In the holovids, they make stowing away look practically romantic.
Starship corridor lights pulse, jump-suited crew members stand at their stations, and there’s our hero, crouching dramatically in the foreground. She’s beautiful and savvy, her hair flowing and streaked neon as she avoids detection by a laser’s edge. She darts past enemies like a shooting star in the night, spiriting herself away in the ship’s cargo hold. She steals her ride as easy as if she’d harnessed a runaway enercycle. The plot moves on.
Except real life ain’t the holovids, and I’m no hero. My name is Rayuhl Rengott. Technically, I’m a thief. Also technically, I’m a murderer. That last one is patently false, but we’ll get to that later.
I’m not beautiful or savvy, either. I hiss when I talk—and I don’t even have hair. I’m as bald as the dead landscape of my beloved homeworld. Unlike most of my fellow Eoxians, though, I’m very much alive.
Yes, there are creatures on Eox other than just putrefied corpsefolk, skeletal bone troopers, and necrovite spellcasters. And we aren’t all Absalom Station’s most foolhardy traders or undead wannabes living in dystopian bubble cities.
Some of us are living, breathing elebrians. Those long-skulled, dead-eyed, shrivel-skinned monsters you think of when you hear the name “Eox”? They were once us, except now they’re among the most powerful walking dead. And we are at their mercy.
You seem confused. Fair enough. I’ll explain.
Long, long before the Gap, a handful of elebrians survived our kin’s annihilation of the world. As second-class citizens, we’ve lived on our destroyed planet for untold generations ever since, passing flesh-and-blood legacies to our descendants. We try to keep the ravenous undead at bay for a half-dozen decades or so before we expire. We live only where our undead overlords deign to create hospitable environments for us. We perform the jobs they graciously hand out—if we’re lucky, it’s hard labor. If we’re not, we fight to the death for their amusement and profit in sick events streamed galaxy-wide from the Halls of the Living.
Like I said, we’re at their mercy. For most of us, it’s the only way to stay alive.
Which brings me to my current predicament. I’m peering out of the open cargo bay of this starship I hopped from Absalom Station. All around me are desolate hills, fossilized trees, miasmic eddies—you know, typical Dead Planet stuff. This is Eox, all right, but it’s not my beloved home city of the Pyre. Instead, it’s some desiccated place nearby, with the Pyre’s power-generating tower off in the hazy distance.
And I’m staring right at the bone sage who issued my death-warrant—a destroy-on-sight, as I believe the Eoxian authorities call it—over high crimes of murder and theft from his personal palace.
Remember when I said I wasn’t savvy?
I thought I was stowing away on an AbadarCorp freighter bound for the loading docks of the Pyre. The plan was simple. I’d slip into the city, meet up with my old Redbloods crew, and help them pull a job big enough to buy a new life for all of us—one meant for the living!— on Absalom Station. They’d lined up the heist in the elite suites of the arcology, and I’d leveraged my Absalom connections. This job would buy me a whole new identity, and it would afford my friends enough credits to comfortably emigrate from this dead rock. Win-win.
Except for that planet-blasted bone sage Kalantrodoch. He calls himself the Unburning. I call him the Bum-squirming. He’s a rabid zombified squox-rat if there ever was one. He also happens to rule the Pyre. And he’s the reason I had to flee Eox three years ago.
Look, I was minding my own business—okay, okay, I had broken into Kalantrodoch’s sky-mansion. I planned to steal some ancient tech artifact the Redbloods had heard he’d smuggled in from Castrovel. I had the thing in my hot little hands, too. It looked like a small datapad, but it was made from a strange metal covered in Elven runes, and was meant to be strapped on the wrist or ankle.
Just as I was ducking out of that awful place, I heard footsteps coming into the vault. I hid behind some technosafes, and I heard Kalantrodoch himself chatting in his horrifically sibilant voice to some of his cronies.
“We’ll put it in the water,” the bone sage had said. “In a fortnight, our problem disa—”
Whatever that meant. I didn’t hear the rest, because Kalantrodoch happened to walk past that particular technosafe at that particular time, and the jig was up. He would have caught me and likely thrown me into prison for life had I not had a vial of rotdust on me. I threw it in his face and he breathed in ground-up undead skin. Corpses hate that—they find it disgusting, on par with cannibalism. Go figure.
Anyway, it was just the distraction I needed to duck out of the vault. From there, I slinked out of the sky-mansion, and I promptly pawned the Castrovellian tech on the Station.
That’s how I earned my death-warrant from Kalantrodoch the Unburning. Why he decided to tell the Pact that I murdered someone is beyond me. I guess he takes thefts from his personal home rather personally. Either way, it doesn’t matter, because ol’ Bum-squirming has made sure I can never safely return to Eox in my current identity. Hence the current plan. And my current predicament.
Because I can tell that the bone sage I’m seeing is Kalantrodoch by his eyes, which do burn like some sort of unholy Asmodean forges. Why he’s out here in the gods-forsaken wastelands outside the Pyre is beyond me. And why he’s meeting an apparently legitimate Abadaran merchant is also a mystery.
My best bet is to creep undetected around these cases of cargo—probably supplies for those monstrous necrovites in the arcology—and simply vanish. Then, I’ve just got to hope my environmental protections last long enough for me to hike the rest of the way to the Pyre. This job can still happen.
I have to get dangerously close to Kalantrodoch as I pick my way around the ship’s perimeter, though. I see he’s got two corpsefolk cronies with him. Ugh, at least I don’t have to smell the stench of rotting flesh no doubt wafting up from them. Thanks to the tympanal cluster implants in my ears, I can even hear what they’re whispering to each other while they’re waiting for the Abadaran to review the cargo manifest.
“That’s the crate,” Kalantrodoch says, nodding to one small, inconspicuous box. “Undetectable, and the scientists promised it’d work this time. They’ve learned much in three years.”
I stop cold, heart racing. What is he saying?
“We’re just weeks away from ten thousand fewer breathers.”
I stifle a shocked gasp. What I heard three years ago suddenly makes sense.
Our problem disappears. Ten thousand fewer breathers.
Kalantrodoch is planning to wipe out most of the living elebrian population in the Pyre. With some sort of undetectable poison? I can only imagine the horrors he means to visit on my kind. Our numbers are well known, and for years the bone sage has subtly complained to Orphys that his living workers are a drain on resources.
Looking around wildly, I assess the scene. There are stacks and stacks of crated goods—this is not a small shipment; Kalantrodoch is smuggling the highly illegal poison in with a vast array of legitimate goods. That’s probably why he’s meeting the Abadaran outside the city limits.
I do see a rack near me with a few high-octane enercycles. I could take one of them and flee to the city. But they’re noisy, and the walking corpses would blast me away before I could get too far. And I’ve got to get to the city without heat on my trail, because I have to warn my friends.
Desperately hoping to find anything that might help, I start quietly prying lids off crates. There’s one with a dozen second skin suits, one with assorted computer circuitry, and finally, one I can work with.
A crate full of grenades.
I’m going to have to time this perfectly if it’s going to work. Thinking quickly, I lash the open crate of grenades to the back of one of the bikes, then I grab another cycle. Standing between them like I’m leading two prize show shotalashus, I slowly walk the bikes around the perimeter of the site.
I position myself just out of sight of the bone sage and the Abadaran. I’ll set one bike off riderless to distract them, I think. Then, when chaos reigns, I’ll ride in the opposite direction—toward Pyre—and none of them will be the wiser. The crate of grenades is mine, just in case I need any weapons once I slink into the city.
It’s a great plan, I think, as I start up the enercycles’ engines as quietly as I can. Until I realize I’ve misjudged the bone sage and his cronies’ line of sight.
“A breather!” one of the corpsefolk shouts, pointing in my direction. Both zombies pull out massive arc rifles and level them in my direction.
Instinctively, I rev the boom-cycle’s engine. Yanking a grenade out, I pull the pin and drop it back into the crate. I let the boom-cycle fly toward the corpses and the Abadaran, and I hop on the other cycle, shooting toward the spire in the distance.
The blast wave from the ensuing explosion nearly knocks me off balance. I can hear the shrieks of Kalantrodoch and his minions. I hear nothing from the Abadaran, and I can only hope that they survived.
I did say I wasn’t a hero.
A few minutes pass as I zoom along the shriveled Eoxian landscape toward the spire. When I dare to look back, it seems my plan didn’t sideline ol’ Bum-squirming for as long as I’d hoped. He’s racing behind me on a scorched enercycle, minions nowhere to be found, his long canines dripping with acidic saliva and his horrific, fiery eyes screaming with rage.
“Rengott!” he shouts.
Great. He knows it’s me. I kick the enercycle, bobbing and weaving, hoping I’ll be able to lose him.
This could be an awkward homecoming. I’ve just got to make it to Pyre alive…
About the Author
Amanda Hamon is the Managing Developer for Starfinder, and you could say science-fantasy is her jam. Her game design, worldbuilding, and adventure writing have appeared in dozens of RPG products, including the Starfinder and Pathfinder roleplaying games. Mostly, she just likes doing stupid voices for characters at the table. You can find Amanda on Twitter at @amandahamon.
About Tales from the Drift
The Tales from the Drift series of web-based flash fiction provides an exciting glimpse into the setting of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game. Written by members of the Starfinder development team and some of the most celebrated authors in tie-in gaming fiction, the Tales from the Drift series promises to explore the worlds, alien cultures, deities, history, and organizations of the Starfinder setting with engaging stories to inspire Game Masters and players alike.