Chance Encounter

The ship is an ancient rustbucket, and it looks as though it has been here since time immemorial. It was probably a fighter once upon a time, but it is difficult to tell. Time has worn its identity away, and the foliage has overgrown it so that it is little more than scraps of sheet metal covered in vegetation. It is also, at this moment, guarded by a small patrol of Fallen — and it is these, in particular, that have caught Traxis’ attention. She watches them through a high-powered scope from her vantage point atop a grassy ridge nearly a kilometer-and-a-half away.

Her count stands at eight of the unholy aliens, six of which stand equidistantly around the lifeless vessel. The remaining two are crawling in and over it, searching…

“For what?” she murmurs. “What are you misbegotten devils looking for?” She watches them, brow furrowed in concentration and puzzlement, only peripherally aware of her finger curling and uncurling repeatedly over her rifle’s trigger. She’d like nothing better than to blow them all to Hell and back, but she knows that she’d barely drop one before the rest would be all over her, even from this distance. They are Fallen, after all, and the filthy creatures are bleedin’ fast. She could take one or two more out as they rushed her position, but she’d never get them all before they reached her.

She hears it, then, a wispy sound of moving grass, of something being where it shouldn’t be — and she is rolling over, bringing her rifle up as she does. Too slow, she thinks, and Traxis sees the Fallen scout crashing down on her even as she gets her bearings.

She has time to think, Where did he even come from? and then everything is noise and pain and survival. The Fallen is holding two of those cursed swords, and Traxis sees the lightning dancing across the blades, smells the distinctive scent of ozone, feels the crackling energy as those blades descend rapidly — much too rapidly — toward her.

She gives up on trying to bring No Quarter to bear — there isn’t enough time — and tosses it aside, catching the Fallen’s wrists in each of her hands, instead. Sparks dance between the blades and her gauntlets, and she can hear the electric hum of the swords. Then, to her horror, the Fallen’s other two arms emerge from beneath its cloak, each bearing a sword of its own. Four arms, four blades, and Traxis knows she is in trouble. The bastard got the drop on her, somehow, and now she is about to pay the price.

Then, everything is blinding, searing pain as every nerve ending in her body lights up in fiery anguish. The Fallen’s weight is off her now, but she she hardly notices. She would scream if she could, but her throat is seized up, and she can’t even draw breath. A second or two of this — though it feels like it goes on forever — and the pain is gone. Traxis can do nothing for a moment but gasp, her vision swimming in and out of focus.

Finally, her mind clears, her body settles down to a dull ache, and she thinks, What the hell was that?

And then a shadow looms over her. She grabs for the pistol on her hip as the figure steps between her and the sun — and she realizes that she is looking at another Guardian, a Titan. Only…

“By the Traveler!” she breathes. “You’re enormous, even for a Titan!” His laughter surprises her, and he reaches out a hand to help her up.

“Well, I never get mistaken for Cabal,” he replies. “Name’s Dumais,” he says by way of introduction.

“Traxis,” she replies, still a little shaken.

“You looked like you needed some help. Didn’t figure you’d mind if I intervened.” He gestures, and Traxis turns to see a smoking ruin that vaguely resembles what may have once been a Fallen.

“Thanks for that,” she says. “I thought my number was up that time.”

“A pleasure.” She hears amusement in his voice but is unsure whether it is directed at her or the circumstances. Then a dark note creeps in. “I’ve never seen a Fallen wielding four of those damnable weapons before. He was either incredibly stupid or exceptionally skilled.”

Traxis remembers the way the creature had managed to sneak up on her, surprising her completely, and concludes, “My money’s on the latter. I was careful.” She turns her attention back to Dumais. “What’d you do to him, anyway? And to me?”

“This,” he says (Now he sounds sheepish, she thinks) and pulls out a short little pistol. “It’s called Bringer of Pain, and not just because of what it does to your enemies.” He hands it to her, and Traxis takes it, tentatively, examining it. “It’s not your standard ballistic weapon.”

She looks up at this. “Then…” Dumais nods in acknowledgement.

“Directed energy. It stores up a charge over time, which you can then release for an instant kill — or nearly so. It doesn’t leave much of your target, as you can see, but it also makes life rather uncomfortable for anyone else inside the blast radius — and for the shooter.” She sees him flex his fingers and wonders how much it costs him each time he fires it.

Her own skin is still singing from that encounter, though not as intensely now. She hands the weapon back to the Titan. “Where did you find it?”

Dumais takes the pistol and tucks it into his belt, and Traxis gets a glimpse of at least three other weapons clipped there. “During a little dive on Enceladus. Cost me plenty to get to it, too.”

“I can imagine,” Traxis replied, absently. Her mind is already returning to the business that brought her here in the first place. She glances back up at Dumais. “I know why I’m here, but what brings you out to the middle of Only-The-Traveler-Knows-Where — not that I’m not grateful,” she quickly adds.

That note of amusement is there in his voice again when he says, “Same reason you are, I would imagine — to investigate that wreck over yonder. Need any help with that?”

‘Over yonder,’ she thinks. How quaint. She mulls his proposal over for only a moment — two Guardians versus at least eight Fallen; it won’t even be a fair fight — then replies, nodding at his belt.

“How long does it take Bringer of Pain to recharge?”

About Jim Stitzel

I maintain interests in a wide variety of areas. I am an avid storyteller, specializing in (dark) speculative fiction and webcomics. I am also a professional code wrangler and dabble in amateur photography. My wife and I are first-generation farmers who run a 40-acre farm in central Indiana, where we raise horses, goats, chickens, bees, farm-fresh vegetables, and fruit trees.

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4 Responses to Chance Encounter

  1. Mr Daax April 10, 2013 at 3:10 am #

    I am really enjoying your writing style. The way you incorporated the random encounter mechanic into your story was very well done. It felt very natural to the story. The Fallen were pretty frightening, and I really liked that. Also, the nods to exploration and in game locations were nice. Just like your first piece, this one reads very well, almost effortlessly. It’s easy for me to get right into it. Looking forward to the next one!

    • Jim Stitzel April 10, 2013 at 7:46 am #

      Thanks. I’m glad it reads that well, especially since that first paragraph gave me such fits. I think I rewrote it a half dozen times before I finally found something I liked. The rest flowed pretty easily after that, but then, I’d been “writing” it in my head for days.

  2. Ragashingo August 7, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

    “…everything is noise and pain and survival.” – Very good. I always like sentences that twist like that and provide plenty of different things for one’s imagination to latch on to.

    I also liked the idea of a weapon that wasn’t so pleasant for the wielder to use. The description on the fighter was good and I always enjoy people talking about the electric arcing on the Fallen swords.

  3. Jim Stitzel August 8, 2014 at 11:51 am #

    I admit, that idea came from a comment that was made that switching weapons would come with a cost. I wanted to explore a cost that was something more than just material. Bringer of Pain is a powerful little hand cannon, but the cost of switching to it is immense. It takes a special kind of Guardian to wield it.

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