Void Travel

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Travel between planets takes a long time, and the difficulties involved in it leave it a sometimes-frightening proposition that remains the domain of skilled pilots and starmen with an insular culture of their own. While a busy planetary starport may see a regular in and out of ships, the number of people travelling aboard them is so much fewer than the people on the ground that having taken an interstellar voyage still marks a man or woman as being far, far different than his peers. Even among the Known Worlds elite, the majority of nobles, priests and guilders have never traveled beyond their own world.

The first great barrier is time. Jumpgates lie a week's travel away from populated planets for the fastest of starships, and the slowest ships - most often those that carry cargo or bulk passenger loads - take close to a month to reach the gate. Once a ship arrives at the gate, it may have to wait several days before it has the opportunity to jump, and on the other side there is another week to a month's travel to reach a ship's destination - and this is for those journeys that go only from one neighboring system to another.

Access to the gates is controlled by Jumpkeys, which are only legally held by the Guild of Charioteers. If one had all the jumpkeys between starting point and destination of a journey, the long trip to the jumpgate and back would only need to be made once; at each gate, the ship would merely turn around and get back in the queue to jump to the next stop along the jumproad, a matter of mere days. However, most Charioteer pilots posess only one or two jumpkeys. Consequently, new pilots or ships must be hired for most jumps, requiring a trip to and from the planet in each system to change out pilots. This means, practically, that two weeks to two months is added for each jump along the route.

There is a way to avoid this additional time delay, as mentioned above: having all the jumpkeys required for the route needed. Practically, no one ever has all the keys, but there are several ways to 'get around' this problem. The most common is to piggy-back on the jump of a starship that does possess the key to get to the system you wish to go to; when it opens the gate, the piggy-backing ship activates their jumpdrive as well and goes through.

The Charioteers frown on this occuring, however, for obvious reasons: someone is jumping without paying a Charioteer for the privilege. When they catch someone doing it, they blacklist them, assuming that they are pirates or smugglers, because it is most often one of those two classes who 'steal' jumps in that fashion. There are, however, three cases in which the Charioteers do allow such jumps. The first is for courier vessels, who pay a high premium to the Guild to move as quickly as humanly possible across the jumpweb, either by piggybacking on Charioteer ships or by having Charioteers present already at the gates to let them through. The second is for Charioteer caravans - a flotilla of ships who travel in unison, so that the combined key pool of the various captains allows them to get to their destination. The Guild frowns, however, on ships joining caravans that do not contribute keys to the commodore who leads the pack. Finally, military fleets regular hire Charioteer pilot ships to open the gate for a fleet to jump armada-style, and if the House in question pays enough the Charioteers can open the jumproads as they do to courier vessels, allowing rapid transit across the jumpweb. The last decision, however, is one that is made by the Doge and the Charioteer Board, not lesser wheelers, as it can have a profound effect on military engagements. As a practical matter, the roads are often opened for House al-Malik and for the Emperor's vessels, and rarely opened for the Li Halan or the Church.