?”

 

“Why were you there?”

 

The pirate’s eyes widened. “On… On your planet?” His improv skills were, to his contempt, absolutely abysmal due to lack of practice. After all, why would he need to know how to convince when he could just rip things to shreds? “Um… Just visiting.”

 

Samus nodded. Stupid girl , Ridley thought. 

 

“Am I clean yet?”

 

Ridley sniffed loudly. She no longer stank of dirt, at least. He feared that the stench surrounding her was a simple consequence of her humanity. “Clean enough. Get out. But be quiet about it.”

 

He heard quiet splashes followed by the sound of bare feet hitting the floor. Then he heard a sniffle. 

 

“Um… there isn’t a towel.”

 

How could he forget a towel? Ridley hissed, stretching his wings out. By the sound of it, Samus had stumbled backward in fear and fallen down. “I’ll get one,” he grunted. “Stay quiet and stay off of my bed.” With that, he thrust open the door and stomped out, leaving Samus to her own devices.

 

Clambering through the west hall of the ship, Ridley yawned as he reached his hands above his head. A sudden drowsiness settled over him. No doubt about it; the explosion from miles away had affected him in some way. He grinded his teeth in frustration, his thoughts drifting to what would’ve happened if the blast that killed so many of his crew had happened closer… Ridley shook the idea from his head. Luckily, only debris had hit him, but that didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The mission had failed. The planet’s valuable resources were destroyed along with a number of his men, and the bastard to blame was reduced to nothing from the detonation. Ridley’s claws echoed through the hall as they drummed against the left wall. He knew that tearing Samus apart wouldn’t be enough to satisfy his rage. Her worth as a pawn to his new game was too high to ruin. 

 

He raked a long finger along the rack of sheets stationed in the right-hand corner of the washroom supply room. “What to pick, what to pick?” he half growled, half sang to himself. Deciding on a black rag that felt like it’d be the itchiest, Ridley yanked it from the rack and headed back to his quarters, but stopped when he realized that cloth of this kind might rub against her skin and damage it. Its abrasiveness was perfect for someone with rough, scaly skin like Ridley, but when used on a more delicate creature, the towel may do much more harm than good. The monster turned to put the towel back where he found it and grab a better one. 

 

Once he opened the door to the supply room, Ridley’s eyes met with another’s: Vorr, a large (in the horizontal aspect, to put it lightly) creature with reddish, porous skin. He wore his signature armor, which failed to cover even half of his massive body. His mouth, full of jagged, stained teeth, hung open slightly as always. 

 

“Greetings,” Vorr grumbled cheerfully.

 

“Greetings.”

 

“A shame about the raid, sir.”

 

“Hmph” was all Ridley said.

 

“It felt good to be outside and free, though,” said Vorr, ignorant to Ridley’s cold stare. “Got good exercise if you know what I mean, eh?” He held out his hands and jerked them slightly as if firing an imaginary gun.

 

“I suppose.”

 

“And what are you doing with that?” Vorr asked, his four eyes locked on the soft towel Ridley had extracted from the rack.

 

“None of your damn business,” the pirate spat. 

 

Vorr flinched at the words. “Apologies, sir. I know it was a bust. I’m just trying to stay positive.”

 

“Hmph.”

 

“You know what was fun, though? The little ones. They sure have the best reactions when you show up with weapons blazing. Even better when you chase ‘em down. ‘Mommy, Daddy! Save me!’ Humans are pretty quick when it comes to life or death situations.” Vorr fired his nonexistent weapon again, adding a hearty “ Pow !” as he did so. “Not quick enough, though, eh, captain?”

 

Ridley turned to his comrade with ice in his voice. “Will you close your stupid mouth for one second and let me go about my merry way for once!?”

 

Again, the pirate flinched. “Sorry, sir. I was just…”

 

“Trying to stay positive,” sighed Ridley. “I don’t care.” 

 

To his surprise and delight, Vorr didn’t follow him back down the hall. He hated to admit when the oaf was right, but Ridley always enjoyed the children. Like Vorr said, little ones always had the shrillest screams and best faces, but something felt unfair about killing them. Ridley never took any joy in hunting animals like so many others did, for example. He had no problem with it, but he always considered it to be too easy. Most creatures that wandered the galaxy’s worlds were brainless. They took no effort to dispatch. Sure, children were smarter and provided fun when being kicked around, but to Ridley, they were one slot above animals in terms of difficulty. 

 

And Samus was no different. She definitely fit the bill of a child: trusting, sweet, annoying, and stupid. Stupider than so many others Ridley had met. Most kids ran screaming at the sight of a creature his size, but Samus could see no danger in his menacing appearance. A theory crossed Ridley’s mind that made him stop in his tracks. Was Samus’ head injury to blame for her lack of awareness? Had she damaged some part of her brain that dealt with survival instincts beyond repair? He shook himself of the idea. No, she still possessed the mind of a child. She still stood above animal status. She could still be sold, and that was all Ridley cared about.