War has erupted on a balkanized world. While small (relatively speaking) in scale, the fighting has been intense; featuring major troop actions, sieges and bombardments of cities, and even several atrocities (quickly covered up.)
Many of the atrocities have been committed against the Askala, a nomadic people who were among the first explorers and settlers of the subsector containing this world, but who have over the centuries become a persecuted minority. Despite open prejudice and organized pogroms, they have thrived and settled on several worlds, including the current one. This has caused some concern among the combatants; they don’t agree on much, but they agree wholeheartedly on their hatred of the Askala.
When the war broke out, the Askala were caught in the middle. In a stroke of luck, they happened to get word to some of their offworld brethren and requested a spacelift of as many of their members as possible. The warring countries have been all too glad to see them go; in fact, they’ve ramped up their persecution of the Askala. The nomads have been targeted for destruction wherever they’re found, and a discreet withdrawal has in many quarters become a discordant rout, as the nomads hastily collect what belongings and transport they can and hightail it for the nearest rendezvous point.
While conducting business on a world one parsec over, the adventurers notice a bedraggled-looking child has latched onto them. The little boy is obviously fearful, but hunger seems to be overcoming his apprehension. If the heroes take pity on the boy, they slowly learn two things: he’s a member of the Askala, and his parents are dead. The local Askala will no doubt be looking for him.
Assuming the group returns the boy to his people — who occupy a refugee camp just outside of Startown — they encounter a tired, disheveled and anxious group in who are nonetheless very grateful. During the adventurers’ visit, a delegation of the camp’s leaders asks to speak with them privately on an urgent business matter. Explaining the basic situation (see Background above), the elder and his two lieutenants ask for the party’s help. The nomads were part of a caravan of several battered ships escaping the hostilities. The caravan leaders delayed their takeoff by several days to take on supplies and as many fellow Askala as they could, but a week later emerged from jumpspace to find one of their number missing. The Askala waited a week to see if the ship was merely delayed, to no avail. Unfortunately, word is trickling in of fierce fighting going on in the prior system, and the elders are concerned. Deeming it far too dangerous to go back and investigate the others’ fate, the elders want to hire the PCs — who seem far more capable of handling themselves — to do so. The adventurers are to travel to the system, learn the fate of the Askala ship, and rescue any survivors they can.
The elders can’t spare much hard currency, but offer Cr 10,000 in cash and up to Cr 10,000 in trade goods. In addition, they can spread the word among the Askala that has the effect of granting the team hospitality anywhere the nomads are gathered. The elders can up the payment if the PCs are in a haggling mood, but not by much.
The elders give the adventurers basic descriptions of the missing Askala leaders and their ship, and small objects to present as proof that the larger Askala group sent them.