Today is going to be a good day.
That’s what Major Ramalakesh remembered telling himself this morning while he was putting on his uniform. Now he wasn’t so sure. He looked up at the starry sky above Absalom Station’s Eye, squinting in the harsh light of the yellow sun, and thought of the relentless hard vacuum beyond the thin layer of polycarbon plate. The transparent dome looked so fragile. One crack, one tiny hole in that flimsy bubble, and everyone and everything in the Eye would die horribly and without honor in a matter of seconds. And the Pact Worlders placed their government here, without even a hint of defensive fortifications. Ramalakesh couldn’t comprehend it. It made him uneasy.
He lowered his gaze and tried to not to think about the dome overhead. He had been so excited this morning! This was his first day of leave since arriving from the Veskarium a week ago, and his first opportunity to really explore Absalom Station. It was what he had always dreamed of. This is why he had joined the Imperial Diplomatic Corps. This is why he had fought so hard to be assigned to the Veskarium’s diplomatic mission to the Pact Worlds. What better place to experience the galaxy’s wealth of alien cultures than the very hub of the Pact Worlds?
So why did he feel so anxious? Why was he on edge? It wasn’t just the bubble, or the days that were four hours shorter than on Vesk Prime. It was something more, something unexpected. As Ramalakesh walked among the government buildings and gardens of Parkside, he studied the people passing by and marveled again at the sheer diversity of alien life all around him. Humans, kasathas, lashuntas, barathus, ryphorians, and countless others. There were so many of them, speaking so many different languages, it was almost overwhelming.
But why would that unsettle him? Ramalakesh was only a junior attaché on his first assignment outside the Veskarium, but this wasn’t his first encounter with alien species. The Veskarium was a multicultural society, especially on Vesk Prime. He had interacted with ijtikris, pahtras, skittermanders, and even a few Pact Worlders—humans and lashuntas, mostly—before, with no problems whatsoever. They were always accommodating, almost even subservient at times. They knew their role and position in society, just as they recognized his.
Slowly, it dawned on him what was so different here. Why he felt so uneasy, so out place. He was vesk, and back home in the Veskarium he enjoyed an entitlement he had never lived without.
In the corridors and streets of Absalom Station, people still gave him a wide berth, but that was only because of his imposing physical presence. Not because he was vesk. There wasn’t the automatic, deferential respect he was used to from non-vesk. Instead, there was indifference. The Pact Worlders didn’t care that he was vesk. He was surrounded by a multitude of people, different species from worlds scattered across the galaxy, and he was just one more alien, a single drop of water in a vast galactic ocean. He looked around and couldn’t find any other vesk in sight. At home on Vesk Prime, they thronged the streets, but here on Absalom Station, vesk were a distinct minority. Ramalakesh suddenly felt very alone, as if he was on the front line of a battle and his all comrades had suddenly deserted him, abandoning him to face the enemy alone. And a hot anger began to stir in his belly.
Lost in his thoughts and not paying attention to his surroundings, Ramalakesh bumped hard into an android passing by. The android spun around and gave him a rough shove.
“Watch where you’re going next time, lizard,” the android said, the circuitry tattoos on their expressionless face glowing brightly.
Did they just call me lizard? Ramalakesh thought incredulously. In an instant, a predatory rage dropped over him at the affront. Instinctively, Ramalakesh bared his teeth and growled in the back of his throat. His heart sung in exhilaration, and he could hear the war-songs of his ancestors ringing in his ears. His clawed hand flashed to the dueling sword at his waist. This android would learn to respect their betters.
The android’s face was unchanged as they flipped aside their cloak, revealing a disintegrator pistol pointed right at the vesk’s midsection.
“Back off, repto. I’d hate to have to melt a hole right through those pretty little scales of yours.” Somehow, the android’s monotone voice made them sound even more threatening.
Ramalakesh knew that if he got into a fight here in public, he risked creating a diplomatic incident. His career would be ruined. He would be cashiered and sent back to the Veskarium in dishonor. His heart was pounding in his chest, but whether from bloodlust or fear, he didn’t know. There was only one thing to do. Breathing heavily, Ramalakesh held up his hands and lowered his head. When he wasn’t immediately shot, he turned and fled into the crowd.
Everything around him was a blur, a clashing cacophony of lights, colors, and noises. But it was all wrong. The light was wrong, the smells were wrong, the people were wrong, and the babble of their languages was incomprehensible. Ramalakesh understood now why so many of his compatriots preferred to stay in the Vesk Quarter, where the blue lighting felt more natural, where the smell of spiced talakka meat filled the air, where they could hear and speak their native tongue, comfortably surrounded by their own people. A place where everything was in order, everyone followed a regimented routine, just the way things were supposed to be. It wasn’t home, but it was the only place on this station that felt even close. Ramalakesh hurried through Parkside, head down, retreating to the safety of the Vesk Quarter.
Just as Ramalakesh was nearing the exit from the Eye that led to the arm of the station that held the Vesk Quarter, a jumpsuited ysoki walked into his legs, halting them both in their tracks. The small ratfolk had been talking animatedly to his companion and hadn’t noticed the vesk coming toward him.
“Whoa! You’re a big one, aren’t you?” the ysoki said, looking up. Without thinking, Ramalakesh showed his teeth and growled, glaring down at the ysoki. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to hold back this time. The ysoki’s eyes widened and he scrambled backward, hand scrabbling toward the flame pistol on his belt.
“You walked right into him, Quig,” said the ysoki’s companion, a human female. “Now apologize to the nice vesk.”
“Hey, hey, all right,” the ysoki said, raising both hands. “Sorry, my friend. Wasn’t watching where I was going. My mistake.”
Ramalakesh took a deep breath and gritted his teeth, trying to will away his anger, his frustration, his doubt. The human woman gazed at him with thoughtful, appraising eyes.
“New here?” she asked. Her smile was friendly and genuine. “Welcome to Absalom Station. Don’t worry. You’ll get used to it. And if you haven’t checked out Golotra’s in the Freemarkets yet, you should! She has the best grilled talakka steaks on the station. Trust me.” She winked at him.
“Have a nice evening.” The human woman gave a wave that was half salute, put her hand on the ysoki’s shoulder, and the two of them walked past, disappearing into the crowd.
As he turned to watch them go, Ramalakesh suddenly realized he felt more at ease. Maybe Absalom Station and the Pact Worlders weren’t so bad, after all. He would retreat—briefly—to the Vesk Quarter and regroup in the comfort of his bunk in the diplomatic barracks. And in the morning, after a good night’s rest, he would again be ready for battle, of a sort. Ramalakesh would do his duty to the empire and conquer Absalom Station. He would make it a part of him, and himself a part of it, and maybe his efforts would help bring the peoples of the Veskarium and the Pact Worlds just a tiny bit closer together in true friendship.
Major Ramalakesh looked up at the stars overhead, the same stars that shone above Vesk Prime. He could almost smell spiced talakka in the air. He straightened his spine and smiled.
Tomorrow was going to be a good day.
About the Author
Robert G. McCreary is the Creative Director of Starfinder. He was a design lead for the Starfinder Core Rulebook, as well as the author of Incident at Absalom Station, the first volume of Starfinder’s inaugural Dead Suns Adventure Path. He has written and developed dozens of adventures and other material for both Starfinder and Pathfinder, but the science fantasy setting of Starfinder is where he feels most at home. Rob has had a lifelong interest in science fiction and history, the latter no doubt influenced by years spent living abroad.
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.
Tales from the Drift: The Same Stars
Thursday, November 14, 2019