Chapter Four: My Dreams Have Changed
“I trusted you.”
Ridley flung himself into the wall as hard as he could. He felt like his throat had swelled to deadly proportions. His wings, torn and useless, flapped to no avail. Shrieking, Ridley raked his claws against the rocky surface. A familiar shadow fell onto the wall. Ridley turned to face Samus Aran, who had him trapped with nowhere to run.
“I thought you loved me.”
“I do,” Ridley gasped.
“So why did you try to sell me when I was younger? Why did you say so many terrible things to me?”
The pirate’s chest throbbed. “That was a long time ago. You changed me, Samus. I--I planned to sell you, but I had a change of heart. I even killed the one that wanted to--”
“I don’t believe a word you say.”
On his hands and knees, Ridley arched his back and spread his wings as far as he could. It was an instinct; an urge to look scarier than the one who would soon take his life. He’d never assumed such a pathetic position before, but for some reason, this felt familiar. Rehearsed. Somehow, he knew what Samus Aran was going to say.
“Why did you kill them all, Ridley?” The girl gripped a rifle in her right hand. She swayed as she advanced toward him, as if dazed or drunk. “My mama… my papa… everyone I’d ever known and loved… I was so happy before… but now…?”
He opened his mouth to respond, but nothing came out. Ridley grabbed at his throat, desperate for air.
“I hate you, Ridley,” said Samus.
“I love you, Samus,” the monster managed to choke out. “I do…”
Samus held the gun up to his face. Ridley’s breathing stopped. His heart thundered in his chest. The world spun before his eyes.
“You deserve this,” said Samus calmly. “You did this, Ridley.”
Ridley waited. A deathly silence fell over the two for a minute. It broke when Ridley cried out as Samus turned the gun from Ridley’s head to her own. She squeezed her eyes shut.
“SAMUS!” he screamed. “SAMUS, DON’T!!!”
Ridley woke up.
Slowly, he turned to the sleeping figure next to him. Samus kept snoring. The clock read 01:00. Cold air washed over Ridley’s body--or was that his blood beginning to flow again? There was no sigh of relief to breathe this time. His throat still felt swollen. He’d had this exact nightmare five times now, and each one managed to be more painful than the last. Ridley squinted, examining his arms. Once again, he’d bitten and scratched them in his sleep. The taste of blood stained the pirate’s tongue. How long until he accidentally severed a major vein in his wrist? How would Samus cope when she woke up and found Ridley dead with his blood pooled around him? He couldn’t hurt her anymore than he already had.
“What do I do?” he whispered into the dark. Ridley turned to Samus, who slept soundly. Subconsciously, he hoped she would give him an answer.
* * * * *
Now nine years old, Samus Aran ran her fingers along the plasma pistol. It glimmered in the sunlight. Its metal was a beautiful navy blue and silver. The tiny energy tank running horizontally along the pistol’s body glowed a brilliant yellow. She looked up at Ridley, who stared back at her expectedly.
“I… love… it!” Samus screamed. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!” She hugged her mentor's leg, who loosely put a clawed hand on her back.
“I still think birthdays are stupid,” grumbled Ridley.
“I’ll never ask for anything again.” With an exaggerated pose, Samus pretended to fire the gun. Ridley rolled his eyes. She ran around him, pointing the pistol every which way at imaginary enemies until Ridley yanked it from her grasp.
“Be careful where you point that thing,” he snapped. “Shoot me, and I shoot you back, got it?”
Samus put her hand to her forehead in a salute. “Yes, sir! Does this mean I’m a pirate now?”
Ridley bent down to Samus’ eye level. “No. I don’t know what makes you more unqualified: the fact that you’re nine, or that you’re a human.”
“Not that I’m a girl?”
If Ridley had eyebrows, he’d raise them in confusion. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“A long time ago, girls weren’t allowed to do boy stuff. They weren’t allowed to vote or have their own property… and then they were treated really stupid. Apparently some of it’s still going on today, so girls don’t usually get guns. They become doctors or marry boys or bake. Stuff like that. At least, that's how I think it works on Earth.”
“No wonder you only live to 90 years old,” hissed the pirate. “That’s easily one of the most idiotic things I’ve ever heard.”
Samus climbed onto his back. “That’s why I like you, Ridley. You’re cool.”
“Are you saying that because you want me to give the plasma pistol back?”
Samus pursed her lips. Ridley sighed, shook her off of him, and dropped the gun into her hands. He jabbed his thumb in the direction of a heap of rocks. “See if you can hit that.”
The girl nodded and assumed the stance of gunslingers she’d seen numerous times on the computer screen. Time seemed to slow. She narrowed her eyes. Breathing out slowly, Samus let everything but the pile of stones become nothing but an unimportant smear in her peripheral vision. To impress Ridley would be her best dream come true. Samus held her breath and pressed her left hand to her chest.
Ba-Bump . Three… Ba-bump. Two… Ba-bump.
The pile of stones shattered into smoke and debris. Ecstatic, Samus turned to Ridley, who offered her a genuine smile.
“Good,” he said. “I expected you to miss by at least a mile.”
Samus threw her gun into the air. “I’m a natural,” she replied. She failed to catch the pistol when it came back down.
“Maybe you are,” said Ridley. “Are you ready for your next test, Samus?”
“Now that you have a weapon… survive out here for a day. Only then will I think about adding you to my troops in the future. And I’ll only think about it.”
“Pfft. I can survive for a week, easy! A day is nothing.”
Without warning, Ridley opened his wings. “Good luck, then.” He took off and soon became an ebony smudge against the sky. Samus’ jaw dropped. That was… sudden. So sudden, in fact, that the girl’s train of thought derailed and crashed. Her second test started right now? Samus’ eyebrows furrowed. She believed that he would at least give her food or water. Or directions on where to find those two things. All he’d bestowed upon her to survive the deadly wildlife of this planet was a means of protection.
Still, a day was a day. Or was it? Had he taken her comment seriously and left her there for a week? With nothing left to do, Samus shrugged and walked forward. Her mouth already felt dry. She scanned the area, counting the number of plants sprouting from the ground: three. The ground certainly didn’t harbor much water, then. Downhill would be a better bet to quench her thirst. Samus let her arms fall to her sides, the pistol included. Most of the creatures here were nocturnal. Finding water was the only priority (at least, if Ridley had gone for only a day), and after that was over and done with, Samus could just climb a tree and keep watch all night.
“Bingo,” she said once she looked over a steep ravine. Greenery lined the area. Samus sat down and began to crawl on her hands and feet like a crab. The dirt under her shoes slid. One wrong move would result in a long tumble down. It didn’t seem like a fall would be fatal, but it would certainly hurt--she may even break a bone. Samus crawled slowly and carefully. With the gun in her hand, she had only her left hand and feet to dig into the earth. Her breath became increasingly labored. Samus stopped. Climbing down wasn’t hard to do, at least not physically. Yet she was sweating and hot, desperate for a drink. Samus rose her left hand to wipe her forehead dry. She screamed in fright. A giant cicada-like bug had attached itself to her hand like a leech.
“AAAUGH!” The girl kicked and flailed instinctively. She pulled at the insect with her right hand until it detached and flew off. By that time, though, Samus had started to slide down the ravine at a dizzying pace. Dirt seeped into her shoes and landed in her eyes. Blind and bleeding from her bug bite, the child shrieked for Ridley as she plummeted into the forest below.
Samus landed hard on her right shoulder. She cried out in pain, still unable to see. The forest chirped with the sounds of insects and reptiles. The girl hurriedly wiped the dirt from her eyes and came to her feet. Her left hand bore a circular bite mark that bled profusely. Her shoulder was broken at worst and dislocated at best. Shaking, Samus took off her shoes and one of her socks. She tied it around her left hand to the best of her ability. Blood seeped through the white fabric almost instantly. Praying that whatever had bitten her wasn’t venomous, Samus sat down again, this time to cry. What an idiot she was to come down here! Life after tonight seemed impossible. But at least she still had…
“My pistol!” Samus stood up, looking wildly from side to side. She lost it! But when? Had it fallen down with her, or was it buried underneath the dirt in the ravine? Defeated, the girl sobbed. What would Ridley think when he came back and saw her, eyes wet, shoulder broken, hand bleeding, and gun out of her possession? She couldn’t bare the thought of it! And that was if she survived to see him! To think that she had ruined her entire life with one stupid mistake.
No. Samus was a pirate (in her mind, at least). Just because she lost her gun didn’t mean that it was lost forever. It couldn’t have gone far. She turned to where she’d fallen down from. It was easy to tell where she tumbled by the trail of blood. At the top of the ravine, a faint but brilliant yellow glinted against the sun. Her plasma pistol! Samus sighed in relief. Climbing up there would be a huge challenge, but the pistol now ruled over water as top priority. If she wanted to live through the night, she needed it.
First, she tried running up the incline on all fours, which resulted in a mouthful of dirt. Next, she attempted to sidestep upward. That didn’t work. Finally, Samus dug into the ground to form a foothold. Aha. She nodded to herself, impressed. Once she perched on the foothold, she dug more holes into the ravine, slowly but surely making her way to her gift.
Samus reached up and clawed at the dirt above her head until her fingers touched the familiar metal. She smiled. At last! The girl grabbed the gun and held it to her heart. What an idiot she was, to cry and give up so quickly! Her credibility as a space pirate blossomed. In less than a few minutes, Samus devised a plan, followed through, and completed her objective. Before this moment, the child had only hoped she could join Ridley in the universe-wide adventures. Being a pirate was nothing more than a wild dream; a whimsical “what if” that infiltrated Samus’ thoughts on the daily. She forced herself to pursue more grounded--and human--interests. She was better suited to be a rock star (even though she couldn’t sing), a chef (when all of her food burned in the pan), a veterinarian (but Samus cried at the mere thought of euthanization), or, worst of all, a housewife. Hours and hours of browsing through human history had filled the child’s head with such horribly tame ideas. She never entertained the idea that women could be pirates. But if what Ridley said was true… then there was a chance for her.
“Forget singing,” said Samus. “I’m gonna be the best pirate ever!”
“Did you hear that?”
The voice was low and guttural. Samus gasped and pressed herself against the dirt. She had no idea there were people on this planet. Another voice, even lower than the last, grunted in assent. Two pairs of footsteps came closer to the girl’s position. She clamped her left hand over her mouth and held the pistol tightly in her right.
“So it wasn’t my imagination, then,” growled the first voice. “Didn’t know there was life other than the animals on this place.”
“Might make our job harder,” replied the second. “Or not, on the other hand. If there’s only one of ‘em, we probably have nothing to worry about.”
The girl’s shoulders slumped. She stared forward, still unsure of her chances of survival but alleved nonetheless. Please just walk away , thought Samus. The air, already stagnant and muggy, seemed to freeze in the air. Although he was probably long gone, Samus scanned the sky for Ridley. Even if she spotted him, how would Samus flag him down without the two others noticing? Would he come down at all?
“Kraid’s gonna have our necks if we don’t get him the stuff,” grumbled voice number two. “No time for standing around, man. If the agrite is in the middle of the forest like he said, then we got a long way to go.”
The dual sets of footsteps faded. Samus expelled a breath she didn’t know she was holding. She looked to her left hand. The blood had finally stopped. A single tug on the sock sent pain reeling through Samus’ arm. With her wound now dry, the sock had become glued to her skin. She uttered a quiet “damn” before leaving it alone and turned to climb up the ravine. If those two planned to scavenge through the forest below, Samus would take her chances with the dry land. She swung one leg over the top of the incline. Hyperextending her elbows, Samus propped herself up and pushed herself to safety. She wiped the sweat from the back of her neck and pushed her bangs from her eyes.
And then she screamed in horror.
The two men Samus had heard hadn’t moved like their footsteps suggested. Bipedal and buglike in appearance, the duo gave the child matching wicked grins. They advanced toward her, the claws that substituted hands clacking in excitement.
* * * * *
Curled up under the shade of a massive tree, Ridley lazily scratched at his neck. It’d only been a few hours, but he missed Samus already. What was he--an overworked mother or something? Samus had enough common sense and survival skills to last a day on this planet. As long as she didn’t do anything incredibly stupid, she’d be perfectly fine. Ridley had done his research. Humans could last more than a day without food or water. The few animals here that posed a threat were easy to kill with a plasma pistol. The child would be fine, period.
Thank whatever god that might be out there that Samus was such an adventurous child. Ridley needed alone time, and Samus had no problem entertaining herself for hours at a time. Ever since his nightmares began, the pirate desperately craved solitude. Looking at the lone survivor of his genocide warped his mind like nothing else. As much as he loved her, Ridley sometimes wished that she would simply vanish from existence and leave his conscience at peace.
He thought back to their conversation. Would Samus have really been better off in a society that thought of her as less than her male counterparts? The Space Pirates, as cruel and heartless as they were, didn’t discriminate in any way. One could be any size, any gender, any sexuality, and still join so long as they could serve Ridley well. What would Samus’ life be like if she lived with the other humans?
Ridley’s eyes snapped open. How did Samus know about the sexism of the human race? She must’ve done her research as well. Whether she obtained the knowledge via a book or a computer, the child’s curiosity posed a new threat to Ridley. It was only a matter of time before she found out about who her beloved mentor really was.