Starfinder: Dead Suns

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.

<<< >>>

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.

<<< >>>

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.

<<< >>>

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.

<<< >>>

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?”

<<< >>>

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.

<<< >>>

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