Zemir stepped around a fetid pool of… something… and tried to breathe shallowly. Intellectually he knew that either his mask was working or it wasn’t, and either way the worst he’d suffer was a strong sense of nausea if he did get a whiff of unfiltered air. But the horrid smell that penetrated the mask’s filters still made him want to avoid taking deep lungfuls of the stuff. Which made it difficult to keep up with Obozaya, as his vesk companion strode unfettered through the densely-packed market.
“I still do not understand you mammals!” Obozaya sounded more amused than perplexed. “If the atmosphere’s odor is so terrible it turns you into mewling monkeys, why not activate your environmental controls rather than just using the breather mask?”
Zemir ignored the “monkeys” jab. He was still relatively new to the crew of the Sunrise Maiden, hired for his power to search through and bring things from various iterations of reality. Obozaya was a respected, veteran member of the crew, and Zemir was better off humoring her. If he could earn Obozaya’s trust, the rest of the crew would quickly follow.
“There are two reasons.” Zemir sidestepped a group of haggling kasathas and picked up his pace to walk next to the vesk. “The first is that I’m not sure how much I trust this filter to pull the actual toxins out of the air, given how much of the rotting-fish-and-eggs odor it lets in. Since we’re here to get surplus air filters and pressurized tents so the rest of our crew can operate on this planet long-term—longer than our armor’s environmental seals will last—I’d like to test this model in the field. I don’t fully trust AbadarCorp’s marketing claims.”
Obozaya nodded, her teeth flashing briefly in what Zemir had come to believe was an expression of appreciation. Vesk might be one of a dozen species immune to the toxins in this planet’s air, but she was pragmatic enough that she certainly wouldn’t want her teammates hampered by nausea and weakness if their mission ran more than a few days.
“Secondly... are we being followed?”
Zemir did not change the tone of his voice at all, and to her credit Obozaya did not spin to look around. Instead she simply angled her path to skirt a denser part of the crowded market’s patrons. Zemir fell in behind her, moving through the wake she made in the throng. Creatures of half a dozen species cursed and stepped in behind them, shaking fists and raising their chins in angry postures. Which meant it was easy for Zemir to spot the group following them as they plowed into the already-agitated crowd, shoving sapients out of their way while remaining quiet and taking on hunched postures, trying to keep their profiles below the general level of the market’s customers.
There were three of them, short and broad humanoids in heavy armor. Zemir guessed they were lashuntas... or dwarves, though he had much less experience with dwarves. Their equipment was worn and patched, but looked functional enough. All three had laser rifles of some kind slung over their shoulders, and holstered sidearms. Their armors’ environmental seals were active, protecting them from the extreme discomfort of the atmosphere, and making their faces harder to discern.
But their facial tattoos were clear enough. He shifted his view, searching through nearby iterations of his own reality, and saw the three figures following someone on this street, at this time, in most alternate realities. Their presence here was not random.
Obozaya took a sharp turn onto another major road and stepped to the side, allowing Zemir to pass her. She shot him a glance with a raised brow ridge.
“Three of them, definitely following us. Short, maybe korasha. Facial tattoos.”
“Golden League?” Obozaya asked.
Zemir shrugged. “I don’t know the local families well enough to hazard a guess. Would Golden League assassins be likely to want you dead?”
Obozaya shook her head once, firmly, while unclipping the safety strap from her stellar cannon. Zemir bit his lower lip, though his mask concealed the expression. If they weren’t Xun assassins, then they were most likely just robbers, possibly drawn by his own obvious good taste in equipment. In that was the case, Obozaya and he could likely deal with them if it came to a fight, but likely not without getting ejected from the market for getting flechette holes in nearby shops. And even if he could talk their way out of expulsion, the shop they were headed to for supplies might close for the day if there was talk of a brawl in the street
Of course if they were robbers, their main motivation would be to make a quick credit in a shakedown.
Zemir put a hand on Obozaya’s arm. “Follow my lead.”
Her brow ridge went up even higher, but she nodded. Just as the three tattooed pursuers rounded the corner, Zemir stepped into the street and turned to face Obozaya.
“NOW you want your back pay?”
Obozaya was clearly surprised, but covered it quickly enough, especially since all eyes were on Zemir. She growled at him, which he hoped was just her way of playing along.
“I’m mortgaged to the hilt!” Zemir let exasperation leak into his voice. “I’ve even been reduced to wearing cheap knock-off fashion. Not a thing on me is worth a tenth its appearance. And since the family disowned me, I can’t turn to them for support!”
At first the squat ruffians simply stood in shock and stared at Zemir complaining to his apparent bodyguard, but as he continued to describe the dire straits of his finances, and lack of extended family, their expressions went from shock to sour. About the time he claimed he could pay Obozaya in a week, when his next loan came through, the lashuntas—he’d seen at least one antenna, so they must be lashuntas—turned as a group and trundled back the way they’d come.
Once Zemir was sure they were out of earshot, he stopped whining.
Obozaya chuckled. “Not how I’d have handled it, but effective. But aren’t you worried word will get out that you‘re broke, and merchants will refuse to talk to you?”
Zemir shrugged. “If we needed high-end or custom goods that you can only buy with an appointment, maybe. All we need are more filter masks. When we show the paramilitary surplus dealer our credits, he won’t care about rumors.”
Obozaya seemed satisfied, and began making her way toward the surplus shop again. “That taken care of... what was the second reason you’re not using your environmental seals?”
Zemir’s mask kept his predatory grin from being obvious, but his eyes did sparkle.
“I want to know this miasma well enough that I can grab a cloud of it from another iteration of reality. If I ever need to flood a room with it, anyone unfamiliar with the stench is in for quite the shock.”
About the Author
Owen K.C. Stephens is a veteran of the tabletop RPG industry with more than 20 years of experience, including being on staff at Green Ronin, Paizo, and Wizards of the Coast and being the publisher of RogueGeniusGames.com. He has worked on numerous RPG lines, including being co-author of the Star Wars Saga Edition RPG and Design Lead for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game. You can support his writing and free content production at Patreon, and follow him at his blog, on Facebook and on Twitter.
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: Something's Rotten
Wednesday, March 18, 2020