Starfinder: Dead Suns

Session 19

Data Swarm

Istamak – The Spires

From the House of Renewal, the crew made its way toward the Maze of Ghosts. Their route took them through several skyscrapers south of the city’s park. These towering edifices stood up to eighty stories tall and appeared to have been left relatively untouched by kish. They discovered why when they reached the center of the former business complex and a winged beast with a deep pink coloration and multiple eyes descended from above!

The sharpwing dive-bombed Kusanagi a few times, but the android proved a difficult target to hit. When it had taken a few shots, the beast landed right in front of Kima and tried to tear the lashunta apart with beak and claw. It was not up to the task, and the Starfinders slew it moments later. They decided to hurry on lest anymore winged threats decided to try for a snack.

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Maze of Ghosts

According to Tzayl, the kish “communed” with their ancestors by briefly turning on the power to the displays and walking through to listen to the holograms’ “wisdom.” As the answers a pilgrim received were often cryptic or indecipherable, the Maze of Ghosts was only for the deepest questions posed by the most devout kish.

The front entrance of the building had been sheared away by some ancient calamity, revealing metal structural supports, pipes, and bits of wiring. The ground was littered with rubble, some of which had been removed to clear a small path into the structure.

Galakrond led the way, and came under attack almost immediately. Hanging from exposed metal bars, a large constrictor-like serpent banded in orange and black scales bit the vesk and wrapped around him, crushing him tight. The crew found it difficult to attack the beast in the cover of the walls. This was further complicated when the serpent pulled Galakrond into the wall with it, but the Starfinders managed to prevail. The soldier requested a few minutes to catch his breath and tend to his bruised ribs.

Past the entryway, a small booth with a large open window stood against the western wall. A doorway to the north was blocked by a thick, translucent shutter made from some kind of synthetic crystal. The sturdy shutter blocked access to the rest of the building, and there was no obvious way to open it or access a mechanism to open it.

A large sign under the window of the ticket booth that featured the words “Istamak Historical Museum” – legible courtesy of Glitch’s comprehend language spell – and listed the prices of admission, hours of operation, and similar details that no longer mattered.

As with many other portions of the city, the kish had decorated the interior of this building with charcoal and their own paints, creating murals that tell their version of the story of this place. The murals depicted humanoid figures looming over the buildings of a city; these titans seemed to be looking benevolently down at the city’s inhabitants.

The crew examined the mural and deduced that the towering figures were meant to represent the kish’s ancestors as they watched over the city and its current inhabitants. They also noticed a number of nearly hidden indicators in the drawings that point toward a disguised panel in the wall near the ticket booth. The panel swung open easily, revealing a large breaker switch.

Flipping the switch powered up the building, opening the shutter and activating the holographic displays. In addition, a welcome hologram activated, showing a sweeping panoramic of the city; the image depicted how the city must have looked in its prime, but seemed to be full of glitches. A voiceover (translated by Glitch) accompanying the image was audible, though only a few fragments were understandable between crackling bursts of static.

“Welcome to…” The audio became garbled. “…Istamak, shining city of progress! Come…” Static obscured several patches of the next few sentences. “…to witness… living history…” The music playing under the words increased in volume for a few moments, drowning out some of the voice. “Don’t hesitate to ask questions … and come again soon!”

Past the open shutter, the murals continued in the next room, this time showing smaller figures in the streets of a stylized city. The figures looked in reverence toward a large archway to the west leading into a wide, dark hallway. There was a small counter in the northwestern corner, and a number of dusty shelves and empty hooks occupied the eastern side of the room. The crew found a fully charged holoskin lies in the dust on one of the shelves, collected it, and continued into the building.

Animated holographic displays along the walls of the next section of the twisting hallway depicted the planning and construction of a huge city among the clouds: alien architects manipulating three-dimensional electronic blueprints, an important-looking figure standing on an open-air cloud barge and pulling a lever that starts large construction machinery in the background, and a handful of industrial painters putting the finishing touches on a building.

A large touch screen was mounted in front of each display, and Galakrond experimented with the user interface. The touch screen in front of each display, when pressed, caused the displays to freeze up and emit a string of garbled speech that was beyond translation. The images often blurred and jump without warning, as well. Of greater concern, however, was when one of the holograms left the display and moved to attack the vesk!

The living hologram looked and spoke like an important government official, referring to the crew as “vagrants” and “interlopers intent on befouling our fair city!” The hologram was as difficult to harm as a ghost, but eventually, they sent the malfunctioning manifestation of AI back into hiding. After several tense moments when nothing more happened, the crew continued along the hallway.

The next portion of the hallway featured animated holographic displays of manufacturing and other industrial work: a miniature version of a gas-mining vessel scooped up clouds, an alien in a jumpsuit stood at the console of an automated production line, and another sat at a large workbench performing delicate repairs on a small technological item, his face comically distorted by a large magnifying mirror.

The touch screen in front of each display activated the holograms’ artificial personalities, though a glitch caused each touch screen to activate the same speech in Kishaleen. It sounded like propaganda that touted the strength of the kishalee people, especially when they worked together to overcome certain obstacles – a thinly veiled reference to other cultures and civilizations.

The holographic displays in the next section of the hallway depicted performers and creators of various forms of art. A trio of aliens in formal costumes leaped and spun gracefully on a stage, another alien sat in front of some kind of instrument and tinkered away at the keys as if trying to perfect a melody, and a group of patrons stood in an art gallery admiring a sculpture of metal and glass. The touch screen in front of each display activated the holograms’ artificial personalities, but after centuries, they were all surly and offered only scathing criticism of the Starfinders’ hair and wardrobe choices.

The crew next came to a T-intersection. The display at the left end of the hallway featured an official-looking room with a podium in the center. A handful of aliens in crisp suits could be seen in the background; some appeared to be discussing the contents of a document, while others were examining charts and figures. A couple of banners embossed with stylized symbols fluttered in a nonexistent breeze above it all.

They approached the display they spotted a sparking projector and surmised that the flickering images and rogue AI were likely due to this faulty device. They hadn’t time to ponder it long before the living hologram reappeared out of the wall and resumed its attack. It was swiftly defeated, and the crew pondered attempting to repair the projector and ending the “curse” that Tzayl had mentioned. They decided against it in favor of more expediently completing their objective of finding whatever the Cult of the Devourer had learned on Istamak.

The holographic displays at the right end of the hallway were dark but had been replaced with murals depicting aliens in solemn poses, their heads looking up toward the sky and their bodies lit from within. A small shrine in the center of the murals was covered with tiny effigies crafted from wire and metal.

The kish had turned this darkened corner of the museum into a shrine to the kishalee depicted in the holograms in the other displays, turning them into saint-like figures. After walking through the main gallery, kish pilgrims arrived here to place little dolls meant to represent themselves here to be blessed by their ancestors. Another flat, triangular crystal lay among the offerings on the shrine. Within a minute or so, Glitch had accessed the data, containing an audio file.

The message began with a loud burst of static, followed by a feminine voice. “…chief technology officer here at SecuriTech. Our customer service representatives received your message regarding your…” Another burst of static ensued. “…and I want to assure you that we take your security issues with the utmost seriousness. After all, you are our biggest client.” An awkward chuckle was distorted by audio artifacts. “A copy of the admin keycode for your lock—for all the locks we install—resides on a server within the Foundry. This server cannot be accessed except from its physical terminal, and only SecuriTech’s chief executive officer, a few key members of our team, and I have access to that terminal. In addition, I checked the logs this morning, and no one has accessed your file in almost a year. And that was for normal…” The message ended with a final burst of static.

The metadata of the message contained another partial router address, and combining this with the one they’d found at the House of Renewal, the crew was able to pinpoint the physical location of the server that originally processed the messages. This computer was located in the SecuriTech building found in the northwest part of Istamak, in a section of the city known to the local kish as the Broken Lands, a small chain of islands floating separate from the metropolis proper.

The crew made their way through the city park, managing to avoid any encounters with the local fauna, but determined that their two jump jets wouldn’t reasonably get everyone across and leave sufficient exit options in case things went sideways. After some discussion, they decided to head back to Cloudside and see what Tzayl could tell them about the Broken Lands.

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Cloudside Community Center

The leader of the kish outcasts told the crew that the area was very dangerous and that only foolhardy kish youth wishing to impress a potential mate made the perilous journey across the shattered hunks of land. Her people believed the buildings in the Broken Lands were “angry,” and Tzayl shared a tale about kish entering them and never being seen again. She didn’t know much else, but she noted that she would love to hear of their adventures, should they return. Additionally, she offered the Starfinders a 50-foot length of titanium alloy cable line and a grappler.

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SecuriTech Offices

They crossed the floating bits of rock to a larger one upon which sat the SecuriTech office. A smooth path ran past an overgrown lawn to the entrance of the drab building. The knee-high blue-and-green grass smelled sweet, like honey warming in the sun. The structure’s walls were shot through with barely perceptible white filaments webbing across the entire surface. None of the crew could tell what the filaments might be, but it appeared that they were acting as a kind of structural support, keeping the walls of the building from collapsing in on themselves.

Though the front doors were unlocked, the many filaments running through them and the adjacent walls made them effectively stuck. While Galakrond started trying to wrench the front door open, the crew was approached by a pair of large, floating, living sacs of gas that vaguely resembled jellyfish.

The creatures lobbed hardened pellets of minerals at the Starfinders, who returned fire. When one of the blobs was hurt too much, it merged into the other, creating a larger version of the aberrant creature. When the combined alien had had enough, it floated away and down below the side of the floating island. The crew let it go and returned their attention to the door, which Galakrond tore open moments later.

Except for the carpet of pale white mold covering everything, the entry room appeared to have been untouched for millennia. Five heavily padded chairs sat against the western and southern walls. A bed of mushrooms grew on a large, four-foot-high, L-shaped desk across from the main entrance, next to a small cabinet. Several datapads had been swallowed by the mold, as were the snacks and liquid refreshments that would have been available on the small cabinet. Another door led north.

Finding nothing of interest, the crew forced open the northern door to find a long hallway running east-to-west. They approached the nearest door to the north and forced this open as well. Beyond, they found a spacious room that looked like a wide swath of small, gray hillocks covering what might have once been a collection of desks and chairs. Another door exited the room to the south (the same door they’d seen farther east in the corridor). There was an open doorway to a smaller room to the northwest, and a short hallway led east past two other doors.

The open northwest room was as covered in mold as the rest of the building, but the smell there was somehow even worse. A foul, rotting odor wafted from what appeared to be an open unpowered refrigeration unit. Rotting cabinets hung on the walls, and parts of a small, round table peeked out from under a mound of mold. The room was a riot of mildew and mushrooms.

They swiftly left and headed to the east, where they found a pair of executive offices. Each of these offices had a desk and some chairs and both were covered with mold. In the southern office, they discovered a smooth purple glove of storing tailored for kishalee hands.

The two other doors on the south wall of the hallway opened into what appeared to be meeting rooms. Most of each room was occupied by an oval table surrounded by six chairs. The dilapidated remains of audiovisual equipment lay on the table, coated in a thin film of mildew. Light filtered in through a large, south-facing window covered in the fibrous white tendrils.

Finding nothing of interest in either, they took the northern turn at the eastern end of the hall and found another door. Galakrond opened the door to a room containing three tables; one of the tables had a large white patch about two feet in diameter. A roughly square hunk of metal, plastic, and crystal sat in the center of the open space, its sides covered with alien symbols and bits of circuitry. The mold covering the walls seemed to be moving ever so slightly, as if a faint draft were blowing, though the air was still. Another door led to the south.

The last door opened into the server room. The walls, ceiling, and floor of the chamber were coated with a thick layer of mold, with thousands of pale white filaments poking out like tiny fingers. However, the two rectangular objects in the center of the room were free of mold. The crystalline devices were marked with sharp-edged designs, and each had a dark computer console built into one side.

The router address the crew had discovered matched the one assigned to the northern server, which was also written on the outside of the device. They also noted that the southern server had no router address, meaning it could be accessed only via the console; this one likely had the most sensitive information stored on it. Neither server appeared to have any power, and their consoles were dark and unresponsive.

Glitch cast a spell to recharge the southern server and got to work hacking to gain access. In under a minute, the technomancer found and retrieved the admin keycode for XLT-88 digital lock to the Foundry’s security entrance. Basically, a certain combination of keys pressed simultaneously would put the digital lock into a maintenance mode, making it possible to disable the lock without knowing the current keycode.

No sooner had he reported his success than the filaments on the walls began to ripple as if caught in a strong breeze. They quickly coalesced into a swarm that blocked the exit from the server room and enveloped Galakrond and Kima, who were standing guard.

The crew had no reasonable way to deal with the thousands of organisms that made up the writhing swarm, and so they lured it into the server room and fled past it and out into the hallway. They could run much faster than the swarm could move. Glitch was the first to make it back outside, but he quickly cursed his luck when a sharpwing came swooping down to try to eat the lone ysoki. The others made their way out and helped finish off the beast before the crew made good their escape.

They had the key to the back entrance of the Temple Found, but they thought it best to return to Cloudside to rest, plan, and prepare.

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The Ruined Clouds

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