Finding Your Way Around the Starport
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2021 issue.
This is the residence (or one of the residences) of the planet’s ranking Imperial noble of any rank, depending on xir family’s standing and the importance of xir planet. This noble may either be the planet’s actual ruler or an Imperial advisor to the planet’s government and representative of the Emperor. Such Imperial “consuls” (as the latter kind are called) are (at least theoretically) also a sort of “backup government” able to step in where the planetary government breaks down.
Some consuls make it their business to constantly interfere in the day-to-day workings of the planetary administration, some prefer to stay aloof of politics but provide an example of honourable political behaviour by their daily actions and judicious comments, and some perceive their office as a sinecure and lose themselves in lavish parties, balls and the worst indiscretions. Consequently, the consul may be seen by the populace as a stern father-figure, the shadow behind the parliamental seat, a political non-entity, a pet providing the media with antics, or an embarrassing nuisance.
It is also the viceroy’s or consul’s duty to represent the planet in the Subsector Moot. (see “The Influence Game” by Matt Frisbee, Freelance Traveller #86, March/April 2018, p.3) If the planet is one of the main worlds of the subsector, the Moot may actually convene at its viceregal palace. Some subsectors prefer to have the Moot take place on a constantly shifting succession of planets, others have a permanent meeting chamber on the subsector’s mainworld. In any case, the viceroy will often be abroad, leaving the day-to-day workings of xir office to a deputy, often a family member.
The palace need not be the viceroy’s only place of residence. Many have other palaces and resorts in the planet’s choicest areas and may spend little or no time at the port, preferring to conduct their business from planetside and outside of the extrality line. This is most often the case where the population is largely content with Imperial rule, and where public appearances and a general closeness to the planet’s citizens are used to cement the link between the Emperor’s representative and xir subjects.
Some palaces are tight as a clamshell, completely off-limits to all but diplomatic personnel, but many viceroys realise that they are also cultural envoys to their worlds on behalf of the Imperium. Their palaces may have extensive public areas housing galleries, museums, libraries, stargazing observatories, lecture auditoriums and concert halls that offer the people of the planet a glimpse of the Imperium they are part of. Where the planet is backwater, either of these tendencies may become more pronounced: the viceroy may either seek refuge in a garden-viewing court life as far removed as possible from xir subjects’ barbarism, or throw xirself wholeheartedly into the task of educating them into good, cosmopolitan Imperial citizens.
Of all the port’s areas, the viceregal palaces vary the most in appearance from world to world. Some are austere, massive blocks of concrete or crystaliron, speaking of Imperial power by their oppressive architecture and tall, straight lines. Others are purple-carpeted pillars of elegance, decorated with awnings, filigree and latticework and populated with richly-dressed aesthetes of all kinds. Scholarly, moody, playful, decadent, whimsical, martial, brutal, eclectic, drab – the palace generally mimics the personality of the noble who first had it built (and, where the ruling family has changed, may now clash vividly with its current occupant’s character).
Palaces are a veritable hive of meeting rooms, suites, kitchens, servants’ quarters, public areas, antechambers, waiting rooms, refectories, boardrooms, corridors, temples (if the viceroy openly subscribes to a particular religion), offices and computer banks containing data on the entire system. Some palaces house entire universities or prestigious military academies sponsored by the noble house in adjunct buildings. All palaces have a Great Hall or throne room – a figurative “holiest of holies” and centre of the noble’s power where the most important functions and ceremonies take place.
The palace usually has its own Life Support and Auxiliary Reactor, designed to keep it autonomous from the port’s power supply. It can be environmentally sealed if necessary, and has large storehouses of food, water and other necessities. A separate Private Berth, exempt from port authority and Customs, services the ships owned by the noble house, usually yachts, safari ships and other private vessels, but also diplomatic couriers and possibly even patrol craft. Sometimes, traffic is nominally registered with Traffic Control, but often the palace’s private berth has its own reserved approach vector that is completely out of Traffic Control’s jurisdiction.
Imperial law requires a noble’s residence to have a fully stocked Infirmary, both for the maintenance of the august personages’ precious health and as a public medical center in cases of emergency. In many sectors, it is the custom to have an impartial doctor appointed by the Sector or Subsector Duke on the premises, who is responsible to investigate any case where a noble or diplomatic visitor has come to harm (even as small as a paper cut), and testify whether it was an accident or a deliberate attack. A report by xir may trigger a full-scale investigation by the Duke’s judicial branch, so it is in the best interests of any scheming courtier to keep on the doctor’s good side.
The palace’s Security Center is the hub of the compound’s defenses, which may range from a few largely ornamental lasers in recessed bays to huge redoubts bristling with ranks upon ranks of anti-personnel and anti-ship weaponry. In case the starport’s own Security Center is destroyed by an attack or falls to invading troops, the palace’s center will assume control of the port’s weaponry.
This sounds easy enough, but overriding the starport’s SC requires the personal code key and password of the viceroy, and even then, an expert on electronic warfare could delay the override considerably by re-programming the already existing anti-tampering firewalls. Even where the override is authorised correctly and unopposed, integration of the two SCs may prove difficult; even if they were designed to be compatible at the time of the port’s construction, both centers will since have undergone several upgrades and maintenance software changes independently of each other.
Security at the palace tends to be very tight and is generally provided by the noble’s house guard – specially selected soldiers in the direct service of the viceroy, not part of the Imperial Marines or Ground Forces. They are stationed at the palace’s own House Guard Barracks, but may also be seen showing the house’s flag at the Main Plaza or patrolling the Docks, or even on security missions outside the extrality line. They have no formal authority outside of the palace’s bounds, but they are backed by the viceroy’s informal authority which may be invoked in an emergency to trump any but the Ministry of Justice’s powers.
Usually, those troops, especially the officer corps, are recruited only from certain worlds or from the ranks of non-inheriting family members. They are primarily trained in urban warfare, counterinsurgency, bodyguard duties, building security, and crowd control – all-out war is the province of the Imperial Marine and ground assets, and the house’s troops are primarily a protective and peacekeeping force. That said, all houses have special combat techniques or tactics they teach their house guards, and some houses are rumoured to employ cloned, heavily modified, psionically trained or psychologically conditioned soldiers (and assassins) in defiance of Imperial law.
Any noble house worth its patent will also have an extensive Intelligence Section of spies and agents, absolutely necessary in the maze of Imperial politics and also useful for monitoring dissident groups in the subject population. Again, in their struggle to recruit and train the best personnel, nobles may overstep the bounds of Imperial law and use psionicists or mentally-conditioned agents.
Often, the viceroy’s house guard or staff put on spectacular ceremonies and functions at regular intervals: changings of the guard, parades, the giving of alms, investiture of new house barons, ritual chiming of the Imperial Gong, and so on. Those are almost always designed to be visually impressive public spectacles, open for viewing by tourists and planetary citizens, and accompanied with massive media coverage. On garrison worlds or in unruly systems, those ceremonies may take on a darker undertone: designed to impress potential troublemakers with the power of the Imperium to protect and punish, they tend to be shows of force involving literally thousands of tons of military hardware.
- The system’s viceroy hosts a ball for Imperial expatriates. As the planet sees little traffic from the Imperium and there’s not enough noble guests to fill a decent-sized ballroom, all spacers who happen to be in-system receive an invitation. This is both an opportunity for the PCs to rub shoulders with the local nobility and gain a few new Patrons, and a chance to commit a social gaffe and get into trouble. Maybe both.
- As 1), but the planet’s indigenous nobility and the Imperial nobles hate each other with a passion. The PCs’ presence becomes an opportunity for both sides to antagonize the other, and they are invited to partake in “local customs” which the Imps find distasteful or invited to dances ahead of protocol to snub a local nobleman. Things are slowly working up to a serious breach of proper etiquette. They become uncomfortably aware just how many dress sabres and rank daggers there are in the room.
- As 1), but a local terrorist group or Solomani Party section decides to kill all the nobs with an explosive device hidden in a serving robot. The PCs get wind of the operation and have to use the viceroy’s invitation to attend the ball and spot the robot before it can detonate the device.
- The Imperial Museum on the palace grounds holds many artifacts and keepsakes from the days where First Imperium drop-troops subdued the cannibalistic, head-hunting indigenous population in a series of bloody battles. A native movement objects to the protrayal of the indigenous leaders as villains in the museum’s narrative, and demands the return of the resistance’s torn battle flags to “their rightful owners”. Denied by the Imperial authorities, they turn to a band of spacers who might be able to steal the flags from the well-guarded premises.
- As 4), but the native movement also produces a person who claims to be a rightful descendant of the resistance leaders. Xe also claims to be anointed War-Chief Of All The Tribes, which is problematic because the ceremony involves killing an enemy, covering oneself with their blood and eating from their flesh – by making the claim, the leader has basically confessed to murder of a sentient and desecration of a corpse. (In other news, a young Marine from the starport’s base has been confirmed AWOL.) Xe appears at the palace gate and demands to be led to the museum to pay xir respects to xir ancestors’ sacrifice. If xe were arrested, there might be really ugly riots, so the security officers and museum staff ask the PCs to ambush xir, put xir into cold berth and ship xir out-system – as far from the planet as possible.
- The palace gardens are stocked with imported soil from a wide variety of planets. A certain herb grows only at this location (within a sphere of about fifty parsec) that is of interest to a certain faction – doctors working on a cure for a certain disease that is killing children, a drug lord looking for a new substance to sell to xir clientéle, a rich and eccentric hobbyist dabbling in botany. The PCs are asked to get a soil sample and a few of the plants, and smuggle them out of the palace grounds.
- An exotic and very dangerous animal has escaped from the viceroy’s zoological gardens and is running wild in the adjacent park. The PCs have been suggested as possible experts on catching and handling animals by a former employer (if they have experience with live cargo or been on safari trips). The viceroy has agreed to employ them, provided the valuable creature is not harmed or unduly frightened.
- The viceroy has given sanctuary to a group of political dissidents at odds with the planet’s autocratic government. Xe hopes to use them against the planet’s ruler at some time. The PCs are assigned to run errands for the dissidents. One of them might need to travel to other planets and has to be escorted through an angry mob, past possible secret police assassins; another wants xir family extracted from the capital city and brought into the palace; xe fears that they may be taken hostage. Another wants the PCs to retrieve a cache of incriminating documents from a safe house within the city limits, while another needs certain members of the planet’s ruler’s entourage watched. There’s no shortage of dangerous missions, but the viceroy pays well.
- An alien delegation is to be received by the viceroy’s diplomatic staff. Unfortunately, no one has experience with dealing with alien contact situations, so the PCs are hired as consultants.
- As 9), but a group of bigots decides to assassinate the aliens – either out of sheer xenophobia, or to make the Imperial ruler look bad. The PCs have their hands full protecting the visitors while showing them around the planet.
- The doctor who is in charge of the infirmary falls ill; later, xe is confirmed to have been poisoned. At first, the PCs are suspects – they were seen talking to xir in the park – but they can clear their name with little effort. The doctor’s understudy, who assumes xir office provisionally, is in league with a noble who is going to assassinate a hated member of the diplomatic corps and make it seem like an accident. The noble needs the doctor to confirm “death by natural causes”, and the doctor refused.
- The PCs stumble upon evidence that proves that the Imperial viceroy’s noble house is training their troops as psionic assassins. They are now on the run from the selfsame house troops and have to escape first from the palace grounds, then from the starport.
Sample Denizens of the Viceregal Palace
Soraya Bikaranyasha II. 494 BB(9/C) – 2
Human female viceregal concubine
Melee/blade-1, Seduction-3, Carouse-3, Gambling-1, Art/poetry-2, Art/musical instrument-3, Persuade-2, Disguise-2, Streetwise-2
Soraya Bikaranyasha II is the daughter of a local noble house which was subdued by the Imperium. The house was allowed to continue to exist, on the condition that they give their sons and daughters to be hostages to the subsector’s viceroys. The viceroy used Soraya’s uncertain status as an excuse to make her his personal concubine. She resents this disgraceful position, always remembering that she is the scion of a royal house that used to reign over several planets. (Her original social standing with those still loyal to the old house is C).
Soraya still is an exceptional beauty, with an oval face, large eyes and long, straight black hair, but bitterness has started to leave faint marks in the corners of her mouth and between her eyebrows. She is an accomplished actor and always perfectly deferential to her master – which has caused him to trust her with small diplomatic errands and give her freedom of the whole palace grounds – but in truth, she is fed up with this life and planning to find a crew of unscrupulous spacers who can whisk her off-planet, where she can start a rebellion against the viceroy’s house.
Millard Biraankir Bates 443 9C8
Human male tourist guide
History-3, Botany-2, Carouse-0, Drive/ground-1, Computer-1, Administration-0, Law-0
Bates’ rosy-coloured face is wrinkled and split by a wide smile most of the time. A white halo of hair surrounds his thinning pate, and he wears the somewhat gaudy livery of the palace with pride. He is one of the attendants whose job it is to guide visitors around the public parts of the palace – the park, the zoological garden, the museums, the university. Bates likes to chat and can be a valuable source of information and gossip about the palace crowd. Having worked here all his life, he knows the palace grounds and inhabitants in and out.