Chapter 9: Sentience
Commander Rolms frowned as he looked at the screen. The hunters looked at it over his shoulder, interested.
"What am I looking at?" he asked, not removing his eyes from the display. A black circle stood at the center of a grid, an extremely small dent could be seen underneath it on the flat intersection of lines.
The officer at the console scratched his head. "Well, sir," he said. "It's a planet."
If he was expecting a reaction to this, he was disappointed. Everyone just looked at him blankly.
"I don't see the significance of that," Sarah said, breaking her silence. "We are in orbit around one, after all."
"Ah," the man said, seeming to have a eureka moment. "That's just it. This isn't Aether." He touched a few buttons, and the orb shrunk as the zoom level was decreased. Soon, another orb came into view. It was the same size, but the dent underneath it was far larger.
"That is Aether," he said, folding his arms. "This other…I can't even call it a planet…whatever it is, is the same size and everything, but has a stellar mass of less than a fiftieth of Aether. We can't even see it."
"That isn't possible," the Commander chimed in. "Nothing that big can be that light, not to mention invisible."
"That's where it gets complicated," the officer typed in more commands. A steadily climbing meter appeared next to the planet. "When we detected the anomaly earlier, we retook the measurements for stellar mass to make sure we hadn't fouled up. The retake showed that it had marginally more mass than a few seconds earlier. Another scan revealed the same." He gave the Commander a critical look.
Everyone noticed the number next to the meter rose even as they watched it.
"How long until it reaches Aether's mass?" Jon asked from behind everyone else, since he could easily see over them.
The man checked the meter. "I'd say…less than twenty four hours, sir."
The trio of hunters looked at each other, and then at Commander Rolms, who frowned. "Alert the Olympus," he said simply.
And, of course, another call had come from the lab not a minute later, also claiming something urgent about the Ing. The group rushed down, fearing there was a problem with containment; perhaps the creature had decided not to be so docile anymore.
The round door to the outer area of the lab slid open, the passive shield around it dissipating. On the other side, the Ing stood inside a glass chamber, looking around with an unreadable expression.
"What is it?" Commander Rolms asked.
The lead scientist came forward after giving Jonathan a nervous glance.
"Sir, we…well…we were performing some tests on the Ing, sir. We just started the brainwave probe, to see if we could make out any patterns in the brainwaves…" the man trailed off.
Rolms waved his hand impatiently. "Yes yes, and?"
He opened his mouth again, but closed it. "Maybe you should just see it, sir."
He walked over to the console nearby and typed in a few keys. The screen lit up with a video from the top of the room, apparently from the security camera. The Ing wandered around the chamber for a few seconds, then came close to the glass wall, where the scientists were just out of camera range.
"What are you doing?" a young, feminine voice said from the computer's speakers. Everyone, including the other scientists, jumped at the sound. Jonathan leaned in over everyone's shoulders, his eyes narrowing underneath his helmet.
"Did that thing just say that?" He whispered.
"It makes sense," Sarah said. Everyone looked at her.
"Think about it," she admonished, stepping forward. "How would you describe the Ing when you faced them, Samus?" She, of course, knew from when she herself had been there, but there were all sorts of problems with her saying that. Though she didn't give the hunter time to answer. "They were vicious, beastial, never docile like this when a light creature was around. But think about it, they were completely alien, without even the slightest humanoid shape like the Space Pirates, the Chozo, or the Luminoth. What if they were simply fighting with the ferocity that all races have when they're at war?"
Indeed, that was something that all of them had known was possible, but there was something wrong…
"That can't be it," Samus said in confusion. "The Ing attacked the Luminoth the moment they saw each other. Why would they just attack like that if they were a sentient species?"
There was the kicker. Sarah thought for a moment. Just why did the Ing attack?
"Misunderstanding," she said, raising her head. "That may be it. Hundreds of wars have been started from it. We've all seen what the Ing look like. The Luminoth must have panicked and attacked them."
Everyone thought on this. While the moth-aliens might disagree, it certainly sounded plausible. The Luminoth believed firmly that every decision they made was the right one, almost never admitting to mistakes unless blatantly obvious.
"How does the brain probe work?" Samus asked after a moment, everyone looked at her in confusion. What did that have to do with this?
"Well," the scientist started, rubbing his chin thoughtfully, just at the edge of where the blue skin suit he wore began on his face. "It isn't actually a probe, not the way you would think, anyway. It's actually just a very sensitive antenna that attaches to the head area." He pulled up the video of the Ing "speaking," freezing it. A thick wire could be seen standing up just above its eye.
"The antenna picks up the more complex brain waves," the man continued. "and translates them as sound." He rubbed the back of his head. "Of course, when connected to sentient creatures, the most complex waves translate as a sort of "mind speech." It doesn't reveal everything that you think, but it tells some."
Samus leaned closer to the screen with a metallic crinkle of armor, her face was unseen behind the glare of light reflecting on her visor.
"Can the probe work both ways?"
Everyone but Sarah did a double take.
"What do you mean?" Rolms, Jonathan, and the scientist all asked in unison. Sarah could only smile underneath her bright blue visor. A simple idea following a simple explanation.
Why had no one else thought of it?
From within the glass prison, Xera waited.
The fear she had first felt when she had been abducted was still there, but muted. She'd been here for a while, but with those harsh lights overhead that never dimmed, she didn't know how long. However much time had passed, no harm had come to her. But she had to know, some way or another, just what did they want with her? They had done various prodding and poking with those strange devices, but why?
The same question repeated over and over inside her head. But she was jolted from it when the heavy, metal door at one end of the room slid open. A golden figure entered the sterile, white room. Xera almost dove backward over her head tentacles.
The Hunter walked into the room.
The Hunter's alien face was obscured underneath impenetrable, yellow armor. Her weaponized arm, which Xera knew all too well, hummed at its side, pulsing with a massive, unseen power.
But something gave the young Ing pause. The rest of these creatures had not harmed her, and they certainly looked more like the Hunter then the light Demons…but that didn't make sense. The Hunter was a savage! It killed anything that it came across, innocent or warrior! But then…why wasn't it trying to kill her right now.
In fact, it was doing just the opposite.
Its hand was held up with the open center facing Xera, facing the place from which the energy whip came away. The weapon remained at its side. Xera thought she could just barely make out the form of its eyes behind that helmet. Not enough to see color, but enough to see that they were there.
I won't hurt you, a female voice said. Xera started and looked around, but the source was nowhere to be found. Then she looked up to the device on her head. Was that it?
I'm not the antenna, the voice said, amused. Slowly, the Ing's blood red eye turned to the Hunter.
You? she thought.
Yes, the voice said, accompanied by the Hunter nodding its…her head.
Xera just stared…but no, there would be a better time to ask how. No was the time to ask-
I wanted to talk, the Hunter said simply. She knelt, taking herself down to Xera's level. What is your name?
Xera blinked, flustered for a moment. Uh…well…uh…
The Hunter blinked. You have a name, don't you?
Y-yes, b-b-but…the Hunter sighed, the strange sound coming through the mind and as a sound.
I know what you're thinking. Xera's eyes widened. No no, not because of the probe, the Hunter corrected quickly, waving her un-weaponized hand. I mean…well…I know what you think I am. But I can assure you, I'm not a murderer.
Then what are you? Xera asked challengingly, the grief she felt at the destruction of her world resurfacing unbidden. It was the very feeling that was too overwhelming for her to completely feel, it had remained buried for so long. She was the very last of her kind.
The war…was a misunderstanding, she said sadly. It never should have gone to what it was.
The Ing took an angry step forward. A misunderstanding? My world is gone, GONE! How is that just a misunderstanding? Everyone I know is dead! My father…she trailed off, the mind speech began being more like muttering to oneself. He…he must not have made it to the Sky Temple in time to stop you.
The Hunter froze.
Your…father? she said slowly.
The Ing just looked at her. Something was off here.
That word, once something that had her in high esteem above everyone else meant nothing now. Yes, she said simply.
The golden figure stood and slowly, rigidly walked back toward the door. But Xera paid no attention, even as the sliding entrance closed again with a hiss…
"Well?" Commander Rolms asked as Samus left the room. The Ing was lying down inside, its eye half lidded as though it was sleeping.
The hunter merely took off her helmet, a nonplussed look on her face.
"Uh, Samus?" Jon asked nervously.
She looked up at him solemnly.
"That girl in there…" she bit her lip. "I just realized that I…I killed her father."
A/N: Sorry about the extra long wait everybody, school and brain-farts joined forces for these last few weeks. 'Haven't been able to write much.
Thickens, the plot does. ;) And don't worry, Stan the man and the Holes crew'll be back in a few chapters. I have a more rigid plan for the rest of the story laid out now, so it should go a lot smoother than my pathetic excuses for chapters earlier.