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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.