That morning, several survey teams landed on the planet—which scientists back in the Pact Worlds had named Weydana-4—and began taking samples of the soil, the plants, and just about everything they could get their hands on. Long-distance scans had revealed that the planet had a breathable atmosphere, normal weather patterns, and an abundance of flora and fauna, but the corporate sponsors wanted everything double-checked firsthand and in advance of the hundreds of settlers that would soon be arriving.
But Lixette de Courtois was born and raised on Absalom Station, and though she spent years studying newly discovered planets like this one from afar, this was her first time setting foot on one. And she didn’t want to spend it scrounging through the dirt. When Zheffori, a biologist from Castrovel, shouted in excitement after finding a pile of hardened droppings from some unknown animal, Lixette muttered an excuse of “getting a better vantage point,” put her datapad on a crate, and climbed the nearby rise.
Her boots swished through the tall grass as she stepped out from the shade of several blue-leafed trees. The sun warmed her face as she fixed her gaze on the cloud-topped mountain range in the distance. Somewhere, a bird chirped. She took a deep breath of clean, sweet-smelling air and smiled.
“I could get used to this,” she mused. The bird continued to sing, but Lixette couldn’t really say whether or not it did so in response to her.
Lixette began to stroll along the top of the ridge until she caught the scent of something sweet. She stopped where the ground to her left became a sheer cliff. Approximately 150 feet below, an array of brightly colored flowers sprouted from a sprawling bush. Thick vines clung to the cliff face and reached all the way to the top, and vibrant blooms adorned these vines, providing the source of the fragrance. She squatted down to pluck one of the flowers, eager to bring it right under her nostrils for a good, long sniff.
Suddenly, the vine shot up and wrapped around her wrist.
Lixette let out a surprised shout. Again, the bird tweeted. Lixette was starting to think it was mocking her.
She pulled against the vine, but it held strong. Much stronger than it had any right to be. As it pulled her arm downward, Lixette lost her balance and fell to her knees at the edge of the cliff. A dislodged pebble tumbled into the empty space and soon landed quietly in the bush below, which prompted some kind of reaction from the plant; its leaves and branches parted—like an opening mouth, Lixette thought—to reveal a collection of jagged rocks. Even from a distance, Lixette could see them stained with blood. The sun glinted off something white nestled within the stones: the bones of several small creatures.
Lixette couldn’t help but be a little impressed at millennia of evolution that would produce such a unique feeding method. “Oh, you devious…,” she muttered while struggling against the vine trying to yank her over the edge. Its pull was insistent, and if she had been much smaller, Lixette would have already been dashed against the rocks below, her blood seeping into the soil to water this carnivorous plant’s roots.
Looking down, she saw another vine slithering its way toward her. If she didn’t free herself soon, her size wouldn’t save her. Lixette cried out for help, hoping someone from the survey team was near enough to hear her, but there was no immediate response. Even the bird had fallen silent. Traitor, Lixette thought.
The vine had now dragged her hand below the top of the cliff, and Lixette strained to keep her balance. She regretted not bringing anything to defend herself, but the bigwigs that sent her didn’t expect her to be traipsing off on her own. She had flaunted the protocols, and she would pay for it with her life. Lixette started to desperately pat down her jumpsuit with her free hand, hoping beyond hope that she had something—anything—that could save her.
She almost missed it at first: a thin cylinder of plastic. It was the stylus she had been using to enter observations on her datapad earlier. She must have absentmindedly slipped it into her left-hand pocket earlier. With a triumphant cry, Lixette pulled the stylus out and plunged it deep into the vine. The plant reflexively spasmed slightly, just enough to loosen its grip on her wrist. She pulled herself away from the edge of the cliff, muddying the backside of her jumpsuit in the process. The vine flopped onto the ground, the stylus still jutting out like a strange, plastic thorn, before it slid down and out of sight.
Lixette stood up and started to wipe the dirt off her legs but then thought better of it. She brushed a lock of sweaty hair off her forehead and suddenly let out a choked whimper of relief. The bird began to chirp again, as if nature was releasing its held breath. In a forgiving mood, Lixette smiled in the general direction of the birdsong.
As she walked back down the rise to the rest of her team, Lixette realized she had never felt more alive. Perhaps it was just the adrenaline of a near-death experience, but she had a spring in her step and a new purpose dawning in her mind.
Upon her return, Zheffori said, “Lix, where’d you go? Are you ok? You look a little… flushed.”
“Never better!” she replied.
“Okay then. Well, we’re all heading back to the shuttle, so get your last looks in for today.”
Lixette smiled, knowing that once they got back in orbit, she’d be requesting a seat on one of those colony ships. “This place hasn’t seen the last of me.”
About The Author
Jason Keeley is a Development Manager at Paizo, supervising the Starfinder development team and working primarily on the Starfinder Adventure Path line. His work has appeared in all sorts of products, from adventures to supplements to short stories written for Paizo and many other RPG companies. You can find him (and pictures of his dog) on Twitter at @herzwesten, and also listen for him on Know Direction’s Adventurous podcast series!
About Horizons of the Vast
Horizons of the Vast, a six-chapter Starfinder Adventure Path campaign, tells an epic tale of space exploration, allowing gamers everywhere to settle a mysterious planet and forge a civilization in their harsh new home. As part of a massive effort to explore and develop an uninhabited planet full of valuable resources, the heroes are placed in control of a settlement and must deal with challenges from both within and without. Far from home, can the heroes establish a thriving community and survive the uncharted system’s terrible secrets and mysteries?