“COLLISION IN THIRTY SEC...” Keskodai punched a flashing button and the ship computer fell silent, but the cockpit was still roaring from re-entry. From behind, he heard the shrieking of metal as the ship’s rear quarter twisted into collapsing fragments.
If I can just get the nose up. Iseph would know what to do. He was pathing now, as the only other living occupant of the Hellknight ship shared his telepathy
Raia dropped into the co-pilot seat next to him and began to struggle with the controls. Surely, this vessel must have an aerobraking system for safe landing in an emergency?
And I’d gladly use it, but all the controls are in devilspeak! Keskodai waved a hand over a control panel covered in infernal symbols.
Raia didn’t take her eyes off the viewscreen before her. Perhaps we should not have killed the entire crew.
They went to a Hell of their own making. Keskodai stared helplessly at the controls. I’m just not ready to join them yet.
Their thoughts fell silent as the surface of the planet rumbled ever closer. The shaking front viewscreen went yellow, then red, before their eyes; re-entry was melting the ship. Beneath them, however, were endless fields of white, a thick blanket of snow that rolled gently over hills and down into deep drifts.
It must be one of those, Raia pathed, pointing to a set of six brilliantly flashing buttons on Keskodai’s side of the cockpit.
But ... which? He took a hand off the control wheel and hovered over the array of buttons. Each bore indecipherable symbols. He felt himself overwhelmed by the consequence of choice. How many chances would he have to activate the proper system? If he picked the wrong one, would his choice doom the vessel, himself, and Raia? Or could he try again? Was there some clue here in the cockpit, written in letters that were twisted like fire but rigid like prison bars, that would help him select the proper one? It was thrilling, this paralysis. And every moment of indecision made the consequences vastly greater. His antenna twitched and shivered in horrified delight.
Raia’s eyes were wide with fear. They were less than a mile above the ground now, little more than a meteor adorned with half-melted spikes. Just pick one!
But he could not move
At the last instant, she lunged across the cockpit for the controls. Keskodai felt the braking thrusters fire, and they were both hurled from their chairs towards the viewscreen.
Then came blackness. And silence.
Raia awoke first. Everything was tilted at an angle. Crumpled in the cockpit’s nose, she tried to move. Pain. Broken shoulder. Her last healing serum... in her belt. Thinking was hard. But as the fluid trickled down her throat her head cleared. She was alive.
Keskodai lay on the floor, in bad shape. His chitin was cracked. She didn’t understand his biology but it wasn’t good. There was a box on the wall with a red vial on its face; she didn’t need to read the Hellknights’ devil language to recognize it as a first aid kit. Inside, a dermal stapler. The device made a ka-lunk sound as she put Keskodai’s abdominal plates back together. She bit the cap off a tube of sprayflesh and squeezed it out over the wound. It was all she could do.
The cold wasn’t from her injuries. Hull plates had separated in the descent, and a frigid wind outside blew snow sideways. She thumbed her environmental protections and leapt out one of the holes, landing in a knee-high drift.
Find everything you need to run your own starship encounters—including crash landings like this one, illustrated by Tomasz Chistowski—in Starfinder Starship Operations Manual, available everywhere July 30.
The crash had attracted scavengers. Half a dozen, each big as a shotalashu, with whip-like tails and massive lower jaws ending in projecting tusks. “Calories must be exceptionally difficult to find in this biome,” she said, not expecting them to respond. “So your hunger is understandable, but you will find me more trouble than I’m worth.” Behind her, she heard Keskodai climbing from the wreck.
Before the first one could lunge for her, she hurled twin bolts of green force at it, and pieces of the creature flew away into the freezing air, digitized into binary code. That surprised it, but the others charged. Bringing her hands together, touching thumbs, she conjured a fan of emerald flame and backed towards the ship. A white light spiraled out from over her shoulder: Keskodai. His psychic blast overwhelmed one of the creatures; it fell writhing in the snow, but the others were close now. She tried to levitate; one of the creatures clamped down on her leg with its massive jaws and she cried out as pain overwhelmed her. Desperate, she found her baton. It wouldn’t be enough.
But the frenzy abated. One of the animals sniffed the air, and the pack made snuffling noises to each other. As Raia slowly slid down the side of the hull into the snow, the beasts loped off.
Keskodai lowered himself down and got an arm under Raia. They can smell the Hellknight corpses, he told her. Let’s hope they enjoy barbecue.
We only have a little time. If we have not found shelter by the time they come back... she winced as she tried to put weight on her leg.
Keskodai helped her to her feet, and they limped to the top of a nearby hill. There wasn’t much to see, but a river of unnaturally dark blue was barely visible in the distance. They made for it.
The going was painful and slow. The snow stopped falling, but it was still thick and the ground was impossible to see, until suddenly only Keskodai’s long antennae were visible, the rest of him having fallen into a deep drift. It was growing dark as they reached the river. Raia knelt down to cup the water. “Antifreeze,” she said. It was the first they’d spoken since the attack. They couldn’t drink this.
“You’re mad at me.” Keskodai indicated no emotion, simply stating a fact.
“You shirren and your damn ... choice paralysis!”
“I am sorry, Raia.”
“My history teacher, Ms. Lueda, had a saying. ‘It is best to do the right thing. Next best is to do something. Worst of all is to do nothing.’”
“I said I was sorry.”
“Don’t they teach you anything in school?”
“I did not go to school.”
That made her pause. She couldn’t imagine it. “What?”
“My parents carried me with them, day after day. I learned about life through their experiences. Just as I carry Chk Chk.” He patted the armored cradle jar at his hip.
“Wait, you brought your son here? Through all,” she gestured in the vague direction of the crash and nearly stumbled. “That?”
“How else is he to learn?”
Raia’s leg was numb with pain. She was cold, but her environmental protections were running fine. That meant it wasn’t the weather. Shock was getting to her. She couldn’t stand any longer. Lowering herself to the river bank, she lay back in the snow.
Keskodai knelt down beside her.
Still angry, she pulled away from him ever so slightly. “What are you doing?”
“Healing your injuries.”
“You’re empty. We used almost everything we had on the Hellknights, and the rest on those scavengers.”
Was that a smile? Raia couldn’t tell. “See, this is where your magic and mine differ,” he said, placing a hand on her head. It wasn’t the leg that was killing her, he knew. It was head trauma from the crash. “So long as I’m alive, I’m never empty.”
Her head began to clear. But as it did, Keskodai’s green head gained ugly yellow bruises. Her leg stopped hurting, but cracks appeared in his chitin. One of his antennae withered. She lurched up, grabbing him, and emphatically pathed, Stop! He stopped.
“You didn’t have to do that, you ridiculous...” She was speaking again. “Why did you do that?”
Now it was Keskodai’s turn to fall flat on his back in the snow. She didn’t know how much damage he had done to himself, but it was serious. Maybe fatal. “It was easy,” he said. “There was only one choice.”
Raia still had the dermal stapler. She dug it out, gave it a quick whack to break the ice that had formed around the dispenser, and started ka-lunking the shirren back together. He began to make a noise, a rapid hk-ik-ikking noise.
“Are you laughing? Because from my perspective none of this is particularly funny.”
But he only rose a hand toward the sky. She looked over one shoulder.
The Sunrise Maiden emerged from the clouds. For the first time in days, Raia smiled.
About the Author
Jason Tondro develops Starfinder Adventure Paths. A former college professor, he taught literature, writing, film, and comics & graphic novels before joining Paizo as an editor in March 2018. He is the author of the Arthur Lives! RPG; look for him on Twitter @doctorcomics. He lives in Seattle with his two dogs.
About Iconic Encounters
Iconic Encounters is a series of web-based flash fiction set in the worlds of Pathfinder and Starfinder. Each short story provides a glimpse into the life and personality of one of the games’ iconic characters, showing the myriad stories of adventure and excitement players can tell with the Pathfinder and Starfinder roleplaying games.