[Sequel to Can’t Really Talk About That]
Even with there not being that much to do on the station, Valentina still felt like the three days of R&R just flew by. She got to spend more time with Samus, which was good. They had talked about various things.
Samus had revealed she was not fond of spicy foods, but was not the type to complain if it was served. Valentina had somewhat accidentally shared the tales of her jump-pack misadventures, and felt really embarrassed about it afterwards. Samus told her that she had a fondness for small, cute things. Which Valentina was not allowed to share with anyone. Valentina talked more about her family, and her training after joining the Federation. Unfortunately Samus wouldn’t open up about where she learned her skills.
Upon reflection Valentina realised that Samus had shared things, but not really substantial things. Knowing more about Samus’s personality and preferences was not a bad thing, but she hadn’t learned anything more about Samus’s past or circumstances.
Now it was the morning after, and they reported to the briefing room for their next mission.
Using the data and machinery she and Samus had brought back, the Federation had been able to track a nearly identical signal on a different planet. A recon drone had located an identical-looking device in the waters of that planet. About 95% of the planet’s surface was covered in water, which meant almost no land-based fauna. Considering the effect of the previous device, it made sense to place it in the water.
However the planet didn’t have any settlements, which made it a mystery why the device had been placed there. The intelligence branch speculated it was, or had been, a testing ground. And the device had just been left behind. If it really was the Space Pirates, they perhaps didn’t deem it worth the risk to recover it. Regardless this was a prime opportunity for the Federation to claim one of these devices.
Samus and Valentina were to join an engineering squadron equipped to neutralise and recover the device without harming it. As it was unknown what sorts of creatures the device might be affecting down there, they could use some extra guards. Samus was deemed the best choice, and Valentina was coming along since she was her partner now. That wasn’t how they worded it, but it’s how Valentina heard it.
Valentina wasn’t entirely happy feeling like an afterthought, but she was maybe less happy about an underwater deployment. That meant relying on the jump-pack to compensate for the loss of movement. Hopefully it’s easier underwater than in the air.
“You okay?” Samus asked as they walked towards the changing room. Had she noticed Valentina’s brooding?
“A little nervous, I guess,” Valentina replied. She was comfortable being that open with Samus now, but she didn’t want to share her ‘afterthought’ feelings. “It’ll be my first underwater deployment. I’ve had training, but this is my first time in the field. I hope I don’t slow you down.”
“You’ll do fine,” Samus said with a confidence that Valentina currently lacked. “And I’ll be looking out for you.” That line both excited and dismayed Valentina. The idea of Samus looking after her was certainly appealing, but it also made it feel like Samus believed she needed extra protection.
In the changing room Valentina tried to be subtle about watching Samus put her armour back on. It looked far more elegant than a Federation armour activating. Valentina turned on her own, and they headed for their ships.
They landed on an island not too far from where the device had been marked by the recon drone. The engineering squad was still 10 minutes out when Samus and Valentina exited their ships.
Valentina noticed that Samus’s armour had changed colour. The deeper orange parts were now a deep purple. Valentina asked Samus about it.
“It’s my gravity suit. It lets me move freely underwater,” she said. That sounded handy, but Valentina was confused as to where it had come from.
“Do you have multiple armour sets?” she ended up asking.
“No, that’s not it,” Samus replied. “I suppose there’s no harm in telling you. My armour comes with several installed components that I can enable and disable to adapt to different situations.” Valentina was floored. That was definitely several steps above what Federation armour could do. They needed to be outfitted before going out.
“Why wouldn’t you just leave everything enabled?” was all Valentina could think to ask.
“The power drain increases with each active component,” Samus said quite simply. “I’ve made it a habit to not have anything active that I don’t need to.” Valentina wondered if there were any other reasons as well.
The engineering squad’s transport arrived and landed. There were six of them, and they seemed to have three different kits equipped. One pair of each kit. For redundancy, perhaps? They greeted each other, and agreed on the formation. Samus would lead, Valentina would be in the rear, the engineers would walk in two rows between them.
Before they went in the water they did a jump-pack test. Everyone’s seemed to be working fine, and Valentina breathed a sigh of relief that she didn’t mess up the jump in any way.
Entering the water was strange. She couldn’t really see that far, but setting the visor to cycle until it found the best configuration helped some. She still couldn’t see as far as she’d like though, especially as they got deeper.
Things were peaceful at first. It was hard to not admire the vast array of life down here. A mass of colours and movement. But once they got within 2 kms of the mark, things took a very sudden turn. All of the smaller fauna were gone, as if they avoided the area around the device like a plague. The coral and other plant life looked sickly.
What movement they could see came from larger creatures, probably carnivores. They were stalking them from a distance. Whenever any of the creatures started coming closer, Samus, Valentina, or one of the engineers fired off some warning shots, which got the beasts to retreat.
It wasn’t until they reached the 1 km radius that the creatures genuinely started attacking. Warning shots didn’t do the job any longer, but they would still retreat after a couple of hits. None of them seemed willing to die yet. So Samus and everyone tried to avoid lethal shots as much as possible.
There wasn’t just one type of creature either. There seemed to be three different species attacking with unnatural coordination. There were two types that were about 2-3 metres long, and one larger type that seemed to go up past 5 metres. Maybe even 6 for the biggest ones.
As they got closer, the attacks grew fiercer. Past the 500 metre radius, the beasts became more and more like the rinvers had been, just charging straight at them with seemingly no coordination or apparent strategy. Only the gravest of wounds would get any of them to back off, but most would not stop until dead.
One of the engineers got rammed pretty badly, and nearly thrown away from the rest of them. It was Samus who saved him by firing out a strange beam that grabbed onto him and pulled him back. His shields held, but the armour was visibly dented.
They kept taking hits, though none quite as bad as that. Not only was it harder to see, but there were more angles they could get attacked from as well. Valentina got a rough hit to the leg that cut shallow into her thigh. The sealant foam filled in the breach quickly, and the shield kept the water out, but she’d have to try to avoid taking more hits there.
The engineers were able to disable the device very shortly after they reached it, which had the same effect as last time of every creature just seeming to shut off for a moment. When they recovered they quickly swam out of range, leaving just the dead ones behind.
They didn’t completely go away though. Valentina could still see and sense them stalking out there, sometimes just barely in sight, someone just barely out of sight. Hopefully they’d get away with just the bruises, cuts, and battering they had already sustained. The beasts certainly weren’t attacking while the engineers were dislodging the device for transport. Two of them were going to carry it back, while the rest guarded them.
When they started to move back, things were going smoothly at first. But once they reached a more open area again, the creatures started probing their defences. Making small charges and feints to see how close they could get. At least that’s what it felt like. The warning shots were flying a little closer to the beasts now, even scoring the occasional hit, as everyone was wary after the earlier injuries they’d sustained from the beasts.
At the edge where they started to see smaller fauna again, there was suddenly a large charge from the creatures. Far more coordinated than their earlier frenzied efforts, and it was mostly the larger ones. Three came at Valentina, but she only spotted two in time. The third rammed into her back, and sent her flying into a rockside. Dazed and in pain she managed to drive the thing off with a couple of shots straight into its mouth as it opened up to bite her.
They stumbled on, and she could tell at least one of the engineers had been hit hard too. She heard voices, but they were too muddled to make out. She’s not even sure how far she made it before she lost consciousness.
“Va…en…a,” was the next thing she became aware of. A strange muted sound. “Vale…na. Valentina. Valentina!” she could finally hear the whole thing, and opened her eyes. Things were fuzzy, but she could see Samus’s face above her. “Valentina!” Samus shouted.
“Urgh… I… I’m awake…” Valentina replied. She tried to look around, but her surroundings weren’t familiar. “Where…?” she managed to ask, and she could see Samus’s relief.
“Aboard my ship. You collapsed before we reached land,” Samus said.
“The engineers?” Valentina asked. Everything seemed to hurt, especially her head.
“They’ve lifted off with the device. A couple of rough injuries, but they’ll live,” Samus told her. That’s good. Valentina thought she’d live too.
“Now I need you to take your armour off,” Samus said. Valentina nearly sat up in surprise, but the headache forced her back down.
“Wha-what?” she stammered forth.
“I’ve done what I can for your injuries as you are, but I need you out of your armour for the rest.”
Oh, that makes sense, Valentina thought. She certainly wasn’t in shape to argue. De-activating the armour felt like an even more agonisingly slow process than usual. Once she was done, she could feel the floor of Samus’s ship press against her back. Samus helped her roll onto her least injured side.
“Eesh, look at the state of you,” Samus murmured as she began treating Valentina. “I should have been more vigilant.” That annoyed Valentina. Once she got the injection that made her head hurt less, she decided to speak up.
“I… I’m not helpless, you know,” she said in surly tone. Not quite as defiant or impressive as she had hoped. Samus was disinfecting the wound on Valentina’s thigh. “You don’t have to baby me… I’m a… a competent trooper…” Samus sat back on her heels and looked at Valentina. A mix of emotions flashed across her face before settling on apologetic.
“You’re right. I’m sorry,” Samus said. “I suppose I can get a little… protective.” She applied medical gel to seal Valentina’s wounds, and helped her sit up. Valentina noticed Samus had a couple of treated cuts and bruises herself. So not even Samus Aran was invincible. She wasn’t sure if that made her feel better or not. “How’s your head?” Samus asked.
“Mm… still aches…” Valentina said, and lifted a hand to feel. Her skull didn’t appreciate being touched, so she winced. “Ow…” Samus gave her a sympathetic smile.
“I’ll fly us back. Signal your ship to follow, and I’ll handle the rest,” Samus said. “You take it easy until we get there.”
“I…” Valentina wanted to argue, but she knew she had to face facts. “Okay. Thank you, Samus.” She sent the command, and got a pillow to rest her head on before Samus took off. This wasn’t Valentina’s proudest moment, but as a silver lining she felt like she’d gotten to see a different side of Samus.