The bullet grazed Boske’s arm. The crew looked toward the ceiling where they saw five heads looking around the side of a stalactite. They poured into the room and opened fire, taking out most of the holographic clones before hitting the actual attacker. She got one more shot in before falling unconscious, escaping death by virtue of Winslow’s non-lethal mind thrust. Kusanagi, who had continued walking along the ceiling collected the assailant – an android female, by the look of her. Galakrond put her in restraints before collecting her weapons and other gear. Twitch reminded the vesk to leave the armor so they could communicate with their captive in the vacuum of the Drift Rock.
After some discussion, the group decided to question the android later, leaving her bound and connected to a cable, floating in space. Galakrond took her to the tunnel exit and noticed something unsettling: the Hippocampus was gone. More than a little concerned, he quickly returned to the others to let them know. A brief argument erupted, and the space goblin Roger was accused of hiding other members of his crew. He insisted that there had only been the three, and he was the only one alive. Kusanagi suggested they call Ambassador Nor to report this development.
Nor told the crew that station authorities only agreed to loan the shuttle to take them to the Acreon, not bring them back. Concerned that they might discover something dangerous on the ship or the asteroid that could threaten the entire station if they brought it there – the same reason they quarantined the Acreon in the first place – the authorities decided to wait and see what, if anything, the crew found first. If there were no problems, they could always send the shuttle back to pick them up. Until they completed their investigation, they were stuck on the Drift Rock. The ambassador apologized for having failed to mention this condition, but he assured them that his people would ensure that none of the items the crew had stored on the ship would be disturbed.
The crew decided to go ahead and interrogate their prisoner. The recording drone continued to follow its apparent programming to stay with the majority of the investigators, so Kusanagi and Galakrond woke the android woman up. She introduced herself as Clara-247 and admitted that she had been hired to kill whoever came snooping around the Acreon, but she didn’t know who her employer was, since they had used shell companies to hire her the previous day. She also said she didn’t know anything else about the derelict ship or Drift Rock other than the rumors circulating Absalom Station.
Clara-247 claimed that she wished the crew no further ill will; she’d had two chances to take them out and failed both times, so she was willing to let bygones be bygones if they were. After all, she would need a ride back to the station with her ship destroyed, to which Galakrond muttered under his breath about needing a ride themselves. She even offered to help them explore the rest of the Drift Rock, but they declined, deciding to leave her floating in space, bound to a tether.
The crew regrouped and returned to the cavern where they’d encountered the void zombie. Sticking with their original plan of exploring the “natural” tunnels first, they headed south around a dogleg and into another cavern. One other tunnel exited to the northwest, and an incongruous door, more akin to what one would expect to find on a space station, stood in the south wall. Of more immediate concern, however, were two more void zombies – former crew members of the Acreon. The undead had apparently not noticed the crew’s approach, since they ran dark – relying on natural or technological darkvision – and silent by virtue of the vacuum. Despite the advantage of surprise, Boske had his blood drained by feeding tendril a couple of times before the crew managed to drop the creatures.
After collecting a pair of guns floating in the chamber and a credstick still in a pocket, the crew took the last natural tunnel. At the end of it, they found a chamber similar to the other excavated caverns within the Drift Rock, with corridors to the north and west that were finished and paneled. A ghostly astronaut wearing an old-fashioned space suit with a cracked helmet turned toward them with malicious intent. “Driftdead,” said Winslow. “Undead, incorporeal outside of the Drift. Bullets are useless unless they’re magic.” Boske stabbed Galakrond in the back of his armor. “Oh,” added the shirren, “and a confusion aura.” He dazed the addled vesk to prevent him from trying to hurt anyone else.
The driftdead extended a hand toward Kusanagi on the ceiling, and reality tore open near him. The android narrowly evaded whatever the creature had intended, and a game of cat and mouse began. The extraplanar undead latched onto Twitch, chasing the ysoki around the cavern and through the tunnels, floating through the floor and the walls to get to him. It took over a minute, some mystical healing, and a lot more ammunition than they liked, but the crew finally managed to bring the driftdead down.
The northern passage ended after about fifty feet, where the ceiling has collapsed in a wall of fallen rock. The short western corridor connected back to the chamber where the crew had encountered the first void zombie. They sent ARTE down the northern corridor from there, and the little drone reported back that it was a perfectly hallway for about a hundred feet until it ended at a hole facing the void of space. There only path forward was through the strange door to the south.
It opened into a five-foot-wide hallway that came to a T-intersection after about twenty feet. To the east, ARTE reported a chamber whose various lights and controls on the machinery provided dim light. The chamber seemed torn between two worlds – its southeastern half was an unfinished rock wall, while the northeastern portion of the room was finished with the same ceramic-metallic plating found elsewhere. To the west, the stealth drone found a ten-foot-wide hall in stark contrast to the caverns elsewhere inside the Drift Rock.
The chamber looked more like a room on a space station or starship. Rather than the unfinished rock of the asteroid, the walls, ﬂoor, and ceiling were all clad with finished sheets of the polished, metallic substance, along with components of unrecognizable equipment. Panels on some of the walls ﬂashed with lights and mysterious symbols, and an almost infrasonic hum of unseen machinery pulsed through the walls. A damaged security robot patrolled this corridor, and the crew moved to engage the sentinel. It did not last long.
While Boske and Roger discussed how many credits they could get selling the disabled robot as a curiosity to some scholar or collector, and Kusanagi, Twitch, and Winslow puzzled over the machinery and strange alien symbols – coming to no concrete solutions – Galakrond found a concealed hatch on the lower portion of a wall panel in the northwest corner of the chamber. It was barricaded from the inside, but this proved to be a minor inconvenience. It was obvious that the small chamber was once a storage area for spare parts and small maintenance and repair robots, but the crew found it empty save for a dead body and its possessions.
They recognized the dead woman here as belonging to the driftdead. Winslow noted that numerous wounds were visible, but the cause of death appeared obvious: a self-inﬂicted wound to the head. The body still wore an estex suit with a force field upgrade, though the battery was depleted. It also had a pair of spell amps of lesser restoration in a pocket, which Winslow used to restore both vesks’ strength. The doctor also picked up an empty static arc pistol on the floor next to the woman’s outstretched hand. Twitch found a datapad and popped in a new battery to access the device. It contained the owner’s final message.
In a recording, the woman identified herself as Moriko Nash, the captain of the independent starship Sunrise Maiden, and brieﬂy related her discovery of a strange asteroid in the Drift. She landed her ship in a cavern on the asteroid and began exploring other chambers inside it, but she was attacked by a terrifying monster that seemed to consume life energy and could walk through walls. Wounded and unable to escape the monster, Moriko managed to modify her armor’s force field to extend in a bubble around her, as the monster seemed unable to pass through the force field. Nevertheless, she realized her force field would eventually run out of power, and the monster would finally be able to reach her. She ended the recording with the following.
“I think I’ve come to terms with it. I won’t survive, but at least I’ve explored strange worlds and seen wonders I would never have dreamed of as a child. I guess everything comes to an end eventually. I’ve always been the master of my own fate, and I’m not going to change now.” Captain Nash held up a pistol. “When my force field goes down, I’ll fight. But I’m saving my last charge for myself. My life, my death.
“This is my last will and testament. To whoever finds this recording, I leave the Sunrise Maiden to you. It’s a good ship, and no matter where I’ve gone, it’s always brought me home… until now. If you treat it right, it’ll do the same for you. Leave my body where you found it – we came from the stars, and to the stars I’ll return – but the Maiden deserves to keep ﬂying.” Nash took a deep breath and ended the recording.
Kusanagi recognized the Sunrise Maidenas the name of a starship that had been reported lost in the Drift in 242 AG. The ship and its crew had never been found, but perhaps the crew could find their own way off the Drift Rock after all. Galakrond respectfully returned Nash’s body to the sealed bolthole that she had chosen for her tomb, and the crew headed back down the hall to the west.
Twitch’s first attempt to access the control panel ended in a severe electric shock, but after Winslow spotted and disabled the short-circuiting components, the mechanic was able to gain access to what was left of the system. Understanding the alien programming proved to be an obstacle beyond any of them, however. Wounded and tired from their exertions aboard the Acreon and the Drift Rock so far, the crew decided to return to the derelict ship and rest a while before risking an encounter with the creature that had inspired Nash’s end.
Clara-247 talked the crew into letting her help, to earn her passage back to Absalom Station. They gave her pistol back and Kusanagi’s second skin¬, since he had taken hers. To her credit, she didn’t complain. The crew settled into their usual downtime routines for a few hours. Winslow drew strength from his connection to the life force of all things. Twitch made modifications to ARTE. Boske and Kusanagi ran wind sprints down the halls of the ship. Galakrond altered his armor and conscripted both Roger and Clara-247 to help him test it out. Eventually, the crew and their conscripts settled down to rest.
The Drift Rock
The door exiting the ancient control room opened into a corridor that terminated in double doors to the east. The crew took a collective breath before pushing these open. With its vaulted sixty foot ceiling and smoothed stone ﬂoor, the sprawling cavern beyond had the appearance of a primitive shuttle hangar or landing bay – an impression reinforced by the presence of a starship taking up the majority of the space. Only the western wall was finished with the ceramic-metallic plating found elsewhere in the complex; the remainder of the cavern was hemmed by natural rock walls. Huge doors stood in the eastern wall of the chamber – doors easily big enough to accommodate the starship parked in front of them. Of more immediate interest, however, were the two human bodies splayed on the ﬂoor just inside the western doors, their internal organs spread artfully on the ﬂoor around the corpses – the last two crew members of the Acreon.
“It’s vulnerable to electricity!” said Winslow to the confusion of all. “The garaggakal!” the doctor elaborated then lifted his arc pistol and shot at something lurking under the ship. Ah! More snacks! came a voice in everyone’s head just before a winged horror emerged and rushed the crew!
Things moved very quickly after that. After taking a few shots from the crew, the garaggakal retreated into the air, leeching Winslow’s life as it went, which appeared to revitalize it. The shirren held out his arc pistol to Kusanagi, who was a much better shot, and the android advanced into the hangar. His first shot was well-placed, and the doctor’s assessment of the outsider’s weakness proved accurate – the electric shot caused it to spasm in pain. It flew around the side of the starship, absorbing Kusanagi’s life force as it fled, but that didn’t save the alien for long. Superior numbers won out, and the garaggakal fell lifeless to the hangar floor a few seconds later. It was finished.
The Sunrise Maiden
The Maiden was a Sanjaval Vagabond, a common if somewhat outdated model of starship known for its toughness and dependability. And according to Moriko Nash’s recorded statement, she now belonged to the crew. They loaded the security robot and several unusual art objects that Boske had found in the hangar-cavern into the cargo hold, where they found additional trade goods worth another couple thousand credits. They settled into what had become their usual roles on the ship with Clara-247 and Roger as passengers. Then, they opened the hangar doors, fired up the ship’s power core, warmed up the thrusters, and took flight, bound for Absalom Station.
Unfortunately, another ship was lying in wait, ready to attack as soon as they were clear of the asteroid!