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For Samus Aran, the first few months af­ter the BSL dis­as­ter had been sur­pris­ing­ly free­ing. She had nev­er par­tic­u­lar­ly cared for the Fed­er­a­tion, even if she knew they were re­spon­si­ble for her en­tire liveli­hood and had sup­port­ed her claim to fame. They were al­ways a nec­es­sary source of frus­tra­tion, a typ­i­cal bu­reau­cra­cy with in­fu­ri­at­ing stub­born­ness, al­beit borne of good in­ten­tions and (most­ly) good peo­ple. She had ac­cept­ed her place for years, nev­er se­ri­ous­ly imag­in­ing what it would be like if she said what she tru­ly thought of them, though the idea seemed ap­peal­ing on more than one oc­ca­sion. De­spite her frus­tra­tion, she’d nev­er con­sid­ered them out­right cor­rupt, mere­ly gross­ly in­com­pe­tent, but re­cent events seemed to have shak­en that point of view.

She was nev­er the sort to lose her tem­per, al­ways cool and col­lect­ed on the sur­face even when she felt in­tense­ly emo­tion­al, and her be­hav­ior dur­ing the crim­i­nal hear­ing was no dif­fer­ent. Now quite alone, drift­ing through a sys­tem far out­side Fed­er­a­tion space, she won­dered if that hadn’t come back to hurt her. When she re­al­ized the ex­tent of their pol­i­tick­ing, it had al­ready been too late; by the time she caught on to the way they were spin­ning the in­ci­dent to mask their re­peat­ed vi­o­la­tions of galac­tic law, pub­lic opin­ion had al­ready be­gun shift­ing against her. Samus Aran was no longer the Fed­er­a­tion’s poster child; she was a cold-blood­ed killer, a bel­li­cose en­e­my of sci­en­tif­ic progress, and a se­r­i­al liar who was not to be trust­ed. Truth­ful­ly, she knew that it was high­ly un­like­ly much of the pop­u­lace would buy that sto­ry so eas­i­ly, but it ul­ti­mate­ly didn’t mat­ter, since the jobs of the peo­ple in con­trol of her fate cru­cial­ly de­pend­ed on be­liev­ing it. Once their de­cep­tion be­came clear, it didn’t take long for the most close­ly guard­ed un­con­vict­ed pris­on­er in the Fed­er­a­tion to es­cape her cell and dis­ap­pear into the night, try­ing not to take plea­sure in the PR dis­as­ter they would in­evitably find them­selves faced with the next morn­ing.

For the first time in Samus’s life, she found she had no­body to an­swer to but her­self. Things she had fan­ta­sized about do­ing for so long were sud­den­ly re­al­i­ty, and there was an en­tire galaxy to ex­plore. She was the most adept boun­ty hunter the hu­man race had ever pro­duced (not least be­cause she was not com­plete­ly hu­man), and she had both a ship out­fit­ted for space trav­el and the sin­gle most ad­vanced piece of per­son­al com­bat tech­nol­o­gy any of her kind had ever seen. She could go any­where and do any­thing—so long as she stayed out of Fed­er­a­tion space. The idea was thrilling, and for near­ly twelve weeks, she was the most ful­filled and at peace she’d felt in years.

Slow­ly, how­ev­er, she could feel the ex­hil­a­ra­tion fade. There were an in­fi­nite num­ber of plan­ets to ex­plore, but there were no stakes. She had no goal, no­body to share her dis­cov­er­ies with, and no ob­sta­cles to over­come. She hat­ed to ad­mit it to her­self, but even in the mid­dle of this beau­ti­ful­ly lush for­est, loung­ing in the com­fort­able cock­pit of the ship she’d grown to call home, she was rest­less. She sighed, glanced at the dash­board in front of her, and had to force her­self to stand up and stretch. The idea of a place with twen­ty-two Earth-hours of sun­light per day seemed like a nice idea at the time, but it had not tak­en long for her dis­ci­plined reg­i­men to slip, and she seemed to have fall­en into free run­ning sleep. With­out the ship com­put­er to keep track, she wasn’t sure she would have been able to re­mem­ber how many days she’d been on the name­less moon.

She knew she couldn’t keep this lifestyle up for much longer, but what could she do in­stead? Was Samus Aran, one of the bright­est and bold­est crea­tures the hu­man race had ever known, de­feat­ed by be­ing forced to sim­ply live with her­self? She sighed re­signed­ly but forced her­self to get up. Tak­ing her usu­al walk would help to clear her mind, and she slipped into her suit with a ca­su­al in­dif­fer­ence quite a far cry from the mil­i­tary ef­fi­cien­cy she’d once held her­self to, stepped into the air­lock, and ran through the usu­al check­list out of habit. She stepped out of the small gun­ship and strolled through the for­est floor, al­ready grow­ing ac­cus­tomed to the pleas­ant ecosys­tem of her tem­po­rary habi­tat. An­i­mals seemed to be lim­it­ed to small in­sects and mi­cro­scop­ic or­gan­isms, but the jun­gle was dense with plant life, an over­grown mass of roots, vines, and strange, daz­zling­ly large net­works of moss-cov­ered branch­es. Soft, yel­low-tint­ed light beams pen­e­trat­ed the canopy in patch­es, bathing the leaves in a warm glow. She longed that she could feel its heat on her skin, but while the at­mos­phere was near­ly breath­able, it was a lit­tle too thin, and not quite as oxy­gen-rich as the huntress’s bi­ol­o­gy was ac­cus­tomed to, so she was forced to wear her suit at all times.

Not that she mind­ed as much as she once might have. Sure, she was not thrilled to be forced into its con­fine­ment, but this was no bulky space suit, nor was it even the same as it was when it was giv­en to her. It had been de­signed for her and her alone, and from the be­gin­ning, it had al­ways felt like an ex­ten­sion of her­self, a bio­me­chan­i­cal com­ple­ment to her body that re­spond­ed at the slight­est thought. The Chozo tech­nol­o­gy had served her well, as well as any hu­man could hope for, but even that did not com­pare to the way it felt now. Ever since her in­fu­sion with Metroid DNA and her sub­se­quent ex­po­sure to what should have been sev­er­al or­ders of mag­ni­tude more than lethal amounts of X par­a­site, her suit had be­come more or­gan­ic than ar­ti­fi­cial, and some­times she felt sure that she could feel it re­act­ing to her thoughts, even sub­con­scious­ly. On at least four oc­ca­sions, she felt strange, for­eign sen­sa­tions while wear­ing the suit, in­stincts that she didn’t rec­og­nize and didn’t un­der­stand, and she had un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly ig­nored and sup­pressed them every time. She didn’t want to ac­knowl­edge they were there. It didn’t help that she felt some guilt over her laps­es in self-dis­ci­pline af­ter go­ing out on her own, and the idea that she might be los­ing con­trol over her own body, some­thing she had al­ways tak­en pride in com­plete­ly un­der­stand­ing, was deeply dis­turb­ing.

She shud­dered. Samus tried not to think about such things, not when she real­ly ought to be think­ing about what to do next. She did not want to ad­mit to her­self that her ex­per­i­ment in free­dom had been a fail­ure, but what could she do? She kicked at a de­cay­ing bit of plant life in frus­tra­tion, and she near­ly lost her bal­ance when she found it far more for­giv­ing than she’d an­tic­i­pat­ed, eas­i­ly falling apart un­der her weight. Cu­ri­ous, she bent down to get a clos­er look, and she found that it ap­peared to be the host to a colony of al­most in­vis­i­bly small crea­tures, which prompt­ly took to the air in a large swarm and scat­tered. For­tu­nate­ly, she was not lim­it­ed by naked eye­sight, and what she found most in­ter­est­ing was the num­ber of the in­sect-like or­gan­isms that seemed to be bur­row­ing into the for­est floor it­self. It didn’t take much in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the spongy soil to re­al­ize that there was some­thing strange about it, as if it had been ar­ti­fi­cial­ly packed. The dis­cov­ery was odd, as she had not seen any crea­tures that seemed at all ca­pa­ble of sig­nif­i­cant con­struc­tion, but the feel­ing of the un­known was hard­ly un­fa­mil­iar to the boun­ty hunter, and she could sense her body re­spond­ing ac­cord­ing­ly. This could be noth­ing, it was prob­a­bly noth­ing, but she want­ed it to be some­thing, and the fa­mil­iar cues were mak­ing her ex­cit­ed.

Tak­ing a step back and find­ing sol­id foot­ing, she raised her right arm, point­ed it at the earth, and fired. The ef­fect was im­me­di­ate, and she was forced to leap back­wards as she watched a sink­hole a me­ter wide open up in the mid­dle of the jun­gle floor. For a mo­ment, she was wor­ried that it wasn’t go­ing to stop, but af­ter a cou­ple of sec­onds, the dirt stopped flow­ing, the dust set­tled, and the land­scape ap­peared to sta­bi­lize. She stepped to­ward the edge of the hole she’d so in­del­i­cate­ly blown open, care­ful not to ap­ply too much weight too quick­ly, and she peered into the dark­ness with cau­tious in­ter­est. Un­for­tu­nate­ly, the var­i­ous scan­ning tools in her vi­sor did not prove es­pe­cial­ly use­ful for un­der­stand­ing what she was look­ing at, since she seemed to be star­ing into noth­ing more than a large tun­nel carved out of the top­soil, but she’d dealt with things far more mys­te­ri­ous in her time ex­plor­ing alien sys­tems, so she de­cid­ed to get a bet­ter look for her­self. She care­ful­ly low­ered her­self into the pit, wor­ried about the edge’s abil­i­ty to sup­port her weight, but it seemed to be re­mark­ably sta­ble, and she stepped to­ward one side of the rub­ble to see what was be­hind it.

Push­ing some of the col­lapsed mud and plant mat­ter aside, her sus­pi­cions ap­peared to be con­firmed: she found her­self star­ing into a long, wind­ing tun­nel that seemed to quick­ly grow dark. With­out even stop­ping to con­sid­er do­ing any­thing else, she flicked on the lights on ei­ther side of her hel­met and set off down the tun­nel’s length, in­ter­est­ed in at least map­ping some of it to get a feel for how large the un­der­ground sys­tem was. The tun­nels them­selves were large in di­am­e­ter, large enough for her to walk through, though not quite large enough to stand com­plete­ly up­right while suit­ed. Rocks and branch­es jut­ted out of the walls, but oth­er­wise, the pas­sage­ways were re­mark­ably smooth and uni­form, though some of the con­nect­ing branch­es were of a no­tably small­er size. As she walked, she could feel grav­i­ty’s pull en­cour­ag­ing her fur­ther into the dark­ness, and al­ti­tude read­ings in the cor­ner of her hel­met con­firmed that she was, in fact, de­scend­ing into the moon’s crust.

The deep­er she walked, the more chaot­ic the tun­nels be­came, curv­ing and criss­cross­ing and merg­ing and branch­ing. Some of the paths were too small for her to walk through, and she was forced to tuck her­self into her morph ball and roll through the tight spaces. Even with her ex­cep­tion­al sense of space, Samus was quite glad that her suit was keep­ing track of her path, or she would be a lit­tle un­easy about find­ing her way back. Not that she want­ed to turn back, though, not yet any­way. Some­thing had cre­at­ed the tun­nels, whether a crea­ture or some bizarre ge­o­log­ic ef­fect, and she want­ed to get to the bot­tom of things, if not nec­es­sar­i­ly lit­er­al­ly. This feel­ing—a sense of mys­tery and un­known—was some­thing she knew well, and it nev­er ceased to be ex­cit­ing. Adren­a­line pump­ing through her veins, she dart­ed through tun­nel af­ter tun­nel with in­creas­ing speed with no loss of el­e­gance, and it didn’t take long for all of her ath­let­ic in­stincts to come rush­ing back to her.

Still, all the ath­leti­cism in the world could not coun­ter­act in­er­tia, and the girl, tucked into a me­ter-wide ball, even­tu­al­ly took a turn a lit­tle too quick­ly, and she found her­self rush­ing to­wards what ap­peared to be a dead end. She tried to slow her pace, but she knew it was fruit­less, and she braced her­self for the im­pact. Sur­pris­ing­ly, the ini­tial jolt she had been ex­pect­ing nev­er came, since the mo­ment she ca­reened into the end of the tun­nel, she found the sandy earth gave way, and sud­den­ly, she was falling. She un­rav­eled her body in midair, man­ag­ing to right her­self with split-sec­ond re­flex­es, and the dark floor rushed up to meet her as she land­ed with a loud thud, shock ab­sorbers in her suit thank­ful­ly damp­en­ing the im­pact. She drew her­self to her full height, a lit­tle star­tled but not shak­en, and stared into the black­ness of her sur­round­ings. She ap­peared to have fall­en into an enor­mous cav­ern, so large that she could not see the oth­er side, and the wall just be­hind her seemed to stretch for hun­dreds of me­ters in ei­ther di­rec­tion.

Turn­ing around, she took a clos­er look at the wall she had fall­en from, and she felt a tin­gling sen­sa­tion trick­le down her spine at the sight. The tun­nels she had been ex­plor­ing for the past thir­ty min­utes had signs of de­lib­er­ate con­struc­tion, but they seemed nat­ur­al and undi­rect­ed, with­out pur­pose or in­tent. This room was quite the op­po­site: the wall was com­plete­ly flat, and it joined the earth­en floor at a sharp, al­most per­fect right an­gle. What’s more, a strip of what ap­peared to be let­tered, sand­stone tiles ran along the wall just over a me­ter off the ground, though whether they were true hi­ero­glyph­ics or mere­ly or­na­men­tal pic­tographs was im­pos­si­ble to de­ter­mine from a cur­so­ry glance. Whichev­er they were, the de­tails hard­ly mat­tered com­pared to the rev­e­la­tion that this world was ap­par­ent­ly home—or was once home—to some crea­tures with in­tel­li­gence.

Samus moved away from the wall into the cav­ernous room, tak­ing far more cau­tion and care to en­sure she was not tak­en by sur­prise. She won­dered what sort of crea­tures would take the time to carve out such a mas­sive space, and just as im­por­tant­ly, why? The idea of an equal­ly mas­sive alien species crossed her mind, though she re­mem­bered the size of the tun­nels she’d been wan­der­ing through and qui­et­ly hoped any­thing she en­coun­tered would be clos­er to that size. She turned the lights in her hel­met as bright as they would go and swooped the high beams around the mys­te­ri­ous hall, but she saw no sign of life, and judg­ing by the roots hang­ing from the dis­tant ceil­ing and gen­er­al grim­i­ness, the place ap­peared to have been long since aban­doned. Per­haps she would not en­counter any­thing sig­nif­i­cant, af­ter all, as signs point­ed to the place be­ing noth­ing more than an­cient ru­ins, per­haps left be­hind by some long since de­part­ed so­ci­ety. Whether they de­sert­ed the moon or sim­ply died out, she could not know, but she won­dered what they had been like in life.

Dis­tract­ed by her pon­der­ing, Samus’s heart seemed to leap into her chest at a sud­den groan­ing noise, am­pli­fied by the sen­si­tive in­stru­ments in her suit. Her eyes dart­ed over to the cor­ner of the room, scan­ning for the source, and she flipped through dif­fer­ent spec­trums of light in an at­tempt to bet­ter make out any­thing at all, and she could just bare­ly spot some­thing in the cor­ner, though whether or not it was alive was im­pos­si­ble to tell. Aban­don­ing light en­tire­ly, she tried en­abling her echolo­ca­tion sys­tem, and she found the cav­ern sud­den­ly ma­te­ri­al­ize be­fore her eyes. The pic­ture was un­sta­ble and blurred at the slight­est mo­tion, but she forced her­self to re­main steady, and sure enough, she could make out the out­line of what was al­most cer­tain­ly a life­form hud­dled in the far cor­ner of the cav­ern.

The crea­ture’s anato­my was dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand from a dis­tance, but its size was im­me­di­ate­ly clear, and it was in­tim­i­dat­ing­ly huge, though far from the largest thing she’d ever faced. It looked rough­ly hemi­spher­i­cal, with a sort of ar­mored plat­ing on its back, and she could not see any­thing ap­prox­i­mat­ing a head of any kind. She took a step clos­er, only to freeze in place at the sound of a sec­ond loud, grat­ing noise, like a foghorn mixed with met­al scrap­ing against stone, and her vi­sor swam with sta­t­ic. The strange crea­ture shift­ed, the ar­mored dome on its back ris­ing and turn­ing slow­ly. Samus was wor­ried that the fre­quen­cy emit­ted by her suit’s echolo­ca­tion might have ir­ri­tat­ed it, a risk she had con­sid­ered in the first place, but she was re­luc­tant to turn it off now that it had ev­i­dent­ly no­ticed her, any­way. She mixed the vis­i­ble light chan­nel with the fuzzy out­lines from the re­flect­ed sound, cre­at­ing a sta­bler im­age, and she pre­pared her­self for the most like­ly out­come of this sit­u­a­tion: she was ready for a fight.

Slow­ly, she took de­lib­er­ate steps for­ward, try­ing to look non­threat­en­ing in the case that the crea­ture was peace­ful. As she ap­proached, she tried to bet­ter un­der­stand what she was look­ing at, but its anato­my did not re­sem­ble any­thing she was fa­mil­iar with. Could this ugly, alien, lum­ber­ing beast have pos­si­bly carved out the room she was stand­ing in? It was pos­si­ble, though she con­sid­ered it un­like­ly. It seemed much too big and clum­sy to have made the fine carv­ings that lined the walls, and its size was im­prac­ti­cal for much agili­ty, even if it would ex­plain the large­ness of the room. No, it seemed more like­ly that this crea­ture was sim­ply a res­i­dent of ru­ins left be­hind from a civ­i­liza­tion long since passed, per­haps even a de­scen­dent of the species that wiped the room’s cre­ators out. It hard­ly mat­tered. She hadn’t had the chance to take some­thing of this size down in years, and her heart pound­ed against her suit in an­tic­i­pa­tion.

As she drew clos­er, its enor­mi­ty be­came in­creas­ing­ly clear, tow­er­ing over the com­par­a­tive­ly tiny boun­ty hunter as its whole body seemed to slow­ly ex­pand and con­tract. It looked near­ly eigh­teen me­ters tall at the high­est point on its un­even back, and the small, stub­by pro­tru­sions that stuck out in var­i­ous places from un­der­neath its grey-brown shell were al­most as tall as the boun­ty hunter, her­self. She stopped mov­ing to­wards it when she was a hun­dred and fifty me­ters away, and she waved a spot­light over its knot­ted, scaly flesh. It was not a pret­ty sight to be­hold, but she was not ex­pect­ing beau­ty, mere­ly look­ing for po­ten­tial weak spots and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties. Nerve-wrack­ing­ly, the crea­ture’s hide seemed to be uni­form­ly thick, at least from the an­gle she was look­ing from, in part be­cause it did not ap­pear to be at all pho­to­sen­si­tive. It seemed quite obliv­i­ous to the light from both her vi­sor and can­non, though she thought she could see tiny mo­tions with every step she took. She flicked off the ac­tive por­tion of her echolo­ca­tion sen­sors, and her sus­pi­cions were con­firmed when she found the ma­jor­i­ty of the room bathed in dark­ness, but the slum­ber­ing alien was still a reg­u­lar pulse in her vi­sor. Hope­ful­ly, she’d be able to main­tain her stealth with­out broad­cast­ing her po­si­tion dozens of times per sec­ond.

Un­set­tled by the odd­ly mo­tion­less life­form, paired with the un­com­fort­able sen­sa­tion it was care­ful­ly sens­ing her every move, she charged and fired a warn­ing shot from her arm canon, miss­ing the crea­ture’s shell by a safe mar­gin and sink­ing into the earth­en wall be­hind it. She paused, brac­ing her­self for the re­sponse, but there was no im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion. For a mo­ment, she won­dered if the crea­ture was dan­ger­ous at all—per­haps her sense of ag­gres­sion was en­tire­ly her own. Just as she was about to re­lax, how­ev­er, her en­tire vi­sor flood­ed with light as the si­lence was pierced by an ear-split­ting shriek, and her hel­met quick­ly ap­plied pres­sure to the sides of her head to pro­tect her eardrums. Her vi­sor ad­just­ed to scale back the blind­ing white­ness from the screech­ing noise, just in time for Samus to spot the lum­ber­ing beast charg­ing straight for her, and she leapt out of the way in an un­steady pan­ic.

Stale air wooshed around her body as the huge form skit­tered past her, and just bare­ly stopped be­fore slam­ming into one of the pil­lars sup­port­ing the room. Samus pulled her­self to her feet af­ter her quick tum­ble, then fired at shot at the least pro­tect­ed part of the strange an­i­mal she could see. This time, her shot hit her tar­get, ac­cu­rate as ever, but it just bounced off its rough scales with­out leav­ing so much as a mark. She was not ter­ri­bly sur­prised, nor was she wor­ried, as she had an­tic­i­pat­ed it would put up some­thing of a fight, and she wast­ed no time in load­ing a mis­sile into the cham­ber. The crea­ture ap­peared to be wind­ing up for an­oth­er charge, but this time, the huntress was ready, grace­ful­ly rolling out of the way and fir­ing at it as it stum­bled by. To her dis­may, nei­ther the ini­tial im­pact nor the fol­low­ing icy blast ap­peared to do much of any­thing, and for the first time, a tiny hint of fear crept into her emo­tion­al pe­riph­ery.

She quick­ly brushed those feel­ings away and switched tac­tics, dart­ing around the alien’s high­ly ar­mored body, try­ing to find some part she could pen­e­trate. As she had sus­pect­ed, shoot­ing the shell was even less ef­fec­tive, en­er­gy bursts bounc­ing off in dan­ger­ous­ly un­pre­dictable di­rec­tions and bal­lis­tic weapons not much more ef­fec­tive. For­tu­nate­ly, her op­po­nent did not seem to be par­tic­u­lar­ly in­tel­li­gent, and she did not have much trou­ble danc­ing around its clum­sy at­tempts to thrust it­self at her, but it was cer­tain­ly well pro­tect­ed. She tried grap­pling up one of the columns and fir­ing from above, but it sim­ply tore straight through it, forc­ing her to care­ful­ly swing out of the way to avoid be­ing crushed by falling rub­ble. She as­sault­ed it with mis­siles in an at­tempt to lodge one be­tween the crea­ture’s shell and its body, but it re­fused to re­main still, and its clum­si­ness threat­ened to bring the whole room crash­ing down if it con­tin­ued to de­stroy the struc­tur­al sup­ports. Grow­ing in­creas­ing­ly ag­i­tat­ed at its failed at­tempts to catch its prey, the alien took to spin­ning wild­ly around the cham­ber, mov­ing re­mark­ably quick­ly for some­thing of its size.

Samus was ex­as­per­at­ed. Noth­ing in her ar­se­nal could pen­e­trate its skin, and though she was un­in­jured, she did not have in­fi­nite sta­mi­na, nor did she have in­fi­nite re­sources, and she seemed to have suc­ceed­ed in do­ing noth­ing but anger her would-be prey. The idea of de­clar­ing de­feat seemed unimag­in­able, not when she had con­sid­ered this ecosys­tem im­pos­si­ble of any threat a mere hour ago, but she found her­self look­ing for safe es­cape routes while dodg­ing the charg­ing, ar­mored, ball of spikes. She jumped, rolled, and grap­pled across the room, search­ing for the door she knew must ex­ist, but the cav­ern would have been dif­fi­cult enough to search when calm, much less with a vi­o­lent preda­tor chas­ing her. When she fi­nal­ly spot­ted an arch­way, she felt more re­lief than fail­ure, but to her dis­may, it ap­peared to be en­tire­ly caved in. Her chest heaved as she lurched out of the way, grow­ing tired and run­ning out of op­tions, her ag­gres­sor show­ing no signs of let­ting up. It charged at her, she start­ed to move, but this time, she knew she was too late. She wouldn’t make it. With­in sec­onds, she would be slammed against the wall. Was this how her bril­liant life was go­ing to end? So an­ti­cli­mac­ti­cal­ly, far enough away that no­body would ever find her body? En­tombed deep un­der­ground in the ru­ins of some name­less civ­i­liza­tion?

No. She would not. Her body act­ed on in­stinct, and in a split sec­ond, she had rolled into her fa­mil­iar morph ball form. She was not rolling away from the crea­ture this time, how­ev­er, quite the con­trary—she rolled to­wards it. She felt its crush­ing weight bowl over her, felt her­self swept un­der­neath, threat­ened to be cracked in two like a par­tic­u­lar­ly ex­plo­sive egg, but she held her fo­cus. There was the loud sound of a det­o­na­tor, a wild, in­hu­man shriek, and the rum­bling crash of an ex­plo­sion that felt more like an earth­quake than an ig­ni­tion. Then, every­thing went black.

Mo­ments lat­er, Samus opened her eyes.

Or had it ac­tu­al­ly been mo­ments? There was a ring­ing in her ears, but it felt dis­tant. Her body ached. She found her­self in the mid­dle of a mas­sive cham­ber, a cham­ber she re­mem­bered like it was a dis­tant mem­o­ry. She rubbed her tem­ples, try­ing to ease the pain in her head, but it only made it worse, so she stopped. She took a deep breath, and she de­cid­ed to rest for a few more min­utes, hop­ing the fa­tigue would sub­side.

She in­haled. The un­der­ground air was stale, but the room was spa­cious enough for it to feel re­fresh­ing. She stirred, but sparks seemed to fly across her vi­sion at the move­ment, so she stopped. A few paces away, she spot­ted her hel­met, ly­ing on the dirt floor.

Her eyes flew open. How was her hel­met there? More gen­er­al­ly, how was it any­where ex­cept on her head? She raised her hand, and sparks flew across her vi­sion once more, but they sta­bi­lized, and she could see her palm was quite bare in the dark­ness. Pieces of her suit ap­peared to lie strewn across the ground. Of course, if her suit was in pieces, that meant that she was…

Naked. She was naked. She wasn’t even wear­ing the zero suit, which, un­like the scat­tered pieces of her pow­er suit, was nowhere to be seen. Her body felt strange, too, like she was both clothed and ex­posed, and her skin felt odd­ly smooth. She forced her­self to stand, lift­ing her­self from the pile of rub­ble she’d been un­com­fort­ably draped across, and she stum­bled over to her hel­met and shoved it onto her head. Im­me­di­ate­ly, the light flick­ered on, and her vi­tal signs flashed across the vi­sor, though quite lim­it­ed in in­for­ma­tion while not wear­ing the ma­jor­i­ty of the suit. A num­ber in the cor­ner of the dis­play caught her eye, and when she saw it, her heart skipped a beat. If that date was cor­rect, she had been un­con­scious for al­most four days.

Quick­ly, Samus queried the his­tor­i­cal in­for­ma­tion, try­ing to re­mem­ber ex­act­ly what hap­pened and fig­ure out why she’d wok­en up like this. Odd­ly, the record­ed video feed end­ed short­ly af­ter she had fall­en un­con­scious, and it was noth­ing oth­er than a most­ly sta­t­ic im­age for the few ad­di­tion­al hours it had record­ed. Why had it stopped? It shouldn’t have stopped, nor should it have been pos­si­ble to dis­en­gage, not if she was still locked in­side it. She fur­rowed her brow and ex­am­ined the sys­tem logs, only to find a bizarre ter­mi­na­tion sta­tus she did not rec­og­nize. Had the suit mal­func­tioned? It had nev­er done so be­fore, not dras­ti­cal­ly, and cer­tain­ly not in such a life-threat­en­ing way. She fol­lowed the source of the mes­sage into the his­tor­i­cal vi­tals records, and what she dis­cov­ered made her stom­ach churn.

Ac­cord­ing to every sin­gle met­ric the suit was able to track, she had died. Samus Aran was dead.

Ex­cept she so ob­vi­ous­ly wasn’t, since she was con­scious now, and she was here, read­ing that in­for­ma­tion. Some­thing was deeply wrong, but she did not un­der­stand what. What­ev­er it was, she need­ed to get out of here and re­turn to her ship; she was ev­i­dent­ly deal­ing with things about her­self she did not un­der­stand, and that was not a com­fort­able feel­ing. She looked around for the oth­er pieces of her suit, and though she found a cou­ple frag­ments where she re­mem­bered them, she found it odd­ly more dif­fi­cult to see with her hel­met on than it had been with it off. That didn’t make a lick of sense, since the room was pitch black and she shouldn’t have been able to see any­thing at all with­out it on, but that wouldn’t be the only thing not mak­ing sense at the mo­ment, so she de­cid­ed to give it a try.

Sure enough, the mo­ment she pulled the hel­met off her head, a whole field of vi­sion opened up to her, though it looked rather dif­fer­ent from how it looked through her vi­sor. It felt fuzzy and im­pre­cise, though not in the same way as the in­frared or echolo­ca­tion lay­ers did; it just felt more like feel­ing her way around in the dark on a vis­cer­al lev­el. She blinked, and some­thing felt wrong. She closed her eyes, but every­thing was still vis­i­ble. She pan­icked and put her hands in front of her face, try­ing to ob­scure her vi­sion, but she could still see her arm canon ly­ing on the ground in front of her. She felt like her head was spin­ning.

Un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly ner­vous, she col­lect­ed the pieces of her suit, care­ful when pick­ing some of it out of the rub­ble around her. She slipped into the boots one at a time, and the sen­sa­tion of them clos­ing around her bare feet with­out any­thing in be­tween felt odd, though not un­pleas­ant. The oth­er frag­ments of her suit snapped into place eas­i­ly, and she felt es­pe­cial­ly re­as­sured when her right hand wrapped around the con­trols of her arm can­non. She took an­oth­er deep breath and locked the hel­met back over her head, once again feel­ing the room dark­en around her. She closed her eyes, and this time, the world real­ly did go black. She opened them again, and she won­dered with an un­easy feel­ing what was hap­pen­ing to her.

The con­fused boun­ty hunter took a seat on one of the larg­er stone frag­ments, and she tried to make sense of all the ad­di­tion­al di­ag­nos­tic in­for­ma­tion avail­able to her with her ful­ly pow­ered suit. Al­most every­thing about her seemed to be in per­fect health, but oth­er num­bers seemed odd­ly skewed in ways that didn’t make sense. Ac­cord­ing to the amount of oxy­gen in her lungs, she should be suf­fo­cat­ing, but neur­al func­tion was com­plete­ly fine. Her heart rate was ac­tu­al­ly low­er than nor­mal, but her body tem­per­a­ture was un­changed. She stretched her arms, and her mus­cles felt sore, but there was no sharp pain, and she could only con­clude that she was a rea­son­ably healthy girl.

Samus sighed. None of this made any sense, but while she want­ed to un­der­stand, a nag­ging feel­ing in her gut told her she should real­ly try to leave. She con­sid­ered her­self lucky that she wasn’t at­tacked while she was un­con­scious, and in fact, the re­mains of the crea­ture she had been fight­ing were nowhere to be seen. At first, she won­dered if it had es­caped, but she spot­ted a large, bowl-like struc­ture a few me­ters away from the near wall, and it was un­mis­tak­ably the crea­ture’s up­turned shell. Per­haps it shed its rigid ar­mor in or­der to slip away? She didn’t know, but she de­cid­ed to thor­ough­ly scan it be­fore walk­ing back across the spa­cious cham­ber.

As rough as re­cent times had been, she was grate­ful for the flaw­less mem­o­ry of her suit’s com­put­er, and she fol­lowed its care­ful­ly plot­ted path back to the sec­tion of the room she had first fall­en into. She stared up at the ceil­ing, and sure enough, she thought she could just bare­ly make out the shape of a morph ball-sized hole in the wall, over a hun­dred me­ters up. For­tu­nate­ly, the wall was soft enough to dig into with her hands and feet, and she start­ed the process of scal­ing it. It prob­a­bly wasn’t the eas­i­est way out, but she didn’t want to take any more changes for a lit­tle while, and her four day long nap didn’t seem to leave her any worse for wear as she climbed, one hand at a time.

She slipped into the hole in the wall with ease, and she be­gan the slow jour­ney back to the sur­face. She’d trav­eled miles on the way down, even if it hadn’t felt like near­ly so far at the time, and the trek back was far less in­ter­est­ing or ex­cit­ing than her ini­tial ad­ven­ture. The tun­nels were both vi­su­al­ly dull and com­plete­ly un­re­mark­able in their de­sign, con­sis­tent and util­i­tar­i­an. They stretched on, branch­ing every so of­ten, in a steady up­ward climb. Much less fo­cused than she had been dur­ing her de­scent, her mind wan­dered, and she turned the strange dis­cov­er­ies over in her head. Out of all of them, her ap­par­ent death was eas­i­ly the most trou­bling, but—mirac­u­lous­ly—it also seemed to have af­fect­ed her the least. Oth­er things were far more mi­nor in the­o­ry, but they were the el­e­ments that gave her the most pause: how could she have breathed with­out her suit or seen with­out her hel­met? She re­mem­bered her nu­di­ty in­side her out­er shell and shiv­ered when she re­al­ized how eas­i­ly she’d for­got­ten. Some part of her want­ed to ad­mit that it felt rather nice, her skin pressed against the snug en­clo­sure of her pow­er suit, bring­ing her close­ness to it to an­oth­er lev­el en­tire­ly, but it also re­mind­ed her of all the re­cent con­fu­sion about her body, and she tried to push it out of her mind.

Lost in thought, it was ac­tu­al­ly a sur­prise when she ar­rived at the caved-in en­trance to the tun­nels, but she wast­ed no time in pulling her­self out and smil­ing gra­cious­ly at the sight of the sun. She turned off her hel­met lights and trudged back to­wards her ship, feel­ing phys­i­cal­ly fine but emo­tion­al­ly over­whelmed. She was glad to see it in its fa­mil­iar place in the dis­tance, and she hap­pi­ly stepped in­side the air­lock and im­me­di­ate­ly al­lowed her suit to fall from her body, clat­ter­ing in pieces on the floor. She col­lapsed into the pi­lot’s chair, brushed her hair out of her face, and rubbed her eyes, some part of her just want­i­ng to fall asleep and wait to wor­ry about every­thing once she woke up. Un­for­tu­nate­ly, she knew the nag­ging feel­ing in her stom­ach would not leave her alone long enough to let her rest, so she opened her eyes and start­ed to ex­am­ine her naked body.

The mo­ment she looked down at her­self, she couldn’t help but smile. Grow­ing up away from oth­ers of her kind for so long, she had a unique re­la­tion­ship with her body, habits and feel­ings that were un­like near­ly any oth­er’s. She re­mem­bered a cer­tain sort of dis­plea­sure about her body when it had first be­gun to de­vel­op, find­ing her grow­ing bo­som did lit­tle but get in the way and her wide hips mere­ly more weight to car­ry. She had been sur­prised and tak­en aback when she dis­cov­ered those traits were what turned so many heads when she re­turned to her peo­ple, but in time, she learned to em­brace and even en­joy her hu­man sen­su­al­i­ty, even if she nev­er ful­ly un­der­stood the hu­man con­cept of the nu­di­ty taboo.

Years lat­er, she had got­ten used to cloth­ing her­self, most­ly un­der the ex­cuse of pro­vid­ing phys­i­cal pro­tec­tion, but she could not deny that a cer­tain amount of that shame had rubbed off on her. The idea of loung­ing around her ship in the nude had hard­ly oc­curred to her, but some­thing about see­ing her shin­ing, flaw­less skin against the spar­tan in­side of the ship made her smile. It stirred old mem­o­ries from when she re­gard­ed nu­di­ty whol­ly nat­ur­al, but this was more ex­cit­ing than that, since it seemed not only nor­mal but beau­ti­ful, im­proved by her en­light­ened sex­u­al un­der­stand­ing. She moved her hands to cup her breasts, won­der­ing how long it had been since she’d freely in­dulged her­self like this, but she was sur­prised to find the touch felt dif­fer­ent from how she re­mem­bered.

In­stead of the fa­mil­iar feel­ing of pli­able flesh she was so used to, her hands met an odd smooth­ness as they brushed her skin, al­most like the feel­ing of vinyl. Con­fused, she tilt­ed her head for­ward and stared at her­self more close­ly, and when she re­al­ized what she was look­ing at, she gasped and gripped the sides of her chair. Some­how, in her re­lief to be alive, she hadn’t no­ticed the odd tex­ture that had spread across her skin. Its sur­face was still col­ored with the same pig­ment as ever, but it now ap­peared to be com­posed of hun­dreds of thou­sands of tiny scales, ir­reg­u­lar in shape and size but lo­cal­ly fair­ly con­sis­tent. Samus ran her fin­gers over her left arm and swal­lowed, a lit­tle freaked out by the un­fa­mil­iar tex­ture. This was just one more source of con­fu­sion af­ter a se­ries of con­fus­ing events, but there was some­thing about the sight of her that she was sure re­mind­ed her of some­thing, but what?

She need­ed to run some tests. She stood up and walked straight to the small lab in the back of the ship, flipped a cou­ple switch­es to turn every­thing on, and stood in front of the equip­ment with her eyes closed. As the scan­ning beams moved over her body, she re­al­ized that, just like be­fore, she could some­how still see the in­te­ri­or of her ship, even with her eyes squeezed shut. Un­like her strange vi­sions from when she was be­neath the sur­face, how­ev­er, this vi­sion was much low­er fi­deli­ty than it was with her eyes open—sur­faces were col­or­less and tex­ture­less, noth­ing looked sharp, and edges seemed to swim and blur even as she fo­cused on them. A small tone beeped to in­di­cate the scan­ning was com­plete, she opened her eyes, and the world of col­or and reg­u­la­tion holo­grams re­turned to her. She tried her best to stay fo­cused on her task at hand, as she hoped it would help to ex­plain her con­fu­sion, so she wait­ed for the com­put­er to fin­ish pro­cess­ing the data she’d just fed to it and put the sight­less vi­sion out of her mind.

Bit by bit, re­sults be­gan to pop­u­late the small screens. Samus fo­cused on the list of anom­alies—every­thing from brain ac­tiv­i­ty and mus­cle ten­sion to hor­mone lev­els and blood sug­ar seemed slight­ly out­side her nor­mal range—but even­tu­al­ly she spot­ted what she was look­ing for. She took a deep breath, and she start­ed to ex­am­ine the sec­tion of the re­port con­cern­ing ge­net­ic mu­ta­tion.

The read­ings were far from for­eign to the boun­ty hunter, since she was prob­a­bly the only per­son in hu­man his­to­ry to have her body so dras­ti­cal­ly changed and con­tin­ue with such ro­bust health; in fact, her changes had done lit­tle but im­prove her abil­i­ties. Parts of her had al­ways been sub­tly dif­fer­ent, en­hanced by the care­ful in­ser­tion of Chozo ge­net­ic ma­te­r­i­al, but though they were a tech­no­log­i­cal­ly ad­vanced peo­ple, they were also cau­tious. She was blessed with im­proved re­flex­es, strength, eye­sight, and agili­ty, but she had al­ways been fun­da­men­tal­ly hu­man. Fed­er­a­tion sci­en­tists did not pos­sess near­ly as much care and pre­ci­sion, and the in­fu­sion of Metroid DNA was com­par­a­tive­ly far less con­trolled, but it did the job well enough to keep her alive. Of course, the com­put­er knew her genome, even af­ter her trip through the BSL, but it was re­port­ing in­con­sis­ten­cies all the same. This was no con­trolled set of changes, ei­ther; thou­sands of se­quences were mod­i­fied, some dras­ti­cal­ly rewrit­ten, oth­ers dif­fer­ent by no more than a sin­gle codon, but all en­tire­ly con­sis­tent and ap­par­ent­ly sta­ble.

The in­for­ma­tion Samus was star­ing at was as hard to be­lieve as it was trou­bling, but un­for­tu­nate­ly, an­a­lyz­ing what it meant was not near­ly as sim­ple as de­tect­ing the con­crete dif­fer­ences. Any at­tempt to match her genome against oth­er species’ would still over­whelm­ing­ly re­sult in hu­man and mam­malian re­sults, as the vast ma­jor­i­ty of her ge­net­ic make­up was quite hu­man. Still, there were now large frag­ments that seemed like they could be use­ful search queries, so she start­ed with the longest one, nar­row­ing the re­sults from the bil­lions of known species to just un­der a mil­lion. Feed­ing the next few se­quences helped con­sid­er­ably, lead­ing to a man­age­able two thou­sand po­ten­tial match­es, some­thing she could fea­si­bly go through by hand. Of course, find­ing a sin­gle can­di­date seemed un­like­ly, and even if it were pos­si­ble, it prob­a­bly wouldn’t help much, giv­en all of the species on the list were un­named and es­sen­tial­ly de­void of in­for­ma­tion. She was about to close the search re­sults when a thought oc­curred to her: she in­struct­ed the com­put­er to sort the list of match­es by the date they were added to the data­base, in de­scend­ing or­der.

Samus’s heart skipped. The time­stamp at the very top of the list was less than two hours ago. She was dis­con­nect­ed from the Fed­er­a­tion net­work, there was only one per­son who could have added any­thing to the ship’s data­base, and that per­son had only re­cent­ly scanned one thing.

She backed away from the con­sole slow­ly, lean­ing against the wall be­hind her and run­ning her hands through her hair. It all made sense now: her abil­i­ty to breathe with­out her hel­met, her strange, sight­less vi­sion, the shift in her vi­tal signs, and even the scales that now cov­ered her body. Some­how, she had ab­sorbed some of the ge­net­ic ma­te­r­i­al from the crea­ture she had killed, and she had in­cor­po­rat­ed it into her own ge­net­ic make­up. How was that even re­mote­ly pos­si­ble? The the­o­ry was emo­tion­al­ly com­pelling, that was true… but didn’t it leave cer­tain things unan­swered? Why was she un­con­scious for four days with­out her suit, and why did it think she was dead?

Un­less… was it pos­si­ble that she real­ly had died?

She could re­mem­ber what had hap­pened just be­fore she lost con­scious­ness: she was near­ly crushed by the weight of a crea­ture that weighed hun­dreds of tons, a last-ditch ef­fort to at­tack it in a place it might be weak. She re­mem­bered the sight of some­thing on its bot­tom that looked vague­ly like a gi­ant maw, fol­lowed by an ex­plo­sion, and there, her mem­o­ry abrupt­ly end­ed. She had al­most cer­tain­ly been suc­cess­ful in her goal of killing it, but if her suit’s vi­tals were cor­rect (and she had no rea­son to sus­pect they weren’t), it had also been suc­cess­ful in killing her. So why wasn’t she dead, giv­en that death tends to be pret­ty dif­fi­cult to re­cov­er from?

There was an ex­pla­na­tion, even if she was re­luc­tant to se­ri­ous­ly ac­knowl­edge it. It was sim­ply so far fetched that she felt fool­ish to even con­sid­er it, but she had to ad­mit, it was the only the­o­ry she had. The key was her re­cent his­to­ry, the un­for­tu­nate events upon the re­search sta­tion she was so keen to push out of her mem­o­ry. She had seen dozens, if not hun­dreds of the or­gan­isms on board that sta­tion res­ur­rect from death, and they mirac­u­lous­ly had the very same abil­i­ty to im­i­tate the species they killed. The key to every sin­gle unan­swered ques­tion was none oth­er than the X par­a­site it­self.

Samus slow­ly plod­ded back to the ship’s quar­ters, turn­ing over the rev­e­la­tion in her mind. She was not mere­ly part Chozo and Metroid, she was also part X, and ap­par­ent­ly now also con­tained ma­te­r­i­al from the un­named crea­ture whose species she may have sin­gle-hand­ed­ly oblit­er­at­ed. She stepped into the small room and took a seat on the bed, peer­ing at her­self in the mir­ror on the op­po­site wall. On the one hand, these rev­e­la­tions were a lit­tle un­com­fort­able, and it was dif­fi­cult to not be at least a lit­tle bit un­set­tled by the idea that she was bi­o­log­i­cal­ly chang­ing, po­ten­tial­ly with­out any abil­i­ty to con­trol it. On the oth­er hand, she had just cheat­ed death, and she had come out the oth­er side os­ten­si­bly com­plete­ly fit and prob­a­bly even im­proved. Her skin was, from a dis­tance, al­most ex­act­ly the same, but it felt tougher and stronger. She seemed to pos­sess some amount of echolo­ca­tion with­out even re­al­iz­ing it, an­oth­er trait in­her­it­ed from her prey, and it was cer­tain­ly bet­ter than her suit’s at­tempt to ren­der echolo­ca­tion on the vi­su­al spec­trum.

The cor­ner of her mouth ticked into some­thing of a smile, and she ran her hands over her thighs while she ad­mired her­self. It wasn’t the first time she’d thought of her tar­gets as “prey”, and she had al­ways found the idea ex­cit­ing, but some­thing about think­ing that way while also star­ing at her body in the mir­ror, stark naked, was es­pe­cial­ly so. She was gor­geous, aes­thet­i­cal­ly per­fect, a crea­ture of se­duc­tive grace, but she was also strong and le­git­i­mate­ly su­per­hu­man. She was fit and nim­ble, and she had done things that no­body else would ever dream of, but some­how, she’d nev­er let her vic­to­ries in­flate her self worth. She was con­fi­dent, cer­tain­ly, and she had al­ways pic­tured her­self as a vi­cious­ly com­pe­tent boun­ty hunter who hap­pened to be the only per­son in the world who could op­er­ate her pow­er suit, but that was pre­cise­ly the is­sue: she was just a woman in a suit. Her iden­ti­ty, es­pe­cial­ly to the gen­er­al pub­lic, was so tied up in her suit that some­times she won­dered if she was even a dis­tinct per­son to most peo­ple.

This, how­ev­er… this was dif­fer­ent. She felt in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful, and the idea of such self-suf­fi­cien­cy had a vis­cer­al in­ten­si­ty in ways that be­ing in a met­al box for hours on end real­ly couldn’t pro­duce. Now, like the X, she had the pow­er to im­i­tate near­ly any­thing, but the X were piti­ful­ly un­in­tel­li­gent, and she was ar­guably one of the smartest peo­ple the hu­man race had ever pro­duced. She doubt­ed she could com­plete­ly as­sume the form of oth­er crea­tures, not with­out sac­ri­fic­ing the parts of her she liked the most, but she had no need to do that, or even any de­sire. Un­like them, she could syn­the­size the traits she found most valu­able, as­sum­ing she could fig­ure out how to con­trol her new abil­i­ty, and she could mold her­self into the most pow­er­ful huntress in the galaxy with or with­out the need for her suit. Im­ages flit­ted through her head of her­self, with all of her beau­ty, freed from the con­fines of her me­chan­i­cal ex­oskele­ton, locked in bat­tle with her neme­sis with no need for her ar­ti­fi­cial aug­ments any longer. The idea of her el­e­gance com­bined with a ruth­less, al­most an­i­mal, car­nal pow­er… well, it was ac­tu­al­ly a lit­tle arous­ing.

She blushed, catch­ing her own fan­tasies wan­der, but she had no rea­son to feel shame, es­pe­cial­ly not here. There was no­body to judge her ac­tions, much less her thoughts, and she was quite free to do as she pleased. Af­ter all, why shouldn’t she? She laid back on the bed and smiled to her­self as her left hand wan­dered the curves of her body, set­tling on her soft breast. She al­lowed a qui­et gasp of ex­cite­ment to es­cape her lips, in­dulging in the wildest of her new, preda­to­ry thoughts. The un­fa­mil­iar tex­ture of her skin only added to her arousal, and she was pleased to find that the in­creased strength did lit­tle to re­duce her sen­si­tiv­i­ty. She watched her chest rise and fall as she rolled her nip­ple be­tween thumb and fore­fin­ger, and she rubbed the heel of her right palm be­tween her legs, moan­ing with al­most ex­ag­ger­at­ed sounds of plea­sure, en­joy­ing this new idea of a sen­su­al, phys­i­cal Samus. She gasped and pant­ed as she toyed with her­self, slid­ing around her small bed as she very near­ly thrust­ed into her hand. Her mind seemed to be swim­ming with sex­u­al fan­tasies she nev­er knew she had, im­ages of ex­hi­bi­tion­ism, dom­i­nance, and growth, imag­in­ing what her body could be like. Sure, she was beau­ti­ful now, but if she could tweak her bi­ol­o­gy so eas­i­ly, what was pre­vent­ing her from be­com­ing even more gor­geous as she grew in pow­er as well? She could be taller, per­fect­ly toned, and curvi­er than seemed phys­i­cal­ly pos­si­ble, but why stop there? She could have a rep­til­ian tongue, slit­ted eyes, fangs… the idea of mov­ing be­yond mere hu­man­i­ty and into the an­i­mal was sud­den­ly the sin­gle most erot­ic idea in the world to her, and it seemed with­in her grasp. She rolled her head to the side, draped her arm across both of her breasts, pressed her fin­gers deep in­side her drool­ing slit, and or­gasmed.

She whim­pered with a mix­ture of re­lief, de­sire, and sat­is­fac­tion that she had nev­er quite ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore, but it felt won­der­ful, and she was in no hur­ry to let it stop. She had nowhere to be, but that was just per­fect, be­cause for the first time in months, she had a goal. It was a lofty goal to be sure, but that hadn’t stopped her so far, and she was quite con­fi­dent that she would achieve it giv­en enough time. And now? She was a young woman with no re­spon­si­bil­i­ties on the run from the Fed­er­a­tion—she had all the time in the world. She al­lowed her hands to slide from her body, and she wal­lowed in the pool of post-cli­max plea­sure, but af­ter a few min­utes of qui­et in­dul­gence, she felt a burn­ing de­sire to act. She want­ed to try out her new body and see what it was ca­pa­ble of, and she need­ed to see if this abil­i­ty of hers was some­thing she could con­scious­ly con­trol.

She sat up and stepped out of bed, grinned at her re­flec­tion while she stretched, her thighs de­light­ful­ly sticky, and walked into the bath­room to take a show­er. She need­ed to clean up a bit af­ter such an in­tense four days, but she was al­ready mak­ing plans while she rinsed the dirt and grime from her body. She had things to do.

Samus Aran woke to the pleas­ant sen­sa­tion of sun on her skin, stretched her arms, and slow­ly opened her eyes. She grinned. It had been lit­tle more than a week since her rev­e­la­to­ry dis­cov­ery, but her ad­ven­ture in the moon’s depths felt like a dis­tant mem­o­ry. The idea of such pur­pose­less­ness seemed unimag­in­able to her now, perched atop her ship, com­plete­ly nude. Her skin had re­tained the pleas­ant, scaly tex­ture she had de­vel­oped af­ter her re­birth, but the for­est green pig­ment was new. It had tak­en some do­ing, but af­ter enough ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, the ex-boun­ty hunter had man­aged to ca­jole her body into ab­sorb­ing some of the ge­net­ic ma­te­r­i­al from the lo­cal plant life, and she had to ad­mit—it was a strange feel­ing to pho­to­syn­the­size.

Not that this mod­i­fi­ca­tion was ter­ri­bly prac­ti­cal. Her skin had nowhere near the nec­es­sary sur­face area for pho­to­syn­the­sis to cap­ture enough en­er­gy to sat­is­fy her hun­gry an­i­mal body, but at least it left her feel­ing re­freshed af­ter a nap. More im­por­tant­ly, it proved her hy­poth­e­sis cor­rect, though her con­trol over the process was lim­it­ed at best. It had tak­en plen­ty of care­ful man­u­al in­ter­ven­tion us­ing the equip­ment on her ship be­fore the plant mat­ter had any no­tice­able ef­fect on her bi­ol­o­gy, but that was enough for now. The im­por­tant take­away was that mold­ing her­self was, in fact, pos­si­ble, and she was con­fi­dent that bet­ter con­trol over the process would come in time. And real­ly, she was be­gin­ning to have the sus­pi­cion that she had a long time: her body was ac­tu­al­ly health­i­er than it had been a week ago, and there was ev­i­dence that or­gan­isms im­i­tat­ed by the X did not ex­hib­it any signs of cell ag­ing. Many of the crea­tures they em­u­lat­ed were corpses by the time the par­a­site found them, but their re­pro­duc­tions did not ex­hib­it the usu­al signs of age known cloning process­es suf­fered from. It seemed far-fetched, but she couldn’t deny it: it was pos­si­ble that Samus Aran was now im­mor­tal.

The very idea was enough to make any­one high on their own pow­er, but Samus dealt was equipped to deal with these sur­pris­es more calm­ly than most. She had, af­ter all, seen quite a lot al­ready, and she was no stranger to ac­ci­den­tal­ly stum­bling upon im­pos­si­bil­i­ties. She didn’t think much on the philo­soph­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions of her predica­ment, she just calm­ly climbed down the gen­tle cur­va­ture of her ship, en­joy­ing the feel­ing of the warm met­al un­der­neath her bare feet. She dropped onto the earthy floor with a gen­tle thud, stretched once more, and calm­ly stepped back into the craft she’d be­gun to call home.

The blonde woman made her way back into the mini-lab and reac­quaint­ed her­self with the tasks she’d been work­ing on that morn­ing. She con­sid­ered it most­ly for­tu­nate that, de­spite her dead­ly en­counter with the mon­ster of a crea­ture two weeks pri­or, the moon’s ecosys­tem seemed mirac­u­lous­ly rich in flo­ra yet de­void of fau­na. It cer­tain­ly made things sim­pler, and it gave her the op­por­tu­ni­ty to be­gin tak­ing her dai­ly walks in the nude, some­thing she found in­creas­ing­ly prefer­able to wear­ing her suit. Still, the ob­vi­ous down­side of such an en­vi­ron­ment was its lack of in­ter­est­ing ge­net­ic ma­te­r­i­al to study and store, and while her ship’s data­base stored the full genome of hun­dreds of mil­lions of species, the on­board fab­ri­ca­tor was not near­ly pre­cise enough to print ge­net­ic ma­te­r­i­al in a form that Samus’s cur­rent form would be able to me­tab­o­lize. She felt cer­tain that it was the­o­ret­i­cal­ly pos­si­ble to over­come that re­stric­tion, and hav­ing near­ly end­less ge­net­ic se­quences at her dis­pos­al would be enor­mous­ly help­ful, but she ad­mit­ted to her­self that she had lit­tle idea how her ac­quired abil­i­ties worked, much less knew how to in­flu­ence them. She was sure that a team of Fed­er­a­tion sci­en­tists with real lab­o­ra­to­ry equip­ment would be able to shed some light on her con­di­tion, but re­turn­ing to Fed­er­a­tion space was still out of the ques­tion. In the mean­time, she had to do things the old-fash­ioned way, and that meant in­tra­venous in­jec­tions or even just plain-old swal­low­ing her sam­ples. No, she wasn’t ex­act­ly fol­low­ing safe­ty guide­lines with her ex­per­i­ments, but a com­bi­na­tion of am­ple ea­ger­ness and a strong im­mune sys­tem meant cau­tion was large­ly thrown to the wind.

Her next mag­ic trick was to be less ex­cit­ing than the last, but she fig­ured it was im­por­tant be­fore she went about ex­per­i­ment­ing with sub­stances with un­known ef­fects. Ab­sorb­ing the plant mat­ter’s ge­net­ic ma­te­r­i­al had been tricky, but it was large­ly au­tonomous once she’d fig­ured out how to pre­pare it into a form her body could read­i­ly process. It was prov­ing to be much more dif­fi­cult to fig­ure out how to undo the process, and while she had grown rather fond of her coat of tiny, liv­ing scales, she was a lit­tle less fond of the idea of be­ing bright green for the re­main­der of her ex­is­tence.

Un­for­tu­nate­ly, it was dif­fi­cult to know where to be­gin try­ing to re­verse the process that had as­sim­i­lat­ed the se­quences that in­struct­ed her cells to pro­duce chloro­phyll. The X had been clear­ly ca­pa­ble of a seem­ing­ly bound­less ca­pac­i­ty for im­i­ta­tion, but while their repli­cas were high­ly ac­cu­rate, they were hard­ly well-de­signed.