Starship – Sunrise Maiden
The ship was a Thaumtech Cairncarver, a small light freighter of Eoxian make – a model affiliated with the Corpse Fleet. Was Gevalarsk Nor trying to eliminate the crew with the officially expatriated organization, or were the rebels trying to cause trouble for Eox, the planet that had disavowed them? The answer was uncertain, but one thing was clear, it was time to find out how the Sunrise Maiden handled itself in combat.
Kusanagi assumed the pilot’s seat, with the vesk as gunners, Twitch in engineering, and Winslow as the science officer. The doctor’s initial scan of the enemy starship identified it as the Iron Rictus and he relayed its defenses and capabilities to his companions. The android proved a better pilot than the Eoxians had, and after an initial blast up the aft from a plasma torpedo, he took pains to stay out of the Rictus’ front arc. Boske couldn’t get a handle on the firing system for the first few shots, and although Galakrond had better luck, he was manning a less powerful gun. The crew of the Rictus had no trouble refreshing their shields faster than the vesk could bring them down.
Initially, Clara-247 had acted as captain, offering encouragement to the Starfinders as they engaged with the enemy ship. After a time, it became clear that her talents would better aid the crew as a second engineer, increasing the Maiden’s speed while Twitch focused on maintaining her shields. Finally, Boske managed to get a solid shot on the Eoxian ship and the crew cheered as they saw the particle beam score the Rictus’ hull. The Corpse Fleet went on the defensive, trying to use their guns’ greater range to their advantage and get the Maiden in their front firing arc, but Kusanagi continued stay on the enemy’s sides.
In the end, though the Rictus’ gunners were plenty competent, their coilguns barely managed to singe the Maiden’s hull before several of the Eoxians’ systems were glitching or malfunctioning. Kusanagi brought the ship up along the enemy’s shieldless port flank and in a classic broadside, the vesk’s final volley disabled the Corpse Fleet vessel. A few moments later, the ship exploded – the Eoxians had apparently opted to self-destruct rather than face capture and interrogation. Unsure what to make of this, the crew continued toward Absalom Station.
While they did, the space goblin Roger turned one of the vidscreens to a news channel, and his eyes widened when he saw the latest story. “Uh, guys? You might want to see this.” The others turned additional screens on and saw what the scavenger was talking about. News of their efforts on the Acreon and Drift Rock had preceded them to Absalom Station. Their images appeared on countless news outlets, featuring footage of their exploration of the derelict ship and the mysterious asteroid. A broadcast by Sooth Saiyan complained that the recording had been edited and didn’t tell the whole story, and the Starfinders noted that there were no shots of the crate Nor had requested they recover, but most other reports didn’t seem to care. The crew appeared to have become minor local celebrities – at least while the buzz lasted.
Absalom Station – The Docks
Their newfound popularity earned them priority docking from Absalom Traffic Control and temporarily waived docking fees. Once they disembarked, a small crowd of onlookers and reporters quickly tracked them down, asking for statements, autographs, and confirmation of conspiracy theories. The crew plus two engaged with the press and their new fans briefly, but begged off providing many details until they could fulfill their role in the arbitration effort. Station security cleared a path so the Starfinders could make their way to the Eoxian embassy. They told Clara-247 and Roger to take rooms at the Moons of Sleep until they were finished speaking with the ambassador.
Absalom Station – Eoxian Embassy
Once they were in Nor’s office, he congratulated them on the success of their mission. The ambassador apologized for airing the footage without asking, but he explained that he’d hoped the stunt would prove to be good publicity for both Eox and the Starfinders. And it appeared that his gambit had paid off. Even though he had recorded their activities on the Acreon and the Drift Rock, he still wanted to hear their report firsthand. They filled in some of the blanks, including the encounter that resulted in Clara-247 switching sides from hired assassin to ally of circumstance. After their report, Nor thanked them for delivering the crate as requested and upheld his end of the bargain, transferring 1,100 credits – 500 more than originally agreed upon – into each of their accounts as payment for the task.
The ambassador also offered to help piece together any of the clues unearthed on the Drift Rock that the crew hadn’t been able to interpret. He did not recognize the alien language, but he was able to decipher the complex alien computer code found in the Drift Rock’s ancient control room. The equipment in the control room seemed designed to operate minor subsystems of some larger structure or device, though the control room was obviously no longer connected to that structure. The exact nature of the missing structure remained a mystery, though references to systems such as “Backup Power Transmission,” “Maneuvering Thrusters,” and “Auxiliary Fire Control” hinted that it may have been some sort of space-based weapon system. In addition, the data revealed that these systems and the control room itself were incredibly ancient – possibly even millions of years old.
In fact, it appeared that the Drift Rock was not just an asteroid that was repurposed as a control center, but that it was a part of the larger structure that was designed and artificially constructed at the same time as the machinery and controls there. And if all that was true, then the Drift Rock represented a find of major significance, for not only is it a piece of heretofore-unknown technology of exceedingly advanced age, but the larger structure it was once a part of may still be somewhere among the stars, just waiting to be discovered!
Finally, Nor asked the crew their opinion about which organization should be granted ownership of the Drift Rock – the Hardscrabble Collective or Astral Extractions. The crew had discussed this on the trip back from the Acreon. Galakrond and Twitch had abstained, but Winslow had been adamant that the Hardscrabble Collective deserved the Drift Rock, and Boske had agreed with the shirren. Kusanagi had debated back and forth, but eventually came to the same conclusion, in no small part because Astral Extractions had already ordered one Starfinder killed, and he didn’t feel right rewarding that behavior. The android told the ambassador the crew’s decision. He thanked them for their efforts, and they parted amicably.
Absalom Station – Lorespire Complex
The crew reported in to Chiskisk back at the Starfinder headquarters, and told them most of what they had learned out in space and from the ambassador. They left out any mention of the crate that Nor had asked them to bring back, feeling that discretion was better … for the time being. The nature of the device puzzled Chiskisk, but the Society was still shorthanded and in need of the crew’s services on other tasks. The shirren host said they would submit the footage along with the crew’s report to the Dataphiles, who had access to the Society’s detailed databases, and could search for any prior appearances of the language on the Drift Rock’s displays. At Kusanagi’s recommendation, Chiskisk agreed to reach out to the Hardscrabble Collective to facilitate additional information gathering from the Drift Rock itself.
Absalom Station – Moons of Sleep
The crew were a little surprised to find Clara-247 and Roger waiting in the bar. The android woman reminded them that they had taken most of her stuff and her petty cash, so she hadn’t had a lot of other options. Roger glumly reminded them that he’d lost all of his companions on the Acreon and didn’t have much idea of what to do next. The crew suggested approaching the Starfinder Society, since the Acquisitives were still on a recruitment kick. The goblin exchanged a glance with Clara-247, and they mumbled noncommittal answers. A bit of gear was exchanged, and the crew wished the pair well.
Galakrond found the noqual recovered from the akata cocoons aboard the Acreon in the warehouse that Nor had indicated. Pleased, he started the effort of selling off all of the loot the crew had taken that they weren’t going to keep. The crew took some leisure time, spending a portion of the thousands of credits their first Starfinder mission had earned them.
Absalom Station – Lorespire Complex
A few days later, they received a message from Venture-Captain Arvin, summoning them for a briefing. They made your way to his office, and the doors slid open with soft pneumatic hiss. Inside was the well-lit and blue-carpeted office with which they were already familiar. Arvin sat behind his desk, eyes riveted on a glassy display. After a heartbeat, he glanced toward the open door and motioned everyone to enter.
“Apologies, please come in. Be seated if you like, although this shouldn’t take long.” Arvin tapped a button on a console and murmured to a digital assistant, “Croyd, put everything on hold for a few minutes. If anyone calls, please explain I’m in mission briefing and I’ll get right back to them.” He then darkened the display to give the crew his full attention.
“Right. I have an assignment for you. This one is a little a different than others you might have received.” He paused before he explained, “It’s an internal matter. You’re probably aware that after the Scoured Stars incident many of our colleagues elected to leave the Society. That is unfortunate, but not surprising. We hate to lose good field agents, but no one is conscripted into our ranks. Normally we wish them well and that’s that. In this case, the defector, former field agent Reynald Talbot, stole an artifact from the Lorespire Complex before departing. Theft is where the Society draws the line; I need you to get that artifact back.
“Unfortunately, Talbot left weeks ago and we only discovered the theft in the last 24 hours. We launched an immediate investigation to determine the identity of the thief and their last known whereabouts. It’s our bad luck that Talbot was smart enough to get off the station and head to Akiton, where there’s no central government or law enforcement to easily call upon. I need you to track him down and recover the artifact. We know Talbot caught a shuttle to the Akitonian city of Maro, so that’s a great place to start. The Society will, of course, cover your travel expenses. Any questions?”
“What is the artifact?” Twitch asked.
“Good question, but the answer is complicated because it’s actually two questions: what the artifact is and what Talbot thinks it is. We’re operating under the assumption that Talbot thinks he’s stolen an object from old Golarion called a philosopher’s stone. Legend has it that the stone could transmute matter, among other properties. What Talbot actually stole was recently re-cataloged as a charlatan’s stone. It does something similar, except the effect is a potent illusion and only temporary. We think ancient con artists used to make false gold.”
“Did he act alone?” asked Kusanagi.
“We think so. He’s smart, capable, a bit brash, and a reasonable field agent. Talbot is also self-entitled and ambitious. After the Scoured Stars incident, he expected to be promoted to venture-captain, but the Forum felt he needed more time. He got angry. We think this theft is retaliation.”
“What should we do with him?” asked Galakrond.
After a meaningful pause Arvin said, “I want the stone back. Talbot’s not worth the expense of dragging back here, so you can do whatever you think is necessary with him. That said, you don’t have a license to go on a mass killing spree. Don’t make the Society look bad. It might be tough to do on Akiton, but don’t take that as a challenge.
“As for why we’re bothering to go after the stone, we need to make a statement. Rumors of the theft are already circulating through the Society, and it’s important to send a message that we’re not going to tolerate that type of betrayal. Also, if we don’t react, we convey that our work is not very important because it’s not worth defending. That said, the charlatan’s stone is not worth dying over, so be careful.”
There were no other questions, so Arvin offered one final piece of advice. “Akiton has a thin atmosphere, and we don’t have the luxury of giving you weeks to get used to it. It would be smart to make sure you some way of coping with it, or some armor. Any armor, even the lighter sets, offsets the difference.” With that, the Venture-Captain dismissed the crew.
Starship – Sunrise Maiden
While the crew prepared to leave, they did some research on Akiton. The Pact World was smaller than the Golarion standard with one-third gravity and a thin atmosphere, as Arvin had mentioned. This meant that non-acclimated beings, like the crew, could jump about three times as high and carry three times the normal weight. Likewise, without environmental protection, they would run the risk of becoming fatigued by the oxygen-light atmosphere. You also learned that Akiton had suffered an economic crash when the revelation of Drift technology rendered the numerous pre-Drift fuels mined on the planet virtually worthless.
Akiton was generally lawless, except for whatever laws a local authority might impose. Akiton survived on trade and commerce, and strangers tended to find loyalty hard to come by, especially in the big cities. Newcomers were consequently likely to be observed and watched, especially if an organization believed it could take advantage of the strangers. If Talbot acted or did anything at all out of the ordinary, someone was likely to have noticed. To avoid being found, it was unlikely he had stayed in Maro for more than a few days.
Finally, they gleaned that wealth was hard to come by on Akiton. If Talbot had ﬂed to the red planet, he had done so for a reason. It was likely the ex-Starfinder had a plan, and that plan involved gaining a large number of credits. Given Akiton’s unstable economy, such a surge should be identifiable for those who “follow the money.”
A few days later, the Sunrise Maiden entered the orbit of their destination. Outside the observation window ﬂoated Akiton, a world the color of blood, rust, and red clay. A thick shell of white capped both poles, and the starship descended toward the planet. A barely perceptible shift in gravity occurred as the Maiden’s artificial gravity began to lessen and the planet’s natural gravity began to take hold.
From suborbital heights, a handful of small towns, large complexes, and industrial sites that spewed noxious fumes into the thin atmosphere surrounded the trench city of Maro. A spidery web of dirt roads scratched into the rust-colored ground by regular traffic connected these sites to the metropolis.
Akiton – Maro
Maro, the so-called City of Lights, came into view as the ship began its final descent. The city occupied more of a vertical space than horizontal, built into a six-mile-long section of trench that was half as deep and a half mile wide. Entire neighborhoods and business districts were built into the walls, accessed by patio entrances. Lights, neon signs, and holographic advertising bejeweled either side of this urban canyon, while an active spaceport and industrial zones occupied the ground level. As they landed, they did so beneath the backdrop of an immense mural of brightly glowing neon-green graffiti that read in Common: “Git Out! Planet’s Broke!”
Their goal in the city was to determine where Talbot had hid out after his arrival on Akiton. Twitch had Kusanagi help him try to find the money trail. Given Talbot’s time of arrival and the specific shuttle he’d flown in on, they had a solid starting point. They didn’t find any particular trail leading to the ex-Starfinder, but they did discover a strange anomaly. AbadarCorp, the largest corporation in the Pact Worlds, had recently purchased a large amount of Drift engine fuel from the nearby small mining town of Tasch. While the discovery of Drift engine fuel on Akiton was impressive, the fact that the AbadarCorp ﬂeet that had purchased the fuel was two days overdue for departure suggested something was likely amiss with the delivery.
Meanwhile, Boske – a professional bounty hunter before he’d become a Starfinder – sought out his usual sources of information while trying to track the fugitive. He spent a few hours plying his trade and was able to discover that Talbot had departed Maro for Tasch, which was only a few miles outside of the city. The crew theorized that Talbot had used the stolen charlatan’s stone to (temporarily) convert thasteron into “Drift engine fuel” and made the sale to AbadarCorp. But it appeared that the fuel may have already reverted back and the corporation was aware.
Akiton – Tasch
The crew rented an elongated dune buggy on the Starfinder’s credit to transport them from Maro into the red dunes of Akiton’s surface, a journey of only two hours. A long dusty road, lined with single-story dwellings, ran through the town of Tasch, and several powered vehicles rested chained to their owner’s homes. A small general store stood near the center of town, illuminated by ﬂickering white lights. Another building, full of locals, hosted a signpost that reads “Digger’s Dive” – clearly the town bar. Although the sun beat down on the desert town, its citizens meandered around the bar in good cheer. Most were ysoki or humans, with the occasional lumbering four-armed shobhad mingling among them.
Their first course of business was finding where Reynald Talbot was. The inhabitants walking the streets were too busy for idle chatter, but they suggested that the crew take some time to stop by Digger’s Dive if they were just passing through the town. Mentioning Talbot provoked a cheer from the townsfolk – clearly, this was not a great place to talk badly of him. Uncertain about the unexpected development, the crew made their way to the bar.
Digger’s Dive was a single-story structure built using imported wood. There were no windows, but there were small rectangular openings in the exterior walls at ceiling height to allow for ventilation. The front entrance was a swinging waist-high wooden half-door. Faint electric lights dangled from the fifteen-foot-high ceiling, while the open sky was visible from cracks between the planks that served as a roof. The ﬂoor is solid wood, and the interior walls and ceiling supports were mud brick, the latter being carved in a rare attempt at ornamentation.
The tavern was divided in two halves by an energy field with an opening on the northern end. The bar lining the southern wall was open to either side, with a wall of half-empty bottles behind it. The tables were wooden and makeshift, but solid. The east end had a square wooden platform about a foot above the ﬂoor. A door sat ajar on the southern wall on the west end of the common room, and a single closed door provided an exit behind the west end of the bar.
Several miners and their families occupied the bar, where a sharp-tongued ysoki woman named Podswald slung drinks. Her mixing – at best – consisted of combining only two liquids and nothing more. Twitch climbed on top of ARTE to see over the bar and ordered a drink. Before he could reach for his credsticks, a local offered to pick up the tab, thanking Reynald Talbot for the extra credits. The rest of the bar cheered enthusiastically. Twitch exchanged a glance with his companions, then casually asked the barkeep about Talbot.
Podswald readily talked about Reynald Talbot, the town’s savior, and his miraculous means to transmute thasteron into a more marketable fuel. The miners had started excavating thasteron again for Talbot to transmute, which had already resulted in a lucrative sale to AbadarCorp. The sale benefited not only Talbot, but the entire town. Most of Tasch’s citizens had belonged to jobless families thanks to the thasteron bust, but now had some hope for the future. Consequently, many of Tasch’s citizens were out celebrating. The miners seemed to be unaware that anything could be wrong with Talbot’s “transmutation process.” Fortunately, they were all too happy to let the crew know that Talbot was likely in the nearby thasteron mine outside of town.
Boske ordered eight shots of scotch and dropped a small piece of bread in each. When the barkeep asked if he was going to pass them around, the vesk grinned and proceeded to knock all eight back himself. A minute later, he began to sway in his seat before falling to the floor of Digger’s Dive. A sympathetic cry came from most of the patrons, and Winslow grumbled to himself as he started tending to his drunk companion.
Shaking his head at the commotion, Twitch asked if any representatives of AbadarCorp were still in town. Podswald nodded and gestured to a long table in the southwest corner of the common room. There sat a shirren and a pair of hulking vesk that seemed to be bodyguards. All three wore dark armor trimmed in silver. The crew were a little surprised that they had not noticed the trio before then. We should talk, the shirren telepathically projected to Twitch. The ysoki nodded and made his way over, accompanied by Galakrond and Kusanagi.
Greetings. I am Philt. I assume you’re familiar with AbadarCorp, the shirren said in their minds.
They, of course, were. AbadarCorp was hands down the largest, wealthiest, and most influential corporation in the Pact Worlds – in no small part because it was also the church of Abadar, god of civilization, commerce, and wealth. In addition to the manufacture, transport, and sale of a wide variety of goods both magical and technological, AbadarCorp also provided a multitude of other services, including banking, financial, labor, legal, shipping, and utility services. Most of the crew’s financial accounts were held by AbadarCorp.
When they nodded, Philt continued, his mental tone casual. Anyway, I represent the corporation. My fellow agents and I overheard you talking about Reynald Talbot, and AbadarCorp wants to know your interest in the man.
Twitch held up his palm and activated the Starfinder Society subdermal graft. Talbot stole something from our organization. We are here to recover it, he responded.
I see. Then it seems he has wronged us both. Talbot approached corporate buyers in Maro with a new, alternative fuel for Drift engines. The fuel was purchased for analysis, and if it had checked out, it would have been evaluated as a new commodity on the galactic markets. To our chagrin, the fuel reverted to common thasteron not long after the AbadarCorp ships made to depart Akiton’s orbit. The fuel was purchased on good faith and AbadarCorp does not tolerate outright fraud. We’re here to collect him for proper punishment.
Our goals appear to align, projected Kusanagi. Perhaps we can retrieve our stolen property and remand Talbot into your custody … somewhere outside of Tasch.
An interesting proposal, Philt mused. We would prefer Talbot alive, if possible…
That is our preference, as well, Winslow projected from where he was tending to Boske. We will bring him back to face justice.
Philt inclined his head. Very well. We will leave things in your hands.
Having learned Talbot’s location in the nearby thasteron mine and having peaceably dealt with AbadarCorp’s delegation, the crew exchanged satisfied looks, preparing to set out. Which, of course, was when the universe threw them another curveball.
A deep booming female voice echoed from outside the front of the bar. “Intruders! We know you’ve come to Tasch in search of our savior. I give you this one chance. Lay down your weapons and leave our town. You will not disrupt the salvation of Akiton, not when Reynald Talbot has come so close to saving our world! You have one minute to decide.”