She was cold, so cold, and she was scattered. Being adrift in open space was like being suspended in ice-water. She could barely see the planet below her, her vision was so hazy.
There were specks of warmth in the cold around her. They were moving. She could feel them drifting away from her. They weren't drifting. No. They were being pulled, and so was she.
* * *
The lieutenant strutted back and forth behind the technicians seated at their control panels. One of the techies glanced back at his superior; the lieutenant was uncommonly fat for a Space Pirate, especially one of high rank. He must have led a sheltered life and got by on theory and zeal rather than experience. The technician turned back to his screen; the endless string of diagnostic text flowed past like a pixilated river. The system he was monitoring checked and rechecked itself every few seconds. His job was to be sure all the checks looked the same.
"Careful with that tractor-beam, yeah? Not everything out there is ore!" The lieutenant's harsh voice grated on the nerves of the technicians. He had an odd accent; 'provincial,' the worker at the beam director had called it. His voice also had a whining tone, typical mainly to juveniles of the Pirate species.
The techie at the beam director swept the field of debris in orbit around planet Aether, searching for objects made of Phazon ore. Their ship, the Colossus, had been sent to clean out the remaining Phazon from the ruined base on Aether. A tedious mission: dodging Galactic Federation forces (who were still around the area despite having recovered little of the Pirates' Phazon), dealing with the locals (who seemed to have suddenly appeared out of nowhere), and fighting with malfunctioning security systems (their own technology, sure, but on the fritz all the same).
The tractor-beam slowly drew in a cloud of small ore pieces. It looked like dust from the main view-screen. The technician at the diagnostic display rubbed his eyes, missing a brief fluctuation in the moving text. The lieutenant grunted audibly. The techie glanced slyly over his shoulder, apparently such tiny breaks weren't allowed under this leader's rule. So he made an even bigger show of taking respite; leaning back in his chair, yawning, stretching and finally rubbing his whole face for a full 30 seconds.
The lieutenant clicked the barrel of his pistol against the back of the diagnostic technician's chair. The techie slouched forward in his seat, and resumed staring lazily at his screen.
The minutes passed much the same way: the lieutenant prowling, the technicians working and the Phazon flowing in. That is, until the lieutenant's communicator crackled to life and a thin, nasal voice filled the room, "Lieutenant, our scanners have detected some movement in cargo hold 2. Could you sent one of your men to investigate? Everyone in our sector is currently occupied."
Just as the message finished, the door opened and a lanky mechanic entered to take his shift at the controls. The lieutenant snapped his claws, whipped around and pointed to the newly arrived mechanic, "You there! Get to the cargo hold and take a look around." he turned back to surveying his workers as he mumbled to himself, "Probably just some loose crates or something
The mechanic threw a quick salute and jogged out of the room. He glanced back at the door as it shut behind him. 'That must have been the new lieutenant. Weird accent he's got.'
* * *
She was finally out of the cold. All around her she felt familiar warmth. It was soothing, but she could hardly move. Regaining corporeal form had taken more energy than she had expected.
She reached a shaking hand towards a pale blue glow she had spotted in the darkness around her. As soon as her fingers brushed the source of the glow she felt new warmth spread through her, giving her strength.
It was a wonderful feeling, the growing strength, the life-giving heat. She shut her eyes tightly, and opened them again. Her vision was clearing and the darkness was no longer an obstacle.
* * *
He had made his way down to the second cargo hold at a rapid pace. Outside the airlock to the hold was a rack of life-support equipment. The cargo holds had no atmosphere; anyone entering them had to carry an air-tank.
The mechanic fitted the breathing-mask over his snout and stepped into the airlock. The lock closed, depressurized, then opened into the hold. In the shadows of the cargo hold, crates of Phazon loomed all around him in stacks that nearly reached the ceiling. Large chunks of ore, some coated in a dark crust, others webbed with blue veins, sat both piled and loose between the rows of crates.
He fiddled with the tube connecting his mask to his air-tank, and scratched at the collar of his light armour. Thankfully Phazon radiation shielding was becoming standard for all Pirate units, regardless of rank. It wouldn't stop a blast of Phazon energy, but it made handling the substance and being around it much safer.
He rounded a large stack of crates. Built up like this they made halls and rooms within the hold itself. The tight spaces, coupled with the darkness were starting to make him nervous. 'It's just a routine check,' he reassured himself, 'Probably just something sliding around in here. I just have to make sure it's not anything-' he paused and looked around himself wary of any motion, 'alive
Walking backwards, watching the way he had come, the mechanic made his way deeper into the hold. Suddenly he felt something cold strike his back. He yelped and spun around, fists raised despite his lack of combat training. A flat wall of deep grey crates stood before him, chill and unmoving. He sighed and forced a small laugh, 'Stupid crates.'
He stepped away from the crates and was about to continue along the rows when he felt something else cold strike his back. He meant to turn casually and check for more crates but found himself yanked around and thrust backwards against the stacked wall.
A glowing blue Y-shape filled his vision; a shape he recognized from his work on Aether. He was staring straight into the visor of the Dark Hunter.
He panicked. He wheezed once, twice, gasped, shut his mouth tightly, then opened it again to scream. The Dark Hunter immediately ripped the breathing-mask from his face. The mechanic choked, and clamped his mouth shut once again. He swallowed hard, his eyes wide with fear as he watched the bright Y in the darkness inches from his face.
Then what he hoped was common sense set in. He reached a claw for the mask in the Dark Hunter's hand. Almost casually she turned her shoulders, holding the mask just out of his reach. He let his arm drop and tried to sidle away from her along the wall of crates, but she held him fast, pressing her arm cannon into his stomach.
He was starting to feel lightheaded. Inwardly he cursed his limited lung capacity; he was only a mechanic, he didn't have the endurance of a fully trained Pirate Trooper. The Dark Hunter tilted her head to one side as the Pirate started making a low whimpering noise in his throat.
He thought his vision was starting to darken, but it was difficult to tell. He shut his eyes tight. 'I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die. I don't wanna die!' He opened his eyes to take a quick look at the Dark Hunter, her expressionless visor glaring back at him in the gloom. 'What's she gonna do? Will she kill me? Or just let me suffocate?' he shut his eyes again. 'Oh please, please make it quick
I can't take it. I can't-'
Something pressed around his snout. He opened his eyes to find, either for some act of mercy or twisted personal reason, the Dark Hunter holding the breathing-mask over his face. The mechanic coughed and gasped, desperately sucking in as much air as he could. He tried to pull her hand from the mask, but she had a firmer grip than his own.
They watched one another for what felt like an eternity before, very slowly and deliberately, the Dark Hunter let go of the mechanic's mask. His hand strayed to the communicator on his belt, his eyes still locked on the Hunter's visor. 'If I can reach it before she notices, I-' The Hunter's head moved, a precise degree to one side towards his moving hand. 'She noticed!'
His thumb brushed the switch on the communicator before the dark Hunter pinned his hand against the wall behind him. She pressed closer to him and shook her head slowly. 'Bad idea! Oh, don't kill me please!' He flinched away from the Dark Hunter, pressing against the crates, thinking perhaps if he was more religious he wouldn't have such fear of death.
The communicator buzzed to life, the rough voice of a trooper coming across the speaker, "Mechanic: hold your position, we're sending a squad in after you. Over."
The mechanic gagged as the Hunter jammed her weapon roughly into his gut. She gripped his wrist tightly; he swore he could feel claws digging into his skin. He had forgotten a single click over the com was a call for help. 'You're really going to kill me now
The harsh barks of Pirate Troopers filtered through the hold as they fanned out to search for the trapped mechanic. Dark Samus glanced over her shoulder at an advancing trooper. The last thing the mechanic perceived was a sharp pain in his stomach and flashes of pale blue light.