Part 6

The silence was thick in the empty white hues of artificial light. Plain and faceless, a corporate building as mass produced as the people that worked within it. The clean hallways were in precise design, efficacy in every angle. There were offices and shuffling papers as the men and women drank cup after cup of coffee to keep themselves coherent. A woman was typing at a computer system, transcribing the results of something or another. She didn't even read the words in context of one another, only typed them out to get the work done and filed.

"Subject ceases to scream even after several injections of anesthesia, blood flow within non-human species contains 50 drop in oxygen levels. Subjects die of asphyxiation if blood flow is not regulated in clockwise direction."

She chewed on a pieces of candy, popping it in her mouth with one hand pausing briefly in her typing.

In another part of the building, a man with dark hair beginning to be framed with silver was sitting at a desk. He glanced through files, shifting through photos. Each subject file was thick, and the hard copy stamped classified in large red letters, official Federation seal marking the top level access.

"Dr. Jung, your 3:30 is here to see you."

Jung pressed the intercom button, "Send him in." In his hands, the classified file included charts of physical and biological data, psychology reports and still more video and audio files documenting the progress of surgeries. It was rather exciting as he looked through it all, though not as much when he looked at the other case files. Separated into two groups, the blue folders were promising, the manilla folders not as much. Still, blue outnumbered manilla, and that was better than when they had started all of this.

A knock at the large double doors that led into his office interrupted his review, and he let the file close as he called for his guest to enter. The figure was striking and completely at odds with the corporate office, but he walked in and sat comfortably in front of the desk..

A translation device was set onto the guest's neck, and he stared at Jung. "What of the progress?"

"Remarkably well." Dr. Jung smiled. "Each of your provided subjects are adjusting rapidly to the regulatory units we placed inside. As you well knew, earlier versions were outside the body, but we have refined it enough that we can surgically place it inside their chest cavities with minimal problems."

"That is good to hear. What of the transformation?"

"This is less satisfactory, though still baffling. Those of the subjects you provided are changing rapidly and the cause is unknown. When our subjects are given the alien blood, they do not change outwardly as much. We believe because your species has similar physiology, you adjust quicker."

"But you do not understand the cause? Do the subjects still retain their personalities? Their minds?"

"Unfortunately no. This is not so in either species. We have ever had one series of successful integrations, but those subjects were lost to us years ago."

"I see."

Dr. Jung folded his hands on his desk. "Now, I'm wondering, when do you plan to hold up your side of the bargain?"

The guest raised his hairless brows. "When you successfully deliver a completed subject."

"That time approaches ever soon."

"Do not worry." The guest smiled, though Dr. Jung felt that it was none too reassuring. "You will receive your payment. I wonder though, how your superiors do not know about me."

"Oh, they do. You think you can come in here without them knowing? Of course they do. They just don't know some of the... more specific details of our personal arrangement."

The guest nodded, standing. "You will need to send your specialists with me so they can inform my own surgeons. I expect the data files are ready for me to take with me?"

Jung handed him a data stick from his desk drawer, careful of the sharp claws.

"I expect I will come soon as well, oversee your surgeons briefly."

The guest nodded, turning to leave. "Dr. Jung. Don't forget, when you double cross people in power, you need to make yourself scarce. The consequences wont be pleasant." The guest's eyes met Jung's, their soft glow making him lower his gaze.

Jung frowned, unsure if the double meaning was intentional or not. "I'll keep that in mind." The thud of the door rattled the objects in his office, and Jung sighed slightly. He wished he could get his own subjects to progress as well as theirs. The new humans brought in just were not blending correctly - after centrifuge, the injected blood would cease to react. They had to go about it another way, tediously separating out all of the elements.

He stopped to ponder the problem, wondering if they would ever reach a breakthrough. It seemed humans were not made to last this way, like a flame burning fierce and bright, but dying out all too soon.

Reaching for one of the manilla folders, Jung opened it, his trained eyes picking out any important details. The carbon levels within the blood itself were astounding, though never enough to poison. Coupled with the strains of a substance similar to testosterone found in humans and the high number of hydrogen bonds in the other unrecognizable substances at constant equilibrium made the blood difficult to work with. Any attempt to break the bonds required massive amounts of energy, though the reaction caused was almost as grand. Jung hadn't quite understood this odd behavior any. Along with this, any addition of something foreign would throw off the equilibrium and make the blood pH either too acidic or too basic, effectively killing the subject.

He frowned, thinking about the amount of time it took them to find a proper buffer solution that would let the subject live. Even after that, the subjects would be slow to adjust and their bodies would undergo a strong and fast increase in muscle mass and agility. The substance would increase activity in the brain, but the subject would apparently exhibit signs of complete regression. Their minds, though working at double efficacy, seemed not to respond to any outside stimulus.

He sighed, glancing up at the picture of a clean cut young man in Federation uniform. Now he was essentially a brainless and useless shell of flesh.

Slamming the file shut, Jung rapidly stood. The case's difficulty only drew him in deeper, but he knew that his partnership with the guest who had recently departed was dangerous. Once he had what he wanted, Jung figured he was as good as dead. Why leave loose ends after all?

The lingering words of advice made him think twice. Was he on to him? Did he know what Jung was planning? It made Jung worry, and he pushed the file away to stand and turn to the large glass window behind his desk. He stared at the dark night sky and felt a frown make its way on his face.

Kowl understood the intricacies of being a pain in the ass. It took him years to perfect, and plenty of people to practice on, but he was pretty sure it had been the greatest challenge with his new partner. Mack, for the most part, just didn't react. It was disconcerting at times, he knew for a fact in the early days he thought she was genetically incapable of being pissed off. Well, he had proven that theory wrong on several occasions, but this one he had to admit was the most interesting.

Was old Mack jealous? He had to stop the laugh before it made its way out of his throat. Mack would most likely throw him out, and the couch was comfortable enough. Melissa was a looker, but Mack never expressed outright dislike of any of the girls Mack had dated. Besides the fact that Melissa wasn't his girl to date, and this was a thought that had crossed Kowl's mind many times before. And if Andy ever caught him considering it, well... best not to think about it. He knew he'd get his ass handed to him anyway next time he saw his friend since his wife was staying the night here along with him.

It made him think about his partner, and the thought left him confused. She wasn't even close to the same species as he was, and he probably was just misreading her. Mack... feeling? The thought was too ridiculous to even entertain.

The darkness of Mack's apartment was comforting. He had only spent a few nights here, but the bland Spartan atmosphere was just so appropriate. Not a stick of personality to the place, and it was oddly right. It was hard to get his mind to stop thinking after the last few days. It felt like old times, chasing after the hot cases, puzzling investigations that took time and effort to crack. Kowl understood he was hardly young, but the adrenaline just wasn't leaving.

He knew he had exceeded orders days ago. In fact, if Hardy found out where he was going with this, he'd probably be knocked down to patrolling officer, giving out expired licence tickets. That is, if he hadn't suspected already. The old man wasn't a complete idiot, even if he seemed like it most of the time.

Shifting slightly, the couch springs squeaked loud in the silence. Most probably both Melissa and Mack were asleep, and he was just wasting his energy.

Which was why he almost didn't notice the light from the hallway outside Mack's apartment shift as someone passed close to the door. His eyes narrowed, and slowly he sat up, reaching for his sidearm. Whoever it was on the other side hesitated, as if unsure what to do, before knocking.

Knocking? Kowl blinked, glancing at the clock. Did the guy actually expect anyone to be awake at this hour? Kowl stood slowly, making sure to keep his steps quiet, the gun heavy and comfortable in his hand as he approached the small peep hole.

An apparently unarmed male in his thirties hovered outside, anxious expression on his face. Kowl frowned, wondering at the strange feeling he had at the sight. Like he'd seen this guy somewhere before. Quietly, he unlocked the door, swinging it open with his weapon pointed at the man's head.

His eyes widened almost comically at the sight of Kowl's hard face and the gun pointed at his own.

"Who the hell are you?"

The man swallowed, "Ah. Is this were Melissa Price is?"

"I repeat. Who the fuck are you?"

He frowned, arms crossing his chest. "Ah... well, its hard to explain when you're aiming that thing at me. Mind if I come in?"


The commotion must have woken his partner, because he could feel her shifting presence behind him with her own sidearm at the ready.

"Look, just... my name is Tim Gable, I uh, I work with Melissa Price. And I think I might have put her in danger."

Kowl glared as he remembered where he saw this guy. Outside the diner where he had met up with Melissa. Grabbing the guy's collar, he pulled him inside the apartment, gun still at his head. Mack closed the door, and Kowl prayed Melissa was smart enough not to come out.

"Lets hear it."

Tim swallowed again, clearly nervous about the situation. "Look. The head of the research department where we both work, Dr. Lavenski, was questioning me about her. I pinpointed you since I saw you both together. But I'm not so sure his intention are ... uh, noble. I have the feeling something bad is going to happen, and I just- I don't want anyone to get hurt."

Kowl searched the man's face carefully, and he heard Mack behind him exhale softly. "I think he telling the truth."

"Hm." Kowl nodded. "All right, fine. Thanks. Get the fuck out."

The other man seemed all too happy to do so. "Look, if... uh when, you see her. Just tell her I didn't mean anything bad to happen."

Kowl nodded, pointing with his gun towards the door. Once the man had left, Kowl lowered his arm. "Wake Melissa, we've got to leave tonight. If that moron could track us here, then anyone can... we're too far in this to stop now."

Mack looked down and lowered her own weapon.. "What do you mean stop?" She frowned. "Why do I get the feeling this is going to get us both fired?"

"You don't need to come, Mack."

"Of course I do." She said, irritated, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Kowl grinned slightly.

With every moment, Samus was regretting her decision more and more. It had only been an hour since she and Rus had cemented their deal, and already the guy was in a middle of a brawl. Watching the scene play out from the corner booth, she frowned in irritation as a stool flew across the room causing a few patrons to dive out of the way.

Though they had both agreed to leave early the next day, she had stayed to talk and plan out their strategy. They had no floor plans, no idea of how many bodies were within the facility. They really had no idea what they were going to walk into, and Samus knew it would just be stupid not to find out all they could before making their move.

Rus had already contacted his own informant a few days ago about the planet he had coordinates for, but the response came up without anything helpful. Though Samus tried to coax him into giving her the planet address to give to Peco, he wouldn't budge, knowing all too well that Samus would ditch him in an instant if given the opportunity to go on this mission alone.

She sighed, and Rus threw a right hook, cracking a drunk's jaw, making his face whip back with a spray of blood from his mouth. It really had started with a stupid comment from a man with far too much to drink. Something to the effect of calling into question Rus's ability to preform in bed. Though Samus had to admit she found it slightly amusing, considering the drunk had never seen Rus before that moment, Rus didn't share her humor and immediately jumped the man. This had led to his friends giving the poor drunk some backup, but Samus felt she had no need to go to Rus's aid. He could hold himself in a fight, and she wasn't the type to help someone for no reason. If Rus was in extreme danger of dying, taking those coordinates with him, Samus would probably consider getting up.

But that didn't seem very likely as bottles smashed and blood flew, people beginning to cheer now, the bloodlust clearly spreading to onlookers as well as those in the fight. Rus had smashed another stool into a man's back, kicking another between the legs. The kid fought dirty, and swore profusely throughout it all, the initial drunk who had insulted him now on the ground getting punched over and over again in the face. His friends pulled Rus off, two grabbing a hold of each arm before a third gave him a working over.

Samus frowned, wondering if she should stand, before Rus kicked up fiercely, then threw his body weight to the side with all of his strength, making the guy on the right trip over a fallen stool, effectively freeing his right arm. Swinging around, he punched the last guy in the face, blood gushing out freely from a broken nose, before following through with a bottle smashed over the head.

The cheers turned into roars and applause as the four men backed off, the conscious dragging the unconscious away. Rus swayed slightly, his own face bruised and bloody, knuckles cut from glass, and he wiped at his face, stumbling back to the booth where Samus sat.

"Thanks for the help."

"Our little partnership doesn't mean I'm your buddy. You can handle yourself."

"Was that a compliment?" Rus smiled, teeth bloody as he laughed, then spit to the side of the table.

"Look, if you're done having fun then I suggest you come up with something helpful. We can't go in unprepared."

Rus didn't seem to be paying much attention to Samus as he leaned back, waving his hand for some beer. She pursed her lips, trying not to show a reaction and waited for him as he downed the bottle. "Agh, I need something harder. Get me a couple of shots, whisky sour." He turned and looked at her with a small grin. "Well, I hear you have a different informant now?"

She narrowed her eyes. "What the fuck are you talking about?"

"Yeah yeah, I know all about the little grey guy, but from what I hear, you've found someone better. Someone who can get you anything you want to know."

She kept her voice steady. "Where did you hear about that?"

He shrugged. "I've got my own sources. So, what. Do you think your new guy has what we need?"

Probably he did. Samus frowned, wondering at her hesitance to return to the hermit's planet. "Why are you so ready to go there, and not let me just contact my regular informant?" Her lips twitched up. "Its because you have no idea where this guy is, and you want to use him after our little mission. Get him to give you the hot leads, the highest paying jobs." She did laugh this time, but it came out slightly disturbing after filtering through her helmet.

Rus had the grace to look slightly embarrassed, but he covered it up quickly. "Fine, lets go to your old guy. Give me his contact number, I'll ask him myself."

"What makes you think he wont just tell me?"

Rus frowned and his eyes glittered. "Because if he does, I'll off him."

Samus raised an eyebrow, slightly impressed. She had a feeling he wasn't kidding, though Rus had never shown any attitude like this before. Seems he was learning.

"All right, go ahead."

Leaving him Peco's contact information, Samus stood, stretching her legs. She felt the first signs of excitement, of giddiness that came before any mission. The little skirmish a few days ago was nothing. What she needed was a full fledged battle. And she knew this had to be it, this had to be what she was looking for.

"We'll rendevous at the Fegan Spaceport in six hours. Clean yourself up." Samus ignored the eye roll, turning to leave the bar.

The sun had set by the time Samus walked outside, and with it an air of foreboding covered the small planet's surface. Any person who had concluded business had gone while hunters and patrons from the bar slowly trickled outside, some passed out while others headed home with someone to warm their beds. Samus paced the well worn dirt path, finding herself walking without a clear destination, simply letting her mind roam.

What would happen, once this was over? It was a question that had plagued her many sleepless nights, but each time she considered an answer, she just as quickly decided it wasn't time to think of it. She had never before been as close as she was now, close enough that she could touch the answer she so dearly craved.

She supposed a crusade always had to have a purpose. Was this really what she was doing? Fighting and tearing, clawing her way to something tangible in her life. Her eyes glanced up and she found herself walking the residential streets. Doors locked tightly, curtains drawn shut. This was a place of fear, and she frowned at the idea that she was a part of that.

The Old Bird always taught her that morality is a fragile thing. From afar, there is always a crystal clear idea of what right and wrong is, but once you begin to divide life into two categories, things begin to contradict. The stability crumbles. What is truly right can never be known.

"But the Space Pirates, certainly they are wrong. A true and real evil." Samus had said, years ago. Still only a child, sitting on the green fields of Zebes. A bright sky and a limitless future.

The Old Bird had only smiled at her, his eyes crinkling. "Do not let the acts of many cloud your judgement. They are evil to us, yes. Misguided and cruel. But to them, they are doing no wrong. And who are we do say they are incorrect? What gives us supremity over them?"

Samus had frowned. "I don't understand. Isn't killing wrong?"

"Yes child." The Old Bird laughed. "I suppose it is hard to see. What I mean is, the galaxy is a vast place. And in it, there are countless races and countless people. What we judge from our perspective may be right to us. But what of the other side of the galaxy? Don't you suppose in a place so infinite, that there can never be anything solid? That nothing can be taken as absolute truth?"

"But if we never take a stance on what we perceive is truth, is the result not chaos?"

The Old Bird cocked his head, looking down at Samus. For the bulk of her life, his eyes seemed like they were holding back, like she was too young to understand. When they looked at her then, there was a sadness in them she had never seen before. "You are wise, our newborn. And I see that your wisdom will bring with it pain. But keep this in your heart, child. Of the future you have, there is no set path. Your actions will shape the nature of your life and ours. Use your heart as well as your mind, for there are some answers that you will always know. It is only a matter of seeking them out."

This answer seemed rather circular to Samus at the time. She had only frowned and looked away, watching the leaves of the trees rustle quietly. The Old Bird squeezed her shoulder slightly and they had been silent, watching the sun set.

Samus sighed, blinking away the memory that was already starting to become hazy. Use her heart the Old Bird had said. She laughed to herself. The Chozo were so idealistic, in a world of their own. The Old Bird spoke of the limitless nature of the universe, but had he never seen it himself? Did he not know of the depravity and hatred? How could these people that she saw every day be right? Did he not realize that there must order, punishment to those that strayed into the wrong path? Did he not understand justice? They spoke in metaphors and riddles, but Samus had learned that such things never led anywhere.

Glancing down at her armored hand and cannon, she shook her head, realizing that her current thoughts would never lead her anywhere either. Perhaps the Chozo knew more than she could ever hope to understand. They talked of peace, yet created a warrior.

She wondered then, if the Old Bird would have approved of what she became. Was this what he had wanted? Was she his idea of a savior? So many years had gone by without her contacting them, and she knew somehow that they had gone.

This time, she knew, she would feel absolved. She would have enacted the revenge she wanted, the hatred and anger deep inside her. Once they paid for what they had done, she knew she could move on. Live her life the way the Chozo wanted her to.

The streets were very quiet, and she wondered that if places like this would continue to exist, she would never be able to rest. Somehow, she was resigned to this fate. She pursed her lips, and continued to walk, making her way back to her ship.