Chapter 1: Filthy Business
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.
* * * * *
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
“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.
Chapter 2: Under the Bed
“Hit me harder!”
Samus hissed in frustration, tossing her waist-length blonde hair behind her face with a gloved hand. Ridley hovered in the air, his massive wings flapping loudly. She cracked her neck, a scowl across her face, and charged again, plasma rifle in hand. Ridley swooped down at a dizzying pace, sparks flying from where his claws scraped the rocky ground. Samus launched herself to the side to dodge Ridley’s tail. She pivoted, her aim focused on his back, and fired. The pirate avoided the shot easily. He landed on the ground and swung his tail at the girl. She ducked underneath the swipe and ran backward from his reach, panting heavily.
“Quit dancing around me,” growled Ridley. “Hit me harder!”
As he rocketed forward, Samus braced herself. “It’s a gun, stupid! I can only hit you one way!”
Ridley grabbed Samus by the leg and dragged her across the ground. She shrieked, dropping her weapon to shield her face with her arms. With little effort, Ridley flung her a few meters away, where the young woman finally skidded to a stop. Quiet groans came from her crumpled form. The pirate plucked the rifle from the ground and tossed it to Samus, who remained still. She looked at the gun, and then to her mentor, who towered over her, his flaxen eyes glowing against his dark body.
“Don’t give me that rubbish, girl,” snarled Ridley. “You’re firing it at its lowest setting!”
“I don’t want to hurt you,” muttered Samus.
“What?” Ridley’s tone made Samus’ eyes snap wide open. He sounded livid. She watched his tail swish from side to side. He grabbed her by her shirt collar and hoisted her up to his face. The young woman squirmed, her heart pounding. “You don’t want to hurt me, you said…?”
Samus opened her mouth, but closed it. She didn’t dare speak.
“Do you know who I am, Samus Aran?” The alien’s breath tickled her chin. “I’m the commander of the space pirates. I’ve engaged in hundreds of battles. I’ve killed thousands. Do you think I can’t take a few shots from a toy like that?”
“Why does it matter?” whimpered Samus. “We’re just sparring. And it’s not like you’re not going easy on me, either.”
“If I went at you with full strength, you’d be dead in a second.”
“Why do you want me to hurt you, Ridley?” Samus growled. “Every time we fight, it’s like you get masochistic. You taught me how to use that rifle, too. You know as well as I do that it’d go right through you if you were blasted by it. I swear, you turn borderline suicidal!”
The two stared at each other for a few icy seconds. Finally, Ridley dropped her. “You’re pathetic,” he snarled. “That thing would break a rib, worst case scenario. How will you be able to become a true pirate if you can’t even bring yourself to shoot me?”
“And whose fault is that, Ridley!? You didn’t raise me like your parents raised you! No shit I’m not going to turn out to be heartless like you!” Samus shut her mouth. That felt too harsh. She hung her head, defeated. “I’m sorry.”
“Why are you sorry?” The pirate’s voice was dangerously low. “Do you think I’m so pure of heart that I need an apology every time you state a simple fact? What the hell are you sorry for? I should…”
He caught himself. Ridley had almost said what he feared he would accidentally let slip. Breathing a sigh of relief, the creature relaxed, allowing his wings to fold.
Samus wiped the grime from her face. “You don’t get it, do you?” she muttered. “We’re different, Ridley. Our species are way different. Can you not understand that I process things differently than you? I can’t just change my biology to fit your expectations. Humans have this thing called empathy, which makes us be aware that sometimes we’re in the wrong and that the universe doesn’t revolve around us! I don’t have your endless supply of pride, Ridley. I can’t hide my emotions like you can.”
“And what makes you think I have emotions to hide?”
The young woman uttered a bitter laugh. “You’re really reaching. Let me see… oh, how about the fact that you took me in as your own?”
“How do you know I didn’t simply see you as a pawn I could make in my image?” Ridley snapped. His tail curled around his feet.
Shaking her head, Samus scoffed. “How long have I been with you? Thirteen years?”
“Long enough to know that you’re a terrible liar. And that you have plenty of emotions to--”
Ridley struck the back of her neck with the side of his hand. Samus’ knees instantly buckled. The girl gasped and then fell to the ground, no longer conscious. The pirate scooped her up to examine her face. He wiped away flecks of gravel that lingered in the cuts on her skin and brushed her hair behind her ear.
“You’re a good girl, Samus,” he whispered as he held her close. “Too good to see me for the monster I am.” Ridley hugged her tightly, beginning to shake. “You didn’t deserve what I did to your people. I and those under my command killed them. Every single one of them. And if you find out…”
Ridley shuddered. He expelled a shaky breath, letting the tears run down his face. “If the day comes that you learn the truth and kill me… don’t be sorry. Don’t ever be sorry. I should be sorry.”
* * * * *
“Stop crying and go to sleep,” growled Ridley. “Do you want me to knock you out or can you shut up on your own?”
He was no good at this. For the past two weeks, he’d failed to keep Samus content. She cried almost all the time, and the pirate grew angry very quickly whenever she did so. Nothing he did worked to quiet her down--not even threats. The little girl hugged her knees to her chest and cried still.
“What’s the matter with you?”
“M-Mama and Papa… They read me a story every night because it kept the monsters away. But… They got t-taked away and now they’re gone and I’m scared…!!”
“I don’t know any stories,” he grumbled. “But you need to be quiet.”
“Can you make up a story?” the child begged, her cheeks and nose red. “Please?”
“If I tell you one, then you will quiet down. Got it?” Ridley hissed. Samus nodded, wiping her nose with her sleeve. “Okay… What kind of story do you want?”
“A happy one.”
“Fine, fine. Um… Let me see…” He cringed. Never in his life had Ridley needed to do something so childish. He thought himself to be creative, but not in the sense of pointless matters like making up tales. He excelled in engineering. He seemed to fail miserably in child-sitting.
“Alright, I got one. This is called… um… The Noisy Robot . Listen well, because I’m not going to tell it again.” Samus nodded eagerly and lay herself down next to his tail, which she wrapped her arms around. Ridley raised a hand to push her off of him, but he couldn’t. Much to his dismay, the human was as cute as ever, looking to him expectedly, a thumb placed loosely in her mouth. He sighed and put his hand down.
“Okay. The Noisy Robot . There once was a robotics engineer who made a robot. He was good at making robots, but one day he made a robot that was loud and obnoxious. Very, very obnoxious. So much so that the engineer couldn’t find a moment’s peace. At first, the engineer thought about destroying the robot. He wanted to break the robot into teeny tiny pieces so that it would stop being so annoying. But the engineer had a smart plan. You see, he made the robot for a very specific reason. There were people that liked to take new robots and smash them. So he made the robot to be perfect for smashing. But how was he supposed to give away a robot that was noisy?
“The engineer tried everything he could. He tried singing to the robot, asking the robot nicely, and yelling at the robot. But no matter what he tried, the robot wouldn’t shut the hell up. So one day the engineer had a great idea. He took a big metal rod and jammed it right through the robot’s voice box. Then the robot became quiet forever, and the engineer got a good night’s rest and lived happily ever after.”
“Thank you. I liked the story,” said Samus. “Can you check for monsters? Papa always checked for monsters.”
“Don’t monsters look like me?” snapped the alien.
“They don’t act like you.”
Ridley growled and stood up, letting his tail remain on the bed with Samus. He imagined flinging her into the wall and hearing nothing more from her. “Where am I supposed to look?”
“Under the bed and in the closet.”
The creature flung open his closet door. He looked from left to right in an exaggerated manner. “Nothing in here.” He turned and dropped on all fours, peering under the bed. With a wicked smile, Ridley gasped loudly. Samus immediately tensed and squealed.
“What?” she sobbed. “What is it?”
Ridley popped back up. He loomed over the child, wings spread, teeth bared. “It’s me,” he snarled. To his surprise, Samus only giggled.
“You’re silly, Ridley,” she said. Ridley chuckled.
“I’m scary, you idiot.”
“No, you’re just silly.” The girl lay back down, her eyes closed. “Goodnight, Ridley.”
Ridley didn’t dare say anything. At long last, the twerp had calmed down. His own eyelids felt unbearably heavy. The creature shifted his body to lie down. Samus had fallen asleep in the middle of the bed. If he moved her, she might wake up and start to wail again. Sighing, Ridley curled himself around her. The position left the lower half of his legs dangling off of the edge of the bed. He grunted, not finding any energy to care. Quickly, the pirate grew more and more lax, eager to slip into sleep.
He opened his eyes.
Samus had made him chuckle.
More than that; the little thing had coerced him into a story that he ended up telling with relish. Him, the commander of space pirates! He, Ridley, had found the child to be entertaining in a way he didn’t think possible. The only entertainment Ridley allowed into his life involved torture and cruelty; none of this pathetic, motherly garbage! What was wrong with him? Did humans possess the ability to attract the attention of a suitable protector? That had to be it. But Ridley was no such protector. Although completely capable of protecting his men, it simply wasn’t in his nature to do so. He let everyone fend for themselves. Lacking any bothersome compassion defined Ridley. It was his ruthless nature that helped him survive into adulthood. And now? Now it all had been overturned by a whelp who reeked of dirt and self-pity.
Ridley narrowed his eyes, furious. The thing he’d worked so hard to make comfortable was sucking his identity from him. He ought to slaughter her while she slept. Rising from his position, Ridley stared down at Samus. To kill the child would be like scratching an unbearable itch. He raised his hand again, this time to wrap his fingers around her neck and crush it. The sound of Samus’ soft snores became heavy on Ridley’s shoulders. Heat blossomed in his chest. His hand shook.
Samus had made him chuckle.
“Damn you,” he whispered as he lay back down. “I’m too tired for this.” It felt good to say it, even though Samus wasn’t even awake to hear the lie. Sometime, the girl’s luck would run out. He would sell her off. Ridley smiled. What horrors awaited her in the future! Of course he wasn’t being soft. Killing her here and now would be soft. Samus would be out of his life one day, and Ridley would rest easy knowing that she’d made a good profit for him.
Chapter 3: Time to Go
WARNING! This chapter contains graphic depictions of violence.
“Absolutely fucking not.”
“Just for a day!”
“It’s not like he’s going to eat me. He’s really nice. He’s nothing like you.”
“I said no, Samus! Now wipe that crap off of your face!”
Her knuckles turned white as she held her fists even tighter. Samus refused to hold her head up and let Ridley see the tears in her eyes. “I’m not a baby anymore, Ridley. And it’s not crap, it’s makeup.”
She could hear his tail moving across the floor, back and forth. “I’ve never seen you wear it before. Why wear it now?”
“Because that’s what girls wear when they go on dates. And again, it’s not crap. Lots of boys like it.”
“I don’t like it.”
“You’re not a human, Ridley.”
“Enough.” Ridley stood up to his full height. Samus straightened her own back, though she knew she could never look as intimidating as him. Anger glowed in Ridley’s eyes. “You are not going. You barely know that boy. You’ve never even met him off the internet. It’s far too dangerous.”
Samus’ blood boiled. She threw her hands up and stomped away. “UGH! I HATE YOU!”
“Yeah, I know.”
Ridley didn’t move. He cocked his head in anticipation for when Samus slammed the door to her quarters. The pirate had expected her intelligence to increase as she aged, but if anything, she’d gotten dumber--especially when browsing the net. Before she’d hit the age of eleven, Samus generally kept a decent head on her shoulders. What had gone wrong? Letting out a low hum in thought, Ridley racked his brain for what could have possibly made her suddenly so dumb. Her head injury from so long ago wasn’t to blame… was it?
Whether it was or wasn’t, he felt responsible to check on her.The pirate began to walk to Samus’ room. He bent down, pressed the side of his head to the door, and listened. Behind the threshold came quiet sobs and even quieter curse words. He tapped the back of his hand against the door a few times. “Samus?”
“I’m coming in.”
“No, you’re not! Get lost!”
Ridley opened the door and stepped inside. “Why are you acting like this? You used to have some common sense, girl. Where has that gone?”
“It’s you who has a stick up your ass,” said Samus through gritted teeth. “You’re always coming and going. Why am I not allowed to go anywhere without you?”
“I actually have duties, Samus.”
The girl spat her words out. “You’re just afraid I’m gonna realize that you’re a horrible parent and run off when I get the chance.”
Silence. Samus froze, still facing away from Ridley. Sho no longer heard the all too familiar swishing of the pirate’s tail. Slowly, Samus held her hands over her heart as if to muffle the sound of its beating. Ice had coursed through her bloodstream. She knew that Ridley was staring at her, waiting for her to turn around.
Ridley grabbed her so suddenly and so roughly that the girl let out a shriek. He held her inches from his face. His teeth glinted when he bared them.
“Do you really think I’ve done nothing for you, you insolent, conceited brat? Had I left you on your home planet, you would have starved to death… unless, of course, you survived by eating the remains of your species! I could’ve thrown you out of an airlock every time you woke me up by crying! I could’ve sold you off! I could’ve killed you myself! But I didn’t! I put up with all of your shit, Samus. And now, because I decided to care about you and keep you from idiotically meeting someone you know nothing about, you think I’m the worst thing to ever happen in your life? Do I have that right?”
Ridley’s eyes widened with shock. He’d expected her to scream right back him. But she didn’t. Samus Aran said nothing at all. Her body shook. The sound of the tears that fell from her eyes hitting the floor was deafening. Ridley’s stomach twisted.
“Oh my God…” he whispered. “Samus…”
Samus said nothing.
“Do… Do you want me to go…? I… I can go, if you want…”
She lowered her head, her eyes desolate. “Do what you want, Ridley. Do whatever you want.”
Samus watched Ridley’s tail. She waited for it to rise, for the tip to point at her stomach before impaling her. Weakness drained her body completely. If Ridley did what Samus expected him to do, there was no energy left inside of her to even attempt to evade. The girl’s vision was blurred with tears. They were endless, but Samus was determined to blink them away. She wanted to see Ridley’s tail at least twitch before it stabbed right through her.
Ridley hugged his child to his chest. Samus yelped, but quickly wrapped her arms around him. Her strength had returned. With his tail curled around the girl like an extra arm, Ridley rocked back and forth, listening to her wail.
“I didn’t mean any of it,” he said softly. “Not a word of it. I was frustrated. You’re not a brat, and you’re not conceited or insolent, either. You’re a good girl, Samus. I’m so sorry. I meant absolutely none of it. None at all.”
Samus kept one arm around him but repeatedly bashed her fist against his body with all of her might. “I hate you…” she sobbed as she assaulted him. “I hate you…!!”
“I know.” Ridley made no effort to stop her. He wished that he could be smaller and weaker for just this moment so that Samus’ punches would hurt. But they didn’t, and the pirate hated himself for ever attacking such a fragile and undeserving target.
* * * * *
Little Samus rolled around on Ridley’s bed, letting the blankets engulf her. Ridley plucked her from the sea of fabric with one hand and dangled her a few feet over the floor.
“Stop, or I’ll drop you,” he snarled.
Samus giggled and clapped her hands. “Drop me, drop me! I wanna see if I land on my feet.”
Ridley let go. The child barely managed to stick the landing. She clapped again, squealing in delight, but ceased her noise when the pirate shushed her.
“Did you see it, Ridley? Did you see it? Ridley, did you see it?”
“Yes, I saw it.” Ridley scooped her up again and shoved her under his blankets. He rolled his eyes. It’d been a month since he’d acquired the human--a very long month. By now, Ridley had developed a new sense of respect for humankind. They somehow managed to raise such infuriating creatures for eighteen years, and even enjoy it, apparently. Perhaps humans were just too stupid to kill their children. He’d come dangerously close to stopping Samus’ heart on the nights that she woke up screaming and crying. Some of his comrades had even come in to see how and why he was making such strange sounds a few times, where Ridley would clamp a hand over Samus’ mouth, drape a blanket over her, and accuse his fellow pirates of suffering from auditory hallucinations. Unless Samus was extra annoying for some reason, there was no way any sane human would choose to have a child.
The child wriggled her head free from the covers. Her blonde hair bobbed when she sneezed. “Ridley, when am I gonna get a Mama Ridley?”
Ridley turned. “ What ?”
“I have a Papa Ridley, but a Papa always has a Mama. Do you have a wife?”
Ridley barked a dry laugh. “I’m not stupid enough to waste my time with some female. The day I get a wife is the day you stop being annoying.”
“If I stop being annoying, will you get me a Mama Ridley?”
“No!” The pirate rolled his eyes. “Also, quit calling it a Mama Ridley. My name is Ridley. It’s not the name of my species.”
Samus nodded. “But what kind are you?”
“The mostly extinct kind.”
“So… you’re a dinosaur, then?”
He scoffed. “I am not a dinosaur. Or a dragon,” he added when the child opened her mouth. “And my kind isn’t pampered with the presence of a ‘mama’ or a ‘papa’. We hatch, and then we learn to suck it up and survive until adulthood.”
The girl sat up. Her eyes were clouded with sadness. “But that means… if your kind is mostly dead… that means you’re alone?”
“That’s so sad…” Samus sniffled.
“I don’t care.” Ridley shrugged his shoulders, which caused his massive wings to rise and then fold back over his body. “I guess humans are wired to care about others even after they die. What a useless emotion, grief. I’m glad my kind doesn’t need to deal with such stupid feelings.”
Samus jumped from the bed. She ran at him and kicked him as hard as she could in his shin. Ridley wrapped his tail around her and held her just an inch too far for her fists to hit him. Samus struggled and swung. Ridley laughed sincerely.
“You’re a jerk, Ridley!” the child seethed. Her breathing soon became labored. Her attempted punches slowed. “You’re a big dumb stupid idiot!”
“You’re redundant,” he chuckled.
“Mamas and Papas are important! You have to care about them even if they die! If you don’t, you’re a meanie!”
“I told you, my species doesn’t work that way.” He laughed even harder when Samus poured her last bits of energy into a pathetic flail of fists and feet. “Hey, you should do this more often. I get a laugh in and you’ll keel over and give me a few minutes of peace and quiet.”
Ridley flung her onto his bed. Samus growled in frustration as her movements made her become tangled in the blanket. She finally gave up, uttering such horrid slanders like “jerk” and “dumby” under her breath.
“Oh, go to sleep, you little runt,” mused Ridley. Soon enough, the little one’s words were replaced by snores. If he was being honest with himself, Ridley found Samus’ company a mixed bag of entertainment and agony. At her worst, the girl made Ridley want to strangle her. At times like these, though, she was endless fun. The pirate grew to enjoy messing with her like he just did, scaring her (though he did that sparingly, as Samus would scream loudly), and even telling her bedtime stories. He’d gotten good at this. It was a shame that he’d found someone to sell her to, and that today was the day that they would part.
Something inside Ridley knotted painfully when he thought about his customer. He knew exactly what men had in mind when they bought children illegally. Obviously, they would be far, far worse at keeping a child than he was. If he’d learned anything from his month with little Samus, it was that children were incredibly delicate creatures. So delicate, in fact, that even accidental contact with Ridley’s claws resulted in blood and tears. Whenever Samus fell off of the bed, she bruised. Whenever she scraped her knee, she scraped it badly. She yowled when the bathwater was too hot. She woke when the air was too cold. And all of this was accidental… as well as on the outside of her body. Ridley was fully aware that children didn’t engage in intimacy for a good reason. They would rip and bruise and break if a larger adult got ahold of them. And their minds would shatter from the trauma.
Ridley scowled. No, this wasn’t right. As horrible as she could be, Samus was a child. She was too much of an idiot to know any better. He’d worked so hard to keep her unharmed and happy. How could he hand her over to an oaf who would ruin his progress? Who would ruin her? Samus didn’t deserve any of this, and… and goddamn it, she’d grown on Ridley! She made the pirate smile in way he never had before. In her best moments, Ridley loved her company. He loved the fact that he was able to tickle Samus without scratching her. He took pride in the fact that even though he resembled a monstrosity in her culture, Samus wasn’t afraid of him. He felt an unmatched sense of accomplishment when the girl made it through a day without crying or screaming. Sure, he was quite harsh with her and was quick to anger, but he was still entirely capable of making such a broken child happy.
The revelation smacked Ridley upside the head like a ton of bricks. This was what parenting was about. The goal wasn’t to tolerate; it was to improve the child so they no longer felt the need to cry. That was why most of Ridley’s kind never survived through their infant years. They had no one to protect them or feed them. Samus wasn’t spoiled for having parents; Ridley was unfortunate to not have any.
She had parents, that was, until Ridley’s men had slaughtered them. They’d gunned the humans down with laughter and joy. They’d killed every single one--including Samus’ mama and papa--all at the command of Ridley, who allowed them to take their time in the genocide. How many other little children had been hunted because of him? How many had to watch their beloved mama and papa bleed out in front of their eyes? How could Ridley do such a thing? Was he sadistic, or was he evil?
His blood ran cold. Ridley gasped and clutched his chest. His wings twitched. His tail thumped against the floor. He’d blown planets to bits before, but the holocaust against the humans was the first time he’d sat and watched the carnage for hours. He himself didn’t even participate. He simply smiled as he saw the humans beg for mercy.
Ridley bent over and gagged. The pirate thought he was immune to guilt. How could he not be, with all whom he murdered causing him nothing more than a laugh? Shaking, he looked to Samus, who still slept soundly, and then to the clock beside his bed. It was time. He turned back to the child, the innocent child, and shuddered. He couldn’t hurt her like this. Not after what he’d done to her brethren.
In an instant, his guilt and fear turned to rage. What he did was in the past. Right now, what mattered was the man who intended to break a defenseless child. Ridley’s thin lips curled back as he hissed. Ridley was undoubtedly a monster, but at least he would never do something like that! That demon deserved to be ripped apart and blasted to oblivion!
Ridley loomed over the sleeping girl with a glint in his eyes. “Sleep well, Samus,” he said. He quietly left his quarters. His first destination was the intercom. He punched in the code, turned the dial, and spoke.
“I’ll be out for a few hours. You won’t find me in my quarters, so don’t bother.”
He exited the base and headed for the claw-shaped rock he and his client had agreed to meet at. As expected, a figure was standing right there. Ridley deduced that it might be a bit bigger than him. Coming closer allowed Ridley to see the customer in greater detail. His body was covered in scales, like Ridley’s, but thick brown fur covered his neck, back, and tail. The wings attached to his long arms were covered in scratches. Once he caught sight of Ridley, the customer waved. Ridley’s smile was genuine.
“Greetings,” said the scaly man. “You’ve got her for me, yeah?”
“Oh, yes,” Ridley purred.
“And what you said about her is all true stuff? She’s three, no scars on her, she’s pure?”
The customer smiled. “Good, good. I’ve got the money if you’ve got the toy.”
Ridley’s grin widened. He began to giggle, then chuckle, then laugh hysterically. The client, disturbed and unsure what to do, watched the pirate wipe the tears from his eyes. Once he regained most of his composure, Ridley wagged his tail and spread his wings. His golden eyes seemed to glow ominously against his body.
“You really thought there was a girl to have,” giggled Ridley. He stepped forward. The customer stumbled backward.
“I--You--Are you telling me there isn’t a girl?”
“Oh, there’s a girl.” Ridley’s tail shot forward and wrapped around the man’s leg. He spread his wings and tried to fly away, but Ridley pulled him hard into the ground. Terrified, the customer shook his leg and clawed at the tail to no avail. “She’s just not going with you.”
Blood sprayed out in all directions. Clumps of fur fell to the dirt. Ridley laughed as he tugged the wounded client back into his reach over and over again. He jumped on top of him and dug his fingers into the customer’s eye sockets. An inhuman shriek echoed through the air.
“Music to my ears!” sang Ridley as he grabbed the top and bottom of the man’s jaw and pulled as hard as he could. After a loud crack, the customer went silent, only producing an occasional whine. The pirate threw him against the rock over and over again. “Oh, come on! Scream some more! This is hilarious!”
What his tail held onto was now an unrecognizable hunk of mangled flesh and intestines. Ridley sighed and stretched as he gave the client a kick. “Part of me wants to leave you to suffer until you die… but the other part wants to kill you myself. Which to pick, hmm?”
A moan came from the mess on the ground. “Please…” he croaked. His voice gurgled against the blood pooling in his throat. “Please…”
The pirate snorted and kicked him again. “Still talking? Impressive. But what’s the ‘please’ for? Do you want me to stop? Do you want me to take you to a doctor after you vow to never sin again? Or do you want me to end your suffering right now?”
The man tried to speak, but only coughed. He coughed harder, starting to convulse. Ridley perched on top of him and observed.
“Drowning in your own bodily fluids,” said the pirate. “I guess that’s pathetic enough to be a fitting end. I’ve always wondered what drowning felt like. I’d look into your eyes to see how scared you are, but I don’t think that’s a possibility anymore.”
The customer sputtered. His seizure dissipated. He went still.
“See you in Hell,” whispered Ridley. With that, Ridley flew into the air. He peered around for a body of water to dive into so he could wash the blood off of himself. Sure, the washroom was always open in the base, but he never liked to track any fluids into the building. Once he spotted a pond, Ridley took a deep breath and dropped from the sky. He went under and rolled until the water turned red. He climbed out, shook himself dry, then strolled back into the base and into his quarters, where Samus, now awake, hid under the blanket she’d propped up by tucking one end into the bedframe and jamming another in between the closet doors.
“I made a fort!” she said after Ridley closed the door behind him.
“I can see that.”
“Come in the fort, Ridley!”
“I’m too big. It’ll just collapse if I try to fit.”
“Just try,” ordered Samus. Ridley sighed and crawled inside to the best of his ability. The blanket crumpled when his back brushed against it. Ridley sat up, the covers now draped over his head. Samus laughed. “Now it’s a tent!”
Ridley laughed with her. As usual, the little girl hugged his tail.
“Why do you cling to my tail like that?”
Samus yawned. “I like your tail.” She didn’t even flinch when Ridley rose it into the air, and, by extension, Samus. He grabbed her and hugged her to his chest.
“Is this better?” he asked.
“Mm-hmm,” the child mumbled.
Lifting the blanket up so that he could see, Ridley examined his clock. Hours had passed since he left. The entire experience had drained him. He stood up and climbed onto his bed, still holding Samus. His mouth opened impossibly wide as he yawned. The pirate lay down and soon joined Samus in sleep.
This time, it was Ridley who woke up screaming.
Chapter 4: My Dreams Have Changed
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.
Chapter 5: Papa, Papa!
“If she moves, pull the trigger.”
Don McCorvin grunted in reply. He pressed his shotgun into the young woman’s head of blonde hair. She remained indifferent, one leg crossed over the other while she sat silently in her chair. Opposite of her stood Adam Malkovich, commander of the Federation army. Try as he might, he couldn’t resist letting fascination bleed into his expression as he examined Samus Aran. The woman’s indifference to him and his men, as well as the polygraph machine to his left accompanied by a scientist, astounded him. Perhaps she was a fearsome pirate after all.
“Samus Aran.” Adam spoke the name as if testing to see if he liked how it rolled off of his tongue. “Sole survivor of the pirate attack on the human colony 17 years ago.”
For the first time in hours, Samus spoke. “You don’t have to rub it in.”
“I’m not. In fact, I’m… very sorry for your loss.”
“So am I.”
“You’ve quite the mouth on you, Samus,” Adam mused. “Has anyone told you that before?”
Samus offered a cold smile in reply. That was all Malkovich needed to skip the question.
“Shall we start the interrogation?” said Adam.
“You don’t need my permission.”
“Very well, Ms. Aran. Let me start by saying how much debate you sparked within the Federation. We didn’t know whether to kill you on sight or to take you in, to sit you down to talk or to torture the information out of you. Lucky for you we chose the latter, hmm?” He gave her a humorless smile of his own. Samus didn’t return it. “My first question regards your ‘father figure’ as you put it.”
“What about him?”
“So it’s a ‘him’,” said Don to no one in particular.
Malkovich ignored his comrade. “How would you describe Ridley, Ms. Aran?”
“Just Samus is fine.” Samus cocked her head casually to crack her neck. Don uttered a nervous “hey”, readying the shotgun. As usual, he went ignored. “Merciless. Cold. Malicious. Dry and sarcastic. Had a weird sense of humor.”
Adam’s head turned to the polygraph test, which hadn’t picked up on a lie… yet. “If he was merciless as you said, then why and how would he ever choose to raise you?”
Both Don and the scientist raised their eyebrows in surprise.
“At first, his plan was to keep me until he could find a creep to buy me as a sex slave. He told me I was cute as a little kid. I guess I grew on him, so he kept me.”
“And how did he treat you? When did he indoctrinate you as a pirate?”
“Like an asshole. Ridley was pretty bad at the whole parenting thing, but he had his good moments. He saved my life a few times. And to answer the second question, he didn’t.”
“He didn’t? Why not?”
“He did his research. Said I couldn’t until I was fully grown. I even tried to lie that human girls were adults at thirteen.” This time, the woman’s smile was genuine. “He didn’t buy that.”
Adam nodded. “I didn’t expect that answer. So he’s capable of empathy, then?”
“Do you think that if, hypothetically, we were to employ your services, you could lure him into a false sense of security?” The look in Samus’ eyes made Adam instinctively step back. “Is--Is something wrong?”
“I’m not aware of your tactics in battle, Malkovich, but if they’re always this slimy, you can kindly forget all about me ever approaching you,” she spat.
The commander grimaced. “Are you aware how many lives Ridley has stolen? How many innocents he’s murdered in cold blood?”
“If you want an exact number, go ask him yourself.” The woman’s words were ice. “He told me himself that he slaughtered every person on my colony, including my parents. I think I know better than you do that he’s a monster. I refuse to stoop to his level and play with emotions.”
Adam swallowed the lump in his throat. “Alright,” he finally said quietly. “Let me ask this instead: do you think he may do the same to you?”
Samus shook her head. Her words were suddenly soft. “No. He still cares about me. He wouldn’t do that.”
“But he would try and kill you?”
“We fought once before,” she replied. Samus lowered her head, embarrassed that tears had gathered in her eyes. “I came out the victor only because he held his blows. I’m the only one he loves; he told me that as well. I left him to bleed out instead of killing him then and there. He was in agony, ridden with shame. I could see it written all over his face. I’d broken him. The last thing he told me was that we were even. If he managed to survive and saw me again, he would do everything in his power to kill me.”
“You believe that?”
“I know that.”
Adam nodded again. “Did you give him that same vow?”
“Then that brings us to my next question. Does Ridley have any weaknesses that you know of?”
The man bit his lip and turned to the polygraph. Nothing. He sighed and turned back. “Alright… What strengths?”
“Do you have a pen and notepad ready?”
“Our conversation is being recorded as we speak,” answered Malkovich dryly. “Tell me everything you know about his strengths, attack style, any advantages he’d have.”
“He doesn’t carry any mechanical weapons, so I guess that’s one thing. Then again, he doesn’t need to. He can fly quickly, especially for his size. He’s incredibly strong--could crush a human skull without even thinking about it. I don’t know what you know about his appearance, but he has a long tail that he uses like a knife. He can stab through just about anything. He can also breathe both fire and plasma from his mouth. He bites, too.
“Ridley likes to get up close and personal, so expect the fire breath as a last resort. He’ll grab you and drag you along whatever he can find. He’ll wrap his tail around your legs and toss you like a ragdoll. He doesn’t really punch and kick as much as he rams you and bashes you into things. His wings are strong. If you’re standing in the wrong place when he spreads them, you’ll get decapitated.
“Again, not sure how much you know about his appearance, but he’s something like thirty feet tall.”
“Really!” Adam interjected. “We thought he was much larger, along the likes of his comrades.”
Samus shook her head. “No, nowhere near as big as Kraid or Crocomire… if those are the ones you’re referring to.”
“Let me ask you this, Samus Aran: what would your compensation be if we were to ask you to go and kill Ridley?”
Samus laughed, but there was no humor behind it. “Just cover my hospital bill,” she said.
* * * * *
Samus kicked and screamed. The two insectoid men threw her to the ground, where she gasped as her shoulder connected painfully with the earth. Pain ran through her body like electricity through water. The child convulsed, tears trailing down her face.
“What a brat,” hissed one of the men as he sent his foot into Samus’ stomach. The girl choked. “That ought to shut you up.”
“Where’s your mommy?” mocked the other. He bent down and gripped Samus’ neck haphazardly in one of his claws. She spat the blood that pooled in her mouth. “Did you stray away from her? Should we walk you back to your mommy, little girl? Come on, say something! Or we’ll have to take you with us!”
“...Dead…” Samus’ vision blurred. Stars flashed before her vision. Her mouth tasted horribly, like metal. She wanted to throw up. The two laughed at her answer.
“And where’s Daddy, huh? Is he dead, too?” He shook her when she failed to respond. “Come on, you little bitch, you can’t be that pathetic!”
Samus coughed. “Papa… Papa’s… coming…” Darkness overwhelmed her vision. Her eyes rolled back for a moment. The insectoid dropped her, where she gasped sharply, air now free to flow down her throat. He kicked her again.
“Coming, eh? Ha, ha, ha!” Sneering, the man picked Samus back up, this time by her arm. “Not this time. You’re coming with us, whelp. Kraid will love to have you.”
The other scoffed at his comrade. “Really? What use would he have for her?”
“I dunno. If he takes her, he takes her. If not, we kill her.” A whimper from Samus caught his attention. “Hey, shut your mouth! If you get on our nerves too much, we’ll put a hole in your head!”
“If my Papa heard you…” said Samus through heavy breaths, “you’d… be dead…”
The two snorted.
“He’ll… put a hole… through your heads… my papa… will…”
Samus was thrown down yet again. She grunted, her muscles twitching, but her body refused to budge. The pain in her shoulder, arm, and stomach sent fireworks blasting through her brain. Her fingers dug into the dirt. Her toes wiggled uselessly in her shoes. She could feel the pulse in her neck hammering feverishly. Had the man who grabbed her done fatal damage? Where did the blood in Samus’ mouth come from? She threw her head to the side. Nothing could be worse than gargling her own fluids. The child spat onto the earth again and again, prompting more laughter from the two monsters that loomed over her.
“Papa…” Samus looked to the sky. There was no ebony smudge to come down and save her. Ridley was gone. “Papa…! Papa, save me…!”
Another kick silenced the child. One of the insectoids scooped her back up over his shoulder and began to walk. Samus kept her eyes glued upward as best as she could.
“You’re going back to the ship, and you’re going to be quiet if you want your tongue to be unharmed.” That was the last thing she heard. Samus let her head bob to the ground. The last thing she saw was her plasma pistol, and then her world went dark.
* * * * *
The red blood was unmistakable, as was the plasma pistol lying in the dirt. Ridley sat perched over it, his eyes empty of reason. Shakily, he wrapped his tail around Samus’ birthday gift and dangled it in front of his glowing eyes. The silver and blue had been stained with blood and dust. The energy tank running horizontally along the pistol was exactly at the level it was before. Samus hadn’t even had a chance to fire it at whatever had gotten to her.
Ridley looked down. Hand prints, as well as indents in the earth made by little fingers, dotted the ground alongside sets of footprints. Ridley recognized them almost immediately: Zebesians. The pirate’s blood began to boil. For years and years, he commanded thousands of them. Though they possessed personalities and general individuality, the Zebesians bowed mindlessly to authority figure they deemed worthy enough to serve. They made good soldiers, certainly. And Ridley, having governed them for most of his piracy, felt betrayed and livid.
He bounded forward on all fours, his tail whipping dangerously behind him. He followed the dual set of footprints and the spots of human blood that came with them. Ridley grinded his teeth together in rage. May God have mercy on them if they murdered his little Samus.
Hang in there, Samus , pleaded Ridley in his thoughts as he continued forward. Even if that blood was from a scraped knee and the child was otherwise unharmed, Ridley would turn the Zebesians inside out for laying their filthy claws on her.
* * * * *
Was this in the movies?
Random thoughts danced endlessly in Samus’ head. Delirium from the pain had replaced logic and fear. Perhaps this feeling mirrored the sensation of laughing gas dentists would force their patients to breathe before opening wide to yank any rotted teeth from their gums. Samus didn’t feel giggly, though. She just felt tired--the good kind of tired you felt as you rested your head on your pillow and sank into the mattress underneath the weight of your sheets. Samus imagined she was back in Ridley’s quarters, snuggled against her mentor, her papa. Arms wrapped around his tail, his wings covering her like a blanket, descending deeper and deeper… into…
Samus woke up. She was lying on a bed… a cold one. This one had no sheets, nor did it have Ridley. The girl found that her head felt far too heavy to raise. She blinked and shifted her gaze from left to right. On her left, wires. Or were those tubes of some sort? To her right, a very odd man who looked like a walking insect. She felt like alarm bells were supposed to be going off, but nobody had showed up to ring them. Just keeping her eyes open was exhausting. Samus closed her eyes.
Samus woke up. This time, energy flowed through her at an agonizing rate. The girl’s blood was boiling inside of her veins. Samus coughed and screamed, eyes wide and unblinking, staring at the tubes and cords that were attached to her body. Her hands scraped against the metal bed. A collection of straps disabled any movement. Fire raced through Samus’ insides. She whipped her head around wildly. That same bug man was there, now joined by others who looked exactly like him.
“Vitals are going crazy,” said one creature.
“Well, fuck, fix her! The higher ups don’t want a corpse, you idiot!”
“Her heartbeat’s through the roof. Slow down the drip.”
“Don’t slow down the drip! Take the damn catheter out! The axade’s obviously toxic!”
“What else works as an antidote? Did you see that bite mark on her hand?”
Terrified and lost, Samus closed her eyes.
Samus woke up. She felt like she’d ran a hundred miles. Her entire body was sore. After a few failed attempts, Samus finally raised her head up. What used to be the bite mark on her hand was now a bruise the color of soot. Her fingernails were cracked and yellow. Her fingertips were purple. Veins popped out from her ashy skin. Her hands looked like that of an old woman. Samus shuddered. Scariest of all, the left half of her body was freezing and covered in goosebumps. Hopelessness brought tears to Samus’ eyes. What had even happened? The last thing she remembered was the panicked conversation between the monster men.
Grunting, the little girl bit her cheek in frustration. She mustn’t let her captors see her cry. Even if moving her body hurt immensely, she would wipe her tears away. Samus brought a shaky hand to her face. As expected, her fingers were like ice. The child yelped at the sudden sensation. But her shock turned to ecstasy in a heartbeat. Whoever strapped her to the bed had left the restrains loose enough for her arm to escape! And her arm! She could move it!
Samus uttered a laugh as she wriggled her fingers before her eyes. She smiled. There was still hope. With a level of motivation and will like hers, one hand was all she needed.
Chapter 6: The Stench
“I need to use the bathroom.” Samus’ voice was timid and shameful. She held her head down, determined to keep her gaze averted from Ridley, who cocked his head in confusion.
“Again? You went ten minutes ago.”
“I--I know.” The girl wrung her hands nervously. Legs crossed, the twelve-year-old stood in front of Ridley’s bed, where the pirate had been busy tearing through sheets of paper with his claws to kill boredom. One quick glance at him gave Samus the impression that he knew more than she hoped he would. “But I need to go again… so…”
“Hmph. In such short time? Sounds like a case of Notma.”
Samus grew pale. “What? What’s Notma?”
The creature’s smile looked especially punchable. “Not mah problem.”
“Jackass. This is serious.”
“No it isn’t,” said Ridley. “Why are you so scared?”
Defiance crept into the girl’s voice. “What makes you think I’m scared? I’m just… a little nervous.”
“Don’t try that shit with me, kid.” Rip went the paper. “You stink of adrenaline. And…” He grimaced. “What is that?”
Hands between her legs, Samus began to back away. She looked toward the closet and hoped that she could somehow lock herself inside. “What’s what?”
The pirate sighed and craned his head in her direction. “How’d you hurt yourself this time?” When the child’s reply came only in the form of a confused expression, he sighed again. “You’re bleeding.”
Samus bolted for the closet door. Wrapping his tail around her ankle, Ridley dragged the girl in front of him. Tears formed in her eyes. She bore her teeth, livid with embarrassment. “Don’t DO THAT!”
“What’s wrong with you? Why’re you crying?”
“Be-Because, I--I need to go to the freaking bathroom and you’re being a huge douche about it!”
“The hell is a douche?”
“It’s what you are!”
“SAMUS.” The sudden harshness in Ridley’s voice froze the girl in her tracks. “Just quit crying like a baby and tell me what’s wrong. You’re not in trouble, but you’re going to be if you keep this up.”
Biting into her lip, Samus shook with emotion. A whine came softly from her lips like that of a tea kettle reaching its boiling point. The dam broke, and the girl erupted into angry sobs.
“I’M HEMORRHAGING FROM MY FUCKING PRIVATE PARTS AND I DON’T KNOW WHY OR IF I’M GONNA BLEED TO DEATH, THAT’S WHAT’S WRONG!”
It took a literal minute for Ridley to realize that the air inside his quarters hadn’t gone suddenly stagnant, but that he was just that uncomfortable.
“Um… Do you need a medkit or something…?”
“I DON’T KNOW!” Samus buried her head in her hands miserably and cried. Meanwhile, her mentor scratched at his chin, dumbfounded in a state of awkwardness and pure confusion. Humans never ceased to amaze him--or perhaps horrify was a better word. The need to expel waste didn’t apply to Ridley, nor did it apply to the majority of his crew. He decided long ago that a matter as disgusting as the bathroom was best left not looked into. It’d been a shock to him that humans needed to “relieve” themselves… as if they couldn’t get anymore pathetic. But bleeding proved itself to be another challenge entirely. This couldn’t be normal. The space pirate swallowed the lump in his throat. Samus belonged to a race of fragile creatures. Unless she was overreacting, she could bleed to death.
“So how bad is it?” he asked.
Samus cringed, her head still down. “Uh… it’s, um, kind of bad. Like, um, there’s kind of, you know, a lot… sort of…”
“Okay… Do you have a cut down there, or…?”
“No!” she snapped. The girl’s shoulders rose as she put her face against her knees. “I--Just--Just quit asking questions! It’s embarrassing!”
Ridley hung his head in exasperation. “Oh my god, Samus. You’ve been with me since you were three. And we’re not the same species. It’s not like this stuff affects me.”
“That makes it even weirder!”
“For fuck’s sake, kid! What do you prefer: to bleed out, or to suck it up and answer important questions?”
Her voice was a quiet mumble. “Questions.” Ridley nodded, but before he could speak, Samus piped up again. Her tear-stained, reddened eyes against her pale skin were full of terror. “Do--Do you think I’m gonna die, Ridley?”
The creature leaned backward, his wings folding over his body as a reflex to combat his nervousness. Samus whimpered, her hands raking through her hair. Ridley curled his tail around her protectively.
“No, you’re not going to die.” The statement felt dirty coming from his mouth. It wasn’t a lie, per se; it was an unknown that Ridley refused to think about.
“I… I don’t want to die.” Samus rocked herself back and forth. She felt nauseous with fear. “I don’t want to bleed to death. I don’t want to die of infection. God, what’s wrong with me!?”
She looked to the pirate for answers. His only response was a quiet “Come here”, where he gathered the sobbing child into his arms.
“Please don’t let me die, Ridley.”
And then, all in a moment, the world fell silent when Vorr, one of Ridley’s henchmen, swung open the door. Samus froze in shock, eyes wide with horror. She’d been found out. Her body shook with fear. She nestled closer to Ridley, who stared at his fellow pirate, his expression indecipherable. Vorr stared back, eyes locked on the human child who watched him.
“I, uh…,” mumbled Vorr frantically, “I heard some noise in here. I… How… What…!?”
Ridley said nothing. The surprise on Vorr’s face contorted into disgust. He stepped forward. Samus yelped. Ridley’s grip around the child tightened.
“Why…” Vorr’s words were dangerously low. “Why are you holding it like that…?”
“What the hell is wrong with you, Ridley!? What business do you have harboring some sniveling human female!?”
Though his words were calm and collected, Ridley’s sudden response made the pirate jump.
“Samus…,” he whispered. “Close your eyes.”
“‘Samus’? You named it!? Have you g--”
Ridley’s tail stabbed through the creature’s chest like a needle through fabric. He twisted his appendage, provoking a cry of agony from Vorr. Slowly, almost gently, Ridley retracted his tail and then drove it through his henchman’s throat. Vorr stumbled, clawing helplessly at his neck. Then he fell backward without another sound. Ridley leaned toward the door and slammed it closed. He peered down at Samus, unsure of what to do or say. All he could think of was how good it felt to finally silence that oaf forever. The girl stared back at him, unable to form any words. She hadn’t obeyed his orders. She saw his tail slice through that monster like a knife through butter.
A sudden urge to vomit clawed at her stomach. Samus wriggled out of Ridley’s grasp and stumbled backward, hands over her mouth. She knelt down and waited for her lunch to come up, her mouth watering expectedly. Desperately pulling her hair out of her face, Samus closed her eyes and stuck out her tongue, eager to purge the memory out of her, but nothing happened. Feeling returned to the child’s fingertips. She sat up and breathed deeply. Already the scene of Ridley slaughtering the other pirate had grown fuzzy and distant. A sick sense of accomplishment made Samus sigh. She didn’t scream or cry. She’d seen something horrible, yet she was tough enough to endure it without spiraling into an anxiety attack. Once the girl felt confident to move without the fear of throwing up, she craned her neck to look at Ridley, who still looked to the door as if attempting to see through it.
Samus’ voice was shaky. “How… How do you feel?”
The pirate smiled widely and sincerely. He chuckled, stretching his wings out, and examined his blood-soaked tail with inhuman glee. The glint in his eyes looked animalistic. Samus watched as he let out a sigh of relief, like he was an addict who’d just gotten a fix of his drug of choice.
“I feel great,” he purred. “That guy was so annoying.”
* * * * *
The scalpel seemed like her best option for a weapon. Standing on her toes to root through the medical drawer, Samus cast aside the documents and writing utensils carelessly strewn about. She gasped when the tip of her finger met the tool’s point. Samus retracted her hand. A red dot formed at the spot of incision. She reached for it again, more carefully this time, and withdrew the instrument by its metal handle. It certainly looked like a scalpel, but its size suggested that it would do far more harm than good if used on human patients. She cautiously poked at the drawer’s underside, gasping in awe as the blade went through easily. It was sharp--dangerously so.
“I’m keeping you,” whispered Samus, and she headed for the door.
The girl heard nothing with her ear pressed against the threshold. She swallowed, prayed that no one would be outside, and turned the knob. The door creaked open. Samus looked into the hallway adorned with glowing pipes running along its walls. The metallic floor felt cold against her bare feet. Looking left and then right, Samus ran forward as quietly as possible. This place looked completely foreign to her. Even Ridley’s ship lacked the pipes, whatever was inside them, and the eeriness that accompanied them. The absence of noise didn’t help that last factor, either.
Samus peered into the window of a door. Since no one was occupying the room, she opened the door and stepped inside. The room reminded her of something out of a fairytale. Like a king’s castle, the ceiling was impossibly high and painted gold and silver. Statues of alien creatures protruded from the walls, each of their eyes (or what Samus presumed to be eyes) shining with scarlet color. The child’s mouth dropped open when she looked to the end of the room. Behind what looked like a violet and black throne were two statues: the left a massive, scaled lizard with short arms and spikes sticking out from its stomach. The right was a skeletal, dragon-like figure that Samus recognized.
She caressed the statue’s snout, her eyes scanning the detailed work of the sculpture. It was anatomically correct as far as the girl could tell. It perfectly captured every curve of Ridley’s head, every bone of the pirate’s ribs, the number of segments on his tail. His wings looked exactly like the real one’s. Samus stared into Ridley’s scarlet eyes. Only that annoyed her. The creature had yellow eyes, not red ones. Should she ever become a high-ranking pirate, her first course of action would be to order whoever made the statues to rectify that.
“ LIFEFORM DETECTED .”
Samus shrieked and stumbled backward. She turned her head every which way, frantically searching for the source of the automated voice. Unable to find any speakers, the girl crouched behind the throne, the scalpel clutched in both hands. The voice came again:
“ LIFEFORM DETECTED. STATE THE PASSWORD TO PROCEED. ”
“Password?” Her eyebrows furrowed. All caution and anxiety was overtaken with curiosity. Although she had an astronomically low chance of guessing it correctly, Samus couldn’t help but try. What to pick, though? The child absorbed the scenery of the room. It had to be of some importance, seeing as it was much more massive and decorative than the hospital room or the hallway. It was most likely reserved for a high-ranking… someone . Given that Ridley’s statue was here, Samus’ first thought went to the Space Pirates. What kind of password would they implement?
Ah. It was obvious.
“Ridley,” said Samus.
“ INCORRECT PASSWORD .”
Samus scowled. Think , she thought. It’s something that pirates would think of. Maybe a bad word? The name of their home planet? A number?
“ INCORRECT PASSWORD. ”
“ INCORRECT PASSWORD .”
“Earth. Mars. Sun. Sol. Zebes. Lockmar.” Nothing worked. The girl hissed in frustration. “Xena. GR-688. Brinstar.”
“ CORRECT PASSWORD: BRINSTAR. WELCOME, KRAID. ”
The ground shook. The floor below the throne opened with a whir, and the seat descended. Samus stepped backward, aghast at the colossal device rising from the floor up to the ceiling. The girl covered her ears for protection against the deafening grinding noises. It sounded like an ancient machine cracking its joints, stirring, coming to life. She saw the same pipes as before, these ones pulsing with a green liquid. Behind her, the left statue’s eyes flashed from red to black repeatedly. Samus whimpered at the sight. With her back to the thing that almost touched the top of the room, she studied the reptilian statue in horror. Looking past it made her heart almost stop. Slightly to the left of the two sculptures was a gigantic rectangular engraving on the wall. Only, it wasn’t. It was a door.
“Are you Kraid?” she whispered to the left statue. She didn’t dare to touch it. Instead, the girl ran to the replica of Ridley, where she curled herself under his stone tail. How big was this Kraid? His--its--name sounded oddly familiar. Yes; the bugmen mentioned him. And if they knew the statue in the flesh, Samus doubted that Kraid would be anything good.
A rumble sounded from behind. Samus whipped her head to the left. Steam rose from the giant door. Trembling, the girl set the scalpel beside her and covered her hands with her mouth. A looming shadow fell over her. Slowly, a green creature stepped into the room. It growled a low hum and scratched its massive stomach with a clawed hand. As it approached the device that reached its chest in height, the monster’s enormous tail dragged behind its body. The thing called Kraid rested his arms on his control panel, blinking his three eyes in thought.
“What caused this to happen?” His voice was deafening. He spoke slowly, as if the words had a long way to go before they could climb out of his throat. Samus looked to where he came from, but the door shut with a loud bang . “Hmm… Curious…”
Kraid put a finger against a button. In less than ten seconds, the other door--the one Samus entered from--opened, and in barged three insectoid monsters identical to the ones that captured her. They stood side by side, their backs straight, their clawed hands stiffly placed at their sides.
“General Kraid!” the trio barked in unison. They sounded nervous.
“There was a malfunction with the control panel,” grumbled Kraid. “It rose up without my command. I suspect that either it is an error with the ship, or that someone is muddling with my things…”
Please don’t notice me , begged Samus internally.
The three pirates looked at each other expectedly. No one exchanged a sound. They turned their attention back to Kraid, who also said nothing.
“We will assess the problem, General,” said the one in the middle.
“What is the probability that someone hacked into the system?” Kraid snarled.
“A-Almost 0%, sir. Unless somebody knew your audible password.”
“Impossible. I’ve told no one. You say… almost 0%?”
“Yes, sir. Impossibly low.”
“And the condition of the whelp?”
Whelp . Ridley called Samus a whelp. She had no idea of what it meant, but feared that she was that same whelp Kraid was referring to.
“Um--Alive, s-sir. Hardly.”
I’m alive , thought Samus.
“Hardly…? How fragile is its condition?”
“It, um, its health worsened as we injected the axade. But once we took it out, its condition stabilized.”
Silence. Then, an ear-shattering pop . A spike shot from Kraid’s stomach and impaled the pirate in the face, ripping his head from his body. The corpse fell to the ground, where green blood oozed out of it. Samus’ breathing quickened.
“That specimen is important; it was a good find. It is human--the race that dominates the Federation. Not fully grown… but that is no matter. We will still find good use in our experiments.”
A chill slithered up Samus’ spine. Tears blurred her vision. It became harder and harder to fight the urge to scream. She closed her eyes. Her fate was sealed. Little Samus Aran was doomed to die here. She would never get to experience her 18th birthday. By the hands of Kraid and his minions, the child’s life had been cruelly stolen away.
And how did Ridley fit into this? Undoubtedly, he and Kraid, as well as the insectoid monsters, were on the same side, as evidenced by Ridley’s statue. They were all pirates. By the way they spoke, Samus assumed she was the first human the pirates had gotten their hands on… or at least the first human child. Would Ridley be in favor of subjecting an innocent child to experimentation? His statue stood next to Kraid’s. Samus understood that her mentor ranked highly in the band of pirates, but could he possess the same credentials as the monster that had killed one of his own men in cold blood? Was Ridley a feared name among the universe?
No. Pondering the nature of Ridley could wait. He was his own person; he commenced his own missions; he was his own boss. Whatever he did was none of Samus’ business. All she needed to know was that, despite the constant insults and furious glares, Ridley loved her. His style of parenting proved itself to be ineffective in most areas, but he felt empathy. He’d held her when she woke from a nightmare. He’d trained her in combat. He’d given her a plasma pistol for her birthday… and Ridley didn’t even care about his own!
He would come back. That was certain. Samus’ mission became clear: survive until he returned. She nodded to herself, scalpel in hand, hoping to God that the stench of her own fear wouldn’t make the Zebesians come running.
Chapter 7: The Fall of the Damned
It was pitch-black outside. Samus could hardly see a foot in front of her face as she walked through the darkness, head held high, lips pursed with concern. Sight was unnecessary; she’d taken this path many times before. Just in case of danger, she held her plasma pistol in her right hand. The golden liquid inside glowed brightly, acting as a sort of useless flashlight to light the ground below the young woman’s feet. Samus liked to keep it around--especially at night, when its colors stood out most vibrantly. A quick smile formed and faded from her lips. Ridley, the incompetent father he was, gifted her this deadly weapon when she was only nine years old. She chuckled at the memory of running around him, ecstasy putting a spring in her every step.
She approached the mouth of the cave and stopped. Samus drew a deep breath in. Those familiar noises echoed throughout the cave’s walls. Stepping inside, Samus readied herself and held the pistol out in front of her not to shoot, but to illuminate what was in front of her. The woman grimaced at the thought of tripping over his tail. Falling to the ground didn’t faze her; she simply wanted to avoid scaring Ridley when he was at his most vulnerable. The sound of frantic rambling tickled Samus’ ears. The pirate’s voice was shrill and quiet. He sounded terrified, like always.
“Hey, Jackass.” Samus forced herself to smile--a useless gesture, seeing that Ridley was hunched far over, facing away from her. He whispered his nonsense, his wings shielding his body. Samus stepped over his tail. She stood directly behind him. “Ridley?”
“Go away,” the pirate hissed miserably.
“I can’t do that. Not when you’re like this.”
“Leave me alone, Samus.” The monster hung his head even further. “I need to be alone.”
Ridley went silent. There was little use in ordering Samus to do something she didn’t want to do. He sighed, the longing to confess his every thought eating away at his psyche. Slowly, he formed his words.
“I can still hear the screaming, Samus.” His voice was a heartbroken whisper, barely audible. “The screams of every life I took away. I can see the fires of their villages, the mangled bodies, the people who cried over those corpses. I ignored everything that I did… I saw nothing but more nameless targets to hunt down. But now… I can’t outrun anything anymore. The guilt has caught up with me. It has me by the throat and it’ll never let go, not even in my sleep.”
Samus put a hand gently on Ridley’s shoulder. He drew in a shaky breath.
“You were a tool, Samus.”
“No, don’t talk like that.”
“It’s true.” The pirate grinned, his face a contorted expression of fear and remorse. “I used you to wash my sins away… at least, I tried. You were the scapegoat of my repentance. I tried my hardest to raise you, but it’s not in my blood to nurture. Everything about me was designed to kill. Even now my brain still gets that little kick when I see something die. I enjoy death. I enjoy destruction. I feel no grief, and I thought I couldn’t feel guilt, either. In all the years I’ve been alive, you were the only thing I cared about besides myself.”
His voice cracked as he chuckled. “Just one! I could only manage to love one person out of the hundreds of thousands I’ve seen! And even then, on the day you die, I’ll feel nothing! I’m not made to mourn!” He turned to Samus. Tears pooled in his large eyes. “I’m scared, Samus. I don’t want you to go. When you’re gone… will I even still love you?”
Wrapping her arms around him, Samus sobbed into her mentor’s chest. Ridley refused to look at her.
“I’m a monster,” he said. “A literal monster created to slaughter in every way imaginable. Do I go to Hell when I die? Or is everything I’ve done out of my control? I’m only obeying the laws programmed into my DNA, right?” He clutched Samus tighter. “Right?”
“That’s not up to me to answer.”
“I know,” whispered Ridley. “I don’t even care about an answer at this point. I just want the voices to leave me alone.”
* * * * *
The pattern of scorch marks burnt into the ground made it clear: not only had Samus been kidnapped, but she’d been taken to space. Growling furiously, Ridley circled slowly around the site, piecing the puzzle together. There were four of them laid out like long ebony lines adjacent to one another. They were the result of a 4-GZ engine; the same engine belonging to Zebesian ships. The monster clacked his teeth in triumph. It was just as he predicted. But the next question left a bad taste in his mouth: where did the ship go?
Ridley decided on two scenarios: the first, much bleeker, circumstance was that the Zebesians had flown off with Samus on their own accord. That meant that they could have landed anywhere, or not even landed at all. The second scenario, although more unlikely, still carried potential to be real: the ship docked at the Prime Vessel, the spacecraft designed as a hub for space pirates of any rank to make reports, acquire information, and muck about aimlessly. That had to be it.
Relief fell over Ridley like a warm blanket. Even if Samus wasn’t there, he could log into his monitoring system and access the travel records of all ships and track their locations. The pirate looked to the sky and spread his wings. He needed no special suit or craft for space travel. His wings allowed him to sail on light and maneuver freely in the void of space. Oxygen was unnecessary. Not even the biting cold could kill him, nor the exposure to radiation, nor the burning heat of any star. Ridley’s smile grew wide and vicious. Truly, he was the ultimate being. And he would make that known to the monsters who took his little girl away.
* * * * *
The sudden drowsiness had become horrifyingly apparent when Samus found her head constantly bobbing downward. The pain in her hand and arm was not only agonizing, but draining. She wondered if any chemicals those monster men had injected into her veins were to blame. So badly, Samus craved sleep, but doing so was far too risky. She could be seen… but then again, what else was she supposed to do? Stay sitting in one spot and grow even more tired while doing nothing other than worry? The quandary infuriated her. She’d slept enough while unconscious. Why was she so sleepy now? It didn’t make sense.
Samus couldn’t stay angry any longer. All feelings of concern slipped away as heaviness fell upon her eyelids. The child lay down on her side, holding her scalpel, and gave in. In less than a minute, she was quietly snoring, blissfully unaware that the pirates who’d ran to collect her for Kraid would soon find the hospital room empty.
* * * * *
Ridley felt his blood boiling inside of him. He clung to the outside of the Prime Vessel, clawed hands wrapped around the emergency escape hatch. For a few minutes, he’d pulled relentlessly on it, but the stupid thing refused to budge. So the pirates had finally gotten around to tightening the emergency exit doors after all. With a grunt, Ridley gave a final tug on the hatch’s handle. The handle gave way and turned 90 degrees clockwise. Had he been on the inside of the ship, he would’ve heard a satisfying click as the hatch door opened. The pirate clambered through the door and slammed it shut behind him. A loud hiss sounded from the pressure stabilizers hooked on the walls. Ridley stretched, the tips of his wings brushing against the ceiling.
“ ATMOSPHERE STABILIZED. EXTERNAL BREATHING AND PRESSURE DEVICES NO LONGER NECESSARY. ”
Ridley rolled his eyes at the mechanical voice. Even an idiot would know when it was okay to take off a spacesuit. But the matter of the automated voice’s uselessness was unimportant. His main focus was on Samus. Of course, he didn’t need to sneak around the Prime Vessel. Until he found the girl, nobody would find his presence suspicious. His status as general, after all, allowed him to do as he pleased… until he grabbed the human child and fled with her. As much as he cared about Samus, Ridley’s reputation remained top priority. He would be questioned if caught harboring a human, and the creature had no solid alibi whatsoever. Even if he created a false reason for wanting her, he’d have to consult with Kraid on whether or not she would remain in Ridley’s possession.
Kraid . Kraid was a mixed bag to Ridley--a very large, grotesque mixed bag. Ridley didn’t hate the other general, per se; in fact, Ridley admired several things about him. For one, Kraid found no need for pointless chatter. He was stoic and completely tolerable when working side by side with Ridley. On the other hand, though, Kraid lacked any concept of fun whatsoever. He didn’t joke, he didn’t share any stories of previous battles or past events; he didn’t even smile. Furthermore, Ridley never prided himself on being creative (except when it came to engineering), but Kraid’s imagination was akin to that of a dead fish. The general was hopelessly boring. And worst of all, he didn’t really do anything. Not that Kraid was lazy, but his monstrous size prohibited him from engaging in battle directly. He just sat there and grumbled orders for other pirates to carry out. At first, Ridley felt jealous of Kraid’s intimidating size, but soon he became thankful that he was “small”. If he had to lounge around in one place for his entire life, he’d surely go insane from boredom. Perhaps Kraid’s species found themselves content with stagnance.
Ridley’s thin lips curled back as he snarled under his breath. He hated that he was often commanded by Kraid. The two shared the exact same rank, and undeservingly so! Ridley proved himself to be the far more competent and dedicated man. He should’ve been above Kraid. If he was, at least he could order the creature to exercise. Ridley always wondered how the monster’s heart hadn’t given out yet from pumping blood through all that fat. Wonders never ceased.
As the pirate made his way through the main hall of the Vessel, he raked his claws along the walls. The chance that Samus was here felt increasingly more unlikely. Where would Ridley even look? The ship was huge, and he couldn’t simply ask if there was a small human running around though an intercom. Hopeless, Ridley shook his head. Finding Samus felt more and more impossible by the second. And it was his entire fault.
Ridley smacked into a Zebesian. The lesser pirate fell to the floor from the collision and looked up in disbelief. Ridley planted a foot on his body, the claws dangerously close to his throat.
“Watch where you’re going,” the general growled.
“Ah, sorry, Sir Ridley.” The pirate made a salute from his position. “I, uh, didn’t expect you here. Uh--not to say that your presence is anything less than honorable!”
“Whatever.” Ridley lifted his foot from the Zebesian’s body. “What are you so uppity about? Don’t you know not to run through these halls like a stupid child?” That last word felt wrong, somehow, coming out of his mouth.
“Apologies, sir. Everyone’s a bit nervous. Kraid requested the test subject at once, and when we looked--”
“Yes.” The Zebesian’s tone suggested surprise that Ridley didn’t know that. “We went back to the hospital to retrieve her and--”
Ridley’s eyes glinted. He instinctively bared his teeth and rose his wings, angry beyond belief. The Zebesian cowered. “‘Her’...!?”
“Uh,” stammered the pirate. “Uh, I-I think it’s a ‘her’. I’m n-not too sure, though.”
The creature composed himself. No, getting angry wouldn’t accomplish anything. He folded his wings back over his body and cleared his throat. “Apologies. What species is it?”
Did Ridley apologize? The Zebesian stared at him, mouth agape. He snapped out of his trance when the general demanded: “Well?”
“Ah, yes, sir, it’s a human. A little one, too, so it might be hiding somewhere. Kids always manage to squeeze themselves into the smallest, most hard to find places, huh?”
Ridley walked past him. The Zebesian watched him go with wide eyes, puzzled by his odd temperament.
* * * * *
The door to the control room slid open. Ridley stepped inside. Kraid wasn’t here, thank God. Ridley glided to his seat.
“ LIFEFORM DETECTED. STATE THE PASSWORD TO PROCEED. ”
“Oh, go fuck your mother,” Ridley snarled.
“ PASSWORD CORRECT: GOFUCKYOURMOTHER. WELCOME, RIDLEY. ”
The pirate snickered. “Heh, heh, never gets old.” He turned his attention to the control panel that rose from the floor. He prepared to type in the code for access to new reports and orders from Kraid when a little voice behind him whimpered:
Ridley whirled around. There she was, cowered behind his statue, blonde hair messy, bags under her eyes. She looked sickly, terrified, and exhausted, but her chest rose and fell, her eyes blinked. Samus was alive. Ridley dove toward her, scooping her off of the ground. Warmth stung the corners of his eyes. Ridley felt a strange sense of helplessness. He felt so vulnerable to his own emotions, so relieved, so happy that everything would be okay. Milky tears dripped down the pirate’s face. For the first time in his life, Ridley cried.
“My baby,” he whispered as he rocked Samus. “My baby, my baby, my baby.”
“You came back,” Samus replied softly.
“Of course. I always will.”
“Ridley, we need to get out of here. The people are looking for me. They said I was the same kind as the people at the Federation. I don’t know what that means, but…”
“You don’t have to. Listen closely, Samus. This will be tricky. I can’t be seen with you, otherwise I’ll have to report to somebody else and they might have… other plans for you.”
“Kraid?” Samus whimpered. “The really big guy?”
“I thought you were the leader of the pirates. Aren’t you in charge of him, too? Couldn’t you tell him to not do anything to me? Please?”
Ridley growled. “We’re… the same rank. If Kraid already gave orders on what to do with you, I can’t overturn them.”
Samus began to bawl. “No, no, no, no, no, please! He’ll kill me! They’re gonna do experiments on me! You can’t let him do that, please!!”
“Samus.” The pirate’s voice grew stern. “That just means that you’ll have to ‘go missing’. It doesn’t mean you’re dead. It’ll just make my job harder.”
“But don’t you have to follow what he says?”
“Samus, look at my face.” Ridley flashed a forced, obviously ingenuine smile. “Do I look like I give a fuck about rules?”
“I don’t know. You just look kind of angry, I think.”
The creature’s thin lips peeled back as he bore his fangs. “I flew through the freezing void of space for hours. I’m fucking pissed. But that’s not important.”
“So how am I gonna go missing?” Samus grimaced. Surely Ridley couldn’t fit in an escape pod, and she had no idea how to control one. “I can’t survive in space.”
“Obviously. Did you see Kraid come in here?” The child nodded, the horror clear as day across her face. “Hmph. I’m surprised he’s able to move. Listen, stay here. I’m going to go have a word with him.”
“No!” She clamped her hands over her mouth when the pirate shot her a look. “No,” Samus said quietly. “What if they find me? I wanna go with you.”
“Tough. You can’t.” He sighed when she began to whimper. “Look, kid, if you want to be a pirate, then you’ll have to get used to this feeling. You could die anywhere, anytime. So shut it and get used to it, otherwise you’ll be stuck with forty children or whatever happens to human women.” To his surprise, Samus became quiet and wiped the tears from her eyes.
“Just go quick,” she said, returning to her hiding spot behind his statue. Ridley nodded and pivoted to the door. “Ridley?”
“Are you gonna beat him up?”
“We’ll see.” He began to walk.
“ What !?”
“I… I dropped my gun because the bug people kicked me. If I can’t find it when we get back… will you get me a new one?”
Ridley’s glare burned a hole through her. Samus pursed her lips tightly. “We’ll see.” Again, he walked, quicker this time. “I’m too old for this bullshit,” he muttered to himself as he left.
* * * * *
“General Ridley.” Kraid’s voice came as a deafening grumble.
“General Kraid.” Ridley hovered in the air to keep his eyes locked on his comrade’s. Admittedly, with Kraid having three, he didn’t quite know where to look. “I heard something about a human kid. What’s up with that?” Before Kraid could respond, Ridley sniffed audibly. “What the hell is that smell?”
Kraid’s lair was a horror compared to Ridley’s. While he kept his space tidy and clean, bones littered the floor of Kraid’s room, some still bearing chunks of flesh. Several oddly colored stains on the floor made Ridley suppress an urge to gag. He shuddered to think how long ago this place had been thoroughly sanitized. How the hell could Kraid tolerate this filth? Whose filth was this?
“Do not mind the smell,” the gigantic beast replied slowly. “I have eaten. But that matter is unimportant. You ask of the human child?”
“I just said that, yeah.”
“It will make a fine experiment.” Kraid’s lips moved, perhaps into a crooked smile. “Our data on our series of human experiments was destroyed by the Federation. Since then, we have been unsuccessful in finding one to… ‘examine’.” The monster’s eyes narrowed. “Your last mission concerned a human colony, did it not? Why did you not capture one for our benefit?”
“I didn’t know the data was destroyed,” said Ridley. “Tell me next time and I won’t disappoint.”
“As a high ranking pirate, you should be more aware of these things.”
“Whatever. You do the planning and methodical shit, and I’m in charge of the fun stuff. Don’t tell me how to do my job, Kraid.”
“If you are so callous to matters such as these, then why do you ask of the human?”
Ridley stiffened. “Because someone told me the brat’s running loose in here. I’m curious.”
“It cannot run far.” Kraid let out a sigh as if talking had exhausted him. “We will surely obtain it soon, and then the tests can begin.”
“Speaking of which…” Ridley dragged a clawed finger across his chin. “Why do you get to do that? Torturing some whelp sounds like fun to me. So why isn’t this my assignment, hm?”
Kraid fell silent, then slowly reached down to pluck a bone from the floor. He tossed it into his mouth nonchalantly. “That is a good question,” he grumbled. He popped another bone into his gullet.
“So… why not give me a good answer?”
“Your sadistic nature prohibits you from doing the experiments effectively,” bellowed Kraid. “You would simply tear the poor creature limb from limb.”
Ridley’s tail swished madly behind him. His golden eyes narrowed as he bared his fangs. Something seemed to make the acid inside his stomach boil. The pirate kept himself as still as possible, resisting the urge to lunge at Kraid’s revolting body. The poor creature . As if that disgusting sack of shit cared at all about the horrors Samus would endure. As if the experiments Kraid would order upon her would be anything less than torture. Ridley began to growl. He flexed his fingers repeatedly to stifle the nagging instinct to claw the general’s eyes out. But Ridley somehow kept himself still enough to avoid conflict, and Kraid watched him seethe and shake with curiosity.
“Your species fascinates me.” Kraid’s voice carried a hint of pretentiousness. “There are so few of you, so we have never found another like you… You’re so intelligent, Ridley. You have proved yourself through… your feats in technology and robotics. And yet… so animalistic, resorting to behaving like a dumb creature when your instincts demand it. You’re as barbaric as a mindless beast.”
“And what makes you think you’re any better, you fucking massive piece of garbage?” Ridley hissed his words, unaware that his tail was whipping back and forth at a dizzying pace. “I’ve never seen another thing like you, thank God. My best guess is that the rest died from morbid obesity. You’re as foul as your lair, Kraid. How dare you compare me to a mindless beast when all you’re good for is giving simple orders?”
“I am your equal in rank. I did not achieve this position by being simple. I will not tolerant your crude insults!”
“Careful. If you get too angry, your heart might give out.”
“Do not underestimate me. I can swat you like a fly.”
Before Ridley could respond, the door to Kraid’s lair opened, and two Zebesians entered with a little girl whose screams made Ridley’s heart sink.
Chapter 8: Monsters Die
“Papa?” Five year-old Samus ran her fingers through her hair. It’d reached her shoulders now, much to her dismay. She liked it a lot better when it was shorter. Every time she managed a glance at herself through the reflection of a piece of metal or shard of glass, her nose scrunched. One part of her wanted it to grow even longer, but the other part knew how annoying it became whenever Ridley took her on a walk.
“Papa?” Samus whined.
The pirate stopped in his tracks and craned his head toward the child. “Who the hell are you talking to?”
Ridley scoffed. “Don’t be stupid, kid. I’m not your papa.”
The little girl placed her hands on her hips. “Then what are you?”
“I’m me. That’s it.” He continued walking.
“Papa, can I get a haircut?”
“Will you quit calling me that? I’m me! I’m Ridley! Just call me that!”
Samus ran up to him and poked his knee as she sang. “Papa, papa, papa!” She yelped when Ridley swept his tail underneath her feet, tripping her. “Ow! What the fucking, Papa!?”
Ridley couldn’t suppress a chuckle at her words. “It’s ‘what the fuck’. And I told you to stop calling me that. Call me Ridley.”
“Fine.” Samus let out an exaggerated sigh. “Ridley, can I have a haircut? It gets in my face when I’m running and stuff. Can you make it short with your claws or something? I want it just to my chin.”
Grabbing her hair in one hand, Ridley raked his claw through it. The blonde locks fluttered to the ground. Samus turned to marvel at her hair, twiddling a few strands in between her fingers. After she grew bored with it, she tossed it aside and stood again, raising her arms above her head as she did so.
“Do you think hair is weird?” she asked. “‘Cause you don’t have any, right?”
“Right. Not really. I’ve seen some weird shit and a lot of it’s worse than hair. Don’t you think my scales are weird? Or my wings? Or my teeth?”
“Kinda.” Samus hopped over his tail. “But I got used to it. You looked kinda scary, but I got over it because you’re nice. And now you look really cool because you’re like a dragon or something, which is really cool. I don’t think a lot of people have met a talking dragon.”
“I’m not a dragon.” Ridley closed his eyes. No matter how many times he drilled that fact into the kid’s head, she forgot. “I’m a geoform--at least, that’s what other people call me.”
“What’s a geoform?”
“A creature that’s only been seen a few times. They don’t bother with giving it a proper name because they assume that there’s only one left. You humans call me Geoform 187.”
The little girl’s eyes lit up. “Other people know you?”
Shit. He’d messed up. Ridley averted his gaze, mind racing to correct his mistake. “Eh… no. They’ve seen me is all. That’s it.”
“Oh.” Samus sounded disappointed. “But do you have a species name? Like, people call you a geoform, but that’s because they don’t know what you are. But you know what you are, so what are you actually?”
“Nothing. There aren’t a lot of my kind around. Not that I care. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was the last one left, honestly.”
He cocked his head in confusion at Samus’ expression. Her eyes glistened with oncoming tears. She hurriedly wiped the tears away and cleared her throat. Ridley bent down as close as he could get to her level. Samus grabbed his face and kissed it.
“Where… where did the rest go?” she asked.
Ridley shrugged nonchalantly, though for some reason his heart felt oddly heavy. “It’s in the storybooks you read online, probably.” He grimaced without even realizing it. “People always kill the monsters.” When Samus kissed him again, he retracted. “What are you doing?”
Samus wrapped her arms around his arm. “You’re not a monster. Even if no one else likes you and the humans wanna kill you, you’ll always be my Papa, Ridley. I love you.”
Ridley embraced her. The urge to tell her what he’d done clawed ruthlessly at his throat, but he managed to resist. He couldn’t do that to Samus. Not yet. He felt that he had to say something.
“I love you, too, little one,” said Ridley.
* * * * *
Samus kicked and screamed with every last bit of energy she could muster. She’d been too occupied with fighting against the iron grip of the bug-men to even notice Ridley hovering in front of the massive green beast. The Zebesians dragging her forward only chuckled at her efforts. Even still, Samus drove her feet into their legs, which did practically nothing against chitin armor.
“Shut up,” hissed one of them. The child shrieked madly in response. Blood trickled down her arms as she tried to yank them free of their claws. As the three further approached Kraid, Samus felt her heart in her stomach. She hung her head, eyes wide in terror. If she had no way to escape alive, the best thing to do would be to render them bored with her experiments. From this point on, she would give them no screams, no tears to laugh at.
Ridley quickly looked to Kraid, who couldn’t suppress a cruel grin. The monster itched his back and leaned forward to the best of his ability. The ghastly sound of his labored breathing evoked a whimper out of Samus.
“You have been caught, little one,” purred Kraid.
Lividly, Ridley prepared his tail to stab into Kraid’s chest. Only one person could call Samus a “little one”, and that was him . He instead readied himself to go for the Zebesians that held the child. To his surprise, Samus raised her head again and shouted a retort.
“Yeah, your guys caught me! Not you!” Somehow, talking back to her soon-to-be killer lifted her spirits somewhat. She even managed a sneer. “You’re so fat that you had to send them after me! You must be slower than my great-grandma, and she’s dead !”
Ridley snorted. That’s my girl , he thought.
Kraid looked less enthusiastic about her remark. He took a step forward, which shook the ground. Even the bug-men yelped in fright. Samus’ gaze shifted to Ridley, who nodded to her. She nodded back.
“What a bold thing to say… for someone whose death is imminent.” The spikes poking out from Kraid’s stomach glistened ominously.
“I thought you wanted me for experiments .” Samus spat the word out, attempting to lean forward as she did so. “So are you gonna kill me now or later?”
With another step forward from Kraid, the lair shook once more. The smaller insectoid of the two shrieked in terror, backpedaling and briefly releasing the girl’s right arm. She pounded mercilessly on the the other pirate’s claw gripping her left.
“Who taught you… to speak with such an attitude?”
Under his breath, Ridley whispered, “Oh, don’t fuck this up for me, kid.” He resisted the urge to sigh in relief when she didn’t answer.
“No matter.” Kraid’s gargantuan tail swished back and forth, sending the bones from his meals flying. “I suppose… I can find another human… to test more proactively on. You… will surely make a good subject… to see how much agony you can take… before you shut your mouth for good!”
It took less than a second for Ridley to rocket downward. He bashed away the Zebesians with a near instantaneous flick of his tail and grabbed the child, flying into the air with her.
“Sorry, Sir General Commander,” Ridley mocked. “I’ve gotten pretty sick of your shit lately. I got a great idea. How about we see who’s really the stronger of the two? Then the winner can actually give the orders from here on out, huh?”
“He’s gonna squish you!” hissed Samus.
“Zip it, runt.” The geoform smiled and waved Kraid forward. “C’mon, you ugly bastard. I’d like to see you try to hit me. And you two down there. Get out. Now. ”
“Do not follow his instructions,” barked Kraid to the bug-men. They looked to Kraid, then to Ridley, then back to Kraid, and then at each other.
Ridley swooped down, leaving Samus in the corner nearest to the door. She gasped and pointed past him. The creature simply cocked his head sharply, avoiding one of Kraid’s spikes that now was stuck in the wall. Turning around, Ridley spoke under his breath.
“Do I have to tell you to stay put, or are you that stupid?”
“I-I-I’m not gonna move.”
“Great.” He took to the air again. “Let’s go, fatass!”
Another spike whizzed from Kraid’s body. Samus watched her mentor twist his body and gracefully dodge each projectile. He made a hard turn right as he neared Kraid, slicing the beast in the face with the tip of his tail. Kraid howled, shielding his left eye that took the worst of the attack. He swiped a meaty hand at Ridley, who flew under and then over it. The pirate planted himself onto Kraid’s hand and opened his mouth wide. From inside, a glowing light burned. He bit down hard. The sound reminded Samus of sizzling meat. Kraid roared in agony, which brought the girl’s hands to her ears. Even Ridley was forced to detach himself and retreat. The geoform hissed in annoyance.
“Good fucking lord, you’re loud,” said Ridley.
Without warning, Kraid launched both of his hands forward to trap Ridley in between his palms. The alien dropped down to the ground, wincing as the beast clapped loudly. Suddenly, Kraid roared again. Ridley backed up on two feet, tail wagging behind him. If his fellow commander was good at anything, it was making people go deaf.
Ridley gasped in pain as the spike entered his left leg. He collapsed for a second, then composed himself on his hands and feet. The pirate looked at the damage. His leg twitched involuntarily, coated with green blood that dripped onto the floor like a faucet. Ridley rocketed himself to the left as Kraid fired another spike from his stomach. With every movement, the injury throbbed horrifically. It’d been a long time since Ridley was this badly injured. In a weird way, it felt refreshing to feel a bit of helplessness. He continued running on all fours as Kraid shot spike after spike. Ridley screeched to a halt and looked to his opponent, who shot again. The pirate curled his tail around the incoming projectile, effectively catching it in midair. He sneered and sent it back, where it lodged in Kraid’s right arm.
“Just repaying the favor, my friend!” he called as Kraid wailed. Ridley flew upward. Despite his adrenaline, the agony in his leg ate away at his psyche. It certainly wasn’t every day that something impaled him, but it’d been done before, and it never hurt this much. Quickly, the geoform glanced at his leg again and widened his eyes in surprise. His flesh bubbled. Steam rose from the spike stuck in it. He looked back to his enemy when Kraid barked a laugh.
“How does your body… react to poison, General Ridley?” Kraid cocked his head, a gesture toward his damaged arm. “I, of course, am unbothered. What about you? Do you feel tired?”
Ridley soared around him, swerving past each of Kraid’s swipes. He spread his wings wide to skid across Kraid’s back to a stop. As his claws raked open the monster’s flesh, Ridley gasped and retreated once again to the ground. His feet, covered in Kraid’s yellow blood, sizzled. The pirate shifted his weight from foot to foot, but no matter how he adjusted himself, he felt the same agony. Ridley spread his wings in preparation to take flight again, but stopped when he lurched forward. What little food he’d eaten that day came up. He wiped a hand across his mouth in embarrassment. Had anyone ever seen him vomit?
“The toxins only become stronger,” Kraid growled. He uttered a laugh as Ridley hunched over again, this time only gagging. “It is… a very potent substance… even to such beings as you.”
“Damn it…” growled Ridley. He glanced back at his leg, which now sported a gaping hole in it. The flesh up his thigh had begun to boil as well. The scaly skin was peeling off of his muscles like wallpaper. Ridley let out an exasperated sigh, shook his head in disapproval, and uncoiled his tail from around his feet. “Well, hope this works.”
Not even a second passed before Ridley’s tail cleanly amputated his leg. The severed flesh rotted instantly on the ground, the steam coming off of it thickening as it shriveled. Ridley hissed in pain, his eyes locked on Kraid’s, and released a cloud of plasma from his breath. Once it disintegrated, he shook with exhaustion. His stump no longer bled, but had been seared shut. A moment of tense silence passed. Neither of the two pirates dared to move. Finally, Ridley sighed again and stretched his wings. He cocked his head to the side to crack his neck.
“Ahh… Much better.” The pirate snickered at Kraid’s stunned expression. “What’s that look for? Didn’t expect a mindless beast like me to figure out that the source of your disgusting poison needed to be cut off? Hey, my leg’s even stopped corroding.” He stumbled forward on his hands and right leg. “Gotta admit, you got me good, Kraid. I never knew you were poisonous. But you wanna know something?”
Kraid swung at him, but Ridley darted into the air. As he smiled cruelly, massive wings flapping, smoke billowed from Ridley’s jaws.
“The poisonous creatures are always prey!”
Another swipe from Kraid’s hand, and a beam of yellow light flashed from the pirate’s mouth. With an ear-splitting thunk , the giant’s hand dropped to the floor. Ridley flew to the left and severed Kraid’s other appendage with a slash of his tail. Samus marveled at the beast in a mixture of awe and horror, her eyes locked on Kraid’s twitching fingers.
“I figured that since I didn’t feel anything when I bit down on you the first time, your hands aren’t as toxic as the rest of you,” said Ridley as he shrugged. “What goes next, Kraid?”
“Curse you…!!” growled the monster. He shot another spike from his stomach, which wasn’t even close enough for the geoform to have to dodge.
Plumes of smoke rose from the pirate’s mouth once again. “I think we know who wins,” he whispered. The plasma beam shot from Ridley’s mouth like a laser. It collided with Kraid’s face. Samus pressed herself against the corner and shut her eyes, surprised that something so far away from her could produce so much heat. An eerie crackling filled the air. When she opened her eyes again, Ridley was back on the ground, his chest rising and falling with heavy breaths. What remained of Kraid was only a body without a head. That horrifying face that Samus thought belonged to the monster who would make her existence a living Hell was gone for good. She briefly considered running up to her injured Papa, but Ridley had bolted from his spot to the Zebesians, where he separated their heads from their bodies with a swipe of his hand. The geoform’s wings twitched as he hungrily devoured one of their bodies. Samus shut her eyes again.
Time passed, and Ridley flung the bones of the bug-men away from his sight. He looked to his left leg, which glistened with new life and regenerative fluid. With a tired grunt, Ridley flexed it and nodded when it responded as he expected. He clambered over to Samus awkwardly, unsure whether the sight of blood all over him would be too much for the girl.
“Hey,” he mumbled.
Samus’ eyes remained closed. “H-Hey.”
“So, uh… You alright?”
“I… I don’t know.”
“Well, you will be.” Ridley patted her head. “Come on, there’s no use crying like a baby about any of this. It’s over and done with.” He waited for Samus to get up, but the girl remained sitting, her eyes looking past him. “What’re you staring at?” To his surprise, when he leaned toward Samus, she whimpered and pressed herself against the wall.
“Why did you eat them…?”
“To fix my leg.” Ridley shot a glance at his feet, which no longer smoldered. “And my feet, I guess. It’s regeneration. I can grow parts of my body back if I consume living cells.”
“Why can’t you just find a tree or something and eat that?” whimpered Samus.
“Meat works much better, and you couldn’t catch me dead limping out into the open to find some stupid potted plant on the ship. Now come on. We’re leaving.” He extended his hand to Samus, but she just yelped again.
“But… They were still people, right?” She sniffled as she examined the blood of the bugmen splattered all over Ridley’s body. “I-I know you kill people and stuff, b-but… isn’t that too far for you? Eating somebody? Doesn't that make you sick?”
“Well, sure. It’s not like they taste good or anything. ...And you’re crying now. What’d I say wrong this time?”
Samus wiped her eyes. She hung her head to avert her gaze from the one she trusted, the one who’d devoured his comrades without a moment’s hesitation. “I-I don’t wanna go back to your quarters with you, Ridley. I can just stay here and eat what the pirate guys leave in the trash, okay? And you can visit me if you want, but I’m gonna live here now.”
“Don’t be stupid, Samus. You’re coming with me.”
“No! What if you get hurt again and you lose your arm or something and you really need it and you eat me !?”
Ridley rolled his eyes. “I’m not going to eat you, Samus. I love you. And besides, I’m sure you’d taste disgusting, so I wouldn’t bother.”
Peeking out from her hands, Samus’ eyebrows furrowed. “I’d probably taste better than those guys, and you ate them.”
The pirate stood and began to head for the door. “Nah, I bet you taste much worse. Because you’re gross.”
Samus ran after him, delivering her foot to a segment of his tail. “I’m not gross! You’re gross!”
“Yeah, I think you are. Oh, and you’re welcome.”
Sighing, Samus tilted her head back in an exaggerated manner. “Thanks. I guess.”
“I love you.”
Ridley took one last glance at the bugmen’s skeletons, the sour taste of them still alive and kicking in his mouth. “Yeah, you fucking better,” he grumbled.
Chapter 9: I'm Drowning!
Samus gasped for air once she surfaced from the depths of the pond. She splashed some water into her face to wipe away any grime that might have lingered there. Above her head, the sun of planet XVVC-12 beamed down. On days like these, the pond was almost perfect temperature for bathing. The teenager glanced to her clothes that Ridley had hung on a nearby tree to dry.
“I touched the bottom,” she said as she swam to the edge.
“With your hand or foot?”
“Foot.” Her tone suggested embarrassment. “I think it’s about 40 feet down. You have to breathe out completely so you go down faster. And you have to plug your nose and pop your ears every five seconds.”
“It took you a while,” said Ridley.
“Yeah. I read that humans can only hold their breath for three minutes.”
The geoform shifted uncomfortably on his haunches. He looked to the girl’s clothing, which probably had at least another half hour before drying completely. “You sure know a lot about humans.”
“Yeah? Because I am one. Are the clothes dry yet?”
“No. Probably twenty minutes from now. You’re not getting tired, are you?” He growled while Samus laughed. Ridley turned his head back to look at her. “Well, you sleep a lot. I don’t need you getting exhausted in there and drowning.”
“Hah! Please.” Swinging her arms over her body to glide through the water, the girl made her way to the edge, where she rested her elbows on dry land next to her mentor. “I’m pirate material.”
“You’re a fifteen year-old girl. Give me a break, kid.”
“Oh, come on! I can still do stuff! If you don’t think I’m worth anything, why have you been training me all this time? If I’m not viable, why bother?”
Ridley narrowed his eyes with disgust. “Ech, you sound like me. What’s gotten into you lately?”
Samus scoffed, her fingers digging into the earth. She pinched a few ivory blades of grass in between her thumb and forefinger and plucked them from the ground. The girl let them fall from her grasp into the pond. She felt stupid for expecting to be entertained. “Like I said, I’m pirate material. If I want to accomplish anything, I have to be the best I can be. If I’m not good enough to do missions, then I’m just a meat sack.”
The creature sighed. He lazily dragged a claw through the dirt, exposing the darker soil underneath while stretching his wings, his eyes glimmering with sadness. “What have I done to you, girl?”
“The Space Pirates’ goal isn’t to serve a purpose. It’s above and beyond that. We don’t need to be something. We’re already something. Do you understand?”
Samus lowered her head to blow out through her nose underwater and watch the bubbles froth. “I guess. But what other option do I have? If anyone ever finds out I have ties to you, I’m dead. And people will notice that I’m not in any government system. They’ll see that I just appeared from nowhere, and then what?”
“Still, it’s not like piracy’s the only option.”
The girl sighed, her gaze fixed on the sky. “Is it even an option? The pirates wouldn’t like a human within their ranks since humans make up the bulk of the Federation.”
Ridley scoffed at the word. “Bah. Those fuckers deserve everything we throw at them. It’s an embarrassing organization. You’d be better off in a circus than there.”
“Who said I wanted to join them?”
“Your search history.”
Samus whipped her hands forward, sending a wave of water at Ridley’s body. “Don’t snoop on my internet history, you dick! That’s private stuff! And besides, I thought about it for, like, a minute. Then I actually read about them and the weird shit they’ve pulled over the years. Did you know they forced a bunch of poor people to get off their home planet and populate other places as an experiment?”
An eerie silence fell over the two. Samus watched her mentor’s back straighten--something that he rarely did unless he felt threatened--and his wings spread. She paddled backward as quietly as she could, her eyes wide with fear. To her surprise, Ridley didn’t turn around. His wings folded back over his body. He returned to his naturally hunched posture and curled his tail around his feet.
“I think your clothes are dry,” he said.
She swam to the side, the uneasiness in her stomach like a rock. Samus reached the edge of the pond. She lifted herself out and scuttled to the clothing hanging on the tree, not even bothering to dry herself before she slipped on a shirt and pants. The garments were still damp. Samus twisted her hair with her hands to wring out the water. She jumped when Ridley spoke again.
“Samus… What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”
The words made her eyebrows arch. Samus racked her brain for a memory of something that would make her skin crawl. There was nothing she could think of that would faze her mentor in the slightest… except, perhaps, the mistake of researching the Federation. Before she could answer, the monster spoke.
“You’re far too young to have done anything bad,” he mused. From where she stood, Samus could see him smiling. “Me, on the other hand…”
“Um… What do you mean by that?”
“I know you love me, Samus.” Ridley’s grin widened. “If you want to keep that love for me… Well, be careful when you’re looking for information. You might just find something that brings up bad memories.”
* * * * *
“Now listen, runt.” Ridley lifted Samus’ chin upward with a clawed finger. “I can carry you out of here as long as you help me out, got it?”
The girl cocked her head.
“Here’s the plan: I don’t bother hiding you from anyone.” Immediately, Samus’ knees began to knock together as she shivered. “Don’t freak out… yet. It’s simple. I tell everyone that I found out something’s wrong with you, like you’re diseased and experiments on you wouldn’t reveal anything about humans. So I’ll take you to Sector IV, where my personal ship is, and say you’re gonna be my way of ‘cooling off’. All you need to do is act like I’m actually going to kill you. Scream, cry, do what you always do. Sound good?”
Samus nodded. “But what about Kraid? Aren’t they gonna be mad that you killed him?”
Ridley barked a laugh. “The bugmen you’ve seen are just grunts. They’re naturally drawn to obey authority. No matter what I do, they’ll follow my every command.”
She nodded again. The sight of her Papa tearing into their lifeless bodies was somehow more palpable. “Okay… I trust you. Don’t worry, I can scream really good.”
The pirate rolled his eyes as the memories of the wailing toddler flooded his mind. “I know.” He grabbed Samus by her torso and lifted her into the air. “Alright, we’re heading out. Start losing it.”
Ridley exited Kraid’s lair, holding the hysterical child above his head. Samus kicked and cried, her arms flailing wildly about her body. Several pirates in the halls stopped at the sight, their jaws hanging open. The general continued forward, paying his underlings no mind until he reached the end of the hallway. He turned around to face the stupefied bugmen.
“Listen up!” he snarled. He rotated his wrist, which effectively shook Samus. “This little ‘specimen’ turned out to be a dud. The kid’s blood is fucked. She’s terminally ill, nothing like most of the garbage humans that run around. Don’t bother me, because I’ll be giving her what she deserves for wasting my time. The fat fuck called Kraid has stepped over the line for a final time. Call for the biohazard team to clean up his carcass. Do it now, or it’ll stink up the whole place.”
“Yes, sir,” they murmured.
Samus stopped thrashing. She extended her arms out to the bugmen, her shoulders shaking violently with believable sobs.
“Help me,” she begged. “Help me, he’s crushing me!”
Ridley’s breath caught in his throat.
“It hurts! It hurts! I don’t wanna die! Somebody help me! Please! I want my mommy! I want my daddy! Mommy, I’m scared! I don’t wanna die!”
Suddenly, the little girl felt unbearably heavy in Ridley’s grasp. The hand that held her trembled. Without warning, Ridley grabbed at his chest. He dug his claws into the skin until green blood dripped onto the floor. A pirate said something, but he couldn’t hear it. He couldn’t hear anything but Samus and a strange pounding inside his head. Ridley stumbled back, attempting to clear his throat as the world in front of him blurred into a smudge of colors.
“Mama! Papa! Help me!”
It was Samus’ voice… but it wasn’t only her voice. Ridley whipped his head around to find the source of the screams of men, women, and children, all wailing in torturous agony. He curled his tail protectively around his stomach. His pupils dilated as the chorus of victims swirled inside his head. With a whimper, Ridley raked a clawed hand across his face, spilling green blood onto the floor in front of the bewildered pirates. They remained silent, watching their leader stagger backward in pain with wide eyes. The stinging sensation brought him somewhat back to reality. Ridley met the eyes of his men. He took in a few shaky breaths before his voice came back in a panicked whisper.
“Go to your quarters. Now .”
The pirates practically flew from his sight. Ridley stumbled forward, his chest still tight with ragged breaths. Samus, now quiet, let him carry her. She pretended like Ridley’s tightened grip around her body didn’t hurt. The girl didn’t dare speak. It was like Ridley had changed completely--something about his eyes struck fear in her. They made her think of a cornered wild animal… or perhaps even the bugmen, who’d nearly beaten her to death with a complete lack of mercy.
The general reached a large door that, after scanning him with a red laser, opened with a hiss. Ridley walked inside. Samus flinched as the door slammed shut behind them. They were alone together. The child grunted as she wriggled in his grasp to no avail.
“Papa,” she said. “Papa, you’re hurting me. Let go of me!”
Without any warning, Ridley dropped her. She fell onto his foot with a painful thud, and then rolled unceremoniously onto the floor. She cussed, holding her damaged arm, and sat up to glare at her mentor. To her surprise, Ridley covered his face with his hands. His tail smacked into her, sending Samus tumbling before she hit the wall. The little girl didn’t even have time to get up before a piercing shriek vibrated the walls.
Samus clamped her hands over her ears as Ridley wailed. The sound, shrill and deafening, seemed to rattle her bones. Immediately, she began to cry. Samus yelled out to her Papa to stop as he rammed himself against the door, blood trickling from his face like a trail of tears.
“ SHUT UP !” he screamed. “ SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! LEAVE ME ALONE! ”
Ridley bashed his head several times. He flapped his wings, causing various items to fall from their shelves. The pirate sobbed and curled himself into a ball. The blade on the end of his tail glimmered as it swept across the room. Samus pressed herself against the wall to evade its reach, unable to do anything but tremble. She looked to her mentor with horror, whose claws sank into his skin. A sickly green puddle formed around his feet. He shook so hard that Samus wondered if he was having a seizure. Ridley bit into his left arm to muffle his crazed screams, an action that did nothing but snap the bone. He shrieked again, wings flailing wildly.
“Stop it,” the monster gasped. He shielded the back of his head with his hands. “Stop it…!!! I didn’t--I wasn’t--I’m--I didn’t--mean to--had I known--had I known--!!!”
He wailed again, a sound that seemed to rattle Samus’ brain inside of her skull. She mouthed the word “Stop”, unsure if any noise actually came out of her mouth. She mouthed it amidst her papa’s screams until her throat hurt, until she was sure that she’d been screaming herself.
Finally, after an eternity, the room went quiet. The creature in front of her panted with exhaustion, covered in his own blood, his body shaking, his eyes devoid of the confidence that she recognized to be his. Ridley coughed up a bit of blood. He spat onto the floor but didn’t bother to wipe his mouth. Slowly, he craned his head toward Samus. They locked eyes. Neither of them said anything for a long time.
Ridley took a step forward, the heaviness in his body strikingly apparent. As he moved to Samus, he stumbled, his head bobbing forward as if he was fighting sleep. He loomed over the little girl, a foreign energy in his glowing eyes. He nervously giggled and extended his hands to her. Samus did nothing.
“My little girl,” whispered Ridley. He began to cry again. “My little girl… You know I’d never do anything to hurt you… right…?”
Stunned, Samus just nodded. The pirate scooped her up and pressed her against his chest. He rocked her, giggling and crying.
“I love you,” sang Ridley. “I love you, my baby. I’m a good papa, right? Right?”
“Yeah…,” Samus murmured.
He barked a laugh. “No, I’m not. I’m not. Not at all.” Ridley sobbed again. “My God, they’re so angry. I hurt them all so bad…”
Samus said nothing.
“I wonder…,” mused Ridley, “I wonder if your mama and papa were among them…?”
Chapter 10: Who am I?
“Oh for fuck’s sake. Are you going to ever be ready, or should I take a nap?”
“No! Just give me a second, you fucking pterodactyl.”
“Not a dinosaur, Samus.”
“Then why is your neck so long!?”
Without warning, Ridley dug his claws into the dirt. His tail swept forward in the blink of an eye and struck fourteen year-old Samus in the stomach, sending the girl careening through the air. Her scream faded as she flew far from the Geoform. Ridley grinned when he found that he couldn’t see her anymore. His massive wings spread, and he flew in her direction until he spotted her in a clearing. Samus lay on her back, limbs spread out like a starfish. Her hair looked like a pool of blonde liquid. She gasped for air, clutching her stomach with one hand. When the pirate landed a few yards away, Samus clenched her teeth so hard she thought she might break them.
“Get your scaly ass over here so I can beat it!”
Ridley approached her from behind, looking down at her. The fires of Hell burned in Samus’ eyes.
“Was that fun?” he said excitedly.
“I could’ve died, you fucking lunatic!”
“No, you couldn’t.” Ridley plucked her from the ground and dropped her feet. Samus lost her rage for a split second at the surprise of being able to stand so easily. “I spent a while on your biosuit, kid. Do you know how hard it is to build something for a five-foot-something human when my hand is more than half the size of you? Pretty fucking hard.”
“That’s why I was worried!” Samus gave him a shove, but as usual Ridley didn’t move an inch. “You could’ve--I dunno--threw me on the ground! You didn’t have to tail-whip me into the fucking stratosphere!”
The pirate’s grin persisted. “But are you hurt?”
Samus folded her arms. Her suit, almost as thin as her skin, glimmered in the sunlight. She admired the purple veins of light flowing through it. She couldn’t help but crack a smile.
“Okay,” said Samus. “I guess it’s a cool birthday present.”
“Aw, just cool?” Ridley ruffled her hair as gently as he could. “Can you believe other girls squeal at getting cars? Not even ships. Cars!”
“Well, not all of them have a space pirate for a father who can just steal an entire ship.”
“Yeah,” muttered Ridley. “Because they’re too lazy to get an actual good present for their kids.”
“Speaking of…” Samus sat down. Even with her body protected by the suit, she still felt the familiar damp coolness of the grass. “You don’t have any other kids, do you?”
Ridley dropped his smile for a split second before regaining it. He sat beside his daughter on his haunches. “Oh, hell no. Can you imagine little geoform brats running around? You were pretty annoying as a little kid, but God, those devils would probably try to eat everything in sight, including each other.”
Samus briefly imagined a world where she woke in a gargantuan nest alongside six dragon-like children of her size. She imagined the shrieks and squawks of her siblings as they knocked each other over, setting fire to the nest and burning it to a crisp. She shook her head. That would be bad. Samus couldn’t even fathom a situation where the roles were reversed; where a human attempted to raise a geoform youngling to adulthood. At least one of them would surely end up dead, and Samus doubted it’d be the geoform.
The girl looked up nonchalantly at her mentor. “Did you have siblings?”
“Don’t remember,” the pirate said quickly. Silence fell over them both. He grinded his teeth together, and then spoke the truth. “Um, yeah, I had a few siblings.”
“What were they like? What were their names?”
Ridley went quiet again. Samus recognized the look in his eyes: the stare focused on nothing but a memory that shouldn’t be resurfaced. She bit her tongue and averted her gaze, ashamed of such an invasive question.
“They didn’t have names,” said Ridley. “I don’t think there was enough time to give them names.”
“Huh? But you have a name… So…” She stopped. What happened to them was none of her business.
“You don’t have to be afraid of hurting my feelings,” snapped Ridley. The glint in his eyes had returned. “I’m not fucking fragile. I know you humans like to be offended at everything, but I’m not one. Don’t think that. Don’t ever think that.”
Samus looked her papa’s enormous reptilian form up and down. “Wasn’t planning on it.”
“You don’t get what I mean.” Ridley pointed to his left wing. “I’m not human in body”--and then to his head--“and I’m definitely not human in mind. If you think I work like you do, you’ll just be disappointed at best, and horrified at worst.”
The two sat. His words struck Samus deeply. Even after more than ten years, she knew so little about Ridley. Minus their bond, they might as well be strangers. The girl frowned.
“What happened to the other ones?”
Ridley’s voice remained nonchalant. “I ate them.”
* * * * *
Samus tiptoed across Ridley’s body until she reached his head. He’d fallen into some sort of deep sleep after his breakdown. The girl took off her shoes, unable to bear the swampy feeling of his blood seeping into her boots. She knelt down. Ridley’s eyes were closed. His facial muscles pulsed inside the long gashes raked across the pirate’s face. The girl fought the urge to vomit. His blood reeked of something metallic and sour.
“Ridley?” she whispered. He didn’t flinch. “Ridley, it’s been a few hours. You gotta wake up now. Please? I wanna go home.”
Again, nothing. Her mentor breathed raggedly--not his usual loud snoring when he slept.
“Papa.” Samus raised her voice a bit. She glanced at the door. Nothing would be worse than someone hearing her and coming in. “Papa, wake up. Wake up.”
Samus clenched her fists and whined in frustration. Then she got an idea. The girl straddled her mentor’s snout, her feet hovering a few inches above the floor. She grimaced as she curled her fingers into a fist. As she bent arm back, Samus mouthed a nearly inaudible apology before she drove her hand between the pirate’s eyelids and into his eye. She gagged when her knuckles pressed hard into something warm and wet. Before she could yank her hand out, Ridley opened his eyes and screamed in pain. He shook her off of him and swiped a claw at the child with the other hand pressed against his damaged eye.
“What the fuck is wrong with you!?” He seethed. Smoke billowed from the sides of his mouth. Samus brought her hands up in a terrified shrug. Ridley looked down, and the smoke cleared. He marveled at his distorted reflection in the emerald puddle. When he looked back at Samus, the child mouthed the word “sorry”.
“Holy shit,” said Ridley in wonder. “Did you do this?”
“N-N-N-No,” she whispered. “D-Do you n-n-not remember anything?”
“I guess not.”
“Y-You went crazy,” said Samus. “You started screaming and crying and hurting yourself. I don’t know why, but that’s what happened. And then you just kind of stopped being awake for a few hours.”
Ridley tried to blink away the exhaustion. By the looks of his injuries, it would only be him who was able to scrape away so much flesh. He looked back down to his blood, which felt almost like a warm bath. His head bobbed involuntarily. Samus said something, but it was a smear of noise. Ridley shook himself awake. He’d ridden himself of Kraid’s poison, and even with the multiple lesions all over his body and the pool at his feet, Ridley wouldn’t be this sleepy over it. His brain felt like a mess of static. He slumped, overcome by a sudden wave of apathy.
“Can we go home?” asked Samus.
“Yeah,” he replied. Ridley forced himself to crawl to his controls, where he slowly punched in coordinates. “Yeah. I need some sleep. What about you? Are you tired?”
“Y-Yeah, but I don’t think I wanna sleep.” When Ridley grunted in reply and curled up on the floor, Samus bit her lip. “Um… are you hungry at all?”
The alien grunted again. “No. I just want to rest.” He let his muscles relax and the heaviness of his eyelids weigh down on him. For some reason, a small part of him felt like he would explode with anxiety. Ridley snorted. Why now, when he was maybe a second away from sleep, did he feel oddly guilty? Why did that tiniest anxious piece make him so uncomfortable? Why had he gone crazy like Samus had said and attacked himself?
The apathy triumphed over everything. He could figure it out when he woke.
* * * * *
“I saw your statue.”
It was the first thing Samus had said in hours. Ridley had been pretending to sleep on his bed. He reared his head tiredly. She was already boring a hole into him with her gaze.
“Ah,” he muttered. “She speaks.”
“What’s up with that?” The girl paced across the room, her eyes fixed on the pirate’s. “I don’t get it. You don’t like Kraid--you didn’t like Kraid. He was a monster. He wanted to make me a science project. He really was going to torture me. Why were you working with someone like that?”
Ridley sighed. “Can this wait?”
“Don’t be a brat.”
“I’m not.” Samus stopped walking. “Just answer me.”
“Tch, why do you need to know? The world is complicated, Samus. If you can’t understand that people can work together without liking each other, you have a lot of growing to do.”
“But pretend I’m not Samus.” Her words made Ridley cock his head in confusion. “You saved me back there. But if that wasn’t me… if I was just some human girl you didn’t know… what would you have done?”
“Ahh. So you wanna know if you’re special in my eyes. Or maybe if I’d leave some random kid behind.” Ridley grinned despite the feeling of uneasiness blossoming in his stomach.
“There’s not just two options, Ridley. What would you have done? Would you have done experiments and stuff on me?”
Ridley settled himself back into his bed, resting his head on his curled up tail like a pillow. He shut his eyes and hoped his tone of voice would persuade Samus to drop the conversation. “Oh, come off it. You know me.”
“No, I don’t.” Samus walked closer. “Your voice is a lot louder than you think.”
Ridley’s eyes snapped open. She heard his exchange with Kraid, or at least part of it. The alien sat back up. He reached out a hand to Samus, who stepped away from it.
“Samus, I was lying. I was trying to convince him to hand you over to me. You probably don’t get that, and that’s fine. I promise that the whole ‘torturing sounds like fun’ thing was made up.” The look on her face suggested Samus wasn’t buying it. Ridley slumped forward with a grimace. “Look, what do you want me to say? I feel bad for putting you through all this shit. I really do. I shouldn’t have left you like that on your birthday. That was stupid of me.”
Little Samus trembled, determined not to let her tears slip out. “You’re not stupid. Not even Kraid is stupid. The bug guys all do what you two say ‘cause you’re a really high rank. You don’t become that high of a rank if you’re stupid.” She sniffled. “Why did you really leave me, Ridley?”
Ridley’s jaw hung open. He watched his little girl shake and grit her teeth as tears spilled down her cheeks. Her hands clenched into fists remained at her sides. The child’s cheeks grew red as she stared him down. The pirate’s gaze softened as Samus’s hardened. She looked like a hollow shell, a wounded animal standing on its last limb. Gently, Ridley grabbed her again and brought her to his chest. The girl objected, attempting to wriggle out of his grasp by beating on him with her fists.
“Stop it! You’re gonna make me cry!” she begged.
“It’s okay to cry,” he said softly. Samus let her hands fall to her sides. “Honestly, I don’t know why I left you. I needed a break, but I have no idea why. I should be used to you by now, but I’m not… I don’t have any answers to that.”
“I think I know why,” sobbed Samus. “I’m really sorry. I think I’m hurting you really bad.”
“You? Hurt me? With those tiny hands?”
“I don’t know what,” she whispered, “but something about me made you lose your mind back on that ship. I don’t know what it was. I did what you said. I thought I did it really well. When you woke up… I wanted you to yell at me so I could know what I did wrong. But you didn’t. I can’t figure you out, Ridley…”
The pirate bowed his head. His episodic panic had become a vague memory by now. He shook his head in frustration. Samus was right. He told her to scream and cry, and she screamed and cried. Everything had gone according to plan until he snapped. Had the stress of parenting gotten to him? Was this the result of him going against his species’ antisocial nature? Did Kraid’s poison reach his brain? No. None of those possibilities would garner such a horrific spectacle. There was something in that moment that broke him. It was something to do with Samus.
“I’m so sorry,” she cried. “I destroyed you. I hurt you. I don’t wanna hurt you again. All of this--the statue, your screaming, it just tells me how much I don’t get you. There’s a lot I don’t know, and that scares me. I don’t wanna be scared of you. I don’t wanna be scared of my Papa.”
“You don’t need to be,” Ridley said. “Listen, this is a me problem, not a you problem. I can’t think of a single thing you could do that could garner a reaction like that. I’ll figure this out myself. In the meantime, don’t beat yourself up. You did everything right.” He released Samus, who sat down on the bed. She wiped her eyes.
“I had something to do with it,” she murmured. “I know I did.”
“Well, help me figure it out, then.” Ridley paused. Somehow, his lack of memory embarrassed him. “I don’t remember a thing.”
“Nope. You said I was freaking out, but I don’t know much else from that. Was I doing anything else?”
Samus nodded. “You were saying stuff, too. You were telling someone to stop and shut up and leave you alone. I don’t think you even knew I was there anymore. You rammed your body against the door and clawed at yourself a lot. It’s like you didn’t even think you were on the ship. You thought you were somewhere else.”
Her words stung. Leave me alone. It rang a bell. Yes, he was somewhere else. He had no idea where. There was no location he saw. It was like his concept of sight had suddenly shut off. Every fiber of his being was focused on leave me alone. But who? Not the pirates. Not Samus. Not Kraid. Who was tormenting him?
Ridley went still. The final piece of the puzzle had been placed. He knew who… except he didn’t. The “who” was many voices he didn’t recognize. It was a chorus that had somehow burrowed itself into his memory, waiting to be unearthed. He didn’t know any “who”. Out of every single voice, there was not one of them he recognized. The world crumbled around him as Ridley realized that the “who” wasn’t a “who” at all. It was a “what”.
It was the collection of targets he hunted and slaughtered.
Samus watched him suddenly lean forward, a clawed hand scratching too deeply at his cheek. She scrambled backwards as those cold eyes returned. Like an automaton, Ridley simply got off of his bed, went to the door, and left the room without a word. She’d done it again. She’d made it come back.
“Papa,” she called. “Papa, I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to! I’m so sorry, Ridley! Ridley!”
Ridley twitched. The sound of her muffled screaming made him want to scream until his vocal chords snapped. He bit down on his tail, green blood showering the walls in a sticky spray. They were back in his quarters. There were other pirates here. If Samus didn’t stop, someone could hear her.
But that didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. The monster knelt down and pressed his head against the floor. His child screamed. The others screamed. Everyone shrieked in horror and agony. Everything left him. He could no longer feel anything, not even the pain in his mutilated tail. Ridley lay on the floor heaving. His eyes danced wildly around the hall. If he could just find one person who a voice belonged to… he would tell them how much he regretted taking joy in their destruction.
Chapter 11: Monster Maker
Curled up at the end of the desolate cave, Ridley sighed. It’d been days since the rainfall started, and it still hadn’t slowed to anything less than a downpour. The sound was driving him crazy. With a shaky hand, Ridley dragged his claws down the side of the cave’s wall. Sparks flew from the friction, and an unbearable squeal echoed. He raked his claws again and again. Somehow, the horrific sound felt comforting. Perhaps not good by any means, but it inspired the thought of an old comrade showing his face after many years. It was familiar.
What a pitiful existence, to feel so lonely for so long.
Despite their previous and possibly final altercation, the pirate dearly missed Samus. Even the memories of her dodging his swinging tail and returning a blast of plasma into his ribs warmed Ridley’s twisted, demented little heart. What a warrior she’d grown up to be. It was only inevitable that the little girl who once wailed throughout the night would wail a cry of rage as she went at the throat of the monster who raised her. As much as it hurt to see such a look of apathy in his daughter’s eyes, it was done. Their battle would happen eventually, and finally, it was all over. So long as they never saw each other again, Ridley and Samus would live separate lives as if they’d never met each other at all. The geoform hung his head. If only their last moments weren’t soured by her desire to inflict justice upon him for all that he…
“SHUT UP!” Ridley hissed to the person screaming next to him. But there was no person. It was just his claws making the hideous noise. He blinked in surprise. How long had he been doing that?
God, how he wished there was someone there. Someone to tear apart, to become the scapegoat of his misery. Even someone to merely talk to would suffice. He needed to feel something besides the soul-crushing emptiness that filled every fiber of his being. Ridley imagined a little girl poking her head into the cave, her hair wet and matted from the pouring rain, calling out for her mama and papa, her existence begging to be healed so that Ridley’s heart would be even slightly lifted. Another Samus to fulfill him. Another Samus to convince him for a short while that maybe he wasn’t a creature straight from Hell.
No, that would never happen again. The first Samus had ruined him already. She’d driven a stake through his soul and shattered his pride. Because he had gone easy on her, she’d destroyed him with the biosuit he’d so lovingly made for her. His eyes watered with milky tears at the sight of his little girl, the one who’d spent hours outside plucking flowers so she could make a crown that fit his head, standing over his battered body with nothing in her eyes. The agony of choking on his own blood remained painfully fresh in his mind. All done by Samus. All done without a shred of mercy for the one who raised her.
She’d killed him so slowly. She corroded his mind, then his heart, then his body. She’d destroyed him and left him to drown in his own fluids with the torment of a million tarnished souls screaming in his head. Without her, it never would’ve happened. He never would’ve suffered the crippling guilt that ripped his sanity away. If only one of his men had slaughtered that little bitch years ago! He would still be the king of the universe!
Ridley sobbed. Even his own brain hardwired for victory and bloodshed couldn’t harbor any hate for Samus Aran. Such an interesting creature, that human girl. It was a miracle that she could ever love or trust him. The pirate’s heart thundered in his chest. Her standing over him as he choked played repeatedly. It was all too fresh, too horrific. Finally he’d felt the terror that his victims endured. But through all of the physical pain, it was her words that traumatized him:
“I hate you, Ridley.”
That was the last thing Samus had said before she simply turned and vanished.
“You little witch,” Ridley growled to himself, his claws scraping away his scales as he raked them down his cheeks.
Something had to be done. He couldn’t take this Hell any longer. If he lost his love for Samus, nothing would hurt as much. It would no longer be a heartbreaking betrayal, but a brutal attack that deserved to be retaliated. Once the dam Ridley had place over his daughter was broken, there would be no feelings. He would once again return to himself. He could finally live as Ridley again.
Slowly, Ridley smiled. A laugh escaped his throat.
“What a useless emotion, grief,” he sang. How lucky he was to be programmed not to feel it.
* * * * *
Samus held her breath. She allowed the ambient noises of the ship’s interior to fade away into nothingness until all she could hear was her heartbeat and the man tapping away at his keyboard behind the corner. The young woman waited for any signs of life outside of the room. No footsteps. No idle chatter. Best of all, no sounds indicating guns were being readied to fire. Slowly, Samus allowed herself to breathe out. In one motion, she leaned around the corner, aimed her pistol at the man’s head, and fired. The muffled bang was hardly audible. Immediately, blood sprayed the wall, and the man slumped forward onto his desk.
Holding her wrist up to her mouth, Samus whispered:
“One confirmed. Silent kill, no suspicion yet.”
“Good,” Ridley purred on the other end of the line. “How many remaining?”
“Well, find out! Don’t leave a single one behind. We can’t let any of the Federation rats wriggle out of our grasp, or they’ll multiply. Kill them all and sweep the ship to confirm. Is that clear?”
“Crystal,” said Samus.
“Go quickly. You know I get impatient.”
“You don’t want me to hide any bodies?”
“I’m giving you fifteen minutes, Samus,” Ridley growled. “My signal will probably be intercepted soon anyway, so putting away the evidence won’t matter. Now get moving. I can see you’re standing there on the radar.”
“‘ Can see ye’re standin’ there on the ray-durr ’,” she mimicked under her breath.
“Don’t fucking sass me. Take this seriously. Now move !”
Samus sighed. “Yes, Sir military commander,” she sneered. The teenager plucked the dead scientist’s key card from his pocket and examined it. With this, she’d be given access to any blue gates on the ship and any who were behind them. Samus held the card between her index and middle finger, rotating her wrist to watch the light glisten on the plastic. She wondered how such a simple-looking item could grant access to other rooms. How would it work? Did she have to hold it up to some kind of sensor, or slide it in some device like a credit card?
A soft, low-pitched beep emitted from her wrist. That was the emergency signal. Samus snapped out of her thoughts and quickly spoke into the communicator.
“What is it?” she whispered urgently. “What’s wrong?” Silence. “Ridley?”
“ FOURTEEN MINUTES, YOU LAZY CUNT !! MOVE YOUR ASS !!!” Ridley snarled furiously on the other end. Samus jumped and swore from the sudden scare.
“Okay, okay!” she hissed back, her cheeks burning with embarrassment. She exited the room and ran down the hallway, making sure her footsteps were as quiet as possible. Over the years, Ridley’s already nasty temper had somehow gotten worse. It was frightfully apparent on her missions, especially when she stopped for even a second to do anything other than the task at hand. Ridley expected nothing short of a robotic level of focus. Of course a pirate had an important job to do, but Samus had grown tired of her mentor’s constant barking and nitpicking. She was only sixteen, after all. Did he seriously expect her to not slow down on these exciting, otherworldly missions and smell the roses?
There was another pair of footsteps down the hall. Samus stopped. Whoever they belonged to was walking with purpose, but not at a speed that suggested something required their immediate attention. The hallway was thankfully curved enough that Samus remained hidden in a blind spot, but not for long. She briefly considered her pistol, but decided against it. A broken neck would be less messy. The girl braced herself for the man that would soon walk right into her reach. He seemingly hadn’t noticed her own footsteps.
Sure enough, the man had wireless headphones on. He held a tablet close to his face as he walked, his eyes eagerly skimming whatever article he was reading. Samus made a movement toward him, and the man finally caught her in the corner of his eye. His mouth opened to form a question. Samus delivered a kick to his neck, a satisfying snap ringing into the hallway. She watched him crumple to the floor. His hands twitched. Samus knelt down and looked into the man’s eyes, still wide with confusion and fear. The girl shook her head and placed her pistol to his head, the muzzle aimed at the floor. She pulled the trigger, and grimaced as flecks of blood and thisera landed on her cheeks.
“Two confirmed,” she muttered.
“What the fuck?”
Samus whipped her head toward the two men running frantically down the hall to their fallen coworker. Time stopped for a split second, and once again all noise faded. The one on the right was moving his hand toward the inside of his coat, ready to draw a weapon. The left man had his eyes on the body by Samus’ side. She raised her pistol and fired. The rightmost man fell to his knees, a little hole now in between his eyes.
“Three,” said Samus as she turned to the remaining scientist. He withdrew the gun from the holster hidden by his lab coat and fired two shots, the first missing by a few feet. Samus crossed her arms in front of her face in an X, and the violet fibers of her biosuit twisted like a creature coming to life. By the time the second bullet hit, a forcefield had cocooned the girl’s upper body and vaporized it. The man shot again, and Samus ran forward, several streams of smoke rising from her shield. She dove into the scientist. As Ridley had programmed it, the forcefield sent the man flying. His head smacked painfully into the wall. He slumped, staring at nothing. Samus fired a shot into his heart.
“Four,” she murmured. “Probable suspicion, checking the radar now.”
With a soft click , the little radar buzzed to life and presented a hologram in front of Samus. Five yellow dots flickered into view, their positions scattered around the ship. Samus smiled. They were all stationary. Surely there was no way to fail this mission. She let her eyes follow the white lines of the craft’s walls and rooms until the image became a somewhat clear memory. Samus turned off her radar, nodding to herself. The closest target should be further down the hall and in a room on the left. Gripping the key card, the young woman took off, her blonde hair whipping behind her as she ran for her next victim.
The door, similar to that of an elevator, opened automatically as she neared it. Samus crept backwards and waited with her breath in her throat for the sound of a chair creaking. Nothing came but the faint noise of fingers flying across a keyboard. God, how pitiful the Federation was. Even with the brief yet loud exchange of bullets, the person inside remained blissfully unaware. Samus leaned halfway into the room, her finger curled around the trigger. A few feet from her, a woman sat hunched over, her elbows unmoving as her hands raced across the keyboard to type.
Samus breathed in.
She breathed out.
She’d never seen a female human in person before. The target was undoubtedly a woman, yet she sat diligently in her chair like the male scientists. Her brown hair, braided and wrapped around her bun, was like nothing the girl had ever seen. A style so intricate for something as tripe and meaningless as hair felt somewhat amusing to look at. If the woman wanted it out of her face, she would’ve tied it in a ponytail or shaved it. What was the point of spending the time and effort to wear her hair in a room she’d be working in by herself?
It was pretty. That was the point. A lump caught in the teenager’s throat as her finger on the trigger relaxed. A small, childish part of Samus wanted to catch a glimpse of the human’s face. Her eyes and lips and brows must be as delicate and beautiful as her hair. Of course, Samus could examine a corpse, but that wouldn’t be the same. The light in her eyes would be gone. She would no longer be a human--only another empty shell.
Delicate . Samus grimaced at the word. Humans were so delicate. As easily as a tug on that braid could undo the entire hairstyle, a single shot of plasma could destroy a human life. Ridley certainly was the opposite of delicate. He’d truly proven himself as a lifeform unrivaled in durability. He called himself the Cunning God of Death, a title that Samus had rolled her eyes at for the longest time. But--surprisingly--Ridley wasn’t bragging by giving himself such a name. He came back from any wound. He ravaged entire planets. He resided at the top of the universal food chain as the apex predator, the seemingly immortal monster the lesser beings cowered in terror from. A single swipe of his tail would be enough to cleave Samus in two. Even the Zebesian space pirate lackeys could take rounds of fire and still wreak havoc on their enemies. Samus was the weakest link in Ridley’s strict military regime. She belonged to the lesser races that would inevitably be stomped out. She was fragile, and even a powerful figure such as Ridley couldn’t change that. Underneath the armor he’d made for her, Samus was only a human.
A familiar and angry voiced hissed on the radio: “What are you waiting for?”
The woman spun around. Samus froze. They stared at each other for a long time. Fear paralyzed the girl as she looked the bewildered lady up and down. She really was beautiful. Her eyes were wide but full of emotion and life. It’d been a while since Samus had noticed innocence in a sentient lifeform. In her endeavors to join Ridley’s legion, she’d locked away any signs of weakness. She became robotic and cold. Though her emotions still brewed within her, she would never allow anyone but Ridley to see them. Looking into the face of this terrified woman felt like looking into a mirror.
“Who are you?” The woman asked. Her voice, though panicked, was soft and soothing, almost melodic against the silence of the room.
Samus snapped out of it, instinctively aimed her pistol, and fired. Blood spattered the computer behind the woman, who slumped forward with a look of apathy. She unceremoniously slid from her chair to the floor, where a crimson pool widened around her lifeless body. The girl moved toward the corpse for a confirm, suddenly shaking with adrenaline. Indeed, the light was gone. The woman had died.
As her eyes traveled from the woman’s shell to the computer, Samus found herself walking toward it without even realizing she was doing so. She brought her forearm to the screen and wiped the blood from it. Carefully, Samus read the document behind the smear of red. It wasn’t a document. It’d been written informally to someone special to her. It must be an email either to a friend or a romantic partner. Samus’ cheeks reddened. Despite having murdered a woman in cold blood, she squirmed as she read the message, feeling naughty for snooping on such private information.
I’m on break for a month next week! So excited to see you and Vince. Still sending hugs to the kiddos, tell them Mom’s coming back for a while! This quarter’s been such a drag. Everyone’s just waiting for it to be over and done with. Don keeps complaining during coffee break (typical Don lol) about how much he just wants to sleep. I’m like yeah, maybe you shouldn’t have joined this line of work if you didn’t want to be sleep deprived for the rest of your career. But anyway, cannot WAIT to see you!! I love you and miss you so much. Soon we can finally be a whole family again!!
She hadn’t even finished it, let alone hit send. Samus reread her letter over and over, her eyesight gradually blurring with tears. Weakness struck her, and the girl fell to her knees. She cupped her cheeks with her hands, staring at the floor with her mouth hung open. The kiddos. Mom. A whole family. Love. All ripped away with a single shot. Where were Vince and Don? Could they be the two dead men in the hallway?
“What have I done?” Samus whispered. She hugged herself and cried. “Oh God, what the fuck have I done? What the fuck? What the fuck!?”
The girl looked back at the dead woman. At least she’d killed her before the email reached her husband’s computer. At least he wouldn’t get his hopes up too much only to have them shattered by sordid news. At least he hadn’t been slaughtered, too. Samus lurched forward, her stomach flipping freely. She gagged but didn’t vomit. Staggering to her feet, the pirate loomed over the human she’d killed. She knelt down and gently closed the woman’s eyes before laying her hands over her chest. The woman looked a bit more dignified now, or at least more at peace.
“Sorry,” Samus said before exiting the room. As the doors closed behind her, she brought her wrist to her mouth again. “Um, five confirmed. Suspicion probable.”
“What were you doing?” Ridley growled.
“Uh, it was--Um--a fight. She had a weapon on her.”
“Uh-huh.” It was clear Ridley didn’t buy it. “Whatever. You’ve got nine minutes. Hurry up.”
The sound of quiet static indicated that the geoform hadn’t yet disconnected.
“‘Okay’?” He asked. “That’s it? No little quips? No awful imitations of me?”
“No,” she said softly.
Ridley paused. “Alright, well, maybe if you’re going to be a little bitch about this, I should just drop you off at a daycare somewhere, huh?”
“If you want.”
“Oh come on, kid, give me some shit. I just called you a bitch. At least tell me I should fuck off back to ‘Neck Town’ like you usually do.” Nothing. “Samus?”
“Eight minutes. I better get going.” Samus disconnected. Numbness had settled over her. No matter how pretty the woman looked or how many children she had, she was part of the problem. She was a Federation rat. Ridley was smart enough to know the grimy details that would disprove the Federation’s alleged innocence to the universe. This mission was nothing more than a step to a plan bigger than a teenage girl could comprehend. The end would justify the means. Things would be okay. Shaking her head free of the lingering guilt, Samus advanced toward her next target. Yes, the end would be worth it all.
But she wondered.