Starfinder: Dead Suns

Session 23

Against Oblivion

Nejeor – Gate 1

The crew crossed the hallway to the doors of the chamber where Osteth had said the last of the cultists in the facility still lurked. They entered to find an ancient workshop containing a cluster of workstations, crates filled with castoffs of kishalee technology, and piles of tools, most alien but a few similar to designs used by Pact Worlds engineers. A pair of unusual robots lay lifelessly on the main worktable near the center of the room, but two appeared to be functional. Additionally, the room was occupied by a ysoki in a yellow jumpsuit and what appeared to be her drone.

“Who the hell are you?!” she shrieked, whacking the drone on the head before tapping a few keys on her arm rig. The robots spun around, their reticules going from blue to red.

“We can talk this out,” said Kima, raising his hands, palms forward. In response the ysoki shot him.

The crew advanced on the woman and her robot backup, Galakrond leaping atop the table to engage her and the drone. The solarian backed him up, while Kusanagi and Glitch attacked the modified maintenance robots. While she scurried away, defending herself from the vesk’s sword, her constant prattle turned grim and defeatist. “Ya really done it now, Xix. Didn’t think the ol’ void would come callin’ so soon,” she hissed through clenched teeth.

“Should have surrendered,” said Galakrond, not letting up.

Moments later, the robots and drone lay in pieces and the ysoki’s lifeblood stained the workshop floor. The crew looted the body and the room, then returned to central operations where Osteth awaited them.

“My new friends, with much time over the past few days in my confinement to think, I have come to a difficult conclusion. The Stellar Degenerator must be destroyed. Even if this Cult of the Devourer were defeated this day, there is no guarantee the location of the Gate of Twelve Suns will stay hidden. The sivv superweapon cannot be trusted with any people, no matter how peaceful and well intentioned they might be.”

She grew somber for a moment. “Though the events happened before I was born, I heard tales of when the kishalee used the Degenerator to ‘pacify’ a terrible enemy that threatened us with obliteration, and the results convinced my people to hide the weapon away.”

Osteth’s image disappeared, and the entire room was filled with a holographic display of an unknown solar system. Her voice continued. “Some were killed instantly, caught in the energy transference beam when the Stellar Degenerator turned their sun into a black dwarf.”

The hologram showed a ray of light streaking in from outside of the system and hitting the sun. This tether pulsed with energy, tearing apart starships and even moons in its general vicinity. “Those were the lucky ones. Within a week, temperatures across the system dropped to below freezing, and with no sun to sustain it, plant life began to die shortly thereafter.”

The sun at the center of system shrank and grew dark. Digital displays appeared near each of the system’s ten planets, showing the decrease in temperature and light levels. “Hundreds of millions eventually starved to death or were killed in skirmishes over food.” Another numerical display showed a rising death count. “The mass of the black dwarf wasn’t enough to keep its planets in orbit, and eventually, they started to drift outward, spinning erratically into the inky depths.” In the hologram, the orbits of the system’s frozen planets wobble, and the farthest world disappears off the map. “A terrible way for a people to go extinct.”

The lights in the chamber returned to normal as Osteth reappeared on her dais. “So you can see why the Stellar Degenerator must be destroyed. But to do so, we must first open the gate.”

Osteth reiterated that the remainder of the Devourer cultists must be stopped, but she also said that the crew should retrieve the control board those cultists were seeking. With the missing piece of equipment, Osteth could activate the Gate of Twelve Suns and release the Stellar Degenerator so that it could be destroyed once and for all.

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Nejeor – Gate 2

Several hours later, the Sunrise Maiden entered orbit around the second gate planetoid. Scans showed that it had no atmosphere and showed no signs of life. There were no obvious kishalee-made buildings like those on Gate 1’s controller moon, but there was a metal hatch – large enough for their starship to fly through – in the planet’s surface near the equator, similar to where the control center on Gate 1’s controller moon was located. Further scans revealed an underground complex (with a breathable atmosphere and full gravity) located deep within the planet.

The hatch began to open as soon as Kusanagi flew their vessel toward it, revealing a tunnel illuminated by strips of lights. It takes a couple of hours to traverse the tunnel to a spot where it branched off into three sets of hangar bay doors. A red light glowed above the center door, while green lights shined above the other two. As the android brought the Sunrise Maiden near leftmost bay doors, they opened to reveal an empty hangar.

A few particles of dust swirled within the cavernous hangar bay. Its walls were made of a smooth, unknown metal without a trace of rivets or seams. Opposite the ship doors they could see a smaller pair of convex doors. The large hangar bay doors remained open until the Sunrise Maiden settled onto the floor. At that point, the bay repressurized and filled with a breathable atmosphere, which took approximately fifteen minutes.

The crew made ready and exited their ship. Approaching the convex doors at the far end of a hangar bay cause them to open automatically, revealing a thirty-foot-diameter elevator car. Each of these hover lifts had simple controls on the inside: two blue lighted buttons aligned vertically. Pressing the lower button caused the lift to glide downward about 200 feet. After about 90 seconds, the lift arrived at the bottom of the shaft, and the doors opened.

Smooth, gray walls and bright lighting accentuated the lack of corners in the entryway with a thirty-foot-high ceiling. The chamber opened onto a larger area just opposite a set of convex elevator doors. The chamber was carved into the solid rock of the planet and reinforced with sheets of a nearly indestructible kishalee alloy. It gave the impression that the facility had been built only a few decades ago instead of thousands of years. The only tipoff to the facility’s age was the stale taste of the air.

Of more immediate concern, however, were the Desperate Hunger cultists that lobbed grenades into the lift as soon as the doors opened. An oblivion shade spawn retreated away and to the north, and a running battle ensued. The cultist soldiers were felled swiftly, but they were reinforced by elites with disruption grenades and pistols.

Where the elites stood guard, the ceiling arched up to about fifty feet, and at its apex hung a glowing crystalline pyramid that shed bright light on the room below. An array of upended tables and sturdy crates formed a makeshift barricade, blocking off much of the northern portion of the area, including a pair of shiny convex doors. Wide passages led east and west, and a wide set of stairs led down to the south. A declining ramp was separated from the stairs by a low metal partition.

When the first elite cultist fell, it rasped, “Warn … Deldreg….” The other fled south down the ramp and out of sight. Kima held up a hand before evoking solarian magic to infuse the crew with celerity before giving chase. At the bottom of the ramp, he came to a wide junction. Hallways led off to the east and west, while a large gray double door led to the south. Sections of the floor had long gouges in them.

Encased within a suit of battered powered armor, a scarred and gnarled dwarf stood in the center of the junction. He ground his teeth on a frayed cigar, and bits of tobacco rolled down his unkempt beard. An advanced X-gen gun was mounted on his shoulder, ready to unload a spray of death.

“You ready to dance?” The dwarf’s voice grumbled, a hint of dark humor dripping from the question. “Ain’t seen nothing but hunks of metal, weird plants, and people made of light since we came to this system, and Ol’ Deldreg’s been just aching for a dance.”

The dwarf never had a chance to take even a single step as Glitch’s spell-infused grenade injected nanobots into him that scrambled his mind. He could only babble incoherently as Kusanagi and Galakrond joined the fray to take him down.

After a brief rest to catch their breath, the crew turned toward the eastern hall. The first door to the north had the same triangular touch pad as other doors, but it didn’t open when the pad was touched. It blinked red instead. Glitch removed the touch pad’s cover and rewired it to get the door to open. The circular chamber within had stark white walls that were occasionally broken up by rectangular outlines near the floor and a few feet off the ground. The overhead lighting buzzed incessantly, and no sooner had the door opened than a gaunt undead lunged for Galakrond’s throat.

The marooned one’s grip was overpowering and all the vesk could do was struggle to escape from the cruel undead hands for the first few crucial moments of the fight. Fortunately, the rest of the crew was able to batter and blast the undead enough to distract it, and moments after Galakrond managed to free himself, the wretched creature lay dead on the floor. The crew took a moment to let the soldier recover, and he downed a potent healing potion to soothe the pain in his throat.

The next door in the hall was not locked. Looking in on the room from the hallway, the crew could see that it was dark except for a small red light blinking on a standby control panel on the far wall. As soon as they crossed the threshold of the doorway, a motion sensor in the ceiling activated the lights. Two clear surfaces covered in alien writing hung on the walls near the door, and a computer terminal stood on the opposite end of the room. The main features of the room were two opaque cylindrical fields of energy near the walls, each about ten feet in diameter.

The writing referenced both gravitational equations and biological processes. The notes were unfinished, though, so Glitch crossed the room to the terminal. Examining the computer, he determined that the cylinders of energy were acting as stasis fields for two living creatures. Probing a little deeper, it seemed that they were large monstrous humanoids with bladelike arms. No sooner did he report this to his companions than the terminal went dark and the stasis fields failed. “It wasn’t me!” insisted the technomancer. “Sabotage!”

When Glitch caught sight of the creatures for the first time, his eyes widened and he rattled off what he knew about them. Known as psitheers, these insectile humanoids had a hive-mind intelligence that aided them as they stalked their prey. Their arms ended in vicious bladelike appendages that could cause terrible bleeding. Moments later, the crew got some firsthand experience.

The creatures’ bladed arms were wickedly sharp, and in moments both Galakrond and Kima were in serious trouble. The lashunta lost consciousness from his wounds and blood loss within the first thirty seconds, and the rest of the crew scrambled to compensate and try to rescue him from dying. It was a near thing, but Glitch managed to get a potion down the solarian’s throat after Kusanagi managed to take the first psitheer down. Kima lay still and drank a more potent healing draught before regaining his feet and helping Galakrond finish off the second. After this harrowing encounter, the crew returned to their ship to rest and receive Winslow’s healing ministrations.

<<< >>>

The chamber at the end of the hall appeared to be an ancient armory, thoroughly ransacked. The eastern and western walls of the long room were lined with empty weapon racks, while the outlines of suits of armor could been seen inside of broken display cases along the northern and southern walls. The drawers of the two workbenches in the center of the chamber had been pulled out and their contents – empty cans of oil, tiny screws, and other bits of rusty metal – were scattered across the floor.

A small compartment in the eastern wall hung open, which inspired the crew to search for other such hidden compartments. They found three, each of which contained some piece of kishalee weaponry. They collected these, then returned to the junction and continued to the west.

The spacious chamber contained three tall racks holding various powered-down robots. Located in a central position, a freestanding control panel blinks serenely, at which stood another ysoki flanked by a pair of human cultists.

“Oh, hey. Huh,” drawled the ysoki.

“Should we kill them, Zaz?” asked one of the cultist.

“Yeah, uh. Get ‘em, boys.”

Glitch rushed forward and took a shot at the other ysoki, who activated his jetpack and fired back. While the technomancer and Kusanagi engaged the enemy ratman, Galakrond and Kima squared off with the foot soldiers. The solder and solarian finished their work first, and before Zaz could flee, the crew took him down. This left only one chamber remaining, and so the Starfinders made their way to the southern double doors.

This room buzzed with activity. Three control panels stood at the far end of the room opposite the double doors. The panels flashed with multicolored lights and occasionally beep. The southern wall contained a large window, with some kind of shimmering containment field in place of glass. The vast bore that pierced the heart of the planetoid could be seen through the window. The walls of that massive cylinder were veined with strange conduits and studded with peculiar technology; countless maintenance robots, many so far away as to seem like mere insects, crawled over the various sections of the machinery, occasionally lit by a random spark of electricity. Monitors lined the walls inside the room, showing close-ups of the robots working within the bore. One video stream tracked the progress of four such constructs, one of which was carrying a grayish rectangular object; these robots seemed to be flying at all possible speed toward some point.

The android Null-9 paced between the control panels and the containment field. Though her eyes were cold and her movements regimented, she was almost trembling with anticipation. A moment after the crew entered the room, she addressed them with a flat voice that had a hint of metallic rattling.

“You are too late, meddlers. The end is nigh. I will prevail. I am the chosen of the Devourer, and you are just insects—insignificantly scrambling about ignorant of utter certainty.” With that, she raised her weapon to open fire.

She was no match for the Starfinders.

A few seconds after she’d fallen, a foursome of maintenance robots – one carrying a dull gray metal object – arrived. They were just as handily dispatched, and the crew took a closer look at the robots’ package. It seemed nothing more than a sheet of dull gray metal and ceramic about three feet long and one foot wide. A closer examination of the board revealed that it was traced with unusual circuitry that formed various triangular patterns. This must be the control board that Osteth had told them about. Securing their prize, they returned to their ship and flew back to Gate 1.

<<< >>>

Gate 1 – Control Center

Osteth was pleased to see the crew again and thrilled when they reported that they were able to stop the Devourer cultists and bring back an unbroken control board. By inserting the control board into a slot she indicated under one of the central operation’s terminals the crew had repaired the computers that could open the way to the Stellar Degenerator. Osteth repeated her insistence that destroying the superweapon was necessary, and said she would wait upon their order to initiate the process that would access the demiplane. She explained that it would need to be done when the controller moons reached the innermost points of their orbits, which happened once a day.

It occurred to the Starfinders to talk to Osteth about how they might be able to destroy the Stellar Degenerator. The AI admitted that it would take an act of devastating power, likely more firepower than the Sunrise Maiden could bring to bear. Osteth had an idea that the Stellar Degenerator might be piloted into one of the gate’s twelve suns, but someone would need to board the superweapon, which likely had ancient security measures still in place. She is unsure how such an event would affect the rest of the system, and she was fairly certain though that it would probably end in the death of whoever was at the Stellar Degenerator’s helm.

They decided that they would cross that bridge when they came to it. In the meantime, they thought it best to open the gate to get a look at the Stellar Degenerator to see what they might learn about it. When the crew gave the order to open the demiplane a look of concern crossed Osteth’s face.

“My friends, something is terribly wrong. Thanks to the gate’s advanced age, several microprocessors across the controller moons’ core facilities are failing. Unfortunately, I have already initiated the subroutine to open the demiplane. My calculations predict that unless something is done in the next few minutes, a catastrophic chain reaction will destabilize the system’s twelve cosmic strings and cause each and every one of the suns to be pulled into the center of the system. Such a collision would result in a massive supernova … and the Stellar Degenerator would remain within its demiplane!”

The consoles around the room began running a series of simulations at rapid speed, all of which ended with flashing red screens – except for one. “Yes. I think I have it. If I split my consciousness across the twelve controller moons, my own programming could provide the necessary corrections for our plan to proceed. But I will not be able to pull myself back together. It will be the end of me. Permanently.”

Osteth nodded. “This is the only choice. The rest will be up to you. You must promise to destroy the Stellar Degenerator, no matter what happens!”

There wasn’t much time for goodbyes as the holographic form dissolved into lines of code and the consoles surrounding the crew began to glow blue. Several monitors began showing views of the interior bores of the other controller moons. Traces of the same blue light limned the circuitry along the walls and the army of maintenance bots. A moment later, the building shook and all the monitors switched to perspectives from the planetoid’s surfaces pointing toward the skies. In each, different angles of a colossal tear in space forming could be seen in the distance. The fiery red of the planar gate contrasted with the inky blackness of space in a display that was both beautiful and awe-inspiring. This all happened within the span of twenty minutes.

Looking at the consoles, the crew could see readings about the phenomena. The circular opening to the Stellar Degenerator’s demiplane had a diameter of half a million miles and was stable. The massive vessel within has a conical shape and was mostly built from a material the Starfinders had never encountered or heard of (though parts of it are encased in rock, as if it were built into an asteroid). The superweapon itself was over one hundred thousand feet long and had a mass of over fifty thousand tons. It gave off a faint energy signature, not much more than a docked starship, and it had a small amount of its own gravity.

As they stared in awe at this marvel of terrible might, warning lights began blinking frantically across the central operations room. The automated defense systems had detected a fleet of starships entering the area! A glance at the readouts confirmed the worst: an armada of Eoxian-style vessels ranging from speedy fighters to lumbering capital ships were only a few hours away. The Corpse Fleet had tracked the crew to Nejeor and were ready to claim the Stellar Degenerator for themselves!

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The Thirteenth Gate

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