Akiton – Tasch
The customers started to ﬂee through the entrance, while the bartender rushed out the back door. Philt and his bodyguards ducked out alongside the other citizens, but the shirren representative took a moment to wish the crew “the best of luck” and reminded them that he expected Talbot to be delivered soon. Not wishing to start killing locals for believing in false miracles, Kusanagi moved to the door where the bartender had gone and waved the others to follow him into the back room. They found themselves in a storage room that contained spare boxes, tables, chairs and crates of alcohol. There was another door on the east exterior wall, which was locked. While Twitch examined the locking mechanism for the outer door, Galakrond helped Winslow move the besotted Boske into the back room.
The mechanic got the door opened about the same time as a grenade disintegrated the door near the vesk bodyguard. Twitch found himself face to face with a ysoki with a laser pistol. Meanwhile, a four-armed shobhad and another of the ratmen had taken cover in the common room of Digger’s Dive. Galakrond felt his mind come under attack, but planted himself firmly in the doorway between the bar and the back room. The soldier’s eyes widened and he jerked his head back out of the way when he saw the drunken Boske aiming a zero rifle in the direction of the bar. Astonishingly, the sharpshooter managed to hit his target, the large shobhad who seemed to be the leader of the aggressors.
Kusanagi moved to support the vesk, while Winslow and ARTE assisted Twitch with the ysoki gunslinger at the back exit. The fighting effort was complicated by the fact that the crew were still trying not to kill anyone, but they managed to incapacitate Talbot’s defenders and escape to their vehicle outside.
Akiton – Tasch Thasteron Mine
Tasch’s thasteron mine was built into a red rock hillside. It had been excavated by powered mining equipment that had since been repossessed or sold. A metal track ran throughout the mine, meant for automated mine carts. A string of overhead lights provided dim light. As they entered, a sloping ramp descended to the west, made of hard-packed red dirt that showed signs of heavy vehicle traffic. The ramp opened into a large square chamber with rough walls. A metal track ran along the ground from a passage in the west wall and then turned north, ascending a five-foot ramp and then running along the north wall until the track terminated. A pair of metal lockers stood in the southeast corner, and a heap of ore is piled to the southwest.
The ore was unrefined thasteron, the lockers contained a medkit, some tools, and an old credstick, and the vesk found recent tracks in the red dirt, matching the timeline of Talbot’s arrival on Akiton. Galakrond took point to scout the mine tunnels, and to the west he came to a T-intersection. To the north, a passageway led deeper into the mine, but was covered with thick, trackless dust and failing lights that implied no one had been down them in some time. He headed several yards to the south until he came to an intersection of several passageways with a square ceiling support. The passage to the south terminated in unfinished construction. A little past that, a passageway to the east led into a rectangular chamber with rough-hewn walls.
The vesk returned to the entry chamber and reported to his companions, who followed him to the rough chamber to the east. A metal mine-cart track ran parallel to the passage and entered the room before ending abruptly. A mine cart in an obvious state of disrepair lay adjacent to the tracks, and tools covered a table against the east wall, while a pair of metal lockers stood in the southwest corner. The lockers contained mining uniforms and binders of material-safety data sheets for explosives. The referenced explosives must have been removed when the mine shut down.
The crew turned their attention to the western passage, Galakrond still in the lead. No sooner had he stepped past the square ceiling support column than a mounted laser riﬂe emerged from a sliding panel and shot him. The weapon retracted back into the ceiling as he stumbled backwards – surprised, hurt, and a little angry. The crew took a minute to try to find the trap’s trigger, but no one could find anything. They tossed thasteron ore past the support, but the rifle did not fire upon it. Then Twitch sent ARTE forward. The drone was utterly destroyed when the rifle hit a critical system. The Starfinders exchanged glances and decided to wait and give Galakrond a chance to recover before pressing forward. When they advanced, the vesk managed to evade the laser and the others followed him across, though Kusanagi sprinted past the crew and into a new chamber.
The passage headed west and then turned north into a T-shaped room. The ceiling was cut to fifteen feet in height, and permanent light fixtures set in the ceiling provided brighter light. The minecart tracks that ran throughout the mine hugged the south wall, turned north, and ran along the west wall before coming to a dead end at the north end of the room. A single mine car stood on the tracks, and across from the cart was a small office fashioned from two out-of-place plastic walls set into the stonework. An open door provided access to the room within a room. Of more immediate concern were the three armed miners and the figure that crouched in the mine cart. Kusanagi recognized the man from the dossier photograph – Reynald Talbot!
The miners opened fire, and the android immediately recognized his mistake. The others rushed forward to assist Kusanagi, but Talbot himself proved the biggest threat. The former Starfinder set the cart in motion and took a carefully aimed shot at the operative, wounding him deeply. Kusanagi retreated and tried to fight back, but his shot only destroyed one of Talbot’s illusory duplicates. Galakrond engaged the miners, hoping to form a bulwark so the others could deal with the primary target. Boske jumped into the moving cart, but only managed to destroy another illusion. Winslow kept insisting that no one be killed, but the opponents proved resistant to his magic and his aim hadn’t improved since the last time he’d been in a firefight. Twitch, still a little despondent about the loss of ARTE, focused on the miners rather than Talbot.
Kusanagi fell to Talbot’s second shot, and Winslow revived him moments later. The thief and Boske zoomed past the rest of the crew, and Talbot leapt out of the mine cart at the intersection, fleeing toward the mine exit. Kusanagi gave chase, and so did Boske after he managed to get off the still-moving cart. The android took cover by the mine entrance, where he saw Talbot near the crew’s rental vehicle. It was clear that the man meant to steal the buggy to make good on his escape, so Kusanagi took aim and took his last shot.
Talbot was surprised to be shot, taking cover and firing back. His laser dropped the android again, who fell to the dirt. Boske trotted up just in time to see Talbot starting the vehicle. The vesk struggled for a moment with the choice between shooting at the target or saving his companion’s life. Then, with a curse, he fed the android a healing potion as Talbot gunned the engine and sped away. Boske helped Kusanagi limp back to the others, who had finished the fight against the determined miners. One of the men had been killed in the chaos, but the other two had been incapacitated instead.
The crew called Philt to let the shirren know that Talbot had escaped and might come back through Tasch. The AbadarCorp representative sounded annoyed but thanked them for the tip. A couple of hours later, they called back to report that they had managed to capture Talbot after all. The crew asked for the charlatan’s stone, but Philt refused, saying that they were taking it for study. The shirren was unmoved by Winslow’s plea to reconsider, and advised the crew that the Starfinders could file a petition with the corporation for the item’s return at a future date.
Dejected, the crew walked back to Tasch, then caught a ride back to Maro and the spaceport where the Sunrise Maiden waited to take them back to Absalom Station. When they reported the failure, Venture-Captain Arvin was unhappy, but he did not lose his temper. Instead he accepted the report, and with a sigh offered that everyone, himself included, needed to try harder if the Starfinder Society was going to survive.
Absalom Station – Downlow
A day after their return to the station, the crew came to the Exo-Guardians’ new headquarters, a recently renovated warehouse, where head of the faction, Zigvigix, had summoned them for another mission briefing. The augmented host shirren watched a bustling crew move office equipment from several large pallets into a large warehouse, while other workers welded scrap metal to gaps in the warehouse’s walls. The shirren occasionally directed a crew member and made a note on a datapad. Zigvigix noticed their new guests and turned to telepathically project a greeting.
Zigvigix wore a set of shoulder speakers that blasted out sugar-pop music from the band Strawberry Machine Cake. They bounced in place along to the music, smiling at Twitch in particular. “Welcome back! Isn’t this song the best? I’ve been playing it on loop for hours!” Behind the excited shirren, several grizzled-looking station workers, each carrying a side of a heavy-looking holotable, rolled their eyes.
“Thanks for coming – I hope you’ll understand if I keep this brief; we’ve got a lot of work to do to get our new headquarters up and running, and you are on a short timetable. A ysoki salvage barge named the Clutter Collector, captained by a ysoki named Winks, picked up a distress-beacon transmission in the Drift. Winks didn’t have time to check it out, but she sold the data to the Society when she reached Absalom Station. How nice of her!
“Well, it turns out that this beacon came from the Struggle’s Scholar, a kasathan ship that…” Zigvigix paused for effect as their antennae wiggled excitedly. “…escaped from Sangoro’s Bulwark! If you don’t know, the Bulwark was the old base of operations for the Exo-Guardians. Now, First Seeker Luwazi wisely grounded us from investigating the Bulwark after all contact was lost with it shortly after the Scoured Stars incident, but we can’t pass up this opportunity to learn what happened there. We might even be able to find the coordinates to our missing headquarters. Wouldn’t it be joyous to have a large fortress to play loud music in?” Twitch was the only one to agree.
Zigvigix handed over a datapad. “Here are the coordinates of the distress signal. It is unlikely any of the crew survived, or they’d be here by now. So be on the lookout for bodies. Since the crew is mostly kasathas, it would mean a lot to their extended families if you could bring back their remains or keepsakes to the Idari! Otherwise, salvage any data you can – especially the ship’s log – as it could tell us what happened to Sangoro’s Bulwark. This datapad also holds a one-time-use decrypter that will let you decode the Exo-Guardians ciphers used on the distress signal. Good luck!”
Rather than borrow a Starfinder ship for the mission, the crew opted to take the Sunrise Maiden. While they prepared the ship, the crew did some infosphere research about Sangoro’s Bulwark. A vesk named Sangoro had founded the Exo-Guardians, which was an especially unusual fact, given the long hostilities between the Veskarium and the Pact Worlds. Many Starfinders initially did not trust him, even after he had provided the Society with a huge fortress on a remote planet to operate out of. Sangoro later dedicated himself and his followers to protecting the Society from external threats, forming the Exo-Guardians faction.
The fortress Sangoro bequeathed to the Starfinder Society was the only structure on the planet. It was a massive edifice left by some forgotten race, with extensive underground tunnels and storage vaults. The Exo-Guardians kept a large stockpile of equipment within the Bulwark, letting field agents on missions in the Vast access necessary items without traveling back to Absalom Station. Because of the importance of these resources, the exact coordinates of Sangoro’s Bulwark were kept from most Starfinders, and ships traveled to the location only by using encrypted ﬂight plans.
Shortly after the Scoured Stars incident led to the disappearance of most Starfinder Society field agents and leadership, an unknown force overwhelmed Sangoro’s Bulwark, and – until Winks’ information was acquired – there had been no survivors or distress calls. With this attack, the Society’s data archives had lost all information on the exact location of Sangoro’s Bulwark, with even nominated First Seeker Luwazi Elsebo bereft of such knowledge. Only the Society’s amalgam digital consciousness, Guidance, might know the location, but it had ignored all requests to provide the data.
Finally, some rumors from the few Starfinders who visited the Bulwark before the fall reported that the Drift and Material Plane space surrounding the area was prone to strange events. Exactly how these dangers manifested varied by each rumor, but it appeared the space surrounding the Bulwark’s home system is prone to odd interplanar abnormalities. Starships were advised to carry powerful scanners to identify potential stellar hazards and bleeding between the planes.
According to their calculations, it was going to take a little over three weeks days to make the journey through the Drift to the distress-signal location provided by the Clutter Collector. The Maiden departed alongside another Starfinder Society starship, a bulk freighter called the Promise of the Future. While the freighter’s captain was too busy to communicate with them, a Starfinder team onboard the Promise willingly chatted. These passengers were kalos, aquatic monstrous humanoids native to the Brethedan moon of Kalo-Mahoi. This group, calling themselves the Manta Corps, formed a tight-knit party that the Starfinder Society often senT on missions of importance in underwater locales.
Members of the Manta Corps included Deepspeaker Alluguoth, a soft-spoken kalo who appreciated wisdom and information. Mantarider Ushuul was a headstrong soldier who fought with an automatic machine gun. He liked showing off his weapon, named “Muncher,” even via grainy video transmissions. Mantarider Suulhu-Huur was an enthusiastic melee fighter who wields an energized trident. She offered to spar with the crew, should they ever meet in person. Finally, Wavetreader Vhoosh, the quietest member of the group, was most interested in hearing about the crew’s combat exploit – specifically, what impressive kills they had accrued.
The Manta Corps eagerly trade stories with the crew but refused to speak about their classified mission. The freighter kept communications open with the Maiden for as long as it could, though it split paths with them after only two days of Drift travel, slipping out of communication range.
As the crew closed in on the location of the Struggle’s Scholar’s distress beacon, they detected a large field of roughly two dozen asteroids surrounding the source of the signal. They recognized these as chunks of obsidian likely native to the Elemental Plane of Earth and ripped here thanks to the use of a Drift engine. A closer sensor scan indicated that the interiors of these asteroids held molten stone and were quite volatile.
While they pondered this, a vesk starship, the Honorbound, approached the opposite side of the asteroid field, heading toward it at top speed. The Honorbound was ablaze on either side with three bright-red thrusters, which were reminiscent of the energy blades of a plasma doshko. Boske and Galakrond mentioned that these features were a representation of the symbol of Damoritosh, the vesk god of conquest, duty, and war. The vesk ship began to slow shortly after the crew had detected it.
The captain of the Honorbound, a jovial vesk by the name of Yuluzak, initiated communication after a few minutes of silence. He greeted the crew in Vesk, noting the old-fashioned model of their starship. Captain Yuluzak willingly provided a brief summary of his ship: a vesk salvage transport scouring the Drift for finds important to the Veskarium. He admitted that his directive was not the most glorious or honorable of missions, but the threat of the Swarm demanded the Veskarium investigate all avenues of advancement to prepare against the next invasion. Yuluzak was eager to hear the crew’s history, as well.
When the Starfinders proved reticent, Captain Yuluzak turned the subject over the right of salvaging the distress beacon. The Honorbound was mandated to find anything of potential interest to the Veskarium, especially information on Pact World and kasathan starships. Having already determined the source of the signal, Captain Yuluzak regretfully informed the crew that he could not simply allow them to proceed with their own salvaging mission. The vesk captain casually proposed that the Honorbound and the Sunrise Maiden could engage in honorable starship combat to determine who had rights over the beacon. To expedite matters, Yuluzak offered several rules of engagement by which he swore to abide.
- The combatants would not intentionally target the life support systems of their enemy.
- The combatants would abstain from targeting the rear arc – warriors should face the enemy head on.
- Combat would be over once an enemy starship is crippled.
- Each captain could surrender at any point during the duel.
The captain disregarded Galakrond’s attempt to offer an alternative to single combat, and lost some of his good cheer when the soldier called him a coward. Winslow swiftly stepped in, agreeing to the terms. Captain Yuluzak nodded tersely then signaled his intent to begin the combat.
“Get on the turrets,” Kusanagi advised his vesk companions. “I’m going to try to keep our aft facing them.” The others agreed that this was a solid tactic, and it seemed that the Honorbound was serious about not firing into the Maiden’s rear arc. The Captain got on the comm, to begrudgingly admit to the cleverness of the strategy.
The crew used their ship’s superior speed and maneuverability to take every advantage they could, keeping the volatile asteroids between themselves and the Honorbound. Still, maneuvering in space was tricky, and the vesk starship managed to get a missile launched toward the Maiden’s starboard arc. Kusanagi got the ship maneuvered so that the missile would strike the aft arc, giving the gunners the opportunity to shoot it down with the flak thrower before impact. Unfortunately, the small projectile proved difficult to hit, and the hull rocked with an explosion that eliminated the shields in the rear of the ship.
Twitch and Winslow went into damage control mode, restoring and rebalancing the shields. The crew knew they were outgunned, but they continued to execute their strategy as best they could. The strain got to Kusanagi, who made a minor miscalculation and opened the Maiden’s port side to further missile fire. After another direct hit from a missile plus a light particle beam set two more systems glitching. The ship could not take another hit without being crippled, so they opened a comm channel and offered their surrender.
Captain Yuluzak congratulated them, impressed by the fight they put up. In appreciation of the crew honoring the rules of engagement, he offered to send them a trophy. When they accepted, the Honorbound jettisoned a cargo pod containing a set of vesk overplate armor and a tactical reaction cannon. The vesk captain then indicated that his ship would investigate the beacon and that he intended on sending a follow-up signal to you if it turned out that the Struggle’s Scholar was of no use to the Veskarium. About half an hour later, the Honorbound left Drift space for the Prime Material Plane.
While Twitch and Winslow started ship repairs, the others maneuvered the ship to extract precious minerals from the nearby magma asteroids. As they were finishing up, they were surprised to receive a distress signal from the Honorbound, requesting immediate assistance with salvaging the Struggle’s Scholar. It included coordinates in the Prime Material Plane as well as the original distress beacon recording:
ATTN: This message is confidential; if you are not the intended recipient, _ABSALOM STATION>>EXO-GUARDIANS_, please delete this message immediately.
MESSAGE: This is Remahd, captain of the Struggle’s Scholar. Most of my crew and I escaped Sangoro’s Bulwark with our lives, but upon entering the Drift, we collided with some extraplanar material. Soon after, we lost a crew member, as well as control of our primary engine. We have managed to patch our Drift functionality enough to drop out of this dangerous field and into normal space at the enclosed coordinates. Please send assistance as soon as is feasible – without our engine, our power supply is diminishing rapidly. In the event you are unable to reach us in time, I have heavily encrypted vital information meant only for the current head of the Exo-Guardians and locked it in a hard drive on the ship’s bridge.
The crew exchanged concerned glances, then set the coordinates and prepared to leave the Drift to assist the vesk.