The Threefold Conspiracy: Gray Matter

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

A bearded man clad in blue armor raced through the side corridors of Absalom Station, his gold-trimmed capelet flapping behind him. His eyes wild, he threw glances over his shoulder as he careened around corners and nearly toppled precariously stacked piles of empty crates and garbage. He came to a skidding halt in front of an unmarked door to a nondescript structure and quickly tapped an eight-digit code in the nearby keypad, muttering, “Hurry, hurry” to himself. The multiple locks disengaged with a series of electronic clicks and the man threw open the door with a sharp exhalation. The light beyond spilled into the alleyway.


The bright light enveloped Reyard Maldun as he dozed fitfully on the couch in his office. He had sat down for just a moment to rest his eyes after a long day of filing reports, thinking he would soon grab a bite for dinner at the noodle stand just outside the base, but clearly more than a few minutes had passed. To Reyard’s ears, it sounded like the rest of the office was empty. He tried to move his arm to block the light from his face but found that he couldn’t. He was paralyzed. All he could do was breathe and wait.

Seconds later, he felt himself being lifted up, weightless in the beam of light. He began to float gently toward the window. He could see his face—a mask of terror—reflected in the glass as he seemed to phase quietly through it and into the night sky beyond.



Illustration by Nathaniel James

Looking at himself in the mirror, Reyard ran his fingers through his matted brown hair. How long had it been since he had it cut? How long since he had taken a shower? Eaten a good meal? Gotten a full night’s sleep?

No matter. Such trivialities were for those not being hunted.

He stepped out of the small bathroom, added to the converted storefront almost as an afterthought. When he realized he might be spending hours, perhaps days, here, he had brought in a canvas cot and had the toilet and sink installed. He had paid the plumber extra to quietly hook into the neighborhood’s water main without alerting the neighbors. The building wasn’t zoned for residential use.

Not that Reyard was living here, exactly. This was merely his command center, his base of operations. A place where he could perform his “unsanctioned” investigations in privacy… Hopefully.

Most of the space was occupied by a large wooden desk, a small server tower, several plastic storage bins, and a pair of free-standing holomarker boards. The bins were empty, their contents spread across the floor: printouts of infosphere pages, cheap datapads displaying a series of blurry photographs, and random pieces of other technology in various states of disassembly. Paper notebooks cluttered the desk, each open to pages filled with dense walls of text and hasty sketches. The tidiest portion of the desk’s surface held an array of electronic tools in neat row. Reyard reached for one.


The alien reached for the laser scalpel with long, slender fingers, selecting the instrument from one of others lined up precisely on a tray of shiny, silver metal. Reyard lay on a table of similar material, restrained by several bands of glowing energy. He tried to cry out, but his mouth was frozen shut, his tongue a useless lump of meat. The alien turned back to face him. Though it was no more than three feet tall, it loomed over Reyard as it peered unblinking at his helpless form. It ignited the scalpel and the blackness of its large eyes seemed to swallow him whole.


The dark monitors on his desk flared to life, and the computer prompted Reyard to enter a series of passwords and to finally press his eye to a retinal scanner before presenting him with his home desktop. Like the room, the computer was a mess of files and programs, arranged in no particular order.

Reyard connected the computer to the infosphere, entering another password that bypassed the security to prevent such a thing from happening by accident. He initiated a program of his own design that would upload the contents of the server—months and months of his painstaking research—to multiple infosphere sites simultaneously. Using various aliases, he had compared notes with other truth seekers on these sites, some more in touch with reality than others. He knew his pursuers would quickly find and erase all instances of his uploads before the night was over, but he hoped that in doing so, they wouldn’t look for the notebooks he stashed around the station. Reyard looked over at the door. He whispered, “Come on, you bastards. Where are you?”


“Where is your head, Maldun? I remember when you were one of my top agents.” Chief Inspector Theovos was a stout korasha lashunta woman with truncated antennae. She sat behind her imposing desk in her Stewards armor and waited for Reyard to respond. He simply stared at his boots and muttered an apology.

“Several months ago,” Theovos said, pulling up a file on a datapad, “You reported that you had been abducted from your office in the dead of night. Building security found no signs of intrusion. And though you claimed to have been operated on, medical can’t detect a thing wrong with you. A psych eval determined you were disturbed by a particularly vivid dream, but you have refused further counseling. Since then, you’ve been pursuing these ‘little gray men’ to the detriment of your other work, dredging up only a mass of ridiculous conspiracy theories and turning yourself into the laughingstock of the base.”

Reyard opened his mouth to speak, but Theovos cut him off. “No. Don’t bother. I’m transferring you to Absalom Station for desk duty until you at least agree to seek help for these delusions.” Her eyes softened a bit. “Reyard, there’s still time.”


It would still take several moments until the uploads were complete. Reyard hoped there would be enough time. He peered up at the ceiling. With any luck, he had installed the electronic trip sensors correctly.

The door behind him dematerialized with a flash. A small figure with gray skin and bulbous head stood silhouetted in the entrance.

“Try to take me again if you want, but the moment you step inside this room, a force field will block your exit and half a dozen vidcams will stream your ugly mug all across the infosphere.” The alien didn’t move. A chime from the computer indicated the uploads were finished. Reyard smiled. “That’s the sound of the whole system learning the truth. Hide all you want. Someone will always shine a light in the dark corners of the universe.”

A single word pierced his thoughts.

Incorrect.

Suddenly, the power to the building was cut. The room was plunged into darkness.

About the Author

Jason Keeley is a Developer at Paizo, working primarily on the Starfinder Adventure Path line. His work has appeared in all sorts of products, from adventures to supplements to short stories written for Paizo and many other RPG companies. You can find him (and pictures of his dog) on Twitter at @herzwesten, and also watch him as Professor Nikodemus Thorne on the Oblivion Oath stream every Thursday!

About The Threefold Conspiracy

Launching in February, 2020, with Starfinder Adventure Path #25: The Chimera Mystery, The Threefold Conspiracy is the 6th Starfinder Adventure Path from Paizo, Inc. In The Threefold Conspiracy, what begins as a normal trip through the Drift back to the Pact Worlds turns into a mind-bending whodunit as a crewmember goes missing. The heroes must unravel an intricate web of motives and opportunities before they discover the seeming truth behind the disappearance. However, this only leads the PCs down a twisting path of strange conspiracies and devious machinations that could reach into the very heart of the Pact Worlds' government! How deep are the heroes willing to go to uncover the truth?

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2 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

Very good. That simple Incorrect. gave me chills at the end.

Silver Crusade

2 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Companion, Maps Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Makes me want to go revisit the X-Files. Well done.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

I'm looking forward to this AP, the pure paranoia is going to be a thing to behold in and of itself.

The Greys honestly terrify me more than the Swarm.

Wayfinders

So very well written! Thanks!


1 person marked this as a favorite.

And at the end, you can't tell whether he's up against a real foe, or crazy . . . or maybe both.


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Well done, this is a great introduction to the adventure path.

Grand Lodge Contributor

Oooo! I love what you've done with this character, Jason. Chilling!

Paizo Employee Developer

4 people marked this as a favorite.
Vanessa Hoskins wrote:
Oooo! I love what you've done with this character, Jason. Chilling!

Thanks! I hope you like that art!

As a teaser, Vanessa wrote more about the grays for the second volume of the AP, which *might* feature a little more of the character of Reyard Maldun!

Scarab Sages

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Companion, Maps, Pawns Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Charter Superscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

This AP needs its own subforum in the Starfinder APs forum.

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