Starfinder: Dead Suns

Session 10
Astral Revelations

Ukulam – The Stargazer

Once the crew had regrouped and tended to their injuries, Kusanagi suggested they circle around to the far side of the statue to avoid the sniper who seemed to be in the head. Searching for an entrance to the structure, they noted an opening between the feet. Galakrond led them inside. Corroded pipes hung down from the ceiling above a broad basin in the center of the entry chamber. The stone walls were slick with moisture and bore carvings of tattooed elves in states of undress as they washed themselves. The domed ceiling depicted hundreds of stars connected to form scores of constellations.

Winslow noted the ritual significance of the place, which the Elven writing referred to as the Stargazer. The Oatia elves considered it a sacred space, and cleansing oneself of terrestrial influences was a necessary exercise before traveling deeper inside the monument. Galakrond decided to respect the ritual of the Oatia elves by washing his hands and head within the pool. Winslow nodded in approval and followed suit.

While the others waited, Twitch informed them that the constellations on the ceiling included both ones commonly taught on Castrovel as well as numerous esoteric designs. The crew ascertained that many of the constellations were known to modern scholars but only thanks to advanced telescopes and faster-than-light travel. That the Oatia elves had identified them suggested they had had extraordinary astronomical equipment, supernatural techniques for surveying the sky, or some other means of seeing far beyond the Pact Worlds system.

Galakrond finished up and led the way into the next chamber. The walls in the long gallery depicted elves using needles to tattoo one another with constellations, geometric designs, and strange runic patterns. Rows of tall stone benches lined either side of the hall. Carved along the ceiling were twelve stylized elven figures, heavily tattooed, adorned in different ways, and marked with starbursts on their foreheads. A pair of cultists lying in wait opened fire with scatterguns, but the crew made short work of them. The vesk looted the bodies before continuing forward.

They found the shirren sniper Salask in a domed room with numerous open skylights and windows. The design of the chamber created a steady flow of outside air. A ring of slime mold formed a misshapen circular pattern on the floor. As a true believer in the tenets of the Devourer, Salask refused to back down even against overwhelming odds. She was swiftly defeated and bound.

When questioned, she was reticent to talk about Tahomen’s specific plans. All she knew was that Tahomen saw something in the broadcasts from the Drift Rock that he thought had some connection with the Temple of the Twelve, and he believed there was more to learn from the ancient elven temple city. Because she had busily traveled back and forth to harry the crew, Salask had not seen the temple; she just knew that Tahomen believed it holds grand secrets that will speed the bloody end of the galaxy.

Twitch hacked Salask’s comm unit, which had several logged communications with another unit. These conveyed updates about her movements through the jungle and ways in which she had harassed the crew. She also had an extensive number of recorded broadcasts of Eoxian “reality” programming and blood sport, favoring productions by the elebrian celebrity Zo!, including an entire season of the viscerally grotesque Survival Deathmatch Extreme!

After a brief discussion of what to do with the prisoner, it was agreed that she would be left bound with her sword and her rations, so that if she had a chance of survival, but could not harass the crew from a distance anymore. Kusanagi climbed a much steeper staircase that branched off the main stairs and led to a 60-foot-long series of ladder-like handholds that ascended to the upraised palm of the Stargazer’s hand. The slightly cupped hand had lost its delicate guardrails long ago, but there was still space to stand there. Galakrond joined him atop the hand, and the Starfinders noted a pair of ksariks circling the perimeter of the ruins.

They let the others know, and sure enough, the creatures were waiting to attack when the crew exited the Stargazer. Galakrond took a beating, but otherwise the plant creatures were defeated efficiently. The crew continued their journey.

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Ukulam – Loskialua

The closer the crew got to the Temple of the Twelve, the more noticeably steep the trek became. By the time they were within a half day’s travel from the site, the jungle thinned out slightly and the ground arose, giving way to a stretch of verdant, rolling foothills crisscrossed by meandering creeks with sources in the striking peaks of the Singing Range to the north and west.

They reached the ruins of what Halkueem Zan had called the “Forsaken City,” but millennia before, these ruins were Loskialua, a small elven settlement. A graveyard of pyramids that rose between two and twenty-five feet in height studded the landscape. With hundreds of structures, Loskialua represented a rare archaeological treasure that would require years of dedicated fieldwork to excavate and document. Of greater interest to the crew, though, was the intact temple and observatory – the Temple of the Twelve – perched hundreds of feet up the side of Alhuenar Spire, one of the Singing Range’s highest mountains.

Standing imperiously on a promontory partway up the mountainside was a temple of elegantly sculpted stone with a single domed tower rising from its center. Expanses of the structure’s weathered exterior bore scores of tall, glass-paned windows that caused the facade to shimmer in the sunlight. Wide stairs were carved into the rock face, winding back and forth as they ascended to the temple from the ruins below. The greater temple complex had once included numerous smaller outbuildings, but these had largely collapsed over time, being of less durable construction than the temple itself.

The crew noted static over their comms that rendered them completely useless by the time they reached the base of the path to the temple. The elves had carved a staircase into the steep slope leading up to the site. Halkueem Zan had called this pathway the “Stairs to Eternity.” The crew encountered a young mountain eel devouring a cultist partway up the path. Though its paralyzing gaze stopped Boske in his tracks for a long moment, the beast was taken down quickly.

On the north side, a series of weathered pillars arced around the entrance of the temple, marking a curving border around a small plaza. A steep, narrow trail left the plaza from the northwest, winding more than a mile up the mountainside to the temple’s main observatory. A figure stepped forward and motioned for the crew to halt upon the stairs before he solemnly greeted them in Elven and ordered them to turn back. The man appeared to be an elf, though Winslow noted that he seemed to be undead. The vesk translated for the others, and Galakrond asked the guardian his name.

“I am Panelliar, Sun Spear of the Inscrutable. It is my duty to guard this place against those who would despoil or misuse my people’s discoveries.”

“That’s not why we’re here,” said the vesk. “We’re here to stop cultists from doing that. Have you seen anyone else?”

“Centuries ago, a child of Golarion came. He sought the secrets beyond for his own glory, so I turned him away with violence. A band of lashuntas and an unfamiliar alien arrived recently. I recognized them as pawns of the Star-Eater, and although I turned them away, the leader’s conviction and magic were strong; I relented.”

“Magical compulsion?” guessed Winslow.

“Any way we can convince you to let us pass?” asked Boske.

“The speaker for the Star-Eater does not wish to allow you to enter, and by his will, I must insist. You are not welcome here.”

Reluctantly, the crew engaged the ancient elven guardian. He sparred with Galakrond using a solarian enhanced spear for a few moments before moving into position and unleashing a supernova revelation. The wave of fire washed over most of the crew and the heat was so intense that it killed Ralkawi, the cultist that they had saved from the ksarik spores. Panelliar fell shortly thereafter, a hole through the chest plate of his ancient elven battle armor, courtesy of Boske. Winslow provided magical healing and everyone took a few minutes to rest before they entered the temple.

The ornately carved wooden doors leading into the temple had just barely survived the ages intact. They were unlocked, and Boske kicked them in easily, alerting anyone who might be inside to the presence of newcomers. From its floor to its curved ceiling thirty feet above, this entry hall was covered in sweeping arcs of constellations marked with delicate lines and numbers at regular intervals. A series of short climbing pitons stuck out of the ground near the center of the room, where embedded floor scythes had been placed to slash at the unwelcome.

While the others examined the constellations, Kusanagi scouted ahead to the right. Three wooden doors lined the west wall of the gallery there. The curving interior wall depicted the night sky and its stars. A three-foot-tall octagonal stone platform stood in the middle of the hall, and the android noted a trio of cultists that had taken cover along the wall. He reported back to the others, and the crew attacked without preamble. The lesser cultists fell quickly, but their leader forced a chase around the back side of a central chamber where Dr. Solstarni lay bound. They managed to defeat the lashunta cultist before she could detonate the explosives that she and her cultists had placed on the ceiling.

The southernmost point in the temple was a high-ceilinged sanctuary with tall, narrow windows filled with foggy, discolored glass. The vantage point jutted out over the cliff below, overlooking the stairs carved into the mountainside and the ruined settlement below. The kasatha archaeologist abducted from the university in Qabarat, Dr. Solstarni, was fettered here and looked up at the Starfinders in great relief. They released her and asked what she knew about the remaining cultists.

“The so-called Eyrub Paqual was a ploy, as I suspected. The man behind my abduction is a lashunta called Tahomen, who leads a significant Cult of the Devourer cell. From what I gather, he learned of ancient texts associated with the explorer Halkueem Zan’s travels here and attempted to recruit me to travel here and decipher anything we found. What I’ve learned is that the Oatia elven culture found the cosmos utterly fascinating, at first worshiping Desna before fixating on several alien entities and celestial features to worship – especially a constellation of twelve stars, which might be strictly symbolic. He knocked me out after I ceased cooperating here, and I suspect he learned something more in the temple’s inner sanctum.”

She gestured to a door on the south facing of the central chamber of the temple, and the crew moved to investigate. Once a freestanding shrine dedicated to Desna, the butterfly-shaped structure became the inner sanctum of the temple to Ibra later built around it. Even an untrained viewer could tell that the construction styles of the two phases were quite distinct. The astronomers of the Temple of the Twelve had stored the records of their greatest discoveries here, and the sanctum was filled with physical books and scrolls. A spiral staircase to the north climbed to the temple’s observatory tower high above the ground floor.

No sooner had Galakrond set foot inside than a pair of elven statues flanking the entrance animated and attacked. No one had any ideas about the nature of the magical constructs, but they didn’t last long against the crew regardless. With the guardians defeated, some of the crew looked around with Dr. Solstarni, while others defused the explosives.

Many of the pre-Gap books were legible, albeit barely intact. Tahomen had been sloppy in returning documents to their proper places, allowing the crew to uncover the same information that he had. Most of the texts were in Elven, though some were in Celestial, Draconic, and an archaic version of Castrovelian that was very difficult for a modern speaker to parse. However, with Dr. Solstarni’s assistance, the Starfinders learned that the Oatia elves were a philosophical offshoot that had spurned their Sovyrian kin and sought a new life of cosmic contemplation on Ukulam, thousands of years before the Gap. Their techniques had quickly improved, and through a combination of telescopes and divination magic, the elves had discovered a strange constellation of twelve stars that formed a perfect circle in the sky. The more they had studied the constellation, the stranger their dreams had become, and powerful scholar-priests had begun recording the odd language they saw and heard.

As the elves’ knowledge of and exposure to the galaxy had expanded, they’d parleyed with increasingly bizarre and powerful alien minds, most notably a powerful being known as Ibra – especially noteworthy because the elves’ records suggested that Ibra may not have been a deity at the time. Through Ibra’s teachings, the elves had studied the mysterious circular constellation, learning that it was not a natural feature but the construction of an impossibly ancient and highly advanced species untold light years away. The scholar-priests sensed that the ring pulsed with an unnatural energy, which led them to believe it to be a gateway of some kind. The elves called it the Gate of Twelve Suns, and they renamed their temple in honor of it.

There were a few theories, but the most popular hypothesis was that the Gate of Twelve Suns represented such power that it could only be (or serve as the portal to) some cosmically powerful superweapon. One of the scholar-priests even posited the existence of a so-called “Stellar Degenerator,” which could drain all energy from a star, turning it into a hypothetical stellar remnant called a black dwarf. Unfortunately, there’s no definitive note of where the Gate of Twelve Suns was – as if identifying its location had been taboo to the elves.

As interpretive disputes broke out among the elves, they had agreed that from the confines of Loskialua, they could never confirm their theories, much less attain enlightenment through discovery under the inspired guidance of Ibra. They had packed up what they needed, and then they had performed a ritual that the texts referred to only as “the Celestial Voyage.” The implication was that the elves had traveled to another system, though whether they succeeded or failed was uncertain from these records.

Armed with the knowledge of what Tahomen had found and the threat it could represent in the hands of the Cult of the Devourer, the crew finished up treasure hunting and exited the temple. As they stepped outside, the cult leader Tahomen and his two surviving cultists descended from the mountain. The cult leader engaged in some mocking banter as his subordinates set the heavy comm unit components down. Then he pulled out and activated a detonator.

Nothing happened.

He clicked the button another couple of times in confused irritation before throwing the detonator aside in disgust and growling at his underlings to attack! The cultists fell swiftly, but Tahomen’s magic carved painful gouges in the crew’s flesh before he was dazed and laid low.

With Tahomen defeated, the Starfinders inspected the comm unit his team had carried across Ukulam. The system was massive, only capable of being moved by several strong people once it had been broken into smaller components. Even with the comm unit disassembled, Twitch booted up the system’s computer and accessed its unsecured communications log. Tahomen had dutifully purged his correspondence history leading up to this expedition, but the ysoki could still determine that the comm unit had logged a call and significant data upload about three hours earlier.

To access more information, Twitch hacked the comm unit’s computer. Once he had access to the system, he could read Tahomen’s recent communications. The correspondence relayed many of the same conclusions the crew had learned in the inner sanctum, but with more sinister certainty: Tahomen posited that the 12-star constellation – the Gate of Twelve Suns – opened to a demiplane that hid an unspeakably powerful superweapon. The cult leader believed that the Drift Rock was a tiny fragment of this “Stellar Degenerator,” broken off when a portion of the demiplane was torn away and added to the Drift as a result of Drift travel. Tahomen had also recommended that the Cult of Devourer apply as many resources as possible to find the Gate of Twelve Suns – and the Stellar Degenerator – before anyone else could. In addition, the Starfinders learned the approximate coordinates of the location Tahomen had transmitted his messages to: a stretch of several hundred asteroids in the Diaspora.

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Qabarat

Having thwarted Tahomen and his Devourer cult, the crew was compelled to expedite their return to civilization. Having used up their environmental protection on the trip across Ukulam, they traveled by night on the return trip, sleeping in their tents which offered protection – if not comfort – from the oppressive heat.

Professor Muhali was relieved to see her colleague in one piece, and university officials offered each of the crew admittance and free tuition to the school for up to three years in thanks for their service. Alternatively, they offered a “research grant” of a thousand credits from the university in lieu of a scholarship. Most of the crew opted for the latter.

Finally, they sent a message to Chiskisk in advance of their return to Absalom Station, as well as requests for upgrades to the Sunrise Maiden that Twitch wanted to add before taking the ship out on anymore missions.

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Temple of the Twelve

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Session 9
The Jungle

Qabarat Port Authority

Qabarat conducted trade by land, sea, and air, and like many other settlements on Castrovel, it also maintained a number of magical gateways known as aiudara or “elf gates.” These were not large enough to sustain heavy traffic, so the local port authorities managed use of the gateways to prioritize shipments from those who paid a premium for instant transportation. Most of these portals were in Qabarat’s Gateway District, a smaller area along the city’s eastern side, where use of the portals rarely interfered with the busy harbor and spaceports.

The crew flagged down a port worker fairly easily and secured some time with a manager in half an hour, since the police called ahead on their behalf. Gate Controller Raiyiri, a female damaya lashunta, was very professional and found the idea that uniformed employees of the Port Authority might have broken into the university a disturbing one. She quickly pulled up the assignment logs for the prior three days and confirmed that no employees were sent to the university. Furthermore, she knew that few people traveled to Turhalu Point, which was a largely decommissioned military base that served as a research station.

Based on their information, there was only one group that fit the description: a team of fifteen carrying laboratory equipment, cryogenically frozen organic compounds, and specialty foodstuffs with authorization from the Qabarat University of Xenoarchaeology and Xenoanthropology. According to the records, customs confirmed the contents of all of the crates, though the documentation was too sparse for Raiyiri’s liking. She also showed the Starfinders the passenger data, which indicated that the group consisted of a kasatha, a shirren, two humans, and eleven lashuntas.

Travel to Ukulam required official authorization, and there was little regular transport between Qabarat and Ukulam. In addition, starship landings on the continent were tightly restricted due to its status as a wilderness preserve, so the crew couldn’t simply hop across the planet in their own ship. However, since they had acquired visas from the university to visit Ukulam, they could use Qabarat’s aiudara to reach Turhalu Point without losing significant time in transit. The eastern coast of Ukulam was hours ahead of Qabarat, making it a completely different time of day when they arrived.

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Ukulam – Turhalu Point

The station at Turhalu Point sat at the tip of a broad peninsula covered in rolling plains and expanses of tall, pale-green grasses that shimmered with violet hues in the wind. Short-lived blooms of magenta fungus towered nearly twenty feet over the landscape, though many had begun to wilt and others were marred by bite marks of half a dozen sizes. Trumpeting calls echoed across the plains as immense, six-legged creatures with long, swooping necks trekked steadily across the grass toward the western jungles. Beyond rose the Singing Range, its peaks barely visible through the haze.

Once one of Qabarat’s minor military outposts on Ukulam, Turhalu Point had been decommissioned for more than twenty years. It still maintained a token security force to keep the wildlife at bay, but industrious researchers had converted most of its gun turrets and bunkers into greenhouses and biology labs.
Among the researchers was Dr. Khair al-Nuaf, one of the ranking human scientists and a grant beneficiary of the Qabarat University of Xenoarchaeology and Xenoanthropology. Having received the school’s recent call for assistance, he was nearby to greet the crew when they arrived.

He not only informed the Starfinders that Eyrub Paqual and his group came and departed into the wilderness a little more than day before, but also conveyed what he learned of the other group, which consisted largely of armed lashunta mercenaries. Based on what he’d overheard, they were headed toward some elven ruins to the northwest to perform archaeological survey work with the oversight of Dr. Solstarni, though the kasatha appeared to be groggy and perhaps ill.
The research outpost had numerous maps of the region and survey data from aircraft that had flown over most of the continent, so based on the crew’s anecdotal notes and the maps created by Halkueem Zan centuries ago, Dr. al-Nuaf estimated that the journey to the abandoned city would take about 10 to 12 days of steady travel on foot. He advised you that their route should lead them first through the fairly sparse lowlands around Turhalu Point, into the dense subtropical rain forests to the northwest, and finally into the foothills of the Singing Range.

The university had instructed Dr. al-Nuaf to assist the crew further by providing additional gear requisitioned from his project’s inventory. This included a scratched-up suit of armor, a couple of weapons, antitoxin, and sprayflesh. He also supplied them with field rations, standard ammunition, and access to the outpost’s recharging stations. Finally, Dr. al-Nuaf provided those who didn’t have them with a mass-produced tent. They rested the night at Tuhalu Point, setting out the next morning.

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Ukulam

Turhalu Point’s security forces were willing to drive the crew about ten miles outside the outpost, but from there, they were on their own. Strict guidelines controlled vehicle traffic in that part of the reserve, so they had to proceed on foot. Loskialua lay approximately 120 miles west-northwest of Turhalu Point through a trackless expanse of subtropical forest. Winslow established a mind link, and Boske orienteered, using his talents as a bounty hunter to track Eyrub Paqual and avoid getting lost.

It took about two days to traverse the grasslands surrounding Turhalu Point. The journey was not difficult, but the grasses were in a tall, seasonally dormant state that attracted few grazers to crop the vegetation. As a result, the grass ranged in height from three to eight feet tall, making it difficult to watch for wildlife. Nevertheless, the crew faced few dangers until they reached the edge of the jungle on the third day of travel.

Dozens of huge beasts leisurely patrol the area through which the crew needed to travel, knocking aside smaller trees and trampling the cultists’ spoor as the immense creatures sniffed out delicious fungus. Winslow told the others that the beasts were known as yaruks, and they could be extremely dangerous if threatened. The creatures were fairly calm at the moment, so they thought they could weave among them by keeping their distance and not making any threatening moves – much like a variety of other native creatures were doing.

They had safely maneuvered among the yaruks for about twenty minutes when they heard the crack of a rifle, and one of the largest animals reared up in pain and bellowed a distress call. Kusanagi and Twitch happened to be looking northwest and noticed a suppressed muzzle flare on a high vantage hundreds of feet away. Some of the beasts began to bolt away, while others rallied to the wounded one’s defense.

What followed was a mad chase through the trampling titans. Boske called directions, Galakrond opened fire to dissuade nearby beasts from getting closer, and Winslow distracted them with magic. Kusanagi, Twitch, and his rebuilt drone LACIE physically maneuvered to stay ahead of the madness, even as trees were toppled before the crew and splintered overhead.

Fortunately, before anyone was crushed to death, the crew reached an ancient stone bridge crossing one of the river tributaries that flowed through the jungle. The bridge easily supported the humanoids, but once they were across, an angry yaruk pursuing them got only a few steps across before collapsing the old elven architecture. The rest of the moot considered pulled up short, and the group gradually dispersed after another minute of aggressive posturing. Beyond the bridge stood the landmark identified by Halkueem Zan as the “Rune Obelisk.”

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Ukulam – “Rune Obelisk”

The elven Oatia culture created a few lasting architectural works during its occupation of eastern Ukulam, including the nearly three hundred foot tall structure. After millennia of erosion, when Halkueem Zan found this site, he believed it was a mighty monument. The area surrounding the Rune Obelisk was uneven, where soil deposition and plant growth have covered most of the building foundations that surrounded the site. Even so, the stubborn trees that grew sparsely there had displaced many stones with their roots, leaving carved blocks scattered haphazardly around the area.

The crew noticed clusters of blue-striped orange fruit ripening in the canopy above, and a number that had fallen from the branches above to the ground. They identified these as ralyrian figs, one of the more prolific fruiting trees in Castrovel’s northern hemisphere and a staple food for many forest creatures. Wild ralyrian figs were said to be rather tart but safe to eat.

Strange alien creatures clambered through the forest’s understory, sometimes just bobbing their heads while inquisitively watching the Starfinders. Other times they actively warbled a warning call that sounded like “kau-kar-eeee-keeee,” threw fruit at the travelers, or even crept close enough to touch someone’s leg or snatch a loose trophy before scampering away to the screeching adulation of their comrades. These creatures were known as kaukarikis, inquisitive pests named after the sound of their warning vocalizations in the presence of threat. Also known as “stingbats” – as referenced in Halkueem Zan’s notes – their tail was tipped with a venomous stinger.

Winslow hung figs from his belt, which the creatures delighted in stealing. However, when the crew was within sight of the obelisk, the kaukarikis escalated their teasing and began chasing one another through the trees. Then four of them descended to attack as their peers screamed encouragement from the branches. The flighty beasts were no match for the Starfinders, and the first wave of kaukarikis was slaughtered, the others became more skittish and screeched angrily from a safe distance. The troop remained in sight, however.

Just before the creatures had attacked, the more observant among the crew had noticed one of them stowing something shiny in the hollow of a tree about twenty feet up. Boske started to climb the tree, but Kusanagi’s jump jets got him there first, to the vesk’s annoyance. There, the android found three serums of healing, which he retrieved and distributed.

The Rune Obelisk rose above the jungle, just as Halkueem Zan’s notes promised. It was an immense pillar of stone, approximately fifteen feet wide with an X-shaped cross section that provided climbing plants excellent purchase. The flora included a network of green vines, several brilliant fuchsia bromeliads, and a host of violet flowers.

Winslow noticed something hiding among the leaves at the obelisk’s base, recognizing a vracinea – one of many plant predators that evolved in Castrovel’s jungles. The sight of its blossoms was said to lure victims closer, and its paralyzing scent could immobilize them. Before he could communicate the threat to the rest of the crew over the mind link, Twitch walked right up to the flowers, apparently proving the lure rumors true. Boske went to fetch him, but when he caught the flowers’ scent, he stood paralyzed. Galakrond approached next, but was likewise immobilized by the paralyzing scent. The others kept their distance, still not seeing the threat. And then the plants moved, revealing that they were the threat!

Boske was bit a couple of times by the vracinea’s sharp teeth, unable to escape his paralysis. Galakrond and Twitch managed to free themselves of the plant’s influence and started aiding the others in an assault. It didn’t take long to take the creature down after that, though Boske bled freely from several wounds.

After a few minutes of rest and study, the crew hypothesized that the inaccurately named Rune Obelisk was actually a massive post that had supported a now-missing observation deck. A few Elven letters were visible through the climbing vines, but deciphering anything substantive required cutting down the clinging plants. The vesk got to work, and after they’d cleared one section of the wall, they managed to decipher the writing. What survived of the Elven inscriptions warned visitors that they approach “Loskialua, monastery of starsong, embassy of the spheres, and Temple of the Twelve.” Fragmentary notes also included mentions of paying respect, messengers from beyond, an academy, and “interpreters of the beacon.”

About thirty feet south of the obelisk, the crew discovered what they presumed to be the remains of one of Paqual’s group. There was no body, but they did find a torn and useless estex suit, a gnawed frostbite-class zero rifle, and a silvery credstick. Boske suggested that they remained a couple of days behind their quarry.

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The kaukarikis’ antics aside, much of the next day’s travel passed without incident as the terrain gradually began to slope upward. Around mid-morning the crew caught sight of a colorful creature a little more than a hundred feet away. Winslow identified it as a ksarik and informed the others that the plant creature originally occupied a niche between decomposers and scavengers, before adapting to sniff out carrion and digest every piece of a rotting corpse. They were said to be able to spit acid and launch thorns that exposed those hit with carrion spores.

When the ksarik noticed the crew looking at it, it galloped away through the trees. As the day progressed, it became bolder, wriggling its feeding tentacles curiously and even gurgling audibly. Shortly thereafter, it fired a thorn dart at one of them before lumbering away. When it came back twice more that day, the crew returned fire, but each time it fled before they could do much to it.

On the following day, the ksarik appeared only once before it headed northwest. Near the middle of the day, their path took them into a clearing. They heard a hoarse moaning coming from one of the few nearby trees. The crew moved to investigate, finding a wounded and sickly korasha lashunta woman. It was clear to Winslow that she had been infected by carrion spores from the fragments of the ksarik thorn dart he found in her leg. Despite her protests, he started to treat her, only to be interrupted by the return of the ksarik!

The crew moved to engage, and the beast lobbed a couple of thorn darts at them before they managed to take it down. Boske helped Kusanagi up from the ground where the android had fallen when he lost control of his jetpack maneuvering between trees. The crew set themselves in guard positions while Winslow continued his work. The lashunta woman decided that she was willing to accept the shirren’s help rather than stubbornly die. She said her name was Ralkawi and that she had joined the Cult of the Devourer to eliminate a string of bad personal and financial choices that left her bankrupt and alone. She admitted that she was among the least pious of the cell.

The crew asked Ralkawi if any other cultists had been left behind, and she admitted that at least one or two had fallen to Ukulam’s dangers. The leader Tahomen, was a true believer, and whatever he thought he would find on Ukulam was not a good thing for the rest of creation. Ralkawi said she’d be more than happy to join the expedition since the crew seemed content to spare her life, and Winslow insisted upon it. Galakrond grumbled but then helped Twtich modify the doctor’s stretcher with a wheel fashioned from the trunk of one of the many trees. They gave the lashunta the armor acquired from Turhalu Point, since her environmental protection had run out. Then they continued on as far as they could for the day.

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On the morning of the seventh day of travel, wriggling, maggot-like ksarik seedlings burrowed their way out of Ralkawi’s abdomen. The pain on her face was apparent, but she managed to survive the exodus. The vesk stomped the seedlings into oblivion and Winslow treated the injury. Afterward, the lashunta admitted that she felt much better.

As they set out, the wind shifted direction, carrying with it a tangy scent. Looking to the foliage-obscured sky, the kaukarikis fell silent before yapping warnings to one another. They dashed upward toward bucket-sized flowers a hundred feet above and wrapped themselves in the petals, practically disappearing from sight.

Looking upward at the creatures’ odd behavior, the crew noticed fluffy pink clouds floating gently above the trees and recognized the signs of the imminent approach of one of Castrovel’s notorious moldstorms. These were said to be short-lived events in which several types of giant fungi all released their spores at once. In smaller quantities, these spores were harmless, but moldstorms could clog creatures’ respiratory systems and even take root in living tissues, breaking down flesh and inhibiting neurological systems.

Working swiftly, the crew and Ralkawi built a superior temporary shelter, which protected them all from the effects of the mold. They lost half a day’s worth of travel, but were not exposed to the diseased spores. When they emerged hours later, they saw that the moldstorm had left the landscape coated with fluffy tufts of pinkish spores like a dusting of snow, accumulating in waist-high drifts as the wind blew through the forest. The spores quickly lost their harmful potential after the moldstorm ends, and the kaukarikis took that as their cue to stop harassing the crew and return to their territory.

As you were setting up camp for the night, a large reptile crashed toward them, its scales covered in mold. The creature’s roar unsettled Galakrond temporarily, but in its maddened state, it was no match for the seasoned crew. Afterward, they provided Ralkawi with the chewed zero rifle that they’d found near the Rune Obelisk.

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Ukulam – “Plague Warden”

On the eighth day of the trip, the trees thinned ahead, forming a broad clearing centered on an immense stone statue of a reclining elf whose skin bore dozens of raised markings like painful welts. The figure rested on one partially buried elbow while extending its other hand toward the sky. The elf’s simple robe and hair were both sculpted of heavily weathered metal that had corroded entirely in places. Numerous crumbling outbuildings ringed the clearing, where only mosses and a few stubborn, stunted trees grew.
To the explorer Halkueem Zan, the immense statue had depicted a sickly elf wasting away from an unknown disease, leading him to dub it the “Plague Warden.”

Untold ages had reduced the buildings to low walls and buried foundations, with only a few fragmented walls standing more than four feet in height. The more complete structures had trapped millennia of sediment and runoff, forming a spongy floor of silt and moss, but none of the buildings had roofs any longer.

As the crew passed the outbuildings and entered the clearing, a sticky strand from above encased Winslow, drawing everyone’s attention to the previously empty sky. There floated a huge tentacled creature, its aerial camouflage fading to reveal its blue bulk!

The sky fisher reeled Winslow upward and took a bite out of him! The shirren felt weaker and recognized that the aberration must be venomous. He scrambled in his pack for antitoxin and injected it into his leg. The others started firing at the creature from the ground. And then they heard the crack of a sniper rifle a moment before a bullet impacted Twitch’s energy shield. It had come from somewhere near the elven statue, but the crew could see no sign of the hidden sniper.

“Think we’ve found more of the cult,” said Ralkawi. “Probably Salask, Tahomen’s marksman.”

Kusanagi was fished upward next, but he broke free and used his jump jets to arrest his fall. A tense thirty seconds passed before the crew’s gunplay managed to bring the sky fisher down. Unfortunately its fall also meant Winslow’s. The beast crashed down atop the doctor, crushing him. While the others took cover from the sniper, Galakrond lifted the sky fisher’s dead bulk to find Winslow unconscious. He fed the shirren a healing potion then carried him over his shoulder and into the jungle where the others waited.

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Temple of the Twelve

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Session 8
Practical Xenocide

Struggle’s Scholar

When the crew used the beacon’s coordinates and instructions to drop out of the Drift, they found themselves a few hundred yards from the disabled Struggle’s Scholar. The heavily damaged kasathan transport ship floats in empty space, dark but for a slowly flashing orange light at its aft. Just a few miles away from the ship, a massive storm dwarfed the vessel, blue and gray etheric clouds warping the field of stars behind the ship and flashing internally with jagged streaks of light. For all its violence, the vast storm was silent, and it loomed larger with each passing second. It was clear that the storm would overtake the Struggle’s Scholar, destroying the ship long before the Starfinders could restore the vessel to working order or even tow it out of the way.

The Honorbound floated nearby, and Captain Yuluzak hailed them on comms. He explained that he sent his crew on a boarding action, leaving only himself and the doctor aboard the vesk ship. The boarding party came under attack and stopped responding to hails. He feared the worst but hoped that Galakrond’s challenge of physical combat was not a boast. The Starfinders were his only chance to salvage the mission.

Twitch used the the ship’s computer to scan the Struggle’s Scholar. He was able to get the basic internal map of the ship, with outlines of every chamber. The Struggle’s Scholar is an older model of kasathan starship known as an Idaran Centuria, its curved hull representative of kasathan design standards. Each room is 15 feet high with walls made of starship interior material and steel doors. The ship has enough power to provide both basic life support and normal gravity. According to the scan, only low-power emergency lighting illuminates the ship. He also noted the presence of notable power spikes in the captain’s quarters, engine room, and bridge.

It was a simple matter to attach to the Struggle Scholar’s airlock, which had an internal access door to the fore. Loose netting floated in the gravity-free chamber. A warning light above the interior door flashed every few seconds, periodically bathing the room in a dim orange glow. A small panel next to the door flashed orange in time with the warning light. Kusanagi used the panel to close the main airlock door, which caused the room to automatically pressurize. Artificial gravity then began to kick in gradually, and as air filled the room, a blaring alarm could be heard, timed with the light. After thirty seconds, the alarm and light stopped flashing, and a horrifying screech echoed past the sealed forward door. Signaling the others, the android used the panel again to open the interior door.

Beyond, a gruesome trail of blood ran across the floor of the ten-foot wide hallway that ran horizontally across the ship; at each end of the hall were metal access doors leading to the forward and aft. A shorter hall led to a forward door, with two doors halfway up that hall exiting to the port and starboard. The wreckage of a double-barreled weapon turret limply hung from the ceiling, just to the left of the airlock door. Two vesk corpses lay there, apparently having been gunned down by turret fire.

Galakrond stepped into the corridor and a turret dropped from the ceiling to shoot him, as had almost become protocol for this sort of exploration. It apparently spent its last round on the effort, as only clicks issued from it after the first shot. Kusanagi crept along the starboard side of the corridor, following the blood trail to an open door on the forward side. Within, the operative saw the signs of struggle throughout the room. A single bed in the forward-port side of the chamber was torn, with its comforter halfway on the floor. A nearby bed table and desk were in similar disarray, covered with shattered glass and hunks of broken ceramics. A pool of blood covered the nearby floor near the door.

A strangled vesk corpse and a lifeless kasatha in a suit of battle harness powered armor lay on the floor. The armor was unpowered – a cable on the floor led from a starship battery pack to the base of the suit. It appeared to have been disconnected. Kusanagi returned to the others to report his findings.

They decided to try to reach the bridge, the most logical place for them to find the information on Sangoro’s Bulwark. They paused to check out the engine room, through a portside door. Cracks marred the surface of the chamber’s portside wall. A constant thrum of power was audible within the area, clearly emanating from an immense engine embedded into the forward wall. A standalone control module sat opposite the entrance, but the thick cable that should connect it to the humming engine was irrevocably split. Three rectangular stacks of batteries filled the southern end of the engine room.

The engine enclosure in the forward section of the room was missing its front panel, and a maze of crisscrossing wires connected to various terminals. Aft of the control module, several dead, brick-sized starship batteries were stacked on metal shelves. The topmost row was hooked up to an exposed power terminal labeled “Bridge” with a black marker. Another power terminal was labeled “Mess,” and it seemed to have power running to it.

As near as they could tell, someone appeared to have patched what they could and diverted remaining power to the ship’s life support systems and most of the ship’s internal doors. Connecting a charged battery pack to the associated terminal would presumably unlock the associated door. The patchwork of rerouted wires would take even an expert more time than they had to reverse-engineer; they recognized the futility of attempting to reroute power using the existing wires. They had power to the mess, which seemed to be between them and the bridge, but they would need another battery to then access the bridge itself. Kusanagi mentioned the battery he’d seen near the battle harness on the kasatha corpse in the captain’s quarters.

No sooner than he said that than a four-armed kasathan driftdead floated through the wall to attack Twitch! A brutal melee ensued, as the incorporeal creature resisted even their energy weapons, but despite the harm it inflicted with its vicious claws, the crew managed to defeat it. Winslow was particularly instrumental, harming the undead while also sending healing energy to wash over his companions. They took a break before continuing their exploration.

Galakrond fetched the second live battery from the captain’s quarters and Twitch connected it to the terminal marked “Bridge.” They headed forward into the mess hall, which resembled a charnel house. The remains of two dead kasathas were piled in the forward-portside corner, surrounded by knocked-over chairs. A ceremonial table setting in the center of the chamber was spattered with blood. The stench of decay was palpable in this room, and even the sink along the southern wall was coated in a dark-red shade. Storage containers filled the eastern side of the room, each similarly spattered by gore. An impressive set of double doors barred passage to the bridge.

Winslow and Boske went to inspect the corpses, while Kusanagi approached the door to the bridge. All three were attacked by something that burst from the corpses as they drew near. They prevented the alien larvae from burrowing too deeply into their flesh, even as they came to the sobering conclusion that the driftdead was likely not the last of their problems. Galakrond produced a pair of healing serums from the storage containers, and the party continued to the bridge.

The ship’s bridge was alight in red warning screens. The nearing ethereal storm loomed beyond the forward viewing platform, while the ship’s failing power caused each station’s panels to flicker intermittently. A battered captain’s chair oversaw two tiers of descending operations panels. The seat appeared to be occupied by the corpse of a kasatha.

Kusanagi noticed that something seemed to be wearing the body of the pilot. He warned the others and the creature spun around in the chair as Galakrond approached. The four-armed alien was a xill, and it bit the vesk only once before it was cut down by the crew’s combined efforts.

With the alien defeated, they scoured the bridge for the data they needed. It was heavily encrypted, but they both downloaded it onto multiple computers in their possession and physically removed the hard drive from its damaged casing in the bridge’s command console. A silk kasatha mouth scarf rested at the feet of the ruined pilot’s body. They brought the fallen man to the main cabin where they began to collect the other bodies, vesk and kasatha. With one of the Honorbound crew still unaccounted for, the Starfinders methodically searched the rest of the ship.

Opposite the captain’s quarters, they found four beds filling most of the tidy crew quarters. Each bed was neatly made with a prominent item placed atop its center. Above the beds were tightly sealed storage compartments. A single-tier metal shelf curved around the southwestern wall, its surface pristine but entirely empty. The culturally sensitive crew knew that the items placed atop the beds were each part of a kasathan tradition for those who were making a journey from which they didn’t expect to return. The kasatha crew members had left personal items on each of their beds, as gifts to those who survive them and continue to create future history. The crew collected the items, including a datapad which they restored to power and unlocked. It contained the most recent personal logs of one of the kasatha named Teliu.

RECORD 1
I am worried about Yotto. She is furious about what happened at the Bulwark and seems to be withdrawing more and more – she didn’t even attend this morning’s spar. Instead, I battled against Blue Sky-101, who is a skilled opponent but lacks the same vitality and understanding of honor. I thought Yotto would at least work some of her anger out by taking baton to bot. Perhaps it is her youth getting the better of her. I will give her a few days to restore her balance.

RECORD 2
The loss of Yotto is unbearable, and to make matters worse, the damage to the ship was more extensive than we thought. The captain sent out a distress beacon in the Drift, but it is too dangerous to stay in this minefield, so we have returned to the Material Plane. When we return to the Idari, I hope the adata will accept Yotto’s body and grant me dispensation to query her soul. I’d like to speak with her one last time – and ask her why she was in the cargo hold when we were hit. For now, I have shrouded her body and placed it in the sparring chamber.

RECORD 3
At first, I thought it was a dream – a nightmare. I walked into the sparring room and there was Yotto, but… changed. She swung at me from across the room, but I felt her hand rip through me as though I were made of paper. I tried to subdue her with the sparring equipment, but my blows simply passed through her. It took all of us armed with force batons to eventually lure her into the captain’s quarters, where the captain sacrificed herself to trap Yotto – or whatever she has become – within her suit’s force field. Kela has rigged one of the ship’s batteries to amplify the field and keep the creature contained, but we may soon be faced with fighting this thing for our lives.

FINAL RECORD
As our forebears faced the dimming of Kasath’s sun, so do we know that our ship’s power reserves near their end. Traska has encrypted our ship’s log, and tonight we will gather in the mess to partake of our final meal. We have placed our sacred items atop our beds, as tradition requires. I hope those items, as well as something of the captain, our pilot, and even Blue Sky-101, find a safe return to the Idari should we not. Eloritu guide us.

- Teliu Davead Mord of Clan Ferrous, House Elwood, truth-keeper of the Ferrous Stone

Crossing to the port side of the ship, they entered the aft chamber to find the sparring room mentioned in Teliu’s logs. Just inside the doorway, the entry floor was caked with blood, and several batons and shuriken were scattered throughout the room. A simple sparring mat covered much of the center floor. An alcove along the eastern edge housed a weapon rack filled several kinds of batons and a dozen fine shuriken. On the opposite wall was a pad of self-healing foam with colorful abstract targets painted on it. A four-armed metal robot stood in the southwestern corner of the chamber. An open panel on its back appeared to be where a battery had been stored, but it was empty.

They noticed a holoprojector in the ceiling with a carbonedge shuriken lodged in it, and Twitch was able to repair it enough that it replayed a crew member’s brief fight with a driftdead – presumably Yotto. The holovid of the skirmish was grainy, and it cut out periodically before ending when the living crew member threw a shuriken that passed through the driftdead and hit the projector. They collected the weapons and finished their exploration across the hall.

The northern wall of the final chamber was so forcibly compacted to the south that the chamber extended only about ten feet from the door. Several person-sized crates were fused into the distorted hull, obviously melted by extreme heat. Space was visible from between several gaps in the northern wall, accented by the occasional shimmer of a force field. They figured that it was a cargo bay before the Struggle’s Scholar collided with magma-filled asteroids in the Drift. It looked like a few containers had been sucked into the larger openings, their metal melting into that of the hull and fusing them in place. The body of the final vesk crew member lay there.

Searching the cargo bay, they found that one of the fused cargo containers housed a macabre set of limbs: the right arm and leg of an android. The limbs apparently managed to avoid getting sucked into the vacuum along with their owner. They also identified a pattern of android fluids and alien blood spattered along the edges of one of the force field–protected holes into space – surmising that an android and an alien of some sort had been sucked out into space. From a panel near the door, they identified that the field had last been lowered using the authorization of a crew member named Blue Sky-101. Winslow identified the limbs as being torn off by a creature with vicious claws – probably the xill.

They managed to get the bodies and possessions of the fallen back aboard the Sunrise Maiden. Sending word to the Honorbound, they powered their Drift engine before the etheric storm finally consumed the area. The last sight they saw before heading into the Drift, was the Struggle’s Scholar breaking apart as the storm overtook it. The vesk bodies were returned to the Honorbound. Their captain, though saddened, appreciated the gesture. With this last bit of business concluded, they set a course back home.

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Absalom Station – Exo-Guardians Headquarters

Zigvigix was extremely appreciative for the shred of hope that the retrieved data represented. The tale of the Struggle’s Scholar’s fate disturbed the Exo-Guardians faction leader. Zigvigix promised to deliver the remains and personal belongings of the Struggle’s Scholar’s crew for proper last-rite ceremonies. The Starfinder Society maintained active files on each of the crew members, and Zigvigix confirmed that every member had requested burial of their bodies or their final possessions returned to the Idari – even the android, Blue Sky-101. Zigvigix then told the crew that they would send the damaged data to the Dataphiles in the hopes that Historia-7 might be able to parse the information and recover any word about the fate of Sangoro’s Bulwark.

Before dismissing them, Zigvigix offered a personal thanks for their part in the mission. “This is the first shred of truly good news that the Exo-Guardians have had in a long time! My many thanks for all you have done in securing this important data. Now, there is another important matter I wanted to bring up.

“Prior to the Scoured Stars incident, I was part of a group of loyal friends, like the team you’re all a part of. Right before that dark event, I bought some tickets for my friends and me to a major upcoming concert. It was going to be our big outing—a capstone to all our missions together. Now, all my friends are trapped or lost in the Scoured Stars, and who knows how long it will take before we find out what happened there. The concert is coming up in a few months, and I wanted to extend an invitation. No promises or anything; you might be on assignment, and field missions take priority. If you are free, though, I would be honored if you would join me at this concert. Think of it as a remembrance for my lost comrades and a celebration of a new generation’s camaraderie.

“Oh! I just realized that I should invite Historia-7 too! Okay, well, thanks again. I should get going!” With that said, Zigvigix eagerly limped away, leaving the crew to enjoy their success.

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Absalom Station – Lorespire Complex

A couple of days later, the crew received an incoming call from Chiskisk, summoning them in for a briefing. Once they had settled in, the shirren explained the development. “There is some good news regarding the research into the symbols you found on the Drift Rock. The Starfinder Society’s linguistic database recognized many of them, because this is not the first time they’ve appeared post-Gap. The bad news is that the source is… highly unreliable,” Chiskisk noted, as segments of their chitinous body scraped together in agitation.

“All that we have about these earlier texts comes from Halkueem Zan nearly three centuries ago, and it seems that no published studies of those texts have appeared since. According to these records, Zan’s original findings were donated to the Qabarat University of Xenoarchaeology and Xenoanthropology on Castrovel shortly after his—” the shirren paused while contemplating how best to phrase the sentence. “—disruptive expeditions.

“Fortunately, the Society has numerous alumni from that university, and I can readily secure you a contact there and forward my personal recommendation to a few faculty members. Perhaps they can show you Zan’s notes and even take you to the original site so that you can search for more clues about whatever this Drift Rock once was.”

No one had heard of Zan, so Kusanagi asked what was known about the man.

Chiskisk replied, “As you know, the Starfinder Society is an organization dedicated to uncovering the secrets of the universe and its past. As in any pursuit, a sensational hero can attract new recruits, and a buffoon can tarnish the whole field. Halkueem Zan was both. He traveled throughout the Pact Worlds making a name for himself as an explorer and archaeologist, but his techniques were utter rubbish. He was a looter with a good press agent, and he published lurid gibberish like ‘Pyramid People of Ukulam.’ His articles were popular with the public, but for every diligent explorer they inspired, another two were unscrupulous treasure hunters who just wanted to blow things up and call it archaeology.”

“So, he was a Starfinder?” asked Boske.

Chiskisk shuddered visibly. “No. Zan did most of his work at about the same time the Starfinder Society formed, but I don’t believe he was ever associated with us.”

Galakrond grunted. “What happened to Zan on Castrovel?”

“Different planets have different regulations for explorers. Zan wanted to explore a site on the restricted continent of Ukulam, but when the authorities denied him passage, he went anyway. I believe they confiscated most of his findings, and the whole incident spurred a decade of restrictions on offworld explorers.”

“That’s great,” said Twitch, his tone bored. “So, who’s our contact?”

The shirren nodded and tapped a few keys. “There is a postdoctoral student named Whaloss who has worked with the Society in the past. I’ll ask him to greet you when you land in Qabarat.”

Chiskisk believed that this was a strong lead, and because the crew had so far been at the forefront of this investigation, the shirren believed it was only proper that you have the right of first refusal to visit the university and learn more. In fact, they preferred that you do so, as thanks to the broadcast of the Drift Rock exploration, it was only a matter of time before someone else beat the Society to the prize. The shirren also sent the crew a digital copy of “Pyramid People of Ukulam,” which was a tawdry travelogue that lauded the author’s bravery as much as it described the culture that built the sites using ample nonacademic language such as “exotic,” “savages,” and “time immemorial.”

As a final note, Chiskisk said, “I know you’ve been running nonstop for us since you got back from the Drift Rock, so if you agree to pursue this lead, I’ve also authorized a stipend of 1,000 credits for the team.” No one argued.

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Castrovel – Qabarat

The crew traveled to Castrovel aboard the newly repaired Sunrise Maiden. Beyond dealing with a few fans of their recent celebrity on the way to the spaceport, their voyage was speedy and largely uneventful, taking only a few days using Drift travel.

Castrovel was a vibrant planet of sparkling blue oceans, continents blanketed in vividly green forests, and swirls of clouds. As the Sunrise Maiden entered the atmosphere near Qabarat, the city-state’s aviation authorities hailed the starship, asked for identification, and directed the crew to one of the landing pads at the city’s spaceport, Ship’s End. As a matter of course, a guard and a customs official briefly interviewed them about their business in Qabarat, whether they had local contacts, the expected duration of their stay, and whether they were importing any foreign life-forms. They were also informed that carrying personal weapons was not illegal in Qabarat, merely frowned upon. After the customs process, the officers issued the crew travel papers to keep with them for the duration of their stay.

Their Castrovelian contact Whaloss was waiting to meet them just outside the spaceport. Even for a damaya, he was tall and thin, almost to the point of seeming gaunt. His clothing was a stylish blend of local silks, though the overall ensemble showed considerable wear, as though he had relied on this nicer outfit for formal meetings for many years. Nonetheless, he positively beamed with antennae-twitching excitement to meet the crew and show them around Qabarat. As an advanced student of xenoarchaeology, he had collaborated with members of the Starfinder Society before and he was eager to hear about their recent findings.

Whaloss hailed a robo-taxi to carry the group into the heart of Qabarat and the university. As the taxi wended its way deeper into the city, trees gave way to elegant towers of carbon fiber, glass, and steel, each artistically sculpted to create a stunning forest of dazzling skyscrapers. The Qabarat University of Xenoarchaeology and Xenoanthropology was just north of the downtown commercial district and consisted of about ten buildings scattered over a campus of groomed lawns and gardens.

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Qabarat University of Xenoarchaeology and Xenoanthropology

While talking about their discovery, Whaloss admitted that he did not have the background to decipher the Drift Rock’s writing and technology, but he offered to introduce the crew to Professor Muhali, the head of the linguistic anthropology department. Her office was in the Alsima-Karei Hall, an eight-story building whose lobby is currently home to a small pack of journalists insistently trying to convince a receptionist to let them upstairs. Whaloss said that he was unfamiliar with any news that would warrant this level of attention.

Galakrond asked one of the journalists what was going on, and the fellow told them that Dr. Ailabiens 21:2 had given an incendiary lecture that some interpreted as a defense of violent xenophobia. The media was there primarily to secure interviews and comments from ranking academic staff.

The receptionist – Ikimsi, Whaloss supplies – was clearly out of his element dealing with the media. It was all he could do to keep them at bay on the ground floor while paging for support from the university’s publicist or deans. Lest the journalists try to piggyback on the crew’s access, Ikimsi was unwilling to let them upstairs until he had control of the situation downstairs.

The vesk tried intimidating the mob, while Twitch tried to fake a news story about an alternative source speaking out about the lecture. Kusanagi asked Whaloss if he could be disguised as someone important to scatter the journalists – a suggestion that was met with a firm denial on the lashunta’s part. It was Winslow’s calm and measured arguments, even in the face of belligerent shouting, that ultimately pacified the swarm and granted peace to the beleaguered Ikimsi.

Once the journalists are no longer clamoring to get upstairs, Ikimsi was amenable to hearing why you would like to meet with various professors upstairs, noting that Professor Muhali was currently very busy. They explained their reasons and since they had helped him with the media, Ikimsi rearranged the professor’s schedule for the day and created an official appointment for them. Whaloss led them to Muhali’s office on the fifth floor.

As the head of the linguistic anthropology department, Professor Muhali had one of the nicer offices in Alsima-Karei Hall. Her door was unlocked, and she accepts the crew in after they were introduced by Whaloss. This office was clean, roomy, and orderly. A large desk stood imposingly before a broad window that offered a charming view of a nearby park, and a small table in one corner had a quartet of chairs arranged evenly around it. Near the door was a wide examination table covered with broken fragments of stone, many of which bore incomplete words or letters written in a spiraling text. Several tiny fountains throughout the room burbled soothingly and shimmered with soft light.

Professor Muhali was fairly stern, having wrestled with offworld authorities to secure excavation permits, cut through red tape, and debunk fraudulent ideas vigorously defended by stubborn fools. She was dark-skinned for a lashunta, with pale green facial markings and purple hair cut in an asymmetrical style. After introductions, Muhali said that she had spent the past several hours corresponding with colleagues and devising ways in which to resolve the scandal Ailabiens 21:2 had started.

“One of my colleagues, Ailabiens 21:2, gave a rather incendiary public lecture last night in which he examined a war from nearly a millennium ago and used the cultural fallout from it to rationalize the genocide of the formian species. Even before the lashunta city-states and formian Colonies signed peace accords thirty years ago, such brutal conclusions would have been dismissed. Now he is fomenting hate crimes under the guise of ‘pure logic’ and anthropology. This is not what the university stands for, but it’s what the public now believes. I’ve placed him on academic leave and restricted his access to university resources until we can clean this up.”

With the media and university deans breathing down her neck over the incident, Muhali was largely uninterested in working on anything else, even as a favor to the Starfinder Society. Twitch cut right to the heart of the matter with a simple question. “How can we help?”

Professor Muhali sighed and delicately massaged the bases of her antennae. “You’re persistent. Maybe that could come in handy. What the university needs right now is to smooth this over quickly, and Ailabiens 21:2 is not listening to anything I say. He has not quite violated enough protocols to be dismissed; firing him would otherwise be good for optics. I think the media would settle for a public apology. If you can convince him to do that, I should be able to handle the rest.”

The crew agreed to try to defuse the scandal by convincing Ailabiens 21:2 to apologize. Whaloss took them to the professor’s office and while they were walking, the lashunta briefed them on the controversial doctor.

“Ailabiens 21:2 is an accomplished xenoanthropologist. Although his academic peers cannot doubt the contemplative’s knowledge of the subject, his own publications tend to receive mixed reviews due to the utterly sanitary impartiality and lack of empathy with which he approaches his work and subjects. This extends to his interactions with his coworkers and students, whom he boorishly psychoanalyzes to their faces as though he were performing a favor. For his part, Ailabiens 21:2 boasts of his emotional detachment with hypocritical pride, claiming that his objectivity makes him a superior analyst.

“Despite his uncouth demeanor, few have read as many articles and files as he has, and he commands an unrivaled mental catalog of the university’s collections. He reviewed Halkueem Zan’s confiscated notes a decade ago, dismissing it as drivel. Even so, that makes him one of the few who has personally read the explorer’s notebooks, few of which are properly digitized.”

The office of the academic Ailabiens 21:2 was a model of disorganized chaos, containing a mishmash of texts and cultural artifacts from across the Pact Worlds and beyond. When they arrived, they found dust, debris, and discarded papers littering the floor of the disorganized office. The contemplative floated above it, apparently nonchalant about the filthy floor, which crunched noisily under the crew’s feet. A single chair stood in the corner, and the desk and shelves were crowded with books, scrolls, statuettes, and loose computer hardware.

Whaloss introduced the crew to the professor then excused himself. With little else to do with his time, Ailabiens 21:2 was willing to entertain visitors, communicating almost exclusively through telepathy while doing so. The crew started by asking him about his lecture and why he thought people were offended by it.

Offense indicates a narrow perspective in the listeners. I analyzed ancient lashunta armies’ strategies against their formian neighbors and concluded that the former’s conditioned sentimentality inhibited more effectively destructive actions against their long-time enemies. The audience found my conclusion upsetting. Ailabiens 21:2 bobbed thoughtfully before adding, Other species are endlessly fascinating.

They discussed the subject for a few minutes, unable to pierce Ailabiens 21:2’s certainty that he was correct. Galakrond started a tangential conversation by agreeing that the contemplative’s argument did make rational sense and aligned with a lot of what he’d been taught about military tactics on Vesk Prime. This pleased Ailabiens 21:2, who began to consider possible overlap between the history of the Veskarium and that of Castrovel. Kusanagi brought the conversation back on track by asking about Zan.

Halkueem Zan, I presume you mean. I reviewed the entirety of Zan’s original notes early in my time here as faculty, and to my considerable knowledge, only Doctor Solstarni has studied them more recently. Zan’s methodology was imperfect, catering to an uneducated reader’s lexicon, fetishizing the ‘exotic,’ and conveying a pathological love of his self-image as an adventurer—likely to earn money or as an elaborate mating ritual. As a result, his work is scientifically wanting and his conclusions doubtful. Nevertheless, his notes provide enough detail to hypothetically retrace his steps.

“That’s great,” said Winslow. “Can you get us Zan’s notes?”

Normally, I could, but I am currently on probation due to the weak-willed public’s inability to process the logical arguments I posited in my recent lecture. Until I am reinstated, I cannot assist you.

“All right,” said Boske. “How do we make that happen?”

Professor Muhali has suspended me, and barring the unlikely intervention by a dean, only she can undo this. Your convincing her to do so would allow me to help. If you also repair the damage she has dealt, you shall have my undivided attention.

It was clear that Ailabiens 21:2 was utterly confident that he had done no wrong, and that his academic conclusions were valid. Even so, the crew managed to convince him that upsetting others was wrong and that it was definitely a bad career move. Despite his frustrating insensitivity, the contemplative found the prospect of making an apology less degrading than enduring his academic suspension. He was willing to make this gesture in a convincing manner so long as the crew convinced Professor Muhali to make three concessions: cancel Ailabiens 21:2’s academic suspension, restore his access to the university’s restricted collections, and pardon the whole incident in his tenure review file. They agreed to try.

When presented with the contemplative’s conditions, Muhali grudgingly agreed that she would reinstate his status and library access in exchange for a public apology before the media. But she balked at the final demand. They managed to convince her that Ailabiens 21:2 had intended no harm and that this would swiftly bring an end to the whole affair. As such, Professor Muhali accepted all three concessions.

With his library access restored, Ailabiens 21:2 swiftly checked out Halkueem Zan’s original journals – a combination of image files in a long-obsolete format and physical notebooks that wouldn’t require battery power during an extended expedition – and sets to converting and digitizing them. The contemplative informed the crew that the process would take approximately 8 hours, after which he would be able to provide them with a fairly complete copy of the reckless explorer’s original account.

With the dispute resolved, Muhali agreed to examine the language records that the crew had found on the Drift Rock. She soon recognized them as belonging to a non-Elven language group found in association with the few known elven sites on the continent of Ukulam to the west. Hoping to draw upon specialized knowledge of her colleague Dr. Solstarni, Muhali attempted to contact the kasatha in her office, at home, and through her personal comm unit. Even Muhali’s attempts to contact the professor’s friends and family turned up no results, making the lashunta concerned. She pulled a spare key card to Dr. Solstarni’s office from her desk and asked the crew to accompany her to see if there was any sign of where her colleague might be.

The door to Dr. Solstarni’s fourth-floor office was made of a heavy wood composite. The office itself was in disarray, with cabinet doors ajar, several stone artifacts scattered across the floor from open archival drawers, and a traveling bag open and half-packed. The computer on the desk at the far end of the room was dark, but a diode at its base blinked regularly.

Dr. Solstarni was an archaeologist specializing in archaeoastronomic validation: the study of how ancient cultures viewed the cosmos and expressed those observations in their architecture, artifacts, and writings. Her office contained an assortment of outdated astronomy tools from sundry planets. Professor Muhali noted that the disarray was not typical for the kasatha, and even at a casual glance, it appeared that someone was packing quickly and erratically – perhaps even ransacking the room. Suspecting criminal activity, Muhali excused herself to contact local police to file a missing persons report, but she encouraged the crew to investigate to see what clues they could uncover.

No one could get anywhere with Solstarni’s computer, but searching the office produced a couple of clues. One of the cabinets was ajar and contained Dr. Solstarni’s field suit, though it had fallen from its hanger. It looked like someone had hastily attempted to grab the suit off the hangar and knocked it to the floor. Kusanagi also noticed a slight dent in the carbon fiber cabinet where someone had collided violently with the furniture in a short fight.

They also found a printed message just behind the open cabinet from someone called Eyrub Paqual. It appeared to be an invitation for Solstarni to meet with him at a cafe called the Five Arches in Qabarat’s Gateway District 2 days prior to appraise several artifacts he had recovered. Solstarni had apparently printed the message out, perhaps intending to pass it by her colleagues to see if they had been likewise contacted.

While the search continued, Twitch set about researching Paqual, finding a series of articles about elven ruins he had published over the past six years. At first blush, he appeared to be a moderately well-established academic. However, most of his articles had appeared in poorly vetted journals or cited him as one of numerous secondary authors. The mechanic also detected inconsistencies in Paqual’s online bios and records, suggesting he might be entirely fictitious.

Finally, they found some printed scans of Halkueem Zan’s notebooks marked in red pen. These appeared to be copies Dr. Solstarni annotated by hand, and the notes included some unique conclusions that appeared sufficient to help the crew chart a course from Turhalu Point to, as Zan described it, the “accursed pyramid city of Loskialua.” Dr. Solstarni helpfully wrote that this regarded what was now known as the Oatia culture, a poorly understood dynasty of elven immigrants to Ukulam.

As they were concluding their search of the office, a Qabarat detective called by Professor Muhali arrived to survey the situation. He took basic statements from the crew and did a sweep of the room, uncovering a few things that the Starfinders had not. The building had security cameras in its hallways and at the entrances, but there weren’t any inside individual offices and classrooms.

At the detective’s instruction, the receptionist Ikimsi reviewed the video logs to see that a trio of korasha lashuntas carrying heavy backpacks and wearing uniforms had entered the building two days before in the late evening – after all reception personnel had left. They then took the stairs up, but there seemed to be no footage of them on other floors or even leaving the building.

The uniforms were identified as those of the Gateway District’s Port Authority. The investigators also noted that there are inconsistencies in the footage on several floors, including the fourth floor, where Dr. Solstarni’s office was, suggesting that someone had hacked into the building’s security cameras and looped footage of empty hallways to hide whatever they were doing.

Additionally, the detective got a system administrator from the university to get into Dr. Solstarni’s computer. They reviewed recent functions and Dr. Solstarni’s correspondence. Her personal calendar noted that she was scheduled for a research sabbatical in approximately two months, as approved by her department head, Muhali, and the authorities in Turhalu Point on the east coast of Ukulam. However, one of the recent files on the computer was a letter from Professor Muhali granting Dr. Solstarni leave to depart two months early to take advantage of special conditions in the field, signed two days prior – the same day as the apparent abduction. Muhali confirmed that she had supplied no such letter.

The computer also contained a series of messages exchanged between Dr. Solstarni and Dr. Eyrub Paqual regarding Solstarni’s research into the ancient elven settlements of Ukulam. The exchanges began fairly cordially as Paqual and Solstarni discussed minor details of interest from the minimal research published about these sites. As the discussion continued, however, Paqual grew more insistent and as the printed message they’d found suggested, he had attempted to cajole the kasatha to meet with him at the Five Arches to appraise several artifacts he had recovered. Solstarni had refused, citing a busy schedule.

Based on the evidence, the detective suggested that the best course of action was to follow up on the connections to the Five Arches and the Port Authority. Based on the nature of the suspects, the officer suspected they might hide at the first sight of law enforcement. The officer was amenable to providing the crew short-term deputation to investigate the situation further, but he did so under the conditions that at least two of them wear bugs to provide surveillance and that they allow a pair of officers to shadow them at a considerable distance in case of trouble. Concerned for her colleague, Muhali encouraged the Starfinders to pursue these leads. They agreed.

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Qabarat – Five Arches

The Five Arches was located off the beaten path in the Gateway District near the east end of the city. According to its advertisements, the establishment was “a café dedicated to serving the discerning palettes of a dozen worlds.” According to online reviews, it was an eclectic dive with wildly variable food and drink quality combined with bizarre food pairings for the daily specials.

The android proprietor Uilee purportedly ran an efficient business marred only by her insistence on developing new recipes that her muted sense of taste could not properly judge. Even so, she apparently delighted in creating “authentic” offworld cuisine that was utterly inconsistent. Fortunately, she made plenty of income from the various low-key criminals and gang members who knew to skip the menu and just order drinks. They all knew and honored the unwritten policy to take all fights outside. Overall, the reputation suggested it was not a place that right-thinking individuals frequented willingly.

The Five Arches was readily apparent from the street, thanks to its glaring neon sign suggestive of the numerous portals in the district. A riot of different worlds’ souvenirs plastered the interior’s walls, and each table, booth, and bench bore the name of one of the Pact Worlds’ planets or habitable moons. About a dozen patrons nursed drinks alone or in pairs. The daily special was an unidentifiable avian cutlet smothered in a fig-like fruit compote and served alongside a mashed bitter tuber from Triaxus.

A shady-looking lashunta calling himself Twonas En sized the crew up as potential offworld customers and invited them to talk. Winslow spun a tale about needing someone to move some drugs, and offered the fellow a couple thousand credits for the deal. Greed encouraged En to accept and he led the crew to a small warehouse nearby where two of his associates waited. Out of the public eye, the crew tried to arrest the three men, who reached for guns. En was gunned down by Boske, but they managed to take the other two smugglers alive. They swiftly looted the bodies before the police backup arrived.

When awakened, the surviving lashuntas admitted that they helped a male korasha lashunta named Eyrub Paqual secure travel documents for fifteen individuals, permitting them to use local portals to reach Turhalu Point. Most of the visas were counterfeit – including three fake IDs for Port Authority employees to help move the group’s equipment – though the smugglers had had to make only some minor adjustments to the legitimate academic visas that Paqual and his ill kasatha colleague had. The smugglers also shared that they had doubts about Paqual’s identity, suspecting he was using an alias to avoid suspicion. Ultimately, his money was good enough that the smugglers hadn’t minded. Because their role focused more on securing paperwork and conveying the group’s equipment through customs without scrutiny, the smugglers were not familiar with the group’s exact composition. They did, however, know that Paqual was shipping a considerable number of firearms and heavy gear, most notably a shirren-eye rifle and a sizable comm unit that was disassembled into three bulky pieces. The smugglers had also secured special permits for transporting fungal spores. The interrogation concluded, the crew turned the smugglers over to local police.

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Qabarat University of Xenoarchaeology and Xenoanthropology

Returning to the university, the crew met back up with Ailabiens 21:2 to secure the digitized documents the contemplative had promised. The professor noted that there appeared to be some gaps in the records, either because Zan had been negligent in documenting part of his journey or because someone else had removed some documents. Ailabiens 21:2 annotated the records as best he could in the short amount of time he’d had, identifying what he believed were the most relevant parts. These records – both text and audiologs – contained several key warnings and landmarks described in Zan’s judgmental verbiage.

Wildlife: “Castrovel crawls with vermin and beasts of all kinds. Thunder-bellied behemoths clear paths through the jungle while bellowing madly. More vexing, though, are what we’ve come to call stingbats—some hellish cross of monkey, bat, and scorpion that travel in troops and harass us regularly. I fought one off as it attacked a porter and shot another as it fled, and from then on they targeted me. It’s as though they can sense strength, yet resent it.”

The Rune Obelisk: “A dramatic spire barely rising above the tree line was the first of our great landmarks. Each side of it was once engraved with untold wisdom, but only the sheltered runes near the base have survived the ages. The plants here grow thicker, as if feeding upon some gifts left by the ancient elves – sacrifices of flesh and blood, no doubt.”

The Plague Warden: “This massive stone figure is a reclining elven form covered in weathered boils. I suspect it is an effigy that served ritual purposes, such as absorbing the illness of some great king so he might live forever.”

The Forsaken City: “The city in the foothills is a forest of small pyramids overgrown with vines. As with the funerary monuments of lost Osirion, it might be this was not a place of the living but a realm of the dead. Initial excavations uncovered multiple stone tiers of fine architecture – displaying skill truly more advanced than the builders’ primitive contemporaries.”

The Stairs to Eternity: “From the Forsaken City rises a staggering, weathered staircase carved into the mountain beyond, evoking mystical contemplation in all who would climb it. Beyond stands a great temple whose haunted guardians feasted upon my comrades, forcing us to flee the savage sentinels.”

Collectively, Halkueem Zan’s records, as annotated by Ailabiens 21:2 and Dr. Solstarni, provided a fragmented course that the crew could follow from the coastal outpost of Turhalu Point inland to the “accursed pyramid city of Loskialua,” which Zan claimed to have discovered. Since following Zan’s path would most likely also lead to the crew recovering Dr. Solstarni, Professor Muhali was more than willing to provide travel visas to Ukulam. They settled into their motel for the evening, planning to leave the next morning.

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Temple of the Twelve

View
Session 7
Acceptable Losses

Akiton – Tasch

The customers started to flee through the entrance, while the bartender rushed out the back door. Philt and his bodyguards ducked out alongside the other citizens, but the shirren representative took a moment to wish the crew “the best of luck” and reminded them that he expected Talbot to be delivered soon. Not wishing to start killing locals for believing in false miracles, Kusanagi moved to the door where the bartender had gone and waved the others to follow him into the back room. They found themselves in a storage room that contained spare boxes, tables, chairs and crates of alcohol. There was another door on the east exterior wall, which was locked. While Twitch examined the locking mechanism for the outer door, Galakrond helped Winslow move the besotted Boske into the back room.

The mechanic got the door opened about the same time as a grenade disintegrated the door near the vesk bodyguard. Twitch found himself face to face with a ysoki with a laser pistol. Meanwhile, a four-armed shobhad and another of the ratmen had taken cover in the common room of Digger’s Dive. Galakrond felt his mind come under attack, but planted himself firmly in the doorway between the bar and the back room. The soldier’s eyes widened and he jerked his head back out of the way when he saw the drunken Boske aiming a zero rifle in the direction of the bar. Astonishingly, the sharpshooter managed to hit his target, the large shobhad who seemed to be the leader of the aggressors.

Kusanagi moved to support the vesk, while Winslow and ARTE assisted Twitch with the ysoki gunslinger at the back exit. The fighting effort was complicated by the fact that the crew were still trying not to kill anyone, but they managed to incapacitate Talbot’s defenders and escape to their vehicle outside.

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Akiton – Tasch Thasteron Mine

Tasch’s thasteron mine was built into a red rock hillside. It had been excavated by powered mining equipment that had since been repossessed or sold. A metal track ran throughout the mine, meant for automated mine carts. A string of overhead lights provided dim light. As they entered, a sloping ramp descended to the west, made of hard-packed red dirt that showed signs of heavy vehicle traffic. The ramp opened into a large square chamber with rough walls. A metal track ran along the ground from a passage in the west wall and then turned north, ascending a five-foot ramp and then running along the north wall until the track terminated. A pair of metal lockers stood in the southeast corner, and a heap of ore is piled to the southwest.

The ore was unrefined thasteron, the lockers contained a medkit, some tools, and an old credstick, and the vesk found recent tracks in the red dirt, matching the timeline of Talbot’s arrival on Akiton. Galakrond took point to scout the mine tunnels, and to the west he came to a T-intersection. To the north, a passageway led deeper into the mine, but was covered with thick, trackless dust and failing lights that implied no one had been down them in some time. He headed several yards to the south until he came to an intersection of several passageways with a square ceiling support. The passage to the south terminated in unfinished construction. A little past that, a passageway to the east led into a rectangular chamber with rough-hewn walls.

The vesk returned to the entry chamber and reported to his companions, who followed him to the rough chamber to the east. A metal mine-cart track ran parallel to the passage and entered the room before ending abruptly. A mine cart in an obvious state of disrepair lay adjacent to the tracks, and tools covered a table against the east wall, while a pair of metal lockers stood in the southwest corner. The lockers contained mining uniforms and binders of material-safety data sheets for explosives. The referenced explosives must have been removed when the mine shut down.

The crew turned their attention to the western passage, Galakrond still in the lead. No sooner had he stepped past the square ceiling support column than a mounted laser rifle emerged from a sliding panel and shot him. The weapon retracted back into the ceiling as he stumbled backwards – surprised, hurt, and a little angry. The crew took a minute to try to find the trap’s trigger, but no one could find anything. They tossed thasteron ore past the support, but the rifle did not fire upon it. Then Twitch sent ARTE forward. The drone was utterly destroyed when the rifle hit a critical system. The Starfinders exchanged glances and decided to wait and give Galakrond a chance to recover before pressing forward. When they advanced, the vesk managed to evade the laser and the others followed him across, though Kusanagi sprinted past the crew and into a new chamber.

The passage headed west and then turned north into a T-shaped room. The ceiling was cut to fifteen feet in height, and permanent light fixtures set in the ceiling provided brighter light. The minecart tracks that ran throughout the mine hugged the south wall, turned north, and ran along the west wall before coming to a dead end at the north end of the room. A single mine car stood on the tracks, and across from the cart was a small office fashioned from two out-of-place plastic walls set into the stonework. An open door provided access to the room within a room. Of more immediate concern were the three armed miners and the figure that crouched in the mine cart. Kusanagi recognized the man from the dossier photograph – Reynald Talbot!

The miners opened fire, and the android immediately recognized his mistake. The others rushed forward to assist Kusanagi, but Talbot himself proved the biggest threat. The former Starfinder set the cart in motion and took a carefully aimed shot at the operative, wounding him deeply. Kusanagi retreated and tried to fight back, but his shot only destroyed one of Talbot’s illusory duplicates. Galakrond engaged the miners, hoping to form a bulwark so the others could deal with the primary target. Boske jumped into the moving cart, but only managed to destroy another illusion. Winslow kept insisting that no one be killed, but the opponents proved resistant to his magic and his aim hadn’t improved since the last time he’d been in a firefight. Twitch, still a little despondent about the loss of ARTE, focused on the miners rather than Talbot.

Kusanagi fell to Talbot’s second shot, and Winslow revived him moments later. The thief and Boske zoomed past the rest of the crew, and Talbot leapt out of the mine cart at the intersection, fleeing toward the mine exit. Kusanagi gave chase, and so did Boske after he managed to get off the still-moving cart. The android took cover by the mine entrance, where he saw Talbot near the crew’s rental vehicle. It was clear that the man meant to steal the buggy to make good on his escape, so Kusanagi took aim and took his last shot.

Talbot was surprised to be shot, taking cover and firing back. His laser dropped the android again, who fell to the dirt. Boske trotted up just in time to see Talbot starting the vehicle. The vesk struggled for a moment with the choice between shooting at the target or saving his companion’s life. Then, with a curse, he fed the android a healing potion as Talbot gunned the engine and sped away. Boske helped Kusanagi limp back to the others, who had finished the fight against the determined miners. One of the men had been killed in the chaos, but the other two had been incapacitated instead.

The crew called Philt to let the shirren know that Talbot had escaped and might come back through Tasch. The AbadarCorp representative sounded annoyed but thanked them for the tip. A couple of hours later, they called back to report that they had managed to capture Talbot after all. The crew asked for the charlatan’s stone, but Philt refused, saying that they were taking it for study. The shirren was unmoved by Winslow’s plea to reconsider, and advised the crew that the Starfinders could file a petition with the corporation for the item’s return at a future date.

Dejected, the crew walked back to Tasch, then caught a ride back to Maro and the spaceport where the Sunrise Maiden waited to take them back to Absalom Station. When they reported the failure, Venture-Captain Arvin was unhappy, but he did not lose his temper. Instead he accepted the report, and with a sigh offered that everyone, himself included, needed to try harder if the Starfinder Society was going to survive.

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Absalom Station – Downlow

A day after their return to the station, the crew came to the Exo-Guardians’ new headquarters, a recently renovated warehouse, where head of the faction, Zigvigix, had summoned them for another mission briefing. The augmented host shirren watched a bustling crew move office equipment from several large pallets into a large warehouse, while other workers welded scrap metal to gaps in the warehouse’s walls. The shirren occasionally directed a crew member and made a note on a datapad. Zigvigix noticed their new guests and turned to telepathically project a greeting.

Zigvigix wore a set of shoulder speakers that blasted out sugar-pop music from the band Strawberry Machine Cake. They bounced in place along to the music, smiling at Twitch in particular. “Welcome back! Isn’t this song the best? I’ve been playing it on loop for hours!” Behind the excited shirren, several grizzled-looking station workers, each carrying a side of a heavy-looking holotable, rolled their eyes.

“Thanks for coming – I hope you’ll understand if I keep this brief; we’ve got a lot of work to do to get our new headquarters up and running, and you are on a short timetable. A ysoki salvage barge named the Clutter Collector, captained by a ysoki named Winks, picked up a distress-beacon transmission in the Drift. Winks didn’t have time to check it out, but she sold the data to the Society when she reached Absalom Station. How nice of her!

“Well, it turns out that this beacon came from the Struggle’s Scholar, a kasathan ship that…” Zigvigix paused for effect as their antennae wiggled excitedly. “…escaped from Sangoro’s Bulwark! If you don’t know, the Bulwark was the old base of operations for the Exo-Guardians. Now, First Seeker Luwazi wisely grounded us from investigating the Bulwark after all contact was lost with it shortly after the Scoured Stars incident, but we can’t pass up this opportunity to learn what happened there. We might even be able to find the coordinates to our missing headquarters. Wouldn’t it be joyous to have a large fortress to play loud music in?” Twitch was the only one to agree.

Zigvigix handed over a datapad. “Here are the coordinates of the distress signal. It is unlikely any of the crew survived, or they’d be here by now. So be on the lookout for bodies. Since the crew is mostly kasathas, it would mean a lot to their extended families if you could bring back their remains or keepsakes to the Idari! Otherwise, salvage any data you can – especially the ship’s log – as it could tell us what happened to Sangoro’s Bulwark. This datapad also holds a one-time-use decrypter that will let you decode the Exo-Guardians ciphers used on the distress signal. Good luck!”

Rather than borrow a Starfinder ship for the mission, the crew opted to take the Sunrise Maiden. While they prepared the ship, the crew did some infosphere research about Sangoro’s Bulwark. A vesk named Sangoro had founded the Exo-Guardians, which was an especially unusual fact, given the long hostilities between the Veskarium and the Pact Worlds. Many Starfinders initially did not trust him, even after he had provided the Society with a huge fortress on a remote planet to operate out of. Sangoro later dedicated himself and his followers to protecting the Society from external threats, forming the Exo-Guardians faction.

The fortress Sangoro bequeathed to the Starfinder Society was the only structure on the planet. It was a massive edifice left by some forgotten race, with extensive underground tunnels and storage vaults. The Exo-Guardians kept a large stockpile of equipment within the Bulwark, letting field agents on missions in the Vast access necessary items without traveling back to Absalom Station. Because of the importance of these resources, the exact coordinates of Sangoro’s Bulwark were kept from most Starfinders, and ships traveled to the location only by using encrypted flight plans.

Shortly after the Scoured Stars incident led to the disappearance of most Starfinder Society field agents and leadership, an unknown force overwhelmed Sangoro’s Bulwark, and – until Winks’ information was acquired – there had been no survivors or distress calls. With this attack, the Society’s data archives had lost all information on the exact location of Sangoro’s Bulwark, with even nominated First Seeker Luwazi Elsebo bereft of such knowledge. Only the Society’s amalgam digital consciousness, Guidance, might know the location, but it had ignored all requests to provide the data.

Finally, some rumors from the few Starfinders who visited the Bulwark before the fall reported that the Drift and Material Plane space surrounding the area was prone to strange events. Exactly how these dangers manifested varied by each rumor, but it appeared the space surrounding the Bulwark’s home system is prone to odd interplanar abnormalities. Starships were advised to carry powerful scanners to identify potential stellar hazards and bleeding between the planes.

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The Drift

According to their calculations, it was going to take a little over three weeks days to make the journey through the Drift to the distress-signal location provided by the Clutter Collector. The Maiden departed alongside another Starfinder Society starship, a bulk freighter called the Promise of the Future. While the freighter’s captain was too busy to communicate with them, a Starfinder team onboard the Promise willingly chatted. These passengers were kalos, aquatic monstrous humanoids native to the Brethedan moon of Kalo-Mahoi. This group, calling themselves the Manta Corps, formed a tight-knit party that the Starfinder Society often senT on missions of importance in underwater locales.

Members of the Manta Corps included Deepspeaker Alluguoth, a soft-spoken kalo who appreciated wisdom and information. Mantarider Ushuul was a headstrong soldier who fought with an automatic machine gun. He liked showing off his weapon, named “Muncher,” even via grainy video transmissions. Mantarider Suulhu-Huur was an enthusiastic melee fighter who wields an energized trident. She offered to spar with the crew, should they ever meet in person. Finally, Wavetreader Vhoosh, the quietest member of the group, was most interested in hearing about the crew’s combat exploit – specifically, what impressive kills they had accrued.

The Manta Corps eagerly trade stories with the crew but refused to speak about their classified mission. The freighter kept communications open with the Maiden for as long as it could, though it split paths with them after only two days of Drift travel, slipping out of communication range.

<<< >>>

As the crew closed in on the location of the Struggle’s Scholar’s distress beacon, they detected a large field of roughly two dozen asteroids surrounding the source of the signal. They recognized these as chunks of obsidian likely native to the Elemental Plane of Earth and ripped here thanks to the use of a Drift engine. A closer sensor scan indicated that the interiors of these asteroids held molten stone and were quite volatile.

While they pondered this, a vesk starship, the Honorbound, approached the opposite side of the asteroid field, heading toward it at top speed. The Honorbound was ablaze on either side with three bright-red thrusters, which were reminiscent of the energy blades of a plasma doshko. Boske and Galakrond mentioned that these features were a representation of the symbol of Damoritosh, the vesk god of conquest, duty, and war. The vesk ship began to slow shortly after the crew had detected it.

The captain of the Honorbound, a jovial vesk by the name of Yuluzak, initiated communication after a few minutes of silence. He greeted the crew in Vesk, noting the old-fashioned model of their starship. Captain Yuluzak willingly provided a brief summary of his ship: a vesk salvage transport scouring the Drift for finds important to the Veskarium. He admitted that his directive was not the most glorious or honorable of missions, but the threat of the Swarm demanded the Veskarium investigate all avenues of advancement to prepare against the next invasion. Yuluzak was eager to hear the crew’s history, as well.

When the Starfinders proved reticent, Captain Yuluzak turned the subject over the right of salvaging the distress beacon. The Honorbound was mandated to find anything of potential interest to the Veskarium, especially information on Pact World and kasathan starships. Having already determined the source of the signal, Captain Yuluzak regretfully informed the crew that he could not simply allow them to proceed with their own salvaging mission. The vesk captain casually proposed that the Honorbound and the Sunrise Maiden could engage in honorable starship combat to determine who had rights over the beacon. To expedite matters, Yuluzak offered several rules of engagement by which he swore to abide.

  • The combatants would not intentionally target the life support systems of their enemy.
  • The combatants would abstain from targeting the rear arc – warriors should face the enemy head on.
  • Combat would be over once an enemy starship is crippled.
  • Each captain could surrender at any point during the duel.

The captain disregarded Galakrond’s attempt to offer an alternative to single combat, and lost some of his good cheer when the soldier called him a coward. Winslow swiftly stepped in, agreeing to the terms. Captain Yuluzak nodded tersely then signaled his intent to begin the combat.

“Get on the turrets,” Kusanagi advised his vesk companions. “I’m going to try to keep our aft facing them.” The others agreed that this was a solid tactic, and it seemed that the Honorbound was serious about not firing into the Maiden’s rear arc. The Captain got on the comm, to begrudgingly admit to the cleverness of the strategy.

The crew used their ship’s superior speed and maneuverability to take every advantage they could, keeping the volatile asteroids between themselves and the Honorbound. Still, maneuvering in space was tricky, and the vesk starship managed to get a missile launched toward the Maiden’s starboard arc. Kusanagi got the ship maneuvered so that the missile would strike the aft arc, giving the gunners the opportunity to shoot it down with the flak thrower before impact. Unfortunately, the small projectile proved difficult to hit, and the hull rocked with an explosion that eliminated the shields in the rear of the ship.

Twitch and Winslow went into damage control mode, restoring and rebalancing the shields. The crew knew they were outgunned, but they continued to execute their strategy as best they could. The strain got to Kusanagi, who made a minor miscalculation and opened the Maiden’s port side to further missile fire. After another direct hit from a missile plus a light particle beam set two more systems glitching. The ship could not take another hit without being crippled, so they opened a comm channel and offered their surrender.

Captain Yuluzak congratulated them, impressed by the fight they put up. In appreciation of the crew honoring the rules of engagement, he offered to send them a trophy. When they accepted, the Honorbound jettisoned a cargo pod containing a set of vesk overplate armor and a tactical reaction cannon. The vesk captain then indicated that his ship would investigate the beacon and that he intended on sending a follow-up signal to you if it turned out that the Struggle’s Scholar was of no use to the Veskarium. About half an hour later, the Honorbound left Drift space for the Prime Material Plane.

While Twitch and Winslow started ship repairs, the others maneuvered the ship to extract precious minerals from the nearby magma asteroids. As they were finishing up, they were surprised to receive a distress signal from the Honorbound, requesting immediate assistance with salvaging the Struggle’s Scholar. It included coordinates in the Prime Material Plane as well as the original distress beacon recording:

ATTN: This message is confidential; if you are not the intended recipient, _ABSALOM STATION>>EXO-GUARDIANS_, please delete this message immediately.

MESSAGE: This is Remahd, captain of the Struggle’s Scholar. Most of my crew and I escaped Sangoro’s Bulwark with our lives, but upon entering the Drift, we collided with some extraplanar material. Soon after, we lost a crew member, as well as control of our primary engine. We have managed to patch our Drift functionality enough to drop out of this dangerous field and into normal space at the enclosed coordinates. Please send assistance as soon as is feasible – without our engine, our power supply is diminishing rapidly. In the event you are unable to reach us in time, I have heavily encrypted vital information meant only for the current head of the Exo-Guardians and locked it in a hard drive on the ship’s bridge.

The crew exchanged concerned glances, then set the coordinates and prepared to leave the Drift to assist the vesk.

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Temple of the Twelve

View
Session 6
The Fugitive

Starship – Sunrise Maiden

The ship was a Thaumtech Cairncarver, a small light freighter of Eoxian make – a model affiliated with the Corpse Fleet. Was Gevalarsk Nor trying to eliminate the crew with the officially expatriated organization, or were the rebels trying to cause trouble for Eox, the planet that had disavowed them? The answer was uncertain, but one thing was clear, it was time to find out how the Sunrise Maiden handled itself in combat.

Kusanagi assumed the pilot’s seat, with the vesk as gunners, Twitch in engineering, and Winslow as the science officer. The doctor’s initial scan of the enemy starship identified it as the Iron Rictus and he relayed its defenses and capabilities to his companions. The android proved a better pilot than the Eoxians had, and after an initial blast up the aft from a plasma torpedo, he took pains to stay out of the Rictus’ front arc. Boske couldn’t get a handle on the firing system for the first few shots, and although Galakrond had better luck, he was manning a less powerful gun. The crew of the Rictus had no trouble refreshing their shields faster than the vesk could bring them down.

Initially, Clara-247 had acted as captain, offering encouragement to the Starfinders as they engaged with the enemy ship. After a time, it became clear that her talents would better aid the crew as a second engineer, increasing the Maiden’s speed while Twitch focused on maintaining her shields. Finally, Boske managed to get a solid shot on the Eoxian ship and the crew cheered as they saw the particle beam score the Rictus’ hull. The Corpse Fleet went on the defensive, trying to use their guns’ greater range to their advantage and get the Maiden in their front firing arc, but Kusanagi continued stay on the enemy’s sides.

In the end, though the Rictus’ gunners were plenty competent, their coilguns barely managed to singe the Maiden’s hull before several of the Eoxians’ systems were glitching or malfunctioning. Kusanagi brought the ship up along the enemy’s shieldless port flank and in a classic broadside, the vesk’s final volley disabled the Corpse Fleet vessel. A few moments later, the ship exploded – the Eoxians had apparently opted to self-destruct rather than face capture and interrogation. Unsure what to make of this, the crew continued toward Absalom Station.

While they did, the space goblin Roger turned one of the vidscreens to a news channel, and his eyes widened when he saw the latest story. “Uh, guys? You might want to see this.” The others turned additional screens on and saw what the scavenger was talking about. News of their efforts on the Acreon and Drift Rock had preceded them to Absalom Station. Their images appeared on countless news outlets, featuring footage of their exploration of the derelict ship and the mysterious asteroid. A broadcast by Sooth Saiyan complained that the recording had been edited and didn’t tell the whole story, and the Starfinders noted that there were no shots of the crate Nor had requested they recover, but most other reports didn’t seem to care. The crew appeared to have become minor local celebrities – at least while the buzz lasted.

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Absalom Station – The Docks

Their newfound popularity earned them priority docking from Absalom Traffic Control and temporarily waived docking fees. Once they disembarked, a small crowd of onlookers and reporters quickly tracked them down, asking for statements, autographs, and confirmation of conspiracy theories. The crew plus two engaged with the press and their new fans briefly, but begged off providing many details until they could fulfill their role in the arbitration effort. Station security cleared a path so the Starfinders could make their way to the Eoxian embassy. They told Clara-247 and Roger to take rooms at the Moons of Sleep until they were finished speaking with the ambassador.

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Absalom Station – Eoxian Embassy

Once they were in Nor’s office, he congratulated them on the success of their mission. The ambassador apologized for airing the footage without asking, but he explained that he’d hoped the stunt would prove to be good publicity for both Eox and the Starfinders. And it appeared that his gambit had paid off. Even though he had recorded their activities on the Acreon and the Drift Rock, he still wanted to hear their report firsthand. They filled in some of the blanks, including the encounter that resulted in Clara-247 switching sides from hired assassin to ally of circumstance. After their report, Nor thanked them for delivering the crate as requested and upheld his end of the bargain, transferring 1,100 credits – 500 more than originally agreed upon – into each of their accounts as payment for the task.

The ambassador also offered to help piece together any of the clues unearthed on the Drift Rock that the crew hadn’t been able to interpret. He did not recognize the alien language, but he was able to decipher the complex alien computer code found in the Drift Rock’s ancient control room. The equipment in the control room seemed designed to operate minor subsystems of some larger structure or device, though the control room was obviously no longer connected to that structure. The exact nature of the missing structure remained a mystery, though references to systems such as “Backup Power Transmission,” “Maneuvering Thrusters,” and “Auxiliary Fire Control” hinted that it may have been some sort of space-based weapon system. In addition, the data revealed that these systems and the control room itself were incredibly ancient – possibly even millions of years old.

In fact, it appeared that the Drift Rock was not just an asteroid that was repurposed as a control center, but that it was a part of the larger structure that was designed and artificially constructed at the same time as the machinery and controls there. And if all that was true, then the Drift Rock represented a find of major significance, for not only is it a piece of heretofore-unknown technology of exceedingly advanced age, but the larger structure it was once a part of may still be somewhere among the stars, just waiting to be discovered!

Finally, Nor asked the crew their opinion about which organization should be granted ownership of the Drift Rock – the Hardscrabble Collective or Astral Extractions. The crew had discussed this on the trip back from the Acreon. Galakrond and Twitch had abstained, but Winslow had been adamant that the Hardscrabble Collective deserved the Drift Rock, and Boske had agreed with the shirren. Kusanagi had debated back and forth, but eventually came to the same conclusion, in no small part because Astral Extractions had already ordered one Starfinder killed, and he didn’t feel right rewarding that behavior. The android told the ambassador the crew’s decision. He thanked them for their efforts, and they parted amicably.

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Absalom Station – Lorespire Complex

The crew reported in to Chiskisk back at the Starfinder headquarters, and told them most of what they had learned out in space and from the ambassador. They left out any mention of the crate that Nor had asked them to bring back, feeling that discretion was better … for the time being. The nature of the device puzzled Chiskisk, but the Society was still shorthanded and in need of the crew’s services on other tasks. The shirren host said they would submit the footage along with the crew’s report to the Dataphiles, who had access to the Society’s detailed databases, and could search for any prior appearances of the language on the Drift Rock’s displays. At Kusanagi’s recommendation, Chiskisk agreed to reach out to the Hardscrabble Collective to facilitate additional information gathering from the Drift Rock itself.

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Absalom Station – Moons of Sleep

The crew were a little surprised to find Clara-247 and Roger waiting in the bar. The android woman reminded them that they had taken most of her stuff and her petty cash, so she hadn’t had a lot of other options. Roger glumly reminded them that he’d lost all of his companions on the Acreon and didn’t have much idea of what to do next. The crew suggested approaching the Starfinder Society, since the Acquisitives were still on a recruitment kick. The goblin exchanged a glance with Clara-247, and they mumbled noncommittal answers. A bit of gear was exchanged, and the crew wished the pair well.

Galakrond found the noqual recovered from the akata cocoons aboard the Acreon in the warehouse that Nor had indicated. Pleased, he started the effort of selling off all of the loot the crew had taken that they weren’t going to keep. The crew took some leisure time, spending a portion of the thousands of credits their first Starfinder mission had earned them.

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Absalom Station – Lorespire Complex

A few days later, they received a message from Venture-Captain Arvin, summoning them for a briefing. They made your way to his office, and the doors slid open with soft pneumatic hiss. Inside was the well-lit and blue-carpeted office with which they were already familiar. Arvin sat behind his desk, eyes riveted on a glassy display. After a heartbeat, he glanced toward the open door and motioned everyone to enter.

“Apologies, please come in. Be seated if you like, although this shouldn’t take long.” Arvin tapped a button on a console and murmured to a digital assistant, “Croyd, put everything on hold for a few minutes. If anyone calls, please explain I’m in mission briefing and I’ll get right back to them.” He then darkened the display to give the crew his full attention.

“Right. I have an assignment for you. This one is a little a different than others you might have received.” He paused before he explained, “It’s an internal matter. You’re probably aware that after the Scoured Stars incident many of our colleagues elected to leave the Society. That is unfortunate, but not surprising. We hate to lose good field agents, but no one is conscripted into our ranks. Normally we wish them well and that’s that. In this case, the defector, former field agent Reynald Talbot, stole an artifact from the Lorespire Complex before departing. Theft is where the Society draws the line; I need you to get that artifact back.

“Unfortunately, Talbot left weeks ago and we only discovered the theft in the last 24 hours. We launched an immediate investigation to determine the identity of the thief and their last known whereabouts. It’s our bad luck that Talbot was smart enough to get off the station and head to Akiton, where there’s no central government or law enforcement to easily call upon. I need you to track him down and recover the artifact. We know Talbot caught a shuttle to the Akitonian city of Maro, so that’s a great place to start. The Society will, of course, cover your travel expenses. Any questions?”

“What is the artifact?” Twitch asked.

“Good question, but the answer is complicated because it’s actually two questions: what the artifact is and what Talbot thinks it is. We’re operating under the assumption that Talbot thinks he’s stolen an object from old Golarion called a philosopher’s stone. Legend has it that the stone could transmute matter, among other properties. What Talbot actually stole was recently re-cataloged as a charlatan’s stone. It does something similar, except the effect is a potent illusion and only temporary. We think ancient con artists used to make false gold.”

“Did he act alone?” asked Kusanagi.

“We think so. He’s smart, capable, a bit brash, and a reasonable field agent. Talbot is also self-entitled and ambitious. After the Scoured Stars incident, he expected to be promoted to venture-captain, but the Forum felt he needed more time. He got angry. We think this theft is retaliation.”

“What should we do with him?” asked Galakrond.

After a meaningful pause Arvin said, “I want the stone back. Talbot’s not worth the expense of dragging back here, so you can do whatever you think is necessary with him. That said, you don’t have a license to go on a mass killing spree. Don’t make the Society look bad. It might be tough to do on Akiton, but don’t take that as a challenge.

“As for why we’re bothering to go after the stone, we need to make a statement. Rumors of the theft are already circulating through the Society, and it’s important to send a message that we’re not going to tolerate that type of betrayal. Also, if we don’t react, we convey that our work is not very important because it’s not worth defending. That said, the charlatan’s stone is not worth dying over, so be careful.”

There were no other questions, so Arvin offered one final piece of advice. “Akiton has a thin atmosphere, and we don’t have the luxury of giving you weeks to get used to it. It would be smart to make sure you some way of coping with it, or some armor. Any armor, even the lighter sets, offsets the difference.” With that, the Venture-Captain dismissed the crew.

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Starship – Sunrise Maiden

While the crew prepared to leave, they did some research on Akiton. The Pact World was smaller than the Golarion standard with one-third gravity and a thin atmosphere, as Arvin had mentioned. This meant that non-acclimated beings, like the crew, could jump about three times as high and carry three times the normal weight. Likewise, without environmental protection, they would run the risk of becoming fatigued by the oxygen-light atmosphere. You also learned that Akiton had suffered an economic crash when the revelation of Drift technology rendered the numerous pre-Drift fuels mined on the planet virtually worthless.

Akiton was generally lawless, except for whatever laws a local authority might impose. Akiton survived on trade and commerce, and strangers tended to find loyalty hard to come by, especially in the big cities. Newcomers were consequently likely to be observed and watched, especially if an organization believed it could take advantage of the strangers. If Talbot acted or did anything at all out of the ordinary, someone was likely to have noticed. To avoid being found, it was unlikely he had stayed in Maro for more than a few days.

Finally, they gleaned that wealth was hard to come by on Akiton. If Talbot had fled to the red planet, he had done so for a reason. It was likely the ex-Starfinder had a plan, and that plan involved gaining a large number of credits. Given Akiton’s unstable economy, such a surge should be identifiable for those who “follow the money.”

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Akiton

A few days later, the Sunrise Maiden entered the orbit of their destination. Outside the observation window floated Akiton, a world the color of blood, rust, and red clay. A thick shell of white capped both poles, and the starship descended toward the planet. A barely perceptible shift in gravity occurred as the Maiden’s artificial gravity began to lessen and the planet’s natural gravity began to take hold.

From suborbital heights, a handful of small towns, large complexes, and industrial sites that spewed noxious fumes into the thin atmosphere surrounded the trench city of Maro. A spidery web of dirt roads scratched into the rust-colored ground by regular traffic connected these sites to the metropolis.

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Akiton – Maro

Maro, the so-called City of Lights, came into view as the ship began its final descent. The city occupied more of a vertical space than horizontal, built into a six-mile-long section of trench that was half as deep and a half mile wide. Entire neighborhoods and business districts were built into the walls, accessed by patio entrances. Lights, neon signs, and holographic advertising bejeweled either side of this urban canyon, while an active spaceport and industrial zones occupied the ground level. As they landed, they did so beneath the backdrop of an immense mural of brightly glowing neon-green graffiti that read in Common: “Git Out! Planet’s Broke!”

Their goal in the city was to determine where Talbot had hid out after his arrival on Akiton. Twitch had Kusanagi help him try to find the money trail. Given Talbot’s time of arrival and the specific shuttle he’d flown in on, they had a solid starting point. They didn’t find any particular trail leading to the ex-Starfinder, but they did discover a strange anomaly. AbadarCorp, the largest corporation in the Pact Worlds, had recently purchased a large amount of Drift engine fuel from the nearby small mining town of Tasch. While the discovery of Drift engine fuel on Akiton was impressive, the fact that the AbadarCorp fleet that had purchased the fuel was two days overdue for departure suggested something was likely amiss with the delivery.

Meanwhile, Boske – a professional bounty hunter before he’d become a Starfinder – sought out his usual sources of information while trying to track the fugitive. He spent a few hours plying his trade and was able to discover that Talbot had departed Maro for Tasch, which was only a few miles outside of the city. The crew theorized that Talbot had used the stolen charlatan’s stone to (temporarily) convert thasteron into “Drift engine fuel” and made the sale to AbadarCorp. But it appeared that the fuel may have already reverted back and the corporation was aware.

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Akiton – Tasch

The crew rented an elongated dune buggy on the Starfinder’s credit to transport them from Maro into the red dunes of Akiton’s surface, a journey of only two hours. A long dusty road, lined with single-story dwellings, ran through the town of Tasch, and several powered vehicles rested chained to their owner’s homes. A small general store stood near the center of town, illuminated by flickering white lights. Another building, full of locals, hosted a signpost that reads “Digger’s Dive” – clearly the town bar. Although the sun beat down on the desert town, its citizens meandered around the bar in good cheer. Most were ysoki or humans, with the occasional lumbering four-armed shobhad mingling among them.

Their first course of business was finding where Reynald Talbot was. The inhabitants walking the streets were too busy for idle chatter, but they suggested that the crew take some time to stop by Digger’s Dive if they were just passing through the town. Mentioning Talbot provoked a cheer from the townsfolk – clearly, this was not a great place to talk badly of him. Uncertain about the unexpected development, the crew made their way to the bar.

Digger’s Dive was a single-story structure built using imported wood. There were no windows, but there were small rectangular openings in the exterior walls at ceiling height to allow for ventilation. The front entrance was a swinging waist-high wooden half-door. Faint electric lights dangled from the fifteen-foot-high ceiling, while the open sky was visible from cracks between the planks that served as a roof. The floor is solid wood, and the interior walls and ceiling supports were mud brick, the latter being carved in a rare attempt at ornamentation.

The tavern was divided in two halves by an energy field with an opening on the northern end. The bar lining the southern wall was open to either side, with a wall of half-empty bottles behind it. The tables were wooden and makeshift, but solid. The east end had a square wooden platform about a foot above the floor. A door sat ajar on the southern wall on the west end of the common room, and a single closed door provided an exit behind the west end of the bar.

Several miners and their families occupied the bar, where a sharp-tongued ysoki woman named Podswald slung drinks. Her mixing – at best – consisted of combining only two liquids and nothing more. Twitch climbed on top of ARTE to see over the bar and ordered a drink. Before he could reach for his credsticks, a local offered to pick up the tab, thanking Reynald Talbot for the extra credits. The rest of the bar cheered enthusiastically. Twitch exchanged a glance with his companions, then casually asked the barkeep about Talbot.

Podswald readily talked about Reynald Talbot, the town’s savior, and his miraculous means to transmute thasteron into a more marketable fuel. The miners had started excavating thasteron again for Talbot to transmute, which had already resulted in a lucrative sale to AbadarCorp. The sale benefited not only Talbot, but the entire town. Most of Tasch’s citizens had belonged to jobless families thanks to the thasteron bust, but now had some hope for the future. Consequently, many of Tasch’s citizens were out celebrating. The miners seemed to be unaware that anything could be wrong with Talbot’s “transmutation process.” Fortunately, they were all too happy to let the crew know that Talbot was likely in the nearby thasteron mine outside of town.

Boske ordered eight shots of scotch and dropped a small piece of bread in each. When the barkeep asked if he was going to pass them around, the vesk grinned and proceeded to knock all eight back himself. A minute later, he began to sway in his seat before falling to the floor of Digger’s Dive. A sympathetic cry came from most of the patrons, and Winslow grumbled to himself as he started tending to his drunk companion.

Shaking his head at the commotion, Twitch asked if any representatives of AbadarCorp were still in town. Podswald nodded and gestured to a long table in the southwest corner of the common room. There sat a shirren and a pair of hulking vesk that seemed to be bodyguards. All three wore dark armor trimmed in silver. The crew were a little surprised that they had not noticed the trio before then. We should talk, the shirren telepathically projected to Twitch. The ysoki nodded and made his way over, accompanied by Galakrond and Kusanagi.

Greetings. I am Philt. I assume you’re familiar with AbadarCorp, the shirren said in their minds.

They, of course, were. AbadarCorp was hands down the largest, wealthiest, and most influential corporation in the Pact Worlds – in no small part because it was also the church of Abadar, god of civilization, commerce, and wealth. In addition to the manufacture, transport, and sale of a wide variety of goods both magical and technological, AbadarCorp also provided a multitude of other services, including banking, financial, labor, legal, shipping, and utility services. Most of the crew’s financial accounts were held by AbadarCorp.

When they nodded, Philt continued, his mental tone casual. Anyway, I represent the corporation. My fellow agents and I overheard you talking about Reynald Talbot, and AbadarCorp wants to know your interest in the man.

Twitch held up his palm and activated the Starfinder Society subdermal graft. Talbot stole something from our organization. We are here to recover it, he responded.

I see. Then it seems he has wronged us both. Talbot approached corporate buyers in Maro with a new, alternative fuel for Drift engines. The fuel was purchased for analysis, and if it had checked out, it would have been evaluated as a new commodity on the galactic markets. To our chagrin, the fuel reverted to common thasteron not long after the AbadarCorp ships made to depart Akiton’s orbit. The fuel was purchased on good faith and AbadarCorp does not tolerate outright fraud. We’re here to collect him for proper punishment.

Our goals appear to align, projected Kusanagi. Perhaps we can retrieve our stolen property and remand Talbot into your custody … somewhere outside of Tasch.

An interesting proposal, Philt mused. We would prefer Talbot alive, if possible

That is our preference, as well, Winslow projected from where he was tending to Boske. We will bring him back to face justice.

Philt inclined his head. Very well. We will leave things in your hands.

Having learned Talbot’s location in the nearby thasteron mine and having peaceably dealt with AbadarCorp’s delegation, the crew exchanged satisfied looks, preparing to set out. Which, of course, was when the universe threw them another curveball.

A deep booming female voice echoed from outside the front of the bar. “Intruders! We know you’ve come to Tasch in search of our savior. I give you this one chance. Lay down your weapons and leave our town. You will not disrupt the salvation of Akiton, not when Reynald Talbot has come so close to saving our world! You have one minute to decide.”

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Temple of the Twelve

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Session 5
Drift Phantoms

Drift Rock

The bullet grazed Boske’s arm. The crew looked toward the ceiling where they saw five heads looking around the side of a stalactite. They poured into the room and opened fire, taking out most of the holographic clones before hitting the actual attacker. She got one more shot in before falling unconscious, escaping death by virtue of Winslow’s non-lethal mind thrust. Kusanagi, who had continued walking along the ceiling collected the assailant – an android female, by the look of her. Galakrond put her in restraints before collecting her weapons and other gear. Twitch reminded the vesk to leave the armor so they could communicate with their captive in the vacuum of the Drift Rock.

After some discussion, the group decided to question the android later, leaving her bound and connected to a cable, floating in space. Galakrond took her to the tunnel exit and noticed something unsettling: the Hippocampus was gone. More than a little concerned, he quickly returned to the others to let them know. A brief argument erupted, and the space goblin Roger was accused of hiding other members of his crew. He insisted that there had only been the three, and he was the only one alive. Kusanagi suggested they call Ambassador Nor to report this development.

Nor told the crew that station authorities only agreed to loan the shuttle to take them to the Acreon, not bring them back. Concerned that they might discover something dangerous on the ship or the asteroid that could threaten the entire station if they brought it there – the same reason they quarantined the Acreon in the first place – the authorities decided to wait and see what, if anything, the crew found first. If there were no problems, they could always send the shuttle back to pick them up. Until they completed their investigation, they were stuck on the Drift Rock. The ambassador apologized for having failed to mention this condition, but he assured them that his people would ensure that none of the items the crew had stored on the ship would be disturbed.

The crew decided to go ahead and interrogate their prisoner. The recording drone continued to follow its apparent programming to stay with the majority of the investigators, so Kusanagi and Galakrond woke the android woman up. She introduced herself as Clara-247 and admitted that she had been hired to kill whoever came snooping around the Acreon, but she didn’t know who her employer was, since they had used shell companies to hire her the previous day. She also said she didn’t know anything else about the derelict ship or Drift Rock other than the rumors circulating Absalom Station.

Clara-247 claimed that she wished the crew no further ill will; she’d had two chances to take them out and failed both times, so she was willing to let bygones be bygones if they were. After all, she would need a ride back to the station with her ship destroyed, to which Galakrond muttered under his breath about needing a ride themselves. She even offered to help them explore the rest of the Drift Rock, but they declined, deciding to leave her floating in space, bound to a tether.

The crew regrouped and returned to the cavern where they’d encountered the void zombie. Sticking with their original plan of exploring the “natural” tunnels first, they headed south around a dogleg and into another cavern. One other tunnel exited to the northwest, and an incongruous door, more akin to what one would expect to find on a space station, stood in the south wall. Of more immediate concern, however, were two more void zombies – former crew members of the Acreon. The undead had apparently not noticed the crew’s approach, since they ran dark – relying on natural or technological darkvision – and silent by virtue of the vacuum. Despite the advantage of surprise, Boske had his blood drained by feeding tendril a couple of times before the crew managed to drop the creatures.

After collecting a pair of guns floating in the chamber and a credstick still in a pocket, the crew took the last natural tunnel. At the end of it, they found a chamber similar to the other excavated caverns within the Drift Rock, with corridors to the north and west that were finished and paneled. A ghostly astronaut wearing an old-fashioned space suit with a cracked helmet turned toward them with malicious intent. “Driftdead,” said Winslow. “Undead, incorporeal outside of the Drift. Bullets are useless unless they’re magic.” Boske stabbed Galakrond in the back of his armor. “Oh,” added the shirren, “and a confusion aura.” He dazed the addled vesk to prevent him from trying to hurt anyone else.

The driftdead extended a hand toward Kusanagi on the ceiling, and reality tore open near him. The android narrowly evaded whatever the creature had intended, and a game of cat and mouse began. The extraplanar undead latched onto Twitch, chasing the ysoki around the cavern and through the tunnels, floating through the floor and the walls to get to him. It took over a minute, some mystical healing, and a lot more ammunition than they liked, but the crew finally managed to bring the driftdead down.

The northern passage ended after about fifty feet, where the ceiling has collapsed in a wall of fallen rock. The short western corridor connected back to the chamber where the crew had encountered the first void zombie. They sent ARTE down the northern corridor from there, and the little drone reported back that it was a perfectly hallway for about a hundred feet until it ended at a hole facing the void of space. There only path forward was through the strange door to the south.

It opened into a five-foot-wide hallway that came to a T-intersection after about twenty feet. To the east, ARTE reported a chamber whose various lights and controls on the machinery provided dim light. The chamber seemed torn between two worlds – its southeastern half was an unfinished rock wall, while the northeastern portion of the room was finished with the same ceramic-metallic plating found elsewhere. To the west, the stealth drone found a ten-foot-wide hall in stark contrast to the caverns elsewhere inside the Drift Rock.

The chamber looked more like a room on a space station or starship. Rather than the unfinished rock of the asteroid, the walls, floor, and ceiling were all clad with finished sheets of the polished, metallic substance, along with components of unrecognizable equipment. Panels on some of the walls flashed with lights and mysterious symbols, and an almost infrasonic hum of unseen machinery pulsed through the walls. A damaged security robot patrolled this corridor, and the crew moved to engage the sentinel. It did not last long.

While Boske and Roger discussed how many credits they could get selling the disabled robot as a curiosity to some scholar or collector, and Kusanagi, Twitch, and Winslow puzzled over the machinery and strange alien symbols – coming to no concrete solutions – Galakrond found a concealed hatch on the lower portion of a wall panel in the northwest corner of the chamber. It was barricaded from the inside, but this proved to be a minor inconvenience. It was obvious that the small chamber was once a storage area for spare parts and small maintenance and repair robots, but the crew found it empty save for a dead body and its possessions.

They recognized the dead woman here as belonging to the driftdead. Winslow noted that numerous wounds were visible, but the cause of death appeared obvious: a self-inflicted wound to the head. The body still wore an estex suit with a force field upgrade, though the battery was depleted. It also had a pair of spell amps of lesser restoration in a pocket, which Winslow used to restore both vesks’ strength. The doctor also picked up an empty static arc pistol on the floor next to the woman’s outstretched hand. Twitch found a datapad and popped in a new battery to access the device. It contained the owner’s final message.

In a recording, the woman identified herself as Moriko Nash, the captain of the independent starship Sunrise Maiden, and briefly related her discovery of a strange asteroid in the Drift. She landed her ship in a cavern on the asteroid and began exploring other chambers inside it, but she was attacked by a terrifying monster that seemed to consume life energy and could walk through walls. Wounded and unable to escape the monster, Moriko managed to modify her armor’s force field to extend in a bubble around her, as the monster seemed unable to pass through the force field. Nevertheless, she realized her force field would eventually run out of power, and the monster would finally be able to reach her. She ended the recording with the following.

“I think I’ve come to terms with it. I won’t survive, but at least I’ve explored strange worlds and seen wonders I would never have dreamed of as a child. I guess everything comes to an end eventually. I’ve always been the master of my own fate, and I’m not going to change now.” Captain Nash held up a pistol. “When my force field goes down, I’ll fight. But I’m saving my last charge for myself. My life, my death.

“This is my last will and testament. To whoever finds this recording, I leave the Sunrise Maiden to you. It’s a good ship, and no matter where I’ve gone, it’s always brought me home… until now. If you treat it right, it’ll do the same for you. Leave my body where you found it – we came from the stars, and to the stars I’ll return – but the Maiden deserves to keep flying.” Nash took a deep breath and ended the recording.

Kusanagi recognized the Sunrise Maidenas the name of a starship that had been reported lost in the Drift in 242 AG. The ship and its crew had never been found, but perhaps the crew could find their own way off the Drift Rock after all. Galakrond respectfully returned Nash’s body to the sealed bolthole that she had chosen for her tomb, and the crew headed back down the hall to the west.

Twitch’s first attempt to access the control panel ended in a severe electric shock, but after Winslow spotted and disabled the short-circuiting components, the mechanic was able to gain access to what was left of the system. Understanding the alien programming proved to be an obstacle beyond any of them, however. Wounded and tired from their exertions aboard the Acreon and the Drift Rock so far, the crew decided to return to the derelict ship and rest a while before risking an encounter with the creature that had inspired Nash’s end.

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The Acreon

Clara-247 talked the crew into letting her help, to earn her passage back to Absalom Station. They gave her pistol back and Kusanagi’s second skin¬, since he had taken hers. To her credit, she didn’t complain. The crew settled into their usual downtime routines for a few hours. Winslow drew strength from his connection to the life force of all things. Twitch made modifications to ARTE. Boske and Kusanagi ran wind sprints down the halls of the ship. Galakrond altered his armor and conscripted both Roger and Clara-247 to help him test it out. Eventually, the crew and their conscripts settled down to rest.

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The Drift Rock

The door exiting the ancient control room opened into a corridor that terminated in double doors to the east. The crew took a collective breath before pushing these open. With its vaulted sixty foot ceiling and smoothed stone floor, the sprawling cavern beyond had the appearance of a primitive shuttle hangar or landing bay – an impression reinforced by the presence of a starship taking up the majority of the space. Only the western wall was finished with the ceramic-metallic plating found elsewhere in the complex; the remainder of the cavern was hemmed by natural rock walls. Huge doors stood in the eastern wall of the chamber – doors easily big enough to accommodate the starship parked in front of them. Of more immediate interest, however, were the two human bodies splayed on the floor just inside the western doors, their internal organs spread artfully on the floor around the corpses – the last two crew members of the Acreon.

“It’s vulnerable to electricity!” said Winslow to the confusion of all. “The garaggakal!” the doctor elaborated then lifted his arc pistol and shot at something lurking under the ship. Ah! More snacks! came a voice in everyone’s head just before a winged horror emerged and rushed the crew!

Things moved very quickly after that. After taking a few shots from the crew, the garaggakal retreated into the air, leeching Winslow’s life as it went, which appeared to revitalize it. The shirren held out his arc pistol to Kusanagi, who was a much better shot, and the android advanced into the hangar. His first shot was well-placed, and the doctor’s assessment of the outsider’s weakness proved accurate – the electric shot caused it to spasm in pain. It flew around the side of the starship, absorbing Kusanagi’s life force as it fled, but that didn’t save the alien for long. Superior numbers won out, and the garaggakal fell lifeless to the hangar floor a few seconds later. It was finished.

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The Sunrise Maiden

The Maiden was a Sanjaval Vagabond, a common if somewhat outdated model of starship known for its toughness and dependability. And according to Moriko Nash’s recorded statement, she now belonged to the crew. They loaded the security robot and several unusual art objects that Boske had found in the hangar-cavern into the cargo hold, where they found additional trade goods worth another couple thousand credits. They settled into what had become their usual roles on the ship with Clara-247 and Roger as passengers. Then, they opened the hangar doors, fired up the ship’s power core, warmed up the thrusters, and took flight, bound for Absalom Station.

Unfortunately, another ship was lying in wait, ready to attack as soon as they were clear of the asteroid!

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Incident at Absalom Station

View
Session 4
Ghost Ship

Absalom Station – Starship Hippocampus

As promised, Gevalarsk Nor had procured a ship the crew – the shuttle Hippocampus, which was waiting in a private docking bay. The Hippocampus was one of numerous shuttles that regularly ferried passengers and cargo between Absalom Station and visiting ships that either were too big to dock directly with the station or preferred to remain among the ships of the Armada.

Originally a Ringworks Wanderer model, the Hippocampus had been heavily modified for station security use, and Nor had further modified it for the expedition with upgraded armor, defenses, shields, and the addition of a turret-mounted coilgun. With no idea what the crew might face, Nor had even outfitted the shuttle with life boats, just in case. Nor had not supplied a pilot, to maintain neutrality in the matter by not involving any of the station’s crew.

Before they departed, Nor made one final thing clear: the Hippocampus belonged to Absalom Station. He had arranged to borrow the shuttle for their use, but it was not theirs to do with as they pleased, and the station expected the ship to be returned.

“Kusanagi” took the helm and fired up the ship’s engines. The _Hippocampus_’ thrusters took only a couple of minutes to warm up, Absalom Traffic Control gave clearance for takeoff, and they launched into space. Their destination was not far from Absalom Station and the course had been preprogrammed into the shuttle’s computer. It took only a couple of hours to reach the quarantine zone around the Acreon and the Drift Rock. Along the way, they had a good view of the exterior of Absalom Station, as well as the so-called Armada, the endlessly moving fleet of independent ships that surrounds the gigantic space platform.

Once the Hippocampus passed through the last fringes of the Armada, there should have been nothing but open space between them and the Acreon – but the ship’s sensors picked up a small ship that detached itself from the bulk of the Armada and turned toward the shuttle on an intercept course. Strangely, however, the ship’s transponder did not seem to be working – it was not broadcasting any identification codes, and the ship did not respond to any hails. An alarm suddenly sounded in the cockpit of the Hippocampus – the mystery ship was armed, and its targeting lasers were trained on the shuttle!

Winslow recognized the incoming ship as a Death’s Head Necroglider, an interceptor class ship of Eoxian make. It was much faster than their shuttle, and as such would be difficult to outmaneuver. Difficult, but not impossible. Twitch boosted the shuttle’s speed, allowing the crew to stay on the interceptor’s flanks for the most part. Kusanagi had been reluctant to assume the role of pilot for the crew, but his natural talent made him the best candidate. And the android was up to the task of outflying their attacker. Even though the enemy had a broad arc gyrolaser, it was unable to hit the Hippocampus due to his evasive maneuvers. In short order, the vesks’ skillful gunnery burned through the necroglider’s shields and disabled the enemy starship, which crash landed into the Drift Rock. With the threat neutralized, the crew continued on their way to the derelict starship and its mysterious cargo.

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Starship Acreon

The Acreon was an old prospecting and mining ship that had seen years of hard use in the asteroid fields and hard vacuum of the Pact Worlds and beyond. It was a boxy and ungainly ship, and its patched and repatched outer hull bore the scars of countless micrometeorite impacts and was faded from exposure to the radiation of space. The Acreon floated alone in space, far from Absalom Station, its only companion the misshapen asteroid called the Drift Rock, which was tethered behind the ship on long tow cables. The Acreon’s transponder broadcasted a repeating message that the ship was under quarantine by order of Absalom Station security, warning away any curious onlookers and would be explorers.

A sensor scan of the Acreon identified the ship as a medium transport that could carry a full crew complement of six. The sensors were unable to get a good reading on any life signs that might be present on the ship, however. The ship’s aft airlock was open, exposing the interior of the ship to vacuum. The Acreon was armed, though none of its weapons were currently active, and its power core was outputting minimal energy – enough for life support, gravity, and basic ship functions, but little else. The tow cables were attached to the ship’s hull near the aft airlock, mooring the Drift Rock to the Acreon, but since it was already open, they docked there, activated their armors’ vacuum protection, and prepared to board, Nor’s recording drone floating quietly behind.

The ship’s emergency lights flickering inside the derelict ship, and the sense of abandonment was only heightened by the apparent lack of any movement or life inside its airless corridors. Artificial gravity was still functional, however, so there was likely still power to run essential systems and possibly restore life support and atmosphere to the ship. Unfortunately, there were no obvious clues as to the fate of the Acreon’s vanished crew. They easily closed the aft airlock using the nearby controls, though they needed to go to the bridge to repressurize the ship with a breathable atmosphere.

Surrounded by machinery, the long chamber connected to the aft airlock stretched across the width of the ship. All of the Acreon’s main engineering functions could be operated from the room, which also contained a tech workshop expansion bay. The ship’s power core could be accessed through maintenance panels in the forward wall.

They also noted numerous resinous shards littering the floor. Upon inspection, Kusanagi realized they were composed of the valuable starmetal noqual, which Galakrond began to collect. These were remnants of the cocoons of a terrifying predator that dwelled in the vast void of space known as akatas. He relayed this information to the others, including the fact that the aberrations reproduced by implanting parasitic larval offspring in humanoid hosts. This infection, known as void death, transformed its victims into undead void zombies. None of them argued when the android instructed them to wait there in engineering while he scouted ahead.

The doors from engineering opened into a connecting hallway that made a square around the power core. From there, a third door opened to the main corridor, a long passage that seemed to run most of the length of the ship from bow to stern. Signs of battle – bullet holes, scorch marks, and droplets of blood – were clearly visible on the walls and floors. A small body in a space suit lay sprawled on the floor in the middle of the nearer of two junctions in the hallway.

Moving deliberately and quietly, Kusanagi approached the body, puzzled to discover it was a space goblin. It was possible that the Acreon may have employed such a creature, but the little nuisances were usually scavengers, rather than gainfully employed. The halls to the left and right each ended in the port and starboard air locks, with an additional door on the aft side of the each corridor. Noting this, the operative stealthily moved forward to the next four-way intersection. There, he spotted the first akata, and it was worse in person than it had seemed in the dossier he’d read about the creatures.

He’d avoided the akata’s notice, and so he carefully retreated back down the hall to report to the others. He also recalled that they were immune to cold, but had a weakness to salt water. Boske swapped his zero rifle with his artillery laser, and Winslow readied a syringe filled with saline. Then the vesk took point as the crew advanced into the main corridor to confront the alien. The sound of their heavy boots attracted the akata’s attention, and it rushed down the hall to sink its teeth into Galakrond! It also snapped at Boske as he fired on it with his laser. Unfortunately, the akata also appeared to resist the heat. With a curse, the sharpshooter maneuvered down the portside hallway. Kusanagi and ARTE proved that the akata was not particularly resistant to bullets, and Galakrond injected it with Winslow’s saline, eliciting a pained howl from the creature. It didn’t manage to do them any more harm before they brought the creature down, and Winslow promptly began collecting samples.

Two more akatas lurked in the starboard cargo hold adjacent to the air lock, and though they got a couple of bites in, the crew swiftly dealt with them and searched around. Galakrond collected more noqual, and Twitch scooped up a flame pistol he found on the floor. They crossed to the port side of the ship and found another cargo hold that mirrored the one on the starboard side. No akatas awaited them, but the hold contained much of the ship’s supplies – extra food and water stores, replacement air filters, spare parts, and the like. There was also a shipping container approximately eight feet square, addressed to the Eoxian Embassy on Absalom Station. The container was sealed and had no manifest detailing its contents. Winslow inspected the crate and verified it had not been tampered with, so the crew left it lie and continued to the other intersection.

They found an open galley on the fore of the portside corridor, though the quality of the preserved rations left something to be desired. Still, they created a few salt water “grenades” to use against any more akatas they might encounter. A pair of doors graced the aft side of each of the corridors. The first they tried proved to be barricaded from the inside. Kusanagi asked the vesk to try breaking in, and they set to the task with gusto. It took about a minute and a half, but they did managed to hack their way through the door. Within, they found a cabin that appeared to have served as shared living quarters for the Acreon’s crew. It contained two simple bunks, a pair of lockers, a small sink, and the miners’ personal possessions. Additionally, it was occupied by two terrified space goblins, who blindly opened fire. One was killed by ARTE before the other could be cowed into surrendering by Boske.

The goblin blubbered about its dead friends Fred and Bob, a scavenging mission, akatas, and poor life choices. He begged the crew to take him to safety but agreed to stay in the quarters when Kusanagi told him they had not yet cleared the ship of akatas. Galakrond collected the goblins’ scrounged items, which consisted of several grenades, and a few other sundries. Twitch found a computer key card and a credstick, pocketing both items.

The remaining three aft-side doors in the hallway led to identical crew quarters. When Galakrond opened the door across from the starboard crew quarters, he set off a jury-rigged laser blast trap and was hurt so badly that Winslow had to tend to his wounds. Beyond the trapped door, they found a storeroom containing the Acreon crew’s personal mining and prospecting tools, as well as a few other supplies. They collected a shock fusion seal, a couple serums of healing, and a few medpatches in addition to the noqual fragments of yet another akata cocoon.

The only place left unexplored was the bridge of the Acreon. The crew steeled themselves then opened the door. A wide transparent aluminum window stretched across the forward wall of the control room; twinkling lights in the distance were all that could be seen of Absalom Station and the ships of the Armada surrounding it. Of more immediate concern were the three akatas that turned to regard the crew when the door to the bridge opened. The ensuing fight was a bit bloodier than the others had been by virtue of sheer numbers, but decisive application of firepower, tactics, and a bit of magic secured another victory for the crew.

Galakrond collected the noqual from three more cocoons while Twitch and the others moved to inspect the computers. The bridge contained four stations equipped with consoles and controls for operating most of the ship’s systems and functions, including its computer system. Most of the control consoles were powered down or on standby, but the ysoki mechanic easily accessed the basic, unsecured functions of the ship’s computer. He started the process of repressurizing the ship and restored the lights to normal, then noted that to access the more advanced functions – such as the ship’s logs – he would need to hack the system to get into the secured files.

Twitch inserted the key card he’d found, which should have made the task simpler, but the miners apparently had some custom programming because he not only managed to fail accessing the system, but locked out the key card. He sighed, pulling it out and tossing it on top of the console. It would be of no further use. He conscripted Winslow and Kusanagi to assist him, setting them the task of “distracting” the system with lesser requests while he tried again. It worked, and he gained access, but found that the ship’s log was contained in a secure data module kept behind a firewall, which would require a more sophisticated hack. It wasn’t easy, but with his companions’ help and a little ingenuity, he gained access to the secure data module and gained access to view the ship’s logs. He didn’t get root access, so he wouldn’t be able to copy or delete any of the data, but it would have to do.

The logs detailed the discovery of the Drift Rock, the crew’s initial exploration of the asteroid’s surface and the strange “geodes” they found there. The captain then stated that the crew was under attack from monsters that “hatched” from the geodes they brought back to the ship – describing the dreaded akatas. The next entry was more hurried, and the sounds of combat were audible in the background.

“There’s something else – it came from the rock!” the captain reported with more than a trace of panic in his voice. “We’re getting overwhelmed! I’m going to open the ship to vacuum – maybe that’ll slow them down!”

The log’s final entry was recorded in engineering and showed the captain in his space suit. “Purging the air didn’t work. I’ve set the autopilot to continue on to Absalom Station, but we’re abandoning ship. We’ll fall back to the rock and try to regroup there. Acreon out.” There were no further entries.

“Something else?” asked Kusanagi. “Something aside from the akatas?” No one had an answer.

They were distracted by additional akata howls from the aft of the ship. Perhaps repressurizing the ship had stirred the beasts from wherever they’d been hiding. The crew moved swiftly to exterminate the aberrations and finally cleans the Acreon.

Afterward, they returned to the crew quarters where the space goblin – named Roger – awaited. When they told him that the akatas were all dead, he said he wanted to go with the crew. He was reluctant to explore the Drift Rock, but if it would secure him a ride off of the Acreon, he was more than willing to push past his fear. The crew moved the crate from the cargo hold and all of the bulky noqual they’d recovered into the Hippocampus, then began to crawl along the tow cables toward the Drift Rock.

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Drift Rock

The Drift Rock was a rocky asteroid a few thousand feet in diameter with an unremarkable, irregular surface. While inspecting the asteroid, Twitch noticed an unusual feature: one side of the Drift Rock seemed to have been sheared cleanly off, as if it had once been part of a larger planetoid or celestial body. He also noted another odd detail: unlike on most asteroids, no impact craters marred the Drift Rock’s surface, as if it had been somehow protected from the ravages of space for millions of years. While the crew pondered these facts, Galakrond found a rocky overhang concealing a cave entrance that seemed to lead inside the asteroid. The cave did indeed become a tunnel that bored into the Drift Rock’s interior.

Predictably, there was no atmosphere inside of the asteroid, and the tunnels were completely dark, necessitating the use of infrared sensors for those in the crew who could not naturally see without light. There was also no gravity in the tunnel, so the crew engaged their boots’ anchor functionality. Though narrow, the tunnel ceiling was fifteen feet high. They came to a fork after a few hundred feet, and followed the left-hand passage into a chamber twice the height of the tunnel. A dead humanoid body floated in the cavern. The corpse was that of a human male, still wearing an estex suit with a patch that read “ACREON,” identifying it as a member of the mining ship’s crew. Winslow inspected the body, determining that the man had died of wounds inflicted by an akata but had not been infected with the void death. He had been lucky, in a way. With the camera drone watching, the crew was respectful and did not loot the corpse.

A short passageway exited the chamber to the east and dog-legged before opening into another cavern. Four tunnels exited this area to the north, south, east, and west – from which the crew had come. Strangely, however, while the south and west passages were hewn rock, the north and east passages were finished and lined with some sort of polished, metallic plating on the walls, floors, and ceiling. Something bipedal wandered the cavern, appearing to be a prospector wearing a space suit. But the lower half of its helmet was shattered and a repulsive, bloated blue-gray “tongue” hung from remnants of the creature’s lower jaw. A void zombie!

The undead lurched forward and its “tongue” – the larval akata’s feeding tendril – sank into Galakrond’s scaly flesh. He felt it drain some of his blood before detaching, and the sensation sapped his strength. Kusanagi activated his jump jets, launching toward the ceiling and somersaulting to anchor his boots there before firing off a round into the void zombie’s chest. The creature would not do any more harm to the crew before they took it down. Galakrond hissed as he put one hand to his wound, and Winslow said it would take some time for the bite to heal.

Twitch moved forward to examine the strange walls, determining that the panels were some sort of ceramic-metallic plating that was as strong and durable as adamantine alloy, but was itself a substance unknown to Pact Worlds material science. Kusanagi recommended that the crew return to the original fork, exploring all of the “natural” caverns before advancing into those that appeared to be manufactured.

The right-hand of the fork came to a dead-end cavern. Large chunks of rubble were scattered across it, and a large boulder lay to the west. No one noticed anything before a silent muzzle flash from the ceiling alerted them to the danger!

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Incident at Absalom Station

View
Session 3
Societal Needs

Absalom Station – Lorespire Complex

The Lorespire Complex, home and heart of the Starfinder Society, was a striking campus dedicated to knowledge. Communal labs and historical departments study the Archives’ massive collection of artifacts and texts, gathered by generations of agents from across the galaxy. A quick search of the directory indicated the leader of the Dataphiles, Historia-7 frequented the Archives’ Cortex, a computerized matrix containing digital records of the Starfinder Society’s most prominent discoveries.

The android reclined on a raised chair and was plugged into the local infosphere when the doors open. The neural cables detached themselves from her neck as she swiveled in her seat to address the new arrivals. “Greetings, Starfinders,” she said calmly. “I am Historia-7. If you are seeking a mission from me, please be aware that my request requires both discretion and speed. Do not accept it if you feel incapable of working within these parameters.” The crew stood awaiting further detail, and the android nodded in approval.

“I discovered someone recently hacked into Bluerise Tower’s computer systems and stole a large amount of sensitive data from the resident corporations. I wish to be privy to this information. I managed to trace the hacker’s location through many proxies and erased the trail so that station and corporate security should be delayed in their pursuit. This deception will not fool them for long, so you must move quickly to retrieve the data before they can recover it. I will leave you to decide what to do with the hacker afterward, but should it be feasible, I believe that person would be an asset to the Society.”

The crew agreed to seek out the hacker and recover the stolen information. Historia-7 gave them the address to a flat in Drifter’s End, a district in the station’s Ring known for providing cheap housing to vagabonds of all sorts.

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Absalom Station – Drifter’s End

The coordinates that Historia-7 provided pointed to an apartment that resembled a cement cube, with several tomato plants in plastic barrels sitting on an otherwise barren porch. The plants were being hand-pollinated by a young human, who looked up in some surprise at the five aliens approaching. Winslow addressed the young man. “We are from the Starfinder Society, and we are looking for programmers to come work with our organization.” The boy’s confused expression made it clear he had no idea what was happening, so the shirren asked if anyone else lived with him.

“M-my grandma is inside,” the young man said, and as if on cue, a wizened old woman in a blue-and-white abaya stepped out from the flat. The crone squinted at the stranger speaking with her grandson and demanded to know what they wanted. Arizona repeated his fictional spiel about seeking out computer programmers to work with the Starfinder Society. She frowned, claiming she had no idea what he was talking about, but she seemed oddly uncertain and invited the crew inside the house for tea to sort things out.

Boxes of nutrient broth, gardening tools, and various cultural knickknacks clutter the floor of the flat, leaving barely any room for visitors to sit down. “Kusanagi” took up a position by the door to keep an eye on the boy. The young man went back to tending to his tomato plants, so the android relaxed a little. The old woman introduced herself as Ceren, poured six cups of tea, and asked again why the crew was at her house. Winslow sighed and admitted they were looking for a hacker who had stolen information from the Bluerise Tower.

The old woman touched a port near her temple, examining neural implants installed there. A look of surprise crossed her features as she realized that she had the stolen files, though she has no idea how she got them. Ceren took a sip of tea then calmly explained her circumstances: she had indeed been a hacker in her earlier years – one of the best of the best in her field. However, old age brought on a degenerative brain disease, which forced her into retirement. Augmentations in Ceren’s brain had halted the damage and kept her functional, but she still had large lapses in memory and was no longer as capable as she once was.

Ceren concluded that she must have slipped into a younger mindset, performed the hack, and forgotten about it. Since she could not recall the circumstances, she told the crew that she would be happy to give them the files in exchange for their aid. Since she was guilty of stealing from Bluerise Tower, it was only a matter of time before corporate security hunted her down. Ceren had no realistic hope of evading agents in her current state. She proposed that the Starfinders help fake her death to get her out of the hot water she had landed herself in, and that they place her grandson Jubair under Society protection until she settled into her new life. Despite the circumstances, she seemed quite enthusiastic, even noting that the situation reminded her of her “younger days.”

To successfully fake Ceren’s death, the crew realized they would need to manipulate data to convince the station systems that she was dead. They would also need to provide a new identity for the old woman to take over. While they got to work, Ceren had Jubair collect their most precious belongings while she found a place to lay low. She provided the crew with a location to meet her a few hours later: a bridge she enjoyed in Jatembe Park.

The crew set to work on the task with gusto. Kusanagi called the ysoki who owned the Vat Garden in Downlow to ask if they had a recent female human body. As fortune would have it, they did and agreed to part with it for thirty credits. The android accepted the offer, and Galakrond headed off to acquire the corpse. While they waited for the Vesk to return, Winslow prepared to modify the cadaver to more closely resemble Ceren. Twitch hacked the station’s medical system in order to change the old woman’s records to match the body that the crew would be taking to the morgue. Finally, Boske and Kusanagi worked together to build a new alias for Ceren, and come up with false credentials for her to use. Once they were satisfied with the results, they contacted the hacker and told her to meet them at the park.

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Absalom Station – Jatembe Park

Open to all citizens, Jatembe Park occupied a wide portion of the Eye of Absalom Station. Filled with lush trees and open grass fields, the park offered some natural terrain to the otherwise metalclad station. Ceren’s meeting point was one such forested portion of the park, specifically a spot often ignored by citizens due to the winding path required to reach it.

As the crew drew near, they saw a trio of corporate thugs approaching Ceren, who sat alone on a bench near a bridge that crossed a small stream. The vesk readied weapons, drawing the gangers’ attention. “Piss off, you lot,” said one. “This doesn’t concern you.”

“And I say it does,” said Galakrond, his tone hiding nothing of his longing for a fight. The thug spokesman considered the heavily armed lizard men and the crew’s superior numbers, and determined that he wasn’t getting enough hazard pay to make it worth the effort. He turned and started walking away, his companions following behind. With the thugs driven off, the crew was free to collect Ceren.

The hacker seemed unperturbed by the gangers’ appearance, confident that the Starfinders’ work at falsifying her death should throw off future investigations into her whereabouts. They assured Ceren of the “official” record of her death and provided her with the information pertaining to her new identity. The wizened hacker thanked the crew and departed to find Jubair.

Boske found a pastry vendor in the park, and his companions joined him in taking a break from their duties. About an hour after they had parted ways with Ceren, Historia-7 contacted them remotely. The android relayed that Ceren felt comfortable enough in her new identity to risk a return to public life. The aged hacker apparently claimed that this was the most alive she had felt in ages and offered to assist the Dataphiles if they ever required her skills. Historia-7 expressed her gratitude and told them to expect a courier drone soon.

Less than a minute later, a rudimentary courier robot hovered up and greeted them. It presented a gift box containing a standard datajack and a couple hundred credits. A simple electronic message from Historia-7 indicated that the datajack was a token of thanks from the Dataphiles. The box also contained a frostbite-class zero rifle. According to a hand-written note, the weapon was an old acquisition of Ceren’s that Jubair had found while cleaning out the family house.

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Absalom Station – Downlow

The Exo-Guardians did not currently have a headquarters on Absalom Station, but their leader, Zigvigix, resided in the poor but trendy neighborhood of Downlow. Garbage littered the ground around the district’s largest art park – a cement lot filled with undulating metal sculptures and covered in graffiti of grotesquely adorable creatures. The sounds of music and chatter drifted over from the nearby clubs, chronically interrupted by the roar of the local gangsters’ engines.

A heavily augmented host shirren was sitting on one of the park benches, eating a simple meal of cold grub-noodles and rice candy. Their antennae perked up at the tremor of approaching footsteps, and they turned toward the crew with a smile. Welcome, new Starfinders! And congratulations! the shirren’s voice telepathically projected. My speech-name is Zigvigix, but feel free to call me Ziggy, if that would be easier for you. Have some rice candy to celebrate your graduation! Today is your big day!

When you are ready, I have two assignments I could use assistance with. The first is to help me secure a new headquarters on Absalom Station. I’ve been in talks with our station’s protectors, the Stewards, and they were kind enough to give us ownership of a warehouse here in Downlow for that purpose! The current owners no longer want it because a vicious alien took it over and kills anyone who goes inside. Once the alien is gone and the warehouse cargo has been returned to its owners, we can start installing desks and computers, so please go in and incinerate the creature!

“Simple enough,” said Kusanagi. “And the second?”

My second assignment… Zigvigix twitched their tooth barbs for a moment and then held out a credstick. Please buy the brand-new Strawberry Machine Cake album, Star Sugar Heartlove!!!, which is out today, and give it to Historia-7 when you see her again. I wish to do it myself, but I … I have trouble standing for long periods of time. Thank you very much!

Winslow asked about the need for a new base, and Zigvigix conveyed that the old Exo-Guardian base was located on a world in the Vast, but the bastion had fallen to an alien threat shortly after the Scoured Stars incident. The shirren didn’t talk about this point for too long, enthusiastically changing the subject to answering questions directly related to their missions.

Galakrond asked about the alien in the warehouse, wanting to know if the crew needed to provide proof-of-death. Zigvigix said that would be appreciated, explaining that they believed the creature was a feather stalker, a predator far more unpleasant than its name implied. As far as the Stewards had been able to piece together, a two-bit crime lord illegally imported the creature, and the beast had promptly eaten him. Zigvigix provided holorecordings of the incident taken off the station’s security cameras. It was a gruesome scene, but it afforded Kusanagi the opportunity to identify the alien as a crinoid. He mentioned its resistance to fire and the sickening effect its strikes could inflict.

Twitch asked Zigvigix about Strawberry Machine Cake. Zigvigix said that Historia-7 had seemed down after losing her mentor in the Scoured Stars. The shirren hoped the sugar-pop music could cheer up the android; Zigvigix added that the band’s music always made them feel better. They went on to gush about favorite songs, expressing regret they cannot hear the newest releases, as the shirren found it incredibly difficult to stand in the long lines.

Winslow noted that Zigvigix was not requesting a copy of the album for themself. The host shirren’s response made it clear that despite their obvious desire, they downplayed their opinion when it might benefit themself and seemed uncomfortable spending money on their own personal wants – an oddity for the highly individual shirrens. The doctor mentioned this to Twitch after the ysoki volunteered to go stand in line for the album while the rest of the crew dealt with the feather stalker.

After the mechanic and his drone left, station security allowed the others through the force barrier set up around the perimeter of the warehouse. The doors to the building had been forced open and would no longer lock. The warehouse ceiling was thirty feet high, and a catwalk ran fifteen feet above the floor. Several crates and a vehicle sat abandoned in the warehouse, as well as a number of cylindrical containers and a crate-filled scaffolding standing about ten feet high.

The doctor caught sight of the creature first, a large black-and-white alien made up of long feathery appendages and little else. It was hunkered down in a shredded section of the floor that looked a bit like a nest. The feather stalker apparently realized it had been spotted and flapped its appendages in challenge to the intruders. Boske took aim with the zero rifle and fired off a round that grazed the alien. Galakrond charged in, but the crinoid evaded his doshko strike. Kusanagi advanced between the cylinders, staying out of sight before he popped out from behind a crate and shot the feather stalker. Winslow tried to daze the creature, but it resisted his magic and struck Galakrond twice – hard. That was to be the only pain it inflicted on the crew, which took it down several seconds later.

A contingent of station security moved into the warehouse to start removing cargo and freeing up the space for the Exo-Guardians. As this occurred, Zigvigix emerged from behind the cordon line to congratulate the crew on a successful extermination. The host shirren also presented them with a set of iridishell armor, a pair of incendiary grenades, and a few hundred credits.

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Absalom Station – Moons of Sleep

About six hours later, the crew was relaxing with drinks at the bar of their hotel when Twitch stumbled through the doors, supported by ARTE. “Where have YOU been?” Boske asked.

The ysoki offered him a withering stare. “You don’t understand the hell I’ve just been through,” he said.

“You did volunteer,” said Kusanagi, hiding a smile behind his hand.

“ARTE is not ‘kawaii’,” the drone said.

“Did you get the album?” asked Winslow.

“Yes,” said Twitch. “Though all I got from Historia-7 was a long, unreadable stare and a calm statement that she would ‘enter it into the archives.’”

“Did you get one for Ziggy?”

“Yeah,” said the ysoki, rolling his shoulders and smiling a bit. “They had a better reaction. Squealed in delight and handed me this charge cloak.” He produced the magic item and handed it over to Galakrond, the self-appointed quartermaster for the crew.

“One faction to go, right?” asked Boske.

“Yes,” said Kusanagi. “Shall we?”

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The Armada – Master of Stars

The Wayfinders operated out of the Master of Stars, an enormous starship that was part of the Armada orbiting Absalom Station. A Society shuttle took the crew out to the orbiting ship. The Armada could be seen from the shuttle’s view screen as it took off, gleaming figures standing out against the emptiness of space. The Master of Stars immediately stood out from the rest, as layers and layers of scaffolding obscured its hull. Tiny lights flickered among the metal beams as distant figures welded plates and heat shields to the ship’s exterior. The shuttle smoothly glided closer until it reached the starship’s docking bay, slipping through the magic field that kept the hold pressurized with breathable atmosphere. As the shuttle doors opened, a small drone flew in and popped up a holoscreen, displaying a harried-looking female ratfolk.

“Finally, fresh meat!” the ysoki exclaimed over the screen, sounding pleased. “Name’s Fitch – pleasantries over, time to get to work. I had some trouble earlier with the lights flickering on the ship, and now both the lights and computers have suddenly gone out on E-Deck. No idea what’s causing it, but you work this job long enough and—” Fitch’s attention flicked to something off screen, and she shouted, “*Kirkath*! The welding torch is not a toy! You wanna go in the toddler’s pen with the other kids?”

She snorted dismissively before continuing, “Sorry, some of these little ones would cut off their own heads if I let them. Anyway, it could be some lunkhead screwed up the wiring, but that’s a pretty big system failure for a simple electrical short. I’d prefer to send in some people with combat training to scout it out, just in case someone or something is sabotaging the ship. If it’s nothing, great, get the power back on if you can. If there’s something suspicious, use your comm units to report in to me. I’ll give you the access codes, so – Selicha! If you touch that panel I will staple you to the hull!”
The screen on the drone cut out then flashed to display the ship’s schematics and the passwords for the computers on E-Deck.

The Master of Stars was the largest starship in the Society’s arsenal, and had long been the pride of the fleet. Years of neglect required an extensive retrofit during the events of the Scoured Stars incident, inadvertently saving the flagship. The repairs were still ongoing, hampered by the lack of any senior Starfinders familiar with the ship’s myriad and esoteric systems. E-Deck was a heavily underused section of the ship, consisting of various primary access corridors and adjoining chambers. The crew had used the working lifts and maintenance tunnels to reach E-Deck. The doors were closed and would not automatically open without power, but since the magnetic seals on the doors were also disabled due to the power loss, they were able to force their way through. Most side rooms were crew quarters or communal living spaces – far less important locations due to the recent shortage in personnel. The Wayfinders had recently started using some of these chambers to store nonthreatening alien objects.

The E-Deck was in total darkness when they arrived, making the first order of business to restore power to the lights and the cameras prior to entering the area. Twitch made short work of it, the quick jury-rigging providing limited power to their section of E-Deck, but it was enough to restore moderate computer functionality. Most of the starship’s cameras remained off, but the ysoki noticed one monitor showed that there were two human children hiding in a storage room. He pointed them out to his companions and gave them directions to reach the chamber.

Scattered barrels and boxes lined the lowered floor of the storage chamber. A thick bulkhead to the port side led farther onto the deck, while a similar bulkhead to the aft connected to an arterial hallway that ran the length of the deck. This storage room was in a somewhat haphazard state, and the children were not plainly visible. Winslow called out to them in a gentle tone. A moment later, two tousled heads glanced at the shirren from behind a crate. Kusanagi tried to get them talking, though the only thing he got was that there “definitely wasn’t anything down here to be interested in” – an obvious lie. Winslow shooed the vesk back into the corridor when Galakrond asked if they should try intimidating the kids.

Twitch placed a call to Fitch to ask about the children, and their father was located and sent to join the crew on E-Deck. Kieu Kein reunited with his son Lan and daughter Si, and after some initial blubbering, he got them to admit what they knew. They said they had stumbled across a newly awoken alien that had escaped from one of the storage chambers. It was small and cute, and it did not respond to any standard language, so they decided to keep it as a pet and hid it in the next room. The alien began meddling with exposed ship cabling and other internal ship components, causing the power outage. The children wound up trapped when the lights went out, and they lacked the strength to force open the closed doors, so they were stuck in the lightless storage room. They were unable to communicate with anyone on the ship as they had removed their communicators before sneaking onto E-Deck to bring the alien food. Twitch relayed this to the Wayfinder leader, and she asked the crew to make first contact with the escaped alien before circumstances got further out of hand.

Kein took his children back abovedecks, and the ysoki joined his companions in the storage room, considering the area where the alien was holed up. The area consisted of two adjoining chambers. Four large containment capsules filled the fore room, three of which held stasis-locked objects, including a tablet, a strange curved sword, and an odd spiral of bioluminescent coral. A crack leaked fluid from the fourth capsule, which displayed a foot-wide breach near the bottom. The aft room contained several desks, each hosting a deactivated computer terminal.

Kusanagi noted radiation in the room and warned his companions to turn on the environmental protection afforded by their armor. It looked like the alien had pulled some panels of protective shielding away from the walls, exposing the room to the radiation. Examining the room gave the crew an idea of how the creature moved around. It seemed to be centipede-like, climbing in and out of the vents, leaving tracks on the walls and vent covers half open. Twitch got the computers up and running, and started manipulating the vents to flush the alien out of them. A few moments later, it appeared – a long, multi-legged body with a bear-like head except mandibles where its mouth should be.

Winslow tried to speak with it telepathically, but it either didn’t have a language or didn’t share one with the shirren. He and Kusanagi attempted some rudimentary communication efforts, but when those failed, the doctor simply tagged the alien with his stun gun. He felt bad, but it did expedite the creature’s collection. They joined Fitch on the bridge for debriefing.

With the alien gone, engineers started moving back into E-Deck to fix the damage done. Fitch turned the alien over to an assembled team of experts in hopes of learning more of its language and culture. The ratfolk was satisfied and thanked the crew for a job well done, but she was quick to get back to work on repairing the ship, handing over a credstick with a few hundred credits on it. Kieu Kein rewarded them with a ring of resistance.

<<< >>>

Absalom Station – Lorespire Complex

Guidance summoned the crew back to the Lorespire Complex. The Society intelligence once again presented itself in a holographic form – taking on the appearance of a wizened male korasha lashunta – to congratulate them on their successful missions. It went on to state that in the aftermath of the Scoured Stars incident, the Society needed skilled agents more than ever, and that it saw potential in the crew as they started their new careers as Starfinder field agents.

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Absalom Station – Eoxian Embassy

A few days after the crew had confronted Ferani Nadaz and the Downside Kings, a messenger had arrived with an invitation printed on paper that was as black as the void of space. The missive requested their company for a meeting with His Excellency Gevalarsk Nor, the ambassador of Eox. The meeting was set to take place at the Eoxian embassy in Absalom Station’s wealthy Parkside neighborhood in the Eye. The embassy was normally restricted to Eoxian citizens and foreigners with official business, but the invitation gave the crew authorization to enter.

Winslow recalled that Eox was a planet inhabited almost entirely by undead creatures. Its dominant species, the humanlike elebrians, were forced to transform themselves into undead to survive an ancient cataclysm that had almost destroyed their world. Although many sentient species found them disturbing, the elebrians were not considered “monsters,” at least in polite society. Eox was a full signatory to the Pact, and its undead inhabitants were equal citizens of the Pact Worlds. He also recognized Gevalarsk Nor as the head of Eox’s diplomatic delegation to the Pact Council. He relayed all of this information to his companions while approached the striking building.

The Eoxian embassy was decorated in a style reminiscent of traditional Eoxian architecture – black marble and bone-pale limestone, vaulted ceilings, sepulchral furnishings, and disconcertingly organic architectural details. Inside, a pair of undead skeletal attendants led the crew to a spare but well-appointed office that felt something like the inside of an ancient mausoleum. Eox’s ambassador to Absalom Station, Gevalarsk Nor was seated at a desk. He had the elongated cranium marking him as an elebrian, a native of Eox. He was clearly undead – his skeletal countenance displayed no scrap of flesh, and an eerie light burned in his otherwise empty eye sockets. Nor greeted them politely and offered them seats.

Once they were comfortable, the ambassador addressed them in a slow and deliberate baritone voice. “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me. I’m certain you’re aware of the recent interest in the prospecting ship Acreon and the asteroid being referred to as the ‘*Drift Rock*,’ and I believe you’re also acquainted with the dispute between Astral Extractions and the Hardscrabble Collective over both the ship and the asteroid. Both parties are currently awaiting legal arbitration, but the wheels of justice often turn quite slowly. As a result, I have offered my services as a mediator in hopes of finding a solution that is equitable to both factions.

“The first step in this, of course, is learning the specifics of the opposing claims. Reports of your recent endeavors in dealing with some of Absalom Station’s most notorious gangs have led me to believe that you might be useful in this undertaking as well. You’re new to the station, you seem to possess a wide range of skills and abilities, and you certainly appear capable. In short, you’re perfectly positioned as a neutral third party that could cut through all of the red tape surrounding this issue and get to the heart of the matter.

“I would like you to go to the Acreon, find out precisely what happened to its crew, and ascertain the value of its asteroid cargo, as well as determine whether this Drift Rock is truly as ‘mysterious’ as the media claims.”

“What do you know about the ship or the asteroid?” asked Kusanagi.

“Not much, I’m afraid,” said Nor. “The rumors are as numerous as they are fantastic. Your task will be to determine fact so that we may dispense with fiction and determine which company has the stronger legal claim. I have no ties to either faction and genuinely want to help. I believe in diplomacy and hope to avoid any further violence over the issue. You will be compensated for your efforts – six hundred credits apiece.”

“Why the Eoxian ambassador?” Winslow wanted to know.

The elebrian considered the shirren with an appraising gaze. “There is one additional detail that I’d like to ask your help with,” Nor said, steepling his bony fingers. “Among its other cargo, the Acreon was carrying a package destined for the embassy. Of course, with the ship being quarantined, the package has been undeliverable. I’ve been eagerly awaiting its arrival, and I’d consider it a personal favor if you could find the package and bring it to me when you return to the station. It’s clearly marked, so I don’t imagine it will be too difficult to find. And I will, of course, compensate you further for this favor.”

The crew accepted the job, and the ambassador smiled, pleased. Nor told them that he had already received permission from station security to send an exploratory team to the Acreon and that he had arranged for the crew to use one of the station’s shuttles for transport the following morning. He also said that he would be sending a small observer robot that would accompany them and record the expedition. The ambassador explained that he wanted an objective record that he could provide to both sides as a foundation for his mediation efforts. He assured the crew that they wouldn’t have to do anything with the bot; it would simply follow and observe. Nor recommended that they investigate the Acreon first, to see if they could find any traces of the ship’s crew, before exploring the Drift Rock.

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Absalom Station – Moons of Sleep

The crew agreed to meet the ambassador in the morning then made their way back to their hotel. Kusanagi immediately got on the infosphere and confirmed with station officials that Nor’s offer was indeed sanctioned by the government. Satisfied, he secured a private conference room and invited his companions to join him so they could discuss the implications of the job. The android asserted that with the observer bot along for the trip, the crew would be scrutinized as both representatives of the government and of the Starfinders. He suggested they should not engage in any illicit activities while on camera, including looting. He reiterated this point to Twitch, who was unfazed.

After they finished eating, they received an invitation to meet with a representative of Astral Extractions at the corporate headquarters in Bluerise Tower. Figuring they were protected by their status as official representations of the arbitration efforts, they agreed to the meeting.

Absalom Station – Bluerise Tower

A lashunta corporate professional named Ms. Joss warmly greeted the crew and thanked them for agreeing to meet. “The purpose of the meeting,” she said, “is to give you a better sense of Astral Extractions’ corporate philosophy and how that informs the company’s business dealings.” She began with a slickly produced marketing presentation that highlights Astral Extractions’ efforts in discovering, developing, and managing much-needed natural resources from across the galaxy and selling them in the Pact Worlds. It was clear that the presentation did not represent the whole truth (it was marketing material for investors and the public, after all), but there was nothing outright false about the claims made.

Having established the noble services that Astral Extractions provided for companies and citizens throughout the Pact Worlds, Ms. Joss recounted details of the company’s contract with the Hardscrabble Collective – namely, that the Acreon was hired to prospect for unclaimed, unexploited mineral resources on behalf of Astral Extractions, which would then hold all rights and claims to those discoveries. Ms. Joss states that Astral Extractions simply wants what their contract gives them rights to. The Acreon found the Drift Rock – an unclaimed, unexploited mineral resource, as defined in the contract – while working for Astral Extractions, so rights to the asteroid belong to the company. This certainly seemed to be a plausible interpretation of the contract’s terms, but it was also evident that the contract assumes the Acreon’s crew would simply identify sites for future development by the company. It was less clear how the terms of the contract might apply to a more portable potential resource – such as a small asteroid that could be brought with the ship itself.

After presenting her case, Ms. Joss simply asked the crew to carefully consider the merits of Astral Extractions’ claim and keep open minds while investigating the ship and asteroid. Astral Extractions would, of course, accept the results of Ambassador Nor’s mediation, but Ms. Joss did mention that the company was always interested in hiring competent freelancers for a variety of tasks, and hinted that the crew could find lucrative employment opportunities in the future if their findings support Astral Extractions’ claims.

They had barely been out of Bluerise Tower for half an hour when they received a text message inviting them to meet with a Hardscrabble Collective representative called Otal Serissi on his ship the Porkchop Express out in the Armada.

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The Armada – Porkchop Express

As they stepped off the shuttle, the crew was met by a red-skinned human from Akiton. Captain Serissi was something of an unofficial spokesman for the Hardscrabble Collective, and he wanted them to better understand what the Collective stood for. The Porkchop Express was a working tramp freighter, practical and utilitarian, with little in the way of luxury or even comfort. Yet Captain Serissi took great pride in his ship – which was also his home and his livelihood – a fact that was plainly evident as he affably escorted the crew on a tour of the vessel.

Afterward, Serissi sat everyone down in the galley, and over cups of hot black coffee, explained why the fate of the Acreon, and especially its crew, was so important to the Hardscrabble Collective. The Collective’s members weren’t rich; most of them scratched out whatever meager livings they could from the rocks of the Diaspora, so the occasional corporate contract – like the Acreon’s contract with Astral Extractions – was an opportunity few had the luxury to refuse. But the Collective valued its independence and freedom greatly, and it constantly struggled against exploitation and even takeovers at the hands of would-be corporate overlords. It was clear that the crew of the Acreon staked their own claim on the Drift Rock, believing that the terms of their contract allowed them to do so. Was it any surprise that the Hardscrabble Collective would be suspicious of Astral Extractions’ attempts to lay sole claim to the Acreon and the Drift Rock following the mysterious circumstances of their arrival at Absalom Station?

“The members of the Hardscrabble Collective call ourselves a clan, and we mean it. Once you join, you’re family. Members look out for each other, defend each other, and care for each other. The Collective doesn’t know what value, if any, the Drift Rock might have, but we know the worth of our brothers and sisters on the Acreon. We need to know what happened to the Acreon’s crew, as any family needs to know the fate of their loved ones. And if the worst has happened, then perhaps whatever wealth the Drift Rock holds can help ease the loss of the families left behind. That’s all we really care about.”

Captain Serissi concluded by telling the crew that the Hardscrabble Collective wasn’t disputing Astral Extractions’ contract with the Acreon. They would be happy to turn all of the files and findings from the ship’s prospecting mission over to the company. But the ship, and the claim its crew staked on the Drift Rock, belonged to the Collective. Before ferrying the crew back to Absalom Station, Serissi wished them good luck on your investigation of the Acreon and implored them to do their best to find out what had happened to the ship’s crew.

The crew placed a call to Ambassador Nor, confirming that he had received a copy of the Acreon’s contract from Astral Extractions, as indicated by Ms. Joss. Captain Serissi hadn’t had a copy of the contract since the Acreon had struck the deal personally. The crew decided that at a minimum they would need to find the Acreon’s copy of the contract to determine if any changes had been made to the “official” version.

Tomorrow should prove … interesting.

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Incident at Absalom Station

View
Session 2
The Rat Race

Absalom Station – Fusion Queen

The crew helped Twitch down from the air conditioning vent in the ceiling and then set about ransacking the office for evidence. The ysoki found a datapad in Ferani Nadaz’s* desk and set to work accessing the data it contained. A few minutes later, he found what they needed. There were numerous files confirming many of the gang’s criminal activities – including several communications between Astral Extractions and the Downside Kings. One of these messages ordered the gang to kill Duravor Kreel both as a message to the Hardscrabble Collective that the corporation meant business and to keep the Starfinder Society from getting too curious about the Acreon and the Drift Rock.

He shared his findings with the others, and Galakrond suggested he send the files to Chiskisk, just in case. While he did that, the rest of crew finished looting and discussed their exit strategy. Since Kusanagi and Twitch had not been seen by anyone in the Fusion Queen who was still alive, the pair climbed back into the air ducts and made their way back to the roof. The other three, whose faces had likely been photographed, shrugged and strolled out of the storage room and into the front of the club. Most of the customers had fled after the fighting had moved into the back, but several employees and performers were still hunkered down. Boske grabbed a bottle of scotch off the bar as he passed, and no one stopped the trio from leaving. Winslow took point then, leading the vesk on a circuitous path until they eventually met the rest of the crew back at the Lorespire Complex.

Absalom Station – Lorespire Complex

After another short wait in the lobby, the crew reported in person to Chiskisk. The shirren commended them for their successful investigation and thanked them for risking their lives to find justice for Duravor. They asked the crew to keep the details of the raid on the Fusion Queen to themselves but didn’t show much sympathy for the violent gang. Chiskisk asked for the datapad with the documents implicating the Downside Kings in Kreel’s murder. They explained that the Starfinders would further verify the communications then turn the evidence over to station officials. They also recommended that the crew leave any ramifications of Astral Extractions’ possible criminal enterprises to Absalom Station’s legal system. The company had a powerful presence on the station, and Chiskisk didn’t want the Starfinder Society to risk a battle that neither has much chance of winning.

Chiskisk was interested and somewhat troubled by the revelation that Astral Extractions was attempting to keep the Starfinders away from the Acreon and the Drift Rock. As such, the shirren asked the crew to keep their eyes, ears, and antennae open for any further news about the contentious ship and its mysterious cargo that might be of interest to the Society. With the debriefing complete, Chiskisk was pleased to officially welcome the crew into the ranks of the Starfinder Society. He invited them all back to the Lorespire Complex in the morning for Commencement.

Absalom Station – The Spike

Galakrond was keen for the crew to divest themselves of the armor and extra weapons looted from the Downside Kings. He offered to take the haul to Julzakama to pawn it all off, and the others agreed. The vesk pawnbroker was amused at the bloodstained offerings, but he didn’t ask any questions and happily took the gear in trade. Twitch had held one item in reserve, stopping by Level 21 to pay a visit to Jabaxa. He was able to meet with the gang leader much more quickly, and he offered Hatchbuster’s ceremonial plate as a trophy. The old ysoki grinned and expressed his appreciation for the tribute. He took the armor, but insisted on paying the younger ratman for it all the same. The outlaws parted as friends.

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Absalom Station – Lorespire Complex

After their graduation ceremony, the crew was summoned to meet Guidance, the Starfinder Society’s compiled intelligence of Starfinder personalities. As the doors slid open, a green holographic image of a middle-aged human woman shimmered into view at the center of the room.

“Greetings,” it said. “I am Guidance. Please use the cheek swabs in the open receptacle to provide a genetic sample for Starfinder Society identification purposes. If desired, you may also place your hand on the glowing panel to receive a subdermal implant further marking you as a member of the Society.” The two vesk did not hesitate to accept the implant, and Dr. Winslow followed their lead. The other two were leerier, and opted not to accept. They all consented to provide the DNA swab, however. With that completed, Guidance continued.

“It is our pleasure to officially welcome you into the Starfinder Society. Today is the commencement of your new role as Starfinder field agents. It is our tradition, at the end of the graduation ceremony, for new graduates to present themselves to the heads of our most prominent factions and complete a task at those leaders’ behest. This allows the leaders of these groups to become familiar with all new Starfinder agents, and it provides a constant supply of agents for handling situations in our holdings on Absalom Station. While these tasks were formerly symbolic, the heavy loss of Starfinder agents in the Scoured Stars necessitates that these missions become something more. Please treat any tasks given with the gravity you would grant any other Starfinder assignment.”

“Could you tell us about the Scoured Stars,” said Kusanagi.

“Certainly. In the aftermath of the Gap came the revelation of faster-than-light travel by means of the Drift. It was during this time that the Starfinder Society formed and became one of the eminent organizations of the Pact Worlds. The gift of rapid interstellar travel facilitated a sudden land rush by colonists and corporations alike, and as exploration became an extremely lucrative business, the information that Starfinder agents retrieved secured the Society’s prestige and wealth.

“This prosperous age recently came to an abrupt end within the star systems known as the Scoured Stars. An armada containing almost eighty percent of the Society’s agents and assets joined the Society’s First Seeker on a mission to the Scoured Stars, only for all its transmissions to cease. When the remaining Starfinders in the Lorespire Complex attempted to make contact, they discovered a terrifying truth: the Scoured Stars were now cut off from the rest of the multiverse by a barrier of incomprehensible power.

“The events of the Scoured Stars left the Starfinder Society diminished, as most of the Society’s agents and assets resided within the now inaccessible systems. The Society’s prestige waned, and many of the Starfinders’ distant holdings fell to alien forces within months of the incident. Only the actions of one outspoken Starfinder, Content Not Found: elsebo, has held the Society together. Even with the dedication of Luwazi and her allies, the Society suffered further losses as some disillusioned agents opted to part ways with the organization. Maintaining the Society’s interests has proven a challenge for the remaining agents to handle, so Luwazi turned to outside assistance from reputable mercenary organizations.

“Luwazi’s hopes now rest in the hands of a new generation of recruits and ambitious factions. Today is a momentous day for the Society, as it marks the graduation of the first wave of fresh agents from accelerated Starfinder training. You represent the first step the Starfinder Society is taking to reposition itself at the forefront of galactic exploration.”

We are the Starfinders’ hope? Winslow sent to his companions telepathically. They exchanged glances with one another but said nothing. Guidance provided an overview of the four primary factions in the Society, as well as the names of their leaders and where they might be found. The crew decided to first seek out the Acquisitives, but before they sought the faction leader, they decided to get the latest news on the station.

People around the station seemed increasingly amenable to Starfinders lately. They respected both the dogged veteran field agents who were not lost in the Scoured Stars disaster and the new recruits, whose presence brought renewed hope. Stating one’s association with the Starfinder Society was likely to garner support from the locals of Absalom Station. In other news, there was growing concern about the side effects of the station’s Starstone core – a mystical device that allowed for quick travel through the Drift back to Absalom Station. The talking heads claimed that the starships of the Armada were increasingly at risk of bringing back undetected alien life, simply because the policing Stewards lacked the numbers to search every orbiting ship.

Everyone seemed to be excited about the upcoming junkrace. Apparently some nobody had mouthed off to Ratrod, the reigning junkrace champion. People knew that trash talking really got under Ratrod’s fur and wondered whether more harsh words would be exchanged before the race. Many others were excited that the latest prerelease song from sugar-pop sensation Strawberry Machine Cake was about to be released. Unlike previous releases, the band was putting out a limited-edition physical copy prior to the concert when the released single and additional tracks were scheduled to debut and become available in digital form.

<<< >>>

Absalom Station – Nyori Pallisades

The Acquisitives represented the result of Luwazi Elsebo’s efforts to hold the Society together by hiring mercenaries to fill the role of missing Starfinders. Many mercenaries realized that the Society was a far more lucrative venture – both monetarily and in terms of popularity – than their old line of work. The faction’s current leader, Content Not Found: Radaszam “The Dealmaker,” was concerned with maintaining the organization’s public-facing reputation, as well as the reputation and fame of those Starfinders directly serving the Acquisitives’ interests.

The Acquisitives’ leader kept a public-facing office in the Nyori Palisades, a luxurious neighborhood located in Absalom Station’s transparent central dome. The plain white doors of the office slid open to reveal a stark, dimly lit room. The chamber was bleak and expressionless in its emptiness – no vanities lined its smooth black walls, and no signs of use marred its smooth black furniture. The only occupants of the suite were a bug-eyed tadpole wriggling in a glowing blue aquarium and a reptilian vesk seated behind an onyx desk. The vesk gestured to a number of chairs in front of him, his features sharply illuminated by the light of his desk’s green holoscreen. “The new graduates,” he greeted, in a low and pleasant voice. “Good day. I am Radaszam, though since you are here, I should hope you already knew.

“I trust you are aware of our Society’s traditions, so I will cut to the point. I have a minor situation that needs resolution. One of our members, a human named Laboni, had a rather public altercation with a junk scavenger from the Spike. You might be more familiar with the scavenger than I, actually. He is a ysoki who fancifully calls himself Ratrod. I am told he runs a popular racing competition that has, hmm, several hundreds of thousands of viewers on the station’s infosphere. For some reason, Laboni felt the need to tell him that any ‘real’ mechanic could easily beat the garbage that Ratrod and his associates slap together. Now that Ratrod has issued an infosphere-wide demand that she race him and prove it, Laboni doubts she can back that claim up.”

Radaszam sighed. “Embarrassing, isn’t it?” The crew nodded agreement. “Not really the sort of troublemaker that suits our Society. Perhaps she would be better suited to the bottom of a trash compactor…”

“It can be arranged,” said Galakrond.

“Heh. No, we cannot afford to throw her out, not after so many Starfinders were lost in the Scoured Stars. Besides, we can’t let people think we are so weak that we can’t control our own members, or that we cannot stand up to a scrapyard junker. No, I would like you to assist Laboni in winning this race. Show our detractors that even the least of our Society is not someone to be trifled with.”

The crew accepted the assignment, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Radaszam gave them directions to the race’s location in Botscrap and handed them badges marking them as Laboni’s official pit crew. He suggested that they not delay, as they would need as much time as possible to help with the race.

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Absalom Station – Botscrap

Ratrod’s racing circuit was a hollowed-out section of a mountain of spare parts in Botscrap, the track specifically sanctioned by the ysoki-dominated Salvage Union that controls most of the yards. When the crew arrive at the competitors’ entrance, a small robot informs them of the basic rules of the race: racers and their pit crews were to build and improve their vehicles from the available scrap around the racetrack, and vehicles built at previous junkraces could return. Racers were allowed to fire upon other competitors during the race, but firing into the audience or ramming other racers with one’s own was grounds for immediate disqualification. Racer weapons had to be nonlethal and could affect only opponents’ vehicles.

Laboni was easy to find in the crowd due to her paisley clothes and bright white lab coat. She was in her late teens, and after introductions were made it was clear that she felt sheepish about the whole debacle. She said that she was merely aping the opinions of her seniors in the field and got carried away. Laboni was incredibly grateful to the crew for showing up to support her, as she knew she could not win the race on her own.

Winslow was not terribly impressed with the young woman, and he asked her what she was good at. Laboni espoused to be a skilled mechanic and had worked hard to pull together a decent racer from the piles of junk in Botscrap. Unfortunately, she was not a pilot and had no experience with weaponry. She showed her racer to the crew, and after Twitch inspected the vehicle, he begrudgingly admitted that it was not a bad start. Its best feature was that it could be controlled remotely by of the crew while Laboni sat in the driver’s seat. The mechanic conscripted Boske and Laboni to assist him with finding useful scrap to upgrade the team’s junkracer. Kusanagi skulked off, and Winslow and Galakrond decided to check out the other five pilots and their vehicles.

Lemgem was a blue-haired gnome covered in piercings, tattoos, and augmentations. A short conversation reveals she is obsessed with continual alterations to herself and her racer, to the point where her vehicle modifications skirt the bounds of common sense. She piloted a sleek racer that lacked any weaponry at all. Still bearing the scars of the fight that killed her dragonkin partner, Nyizin was a white-furred ryphorian racer with an obvious death wish. Unstable black-market mods made of dragon bone and elemental energies filled her bulky junkracer, which bore a single kinetic weapon. Orsis was a stoic, dark-haired damaya lashunta who looked unfairly good in black and gold. His spherical junkracer seemed fairly well armored and like Nyizin’s vehicle, it had a mounted kinetic weapon.

Velocity was a beautiful android with silver hair and skin. They had self-modified to have both masculine and feminine attributes and had decorated their clothing eyelids, and lips with bright, colorful patterns. While the android was rumored to be a very good pilot, they struggled with engineering and had never won a race – they had mostly sought entertainment by shooting at other racers during previous competitions, as evidenced by the three weapons attached to their well-armed junkracer. Ratrod was a ysoki with mottled gray-and-white fur and a showman’s personality. People in the Spike considered him something of a hero to the ysoki-dominated Scrap Union. Galakrond remembered what they’d heard around the station about the ratman and during their brief conversation casually expressed how unimpressed he was before walking away. The vesk grinned as he heard Ratrod sputtering behind him.

Back at Laboni’s junkracer, the crew were approached by race officials and informed that Kusanagi had been tossed out of the engine pit for attempting to sabotage another racer’s vehicle. They were told in no uncertain terms that if any of the pit crew were caught cheating again, the entire team would be disqualified. Twitch called the android to ask what happened, and Kusanagi told him that he’d managed to muck up Orsis’ steering column before he was caught. Unfortunately, the android was the best pilot in the crew and his expulsion threw a wrench in the works.

The two hatched a plan, and Twitch asked Winslow to go get lunch for the crew and meet with Kusanagi on the outside. A few minutes later, “Winslow” – in truth Kusanagi disguised by the holoskin the crew had found in Ferani Nadaz’s storage closet – returned with lunch for the team. By the time they finished eating (and congratulating themselves on their cleverness), it was time for the race to start.

The crew got their junkracer to the starting line. They had added a second energy weapon, enhanced the steering, and greatly increased the speed of the vehicle. It was just as fast as Ratrod’s junkracer, if more poorly armored. They also had twice as much firepower as the ysoki champion, even if his weapon was more accurate. Each of the vesk had a remote for one of the guns and the disguised android held the controller for steering Laboni’s junkracer. Everyone was ready with they received the starting signal.

The crew matched Ratrod’s speed in taking an early lead, with Orsis just behind, trailed by Velocity, Nyizin, and Lemgem. Predictably, the ysoki targeted Laboni, which caused problems a short while later when her junkracer was also struck by one of Velocity’s weapons. The trigger-happy android was shooting at each of the racers in front of their vehicle. The crew fell into third as Lemgem’s vehicle moved into second place behind Ratrod. Velocity was close behind Laboni, trailed by Orsis and Nyizin.

The ryphorian then made a move, launching her bulky junkracer from last place to third in a single burst of speed. Ratrod narrowly held the lead over Lemgem. Laboni, Velocity, and Orsis brought up the rear of the racers. Then Ratrod took a couple of shots and crashed into some junk on the sidelines, costing him speed. The crew caught up to him to tie for the lead, with Lemgem just behind. Nyizin held onto fourth place with Velocity and Orsis trailing.

Ratrod and Laboni remained neck and neck, pulling ahead of the rest of the racers as Lemgem spun out and fell to fifth place. Nyizin and Velocity pulled ahead of the gnome, while Orsis remained in last place. The end of the race was in sight, and though the crew’s shots missed Ratrod, one of Velocity’s struck the ysoki’s vehicle, and sent him into the sidelines again. Laboni’s racer zoomed past the champion and past the finish line, and the crowd went wild!

On the victor’s platform, Laboni publically apologized to Ratrod for her previous statements. The ysoki’s pride clearly still hurt, but the gesture compelled the Salvage Union to offer her extra cash and prizes. Additionally, the praise went to her head and she vowed to become a regular competitor on Ratrod’s show. The young woman was so grateful for the crew’s help, she shared the wealth with them.

When the crew reported this twist in events Radaszam both exasperated and vaguely amused at the result, because it inadvertently provided the Starfinder Society with valuable contacts in the Salvage Union. The vesk congratulated them on a job well done and promised to report their success to Guidance.

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Incident at Absalom Station

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Session 1
Gangs of Absalom

Absalom Station – Docking Bay 94

The Okimoro approached Docking Bay 94, and the crew aboard the shuttle were relieved for an end to their journey. They were to meet a dwarven man called Duravor Kreel, who would assist them with the final phase of acceptance into the Starfinder Society. Docking procedures took a few minutes, and when they were completed the cabin attendant welcomed the shuttle’s passengers to Absalom Station.

The brightly lit docks were abuzz with activity as travelers bustled by, preparing to board or disembarking from starships bound to or from any of dozens of worlds. Brash and swaggering starpilots, scurrying ysoki mechanics, and expectant colonists mingled with enigmatic kasatha mystics, hard-faced asteroid miners, imposing vesk mercenaries, and more, creating a microcosm of the abundance and variety of life in the Pact Worlds. New arrivals met friends, loved ones, or business contacts, and were whisked away into the humming activity of daily life on the vast space station.

Beyond them, ground crews tend to the docked ships, and dockworkers in mechanized cargo lifters load and unloaded freight and baggage. A sharp tang of ozone hung in the air – a byproduct of electrical discharges from the docked ships – but underneath, the station’s atmosphere had a slightly used aroma. The docking bay’s deck plates thrummed beneath the travelers’ feet, though whether it was from the passage of innumerable feet or the vibrations of the station’s power conduits and air recycling systems was impossible to say.

Duravor Kreel stood waiting in the middle of the docking bay. He was tall and lanky for a dwarf, with a bristly, iron-gray beard and deep-set eyes beneath bushy eyebrows. With his patched and stained coveralls, the dwarf looked like just another dockworker, but a badge bearing the symbol of the Starfinder Society stood out on his chest. Kreel checked the computer he was holding and looked up to scan the crowd. When he saw the crew, he raised a hand in greeting and gave them a friendly smile. Before anyone could so much as return the dwarf’s greeting, the air was suddenly filled with laser blasts. Bystanders screamed and fled in terror, diving for cover or milling about frantically. Kreel froze. A moment later, the crew watched a laser beam hit the dwarf. He fell to the floor without a sound and did not move.

Two of the more perceptive crew members had noticed two groups of people on the fringes of the docking bay furtively taking up defensive positions among stacks of cargo crates and machinery. They were not caught by surprise when the firefight erupted and sprang into action, seeking cover. There was plenty available, from crates and shipping containers to baggage carts, machinery, and even an information booth near the middle of the docking bay.

Disregarding the danger, Boske rushed forward toward where Kreel had fallen. Winslow followed the vesk, albeit a bit more reluctantly. The rest of the crew engaged the assailants, targeting those who had started shooting at them. Kusanagi recognized a gang conflict when he saw one, though he couldn’t identify the specific gangs who’d decided to fight in the docks. It was quickly apparent that only one of the gangs was targeting the crew. The other seemed content to fire at their counterparts, and so the crew entered into a temporary unspoken alliance with them. When Galakrond’s hammer brought down the last of the three enemy gang members, the other gang gave them a nod of thanks, then scattered, fleeing the scene.

Unfortunately, Kreel was dead, with a hole burned completely through his neck from the laser beam. Twitch searched the dwarf’s body but found little other than his datapad, which the ysoki casually slipped into his backpack before helping his companions loot the gang members’ bodies. Station security arrives a few minutes later. They questioned the crew and other witnesses and took statements. The witnesses agreed that the crew hadn’t started the fight, so they were free to go. Emergency medical services arrived shortly after security and assured the crew that they would see to the arrangements for Kreel’s body.

Once they were away from the docks, Twitch pulled out the datapad, which Kreel had been logged into when he died. The handheld computer contained the name and description of each of the crew, as well as one other name: Chiskisk. They recognized the name of a high-ranking shirren Starfinder on Absalom Station. The next logical step was to head to the Lorespire Complex.

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Absalom Station – Lorespire Complex

Upon arrival, the crew was greeted by a receptionist who inquired as to their business with the Starfinder Society. Twitch quickly and verbosely explained about the attack at the docks and the untimely demise of Doravor Kreel. He handed her the dwarf’s datapad to corroborate the tale, which the receptionist took, keying several things into her computer. Then she pointed the crew toward a small waiting room and politely asked them to wait.

After several minutes, a functionary arrived to lead the crew to a cluttered but clean office deep in the complex. There, a host shirren was seated behind a polished and unadorned plastic desk. They wore understated business clothes and nervously flexed their antennae from side to side, which Winslow recognized as an expression of perplexity.

“Greetings,” said the shirren. “There are refreshments, if you like. Filtered water and processed-protein wafers. Please, have a seat. I am Chiskisk.” The crew helped themselves to the proffered snacks and introductions were made as they settled in. Chiskisk looked troubled.

“I am sorry that I cannot welcome you to Absalom Station under better circumstances. I assure you that such attacks are not a daily occurrence, though I realize that is likely small comfort to you. I am pleased that none of you were seriously hurt, but I grieve for Duravor’s death. He was a valued member of the Society, and a friend. May the Lady of Graves be kind in her judgment of his soul.” The shirren bowed their head momentarily then looked up, their compound eyes glittering.

“What puzzles me is the reason behind the attack.” Chiskisk tapped a few commands into their computer. “According to the incident report just released by station security, two gangs were involved in the attack: the Downside Kings and the Level 21 Crew. Gang wars are not uncommon on the station, but they usually confine themselves to the more lawless sectors like the Puddles. It is rare for street gangs to battle openly in public areas like the docks. I cannot help but wonder whether all is as it seems. There must be a reason why those two gangs were at Docking Bay 94 at that time – the time of your arrival, coincidentally. But was it coincidence? Were you and Duravor just innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire, or might you and he have been specifically targeted? And if so, why?” The crew had no answers for Chiskisk.

“My understanding is that you are interested in becoming Starfinders, and since you were witnesses to the attack, I would like to ask you to investigate the incident on behalf of the Society. Find out exactly what happened and why. It may simply be a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time – I have no doubt station security will rule it so – but if Duravor was murdered, I would like to find justice for my friend. At the same time, this will give you the opportunity to demonstrate your own skills and abilities and show the Society that you are worthy of the title ‘Starfinder.’ What say you?”

“You can count on us,” said Boske.

“Good. I wish you luck. I fear that Absalom Station’s street gangs are not my specialty, and my suspicion regarding Kreel’s death is just that – it’s up to you to find proof, if any exists.” He pushed a button on a nearby datapad, and each of the crew received a push notification with Chiskisk’s personal comm code. “Now you can call and report if necessary. Also, if you will provide your account information, I will provide a small starting stipend for expenses.” There was no hesitation to provide financial details, and Chiskisk transferred two hundred credits into each of their accounts.

“I suggest you get settled on the station before starting your investigation. I understand some of you live on the station. For those of you who do not, I recommend the Moons of Sleep. It is a small hotel but centrally located, just a short walk from the parks and towers of the Eye, and has both efficiencies and suites available. Furthermore, the Moons offers discounted lodging to Starfinders who book rooms for at least a week’s stay. I will vouch for you.”

With nothing further to discuss, the crew left the Lorespire Complex and made their way to the Moons of Sleep.

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Absalom Station – Moons of Sleep

Once they had rented rooms, they gathered in a common room to discuss how to approach the investigation. Before they got started with that, however, they saw a brief news clip on a nearby vidscreen about the attack at Docking Bay 94. It didn’t provide much detail beyond rehashing that two gangs had been involved in a shootout and that a bystander had been caught in the crossfire and killed. A pop up window appeared in the bottom right corner of the screen displaying the name “SoothSaiyan” overlaying a graphic of a spiky-haired lashunta. A garbled voice invited viewers to visit a site on the infosphere for more details about an independent investigation regarding the attack. The rogue transmission lasted only a few seconds before disappearing from the screen.

Before the crew could give that much consideration, an image of a starship attached by tow cable to a massive rock of some sort splashed across the screen. By far the biggest news, discussed endlessly on newsfeeds and in public conversation, was the arrival of the derelict ship Acreon a few days ago, the whereabouts and fate of its missing crew, and the nature of the mysterious “*Drift Rock*” the ship brought with it. Rumors and speculation were rampant: the _Acreon_’s crew witnessed something significant and were killed to keep it secret; the entire crew went mad and walked out the airlocks; the Drift Rock contains precious riches, from rare and valuable minerals to advanced technology, or even legendary treasures of lost Golarion, preserved before the planet disappeared. No one seemed to know for sure. A related topic was the disagreement between Astral Extractions and the Hardscrabble Collective, both of whom were claiming ownership of the Drift Rock and the right to examine the Acreon and determine the fate of its crew.

While they talked, the crew ordered takeout, with plenty of extra bread for Boske. Winslow suggested they look into Doravor Kreel himself. Maybe something about the dwarf would give them some idea of enemies he had made. The shirren logged onto the infosphere and started searching for whatever information was publically available. Duravor Kreel was a mid-ranking member of the Starfinder Society. Most of his work had focused on mineral prospecting, but he’d also taken an interest in mentoring new and prospective members of the Society. Kreel was a native of the Diaspora, the diffuse asteroid belt between Verces and Eox, and was known to have ties to dwarves and other mining groups in the region. An outspoken champion of miners’ rights, Kreel was active in challenging large corporate interests that exploited individual miners and laborers, including Astral Extractions. Kreel had personally invested money in the Hardscrabble Collective. In addition, one of his cousins was a member of the group, but she’d died in a mining accident – the result of safety violations perpetrated by her contract employer, Astral Extractions.

Boske pulled up some basic information on the Hardscrabble Collective. It was a clan of stubborn asteroid miners that operated primarily among the scattered planetoids of the Diaspora. It had no offices or base of operations, but the clan members usually view the Armada – the ever-changing fleet of ships that orbited Absalom Station – as a central gathering place. Collective crews hired their ships out to a wide variety of business concerns, including Astral Extractions, which had recently employed the Collective ship Acreon to scout for new mining prospects in the Vast.

Galakrond searched the infosphere for details about Astral Extractions. He reported that it was a powerful mining conglomerate with business ties throughout the Pact Worlds. Most of the company’s operations were centered in the Diaspora and the rocky moons of the outer planets, but it had also begun sending scout vessels into the Vast in search of new claims. He confirmed the company’s hiring of the Acreon for one of these exploratory missions. The vesk’s mercenary instincts led him to dig a little deeper in a few unconventional places. The public face of Astral Extractions was that of an ethical and respectable corporation, but outside of the public eye, he found a few sources that suggested the company used hired muscle – corporate mercenaries, strikebreakers, and even criminal elements – as proxies to intimidate and threaten those who stand in its way. He pushed the details over to Twitch’s datapad.

The ysoki was interested in the criminal connection figuring he could find a link between Astral Extractions and one of the gangs involved in the shootout. He accessed the darksphere and began his search for the corporation’s dirty laundry. A few minutes later, he hit pay dirt. Following the arrival of the Acreon, Astral Extractions had secretly hired the Downside Kings to coerce the Hardscrabble Collective into abandoning its claims on the Acreon and the Drift Rock. Furthermore, underworld sources claimed that Astral Extractions specifically ordered the Downside Kings to target Duravor Kreel. The dwarf’s anti-corporate activism was well known to the company’s board of directors, and the corporation wanted him terminated to discourage other parties (particularly the Starfinders) from intervening in the Acreon matter.

At this revelation, the crew exchanged knowing looks. They had means and motive, but what they lacked was evidence. Kusanagi wanted to reach out to the Level 21 Crew to see if they could get more information and maybe even form an alliance against their apparently common enemy, the Downside Kings. Twitch wanted to know more about the Kings, and so each started infosphere searches. They quickly discovered that there wasn’t much information available online, likely due to the gangs’ extralegal activities.

Kusanagi did learn that the Level 21 Crew were a street gang that claimed Level 21 of the Spike, Absalom Station’s seedy lower decks, as its territory. Their known criminal endeavors included theft, fencing stolen goods, gambling, prostitution, racketeering, and smuggling. Twitch discovered that the Downside Kings were a brutal street gang that controlled several decks of Absalom Station’s lower levels, or “Downside,” through a combination of intimidation and violence. They were known to engage in a wide variety of illegal activities, from extortion, fraud, robbery, smuggling, and theft, to drug and arms tracking, kidnapping, murder-for-hire, and tracking in sentient species. The android stood and put on his hat, telling the rest of the crew that he was going to reach out to his old Stewards buddies to see what more he could learn about the Level 21 Crew.

Meanwhile, Twitch reached out to an underworld informant on the infosphere for a vidmeeting. He asked the vesk to stand behind him in frame and look intimidating. His contact appeared on the screen, wearing a Guy “Space” Fawkes mask and speaking with a digitally disguised voice asking what the ysoki needed. “I need information. You can either profit or suffer,” said Twitch. The figure appeared to shrug, then pushed an account number across the connection. The ysoki internally facepalmed at his poor phrasing, then sighed and deposited a hundred credits. “Tell me about the Downside Kings.”

“Turnover among the Kings’ leadership is high, but the gang’s current boss is a barbarous human woman named Ferani Nadaz,” said the anonymous contact. “The Kings use a nightclub called Fusion Queen as a front for their illegal activities.” The source also confirmed that Astral Extractions had recruited the Kings to threaten the Hardscrabble Collective and pressure the miners into handing over the Acreon and the Drift Rock to the company without dispute. After Twitch threw in an extra fifty credits, the source also confirmed that Astral Extractions contracted the Downside Kings to kill Duravor Kreel in hopes of preventing any Starfinder interference.

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Absalom Station – Level 21

Kusanagi met with a local beat cop that his contacts had put him in touch with. After a few minutes of polite conversation, the Steward was comfortable enough to open up about the Level 21 Crew. “They may be a criminal gang, but they have a reputation in their territory and neighboring levels for promoting community empowerment, and many neighborhood residents tolerate or tacitly endorse their activities. The gang has also been known to hire itself out to defend marginalized and threatened groups or factions. A grizzled ysoki called Jabaxa currently leads them.” Kusanagi thanked the man for his time and the information then called the others and asked them to meet him down on Level 21.

Once the crew had arrived, they decided to canvas the area, seeking further information about the gang from the locals. They made a good impression and learned that the Hardscrabble Collective, fearing retribution from powerful corporate interests, had recently hired the Level 21 Crew for protection. They caught a lucky break outside of a bodega called Mama Fats’, where Twitch recognized graffiti on the walls as gang tags marking the building as territory of the Level 21 Crew. The surrounding neighborhood was low-end, but not quite a slum. He called the crew to join him, and they went inside.

A few locals milled about the shop. The proprietor, a matronly halfling with curly black hair, offered them a warm smile when she noticed them. “Bienvenidos, mijos. What can Mama Fats get for you?” The vesk purchased several lottery tickets and a few snacks before Kusanagi mentioned the incident at the docks, the assistance the crew had provided, and wanting to arrange a meeting. Mama Fats pursed her lips for a moment, then nodded. “I can get word about it. Probably won’t be until tomorrow, though.” The android confirmed that would be fine and provided his comm number. The crew finished up at the bodega then went to grab some dinner at a local establishment. They spent the rest of the night spending money and continuing to make a good impression with the locals on Level 21. Kusanagi received a message inviting the crew to meet with Level 21 Crew leadership in the morning.

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The crew arrived at Mama Fats’ a few minutes early. They were escorted to a room in the back of the bodega, where a one-eyed ysoki awaited them along with two other gang members. Jabaxa introduced himself to the crew, making a point of calling them each by name. From what they’d heard, the ysoki had led the Level 21 Crew for several years and was rumored to be a shrewd judge of character. He invited the crew to have a seat and poured out a shot of bathtub moonshine for each of them as a gesture of hospitality. Each drank the offering, though Winslow pulled out a small chemistry set and performed a brief experiment before drinking his, which produced a raised eyebrow among the gangsters. Once that was done, Jabaxa asked them their business.

The crew laid out their case against the Downside Kings and asked the gang leader for further information. Jabaxa hadn’t known Duravor Kreel, and he claimed that it was the Kings who started the shootout in Docking Bay 94. His crew was there only to oppose the rival gang, on behalf of the Hardscrabble Collective. He confirmed a lot of the information that the crew had learned from other sources and made it clear that his main concern was the Kings, mentioning that Ferani Nadaz’s lieutenant “*Hatchbuster*” had been the one to take his eye. Jabaxa wasn’t willing to commit men to any assault on the Downside Kings, explaining that his job was to protect the Hardscrabble Collective, not to provoke Astral Extractions or the Kings into expanding the conflict. He grudgingly agreed to allow the crew to come hide on Level 21 should things go sideways against the Kings, but he requested they try not to let it come to that.

Jabaxa offered one final word of warning. “Astral Extractions is big time, friends. Bluerise Tower big. Careful how much you bite off, lest you choke.” The local crew members understood, and they explained to the others after they’d left the meeting. In Bluerise Tower, various corporations had nearly complete sovereignty over the tower levels they owned, with even the Stewards having a difficult time obtaining permission to enter. Without an army of barristers in addition to a smoking gun, Astral Extractions was practically untouchable.

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Absalom Station – Fusion Queen

Lurid neon lights brightened the otherwise dingy space station corridor, advertising the main entrance to Fusion Queen, a nightclub located in the lower levels of Absalom Station, deep in Downside Kings territory. The Kings owned and operated the club, using it as a hideout and base of operations. The neighborhood was somewhat depressed, but still considered trendy in certain circles, and the club was usually filled with patrons (most of whom had no connection with the gang) at all hours, day or night. The crew waited until the evening for their planned infiltration.

Having failed to find a back entrance on the street level, Kusanagi and Twitch had climbed to the roof of the building. They found a vent grate, and a short while later, had opened a path into the club’s air conditioning ducts. The android called down to the other crew members, requesting a distraction. The vesk loitered across the street while Winslow approached the two human men guarding the entrance. They were stopping anyone attempting to enter and searching them for weapons, as well as apparently barring entry to anyone they felt didn’t match the club’s usual clientele.

The Downside Kings blocked the shirren’s path as he approached, frowning at his long white coat and asking what he wanted. He told them that he just wanted to relax inside the club and offered them a “tip” of several credits each. They shrugged and started patting him down, looking askance at the scalpel he carried. But when they found his pulsecaster pistol, instead of confiscating the weapon and sending him inside, something happened that none of the crew had expected; the violent gangbangers reached for their holstered lasers!

The vesk quickly came to Winslow’s aid as the shirren cast a quick spell to daze one of the guards and get a bit of distance away. Galakrond engaged them in melee with his doshko, and Boske took aim with his hunting rifle. Though it wasn’t what he was hoping for, Kusanagi took advantage of the distraction and crawled into the air vents, Twitch and the drone close following close behind. They made their way carefully across the main dance floor and toward the wall of the back rooms of the club. The guards got a few shots in, but they were overwhelmed by the veskan soldiers and shirren mystic.

Galakrond grinned as he used one of the bodies to bash through the front doors of the Fusion Queen. The dimly lit interior of the nightclub was filled with the press of sweaty bodies, a haze of narcotic smoke, and the pounding beat and ululating vocals of bakarang music blaring from the main stage in the northeast corner of the room. A sinuous bar wound around the northwest corner, offering a variety of drinks and drugs for purchase. Booths lined the south wall of the club, facing the main stage in the northeast corner and the crowded dance floor beneath it. Gyrating dancers stood atop four smaller stages scattered around the club: one behind the bar, one in the center of the room, and two flanking the main stage. Wide double doors marked “Staff Only” exited the room to the west.

When they noticed the body in the massive vesk’s clawed hand, the club’s response was immediate and visceral. Patrons, employees, the band, and the dancers all screamed and dove for cover. Moments later, three more gang members burst from the back room to defend the establishment from the crew’s assault. While the vesk engaged them, Winslow used the front door guards’ pilfered laser pistols to shoot randomly into the ceiling, hoping to keep everyone not associated with the gang out of harm’s way.

Meanwhile, Kusanagi and Twitch had advanced through the air ducts to the back of the office. There, the android saw a human woman behind a desk, her vesk companion in red ceremonial plate, and another pair of gangbangers. When the woman yelled through the door for her underlings in the storage room to take care of the invaders, the infiltrators realized they had no intention of leaving the office. As such, they decided to help their companions in the fight against the Downside Kings gang members.

The large storeroom was filled with supplies for the bar outside, including bottles of hard alcohol, kegs of beer, and boxes of food and recreational stimulants. One corner held amplifiers, musical instruments, and costumes for the club’s entertainers. A single door stood in the north wall. Kusanagi adroitly dropped from the vent in the storage room, taking aim at the Kings’ backs. Twitch took control of the drone, which crawled out of the duct to latch onto the ceiling and fire the pistol mounted to its back. In short order, the crew had taken out the gang members. When the leader still showed no sign of coming out of her office, the android asked Boske to hoist him back up into the vent so that he could get into position before the vesk busted through the door.

The conflict in the back office of the Fusion Queen was a bloody affair, with Galakrond striking down one of the Kings flunkies before falling to Hatchbuster’s artillery laser. Winslow’s magic revived him, but the mercenary fell a second time to the enemy vesk’s assault hammer blow. Kusanagi dropped down from the ceiling a second time, taking aim at Ferani Nadaz, while ARTE the drone once more targeted Kings from the ceiling. Another gang member fell before the crew managed to take down Ferani. Hatchbuster raged, fighting to the bitter end against the determined Starfinders, but ultimately, he fell, too.

Silence reigned throughout the blood-soaked office in the aftermath of the conflict.


Incident at Absalom Station

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