Jolly: Fall of Zebes
While in his adolescent years, Jolly was a supporter of the military; born in, and full of pride for his species' mission statement – To understand the wild measures of the universe, though Exploration, Evaluation, and Education; Resting in Reason and Relying on Bravery.
He could even turn a blind eye to the sparse reports of a few groups pirating commercial ports and space stations. The incursions were always non-violent and many viewed the desperate raids as outcries toward suffocating Federation protocols. Zebesians, not being a participating Federation species, were not permitted many rights and protections within the sprawling interconnected systems of the GF's occupied space. High Command's request for admission had been rejected, allegedly due in part to the accusation that evidence linking High Command to the raids, which had been increasing, had been supplied by multiple law enforcement agencies. Despite this alarming information about the moral-direction of their officials, many Zebesians began regarding the Federation and its present members with disdain; similarly, a harsh speciest response was elicited from the general public of countless systems, effectively crowding out the cries of sympathizers. An inevitable social isolationism built in the shadow of public negativity, making it exceedingly difficult, nigh unto impossible in some systems, for traveling Zebesian ships to safely re-supply or voyage without severe harassment from port-authorities. Zebesian commercial ships were being black-balled, made to pay grossly inflated tariffs and taxes on nearly all necessary supplies. The Federation presided over pleas for reconsideration from Zebesian diplomats, and were answered only with apathetic political excuses.
As the cycles went on, Jolly often found himself succumbing to the same frustrated resolve of his friends. His people were being unjustly persecuted on the misdeeds of a desperate minority. He refused to consider that leadership had orchestrated any of those events, though he would often argue that they must have known. His opinions would begin to change as rumors of mysterious strike missions, assigned to the hushed and hardened Second Class operatives, leaked down to the labs of Tourian. Suddenly unfamiliar words like 'retribution' were tossed around in conversations thick with entitlement; the quieter discussions of solutions started to become common around the cafeteria tables and dormitories. Quietly convincing himself that these horrific neoteric ideals were nothing but exaggerated here-say was the only way to continue his routines. Within a few short weeks he began to notice a frightening rise in infantry deployments. Still stubbornly bent on convincing himself that this could only be High Command's response to rising aggression per other nations. After all, it was reasonable to want to protect your own people; no sane nation could argue that. His harrowed plea to see only the good in his military's focus fell numb when new orders arrived, putting immediate suspension on all current projects. The labs received their new, and single objective – prepare all able-bodied individuals for multi-atmospheric combat. High Command had declared war.
Birthing rose in productivity ten-fold and the scientists hardly slept. Significant pressure filtered from on high, demanding faster growth hormones, more advanced weaponry, higher efficiency stimulants with longer half-lives - Jolly's fears gathered so much weight he could barely get up most days. His tags identified him as Chief of Bio-Research and Engineering - a ranking individual - but he knew just as well as everyone else that, whatever was going on, it was probably worse than they were being told. Every conversation in the lab came back to that same reluctant resolution, should days become desperate - every soldier was a soldier. He was only vaguely aware of the operations being handled off-world, but the orders and schematics filtering down from the ready-rooms painted a perfect, terrifying, picture – they truly were at war. With whom was speculative, but the way the warrior classes talked about it, they were at war with everyone.
Then there was that recording.
With a bold honesty, he still can not remember how he'd come upon the footage, but it had been mid-day in the lab when the forward research team viewed a partial recording leaked from the combat-cam of a deployed Fourth-Class. The nighttime shock assault of a Hominid planet, K-2L, was only allowed to play for nine seconds. The time stamp identified the capture with a twenty-six minute run-time. The team was sickened, some physically. Jolly was devastated.
His fears had become deafening on the violent state of things. Getting through his days had been hard enough. Having waking nightmares of where the efforts of his hard work was been aimed, but K-2L barely had a military; barely had resources enough to sustain themselves. Most outlying Hominid settlements weren't even Federation adjuncts. Their species was hanging by a thread.
This was no longer about retribution or equality. Those nine seconds weren't even war.
Entering a state of depression can not describe the painful despair Jolly endured for days later. Every ounce of effort directed toward appearing operationally normal in the labs. The trust he held in his friends was well placed, but paranoia was bleeding into his subconscious when interior surveillance got tighter. If he'd acted as hysterical as he'd felt, there would certainly have been no hope for the, admittedly, insane scheme erecting blocks in his mind.
Days slipped by and got uglier, with High Command enforcing stricter curfews. The Cafeterias drowned in uncomfortable silences, recreation halls and living quarters were dismantled in lieu of combat simulators, surrogate berths, and more mysteriously, many locked facilities that demanded higher authorization the majority could not provide. Increasing apathy directed new protocols in genetech birthing labs that tied nooses around technicians' collective necks - congenital defects or mutations, regardless of degree or treatability, were to be immediately terminated.
An end came to secretaries and advisers periodically descending to Tourian lab space to gather detailed input from lab Chiefs to be used in directing programme focus. The labs became reduced to conveyor belts in production warehouses; then not even that. Jolly and every other Chief, Head, and technician got redistributed and the doors to Tourian received an authorization level so high, it effectively no longer existed.
Days had begun to stretch out so far that weeks often passed without notice; the labs were always a flurry of activity, but more like automatons in a factory than gatherings of boisterous intellectuals. Work was so limited to High Command's bottom line, that when incidents occurred, they rarely went without notice. Jolly's team had been scattered in the thoughtless reassignments, their morale abandoned behind the locked doors of Tourian. A young technician in one of the genetech birthing labs collapsed in the early afternoon while synthesizing chromosomes. The expectations of medical crews storming in to assess the poor boy had gone unrequited as he was collected by a pair of burly servicemen; no excuses were made when the tech never returned.
Yellowed eyes stared on into nothing as hands and claws moved automatically; machinery assembled without ardor, offspring lifted away from surrogates with no hint of optimism. A moments stillness revealed only heavy breathing that hitched as any lingering hopes were snuffed out along with every unfortunate mutant birth. Despondency was ever-present, degredating the pleasant qualities that used to fill the labs to the ceiling lamps. Youthful scientists who'd once professed the future with wide grins, eyes wet with passion, and pulses racing. They had intended so much.
The day the Hunter arrived had cast a shadow so long it had almost felt easy to forget the last couple cycles. The initial hours hadn't been worth consideration; it wasn't the first time a traveler had made it to ground. When reports filed down that two generals were dead, curiosities rose with building contention. The situation gained weight and when Digital, the Head of Developmental Cybernetics, exchanged hushed words in sincerity with Jolly regarding the mad scheme he'd dreamt up a lifetime ago, they'd agreed that this catastrophe was the element they were always missing. Escape finally seemed probable.
As another general had fallen to the Hunter, the air thickened with uncertainty; hands that had rarely held weapons with violent intent felt the cold metal burning against uncalloused skin. Techs with brow lines knitted, fidgeting nervously with their hands. Every soldier was a soldier.
General Ridley was dead. Radios squawked in defeat - the doors to Tourian had been pried open. Communication lines were awash; orders being stamped out by hails of distress, stations hastily abandoned in the panic. The sudden burst of alarm klaxons had unnerved the surrogates - the simple beasts, aggressive in their terror, had begun destroying the genetech labs. The walls were shaking and the sputtering of lights saw rifles dropped in favor of scooping up newborns, data sticks, personal affects that increased in value as every second wound down. The hallways glaring angry in red when the generators cut out to emergency power. Voices filled the corridors winding to the space ports - larger vessels packed to capacity before dispersing. Lifeboats were all that remained when Jolly's team arrived, hustling each aboard before himself, against their protest. A lifeboat had it's ramps deployed, with a tech hastily shepherding surrogates aboard; the doors sealed on three beasts that could or would not comply - devastatingly, one was giving birth. The ground was trembling with pressure valves collapsing, plumbing lines bursting in the crush. Jolly had watched as Digital boarded a lifeboat, shoulder to shoulder with a young Class-Three airborne trooper - the boy was barely out of adolescence. Lifeboats began exploding off the tarmac, escaping with an erratic fervor as the air became heated. Strides away, the surrogate delivered a curled, orange, body; slick with it's encapsulating membrane while the beastly mother trotted off. Against the behest of Digital's frantically screaming voice, Jolly stole away the seconds he hardly had to snatch up the small life, ripping the membrane away as he turned back toward the open hatch.
As the doors closed, bodies clambered for purchase, fastening restraints; the floor burst back and sharp teeth grit against the force. Seven minutes of terror - the small mutant held against his chest like a talisman. A lifetime later, the floor dropped away and the small moment of stillness was destroyed as the lifeboat suddenly bore a massive shock. The noise proliferated every inch of the cabin, and no crying voices broke through.
By the time the vessel has stabilized, they no longer fled the gravity of a besieged garden world, but it's scattered remnants.
Zebes was gone.
Unable to shake the loss, Jolly's hatred of the Hunter stood to reason. Some almost mythical kind of monster, with no face, that ruthlessly swept in amongst the dark of night and stole away with the souls of thousands. All that remained was a reticent nebula.
Now, almost twelve galactic standard years later, Jolly found himself seated in a port commissary, eating a strange Hominid food called apples, while waiting patiently with his crew. Out on deck, port-hands loaded the outbound parcels on his courier ship. Another bite of the sweet fruit - he liked them. His appreciation for a lot of Hominid things grew in the company of Hal's tenacious mate, R. His appreciation for Hominids grew ten cycles earlier, when a courier ship, manned by a crew of eight Hominids, had taken him and his battered team of refuges aboard without hesitation. They had fed them, gave them medical care, offered them sanctuary. It never seemed to matter how many digits they had or the colours of their skin; or that they were Zebesians. In their company, he'd described the slow hollowing of his species and how he'd been a reluctant party to it. Despite it, how he'd never found it in himself to relinquish the hate that remained as he considered the Hunter.
In the recesses of his mind, he can still see those wide eyes and confused stares of the Hominid courier crew. They'd been aghast that he'd painted the Hunter as a shell devoid of empathy. He'll always remember the emotion in their voices as they explained - They remorsed the loss of his home and his friends; of his life. They had been horrified to learn the fate of the dissonant garden world, and they eagerly reported to him that many Hominids shared this terror. The stolen life of K-2L had never demanded equal payment.
Though really, it always came back to how resolute the Captain suddenly became - how he'd looked Jolly directly in the eyes then. The Hunter wasn't a thing, it was a female - a Hominid woman who'd accepted the mantle of defending lives at the risk of her own; operating on nobody's expense reports, and making decisions alight of what was right, bare of what was politically white-washed. The Hunter - Samus Aran - was a Hominid woman born on K-2L, who rose to the beckoning of a frightful mercy her people had not been shown.
In nine seconds, all of his hatred was gone.
Looking out the bay windows to the deck, he lingered over the bulkheads of his ship. Behind his eyes, the smooth metallic surfaces brought him back into his lab on Zebes. The whirring sounds of centrifuges and gentle tapping of pipets against rows of glass tubing, while the air vents hummed along blissfully, cycling fresh air in the well lit lab. He could see the faces of his team, careful and concentrating. He'd make contact and the smiles would reach their eyes. There had been such hope in those days; to live in a world where they could travel unburdened by descent, docking at ports to resupply and rest, eating apples in a commissary filled with different species.
A smile pulled at his mouth as his beautiful son hummed cheerfully next to him, stealing away his comfortable stare out the window. The bright orange of the young boy's skin severely clashed against the dreary greys of the commissary. He practically gave off light.
Everything was going to be alright. The bright blue eyes of this child convinced him he just had to believe that.