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Finding Your Way Around the Starport

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2021 issue.

Military Dock

Also known as the Fleet Yard. Naval vessels, both from the planet’s defense fleet and the Imperial Navy, berth here. The area is off-limits to civilians (except civilian contractors who have passed the necessary background checks). Security is likely to be the tightest in the entire port.

Within the area, the accomodations for ships are much like those of the Civilian and Bulk Cargo Docks. In theory, the portmaster could have Customs personnel checking the military traffic, but it never pays offending the Navy, and in practice, Naval ships are usually unmolested by customs. This results in many sailors and deckhands engaging in lively smuggling enterprises, and quartermasters and pursers are in the perfect position for bundling those efforts.

Even smaller ports in backwater systems are likely to have a few rickety fighters in readiness to intercept hostile or uncooperative ships. Large starports may have hundreds of sleek modern interceptors in staggered racks, ready to take off and defend the port. Garrison duty is usually the epitome of boredom for hot-headed fighter pilots, who tend to find any excuse to turn surveillance missions and routine patrols into dangerous high-speed chases through the asteroid belt—and barring that, to trash the spaceport bars. There is a healthy rivalry between the dashing carrier-based fighter wings and the “sitting ducks” of a garrison squadron.

In addition to the ship dock, there are barracks, gyms, training areas, sports and mess facilities for enlisted sophonts and NCOs, and (more or less) luxurious apartments for the commissioned ranks. Officers frequently avoid the housing provided at the Yard, and take residence instead at certain hotels in the Hostelries section that are known as “officer country” (and may even be completely barred to civilians in some places). Some of these hotels may be situated planetside or outside the extrality line so the officers have the convenience of attending local events, balls and parties with the planet’s uppercrust. This is often the case even if the rest of the naval assets are located at the highport, making it difficult sometimes for officers to get a shuttle to their ships in the advent of an emergency. Officers’ hotels are often a good place to swap news if you are a retired or ranking Naval officer.

Enlisted and fighter pilots on shore leave are likely to be found anywhere but in the military compound, so to get rumours or news from them, one should rather visit the Bars & Brothels section or the Main Plaza.

Imperial and planetary Navy personnel usually barrack adjacent to each other and use the same training facilities but tend not to get along all that well. The Imperials usually view themselves as being a fair cut above the planetary “mud hens”, despite the high level of experience and professionalism displayed by many local Naval personnel.

Imperial naval vessels and crews have access to a lot better funding than the local Navy, which also often has to share its budget with the other branches of the planetary defense forces. Where the Imperial Navy deploys brand-new, state-of-the-art fighters and ships, the local Navy assets may be pretty obsolete by comparison. It is largely dependent on the motivation provided by the officers whether they accept their inferior status and lapse into apathy, or whether they strive to make up for their equipment’s shortcomings with dedication and skill.

Most important to travellers would probably be the Admiralty building, which manages all records, supervises all military arrivals and departures (although the actual co-ordination and clearances for takeoff are done by civilian Traffic Control), and assigns supplies from the Military Depot to ships. In a military emergency, either the Admiralty or the Viceregal Palace’s Security section would form the Imperial forces´ headquarters, and marines or house troops would take control of all other important points. There are rumoured to have been cases where those two authorities have been at odds during an emergency, usually with unfortunate consequences.

The Port Admiral is responsible for overseeing the military port. Xe need not be an actual admiral – depending on the size of the planet’s local assets, xe may have a rank as low as commander. The post of Port Admiral is often given as a political favour to officers who have the necessary seniority or connections but a poor combat record. The Navy’s general feeling is that fighting commanders should not be wasted on a desk job.

Consequently, most Naval personnel view Port Admirals as shirkers and second-rate officers who could not make it as a “real” fleet commanding officer. The rivalry between serving ship captains (particularly those with battle experience and decorations for action) and the Port Admirals is a byword, and their office gives Port Admirals plenty of opportunity to engage in petty obstruction. The more lionised an officer is by the ranks and xir peers, the harder it may be for xir to get the proper supplies or clearances from the Admiralty. The situation is made worse by the fact that Port Admirals often spend long terms in close contact with Starport Authority and hobnobbing with the local nobility, giving them a wide range of connections in the star system and plenty of strings to pull to make life miserable for particularly disliked officers (and by extension, their crews).

Reporting to the Port Admiral is also the military police (sometimes also called “Shore Patrol”) headquarters (complete with brig and interrogation facilities), which has powers to apprehend Naval and Marine personnel. Larger ports also have their own Naval investigative service, whose agents (who are nominally civilians to avoid conflicts of interest) investigate all crimes that involve Naval or marine personnel either as perpetrator, suspect or victim. The responsibilities overlap frequently with the Ministry of Justice bureau’s (which takes precedence if it chooses to exercise its power) and Starport Police. While NIS agents frequently investigate across the extrality line and expect full co-operation by the local police force, their actual authority outside the starport’s bounds may be just a tad fuzzy.

Sample Denizens of the Military Dock

(adjust ranks as appropriate for planetary importance)

Rear Admiral Sir Vijaykrisnan Hardenray-Gutierrez 565ABA
Port Admiral
Administration-3, Deception-2, Diplomat-2, Melee (blade)-1, Jack-of-all-trades-1, Art (painting)-0, Leadership-1, Tactics (space combat)-1, Carouse-2, Investigate-1, Streetwise-1, Recon-1

Admiral Hardenray-Gutierrez is a short man of middle age, with graying short-cropped hair around a slowly growing pate. His round face is that of a beatifically smiling cherub atop an immaculately pressed uniform hung with a dress epée and an adequate amount of gongs and tinsel. Jovial, fond of long-winded speeches and good-natured little bad jokes, the Admiral is usually found out of his office, attending one ball of the local nobility or another, appearing at fundraiser parties or seen in the company of society ladies. Which is just as well, as far as his subordinates are concerned, because he has an explosive temper and can also be downright vicious; both traits only surface when he is in his military environment.

Hardenray-Gutierrez is a shrewd man playing two roles. To his men and all the Navy, he is a pompous, choleric martinet with hardly an idea of how to run the Navy Yard; it is generally assumed that he is a figurehead, and that his chief-of-staff, Commander Matting, handles all real issues. To the planetary nobility, he is a jovial half-wit party fool who can be milked for information about the Navy’s plans for the subsector.

The truth of the matter is somewhat more complicated. Hardenray-Gutierrez does his best to make the Navy in this system look weak and disorganised, relying on Matting to keep up discipline under the veneer of slack. His buffoon’s role at the posh parties has been played well; the nobs have let down their guard considerably in his presence. Hardenray-Gutierrez has gathered a lot of evidence that there is a cabal of several influential nobles who want to ally themselves with the Solomani (or other suitable faction), wrest power from the democratic Parliament and install themselves as feudal lords. When they do, his Navy will be ready to drop marines and defend the Parliamentary seat. His greatest worry is that the conspirators may already have a Solomani fleet ready, disguised as merchant vessels or hidden in the asteroid belt, to support the takeover. Hardenray-Gutierrez is currently looking for a crew of free traders to “tour the belter communities” and have a look at what is happening there.

Commander Hendrec Ilai Matting 896997
Chief of Staff
Administration-2, Deception-1, Melee(blade)-3, Laser pistol-1, Leadership-3, Tactics(space combat)-3, Tactics (ground)-1, Law-1, Recon-2

Fair-haired, blue-eyed, spare and tall, Commander Matting has the air of a man to whom humour is as foreign as the Hivers. His superior’s little quips and jocularities are usually met with a bland face and the appropriate nod—”Indubitably, sir”—while Hardenray-Gutierrez’s tantrums just seem to slide off Matting’s imperturbable calm. Observers have often wondered just how Matting and Sir Vijaykrisnan get along; their temperament is so different that there would be bound to be an explosion every other day. So far, though, and to everyone’s amazement, nothing has happened beyond the Admiral’s usual short-lived little outbursts.

Matting sees to the day-to-day running of the Naval Yard, and quite efficiently so; but even though he is seen to do his best, outsiders with a military background will notice the slipping of discipline everywhere. Matting has taken to conferring with the Yard’s NCOs in private, presumably on finding a solution for the problem.

Master Chief Petty Officer Kelly Gembarnus 97AA66
Administration-3, Deception-3, Melee(unarmed)-2, Gun Combat(accelerator)-1, Law-1, Streetwise-4, Forgery-2, Broker-1, Engineer-0, Computer-1

MCPO Gembarnus is a tall, broad-shouldered woman with a snub nose and freckles, wearing her auburn hair at two millimeters´ length. Her chin sports a short red burn scar that she often rubs absently. Always accompanied by a breathless PO with a data pad, she is either standing completely still or moving at a very fast trot, talking and striding at the same time. The chief quartermaster of the Naval Yard, she is also unofficially the liaison for many smugglers who want to get contraband in-system via the “Navy train”.

Recently, Kelly has been tasked by the Port Admiral to use her smuggler contacts to get untraced military supplies planetside—caches for Marine counter-insurgence teams in the event of a coup; she has also “discarded” a lot of munitions and battledress suits, which are duly listed as destroyed but actually stashed in the back of the Yard’s warehouses. Her prized archive system has suffered, to the point that she alone knows where everything has been stored. She knows that whatever crisis the Admiral expects had better come to a head soon; definitely best before the next audit by a Naval revisor, or there will be trouble.

Senior Naval Investigator Lambert Al-Sayf 699A97
Naval Investigative Service agent
Investigation-3, Deception-1, Melee (unarmed)-1, Gun Combat (slug)-1, Law-1, Streetwise-3, Computer-2, Recon-4, Intimidate-2

“Al” is a tall, lanky man with dark hair and a creased face. He dresses unobtrusively but with the right hint of severity that he is taken seriously when he displays his badge. Technically a civilian and able to order senior officers around in the course of an investigation, he makes a point of treating deckhands and sailors with the same firm courtesy as he does admirals. Never one to back down from a case, he has the reputation of being as tenacious as a kellika when something seems suspicious enough.
Currently, he and his bubbly blonde partner, Leticy Rivas, are investigating the absence of two key personnel from the Naval Yard’s supply area; and if their instincts are correct, the planet’s noble uppercrust may have at least a few fingers in the pie. He also suspects MCPO Gembarnus of being involved; Leticy and he could never conclusively prove her smuggling ties.

Lieutenant Alyx-Marie Dequesne 777889
Naval Corvette Commander
Tactics (space combat)-2, Leadership-1, Law-1, Recon-1, Sensors-1, Intimidate-1, Gun Combat(accelerator)-1, Melee(blade)-3, Zero-Gee-1

A career officer and the commander of PC-276618, Alyx-Marie is a woman of medium height, with an angular face and a short black shock of hair. There is a warrior-caste tattoo on her left cheek and temple, a mark of her homeworld’s society. Compulsively honourable, courageous and loyal to a fault, the values she brought with her chimed well with those of the Navy. Dequesne’s ship is often employed in the vicinity of the planet’s main jump point or on a roving commision checking on in-system traffic. To keep her crew on their collective toes, she often treats routine customs checks like a drill, accompanying her marines and crew into the boarded vessel and later pointing out what each crewmember could have done better. Her second-in-command has standing orders to fire on the vessel if she was taken hostage; the whey-faced young ensign is terrified of that ever happening.

Lieutenant Marca Dowland 757787
Naval Corvette Commander
Tactics (space combat)-0, Law-2, Recon-1, Computer-1, Streetwise-1, Gun Combat(accelerator)-1, Carouse-1, Gambling-1

The commander of PC-358484, Marca is a pudgy dark-haired woman wearing a constant scowl. She’s not well-liked by her crew, but is too lazy to do something about it, especially as discipline is visibly deteriorating at the port. Among smugglers, Lt Dowland has gained a bit of notoriety; she is always open to bribes, needing a constant influx of money to fuel her gambling habit.

Knowing this, MCPO Gembarnus has managed to get the flight controllers to send her corvette out to certain less-trafficked jump points where certain ships with certain cargo manifests arrive that Gembarnus does not want to be too closely looked at. At first, Marca thought she was in the Galactic Spirit’s Promised Paradise, with the amount of bribes she collected multiplying weekly, but recently she has started to question her luck. Something big is brewing, and while she likes money as much as the next Navy girl, she doesn’t want to get caught up in it when it happens.