Navasi grabbed Keskodai and yanked him around the corner, sending him sprawling as lasers sliced through the space he’d occupied a moment before. She returned fire, then ducked back behind cover and glared at the shirren. “I thought I told you to go in disguise!”
From the floor, Keskodai looked up at her, mental voice radiating confusion. “But I am in disguise.”
Navasi squinted. “You look exactly the same.”
“The same?!” The shirren’s throat-teeth splayed wide in shock. “I took off my headpiece! I shaved my moustache!”
Navasi leaned closer. Sure enough, the chitin above his mouthparts was smooth. She fought the urge to put her head in her hands, instead settling for thrusting her plasma pistol around the corner and firing blind. Doing her best to keep her voice level, she said, “I don’t think that was enough.”
“But it’s my signature style! It’s how everyone recognizes me!”
Navasi entertained a brief but deeply fulfilling fantasy of throttling the shirren right there. Was it even wrong to strangle a death priest, ethically speaking? Wouldn’t sending him to Pharasma be like giving a dance-pop fan the chance to meet Sylix the Siren?
But the first rule of captaining was not killing your own people, even when they really deserved it. Instead, she took a calming breath and said, “You’re right—they must have been using advanced facial recognition software.” Then she darted her head around the corner.
Her fusillade of plasma bolts had produced the desired effect—sort of. The gangsters had indeed pulled back out of the line of fire, as she’d hoped. But in their place, they’d sent in a security bot.
Where in the worlds had these lowlifes gotten a patrol-class model? The thing stalked toward her with a fluid mechanical gait, mirrored face scanning.
She wasn’t quick enough. Even as she jerked backward, the robot fired, a line of crackling electricity burning down the corridor. It missed her face, but her scarf wasn’t so lucky—the artificial lightning burned straight through its trailing end, flames curling up from singed threads.
“Damn it, Keskodai! That’s coming out of your share!” She snapped off another blind shot, then cued coms. “Quig! We need evac. Like, yesterday.”
“Copy that, fearless leader.” The rat’s voice came smooth and calm. “They see through Keskodai’s disguise?”
“Advanced facial recognition software,” Keskodai said. The priest didn’t even have the grace to sound embarrassed.
Quig clucked his tongue. “I figured something was up. The bay started swarming with Iovan’s thugs—I had to take off to keep them from boarding the ship.”
“You’re not in the docking bay?” Navasi’s heart lurched. She’d known in her heart that escape wouldn’t be easy—there was only one way off this station, so of course Iovan and his goons would try to cut them off. But this was a whole new level of busted.
“Don’t worry, Captain, I’ve got you an alternative.” Quig sounded even more self-satisfied than usual, if such a thing were possible. “There’s a maintenance lock at the apex of the main dome. I’ll be there in ninety seconds.”
“The main dome?!” Navasi couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “You want us to go back to the casino?”
“They’ll never expect it.”
“That’s because it’s stupid!”
“But it’s our kind of stupid.” Keskodai sounded positively cheerful. He crouched in a sprinter’s stance. “Ready when you are, Captain. May Pharasma bless us.”
“I’d rather she continue ignoring us.” But Navasi crouched as well. “Ready? Go!”
They burst from behind the corner, back the way Keskodai had come. The security bot was closer now, the emboldened gangsters creeping along behind it. Navasi raised her pistols, but even as she fired Keskodai darted forward, one hand to his temple. He thrust out with the other, and a wave of invisible force blasted outward, bowling bot and thugs backward like they’d been sucked out an airlock.
Then they were past them, tearing out of the corridor and into the grimy little station’s central casino. Glowing game machines and tables of crusty-looking spacers and only slightly less crusty courtesans packed every available inch, creating a maze of colors and chimes. Above it all rose a tall, transparent dome revealing the stars beyond—and the looming shape of her own ship as Quig matched the station’s rotation.
“There!” Navasi pointed to a ladder climbing one of the support struts, then vaulted up onto a felt-topped table, scattering chips and holograms. She leapt to the next table, then the next, using them like stones in a river crossing, Keskodai hot on her heels.
They reached the ladder. Behind them, the trail of angry shouts grew louder.
She climbed. Ten feet up, she looked back and realized Keskodai wasn’t following. “Kesk! Come on!”
The shirren had his head bowed, mouthparts clacking as he prayed aloud. Then he lifted his hands to the wall and began to climb, spidering up the dome’s sheer face faster than Navasi on her ladder.
Well, good for him. Navasi grit her teeth and climbed harder.
Her back itched, waiting for the bullet or laser blast. They were completely exposed out here on the wall, but that was part of the point: if they were lucky, nobody would dare shoot at them for fear of puncturing the dome and venting the whole place.
Of course, if they were unlucky, some drunken gangster wouldn’t think of that until it was too late. Long-term thinking wasn’t exactly these folks’ strong suit. It all came down to luck—appropriate enough for a casino, she supposed.
Above, Keskodai reached the airlock and cycled it open, clambering inside. Navasi’s shoulders burned as the angle of the ladder increased, the dome’s pitch threatening to peel her backward off a wall rapidly becoming a ceiling. Leaned back at this angle, she could see the bright gleam of the Maiden as Quig nestled it down against the hatch.
She was almost to the apex now, the ladder nearly horizontal, forcing her to hook her ankles around each rung, the floor a dizzying distance below. She leaned her head back, concentrating on the hatch.
Keskodai’s inverted head popped out of it, the casualness of his climbing magic giving her momentary vertigo as her brain tried to convince her that the two of them were right-side up, and the rest of the world was upside down.
“Faster!” he shouted in her brain.
On the floor below, something coughed. There was a single instant of blurred motion, and then the ladder between them exploded in a fireball.
Navasi’s hands tore free of the ladder. Suddenly she was hanging, arms waving helplessly as she dangled from a foot wedged painfully between two rungs.
“Captain!” Keskodai was out of the hatch in an instant, skittering across the dome’s underside until he reached her. He leaned down and she grabbed his hand, letting him aid her in the world’s worst abdominal crunch until she could bend double and catch the ladder’s rungs again.
Or what was left of them. Between her and the hatch, the last twenty feet of the ladder had been blown completely clear of the wall, nothing left to cling to but smooth, transparent polycarbon and jagged shards of white-hot metal.
Twenty feet or twenty miles, it didn’t matter—the hatch might as well be in another star system.
Except that next to her, her priest stuck to the dome as if he were a magnet.
“Keskodai!” she shouted. “Can you cast that spell on me?”
“I’m sorry, Captain—that was the last of my spells. But I’ve got the next best thing.” He turned, thrusting his armored butt in her direction. “Get on my back!”
“Your back?” She looked at his skinny limbs. “You can’t carry me! We’ll both fall!”
“Maybe!” he chirped. “If so, we’ll go meet the Lady together!” As she’d predicted, he didn’t sound particularly upset at the idea.
She had a choice, then. She could order him to save himself, to leave her to the gangsters or gravity. He might even do it. She was his captain, after all.
But that would violate the real first rule of captaining: You trusted your people. Always.
She let go of the ladder and swung out, grabbing for his shoulders.
The scramble into the hatch was a stomach-churning blur, Navasi clinging to the shirren like a baby monkey on its mother’s back. But then they were through, the airlock cycling behind them, making one final lurch up into the ship’s cockpit to collapse on the floor.
“Howdy, boss.” Quig swiveled the pilot’s seat to face them. “Where to?”
“Anywhere,” Navasi gasped. “Just out of here, please.”
“You got it.” Quig tapped a command on the console, and the engines engaged. Then he spun back sharply, furry eyebrows rising.
“Keskodai!” he blurted. “What happened to your ’stache?”
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: The First Rule of Captaining
Thursday, August 29, 2019