Muturon Encounter

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Muturon Encounter first appeared in the Gravity Well V game manual. As there has been some mutual sharing between Shores of Hazeron and Gravity Well V, it seemed appropriate to preserve the story here. Enjoy.

Muturon Encounter

"It's been over a week now since I've seen another soul. At least the mission pay will be good for this jaunt. New beacons on two green worlds ought to earn you some kind of bonus, you know."

Haxus scowled as he glanced at the console. The radar was clean and the attitude indicator was quiet. The ship was falling nicely toward a planet in this system. Decelerating slightly, Haxus verified that the fall trajectory would take the ship close enough to the planet to use its gravitational pull for braking. He tapped on the gauge as a bright ray from the nearby sun shone through the canopy and glanced off the panel. Memories of a conversation with a stranger flooded into his mind.

- - - - -

"Gauges must be tapped.", the grizzled stranger said slowly. He made a motion with his hand, index finger outstretched, tapping the glass of Tequila in front of him. What did he say his name was? Hoger? Ogar?

Haxus sat back, resting after a long day at the stick. At the moment it was a lot easier to let the old guy ramble on than to try to come up with sparkling conversation, so he just listened. Eyes half-closed, drifting in and out, he could hear the old codger going on about politics. He railed about some new council that was forming to bring the various races together and stop the wars. It was just more big government to him, right when he thought a man could be free of that sort of thing out here in the outer regions.

To Haxus it was just more of the same old complaining, like the story about the hound-dog laying on the porch, every now and then lifting his head up to let out a howl.

"What's he howling for?", asks a passing stranger.

The old man on the porch answers, "He's layin' on a nail."

"Why doesn't he get up and move?", asks the stranger.

The old man leans forward and says, "It don't hurt enough to move. It just hurts enough to howl."

- - - - -

HOWL!

HOWL!

Haxus was yanked out of his reverie by the relentless moan of the warning tone that all pilots dread most. He had let his little craft pass too close to the star as he fell toward the planet below. A quick glance at the gauges confirmed a large stellar body way too close. Haxus jammed the controls and kicked on the burners at maximum throttle. The engines roared to life, pressing him into his seat as the ship groaned against the inexorable grip of the star's immense gravity. The ship swung sharply around the star, narrowly missing the blistering heat of the corona. He had saved his skin but now the ship was hopelessly off course as it plummeted toward the planet below. He had counted on passing close to the planet for gravitational braking. Now it was going to be all engine braking and at this range it was obvious he was going to overshoot the target by a long way.

To make matters worse, the radar squawk indicated another fighter coming into the system fast. Trajectory analysis showed it to be heading for the same planet. Haxus mashed the braking thrusters hard and waited through the crushing G loads as speed bled off. That little slingshot around the sun added more speed than expected and it was going to cost him his commission. Haxus poured on the thrusters, arcing around to orbit closer to the planet.

As the planet swam into view, Haxus took a moment to study the incoming craft. Whoever was at the controls was darn good! He passed so close to the planet during his braking pass that he must have picked up heat passing through the atmosphere. Haxus imagined hearing the groan of the overworked air conditioners on the little star fighter. The ship rolled quickly at just the right moment, swinging expertly around in the planet's gravity.

"Oh no you don't", gritted Haxus as he launched a volley of his precious few remaining stasis bombs. It was a perfect burst pattern. The bombs exploded into large clouds of charged particles that enveloped the other ship, temporarily crippling its electronic systems.

"YES!", Haxus cried out savagely, pounding the console. The other ship drifted helplessly, it's perfect landing arc now turned into a lifeless fall toward the unforgiving planet below.

The other ship hit hard, landing at a bad angle and mangling a landing fin before grinding to a stop in the sand. Miraculously, thanks to the perfectly set up approach, the ship was not destroyed. The severely damaged hull lay quietly on the beach of a large continent.

Haxus swung his ship into close orbit around the planet. The vidcom chirped to life, demanding attention. It was an open hailing frequency.

An unfamiliar face appeared on the display. The man had steel grey hair, with eyes of the same color. His deep violet jump-suit matched the hull of his ship. He was bright and alert and looked to be in remarkably good condition considering that landing.

"This is Captain Bazor Muturon. How do you read?"

"So what's this guy up to?", Haxus mumbled to himself. This guy's life was in his hands. By all accounts, he should be dead already. A few quick blasts with the cannon and it would be all over. The ragged hull of his ship obviously couldn't take any more abuse.

Haxus called back, "Loud and clear. How you?"

"Loud and clear", Bazor called back. "Under the Treaty of Hazeron, I hereby claim this planet for the Seledon Federation. Say, ah, you don't know where a guy could get some repairs out here do you?"

"You've got a lot of nerve, Muturon. It was obvious that I was about to lay claim to this planet. Don't even think about getting out and planting that beacon."

Bazor scoffed, "Obvious? I thought you were heading out of the system on that course. Besides, you know the drill. No beacon, no claim. Where's your beacon? Ha. Impudent kids." Then, mechanically, as if reading from a checklist, Bazor intoned, "Beacon away."

"Crap!", Haxus cursed out loud as he watched the radar display, waiting for the inevitable blossom of the beacon to appear, claiming this world for the Seledon Federation, if only briefly. His ship swung around the planet in another orbit as Haxus watched. Something's wrong, he thought. It doesn't take that long to plant a beacon.

"Arrhgghggghghgg!!!" A mortifying scream emanated from the vidcom. Haxus riveted his gaze on the screen. In horror he watched as creatures roughly nine inches long resembling short thick centipedes swarmed up the arms and torso of the person on the screen. In revulsion, Haxus watched as scores of these creatures grabbed at Bazor with long sharp mandibles, pulling his limbs in directions they weren't meant to go. "Aaahghaaahahhhhhhh!" Bazor screamed again as if his lungs were being pulled out of his chest. "AAAAAhahaahahhahhghghghhghghgh!" Haxus flipped the vidcom sound off, the sound that he would never be able to shut off in his memory.

When Haxus' ship passed overhead in the next orbit, he prepared to finish off Bazor's vessel. Guns ready, Haxus watched with grim determination as his ship fell over the horizon. Scanning the terrain below, there was no sign of Bazor's ship. Frantically, Haxus flipped through different sensor channels looking for the crippled hulk of Bazor's star fighter. It had been right there along that southern coastline but now it wasn't showing up on any of his ship's sensors.

Haxus looked helplessly back to the vidcom only to watch in morbid fascination as the centipede-things excreted digestive fluids on Bazor a little at a time. First his extremities, toes, fingers, ears, then feet, hands, arms, legs, all systematically reduced to soft mush and sucked up by the swarming mass. Bazor's body stopped twitching after a while. The vile creatures that overcame him didn't give him the courtesy of a quick death. Instead they seemed oblivious, if anything, to the fact that he was even alive.

Haxus orbited the planet for days, unable to leave while the last days of Bazor Muturon played out on his screen. Unanswerable questions flooded his mind, swirling with the sounds of Bazor screaming and the sight of empty eye sockets staring out of his bleached white bones, still sitting at his command console.