Finding Your Way Around the Starport
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 issue.
Travel bureaux, post offices, transportation services, communication booths, interstellar banks, duty-free shopping, and insurance companies: this is the hub for tourists looking to see the planet’s wonders, as well as for immigrants. For a fee, the travel agents will brief the traveller about what to avoid while planetside, transfer money and issue vouchers, cash in TAS cheques, provide maps, hand out brochures about local law, see to it that your vaccination is up to date, find out the residence of the persons you want to meet, take care of the transfer of your luggage, book a satisfying hotel, arrange tours, point out sights and areas to visit, and make arrangements and inquiries with local authorities. All that is, of course, if they (the agents) exist at all. A dismal E-class starport may instead have only a single tri-vid booth where communication may or may not be available at certain times of the day.
Some space captains may disdain and avoid the tourist area, but the shrewd ones cultivate contacts here. Travel agents usually have a large network of people planetside, and they can dig up a lot of information. It is also not unusual for an agent to arrange safety measures for their clients—local guides, temporary medical insurance, rescue services, legal assistance, regular comm calls to ensure all is well, even bribes to the local guerrillas to leave “their” tourists in peace—and they will know a lot more about the hidden dangers of the planet than the port authorities are ready to divulge.
The Travellers’ Aid Society will also have its offices here (although in the more backwater systems, it may be represented by a single person who is also the mechanic, postmaster, sheriff and firefighter). The TAS provides its members with much of the same services that the travel agents do, but is generally more reliable and will look after its members with the full leverage of an Imperium-wide organisation.
Tourists and immigrants from foreign polities may also wish to check with the Consulate of their respective state, to make sure their visa and stamps of approval are correct.
Tourists wishing to travel light may leave their surplus luggage in rented storage lockers. The lockers are also a favourite place for the clandestine transfer of money or equipment—patrons may give a team of hired travellers a key to a locker that holds their fee, or the travellers may be told to leave the valuable object they procured in a locker and put the key into the offertory of the local shrine. One has to keep in mind, though, that the rows of lockers are likely to be guarded by holo cameras and/or patrolled by watchmen. It is not wise to dispose of stolen goods or a body here—contrary to what the holovids tell you.
If the prepaid duration expires, the lockers’ contents are usually placed in special storage where they can be reclaimed for a fine (the amount fined is usually up to the official’s whim). If they are not reclaimed within a few weeks, they will be put on auction. It is customary for baggage cases and suitcases to be auctioned unopened, so travellers buying one may be in for a surprise at the contents.
The tourist area is also home to the Lost and Found Department, if there is one at the starport. At a Class-B or -A, thousands of objects are lost each day, and so the department is a huge affair.
- A travel agent asks the PCs to look into the disappearance of a group of tourists. Xir last few comm calls to check if everything was okay weren’t answered. The tourists wanted to visit a temple complex that was recently dug up by archaeologists – one that lies close to an area where local guerillas are said to operate. Kidnappings of tourists are rare, but not unheard of.
- The PCs are told that a contact of theirs left a message for them at one of the tourist offices. When they enter the booth, they find the travel agent dead with a bullet in his head, and the message receiver plays only hissing static. Then the starport police show up and try to detain the travellers as suspects.
- Independent travel agents have been a problem for the Travellers’ Aid Society for some time. Tourist groups who travel with TAS vouchers are harrassed by the locals, their cheques refused, and their vehicles suffer malfunctions in the wilderness. None of those inconveniences befall the tourists that travel with the independents. The TAS suspects sabotage, and asks the PCs to look into the matter.
- A friend of the PCs died and left a valuable heirloom/a piece of important information/the key to xir ship in the luggage lockers at a certain starport’s Tourist Services section. Unfortunately, by the time they reach the system, the rental time for the locker has expired, and the friend’s luggage is put on auction. There are a few sophonts in the audience that start to bid high just to annoy the PCs, some are intrigued and start joining in the bidding when the price rises, and there may be some who show genuine and sinister interest in the piece that is auctioned.
- The PCs buy a set of luggage at an auction. When they open it, they find the tiny, shrivelled body of a Droyne with a bullet hole in its chest.
- The PCs buy a set of luggage at an auction. Inside, they find the key and codes to a starship—but not the necessary papers to prove ownership. It seems the owner disappeared under suspicious circumstances, and the ship must be at berth somewhere in the port.
- A group of Solomani/Aslan/Vargr/Zhodani/Daryen tourists wish to visit the planet, and a very nervous travel agent assigns them the PCs as guides/bodyguards/watchdogs. There’s difficulties from the outset, what with the tourists brazenly violating local customs, bigoted groups on the planet trying to make the visitors feel as unwelcome as possible, and the nagging suspicion that they might not be tourists at all. What if they have a hidden agenda, and the sightseeing tour is just a cover?
- The holocameras on the locker floor show a large man taking a bag out of one of the lockers. A high-resolution scan shows him leafing through a number of photographs, some of which show the PCs’ faces! A friend at the tourist services bureau or the starport police alerts the PCs. The bag is the right size to hold a sniper rifle or other assassination tools. Unfortunately, the man managed to evade the cameras, and is now on the loose somewhere in the starport.
- Tourists get scammed, fleeced and conned all the time when planetside. It’s part of the tourism industry. Only when the situation escalates beyond petty fraud and fake Vilani chronometers do the police step in. Acting on a hunch, the police chief hires the PCs to check out a string of scams that occurred just outside the extrality line. The hunch proves correct: the PCs discover that all tourists who were swindled out of their money had one thing in common. They all booked at the same travel agent’s office.
- A group of tourists that the PCs are hired to babysit develop an annoying habit of inadvertently stumbling into military security zones and ignoring warning signs. They look hapless enough, and their credentials check out—they are not foreign agents or anything. The TAS agent who booked the trip for them is a Zhodani spy who left post-hypnotic orders in their minds to gather as much intelligence on the planet’s defenses as possible. When they return to the office to get their tickets off-planet, he’ll retrieve the information by telepathic probing.
Sample Denizens of the Tourist Service Section
Arcadine Lissavardy 464AA9
Human female travel agent
Jack-of-all-trades-1, Broker-1, Diplomacy-2, Carouse-1, Computer-2, Administration-3, Streetwise-1, Drive/grav-0, Art/painting-1
Arcadine is a bland-looking woman in her thirties with a hedgehog of mouse-grey hair and red-rimmed blue irises—obviously augmented to let her read information directly from a computer feed. She wears unobtrusive but elegant clothes, with a pin displaying the name of her travel bureau (“Sterling Travels and Arts”), and speaks in short, precise sentences. Arcadine specialises in important clients—rich tourists with exotic wishes, nobles wishing to travel incognito, and the like. She is also the person who is most commonly recommended to aliens or visitors from polities outside the Imperium as the agent who can take care of their needs.
Arcadine keeps a few freelancers on retainer as troubleshooters for important clients, but will hire outside help in a pinch.
Ferdin Kraly 7569A7
Human male travel agent
Jack-of-all-trades-2, Broker-0, Persuade-1, Carouse-1, Computer-2, Administration-1, Law-2, Streetwise-3, Forgery-3, Melee/blade-1, Gambling-0
Ferdin used to be a petty criminal, but decided to turn half-way honest and started a tourist office at the port. He knows all the places that are better avoided by tourists, and has good advice on how not to get scammed or shot at. Also, he is an expert on vacation areas that are a bit off-the-mainstream and away from the usual bustling tourist centres.
If the PCs need a forged visa or permit, Ferdin is the man to go to. If he cannot forge one himself, he knows someone who can.
Ferdin is a wiry man with a dark shock of hair overhanging a shaved side-cut and sharp facial features. His eyes are constantly on the move, darting here and there, even though the rest of his body is visibly relaxed and calm. He has a hookah in his office which he takes the occasional puff from.
Zerlay Jantorin Mohammed Smith 44479A
Phi Veloran alien
Jack-of-all-trades-1, Diplomacy-1, Vacc suit-1, Zero-gee-1, Carouse-3, Art/music-2
The name “Zerlay Jantorin Mohammed Smith” is an amalgam of the main characters of several Human fictional novels that Zerlay is a fan of. Xir real name is a fluting sound unpronounceable to Humans. Zerlay is a tall, pear-shaped, blue skinned alien, moving very slowly and deliberately, always soft-spoken and courteous. Xe fancies xirself a dashing adventurer like the heroes of those books and uses his brood-family’s vast wealth to move around the sector, visiting exciting ruins and “exploring” long-gone civilizations. Xe’s easily bored with the small stuff, and has a short attention span, so “real” adventures are a bit of a turn-off for xir if they involve waiting or repetive chores.
Most travel agents have heard of Zerlay, and if they are booked by him may hire a band of spacers to make the tours more “interesting” for xir by staging harmless “native attacks” or other creative diversions.
Sir Halkay Shugamsharib 9A578B
Human male dilettante
Hunting-3, Diplomacy-1, Carouse-4, Gun combat/slug-1, Melee/blade-1, Art/dance-2, Computer-0, Administration-0, Survival-1, Animal handling-0, Bribe-3, Leadership-1
Sir Halkay is a rich noble currently on a tour of the border worlds. He is an avid hunter and sightseer. He is also an incurable snob and refuses to acknowledge any rules. He will visit whatever place he likes, stage safaris on endangered species, and violate no-fly zones as the whim takes him. His creed is, “enough credits make rules go away”, and so far, he has been successful—either getting an “exceptional permit” in advance, or squaring it with the enraged authorities afterwards with lavish baksheesh. A party travelling with him (or worse, bodyguarding him) is in for a nerve-wracking trip.
Charming, cheerful and good-looking (even though his temples and moustache are turning gray) Sir Halkay has a broad, athletic stature with a slight pot belly and a rascallish grin. He is usually clad in safari khakis, expensive dinner jackets or the dress uniform of his family’s regiment, and is never without the company of two or three young society ladies.
Human female street kid
Jack-of-all-trades-1, Streetwise-1, Recon-2, Investigate-1, Stealth-3
Nicky is a young Human girl, rail thin and with a partially shaven head. She is clad in a much-too-large gray janitor’s jumpsuit which she made to fit by cutting off the sleeves and half of the legs. Nicky makes a living hiring herself out carrying tourists’ luggage and shining their shoes. She is very shy and has had to learn the hard way to make herself noticed by potential clients.
The victim of an abusive home, Nicky flinches back from any kind of violence and is slow to trust. If the PCs treat her with respect, she may eventually thaw out a bit. If that happens, she can prove to be a font of information—being at the starport’s tourist section all the time, she knows exactly who visited which locker or office and when, and she knows which travel agents are trustworthy and which are not. Also, since she sleeps in a nest she made in an abandoned part of the air duct system, she knows more than a few secret ways around the port that don’t show up on the blueprints.
Postmaster Llewellyn Heardy 665999
Human male scout
Administration-2, Medic-1, Drive/ground car-1
Llewellyn Heardy is a portly, balding man wearing the khaki uniform of the scout service. He and his Droyne sport assistant, Goydrayl, run the small post office outlet in the tourist section. The PCs will usually meet him to receive messages their friends and contacts have left for them.
Llewellyn is a bit long-winded and loves to make small talk, so it may take a few minutes of idle chit-chat before he gets to play the messages to their booth. (Goydrayl, by contrast, is efficient and lightning-fast.)
Recently, Llewellyn looks more troubled than usual, but will brush away questions with a curt “no, everything’s fine” totally at odds with his usual behaviour. An unknown faction is threatening his niece (after the death of his wife the only family he has at the starport) if he doesn’t place secret microphones in the confidential message booths.