I was two-thirds of the way through a hybrid power converter and already feeling the buzz when a knock on the door caught me off guard. In itself, that shouldn’t have been strange; I’m a private detective, after all. But I’d turned the sign off a week ago. Sentient Robotic Investigations—the only SRO detective agency in the Burning Archipelago—was closed. Figuring someone’d gotten lost, I opened the door to send them away. Instead I found a korasha lashunta waiting, her features as symmetrical as anyone could ask for, wearing an annoyed scowl that brought with it a surge of memories of the old days.
“Chief Maneon,” I said, waving her in and tipping the power converter in her direction. “I’d buy you a charge, but I think I already spent it.” She didn’t laugh. I’m not very funny.
She’d come to tell me about a stiff—a ysoki, washed up in the canal in Bulwarks Plaza. Eventually I realized she was offering me a job. “Last time I checked,” I said dryly, “you were in charge of a bunch of cops.”
“We’re slammed,” she said. “Too many cases, not enough hands. You remember things at Laubu Station.” I did, but I was also thinking of how I was going to refill my drained power converter.
“Rate’s two hundred a day, plus expenses.”
She accepted without hesitation. That’s when I should have known better. “A person’s dead,” she said on her way out the door. “All I want to know is, what are you going to do about it?”
I tossed the spent battery on the table. “As little as possible.”
I tried the canal, but it was a bust. Holo-tape marked off the scene where they’d dragged the poor rat—a guy named Bey—out of the water, but there was nothing to see. The locals along the green promenade didn’t seem to notice in any case. Not far off, a small crowd gathered around local doomsayer Jenaelyn, whose ravings about a pending armageddon were far more interesting than anything I had going on.
Bey managed an apartment building in Clearlight and I headed in that direction. It was a hike, and by the time I got there my circuits were throbbing. I was not in a good mood. Of course, the door was locked, so I jimmied it. I couldn’t exactly ask the landlord to let me in.
Inside was a warren. Typical ysoki. I wove a path between boxes of cheap electronics and used drone parts. There was a whole rack filled with nothing but obsolete datapads, and a handful of credsticks by the bed. His union certification was framed on the wall. I liked him. But there was a weird signal coming from behind the desk; it was wired. Crawling under there, I saw a security panel. I tried his union member number, and a panel in the wall slid open. I went in.
It was a small little space, cozy even for a ysoki. He’d hung monitors all over the walls, and half of them were still running. On the screens, people—mostly lashuntas in black—sat huddled together in molded plastic seats, checking their comms or talking quietly to each other. A few people stood nearby, holding onto brass poles that led from floor to ceiling. It was the inside of a linecrawler. Bey had bugged the linecrawlers. What the hell for?
All the camera feeds were recorded. There were hundreds of hours. My headache was telling me I didn’t want to watch them all, but it turned out I didn’t have to. Fifteen minutes were missing from a recording three days old. Bey had erased it. I locked up as I left. But I took the credsticks.
Half of the credsticks bore the logo of the Last Laugh—a local comedy club—so that’s where I went. Tonight, the batteries were on Bey. Chaz Bilgart, the club’s most celebrated act, was on stage, making a finger pistol with one hand. “‘Didn’t you hear me,’” he snarled, imitating a mugger in a cheap holonovel. “‘Hand over the credits or I blow your damn brains out!’ And I told him, ‘Gimme a second, okay? I’m thinking!’” I didn’t get the joke, but everyone else laughed.
I saw a lot of off-duty cops in the room, but I rolled in anyway and ordered a battery from a waiter dressed like a mourner. Bey’s sticks had plenty of credits. I didn’t know if I could drink my way through all of them, but I was ready to try. I was halfway through my second when Chaz dropped onto the chair next to me. “J4K3, you look like crap.” I couldn’t disagree, so I showed him a picture on my comm without a word. “That’s Bey,” he said. “Nice guy. Tips good. Is he in trouble?”
“Not anymore.” I told him about the canal.
Chaz told me Bey had been in three nights ago, pretty upset. Had too many. A local took him home. When I asked who, he pointed across the room to a table where a bunch of big palookas sat around a less boorish, far more handsome local. “Zeylan,” he said.
“Bey talk to anyone else?”
“One of the waiters, Lin,” he said. “But Lin didn’t show for his shift today.”
I didn’t like my odds against the palookas, so I waited for Zeylan to leave and I followed him. Chaz insisted on tagging along. We ended up at a storage facility which Zeylan entered. I got Maneon on the comm and told her everything. She was there in ten minutes.
“Killer is in there?” she said.
“And probably another dead guy,” I told her.
I was ready to bust the door down but she just knocked. “Sir,” she said through the door. “It’s Chief Maneon.”
After a short pause, the door opened a crack. Zeylan had a pistol pointed at the floor. “Shavri,” he said. nonchalantly. “Who are your friends?”
Maneon didn’t acknowledge Zeylan’s familiar address and ignored the question. “You need to go, sir. Is there a body in there?”
Zeylan shrugged. “I’m afraid so.”
“Leave it. I’ll take it to the crematorium. With all due respect sir, if you’d let me take care of the first one, none of this would have happened.”
A numb feeling had been spreading through my circuits, but I finally lost it when I realized the chief wasn’t calling Zeylan “sir” as a formality, but rather as a sign of deference. I lifted my arc pistol, but Chaz held me back, giving Zeylan the chance to slip out the door and bolt. And just like that I was watching his back as he ran for the linecrawler station.
Maneon looked at me like she’d just swallowed a bug. “Holy hell, J4K3, put that thing away before you hurt someone!”
“You knew the whole damn time!”
“I didn’t know how the ysoki overheard what he did. But now we’ll destroy the rest of those recordings. This is your fault. You should have done what you promised you’d do.”
As little as possible, I’d told her.
She turned away to see to the corpse waiting in the storage unit. As the door closed, I made a last lunge to hold it open, but Chaz was stronger than he looked.
“Forget it, J4K3,” he hissed in my ear. “It’s Asanatown.”
About the Author
Jason Tondro develops Starfinder Adventure Paths. A former college professor, he taught literature, writing, film, and comics & graphic novels before joining Paizo as an editor in March 2018. He is the author of the Arthur Lives! RPG; look for him on Twitter @doctorcomics. He lives in Seattle with his two dogs and blames Joe Pasini for this story.
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 Long Sunrise
Thursday, November 21, 2019