Thursday, June 2, 2016

Stowaway the Easy Way

Stowaways in Space

When I sat down to write this it was with misgivings. The idea of anyone hiding on board a ship in space seems a little farfetched to me. When Traveller was released in the ’70’s and people began SF roleplaying there was not an inkling that one day everything would have processing capacity and our wallpaper would have micro sensors in it. 

If you wanted to find a stowaway you had to, you know, look for the little sneak yourself.

Perusing the rules for the anti-hijack program only indicates it will lock people out of control systems. 

The classic Starship Operators’ Handbook from Digest Group went into great detail about how a ship’s computer could in fact scan a person for weapons, emotional state and then turn snitch on them long before they’d get to anyplace sensitive. However, we must also realize your computer is already pretty heavily tasked and internal sensors and AI cost credits. Not every ship will have them, certainly not many heavily mortgaged tramp fusers plodding along and plying their trade. So let’s go over some ways to stow away.

Stowing away is defined for my purposes as obtaining passage onboard a ship through nonviolent but illegal means. If you’re holding the captain at gunpoint till he breaks orbit congratulations -you’re a hijacker.

The easiest way of getting free passage is if you are a powerful telepath (“Aha! Over … wait I was wrong. Just a potted plant in here.”) Let the computer tag you for a drifter all it wants. Who cares if the men sent to grab you don’t seem to see or remember you? The Traveller race, Dronyne, with their cloaking ability would excel at this. S&S Andromedans used to have a molting period where they were invisible and surely an exceptional psi could be found in any race desired. The Dralasites from the Star Frontiers game weren’t invisible but darned near boneless and could easily hide in nooks and spaces no human could reach.

The problem with all those species is when people begin noticing the missing oxygen, water, and food or see your little footprints on the deck using a thermograph or hear the head flsuhing. After that it’s a simple matter to order the crew into spacesuits and start evacuating sections of the hull. Note that to get the really satisfying WHOOSH and suck people off their feet we’re talking opening the hangar bay doors.

Another use for psionics that doesn’t involve making like a Jedi (I am not the stowaway you are looking for …” “Doesn’t matter, you’ll do!”) is to use a power that lets you slow your body’s metabolism down to nothing. Mail yourself wherever in an airtight crate with an alarm clock.

Medical Fast Drug can serve the same purpose. Make sure you have enough. It also sucks when people do find you as you can’t put up much of a fight (the ship may land before your first punch does.)

Some stowaways will attempt to ride out their trip in a cargo container keeping a very low profile indeed. These crates are often elaborate affairs with thermal and sonic shielding, cryogenic devices and heat sinks to store and eliminate any thermal traces. This is not too odd when you realize money is not the only reason people stowaway. There are many reasons to let people think you are still on planet. Just be sure you take everything you need. Remember the stowaway who hid in a crated ATV swaddled in chill cans and thermal insulating blankets with water and food bars to spare. They caught him when he emerged after three days to use the bathroom. Yes zero sediment food bars are a thing. Buy some. For added safety bring your own breathing equipment in case they decide to evacuate the cargo bay for whatever reason.

Of course there are people who convert cargo containers into stowaway modules. Some of them are better than the accommodations you pay for legally.

There is another way to stow away that few people outside the well travelled circles. We’ve seen how institutions like CT’s Traveller’s Aid Society that gives high passage tickets as dividends.

Now again back in the ’70’s we figured they were printed tickets (on very nice cardstock) and the recipients lugged them around in wheelbarrows or some such. Actually this works fairly well if you think about it. Give the person a ticket on physical media at each aid station or whatever dated and with a ledger (electronic or physical) that shows the receipt of said tickets. He presents himself, gets a ticket and gets his book stamped all very legal. Note that duplicating a high passage may mean presenting yourself as the recipient or forging a paper trail to prove its sale to you.

I think those tickets would be very hard to duplicate. Hard but not impossible. counterfeit a high passage and suddenly you are indistinguishable from a paying customer. You can sit around your individual stateroom wondering what the poor stowaways are doing this time of year.

For my part if I could forge high passage tickets I’d trade them in for the credits then spend them on a middle passage and have a thousand credits to spend on my trip. But then you blur the lines between scam artists and stowaways.

Another way to blur the lines is to introduce squatters. When you’re hiding aboard a ship you’re a stowaway. When you hide aboard a station you’re a squatter. Being a squatter is an order easier (of course you do need to get to the station first.) Stations are bigger than most ships providing more hiding options. A station with a lot of personnel passing through might not notice the discrepancy in life support and since a station doesn’t go anywhere your mass will not throw it off course. Large space colonies are the ultimate in squatters and may have dozens or hundreds of people living off the grid … in spaaaaace.

Sadly the results of being found remain the same: possible spacing and most likely arrest and deportation. In the event of deportation they will probably give you a space suit and re-entry kit (used). 

Squatters may even be tolerated on some stations. They provide a steady supply of dayworkers/scabs (or even thugs) if necessary. They could be engaged in all manner of illegal sales and services. If their uses outweighs the oxygen and water loss the station authorities may turn a blind eye to them for years or even decades. 

Of course they can cobble together a stowaway pod. Why do you ask?