Starfinder: Dead Suns

Session 21
A Perfect Circle

The Drift

Having learned about the existence and location of the Gate of Twelve Suns, the hiding place of the Stellar Degenerator, from the floating city of Istamak, the crew decided to make preparations before heading to the Nejeor system. They returned swiftly to Absalom Station to exchange credits for better arms and armaments for themselves and their ship. This accomplished, they set a course through the Drift in pursuit of the Devourer cultists who had found

When they approached the end of the trip, the Sunrise Maiden passed through a nearly invisible cloud of dust. Glitch noticed something strange happening to the computers and with a quick check realized that they were being hacked – from inside the ship! A moment later, a strange being materialized as though stepping out of the bulkhead onto the bridge. The technomancer recognized it as an anhamut inevitable, an outsider tasked with protecting explorers of the galaxy.

“In-in-in-interlopers! You will cease your transgressions and r-r-r-return to your place of origin or be d-d-d-destroyed!”

After this strange proclamation, the inevitable attacked! It favored its sharp-edged nanite blade, but also blasted Kusanagi with an electric discharge. Galakrond and Kima pinned the outsider to the wall, and the crew managed to defeat it before it caused any serious harm. But as its body lay cooling on the floor of the bridge, they wondered why such a being would attack in the first place. Setting the mystery aside, they continued their journey through the Drift.

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The Nejeor System

When the crew emerged from the Drift, they were still nearly a day’s travel from the Gate of Twelve Suns. As they approached, it was obvious even from a cursory scan that the system was not a natural phenomenon. A perfect circle of a dozen stars appeared stationary with respect to one another, maintaining a perfect gravitational balance. Glitch performed a deeper probe of the system to gather more information.

Scans revealed that a single planet orbited each star at exactly the same distance. The planets had roughly the same diameter, mass, and rotational period. Even stranger, each planet’s orbit was synchronized with all the other planets in the system so that every so often they all faced the center of the circle of stars at the same time.

The gravitational forces exerted by the twelve stars was in a delicate balance, achievable only with exacting measurements and more than a little magic. These forces made navigating through the system very difficult and using a Drift engine within the system impossible. The safest time to attempt to reach one of the planets was when its orbit reached the point farthest from the center of the system, though it was by no means simple. In addition, eleven of the planets were lifeless hunks of rock with no atmosphere; only one appeared able sustain life – it was, in fact, teeming with it. A single intact structure was detected on that planet’s surface.

The occasional burst of gravitational energy emanated from each planet as it reached the point in its orbit where it was closest to the center of the system. The energy came from a hole in each planet’s crust at the equator that seemed to reach straight down to the planet’s core. The Starfinders deduced that the release of this energy likely kept the system stable and surmised that, if focused properly, the energy could be used to open a large portal to another plane.

Deep scans of the system’s planets revealed small cosmic strings – one-dimensional “defects” in the fabric of space that produced gravitational waves – mystically contained within each planet’s core. These cosmic strings were maintained by massive technomagic devices kept in working condition by armies of maintenance bots.

While they were considering this, a trio of ships approached from the vicinity of the life-bearing planet: one large ship and a pair of escorts speeding alongside. All sensors indicated that they were on an intercept course! The comm channels screeched to life, and a gaunt man leered toward the camera lens. His skin was dark but was made nearly iridescent by a swirl of glowing nanites. Long, silver dreadlocks and an unkempt charcoal-colored beard framed his face. The distortion of the lens put a shade of menace to the man’s movements and appearance.

“Are you ready for the end?” The question hissed out from a mouth of brown crooked teeth; a yellowish, soapy spittle flew forth with every syllable uttered. “I am the agent of oblivion! I am the fang of the Devourer! I am the herald of annihilation. I will sing when your bodies – then only shells – drift and twirl through the void, charred amid the tangled wreckage of your ship, and your journey to nothingness is nearly complete!”

The crew engaged with the Devourer ships, focusing on the large one, which scanned as the Singularity. The Sunrise Maiden took a beating from various missiles and laser fire, but the newly upgraded shields were up to the task of protecting the hull from the majority of this abuse. The Singularity was slower, and after they had scored a few telling shots through its shields, the crew shifted focus to target the smaller ships.

The cultists tried to use this to lure the Starfinders into firing arcs, but the canny adventurers weathered the storm. After the first escort ship was disabled, the crew turned back to the Singularity and ended the fight. The other escort ship bugged out, and the Starfinders might have given chase but for an unusual transmission they noted coming from the Singularity.

“Our ship’s been pushed through the Blood Door, boss. The interlopers are tougher than I thought—may the Devourer consume them! I’m sending out a long-distance transmission for more choirs to come, slit their throats, and feast on their remains!”

Glitch informed the others that “pushed through the Blood Door” was a Devourer idiom for being killed, and further pointed out that simply destroying the Singularity would not stop the message from getting out. He suggested they board the Devourer vessel and gain control of its communications. Then they could fake an “all clear” signal, which should hopefully prevent more cultists of the Devourer from arriving.

Kusanagi lined up the Sunrise Maiden with the enemy ship’s airlock and secured the umbilical. The Starfinders overrode the cargo bay airlock security and entered the Singularity. There, the Jangly Man awaited them, having taken cover behind a storage crate. Galakrond charged forward to strike the Devourer cultist, who recoiled before activating some technological attack, and shouting “Get ‘em!” Moments later, four incorporeal shapes emerged from the walls or floor to engage each of the crew members. These oblivion shade spawn, emboldened by the Jangly Man, struck hard and started to disintegrate the Starfinders.

Fortunately, the crew were able to take control of the combat after Kusanagi slew the Jangly Man. Clearing out the shades took little enough effort, and the Starfinders rushed to the bridge. Once there, they hacked the system and sent an “all clear” signal that piggybacked onto the other transmission, ensuring that no other cultists of the Devourer receive the Gate of Twelve Suns’ coordinates.

Exploring the Singularity, the crew found that the vessel’s power core is essentially damaged beyond repair, rendering the starship useless. In addition, they discovered an audio message in the ship’s logs. The woman’s voice on it was authoritarian with a hint of an electronic rattle.

“If we can get the last console online, the weapon will be within our grasp, and soon the end of all things will follow. Unfortunately, the control board is shot. Zaz has no idea how to repair it, but Eltreth has told us where to find spares. Take the Singularity and patrol the system in case that inevitable managed to send for help. Bring some of Malice’s children. I will contact you again to return to the control center when we have the control board.”

Apparently, the inevitable they’d encountered had run afoul of the cultists and perhaps been exposed to their corrupting influence. They were all certain that the voice belonged to an android, and Kusanagi rolled his eyes when his companions looked at him half-expectantly. He then plotted a course to the living planet.

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The Thirteenth Gate

View
Session 22
Control Center

Nejeor – Gate 1

It took a couple of hours to enter orbit around the planetoid, which was made difficult by the gravitational fluctuations throughout the system. The unnatural forces threatened to tear the ship apart, but Glitch’s calculations helped Kusanagi navigate the dangerous space with ease. Once they were safely in orbit, they performed another scan of the surface to see what they were in for.

The planetoid had an oxygen-rich atmosphere and dynamic weather patterns. It supported one large ocean and a few small continents, whose biomes ranged from temperate plains to steaming jungles to polar ice caps; signs of life could be found all across the world. All of this normalcy seemed to be maintained by technomagical ley lines emanating from tall antennae that encircled most of the planetoid, as the world’s strange interior and the huge bore that ran through the center would most likely render the surface unlivable.

The Sunrise Maiden’s scanners also revealed a number of ruins scattered across the planetoid’s surface and a single intact structure on the equator. The buildings were thousands of years old, and the intact structure stands in the middle of a dense jungle. The only safe place to land a starship was on a landing pad – no more than a deteriorating slab of an ancient concrete-like material – in a clearing half a mile away.

As the crew breached the cloud cover and made their landing approach, they caught glimpses of the planetoid’s surface. They spotted a stampede of wild, horned quadrupeds kicking up dust across a grassy plain. They skirted the edge of a mountain range and watched as an avalanche swallows a copse of tall trees. They passed over the canopy of a jungle, spooking a flock of brightly colored, double-billed birds. As they approached the landing pad, they saw a crude trail burned in the brush leading in the direction of the control center.

As they stepped out of the Maiden, the crew noted a very wide path through the jungle. The densest parts of the foliage had recently been cleared with fire, explosives, and sharp instruments. Walking the half mile to the control center looked simple enough. They noted that many of the nearby plants were poisonous.

As the crew moved through the jungle, they heard screams and howls in the distance from the local fauna. Occasionally, carnivorous plants made half-hearted attempts to grab at the Starfinders with a green tendril, but they were easily avoided. After about five minutes of walking, the crew stepped into a swampy clearing. Several inches of rainfall had collected in this natural depression within the jungle, making the ground damp and squishy. Bits of broken pavement jutted from the mud at odd angles, remnants of the service road that once connected the landing pad to the control center.

The nearby trees swayed as something very large barreled its way out of the jungle. Branches snapped and foliage is scattered about as a large, bulbous beast with two mouths, each one dripping with slimy green saliva, burst into the clearing. The creature walked on a handful of small legs, and two massive clawed arms jutted from its torso. Its thick tail flailed violently about, and both its mouths each let loose deafening roars as it charged forth.

It got one bite on Galakrond before the crew put it down.

Half an hour later, the Starfinders all got the sense that they were being watched. A moment later, an androgynous human with a shaved head covered in scars dropped out of the foliage overhead. It had only hollow holes where its eyes should be, and a pair of fanged mouths open on its palms. A grayish haze tinged with crackling red lightning floated above it. The atrocite shouted into their heads, ”DIE!”

The flying outsider proved a challenge, since half the crew’s strengths lay in melee combat. It also seemed to be protected by a displacement illusion. Kusanagi scored the first significant hit against the creature, and it focused its void bolts at the android. The second one sheared off the operative’s right arm above the elbow, and the Starfinders scrambled to finish the fight before it could kill one of them. After a brief discussion about what to do with the hand – Kusanagi didn’t much appreciate his companions’ jokes – and some time to rest, they continued on.

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Control Center

Eventually, the path through the harsh jungle turned into the remains of a battered road leading to a large bunker-like structure. As the crew approached, they saw that more of the jungle had been scorched here, most likely the result of a large explosion that had blasted a hole through the wall of a one-story building. They heard sounds of cruel laughter from inside. The remains of a large double door lay broken on the floor, while a couple of bizarre-looking chairs or couches sat mangled against the north wall. Two short sets of steps led up to a raised section of the room, from which a double door exited to the north. A smaller door stood in the southeast corner.

Three cultists inside the wrecked lobby had captured a furry, three-legged beast the size of a small dog with a spherical head on a skinny neck. They were teasing and torturing it on the far side of the room, laughing and shouting cruelly as they battered the creature. They were so focused on it that they didn’t notice the crew’s approach until it was too late for them.

Three ancient kishalee hoverbikes leaned against the wall in one corner of the room. Two of them were still operational, but the third was critically damaged by an explosion. Within the closet on the southeast side of the room was a stand with four space suits constructed for kishalee anatomy. Galakrond took the golemforged plating off the largest of the three cultists and replaced his armor with it. They piled the rest of the cultists gear on one of the doors, and continued into the building.

To the north, they found a corridor that served as the spine of the control center, connecting the various chambers in the building. Except for a few smears of grease and tracks in the dust, it was relatively free from the predations of the cultists. They entered the nearest door across the hall, and found a computer lab. The large chamber was lit only by the bluish glow of a single monitor across from the southern door. The other computer consoles that lined the walls were dark. A circular platform of some unknown technology was affixed to the floor in the center of the room. The view outside a window in the western wall was completely obscured by thick jungle foliage.

Glitch got to work hacking the system and almost immediately set off an alarm countermeasure. It took him a couple of tries to shut it down before he could get back to the business of accessing the terminal. Once he had it, he powered up the lights and the other computers in the room. The platform near the center of the room also flickered to life as a luminescent holographic projection manifested above it.

Within seconds the light coalesced into a tall, regal humanoid form that resembled the images of the ancient kishalee found on Istamak. The figure was dressed in garb that appeared to be a mixture of military and scientific outfits that seemed to disappear into the glow of the circular dais at the figure’s feet. The holographic figure stretched out an arm and started speaking with the strange, spidery syllables of Kishaleen with the rapidity of purpose, though her expression remained fixed and stoic. Galakrond and Glitch explained to the others that it was greeting them and with some urgency.

“He has gone mad. His programming had degenerated and he kept raving about something called the Star-Eater. I confined him due to these critical errors, but now he is out, and I am in here! He and those who helped him must be stopped.” There was a brief pause. “From your attire, I assumed you weren’t allied with those cruel marauders. Please tell me you aren’t with them.”

As if on cue, the door to the hall opened and there stood a foursome of cultists, three rank-and-file led by a half-orc with a sniper rifle. Galakrond rushed to block the doorway, and a messy melee began. When the sniper rifle failed, the half-orc pulled a knife and tried to stab the vesk to death. He defended himself from the barrage and the crew started to make some progress against the cultists. It was painful, but they managed to win, limping back into the computer chamber to recover from the effort.

The hologram, assured by the fight that the Starfinders were there to stop the cultists, introduced herself. “My name is Osteth. I was once one of the many kishalee scientists who monitored this entire system, protecting its secret. Long ago, I had a physical form, but in order to maintain these computers past our civilization’s fall, another engineer and I created digital versions of our consciousnesses to serve as custodians for eternity.”

“His name is Eltreth,” she continued. “We have operated here for millennia, keeping this place functional and its terrible secret hidden, until a couple of centuries ago. Without warning, he began to display signs of instability and critical errors. He became convinced that he was the tool of some being called the Devourer. I believed it to be just some sort of manifestation of degradation in his core programming, and I sequestered him to these servers before he could cause any damage. I had hoped he could be repaired, but recent events have changed my mind.”

“The cultists arrived,” said Kima.

The hologram nodded. “Several days ago we were invaded by that group of raiders. Some of them looked much like yourselves, but others were like figments, strange dark apparitions with no true form. The raiders call themselves the Desperate Hunger and are led by an android woman named Null-9 – I discovered this as they blasted their way into this facility spouting paeans to this Devourer and caught me off-guard. Before I knew it, they had freed Eltreth and forced me into his prison. Luckily, I was able to place some roadblocks in their path to slow them down, but they cannot be allowed to access the Stellar Degenerator.”

“How many were there?” asked Galakrond.

“More than a dozen main members, some number of shadow creatures, the android, and a couple of smaller creatures like you,” Osteth pointed at Glitch.

“Okay, so what have you done and how can we stop them?” asked Kusanagi.

“The many maintenance robots that perform the physical tasks of this system have always been semiautonomous, but ever since I locked Eltreth away, I have been striving to uplift the robots to full sentience so that they might continue should something happen to me. When it looked as though Eltreth would be freed, I uploaded as much independent programming as I could to their processors. It will take Eltreth some time to regain full control over those robots. In addition, I generated a pulse of electricity throughout the terminals in the operations room, making sure the demiplane containing the Stellar Degenerator could not be easily accessed.

“Truthfully, I fear the Desperate Hunger will be stopped by nothing short of death. Though it pains me to say so, I must trap Eltreth again and destroy his programming for good. What I thought was a mere degradation was but utter corruption borne from powers I do not understand. If you know of any other way, please tell me.”

The crew had no suggestions. “How do we free you?” asked Glitch.

“You cannot do it from here. You must access the sequestering subprogram from the main operations room.” Osteth brought up a map of the control center and points out a large chamber down the hall. “This should initiate an exchange of my core programming and Eltreth’s. Beware, though. Eltreth has probably installed countermeasures.”

The crew made their way down the hall and decided to check the door before central operations. The rectangular chamber had various illuminated panels and monitors along its walls. Some showed what looked like the schematics of the entire structure, while others seemed to show the interior of the planet. In the latter images, squads of robots skittered along the technology-studded walls of a massive tunnel. A circular platform stood in the center of the room, projecting a hologram of a tall figure clad in white robes. The figure gestured at the various screens, seemingly attempting to direct the robots in their tasks.

When it noticed them, it said, “Oh, thank the First Cause! I thought I was going to be stuck with these lunatics forever. You are here to help, yes?”

The crew exchanged uncertain glances and Galakrond said, “You Eltreth?” At the hologram’s curt nod, the vesk continued. “The other hologram said you were on their side.”

Eltreth rolled his digitally emulated eyes and said, “Well, of course she said that. They’ve corrupted her programming. I barely managed to escape and trap her so I could try to salvage this clusterf- Look, can you help or not? I could use a hand reprogramming these crazy robots.”

Glitch looked at the others who shrugged. The ysoki entered the room and moved up to a terminal. He frowned when he saw that the computers had only holographic interfaces, not physical ones. They could only be accessed by someone with a rig that would work remotely and wirelessly. He looked up at Eltreth in confusion, but the AI was glaring at the rest of the crew who continued to wait in the hall.

“None of you know how to program?” They shrugged apologetically – bust mostly, suspiciously. Eltreth threw up his hands and said, “Fine!” In a blink, the room filled with deadly arcs of electricity.

Glitch survived the blast and noted with a grunt that the computers were also fried. He limped back out into the hall and muttered, “I could use a few minutes.”

“Guess Eltreth is the crazy one,” said Galakrond. Once the ysoki had recovered, the crew continued to confront the AI.

The door opened onto a raised platform that overlooked various panels alight and abuzz with digital activity. Screens flickered with schematics of the many pieces of technology that controlled the kishalee megastructure, while others showed views of legions of small robots repairing and maintaining massive mechanisms. The shadows moved strangely, seemingly having a life of their own. A circular dais occupied a second raised platform in the eastern end of the room, where Eltreth was manifested.

Four oblivion shades and a couple of Desperate Hunger cultists also occupied the chamber, and they grinned madly as the crew entered the chamber. The crew were in for a tough fight, between the spells of one of the shades, the sharp blades of the cultists, and the nattering of Eltreth throughout the entire affair. Kima lost consciousness from his wounds or a crucial few seconds, and Kusanagi was locked down for half a minute by a hold person spell. Even so, they rallied and defeated the cultists and their incorporeal allies.

Glitch engaged in a hacking battle with Eltreth, who was rewriting code to create countermeasures on the fly. One of the terminals exploded during the course of the effort, but the ysoki persevered and swapped the corrupted AI for his counterpart Osteth. Once the control center was secured, she expressed her gratitude.

“Thank you, travelers. With Eltreth returned to his containment, the Gate of Twelve Suns is one step closer to being safe from the predations of those marauders. Now that I have access to the gate’s full sensor suite, I can detect that some of them are still within the system. They are within the core facility of Gate Two’s controller moon, an underground facility where my colleagues could adjust the gravitational pulses emanating from the planetoid’s center when necessary. Since my inception as an artificial intelligence, physical presences have been unnecessary in those facilities, with the exception of standard maintenance bots, of course.”

Osteth’s form flickers for a moment. “It seems as though the marauders have briefly commandeered some of those robots to help them in their quest. I am completely locked out of those bots’ programming, and it is only a matter of time before our enemies retrieve an intact control board required to repair the controls that open the Stellar Degenerator’s demiplane. You must stop them!” A frown creased the hologram’s face. “But first, there are still cult forces here in this building!”

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The Thirteenth Gate

View
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!

<<< >>>

The Thirteenth Gate

View
Session 24
Boarding Action

Nejeor – Gate 1

Dozens of Corpse Fleet warships had invaded Nejeor space, and they were accompanied by a flagship that had to be at least six miles long, larger than any starship the crew had ever seen! They were heavily outgunned, however, the nearby computers also indicated the activation of a number of automated defenses placed all around the Nejeor system. These seemed to be keeping the Corpse Fleet at bay for the time being, and the undead might even be distracted enough by the barrage that the Starfinders were not completely doomed.

While it would have been possible to stealthily evade the fray long enough to enter the Drift and escape, that would leave the Stellar Degenerator in the hands of the Corpse Fleet. The Starfinders knew that the undead would have no compunctions against using the superweapon on the Pact Worlds’ sun and other systems beyond. The crew had not forgotten their promise to the artificial intelligence Osteth to destroy the Stellar Degenerator.

While studying the displays, they recognized an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. By infiltrating and seizing control of the Corpse Fleet flagship, they could steer it into the portal to collide with the Stellar Degenerator and destroy both.

An alarm interrupted deliberations and the security monitors showed a group of eight corpsefolk marines taking position in the entryway of the control center building. The crew exchanged weary glances, then made their way to the hall to engage the Corpse Fleet invaders. The undead opened fire as soon as Galakrond opened the door, but the vesk’s pilfered new armor protected him from the worst of it and he soldiered forward. A flash grenade stole blinded Galakrond, rendering him mostly harmless for crucial moments.

Kima advanced to support the vesk and engaged with the nearest marines, while Kusanagi struck from the safety of the hall and Glitch peppered the undead with destructive magic. The solarian found himself surrounded, and leaned into being the focal point, summoning a black hole to pull all of the Corpse Fleet soldiers next to him. This allowed Glitch to evoke a devastating wall of fire that burned every single one of the undead, and weakened them enough that the rest was mere cleanup.

While the Starfinders recovered from the encounter and took any useful items from the bodies of the fallen soldiers, it occurred to them that the undead must have arrived on the controller moon with a ship. Once they’d rested, they set out to search the jungle for the vessel, finding it about half an hour later. It was a Blackwind Sepulcher model, far less impressive than their own ship, but it did give them an idea.

They boarded the Corpse Fleet vessel and found a single cybernetic zombie wired into the controls. The animate did not so much as react to the Starfinders’ intrusion. Letting it be, Glitch hacked the console to unlock pilot controls and Kusanagi flew the ship over to where the Sunrise Maiden was docked. Then the crew set to work, swiftly removing pieces of the undead starship and hastily bolting them to the outside of their own. They also slopped on black and red paint on the exterior, and turned off life support, relying on their armor’s environmental protections. Their camouflage completed, they lifted off from the controller moon.

<<< >>>

The surrounding space was constantly illuminated by flaring beams of energy that lashed out from the system’s controller moons, and gouts of incandescent flame pulled from the suns by gravitational pulses. The ancient weapons were wildly inaccurate and fired haphazardly, often fading out before reaching their targets or detonating in apparently empty space, but even so, the Corpse Fleet armada was beginning to show signs of extensive damage. The largest of the Corpse Fleet vessels was enormous—bigger than many space stations. It was surrounded by explosions and debris, both from its own hull and from the escort ships that had been destroyed protecting it, forming a cloud that blocked most efforts to get a clear image of its exact shape. However, blasts from the massive ship’s powerful weapons clearly marked it as the most effective member of the armada.

The crew risked a quick scan to see what they could learn before attempting to approach the massive Corpse Fleet ship. This massive vessel was called the Empire of Bones, and it was bigger than even a colossal starship. It was practically bristling with capital weapons, and like most Corpse Fleet starships, it didn’t contain any atmosphere.

The many explosions of the ongoing battle were partially clouding the Empire of Bones’ sensors, and many of its weapons were trained on the ancient kishalee defenses. It might be possible to slip in closer to the vessel and board it without those on board noticing. The Starfinders figured that they could land the Sunrise Maiden on the Empire of Bones’ hull and it would remain undetected for an extended period of time. Hopefully, long enough for them to seize control and aim it at the Stellar Degenerator.

The only other ships currently in the Starfinders’ path were four Crypt Wardens spaced roughly evenly between the them and the Empire of Bones. The crew exchanged glances, then began the approach.

As they drew near the first Crypt Warden, they received a challenge communication from it. They had anticipated this complication, and enacted their plan to get through. Galakrond was at the helm, piloting the ship, and he tried to emulate the flight pattern of the armada’s ships. Kima was on weapons, and he fired at the kishaleen defenses, making it appear as though they were trying to protect the nearby Corpse Fleet vessels. Glitch was in engineering as usual, and he created a fake malfunction in the communication system. After all these precautions, Kusanagi transmitted a garbled response that the crew hoped would pass as a legitimate Corpse Fleet identification.

The first Crypt Warden continued on its way, and so the crew continued forward. Twice more they met with success, and flew on past the Corpse Fleet ships. The final undead vessel was particularly suspicious, and initiated a scan of the Starfinders’ starship. Glitch quickly set to work dampening the crew’s vital signs, to prevent the scan from picking up any signs of life one what they were pretending was a vessel piloted by the undead. The ruse succeeded, and they sighed with relief as the final Crypt Warden flew away.

<<< >>>

Empire of Bones – Hangar Country

They mag-locked the sunrise maiden near an open hangar bay and spacewalked to a nearby airlock and entered the Empire of Bones. Kusanagi offered to scout and activated his cloaking field before advancing into the hangar bay.

During his swift recon, he noted that dull red lights illuminated the massive chamber. A heavy crane arm dangled from tracks on the ceiling, and empty racks for small fighter ships lined the fore and aft walls. A nearly invisible force field covered the gaping hole in the starboard end of the room, while two large doors exited to the port. In addition, there was a large window to the port looking into an enclosed room. He paused briefly to get a look inside the room past the window.

The long, narrow chamber was crowded with controls, monitors, and readouts that covered the walls and even the ceiling. Colored lights blinked and flashed adjacent to numerous switches and keypads. Doors exited to the fore and aft, and two cybernetic zombies were physically wired into the control panels. He assumed the controls inside operated the crane and other hangar mechanisms, then continued his circuit.

The floor held a dozen iris hatches, each fifteen feet in diameter. Most of the hatches were closed, but one toward the fore end of the bay was open. This hatch contained a threnody-class assault aircraft, and a corpsefolk marine appeared to be performing some sort of maintenance inside the closed cockpit. The android returned to the airlock to report his findings.

The crew thought to circle around the backside of the aircraft, hoping the undead would have a harder time seeing them, but they failed to cross to that point before they were spotted. The engines whirred and the assault fighter engaged the Starfinders. Galakrond and Kima advanced on the ship to try disabling it to get to the undead pilot.

Meanwhile, Kusanagi and Glitch sprinted across to the aft door of the control room, finding it locked. Once they bypassed this, they entered the room and began hacking the controls. The pair were blasted by a death ray that filled the entire room, and they swiftly exited, rejoining the fight against the pilot after the Threnody was brought down.

They determined that the trap had not reset, but they worked quickly all the same collecting as much information as they could from the system’s computers. The consoles were designed to track the fighters stored in the hangar bay, and they didn’t have access to local security or provide maps of the interior of the Empire of Bones. They noted that a message had been logged regarding their intrusion into the hangar bay, but as of yet, there was no ship-wide alert to your presence. They also found and downloaded a local map of hangar country to their own datapads, but much of the map showed no information beyond describing particular areas as “secure sites.”

The section security post was most likely to be one of the secure sites listed on the map. The other secure sites were likely areas with valuable or fragile equipment or personnel but weren’t directly necessary for the zombies to perform their fighter-monitoring duties. Not having a full map of the Empire of Bones on minor computer systems was a security precaution. This arrangement was fairly common in strict military groups and paranoid mercenary organizations. Since the rank-and-file crew members don’t need the full details of every section of the ship, such information was available only on a need-to-know basis. Any senior officer or security officer at a security post was likely to have access to more complete ship records.

In summary, if the crew was going to take control of the Empire of Bones, they knew that they had to find information about the layout of the ship and how to get to its bridge. Secure sites seemed like a great starting point to gain more intel about the vessel’s security and plotting a path forward.

They made their way down the portside hall until they came to the nearest door of one of the “secure sites.” Kusanagi bypassed the control panel to unlock the door and Galakrond stepped inside. A metal podium with numerous controls on it stood in the center of the room. Padded, vertical beds with numerous straps and restraints filled the space, most with numerous stains and small tears in their padding. Each bed sat beneath a bright spotlight from the ceiling, which illuminated the room brightly. Four large vents were visible in the ceiling, and an undead drow stood in the middle, gazing calmly at the intruders.

“Well, come on, then,” he said without intonation. The vesk was only too happy to oblige, and a moment later the door closed and locked once more, leaving Galakrond separated from his companions.

But only for a moment, as Kusanagi once more overrode the lock on the door and it reopened.

“Shit,” muttered the nihili. Moments later, the undead was no more.

When they searched the room, they found something within a compartment within the central podium. It was the same size and appearance as a humanoid finger bone. This small key had a micro plug that can be inserted into any of the computers onboard the Empire of Bones, datajack augmentations, or handheld computers such as datapads. When plugged in, a key attempted a handshake protocol with the device, looking for the receiving program that trial and error determined existed only in the Empire of Bones’ security terminals. When it connected, the key transmitted encoded information to that receiving program, helping the user gain access to sensitive information on the terminal.

Glitch theorized that with more of these security keys, their chances of overcoming the system’s defenses would only increase. He urged the others into seeking them out, starting in the other “secure sites” of hangar country. Moments later, the crew heard something advancing from the hall, shortly before a foursome of security robots appeared outside the chamber door. The robots were no match for the Starfinders, but they did suggest that they couldn’t simply sit around in one place for too long.

They continued to the next “secure site,” a short distance down the hall. The room had only a single door in the aft wall. A small dais in the center of the room was raised up a few feet, and pillars lined the walls. Each pillar supported a display, all of which showed collections of video streams of hallways, hangar bays, rooms, and other locations within this section of the Empire of Bones. They had found the security post, and leaning casually against the fore wall opposite the door, they saw the security officer.

“So. You imagine you can take the ship, is that it?” she rasped.

“Something like that,” said Galakrond. “Who are you?”

“Malakar. Remember it. You will all make excellent subordinates. After you’re dead, of course.”

She raised a gun, but Kusanagi was faster, dashing into the room as a pair of grenades hidden by the door went off. The crew was staggered by the unexpected explosions, but they recovered swiftly and pressed the fight. Galakrond struck next, and Malakar backpedaled, shooting him with a lightning blast.

“I noticed you’re not particularly well-protected against electricity,” she said, tapping a nearby screen that showed the vesk getting fried by a robot.

Kima moved toward a flank and brought his solarian blade to bear. Malakar nodded in respect and said, “You might make a good lieutenant once I’m in charge.”

“Really? A lieutenant?” said the lashunta.

“Sure,” she said. “If you talk a little less.”

“You really don’t know me, then,” said the solarian with a grin.

Glitch thought to end the fight with another wall of fire, drawn into a circle so tight that it seemed to be a column of flame centered on Malakar. Unfortunately, her spell resistance caused the heat to wash over her harmlessly. The ysoki cursed, but he needn’t have worried. The undead security officer, for all her grand proclamations, did not last the span of two more heartbeats.

They found another emergency security key on Malakar’s corpse, but even with the two keys and the former security officer’s biometric hand scan, Glitch insisted they were going to need all the help they could get bypassing ship’s security. He advised the crew to seek out any remaining security keys in the immediate area before he attempted hacking the security console. The others agreed.

<<< >>>

Empire of Bones

View
Session 25
Secure Channel

Empire of Bones – Hangar Country

Across the hall, the crew bypassed the security lock to access another “secure site.” The room was dark, and only a few lit buttons and displays pierced the blackness, illuminating no more than the rough shape of the area. Panels of computer screens, bundled data cables, and digital readout displays lined the walls, with more than a dozen chairs arrayed in front of them. The constant chatter of beeps and clicks accompanied the data streaming across every readout.

In each of the chairs sat a cybernetic zombie, wired into the control panels in a similar way as those in the flight control room. Unlike those undead, these zombies were active – constantly tapping on their displays. They did not react to the intrusion, and so the Starfinders examined the displays and tried to figure out a way to hack the data stream. The connection was obviously some manner of techno-magical link, but after several minutes, even Glitch gave up trying to figure out how it worked. A search of the room turned up nothing more of note, and so they left the room.

The next “secure site” turned out to be a brig. It was more brightly than most of the ship, with crisp white light flooding down from the entire ceiling. A series of four barred cells ran the length of the aft wall, each with a barred door and a keypad lock. A metal cabinet hung on the fore wall, behind a small metal desk with a computer terminal and a metal chair built into it.

As the crew spread out to search the room, they came under attack as four marooned ones – formerly dwarves by the look of them – emerged from hidden floor panels. The undead were swiftly dispatched with minimal injuries, and the Starfinders resumed their search. They found another emergency key in the pocket of one of the marooned ones, as well as some gear and valuables in the cabinet. Kima claimed a standard photon crystal that had been placed in a bag with a bunch of plasma sapphires. He grinned at the upgrade.

The crew briefly debated searching the remaining chambers near the hangar bay before Galakrond took it upon himself to decide for the group by opening the nearest door. The floor of the room beyond was covered in gravel, which stretched from wall to wall and was heaped in small hills and shallow hollows. The walls were scored and covered in small dents, and large sections are slightly discolored in what appeared to be spray patterns, but they seem structurally sound. The area was thick with dust, and to the left of the entrance was a metal cabinet with a large handle. The vesk stepped inside to inspect the cabinet, and a pair of large scaled, worm-like creatures immediately exploded from the gravel!

“Surnochs!” warned Glitch. “Killer jaws, and they also spit acid!” No sooner had he uttered his warning than one of the creatures did just that, spattering the ysoki with caustic spittle. Kusanagi entered the room and crawled up into the corner of the ceiling on the port side, hoping to stay out of the surnochs’ reach. Working together, the crew brought the creatures down with only superficial injuries to show for it.

Galakrond found a paragon semiauto pistol with merciful and venomous fusions in the cabinet. Glitch inspected the collars on the surnochs, which seemed to have been modified to serve as environmental protection. It must be how the Eoxians kept their pets alive in a ship with no atmosphere. He was pretty sure that he could modify the collars into force fields given enough time to tinker. Kima bagged the collars and the crew made their way to the last of the nearby rooms.

The ceiling, walls, and floor of the chamber were covered in heavy armored plates that showed scratches and signs of scoring. Many of the plates seemed newer and appeared to have been bolted directly over damaged plates without removing the old coverings. Twisted, wrecked pieces of junk were piled up in the corners and where the walls met the floor. Several pipes ran through the room near the ceiling, with numerous valves along their lengths. The doors had barely opened before some of the junk shifted and a pair of scavenger slimes riddled with weapons reared up to attack!

The LFD screamers that had fused into the oozes’ forms did the most harm, blasting most of the crew with painful sonic blasts. Despite that, the Starfinders persevered and destroyed the slimes. Unfortunately, the weapons they’d absorbed were the only items of value in the room, and the crew was already better-armed.

The Starfinders returned to the security post, attached the three emergency keys and placed the former Commander Malakar’s hand on the biometric scanner. Even so, it took Glitch a few tries to hack into the system. Once he did, he pulled up all of the information he could find about the Eoxian battle cruiser. The Empire of Bones was a unique ultranought, a massive warship larger than battleships, carriers, and even dreadnoughts. It was one of the flagships of the Corpse Fleet and led its own armada of vessels. The ysoki pulled up the specifications for the ships arms and armaments, and Kusanagi whistled appreciatively.

Though crews throughout the ship were required for the vessel to function, all orders came from the command and control decks, which they were able to find on a map the technomancer pulled up. It was clear that though it might be possible to remotely hack some stations to control a single thruster or one sensor array, operating the entire ship required taking control of the bridge and cybercontrol in the command section.

Additional information from the security terminal indicated that the command link from cybercontrol governed both the sensors and the engineering crews. A different, related system on the bridge governed the gunnery and navigational crews. Controlling both the command link and the bridge systems allowed an individual to captain the ship.

Once they knew where they had to go, they searched for a way to get there. On a ship the size of the Empire of Bones, there were hundreds of ways to get from one section of the ship to another. However, the fastest and safest route from the primary launch and recovery decks – where they were – to the command and control decks was travel via grav-train. There were grav-train stations near both hangar country and the command section.

Before they set out, they decided to try to get more information on the beings in command of the ship. Admiral Serovox – a nonbinary necrovite – commanded the entire armada for which the Empire of Bones was the flagship, and while they had the power to issue commands to any crew on board, they apparently rarely got involved in the ship’s day-to-day operations. According to the reports they found, this duty fell to Captain Ghurd Nashal – captain of the ship and Commander Malakar’s direct superior. In addition, Nashal’s record included a footnote mentioning something called Project Tombstone that appeared to have been added by Malakar and only existed on her security terminal.

Nothing about Project Tombstone could be found in the main security logs, but when they checked Malakar’s personal folders, they found more information. A quick glance through the files revealed that the commander was working toward some kind of mutiny, and there were extensive notes on how a minor threat to the Empire of Bones could potentially be used to eliminate, or at least embarrass, “inappropriate members of the command staff.”

Also in the Project Tombstone files were notes on a pair of computer viruses Command Malakar had introduced to the security computers across the entire Empire of Bones. One virus, named Wraith 2.0, prevented the security cameras and security robots on the ship from seeing or recording any creature that was entered into the virus’s memory. Malakar planned to use this to aid in her escape from the vessel in case her plans went south. Glitch casually added the crew’s images into Wraith 2.0’s memory. If Malakar’s virus worked, it would cause the ship’s security to ignore them.

The other virus was named TombRobber, and it was capable of creating false security alerts anywhere on the ship. Additionally, it could include in these alerts false security footage of anything in Wraith 2.0’s memory. Glitch also took control of TombRobber, which would allow him to activate it from anywhere on the Empire of Bones using his datapad. Each use of TombRobber would require a different emergency security key, giving the crew only three chances to use it to their advantage.

Satisfied that they’d done all they could to prepare, the crew headed deeper into the Empire of Bones to steal a ride.

<<< >>>

Empire of Bones – Grav-Train Station

The main transport system to move from one deck to another in the Empire of Bones involved grav-trains, small multiple-car trams that ran throughout the ship on tracks that produced their own gravity. Massive shafts with grav-trains on every wall traversed the central spine of the ship, while smaller routes branched off from the major corridors, sometimes even running along the ceilings of large foot-traffic thoroughfares. Grav-trains could change routes at switching points every few hundred feet on most tracks, and grav-train stations were scattered periodically through the ship. The grav-trains usually operated on autopilot along regular preset routes, but an override would allow security personnel to take command of a grav-train and determine its route and speed when necessary. This was exactly what the Starfinders intended to do.

At the fore end of this massive chamber, two shallow channels ran from port to starboard, disappearing at both ends into open tunnels. Glowing tracks ran along the channels, and a four-car tram sat on the aft set of tracks. A hefty cargo crane could be seen on the fore side of the tracks near the port tunnels, with a pile of crates not far from it.

Low walls demarcated a twenty-five-foot-square area in the middle of the room, and five computerized workstations lined the interior of the aft wall. A large column descended from the ceiling above the square, reaching to within ten feet of the floor; it’s covered in displays showing arrival and departure times along various routes within the ship.

Three rows of hard benches lined an area to the starboard of the walled-off area. Two large cargo doors, each thirty feet wide and just as tall, occupied the port and starboard walls. A large metal trapdoor sat in the floor between the walled area and the portside cargo door. An observation post fifty feet from the floor and accessed by a metal ladder was in the port aft corner of the room. The crew entered the room from the middle of three sets of twenty-foot-wide bulkhead doors that were evenly spaced along the aft wall.

Unfortunately, the station was occupied by undead forces. A pair of skeletal baykoks – one in the observation post and another lounging on the benches – were supported by four bone trooper commandos in the station control area. The undead all watched the doors as the crew entered, and upon seeing that they were living beings made ready to attack.


p=.

The bone troopers opened fire on the crew, but failed to hit the well-armored front line. In response, Galakrond advanced and emptied his x-gen gun at the commandos. Glitch cursed, unwilling to risk damaging the station controls with an explosive spell that would catch all of the gathered bone troopers. He settled for magic missiles at the baykok protected by heavy cover atop the watchtower. Kima activated his solarian powers and made ready to support the vesk.

The baykok on the bench flew forward and uttered a dread howl, an otherworldly keening that left the crew shaken. Galakrond engaged his haste circuit and jetpack to engage the flier with his blade, and Kusanagi supported him with sniper fire. Kima surged forward to attack the bone troopers, and Glitch continued plinking the baykok in the tower.

The flying baykok was the first to fall, and the bone troopers scattered shortly thereafter, forcing Kima and Galakrond to give chase. Kusanagi advanced up the wall to eliminate the tower guard’s cover advantage, but that left him open to counterattack. One of the bullets was infused with negative energy and rendered the android paralyzed and hanging from the wall. Glitch rushed forward to the station controls and released the clamps holding the grav-train in place. He glanced up at the rest of the crew, thinking they could hop aboard and flee the scene, but the others were too deep into the heat of battle.

With Kusanagi indisposed, Kima came under fire from the tower, and turned to Galakrond. “You take care of the rest,” he asked, indicating the remaining two bone troopers. The vesk grunted agreement, and the solarian took flight, rushing the tower and bringing his weapon to bear on the sniper. After cleanup and a quick job looting the fallen, the crew boarded the train and set it in motion.

They’d been traveling long enough to regain their composure from the last encounter when a corpsefolk marine and two baykoks in a security tram spotted them. A chase ensued, in which Kusanagi took the helm and piloted the train through a number of different sections of the ship to shake the pursuers. There were miles of transit corridors dedicated to the grav-trains use, with numerous corridors, intersections, junctions, and switchbacks. The undead quickly fell behind and the Starfinders returned to the main corridor that led them to the command section.

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Empire of Bones – Command Section Station

As the grav-train came to a halt, the crew was alarmed by a familiar rumbling roar sound. Glancing aft, they saw three massive forms hulking between them and the doors of the command sections of the ship. They recognized the beasts as a threat they had struggled against back on Eox – and then it had only been one! Apparently, ellicoths were a popular guard beast for the undead.

The beasts appeared to be starving, and they rushed forward with saliva splashing to the deck as they advanced. The crew noticed large collars around the ellicoths’ necks, likely an environmental protection gadget similar to what they’d seen on the surnochs below. Glitch was first struck, but escaped major harm in the beast’s desire to absorb his life force. The technomancer resisted the worst of the essence drain and retreated to the far side of the train and lobbed an explosive burst that caught two of the three ellicoths.

Kusanagi sniped at the beasts from inside the train while Kima and Galakrond advanced to engage the massive creatures in melee, suffering brutal gore attacks for their trouble. Glitch rushed to the port side and lined up an arcing surge that killed the most heavily wounded ellicoth and injured the other two. Kima finished off the second a moment later, leaving the third for Kusanagi and Galakrond.

As the final heavy body fell, the crew decided they needed to risk a longer rest to recover from the exertions of the day before they came face-to-face with the Corpse Fleet leaders. Glitch activated the TombRobber to distract the security forces and send them on a goose chase while the Starfinders hid and caught some sleep. They could only hope that the Nejeor system’s defenses would continue to repel the undead armada long enough.

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Empire of Bones

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Session 26
New Management

Empire of Bones – Cyber Control

Captain Ghurd Nashal had been monitoring the command section station since he realized that intruders had gained access to his ship. He could not figure out how they were hiding themselves, but Nashal could clearly see the violence inflicted on his pet ellicoths. His attention was pulled away for several hours to attend to the destruction of the Nejeor system’s defenses and repairing the damage to the Empire of Bones. When that was finally complete, Nashal attempted to communicate with the intruders.

The Corpse Fleet captain was genuinely interested in talking to the warriors bold enough to attack his miles-long starship from within, and he hoped to get them to reveal their ultimate goal. We wasn’t sure if he would be successful, so he also had his science officer, Lieutenant Renzar, prepare to track the intruders if they answer his communication. He sent a request to parley across all the displays in the command section grav-train station that explained how to adjust comm units to be able to speak with the captain. He was pleased when he finally received a response.

The captain began by asking their names, honestly noting that he would rather know more about such interesting opponents before having them destroyed. One of the intruders introduced himself as Kima, but the others remained silent. No matter, thought the captain. At least they were talking. He nodded to the ghoul Renzar to start the trace.

Nashal mentioned that he would have been willing to allow them to escape with their lives if they simply fled, but they had angered him by killing his favored pets, as grotesque as they were. This was not true, of course, but Nashal wanted to see how they would react to the claim. Kima was nonchalant about destroying the beasts, which confirmed for Nashal that these would make excellent undead subordinates.

The captain asked why they had come, and to his surprise and delight, Kima answered the question. The intruders planned to take the ship and crash it into the Stellar Degenerator to deprive the Corpse Fleet of their prize. An audacious plan, and one that might even work – assuming they could take the bridge and figure out how to actually fly the Empire of Bones.

Renzar nodded to Nashal, and the captain congratulated the intruders on their moxie. He encouraged them to survive what came next before terminating the transmission with a grin. Oh, this was going to be a glorious day, indeed.

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Empire of Bones – Command Section Grav-Train Station

The Crew finished off the last of the four baykoks that Nashal had sent after tracing the call. The undead had managed to wear down the freshly rested Starfinders enough that they needed a few minutes to regroup. They activated the TombRobber virus and entered the corridors that led to the bridge, finding a convenient storage room to wait out the next inevitable patrol. Half an hour later, they reached the double door to the antechamber of the Empire of Bones bridge. Glitch overrode the lock, then stepped back to allow Galakrond to lead the way.

The large room had an additional set of double doors centered in the fore wall opposite the crew’s entrance. Two large computer consoles flanked the fore door. Ten-foot-wide raised platforms with metal railings ran along the port and starboard walls, each with an exit out of the room. Four large display cases made of a clear material stood evenly spaced in the center of the room. Each case contained a different item under a harsh white spotlight: a red-and-gold spear, a humanoid skull and spine, a desiccated severed hand with a gem embedded in the palm, and a spacesuit helmet with swirling red mist within it and blood spattered on the inside of the visor.

Of more immediate concern were the three formerly human undead guarding the apparent trophy room. They carried no weapons, and did not appear to be wearing any armor, but they moved unnaturally quickly, their bodies contorting as they sized up the Starfinders. “Kurobozus,” muttered Glitch. “Undead monks, kind of like solarians,” he added. “Kind of.”

The kurobozus were swift, but their reliance on physical attacks made them all but helpless against the doughty front line of the crew. Kusanagi and Kima had their bells rung, and the blows to the head rendered them unable to communicate for minutes after they undead lay motionless on the floor.

While the afflicted Starfinders recovered from the effects of the monk’s head shots, Glitch examined the items on display, identifying each in turn. He took for himself the Warlord Stone set in the palm of its original owner. This stone held the collected memories, philosophies, and tactics of an ancient alien warlord. He didn’t have the hour it would take to commune with the item, but in the long term, it would prove quite valuable.

Kusanagi took possession of the Eyes of Rhean, a pair of pale sapphire gems from the head of an inevitable. Once Glitch explained their function, the android placed the gems over his own eyes. The Eyes burrowed into Kusanagi’s skull and replaced his own eyes. This gave him improved darkvision and would allow him to use one of the eyes as a spy drone. Galakrond picked up the Spear of Fates, a golden spear with a ruby blade that functioned as both a doshko-like melee weapon and a powerful plasma caster.

Finally, the two-foot-long metallic centipede covered in runes interlaced with the skull and spine of one of Admiral Serovox’s defeated foes. This Runeworm was claimed by Kima, who placed it near his ear. The item animated and entered his body, intertwining with his internal anatomy and releasing an arcane virus that rewrote and improved the lashunta’s DNA. He shuddered as it finished its work, but smiled as he felt the effects of the symbiote.

The fore door led to the bridge, but it was dead-locked. The crew thought they might be able to hack it, but it seemed prudent to clear the port and starboard rooms of enemies, lest they find themselves flanked and outnumbered by superior foes. They approached the portside door and Galakrond opened it up.

Three rows of computer displays took up the center of the room, with additional control panels lining the fore wall. Monitors lined the port, starboard, and aft walls, showing various decks and grav-train corridors of the ship’s interior and the Gate of Twelve Suns, as well as the position, direction, and possible firing arcs of dozens of armada ships in the system. Heavy doors were set into the fore wall – another entrance to the bridge.

Another pair of korobozus flanked the door the crew had opened. A ghoul had taken cover behind the central row of computer displays. Finally, the skeletal remains of a vesk casually turned from his position near the aft wall – Captain Ghurd Nashal. The captain’s torso was occupied by what appeared to be a large purple worm with three grasping pincers on the end swaying out of the skull’s mouth. It retracted long enough for Nashal to say, “Ah, you made it. Welcome!” Then he turned toward the ghoul and said, “Lieutenant Renzar, greet our guests, won’t you?”

The ghoul opened fire with a line of plasma that burned Galakrond. The vesk soldier also took fire from the captain while he fought one of the kurobozus. The other undead monk entered the trophy room to keep the other Starfinders out. It was a tense thirty seconds or so while Glitch chased the ghoul around with corrosive haze and Kusanagi struggled to even hit the kurobozu. Then the tide turned as Kima weakened it enough that a pair of shots from Glitch’s recently acquired pistol to put it down.

About that time, Galakrond finished off his monk foe and advanced on the captain. Kusanagi entered the cyber control room to engage the ghoul, who tried to override his technological side, but failed. Kima moved to assist Galakrond, and the worm inhabiting Nashal managed to strike the solarian. He resisted the paralytic substance oozing from the wound, and the Starfinders managed to make an end of the Corpse Fleet officers in short order. Nashal’s final words were, “You would have made a fine addition to this crew.”

The doors to the bridge were deadlocked from this room, as well, but Kusanagi found a bridge keycard on the captain’s body. The crew readied themselves, then opened the doors to confront the Corpse Fleet admiral.

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Empire of Bones – Bridge

A dais in the center of this large room supported an imposing throne-like chair with a computer console just in reach. Five-foot-deep recesses were located to the port and starboard of the dais, and walls of holoprojectors that stretched down from the ceiling surrounded each. The projectors filled the pits with three-dimensional holograms of the local space, including the Gate of Twelve Suns, the ships of the Corpse Fleet armada, and the Stellar Degenerator – a massive cone-shaped megastructure sitting in a section of nonstandard space beyond the Gate.

Three floor-to-ceiling windows showed the stretch of space in front the Empire of Bones. Rows of chains sat in front of bank of controls adjacent to the windows and most of the port and starboard walls. Curved walls cut off the port and starboard corners of the fore walls; each had a door set in it – emergency evacuation shafts. A pair of kurobozus guarded the emergency exits, a hulking vesk-like giant with a large hammer stood near the dais.

Atop the throne sat the elebrian necrovite in charge of the armada – Admiral Serovox. They grinned as they glanced over their shoulder at the Starfinders. “I swear, this has been the most interesting endeavor in a long time. How in all the worlds did you manage to make it this far?”

“Had a little help from a disgruntled security officer,” said Kima.

“What, Malakar? I know … knew all about her plot. Honestly, I was looking forward to the struggle between her and Captain Nashal. A senior officer does need to encourage ambition in subordinates, after all. She was making real progress, too. Ironically, I was going to offer her command of her own ship at the completion of this mission. But I suppose you put an end to all that. What help could she give post-mortem?”

“Couple of handy viruses,” said Twitch. “Made us invisible to your automated security and let us create fake security alerts.”

Serovox chuckled, genuinely impressed. “That is resourceful. Well done. I didn’t believe Nashal when he said you’d make for good recruits, but it appears he may have been correct after all.”

“Do you always talk so much?” said Galakrond.

The necrovite nodded, unabashed. “In the end, the brief abnormality of your lives will end, and I’ll see to it that such fine specimens as yourselves are converted into potent agents of the Corpse Fleet. Under my command, of course. I find it useful to have a quick word with the fleeting flicker of life a body hasn’t released yet in order to determine what form of undeath will best suit it in the eons that follow its last breath.”

“We can’t let you have the Stellar Degenerator,” said Kima.

“Why ever not?” asked the Corpse Fleet admiral. “Life is the source of all foibles, all weaknesses, and ultimately all conflict. Only the whispered perfection of undeath can be allowed to exist … obviously.”

“We disagree, and we will defeat you,” said the solarian.

Serovox shrugged. “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose here. Even if you manage to defeat us, the Corpse Fleet has more ships. More armadas. And all the time in the universe. As long as the Stellar Degenerator exists, the Corpse Fleet will seek to control it. Sooner or later, we will succeed. And then, everything dies once and for all.” They leaned back comfortably in their seat. “I suppose you’ve come to stop me, then. Somehow.”

“That’s the idea,” said Galakrond, Spear of Fates gripped tightly and eyes straying to the giant bodyguard.

Serovox glanced at the weapon and tutted. “I see you’ve taken some of my collection for yourselves. Cheeky, but it hardly matters.”

“Enough!” roared the vesk Starfinder, lurching forward to engage the brute. For its part, the gatecrasher was happy to oblige, knocking Galakrond to the floor with his massive hammer. Kima moved to assist, while Kusanagi engaged the nearer of the two kurobozus, and Glitch started casting spells.

With a knowing smile, Serovox cast a spell of their own, disappearing from view. The technomancer nodded with respect, having recently added a similar spell to his repertoire. He produced the spell ampoule of see invisibility taken from one of the kurobozus in the trophy room and activated the magic within. The admiral had not moved from the throne.

Kusanagi played cat and mouse with his foe until Serovox cast a wall of force to trap the two together. Movement hampered, the android was forced to adapt. Kima and Galakrond finished off the larger undead about the time that the other kurobozu crossed the bridge to attack the solarian. It did not long survive the pair.

Once Serovox realized that Glitch could still see them, they flew to the far after corner of the bridge, putting the throne dais between them. The technomancer grinned, getting the admiral back in line of sight and casting a wall of fire in a snaking pattern that went through the necrovite. Serovox burned brightly and was no longer grinning as they were forced to fly through several layers of the flaming wall to escape the heat. It was then that Glitch noticed the admiral was regenerating!

“Can we smash through that magic wall?” Galakrond asked Glitch. At the ysoki’s nod, the vesk set to work with the Spear of Fates, making incremental progress. Kima joined him in the effort while Serovox chased Glitch around, scorching him with explosive blasts that seemed to be never-ending. After several seconds of progress, the Corpse Fleet admiral took a break from blowing up Glitch to cast another wall of force, double-layering it around the outside of Kusanagi’s cage. The operative yelled out Serovox’s position, since the necrovite had moved within his blindsense.

Glitch remembered a spell gem of see invisibility that the crew had recovered from the storage bay of the Sunrise Maiden. He used it to allow Kima to find and target Serovox as well. The solarian flew off the floor to strike and found the well-armored admiral a much tougher target than he’d originally supposed. After he did successfully strike Serovox, the necrovite decided that he was a significant threat and dispelled his enhanced sight.

After that, Galakrond started tracking Serovox’s movement to the best of his ability and called out locations for Kima to strike. Glitch got in on the game, since he could see the necrovite precisely, and the fight turned from a rout to a victory shortly thereafter. The Starfinders hit the deck exhausted after almost two full minutes of exertion. But they knew they couldn’t rest much longer.

Glitch found a command key on the throne and in short order had granted the Starfinders authorization to crew the Empire of Bones. Once they had prepared, they pointed the ultranaught at the interdimensional portal and prepared to smash it into the Stellar Degenerator. A pair of Omenbringers designated Dusk Blade and Orphanmaker were in the space between them and their target, and these two ships moved to intercept when they realized that their leadership was no longer helming the Empire of Bones.

Even in the hands of mortal amateurs unused to its controls and specific workings, the Corpse Fleet vessels were no match for their own capital ship, and soon enough it was time for the Starfinders to rush toward the Sunrise Maiden and try to make good their own escape. It was a near thing.

When the Empire of Bones collides with the much larger Stellar Degenerator, for a split second, it appeared that nothing would happen. Then the ultranaught deformed in shape, with rays of black and red energy shooting out of it. The Stellar Degenerator cracked at the point of impact, and then exploded in a prismatic fireball of incandescent plasma. The shock wave of the explosion warped the space around the portal, and then the demiplane tore itself apart, destroying its contents. Those Corpse Fleet ships close to the portal were ripped to pieces as ripples in reality emanated from the catastrophe. Those ships from the armada that survived fled into the Drift over the next few minutes. The stars that had formed the Gate of Twelve Suns started to fall out of sync with one another as the Sunrise Maiden entered the Drift.

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Absalom Station

Days later, the crew returned to the Prime Material plane in Pact Space and returned to the Lorespire Complex to debrief with Starfinder leadership. Chiskisk, their original contact, was particularly interested in hearing the tales of their exploits, and recommended that they write up accounts of their adventures or take their story to the vid-lecture circuit. For their efforts, they were each awarded the rank of Venture-Captain, and each began to take a more active role in guiding the Starfinder Society into the future.

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Empire of Bones

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