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TL9 Junco-class Trader

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Cepheus Journal #010 under the title “The Junk”, and was reprinted in the May/June 2023 issue with permission.

The economic development office of the galactic empire has a mandate to bring the great commercial success of the empire into all emerging regions. A great deal of trade has to happen to connect new regions into the economic core, and many incentives have to be given in order to jump start this with new commercial districts. To meet these needs, the office commissioned the design of the optimal trading vessel: the Junco, commonly referred to as The Junk.

The design was commissioned to be as cheap as possible in order to facilitate government production, trade subsidies and to be sensitive to extremely low margins. These together allow for the Junco to be profitable over a wide variety of routes.

The Junco is extremely popular with many development offices. As the requirements are very basic, they can be built in almost any starport, usually with locally sourced supplies, often qualifying them for most favorable rates and subsidies due to the stimulus to the local economy. Analysis shows that, credit for credit, subsidizing the production, use and distribution of Juncos achieves government aims better than any other class of vessel.

A typical government initiative (either local or Imperial) will fund the commissioning of a set number of Juncos from one or more starports. A call for tender will go out to captains to apply to run a Junco, with their choice of crew. Contracts will normally be given for a set period of time (one to two years) with a fixed route, or else will be given for a set number of runs between a core destination and one deep in the outback. A modest payment is offered, but, more frequently, no pay is given until the end of the contract, and, at that time, the title of the ship is handed over to the captain with no further restrictions. This makes it an extremely popular way for traders to get started in the industry.

What They Don’t Tell You

On paper, the Junco is everything it presents itself as. All that economy comes at a price. Amongst experienced space farers the Junco is known to be unreliable, cranky, prone to breakages and subject to unexpected mishaps. Plenty of industry journals feature comics of a proud, but naive, pilot shanking the hand of a government official as they have the title to their Junco passed over, while in the background the vessel disintegrates into a pile of parts. There is wide speculation that the short terms of contracts for Juncos are because that is their genuine expected lifespan. Anything beyond that is begging for disaster.

Warnings aside, it is still a popular option for starting captains. Many take the government route and contract for a time to earn one. But they can also be found being sold off cheaply by someone who has just earned one and would rather have some ready cash. They are often available for purchase, used, in wildly varying conditions for wildly varying prices. (Some people will even pay you to take ownership of their Junco, often with mandatory trade contracts attached.)

Buyers should beware; it is universally accepted that there will be something wrong with it. It is just a question of how many things are wrong with it. Fortunately, although it tends to go wrong frequently, it seldom goes wrong fatally. They are certainly known for falling to pieces in a firefight, but they do not often fall to pieces in normal operations. (Although pieces are known to fall off of them.)

On the plus side, because they are locally sourced, go wrong frequently, and often end up being sold for scrap, finding spare parts is seldom hard. Because they are of standard design, most spare parts are interchangeable. The general attitude amongst engineers is “forewarned is forearmed”. Most competent engineers will stock up on spares of things that most often go wrong. In the worst case, because they are so common, if a breakdown occurs and a part is not on board, there will be some Junco in system that probably has a spare. Half the time they will charge an exorbitant rate for it because of their own bitter experience. Half the time they will give a heavily discounted rate, out of sympathy and shared pain.

Aftermarket Additions

Because of all the shortcomings for long term operations with Juncos, anything that is not running under a current subsidy is often modified. Some modifications are slight, like better filtration on the life support so it doesn’t stink as much. Others are much more involved. The Junco does have a good quantity of cargo space. And that is space that can be used to install extra systems. This will reduce its profit margin, but if an added system is needed for the ship to be profitable, it can be a fair trade.

Upgraded Systems. There are several companies who make drop­in replacements for major systems. The standard components of the ship: Maneuver Drive, Jump Drive, and Power Plant, can all be upgraded for just a bit more than their normal list prices. This will greatly reduce the number of breakages in those systems. Sadly, there is no trade­in value for the dismounted systems. Scrap value is just about all you will get.

Weapon Systems. Although it is possible to retrofit a Junco with a single starship level turret, they are still terrible in a fight. This is more often done out of bravado or as a poison pill. But, since the vessels are so cheap, it isn’t unheard of to use them in a quasi­disposable way to surprise an enemy, or in extremis when no other options are possible.

Defensive Systems. Since Juncos are known to go to pieces even when just targeted by a weapon system, they are easy prey to pirates seeking to intimidate into paying some protection money. Although armor plating is of questionable value, point defense weapons are an option. They won’t significantly damage an attacking ship, but they will make life difficult for boarding parties. Similarly, an aggressive internal system can make anyone regret boarding one.

Extra Fuel Tankage. This is a popular option, with collapsible bladders being the most favored. That allows two successive jump­1s to be taken to get from one trade loop to another, and then back to normal jump­1 running. For captains who were enticed by a long trade run into the outback and are looking to do it again for their own profit, this can open many more possibilities.

Stealth Compartments. Because these ships are so heavily modified, any inspector expects to find changes to the base design. It is easy to construct something that looks like one modification but is, in fact, a façade hiding a scan shielded compartment for other commodities. Given the difficult margins on this vessel, running contraband is very tempting.

Extra Cargo. The Junco is optimized to carry as much as it possibly can. But some models will scrap the Jump Drives, reduce their operations to in­system only, and bolt on additional cargo compartments. (Not all that unusual after a Jump Drive failure that is too expensive to fix.) Where regulations are lax, some of these may even bolt on more than the maneuver driven can handle at 1G, reducing performance down to .5 or .25G.

Plot Hooks

There are many opportunities to use Juncos in your campaign.

Congratulations On Your New Ship. Many campaigns start with requiring one of the players to own a ship. A Junco is ideal in many ways. They are cheap enough, and with a low enough resale value, that the referee can just give one to them outright, without being unbalanced. They go wrong often enough, so that if the referee wishes the players to remain in a system for a while, it can just go wrong. And they are customizable enough that the players can use their creativity to grow the ship into what they need as they progress.

Working Passage. The only available working passage between two points for the players might be on a Junco. This gives ample opportunity for the referee to insert any intermediary adventure based on the Junco failing in some opportune way.

Under the Hood. In some suitably dramatic situation, the players may find that their Junco underperforms when they need it, due to a failure in a aftermarket addition. Upon examination they find that the addition doesn’t work as advertised because it is really a holdout compartment. Inside this long­lost stash they find the plot hook for their next adventure.

Shell Game. After a nice paycheck, the players come across a captain, down on their luck. After many drinks, they agree to sell the players a Junco for enough money to pay off gambling debts and the disgruntled crew. The ship turns out not to be a total lemon, until they get right beyond the space ports jurisdiction. Then it mysteriously fails. Like someone threw a kill switch. They are hailed a bit later by the same captain, who offers to take them back to port in return for the title to the ship.

Breakdown. The player’s ship breaks down in an out of the way system. They do not have the spare they need, nor can it be made locally. However, someone will respond to their request saying they know of a location of a crashed Junco. This could be on an asteroid, the bottom of a lake, or a deep crater. Anywhere the referee would like to hook the adventurers to.