Search and Rescue
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue.
If the port has a Search and Rescue service, its command center is usually located next to Traffic Control. From here, space (and occasionally planetary) rescue missions are coordinated as soon as Traffic Control’s communications center receives a Signal GK, SOS, or Mayday.
The Search and Rescue center may have its own dock for paramedical and rescue vessels, or those may be parked at the Shuttle Dock. In many systems, these specialised boats are not available, and their role is filled by decommissioned tugs or pinnaces, or by the occasional free trading ship requisitioned along with its crew on an ad-hoc basis. Most understaffed ports simply offer a financial incentive, free refuelling, or favourable trade conditions for freelance captains making their services available in case of an emergency.
Sometimes, the port has no SAR service as such, but rudimentary search-and-rescue missions in the direct vicinity of the port may be initiated and overseen by Traffic Control. Some ports have one or more smaller freelancing companies on semi-retainer that offer salvage, search and rescue services and may occasionally moonlight as in-system couriers. Often, these firms make use of surplus or “retired” Type-S scouts, and many former IISS members can be found in freelance rescue operations. Where the system has no Scout Service base, SAR is usually a good place for ex-Scout travellers to get up to date on what the Service is doing. They can be found with their ships in rented Civilian Dock or Shuttle Dock berths and probably a small operations center in the Rental Booths section.
If there is an SAR area, it is bound to contain at least a small infirmary, a cafeteria and a few dorms or bunks for personnel on standby duty. The rescue workers and paramedics are usually a sociable lot, and eager to swap rumours and stories, although they tend to have a special kind of dark humour that is not palatable to everyone.
- In this system, the Starport Authority does not operate its own SAR service. Instead, vessels visiting the system are given free fuel in exchange for keeping themselves on standby for rescue missions should the port receive a Signal GK. Most of the time, nothing happens, and the free refuelling is a good bonus for those free traders who struggle to make their monthly mortgage payments. Of course, when the call comes, it happens at the most inopportune moment: when part of the crew is abroad on the planet investigating or making deals, or in the middle of negotiations with a crime syndicate. The ship has to take off with only part of the crew. (This makes for a good in-between adventure if only part of the players showed up to a session.)
- As 1), but the emergency call is a fake. Pirates use this ploy to lure vessels into a trap. Suddenly, three battered scoutships rise from nearby asteroids and demand the surrender of the ship. If the travellers get clear, they learn that the portmaster is in league with the pirates – sort of: he agreed to send them possible lucrative targets, and they refrain from raids on his planet.
- The travellers lose their ship to pirates or an accident and are picked up by a rescue vessel. Once at the port, they need to get back on their feet. They have incurred medical bills, they are now shipless drifters, and most of the good jobs require them to be part of a guild. When their morale is at their lowest, a local crime lord offers them a job as smugglers on a loaned vessel.
- The life support on the travellers’ ship fails. They are saved from slow suffocation by a rescue ship, and the rescue workers put a skeleton crew aboard to get the ship running again. Once portside, the travellers learn that their ship has been scuttled, supposedly because it was no longer operable. If they investigate, they find their ship hale and sound in one of the port’s berths: the rescue team is in league with a band of “used ships” traffickers. Can they prove the ship is theirs before its frame is unrecognizably altered and a fake transponder installed?
- A major disaster has happened in the asteroid belt, and hundreds of souls are in need of rescue. All available vessels, including the travellers’ ship, are commandeered by the Navy to carry rescue personnel to the site. The travellers pick up survivors from the Naval vessel that caused the disaster. It appears to have had experimental warheads aboard, and the injured lieutenant implores the travellers to deactivate the remaining ordnance before it blows up and vaporises the rescue fleet. Immediately afterward, the travellers’ ship is trailed by a Navy corvette, hailed and asked to stand down for a search: the Navy is afraid that they might have stolen some of the secret stuff (the warheads or the computer files). Only after a thorough search are the corvette’s Marines satified. If there is any indication that the Naval experimental ship’s personnel talked to the travellers, the Corvette will release them, wait until no other ships are in sensor range, and open fire to silence the witnesses. A deadly game of hide-and-seek ensues in the dense asteroid field.
- A friend or client of the travellers’ has been rescued from xir ship after it was severely damaged in a firefight. They notice that xe seems to be somewhat groggy – one of the paramedics injected xir with a truth drug to get a certain set of co-ordinates from xir. The ship that attacked xir was a corsair whose crew wanted revenge: the travellers’ friend had stolen a very valuable cargo from them, which xe stored away at the co-ordinates in question. The “paramedic” is a pirate from a rival gang in disguise. If the travellers are quick, they may be able to follow xir to the location – where they are caught in the middle of a stand-off between the two rival pirate factions.
- A low berth passenger is rescued from a liner that suffered drive failure. The berth unit is damaged in transport, and when the patient is thawed out, xe dies. Sewn into xir clothes is a Ministry of Justice special investigator’s badge / a Starport Authority auditor’s credentials / a Certificate of Nobility. Obviously, the person travelled incognito for some reason. The travellers are asked by the rescue supervisor to do some discreet investigations – and to determine whether the damage to the berth was an accident or deliberate sabotage.
- A SAR shuttle brings in unconscious patients rescued from a mining accident on an outlying asteroid station. The travellers notice with a shock that one of the alleged miners is a friend of theirs who works as an investigative journalist. Did he uncover something he shouldn’t have, and was what happened to him and the miners really an accident?
- A SAR shuttle brings in wounded soldiers from a Naval ship. One of them is a defector and takes the doctor hostage.
- A SAR shuttle brings in the crew of a military or trade ship. Which one of them killed the captain and sabotaged the vessel? Each tells a different story. All of them are lying. Each has a personal reason for not telling the whole truth.
- A solar flare has disabled the sensors and comms of all shuttles that operated in the inner planets. Every available ship is called upon to help. The ships need to get close to a shuttle to get someone aboard and guide the shuttles in. Making a landing in atmosphere with a shuttle riding shotgun under the ship’s wing is a difficult feat.
- As 11), but the shuttles have injured or irradiated personnel aboard who need to be treated on the travellers’ ship. The remaining crew may be too radiation-sick to be able to pilot their ship properly, let alone make an atmospheric drop or a precision landing at a highport’s dock.
- As 11), but further solar flares damage the travellers’ ship. They have to guide the shuttle in, land or dock their own ship with half-blind sensors, rescue injured personnel, and effect repairs at the same time. While they are at it, they might need to take cover behind a nearby planetoid’s magnetosphere to ride out the next impending flare.
- A rescue crew sends a distress signal from where their boat is docked at a mining station. When the travellers arrive, they find that the station’s security system has malfunctioned. There are security robots active in the station which run an erratic police-curfew program, have locked the miners down in their staterooms and cornered the medics in the storage area.
- Grav-skiff racing is a popular sport in this star system. An error in traffic control causes a flock of racers to cross the assigned atmospheric trajectory of the travellers´ ship. Some pilots panic and veer off, spinning out of control in their skiffs, and two collide in mid-air. The travellers have to pluck them from the air with their far-from-nimble ship before their gravs give out and they plummet to their deaths. And afterward they are going to want to have a word with the traffic operator who approved the race.
- As 15), but the race is a cover for a smuggling operation; the pilots pretending to be competing in the race have packets of contraband on their persons. The skiff-drop races from the highport down the gravity well provides the smugglers with a way to bring drugs or other illegal substances dirtside.
Denizens of the SAR Dock
Alina Godarivvi 349946
Persuade-2, Law-1, Steward-1, Carouse-1, Streetwise-0
Alina is a portly, energetic woman of indeterminable age who has been a fixture at the SAR dock for as long as anyone can remember. With the help of a few volunteers, usually students from the local university, she runs a soup kitchen located at the dock’s entrance.
Many of those who end up in the SAR infirmary have lost their ship to an accident; they arrive at the port with little more than the clothes on their back. Most likely, all their possessions were left on their ship or destroyed with it, and there is no social security for transients at the average port. Alina takes those stranded spacers under her wing and helps them get back on their feet. She knows a lot of people at the port who may offer odd jobs or a place to sleep for a few standard days; she will try to help them get acknowledged as fugitives by the Port Authority (with little hope or success, but it’s worth a try), get a good listener to comfort them (losing their ship is often a severe blow to a spacer’s self-esteem), and aid with the necessary paperwork to get their medical expenses deferred. She’ll yell at the newshounds to have them keep a distance, and threaten the police who investigate the ship’s accident with going to the press if they push their interrogations too far and don’t give her clients some breathing room. The loss of the ship will likely entail a legal investigation and possibly charges, but even if not, the huge amount of paperwork can be a terror, especially if your main concern has to be avoiding starvation and getting a place to sleep. Alina knows a few people who can at least offer advice on the legal side.
Alina’s stranded spacers are fed whatever she can scrounge, wheedle or cajole out of the port’s storekeepers. Half her time is devoted to caring for her wards, the other half she uses to tirelessly drum up support for her charity. While she’s away, one of the students will tend her kitchen – or her husband, after his regular work. Adam Godarivvi is employed as a mid-level clerk in the Starport Administration, and has been dragged by his wife into helping out in his spare time.
Brother Tampais 454A84
Psychology-2, Theology-2, Streetwise-1, Melee/blade-1
Brother Tampais is a Chalcidite monk. With his shaven head and simple robes, he is a conspicuous sight: two meters ten and lanky, he towers over most people. Tampais used to be an enforcer for a local crime ring but had a change of heart and joined the Chalcidite faith. One of the Chalcidite tenets is selfless assistance, and he found his calling counselling spacers who lost their ship. Most travellers build their lives around their vessels, and loss of their ship is like losing one’s home, one’s best friend and one’s entire plans for the future at the same time. Tampais tries to help them mourn the loss, come to grips with the fact that the ship is gone, and re-invent themselves. He is a good friend of Alina Godarivvi and often helps out in her soup kitchen. The local Chalcidite congregation has collected money to establish a small 2×4m shrine in one of the port’s Rental Booths; this is where he sleeps and prays when he isn’t out lending people his ear.
Ghretta Halqvist 899894
Space Rescue Paramedic
Medic-2, Jack-of-all-trades-2, Biology-1, Drive/grav-1, Vacc suit-1, Chemistry-0, Zero-Gee-0, Law-0, Melee/Brawling-0
Short and just on the pudgy side of an average build, Ghretta wears her flaxen-blonde hair in a tight bun. She is of Sword Worlder extraction – her parents fled the Coalition and settled down on this Imperial planet. They had been doctors on their home planet but never got their practice permit approved by the Imperium, and as a result had to take lower-paid jobs to make a living. Their daughter is determined to become a physician, and has volunteered for the paramedical service in order to get a tuition grant. It never materialised, and she seems stuck in the emergency service unless a miracle happens.
Plagued with supply shortages, jury-rigged ships and outdated equipment, the SAR service isn’t Ghretta’s favourite place to be. She is fed up with the low pay, high responsibility, back-breaking work, endless overtime and constant on-call duty. Whenever she’s working, a steady stream of complaints and grumblings issues from her. And yet she’s doing her job, and doing it well, and she never would let those down who are in need of rescue. In her quieter hours, she realises that she, like all her colleagues, has been infected with Morbus Medic: the kind of utter dedication to helping people that makes all the ugly aspects of her work fade into the background.
Hansel Demaral 787896
Freelance SAR captain
Pilot-3, Carouse-2, Zero-Gee-2, Medic-1, Sensors-1, Vacc suit-1, Gun combat/Accelerator-0, Drive/grav-0, Streetwise-0
A small, wiry man with a faded boyish grin and a shock of dark hair,
Hansel is owner of a decommissioned scout refitted as a Type-S(R) rescue
vessel. He and his crew usually work on retainer for the various trade
houses that mine the asteroid belt, and operate from the largest mining
station located there. Everyone in the belt at least knows someone who
was rescued by Hansel’s ship; asteroid mining with outdated equipment
and rickety seeker ships is a dangerous activity.
The belters may resent their employers, but despite working for the mining bosses, Hansel is well-liked. Recently, the miners have tried to make him their spokesman to the trade houses about the terrible working conditions; he is still undecided. Speaking out for the belters may cost him his retainer status, and he still has to pay off the mortgage on the ship. But every time he has to rescue someone from an accident because the management cut corners on the belters’ equipment, it gets more difficult to keep his neutrality.