“‘Fix the shuttle,’ she says. ‘It’s only a little banged up,’ she says.” Angry clanging noises came from beneath the deck, followed by Quig’s face popping up out of the engineering access bay. He waved a spanner angrily. “Next time Navasi wants to sign us up for a salvage mission, she can patch the junker, and I’ll stay on the Maiden and watch for pirates!”
Altronus stared down from the hallway, both sets of arms crossed. “I’m sure the captain was just expressing confidence in your abilities.”
“Yeah?” Grease-smeared ears twitched above Quig’s mask. “Well I’m sure that this rustbucket isn’t going anywhere without a miracle. I’ve wired together every battery we’ve got to charge the capacitors, but the reactor containment field is totally shot. If I fire it up without the magnetic bottle in place, they’ll be finding pieces of us all the way out on Aucturn.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Sure. You can tell our fearless leader that unless she wants to abandon our score to the rest of the jackals, we’re gonna remain stranded on a barren rock approximately three times the size of my furry brown ass, with no way to call in a tow because—oh yeah—this whole job is technically illegal.” The spanner made another wild circle, nearly clipping Altronus’s knee. “I swear by my grandmother’s tail, I—”
“Anything else I can do? To help with the repairs?”
Quig sighed and let the spanner droop. “Go outside and get a look at the right main thruster for me. Let me know if the nozzle housing looks intact.”
“Right.” Grateful for the chance to escape the ysoki’s incessant, undignified complaining, Altronus walked to the hatch and cycled the airlock.
The air beyond was thin, and bitterly cold. The sarcesian colonists who had once tried to make this asteroid habitable had long since abandoned the project, and Altronus’s lungs burned with strain and frost as he struggled to process what little air their machines had left behind.
Yet as it always did, the nearness to vacuum soothed him even as it stung. Out here, there was no barrier between him and the cosmos. The cold he felt was the same cold that wrapped the stars. The song of the Cycle hummed in his veins like background radiation.
He walked around to the back of the shuttle. From the outside, the damage looked worse—for all Altronus’s faith in the captain, he had to admit that Quig had a point. The fact that they were even close to getting the thing flying again was a testament to the ysoki’s skill. He reached up with his highhands and hauled himself easily up into the engine’s darkened mouth.
“Quig? Altronus?” Navasi’s voice crackled over coms. “Are you still at the shuttle?”
“Where else would we be?” Quig snapped. “Listen, Captain, this thing—”
“Stow it. Raia’s got life forms on scanners. Half a dozen of them, moving fast in your direction. Raia and I will intercept as many as we can with the Maiden, but some of them will reach you before we do.”
“Acknowledged, Captain.” Altronus turned and leapt down from the engine, his descent gruelingly slow in the meager gravity. “How much time do we have?”
But the answer was already coming over the crater’s rim: three round-shelled creatures, their front ends writhing masses of tentacles, two of which were longer than the others and heavily scaled. They skimmed along like antigrav speeders above the asteroid’s surface, their shells glimmering metallically in the light of Altronus’s mote. One instant they were at the ridge, and the next they were at the shuttle’s side—halfway between Altronus and the hatch.
“Altronus!” Quig appeared in the open airlock. “Get in here!”
“Working on it,” Altronus muttered. Then he stepped forward, careful not to launch himself off the asteroid’s surface, and raised his voice.
“Greetings, friends.” He lifted all four hands in what he hoped was a universal sign of peace. Would tentacled creatures even recognize the gesture? Raia would probably know. “I mean you no harm. My name is Altronus Barasul Dovenayan, a kasatha of House—”
A distortion rippled across the creatures’ shells, blue lines that weren’t quite lightning tracing down their tentacles.
Altronus froze. “Easy, friends. I—”
The creatures pulsed.
Altronus flew forward, dragged off his feet by some invisible force. He landed in the dust and rolled, barely avoiding lashes from the closest creature’s main tentacles. He yanked his pistol free of its holster, but the creatures pulsed again. This time, the pull on his body was weak enough that he could brace against it, but the gun lurched from his hand, slapping against the side of the creature’s shell and sticking there like—
Of course. Magnets! Now that he had the idea in his head, he could feel the variation in the pull—the force exerted on the metal components of his armor, but none on the plates themselves. If he squinted, he could see the lines of magnetic fields around the creatures, dust-like metallic fines from the asteroid’s surface forming a cloud that pulsed like breath.
Quig’s swearing flooded the coms. Altronus looked over and saw the ysoki splayed out across one of the creature’s shells, pinned to it by his junkyard of a spacesuit.
Beneath his scarf, Altronus smiled.
The creatures thought they’d disarmed him. They didn’t realize that the gun was just a tool.
Altronus was the weapon.
He stilled his mind, letting the false divisions between him and the universe fall away.
He was not Altronus. He was not kasatha. He was matter: forged in the heart of a star, pulling and pulled by every atom in the cosmic dance. He was energy: uncreateable, undestroyable, a momentary configuration of an eternal process.
He was everything. He was nothing.
And he was going to wipe the floor with these worm-faced bastards.
He stretched his consciousness down, into the asteroid, finding the thread of its gravitational pull and strengthening it. This time, when the creatures pulsed, he stood firm, tethered to the rock’s surface. With his lowright hand, he reached up and grabbed his mote, feeling the white-hot stellar energy distending into its familiar blade.
There was a sharp pop, like an electrical arc, and something slammed into Altronus’s side, spinning him halfway around. He looked down at the metallic barb protruding from his armor, and had just enough time to think the word harpoon before the creature pulsed again. The force yanked him sideways, threatening to rip him in two as the creature’s magnetic tether competed with his own gravitational anchor.
Well, one of those he could control. He dropped the anchor, lurching through the air toward the barb-thrower, stellar blade extended. The sudden rush caught the creature off-guard, and alien eyes widened as the blade struck home. The creature thrashed, tentacles sliding across Altronus’s armor as he slid his glowing blade free and thrust again. And again.
The creature’s strange antigravity cut out, dropping them both to the ground. Before Altronus could regain his feet, new tentacles wrapped him up from behind, pinning his arms to his sides.
The thing’s grip was like industrial machinery, the coiled tentacles crushing. Trying hard to ignore creaking bones and empty lungs, Altronus cast his mind out to Mataras, the blazing sun at the heart of the Pact Worlds. Delving down into its flaming seas, he made his consciousness a conduit, and let the fire flow.
Flames burst from his body in all directions, a tiny supernova burning tentacles to ash. He spun, chest heaving as the pressure around it relented, and brought his blade up.
The creature lay flat against the ground, charred tentacles twitching spasmodically. Off to one side, Quig stood next to the corpse of his own attacker, yanking tools free from its shell.
Alien eyes rolled in terror as Altronus pinned his beast to the rock with one foot, placing the tip of his blade inches from its eye.
Altronus coughed. “Let’s try this again, friend. I mean you no harm. And you don’t mean me any harm either, do you?” He waggled the blade.
The creature stared up at him, but made no move to protest. It just lay there, its shell wrapped in softly pulsing lines of magnetic fields.
Magnetic fields. Altronus turned to his companion. “Quig. Is the reactor’s magnetic containment still broken?”
Altronus stared down into the creature’s eyes.
“Because I’ve got a crazy idea.”
About the Author
James L. Sutter is a former Starfinder Creative Director and Executive Editor of the Pathfinder Tales novels. In addition to foundational work on both Pathfinder and Starfinder, he’s also written award-winning novels, comics, video games, and short stories. You can find him at jameslsutter.com or on Twitter at @jameslsutter. His Pathfinder Tales novels, Death’s Heretic and The Redemption Engine are available now.
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.
Iconic Encounter: Personal Magnetism
Thursday, July 18, 2019