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Finding Your Way Around the Starport

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2021 issue.

Bars and Brothels

This is the colourful “porttown”, where a whole range of businesses make it their business to part spacers from their hard-earned money. It is a maze of gift shops, souvenir stalls, bars, nightclubs, theatres, tea houses, “tea” houses, coffeeshops, casinos, dancehalls, music clubs, barbers, spice bazaars and tattoo booths, interspersed with shops selling necessities and toiletries, and, if port authority is lax enough, drug dens, cagefight joints and brothels. Hawkers, conmen and prostitutes may line the street if they are not aggressively discouraged by the port police. Travellers frequent the area either to get away from the cramped quarters of a ship and enjoy other company than that of their shipmates for a while, or to snatch up rumours while at the same time enjoying themselves.

Customers tend to fall into three categories: the happy-go-lucky spacers and enlisted Navy boys and girls, out for a night of portside fun; tourists gawking at the scenery while nervously clutching their purses; and the stone-sober free trader captains looking to meet their contacts, refresh old acquaintances and trade news. The latter frequent certain hangouts, and it is important to know which are the right ones. Often, those bars or tea houses have backrooms where you are admitted only if you are known or vetted by one of the older captains.

Porttown is a rowdy area where brawls and petty crime are common, and so the police and Navy MP (still called “shore patrol” even in the ‘black navy’) may be patrolling the area in force. Whatever organised crime exists here at the starport almost certainly has its thumbs in the porttown pie, and there may be covert gang warfare, extortion, racketeering and corruption going on, with Port Security paid to look the other way. Shady travellers out to do some shady business will find their contacts here: pirates, cartel agents, cutthroats, shysters, smugglers and fences—and the usual gaggle of scheming political dissidents-in-exile who crossed the extrality line and can’t go back.

Where there is a major compassionate faith in the subsector, chances are it will have an office here, or at least a counselling booth and a “room of silence”. Travellers or soldiers who come to Porttown may not be looking for physical solace only, and some feel the need to ease their conscience or to have a few moments of quiet and prayer. Not all denominations will be represented, of course, and many travellers are pretty relaxed on the exact trappings of their faith anyway. There are many shrines and priests that are syncretistic, providing spiritual counselling on the basis of those things that are common to nearly all religious beliefs.

Spacers are usually keen for a bit of local colour after months on a ship, and the porttown provides. The shopfronts and room decor are usually a grossly exaggerated parody of the planet’s indigenous culture. In between, there are a few shops that sell specialty items or services associated with the neighbouring systems for exotic flavour (“the real Regulan spice tea—sold only here! Maridantan Massage will leave all your nerve cells tingling, step right in, sir!”)

Sample Denizens of the Bars & Brothes section

Viasvar (Sister) Meridanta Leva 4A4 9A7 (4)
Human female priestess
Recon-2, Steward-1, Carouse-3, Science/psychology-2, Persuade-1, Diplomat-3, Gun combat/slug-0, Medic-0, Streetwise-1, Art/painting-1
Telepathy-2 (Life detection, Telempathy)

Sister Meridanta (Leva is her first name) owns a small syncretistic prayer-house in a side corridor of the port’s Bars and Brothels section. For a small fee (which is often waived for those who are broke), the patrons can enjoy an uninterrupted half hour in one of the cubicles, singly or in groups, to pray or perform their rites. Leva takes care that the rooms are spy-beam-proof, and so some customers come to her for secret negotiations with their business contacts rather than spiritual healing. It is all the same to her, unless the patrons start a quarrel.

Religious differences between patrons can sometimes be a problem, so the temple pays the local security service to provide protection. At the press of a button, a group of 1D6 large bruisers (who are usually lounging at the café across the road) will come and sort the trouble out.

The sister is a petite woman with a shaven head and delicate, if somewhat bland, features. She is almost always dressed in the saffron-yellow robes of her order. A good listener and self-taught psychologist who never judges, Leva is an expert in unlocking and soothing hidden guilt and trauma. Most people who talk to her feel immeasurably better without actually knowing why. She is very casual about sexuality and physical intimacy, sometimes offering to sleep or cuddle with clients as part of the healing process.

Unbeknownst to her clients or the other priests, Leva is a psionic “wild talent”. She can sense and influence the emotions of others – sometimes. She is somewhat spooked by her powers, but struggles to conceal them as best she can and use them for good.

Luke Raadhanga 495 964
Human male peddler
Streetwise-4, Drive/grav-3, Deception-2, Persuade-2, Recon-2, Jack-o-trades-1, Gambling-0, Melee/blade-0

Luke can be encountered anywhere in the corridors of the Bars & Brothels section. He works a dozen odd jobs, one week selling counterfeit LSP chronographs and cheap pin-up holos, the next showing groups of tourists around the starport or accosting newcomers and persuading them to visit a certain casino, joyhouse or drug den. Sometimes he drags his decrepit old gravbike out of retirement to offer taxi or courier services around downtown.

Luke is a skinny young man with bags under his eyes and fair hair. He usually wears a shirt with a gaudy orchid print, canvas slacks and an oversized jacket. His sensitive eyes are always covered by a cheap narrow data visor. Extremely garrulous, he talks rapidly and intensely; it is hard to shut him up. While he is something of a nuisance for visitors to the starport, if treated well, he can be a font of information. He knows all the shady corners, can offer a shrewd guess as to where the turf’s main mobs currently meet and whom to buy from and whom not.

Ur-Rikka Maganvo Pelly B9B 785
Human female teahouse owner
Steward-3, Recon-1, Carouse-3, Diplomat-1, Broker-1, Streetwise-3, Melee/unarmed-4

Ur-Rikka used to be a slave wrestler until she was accidentally bought by her current husband Leander Pelly due to a cultural misunderstanding when he visited her planet as a tourist. Once free, she proved to be as good with money as previously with her fists, and under her hands, the Pelly’s business flourished. After a while, the two sold the grocery stall they had operated and leased space at the highport to open up a tea bar.

Pelly’s Tea and Diner had been Leander’s dream because he was fascinated with foreign cultures. With the steady stream of spacers from all sorts of planets, he made many friends and enjoyed interesting talks while his wife saw to the day-to-day running of the bar. Pelly’s soon became the favourite hangout and speakeasy for tramp freighter captains, and the place to go to for information. Her back room is open only for people she knows or who have been vouched for by one of her regular patrons.

Unfortunately, Leander died of a stroke at 45. Stubborn, Ur-Rikka continues to run the tea house: it is her way of honouring her husband’s memory. She’s about sixty now, a very athletic woman with flat muscles, deep brown skin covered with rows of ritual scars, and graying hair that she keeps in a tight bun. Her flat face with its high cheekbones is near expressionless; only her closest friends can guess at her emotions. Years of fighting in the cage arenas of her home planet’s slums have given her a singular lack of fear or anger; she faces every threat and obstacle without apprehension.

Recently, Ur-Rikka has come under pressure from two local crime syndicates; when she refused to allow their gang members into her back room, they each left with vague threats. During the next few days, there have been several incidents designed to intimidate her; someone rolled a burning tyre into the bar’s window, a bloody finger was left in her mail. Too obstinate and headstrong to give in to these threats, Ur-Rikka has begun to ask her trader captain contacts if they know someone who can take the fight back to the gangs.

Lodovico Meeran 558 A75
Human (Solomani) male brothel owner/Solomani Party agent
Streetwise-2, Recon-2, Deception-3, Seduction-3, Intimidation-4, Administration-2, Drive/grav-1, Gun combat/slug-1, Melee combat/unarmed-1, Carouse-2, Gambling-2, Athletics/strength-1, Athletics/endurance-0

Standing a little under two meters tall, Lodovico’s body is spare and fit due to a tight workout regimen. He has very pale eyes of a watery blue and a thatch of flaxen-blond hair. His right cheek is marred by a few shallow pock-marks; traces of a smallpox infection he alone survived out of the fifty children in his nursery home on Basalite. He was found and given to a Party crèche, and since then he believes he is superior to others; in his mind, it was his pure Solomani blood that enabled him to survive the illness.

While he has perfectly good Imperial papers that will pass muster anywhere except the border planet where they were issued, Lodovico is actually a citizen of the Solomani Confederation. With Party money, he runs a small brothel at the highport of this Imperial planet. His “ladies” and “boys” are pretty, his prices are a tad lower than the competition’s, but not so much that it would arouse suspicion, and business is good.

The brothel was originally conceived as a safe haven and information clearinghouse for Solomani agents. It still functions in this manner, but Lodovico, obsessed with racial purity, uses it for his own purposes as well. He has his employees take blood samples from their clients (with a small, unobtrusive, near-painless device concealed in a finger-ring), which he analyzes in a small biological lab located at the back of the house. If one of the customers turns out to be of suitably pure Solomani stock, he will have xir shadowed by a few of his associates, and after a suitable period of observation, will contact xir about joining the Solomani Party.

Targets who hesitate or refuse need to be silenced, which is why he has two of his “ladies” and one “boy” trained to use a poison ring – the customer will, one day after the interview, “inadvertently” encounter one of them, be chatted up, invited to a tea house, and may feel the tiniest prick of the poison device when the assassin touches xir arm. (The poison causes cardiac arrest and quickly degrades in the bloodstream; it can be detected only if a blood sample is taken within the first five minutes after injection.)

The prostitutes hate this part of their job, but they are in terror of the long arm of the Party. They know Lodovico is mad, and fear to antagonize him. All of them are part Solomani, and as mixed-blood Humans they are often treated with contempt by their employer – he has made it clear that as lower forms of life, they are quite expendable to him.

Meeran hates non-Solomani. He hides his hate in public beneath a perfect facade. He appears good-natured and personable, can be utterly charming. Only when he is alone with his minions or a helpless adversary will he show his real face.