Tales from the Drift: Unconventional Weaponry

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The floor lurches again, heaving back and forth. The platform’s stabilization thrusters are no match for the behemoth’s sheer mass, and it is one mad beastie. Gotta drive it back before it crushes us.

I punch the comms. “Zarek and Siminira, take it head on. Kikitak, Abery, loop around and come at it from behind. Maybe we can distract it.”

The channel’s open, so I can hear their chatter as they scramble.

“Is that a cloud-skate?”

“If so, it’s the biggest one I’ve ever seen.”

“Don’t care, work to do.”

“Yeah, come on, we can take it!”

There are only four of them, a dragonkin-ryphorian bonded pair, a renegade haan, and a hotshot human with almost intolerable bluster but enough skill to somehow back it up. They’re good, all of them, but the fighters are tiny compared to this thing. No way they can take it down. Best we can hope for is to distract it, get in its way, run interference. “Buy me some time, I’ve got gunners to back you up.”

On the cloudy surface of a gas giant planet, a squadron of small fighters scrambles to combat a massive space worm threatening their small, floating platform settlement

Illustration by Alexandur Alexandrov

The turrets are rising from their enclosures, and I tap into Tabbet’s channel just long enough to make sure her team—her family, that is—knows what they’re doing. I’ve never met a group that can cram so many words into such a small space of time, and my command of the Ysoki language is on the rough side at best. Tabbet’s direction carries over the exuberant cacophony at finally getting to use the “big guns,” and the turrets start firing in coordinated patterns and targeted strikes. I close the channel, and I can’t help but chuckle. Why is it that ysoki take such delight in finding the biggest weapons they can?

But the turret fire on this flying plasma worm is like poking a replenigel megavitamin with a toothpick. We’re never gonna take it down like this. The creature lashes out with an electrified tentacle. The platform lurches again, and alarm klaxons start blaring. This one’s bad—if we lose power, we’re cloud-worm food.

I punch up a new channel. “Ithlithoi, you all on that?” Before I’m even done talking, their singsong response is assuring me it’s under control. Thank Weydan for barathus and their combination of adaptability and competence.

Kikitak and Abery sweep just above the central dome, so close it shakes my command tower. The thing lurches after, and a blast of plasma crashes down. The station’s automated fire suppressants kick in to control the blaze. That better not spread to the storage tanks. If they breach, this whole station’ll blow out of the sky.

I stop dead in my tracks. There’s an idea that might save our skin!

I’m shouting orders into my comm unit as I run. The barathus need to drop everything and get the platform stabilization thrusters from the preprocessing dome. “Yes, it’ll fall into the planet’s core. Better it than us!” I want Tabbet and the biggest gun she can find. Need an engineer. “Unit Z-81, get to the tank bay and rip the power core out of our Titan Hauler. Now.”

No time for an elevator; I pull the emergency escape bar on the window and jump out after the falling pane of glass. It shatters as it hits the platform, but I’ve got a spell for this and touch down gently, already sprinting.

Our ragtag team assembles in the tank bay. Z-81 is already hotwiring the starship power core as the barathus strap the platform’s thrusters around the gas storage tanks. Tabbet shows up with a reaction cannon almost as big as she is, grinning ear to ear.

Another crash in the station, and this time the power goes out entirely. I pull up a bit of my own magic and outline everything with a bit of dancing blue-green light so we can keep working. Welders are flaring, wires and straps are sticking up like an electrovore’s spines, sparks are flying everywhere—Weydan help us, I hope this doesn’t blow right here because that’ll be the very sudden end of us all.

And then it’s ready. I call up my fighters as our ad-hoc engineering crew scatters back. “Lead it this way, toward the storage banks. Make it mad enough to scream, then get the hell out of the way.”

I look at Tabbet. “You get one shot at this.” She grins again and leans in to the sight of this makeshift anti-giant-flying-plasma-worm missile we’ve built.

It comes at us fast, fighter thrusters screaming as Zarek and Siminira work in perfect coordination, both peeling off at the last possible second, mere yards from the tank bay doors. The creature’s close on their tails. We’re staring down a tunnel of arcing electricity lined with fangs bigger than a shuttle.

Tabbet pulls the trigger.

At first, nothing, and I wonder if we failed. Then a hum, a whine as the power core overclocks, and a concussive blast that knocks us all to the floor as the reaction cannon fires. The repurposed thrusters kick to life with a deafening roar, flaring like miniature supernovas as they burn through their entire lifespan of output in milliseconds. The entire station lurches back from the recoil as the gas storage tanks go from stationary to a blur that might outpace a Terminator Star Drake racer in the blink of an eye. I’m grateful for the polarized visor I wear—normal lighting is painful enough, this would have left me permanently blind.

Our makeshift meteor careens forward, straight into the arcing blue nightmare maw about to rip our station to scrap, and there’s a horrible moment where I’m convinced it won’t make any difference.

And then it blows, ripping through the creature in a series of phenomenal, scorching explosions as the tons of compressed flammable gas meet the creature’s plasma gullet. It blows apart from the inside out, a spray of gelatinous blue chunks that arc with residual electricity splattering the station’s onion domes. The creature’s seared head squashes gently into the side of the station and spins off, sinking into the depths of the gas giant core below.

I breathe.

The station’s leaning at a precarious angle, knocked almost sideways from the blast, as the remaining stabilization thrusters slowly begin to compensate. I still can’t hear. The station’s emergency lighting flickers and wavers, and I can only imagine that every klaxon aboard is blaring. Guess I’m glad I can’t hear that.

But Tabbet is jumping up and down, pumping her little fist in the air and shouting as a dozen other ysoki pile into the bay and tumble into a celebratory heap. The barathus float over and drape their tendrils across the lot of us in an awkward show of camaraderie. Z-81 rolls up and bumps into my hip, blinking—and presumably beeping—cheerfully. I have no idea what the fighters are saying, but I can see them circling the station. I imagine they’re cheering too.

There’s a ton of work to do, of course, and we’re not unscathed. I’ve got a few burns, angry red showing through purple skin, and Tabbet’s whiskers are scorched down to nothing. Ithlithoi has merged back into one being and is working through several adaptations in a pattern I recognize as one that repairs damaged tissue.

But we’re alive, against all odds, thanks to a desperate plan we pulled off by the seat of our pants. For now, we celebrate, and try not to think about the weeks of repairs still to come. Or the electrified goo slathered over the domes. Or the fact that we just blew up a month’s worth of mining output—and the power core of our only starship. I pointedly ignore the thrusterless preprocessing platform as it slowly sinks into the clouds below.

“All right, everyone. Let’s get this hunk of junk fixed up enough that we don’t sink into the core, and then take it easy. Meet me on the command floor tonight—we’ve got one hell of a party to throw.”

About the Author

Lyz Liddell is a designer for Pathfinder Second Edition at Paizo. She writes adventures and rules for Pathfinder and Starfinder, plus an abundance of independent fantasy and science fiction in various stages of editing and querying. You can find Lyz and learn more about her innumerable hobbies on Twitter at @LyzMayTweet.

About Tales From The Drift

The Tales from the Drift series of web-based flash fiction provides an exciting glimpse into the setting of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game. Written by members of the Starfinder development team and some of the most celebrated authors in tie-in gaming fiction, the Tales from the Drift series promises to explore the worlds, alien cultures, deities, history, and organizations of the Starfinder setting with engaging stories to inspire Game Masters and players alike.

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Tags: Starfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Tales from the Drift Web Fiction

3 people marked this as a favorite.

Great story!

2 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

This is fantastic! You added so many details about these people in a way that added to the story's flow. Thank you for this!

Barathus engineers!

Better not have another one of those creatures show up . . . .

Awesome story, Lyz!

Grand Lodge

Liavara is one of my favorite Pact Worlds locations. Thanks for this lovely story, Lyz.

A very cool story!

You had me at Haan, the most gorgeous race I have ever seen.

Dark Archive

Now THAT is going to be a party...


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Well done, Lyz! Excellent story!

Wednesday in Liavara xD
Great stuff!

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