Saturday, May 28, 2016

... Abandon Ship?

No. Not in most cases.

Take a deep breath and repeat: Space is not an Ocean!!

Sea going ships are not spaceships. They ply the interface between a hostile environment (under water) and a livable environment (above water). If your ship sinks then yes you'd jump into a life raft or swim for it. Trying to survive in a submerged wreck is probably not the best option.

Space, however, is vacuum. Your ship is not going to sink into something more hostile. Your ship is a tiny oasis in a sea of nothing essentially. Everything you need to survive in space has to be brought with you. Water, oxygen, food etc adds up quickly in days or weeks. How much can you carry with you?

Ah but there's always the lifeboat!

Can it hold more stores than your ship does? If it does not, then you are better off running air, water, and power lines between the two ships and sitting it out in your berthed boat until the Scout SAR ship arrives. The other option is using the power and stores of the life boat to help sustain your crew while they initiate repairs. It worked for Tom Hanks and his crew (I know the LEM was not a lifeboat per se).

The ultimate passive form of survival, of course,  is the low berth. When your drives and power fail several light days or further from the nearest rescue hop into the tubes and wait out the years it may take to limp to safety (if you can call traveling 100 kps limping). Another downside to low travel is that you're likely to wake up at the mercy of whomever finds you and may be emerging into a worse situation than when you went to sleep. To prepare for the latter case bring a spacesuit into your low berth and then point out to the fuming referee that low berths can accommodate riding animals if necessary. Referees should allow this and then get very inventive in describing what getting into a vacc suit in a low berth is like. Refs are entitled to their fun too.

In a Traveller style universe banks might not encourage life boats on ships they mortgage. The reason they cite is the rarity of their use. Most crews are better off doing damage control and remaining aboard. The reason they don't cite is that once everyone leaves a ship the next person to put boots on its deck owns it (note that this usually doesn't apply to crews employed as starport search and rescue!)  The law on low passage survivors varies by location and if there's no one to notice a new constellation of crew-sicles it becomes rather academic. Some captains resent being forced to carry a boat at the expense of income earning volume. Also note the lifeboat costs quite a bit.

An alternative to a costly life boat and becoming a possible slave (frozen to guarantee freshness) is a vault.

Vaults are armored safe rooms/quarters with their own power source and life support systems. Unlike regular quarters they are designed for zero gravity because grav plates gobble power and are the first thing you's shut down for long term survival. ("We're on battery power. We're rationing the gravity. Try not to drop anything or fall unnecessarily.") They also contain gear and space suits you could use to repair your ship. They're made out of the stuff those airliner black boxes are made of. In the event of a fustercluck you retreat to the vault and wait for chips to stop falling (assuming you left the gravity on) then begin repairs and broadcast a distress call in whatever degree of panic you feel entitled to. Their survival in combat is up to the discerning referee but they should survive most actions short of the ship being turned into confetti. Vaults are at the very least modular and built at quadruple the cost of normal quarters or cargo space. Generous Referees might allow the mail section of a subsidized merchant to be in the vault as well. You don't want to lose that mail and have the Postal Service come after you.

There are some situations where abandoning a ship becomes good sense. A violent and fiery re-entry falls under spectator event for me. This is an exception to the 'spaceships don't sink' meme I started with. Being on an unavoidable collision course is another. Collisions are rare in space despite what movies tell you but black holes and neutron stars happen. A ship might not have the acceleration or propellant  to escape that a life boat possesses.

Combat is one of the worst places to be in a lifeboat if the other side shoots at lifeboats. Most people do not realizing they may find themselves in a lifeboat someday or in front of a court of law (or lynch mob of belters- you do not want to be hung in low gravity. It takes all day.) Pirates who like to work no harder than necessary will also greet a lifeboat launching with cheers and hearty "farewell chicken$#!+s"! It means an uneventful boarding action and a prize ship in most cases.

Fire is another scenario where abandoning ship may be called for. Suffice to say fire can be very bad. On a large station or ship depressurizing may not happen fast enough to prevent massive damage and rapid depressurization can be very bad for crew who are team players and grabbed an extinguisher instead of a space suit. Seriously spacing the guys trying to save the ship instead of running for the airlock while struggling into a spacesuit is messed up. Also note that space suits may require some time to safely don with slow depressurization and other procedures required. Big ships might have several crew suited up at any given time to deal with damage control. Again retreating to the lifeboat (or vault) and depressurizing the mother ship is pretty attractive.

Radiation is a problem that will not go away easily. It's up to the referee to decide just how dirty  ship power plants are. Radiation is a much more likely event than the power plant exploding (despite your love of large explosions). Power plants are built to process fuel into energy in a controlled way that is very different than the way you want to build a bomb. They also have many safeguards to shut them down /before/ they explode. Some unscrupulous merchants might sell plants without such guards and claim it's a design feature: a cheap self destruct! Meltdowns are possible considering the power put out and yes you want to use a lifeboat then. You can always come back to the stricken ship after the red glow fades.

Ships may also be possessed by a malignant entity. This happens occasionally in my Ghost Drive setting (okay a lot, you use ghosts to propel the ships after all.) You don't even need evil non biological entities. A mutinous crewman or deranged computer can make life interesting for your crew. Not to malevolent entities, rogue computers and mutinous crews; expect the bank to keep after you. If you think the bank will quail at demanding a malevolent entity keeps up the payments or be forced to vacate then you never had a home mortgage. They'll repossess from Satan himself.

Despite their rare use lifeboats are great from a story perspective. Say there's a derelict ship. It's bad enough as a symbol of mortality and how any technology is fallible. Now tell your intrepid players the lifeboats are launched. What could have made them desperate enough to abandon ship? Or  ... the lifeboats are there but the crew and passengers are missing.