I’ve been world-building for my space opera setting today, and I had one of those strange moments where an unexpected consequence of the society I was making up caught me by surprise.
I’d decided that most interstellar travel is done by hyperspace lanes that work sort of like freeways. There are big space-gates that work like on/off ramps. You can’t get off one lane and go to another, you have to pass through the gate back to normal space and enter another one. So you have crossroads with maybe three of these hyperspace gates and a big space station where you can get fuel, supplies, repairs, etc. I imagine them being truck stops crossed with little port cities, with all the necessities and lots of ways to painlessly separate travelers from their money. Many of these crossroads would be extremely remote, the only permanent habitat in the system.
It occurred to me that I was building this as a world where spaceships aren’t terribly expensive, and you might have someone traveling in a secondhand capsule with a shoestring budget. What would happen to them if their vehicle had a mechanical problem? If they’re on the lanes, they can probably get help getting as far as the nearest station, but what if they can’t afford to repair it?
As the fees for storing their broken ship build up, their situation gets increasingly desperate. Perhaps the best move would be to recognize it and sell the vehicle straightaway. Otherwise you’re going to have to find an income very fast, in a place that probably doesn’t have a lot of job openings. If the mechanic puts a lien on your ship for non-payment, and successfully seizes it, you’re really in a bad spot.
It reminds me of Downbelow from Babylon 5. I could imagine many of those crossroad stations having populations like that. Since my setting includes an aggressive military power with imperialistic plans, there will probably be a lot of displaced refugees traveling in desperate situations. There could easily be really big populations of homeless people trying not to starve on the larger space stations.
It’s a chilling thought for a setting that I’d originally planned to be about as serious as your average Doctor Who episode.