For the second time today, Ciravel found herself exceedingly grateful for seatbelts and stabilizers.
The first moment of gratitude was during Iseph's dizzying, looping, headlong dash toward Daimalko's surface—a flight where they showed both their skill at threading the space between the enormous meteoroids that surrounded the planet and their delight at making Ciravel shut her eyes despite herself. Ciravel ran and reran the possibilities in her mind, certain that this was the course that resulted in a safe arrival to a canyon on the planet's surface, and yet she still found herself clutching her armrests and putting just enough tension against the straps holding her in to make sure that they would, in fact, hold.
The second moment came thanks to the radiation drake who clamped its crystalline jaws around her hoverchair and shook its head back and forth as if in virulent disagreement with Ciravel's very existence—an action which, without the negation of the stabilizers, would be excruciating, since the surface of this portion of Daimalko unexpectedly lacked many things, including plant life, water, and, much to the chagrin of Ciravel's various joints, consistent gravity. Iseph had anchored themself to one of the rocks which floated above the planet's surface and was locked in combat with a second drake.
"You could have warned me—"
"—about the radiation? The drakes? The battlefield ruins? The asteroids? Did you—oof!—notice the radiation buffers that you were so reluctant to—ow!—pick up this morning? 'But I don't breathe!' Honestly—your head would fall off if I didn't remind you to bring a wrench! YOU could have warned me that you fly like a drunken moldstorm!"
"Can we discuss this when we're not—" Iseph ducked as their drake snapped its jaws shut, barely missing the android and a sending a soft crystalline ring echoing through the canyon, "—about to be turned into scrapyard bits?"
Ciravel closed her eyes and focused her power, channeling it through her extended hand. The possibilities for the drake's next action unfolded before her like cards laid out on a table. She knew what she had to do.
"Iseph, count to ten."
Wait for it…
"Ciravel, this hardly seems the ideal time for numerical calculation—"
Ciravel shifted her weight, angling her chair slightly as the drake clamped its jaws higher, sending the pistol in her side holster careening toward the rocky ruins below. One more good bite and it would have her.
"…Make that seven."
Illustration by Michele Giorgi from Starfinder Galactic Magic
The drake's jaws opened momentarily as it repositioned its bite once more. In the precise moment where the drake's gullet was perfectly aligned, Ciravel turned her thrusters on full-force—right down the drake's throat. Its spine glowed with the intense blue flame before it gasped in pain and tumbled to the ground, releasing Ciravel's chair. Moments later, a rocky thud echoed through the canyon.
Thank goodness for seat belts, Ciravel thought once again as her chair careened wildly until the thrusters reoriented it.
She could see the drake's spine begin to glow again as it readied another beam. She was too far away. She needed more time.
Ciravel blinked her eyes, holding the battlefield in stasis as she bolted toward Iseph.
Iseph startled slightly at the voice that was suddenly right next to them. Ciravel grabbed the blaster pistol from Iseph's belt and winked. She lifted her chair up and away from Iseph, aiming the pistol directly at the drake, trying to catch its attention and spin it away from Iseph, exposing a heavily wounded flank to their blade. The drake turned, lifting its wing, preparing to follow Ciravel. This time, she looped time into a knot, immediately making the drake forget her presence and leaving it distracted long enough for Iseph to drive their searing blade directly into its wounded gut.
She knew it would cost her later—the exhaustion from this last effort would be brutal—but Ciravel dug deep and twisted time once more, calibrating the trajectory and moment that Iseph's blade entered the drake's thorax, ensuring that it hit every vital organ it could on the way in. The drake collapsed and tumbled to the ground below.
"My pistol?" Iseph outstretched their arm.
"Ah, the 'thanks for saving my circuits, Ciravel' must be a different time thread…" Ciravel maneuvered back toward the rock where Iseph had themselves anchored and winced slightly in pain as she handed back the weapon, stretching her neck. "I think maybe I'll drive home? But let's get our repairs done quickly…I'm sure the Recollectors aren't too far behind us, if they aren't already here."
"Ciravel, perhaps we have sailed the canal that was left."
"The left canal, Iseph. The saying is that you've sailed down the right canal when things go to plan, or the left canal when you cannot locate what you need. But yes, it certainly looks like we might have sailed quite far down the left canal, unfortunately."
She reached into one of the bags attached to the side of her hoverchair and pulled out a handle—which extended into a cane with a press of a button—and a tool kit, then released the safety belts attaching her to the chair. Activating the grav anchors on her boots and retracting the stabilizers, Ciravel stepped onto the hovering rock, and, leaning heavily on her cane, surveyed the damage to the chair. Not too bad, considering the jaws…
Iseph pulled a medical kit from a belt pouch and began doing their own repairs to patch up their wounds—a cut here, a re-soldered circuit there. As Ciravel tightened bolts and reattached anything that had come loose from her chair in the fight, something gnawed at the back of her mind, but she brushed it away. The Recollectors were on their trail and they hadn't found any real clues to the cause of The Awakening, the cataclysm that decimated life on Daimalko. No hint to whether it was a natural event or an apocalyptic weapon used in the bitter war that used to rage on the planet. All Ciravel knew was that when she last held a fragment of rock that originated here, a specimen back in the xenobiology lab in Sovyrian, she tasted time—the only way she could describe the strange way that she suddenly smelled salt and citrus and tasted spiced honey whenever she encountered items from far in the past—a strange sensory activation that tied to her only childhood memory. A memory from the Gap.
There hadn't been a whiff of anything other than sulfur and ozone since they arrived on Daimalko. But the way that rock had hummed in her ears…the song she had heard…what she'd heard…what didn't I hear?
"…Iseph, did you hear the impact of the second drake landing in the canyon?"
"An impact? No…I heard an echo of jaws clashing and ringing, your weapon falling, the flames of your chair, the pistol firing, the screams…everything echoed back. But I did not hear a second impact of a drake on the canyon floor."
In that moment, time unfolded for Ciravel as she registered three things. First: the air, which had reeked only of sulfur and centuries of decay, suddenly smelled of salt and citrus. The smell of Time, of the Gap. Second: the sudden darkness that fell when it had, only moments before, been glaringly bright. Night should have been nearly 30 hours away. And finally: the meaning of the absent sound of the drake's impact. Ciravel ran through the possibilities in a split second, and realization made her eyes go wide.
"When I have finished repairing, Ciravel, I will assist you. It is already nightfall? We cannot waste our time tonight."
"Iseph…look up. We'll make some extra time."
The android glanced up from the wire they were reconnecting and then continued looking up, and up, and up the exoskeleton, watching in near-wonder as tendrils passed the drake corpse up…and up…and up…far higher than Ciravel's chair could reach on a day when it hadn't been rattled around in the jaws of a drake, past gargantuan claws and tusks.
As her own eyes met the four beady ones of the Kyokor, Ciravel tasted spiced honey.
She stared at the colossus, steadied herself back into her hoverchair, and activated the thrusters. She glided next to Iseph and looked over at them from beneath the creature's shadow, smiling.
"Well, what do you know? Perhaps we sailed the right canal after all."
About the Author
Jennifer Kretchmer is a Diana Jones Emerging Game Designer Award finalist, TV produce and performer, author (D&D's Candlekeep Mysteries, Haunted West), streamer, and disability consultant (Skybound Games: The Walking Dead, MCDM) who has been playing TTRPGs for more than 20 years. She appears on several actual play streams including Vampire: The Nightlife (Renegade) and Heroes of the Planes (Demiplane), where her character, Alyndra, is a playable champion in Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms. Jen is a Jasper's Game Day Ambassador and is the creator of the Accessibility in Gaming Resource Guide.
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.