Rock rained near New Valor.
With a twist of the wheel, Zurkrishu maneuvered the hover tank out of the largest boulder’s path before drifting back onto their collision course with the colossal kyokor as Renz kept firing the main autocannon. “Stay with me, Renz,” Zurkrishu admonished over her shoulder as Renz’s tracer rounds veered off target. “We only got this one chance, yeah? Let’s do it for Daimalko!” Still hundreds of feet off, the kyokor lunged toward another vehicle, snatching and crumpling it in a single motion as its occupants rained haplessly back to the ground. As Renz’s explosive shells hit home, the kyokor hurled the wreckage at their hover tank, striking it straight on and flipping it end over end.
Time slowed. Zurkrishu went flying, her hand outstretched toward Renz as she cried out “Captain!”
Captain? In that frozen moment, Renz looked down at their sleeve. No, they were a sergeant, weren’t they?
Something wasn’t right. The kyokor’s roar was fading into dull static as Renz tumbled through the air.
Renz blinked awake. Their sheets were tangled like so much wreckage, and the only light came from an unblinking featureless face projected on their wall monitor.
“Captain, there’s an incident,” Stilchee announced patiently. The embri’s mask hid her emotions admirably, yet Renz could detect a hint of silent judgment. “You’re needed on the bridge.”
“An incident?” Renz quipped while rolling off their bed in a vain search for trousers. “If they’re fighting again, just break ’em up.”
“I assure you, Flowers and Esh are on their best behavior. I respect your non-Pact Standard sleep cycle enough not to disturb you unless it’s important.” Stilchee paused before adding, “We have unexpected company.”
Renz swore quietly all the way to the bridge, idly rubbing the Daimalkan military insignia on their jacket. For decades, the Veskarium had subjugated the planet Landahl and its peaceful illyr inhabitants, provoking a guerrilla war that the illyrs were slowly losing. Not wanting to provoke another Silent War, the Pact Worlds had stayed out of the unjust annexation, but sympathizers with deep pockets still supplied the illyrs where they could. It was just such a smuggling run that Renz had accepted, sneaking ordnance to the rebels.
As Renz arrived, Esh reflexively stood and saluted, the hobgoblin’s military upbringing taking over before he sheepishly returned to his seat. The ghoran behind him smirked before Esh chidingly swatted them, ruffling the ghoran’s fern-top undercut. “All right, business time. What’s happening?” Renz demanded.
Stilchee maintained eye contact as she turned on the main viewscreen, displaying a fleet of Veskarium warships.
“What the Hell’s with this welcoming party?” Renz demanded. “All reports described light patrols, not a blockade!”
“Kinda wish we were being paid more for the run, huh Renz?” quipped Flowers, their sarcasm belied by their nervously gripping the starship’s controls.
“Hey, it’s a good cause, alright?” Renz shot back before looking to his embri science officer. “Stilchee, our cover’s still in order, right?”
“Aye, captain.” The alien mollusk bobbed her mask as her claws tapped away. “Our hold remains shielded, and our documentation still insists we’re shipping scientific instruments and other supplies to the Obedurn Associates research colony, a neutral entity. I worry more that their flagship has begun scanning us aggressively.”
“Your countermeasures holding up, though? Good.” Renz shook out their shoulders, checked their mutton chops, and ran a hand through their hair. “Patch me through to our new friends, and I’ll clear up this misunderstanding before they dig too deep.”
Stilchee tapped away diligently as Flowers mockingly mouthed “nu-nu-friends” and pantomimed a dancing skittermander to Esh in an attempt at levity. The ghoran snapped back to the controls when the screen suddenly displayed a massive Veskarian starship’s bridge filled with dozens of vesk officers. Before them loomed their leader, a vesk in overplate armor, her fuchsia-and-green scales bristling with confidence. “Attend, and identify yourself,” she boomed, her vesk second-in-command stepping into view at her side.
“Glory to you.” Renz inclined their head slightly in respect. “I am Renz, captain of the Zurkrishin. We’re bound for Landahl carrying food, clothing, and scientific instruments for Obedurn Associates. What earns us this welcome?”
“You stand before Wing Commander Tolskamash of the Army of the Veskarium, Thrice-Tested Conqueror of Persam-6 and commanding officer of the Scorchrazor. I trust you understand commerce to Landahl is tightly restricted?”
“Absolutely, wing commander.” Renz briefly glanced to Stilchee, who pointed insistently to her station’s display, indicating multiple ships were now scanning the Zurkrishin.
“Yet even so, you traffic in the name of rebel sympathizers?”
Renz stared back in disbelief. “Sympathizers, wing commander?”
The vesk’s first officer responded. “Sympathizers,” he intoned grimly. “They recently declared their support for the illyr resistance. Those who serve them are in violation of Veskarium law. Violators are to be eliminated with prejudice,” he added with a hungry grin.
“The Veskarium’s justice is not so cruel, sub-commander,” Tolskamash remarked calmly to her second without breaking her predatory menace.
“Then no doubt the captain would welcome a boarding party to search his starship,” amended the first officer.
“They/them, thank you!” snapped Flowers from the pilot’s chair, interrupting the vesk’s interrogation.
“They/Th—?” Wing Commander Tolskamash blinked, quirked her head, and studied Renz before straightening and raking three claws over her breastplate in display of the god Damoritosh’s doshko blade, nudging her second to do the same. “My subordinate and I were mistaken and meant no disrespect,” she apologized while struggling to regain her earlier momentum. “The captain, ah, they would certainly—"
“It’s an honest mistake, please,” Renz interrupted with a casual wave before adding, “But I believe it’s not the only honest mistake at hand—we’re simple teamsters given bad information. My crew will send you our manifest imminently, and we can forget about these misunderstandings. Hold, please.” Stilchee cut the transmission as the off-balance vesk struggled to respond.
Renz furiously scratched their mutton chops before Flowers began another round of gallows humor. “Hey, hey!” Renz snapped. “News doesn’t travel any faster through the Drift than we do, okay? It’s just bad timing. We can talk our way out.”
“We don’t have long to talk, captain,” Stilchee reported, pointing to her screens. Alerts silently popped up every few seconds, signaling that each of the vesk ships was scanning them. Their cover was slipping as surely as Stilchee’s masked emotions, and Renz could hear the restrained fear building in her voice as she more quietly counseled: “Just because you named the ship after a colossus hunter doesn’t mean it can take on that many goliaths.”
“That, ah, might not be true,” countered Esh, pantomiming finger-guns to emphasize his point. “At this rate, they won’t just find our illyr shipments.”
Renz scowled. “And why would our starship’s basic armaments upset the vesk?”
“What are a few lasers between friends?” The hobgoblin flicked at his own screens and added, “But when we were doing maintenance last, I gave our systems a little, ah, upgrade that might spook their sensors.”
Esh’s eyes sparkled with mischief. “Little something we called ‘Gideron Gold’ back in the home system.”
“Gider—" Flowers visibly wilted. “We’re packing nukes?!?”
“Hey, you de-stress with spa days, I de-stress by knowing we’re packing real heat!”
“Damn, you Authority types don’t mess around.” Flowers cracked their knuckles. “That changes the odds just a little.”
Esh gave the ghoran a playful shove, “Well look who bloomed and grew some stamens!”
“Irrelevant!” Stilchee chided while furiously reconfiguring their starship’s signatures to foil the vesk scanners. “Captain, we have perhaps a few minutes before they see through our cover. We need a plan.”
Renz quickly reviewed the armament specs before responding. “Typically vesk. This isn’t a patrol fleet, but one designed to make an example, just like they’re doing to the illyrs. Whether we let them on board or just wait long enough for them to scan us, they’re going to learn just how much ordnance we’re packing.” They glowered out the window while idly rubbing their jacket’s insignia. “But when it comes to dealing with colossi, I like to think there’s an Option 3.”
The embri deflated slightly. “By your tone, captain, I’m sensing that last option is not ‘retreat?’”
“You can bet your best mask it ain’t,” Renz declared dangerously. “Didn’t you hear me earlier? I promised the good wing commander a full inventory—and that means declaring every rocket, bullet, and beam we’re packing.”
Esh cackled and rubbed his hands in anticipation before turning to the starship’s targeting computers. “Permission to send those scaleys the first line item?”
Renz nodded. “Shields up, Stilchee. Flowers, take the first opening through this blockade. Esh, light ’em up with whatever you’ve been bragging about. We’ve only got this one shot, yeah?” they encouraged, tapping the Daimalkan insignia once more, their face briefly lit by the saffron glow of Esh’s torpedoes silently screaming toward their targets. “This time, we do it for Landahl.”
About the Author
John Compton is the Starfinder Senior Developer at Paizo, Inc., having recently joined the team from years creating organized play adventure content. He has written extensively for Pathfinder and Starfinder, including adventures, setting content, and rule books, and before working for Paizo, he was a teacher, practicing archaeologist, and archaeometallurgist. You can find John on Twitter and Paizo-facing Discord servers @Archaeotagh.
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.