Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Writing on the Hull

The planet  Zaonia (0104 C885655-5     Ag Ri         123) in the Vergant Subsector had a problem. It was a rich agricultural world and numerous traders stopped there to buy food for other less bountiful worlds. The problem was many of these traders had forged identities to hide the fact they were skipping on their bank payments. Worse some traders came representing companies well known and licensed by the Zaon nobility for offworld exporting. They refuelled using the companies' credit lines (and resupplied their ships) passed bad checks or paid with counterfeit credits and left never to be seen again.

The banks that had mortgaged the ships that were skipping were not pleased.

The companies that paid to be allowed to export goods from Zaonia were not pleased.

The local merchants and starport authorities who were stiffed regularly were not pleased.

the nobles who ruled based on their control and use of technology were made to look like idiots. High technology was just too good at copying documents their local technology could not discern.

There was a light t the end of the tunnel though. One of the local knights had traveled offworld in his youth and had a membership in the Outreach Association. He used it to travel to a nearby spaceport and spoke with the various members there. The Outreach Association did not like when a world's commerce and star travel dried up. They sent him to the bank. The knight returned several months later with a number of binders. The binders and the paper sheets inside had to be specially ordered and cost nearly as much as his passage.

Everyone mortgaging a ship has to submit proof of identity you see. This consists of retina imaging, fingerprints, DNA and finally they sign off on the loan the old fashioned way. Banks are very traditional.

Zaonia didn't have the technology for retinal or DNA scans. Importing offworld gear would erode the nobility's authority. Fingerprints could be faked with high tech prosthetics well enough to fool the locals. So the Zaons began checking signatures.

Handwriting is very hard to fake. People who use thumbprints and eye scans for ID don't know that. In fact the banks only took the signatures as a tradition. But the Zaons write quite a lot by hand: letters, legal forms, sometimes whole books! They also had a few graphologists who were very good for forensic work. They gave them new jobs at the starport and waited. As soon as someone came along with a ship that was listed as mortgaged (or even not) his handwriting was checked against bank records and by the pros.

They might hack and fake ship IDs and transponders and licenses but faking a signature on demand was too hard. They'd mess up their sign in sheet or sign a bad check badly and get busted on the way back to their ship. The better writing analysts could tell from changes in signatures whether the signers were nervous or ill or under the influence which certainly interested the local creditors. Scams dropped to tolerable levels.

The banks got several ships that skipped payments repossessed. They were happy.

The companies saw the license poachers jailed. They were happy.

The local merchants had a reasonable chance of being paid. They were happy.

The nobles seized several ships that were owned outright by their captains and began outfitting them as a small trade fleet for exporting handcrafted local wares. They were happy.

What did the nobility export? Illuminated manuscripts.

Forgery can mean different things to people at different technological levels.Analysts can analyze a signature for authenticity and their expert opinion is admissible as evidence in many courts today. Some cultures may view signatures as a quaint custom, writing being hardly used anymore. This can bite them on the rear in numerous ways as indicated.

Writing things down is one of the most secure forms of data entry. Bad guys might hack your computer or use fancy gadgets to read your monitor from a distance. But a notebook is immune to all that (and also EM pulses and viruses). Some navigators might even keep a written log or rutter with information on charting the best course on a given route with precomputed steps they found to work

Of course this could also lead to the ultimate secure fund transfer system: the letter of credits.