The promise of private spaceflight brings with it the conditions of the socioeconomic systems from which it stems. By the mid-22nd century, there are so many private space operations that the asteroid belt and many of the minor bodies of the solar system are crawling with mining operations. Their primary function is not to send their goods back planetside — such an endeavor requires more ∆V than it’s worth in most cases — but to supply other interplanetary operations.
Rather than investing in such risky enterprises themselves, corporations offer to buy shares in small, independent mining operations, giving its debtor the upfront liquidity to purchase the necessary mining equipment, expertise, habitat, and spacecraft to establish a mining and manufacturing endeavor.
Many such operations, through either dishonesty, lack of due dilligence on the part of the sponsor corporation, or prospects that didn’t pan out, exceed their allotted time to turn a profit. By 2170, a majority of the Euros invested have failed to return home with interest and the corporations are looking for a way to reduce the scale of their losses.
When corporations foreclose on such an operation, though, the cost of retrieving the assets is likely to exceed the value of the assets. Rather than throwing good money after bad, corporations offer bounties on the assets of a foreclosed operation, payable to anyone who returns them.
Some miners consider their options and turn them in to their creditors themselves. Some hole up in asteroid fortresses, maximizing the cost of retrieving them.
Some assemble their resources into a spacecraft and run.
The latter the prey for Repos — solitary entrepreneurs who specialize in altering the vector of a spacecraft to bring it into the reach of corporate interests who will pay to regain the value of the assets, typically liquidating them to recover as much of their investment as they can.
Because equipment gets worn and obsolete over time, the earlier a repo can return foreclosed equipment, the greater its value and the greater the repo’s cut. However, as a matter of policy, corporations will pay a flat fee for returning the defaulters to their authority so they can sue them. The prospectors’ old, obsolete equipment is often worth less when resold than it is to the repo, who often take any useful equipment for themselves to repair or modify their own craft.
Repos use several features of interplanetary law (such as it is) to their benefit.
- No laws, nations, or corporations control interplanetary space. Many craft have sets of laws, particularly when they carry large groups of people, but their laws have no weight while berthed or over any other craft in space.
- No individual or craft found piercing the envelope of a habitat will ever again be given berth in a station or spaceport. The UN considers such an action a crime against humanity except within the bounds of two nations under a declared state of war*, and almost every other port considers an individual who would do such a thing to be an existential hazard to the habitat.
- Likewise, most stations and spaceports view with an attitude between suspicion and existential fear any craft that will not allow another to dock, on the assumption that any restriction on docking endangers all who travel space. Some societies weigh the actions against mitigating circumstance, where others view it as an absolute law.
Few wars are fought with crewed craft, and any deliberate harm to the life support of another spacecraft is liable bring accusations of crime against humanity. Personal violence that does not endanger the integrity of the atmospheric envelope of a spacecraft is viewed differently from craft to craft.
Repos therefore broadcast their endeavor for all to see, effectively holding themselves hostage, daring their quarry to take aggressive action that would forever banish them from their sources of fuel, water, food, and companionship. Because of the increased mass of additional crew, few repo craft can afford a second crew member and their associated life support. On the other hand, uncrewed craft are ready targets for any defensive capability a fleeing craft might have.Their pursuits are a popular form of entertainment and many several better-known repos help support themselves through corporate sponsorship of their broadcasts.
This craft, however, is not owned by one such repo. Instead, it is owned by Francesca “Frank” Nguyen, herself a former prospector who purchased her way out of debt by repossessing a malfunctioning, obsolete, adrift hydrogen mining craft. To return it to its corporate creditors, she approached its airlock with an MMU, then tased the crew, piloting the craft herself to Chiang-Diaz Station in a nearby Jovian orbit, and retrieved the bounty on the fugitive Archer Family gang.
She has since incorporated into the craft a radiator from a small space station, a drone launcher from a Jovian ring mining operation, and the cupola from a crewed space tug. She’s been unable to upgrade the NERVA-style nuclear engine to a VASIMR that would give her a much wider range of tactics for approaching other craft, but fully intends to do so when she’s got the kwai.