Getting the message across

The X-Boat Network In Traveller
By Stephen Ward

What is it?

The X-Boat network is the main means of sending messages across the vast Imperium. It was established 624 (Imperial) and covered the entire Imperium in 718 (Imperial). The backbone of the system is a small craft capable of a maximum speed of Jump 4. Administration of the X-Boat system is the responsibility of the Communications Office division of the Imperial Interstellar Scout Service (IISS). Although the maximum speed of an X-Boat is jump 4, not all jumps are made at that speed. Because of the way the network is laid out, the average speed a message travels is Jump 2.6.

How it operates.

The best way to describe this process is to do it as an example. Say I was staying at Capital and I wanted to drop a message of to a close friend of mine on Regina. I would address it in the following fashion:

So breaking it down, starting with the far left.
The * informs me that John is a registered voter on Regina then his name.
The @ means located at.
The next part is his Personal Information Reader's serial number. This part is optional.
TASNET is the computer system name.
Regina is the subsector capitol, Regina is the system name.

Common computer system domains include:
  • TASNET: Traveller's Aid Society.
  • EDUNET: Educational.
  • GOVNET: Local government.
  • IMPGOV: Imperial government.
  • COMNET: Commercial businesses.
  • PRIVNET: Non business.
These are the main ones. Major corporations' names are added after the network name and before the user ID.

I record my message to John using my terminal in my room. I have the option of Video, Audio, or text. The only difference in them is the quality and cost. Video is 30 credits for each ten minutes per jump, audio 10 credits for ten minutes and text one credit for ten pages. Mixed text and pictures' costs one credit per page. If I was not using a terminal in my room, there are public terminals located in most starports. Although video transmissions are only available on class A starports, audio class B and C or less is text only.

Billing is in Imperial credits and worked out with the jump speed of 2.5. If he was not on the main route, the message would be passed to the Imperial Courier Service (ICS) for final delivery.

I have finished my message and instruct the terminal to send. The terminal then gives me the option to have my message encrypted, this doubles the cost of the message. From here, the data is compressed and passed to the local communications system for transmission to an X-Boat station or passed to the ICS for delivery onto an X-Boat route.

An X-Boat drops into realspace. The pilot then activates the recovery beacon and aligns the communications array to the X-Boat station. An X-Boat station is constructed close to entry points of Hyperspace and contains fuel, pilot stations and communications arrays. The station dispatches an X-Boat Tender with a fresh pilot and fuel. Once it has reached the boat, it recovers it, changes crew and refuels it. This process takes about four hours. The record for this routine is seven minutes. A single tender can deal with up to six X-Boats at a time. In busy systems, many tenders can be seen working at once to keep the network going. Once re-fuelled and a new pilot aboard, the X-boat is released and gets ready to jump. While all this activity is going on, the X-Boat is still getting data and messages.

Once all checks are finished aboard the pilot shuts down the communication array and departs the system. The pilot from the X-Boat is given another job, whether this be aboard the tender or at the X-Boat station. After a week in normal space he is reassigned to another X-Boat and his job starts again.

What is the ICS?

The ICS maintains a fleet of type S scout/couriers. It is they who take the messages to systems off the main network. They are mostly modified with the passenger compartments removed and replaced with extra computer storage and extra fuel tankage. They depart at different speeds taking their messages to wherever they need to go.

How do I collect my mail?

Usually this is just case of connecting up to the planet's data net and accessing it that way. If you are on the move, this can be tricky. Copies of mail are held at subsector and sector capitals and at TAS hostels. The last option only applies if you are a member of TAS. Mail is also archived at scout bases, this option requires an administration fee of about 100 credits and a week to accomplish. You also need to produce proof of identity. A standard Imperial bank card is usually all that is required.

What else does the X-Boat system handle?

You can make bank payments at an X-Boat office. The information is encoded and then sent to the bank of your choice. This has become a standard way of paying for starships.

Does the X-Boat carry military transmissions?

Yes, unless the transmissions are secure. If they are secure then the Imperial agency sending the transmissions uses an Imperial courier vessel. Imperial courier ships are rated at Jump 4 with a few being capable of Jump 6! Otherwise, the X-Boats data bank is fitted with an auto destruct system that fueses the internal electronics.

What about parcels or paper transmissions?

To some, a letter is the ultimate secure transmission. You cannot drop a letter into a computer and scan for a phrase. Someone has to read it all the way through. Letters are handled by the ICS except they are not X-Boat sent. Instead the message is accepted at the ICS office and then passed on with other letters and parcels to a cargo ship. Letter post costs one credit per 100grams of weight. Parcels on the other hand can make licensed carriers a tidy profit. For ease of packing aboard ships, parcels must be sent using a standard design. The boxes are available at starports everywhere at the cheap price of a tenth of its size in credits.. The smallest box is a 10cm plastic cube and this costs one credit. The postage for this item is 5 credits. A cubic metre costs ten credits and postage costs 500. The formula used to calculate this is: (size x size x size)/6 x 10). Size = size in cms. So the metre box is (100 x 100 x 100 = 300)/6 = 50 x 10 = 500. Postage is charged per 2 jumps or fraction thereof. The parcels are collected and dropped into a cargo container for a sector.

So, I decide to send John a litre of water. The water fits into a metre cube and I take it to the ICS office. There I pay my 2500 credits for it to be carried 24 parsecs. The package is loaded into a cargo container along with nine other metre cubes for Regina. Each cargo container will hold ten cubic metres for each ton of displacement. Once loaded, a licensed trader is contacted for delivery.

Note: Since the ICS has limited ships available, they rely upon licensed carriers. Obtaining a licence is not easy. First an application form has to be filled out and a fee of 500,000 credits is paid. Then the applicant is given a thorough background check if anything looks suspect then their application is refused and the fee is kept. If all looks good, the applicant is granted a licence.

ICS regulations prevent more than five tons of a ships' cargo space from being used for mail. This prevents unscrupulous captains from running off with mail and also means there is a steady flow of carriers. Each ton of space nets the carrier 5000 credits.

If a group of governments is pitching together for a Subsidised Merchant and the ICS thinks it will suit their needs then they will throw in one fifth of the cash for it. The merchant is usually given first pick of the cargo.

The cargo is then transported to its destination in its pod. It may along the way make stops to drop off mail pods and collect more.


The X-Boat system operates at full capacity until about 1120. Once fleets start to diminish, many systems start to lose contact. The Aslan's hold off attacking X-Boats because they present no threat. Many ships and pilots where lost in systems that had major battles as they became easy targets for stray missiles. Once the virus starts to rampage through Imperial space many X-Boats become infected. They become carriers of the Virus. Since they contain only enough fuel for a jump 4 they drift aimlessly. It is during the rebellion the ICS makes the bold decision not to spy on enemy systems. This leads to Lucan's and Dulinor's fleets to intentionally destroy X-Boats in enemy territory. Vagr pirates prey on them for spares and the long range jump drives.

New Era.

There is not the personnel to maintain something as complex as a network of ships. A vague communications network exists but it lacks the range of the old X-Boats. Many have been found in systems, dead and lifeless. They are boarded and scavenged for spares. Since they have no manoeuvre drive the hulls are just left to decay. A few X-Boats became Vampire ships, however because they could not refuel and were not fitted with manoeuvre drives the ships simply lay in space becoming time bombs waiting to go off. The RCES when it finds one ALWAYS employs anti viral protocols. Those that were invaded by other viruses usually triggered the auto destruct if they lost control.


I took and based my information on the following sources.
  • Book 6 Scouts.
  • Imperial Encyclopaedia.
  • Supplement 7 Traders and Gunboats.
Authors' notes:
Well, I finally did it. I always thought it would be a bit longer than what I have here! I hope that this will provide inspiration for all players out there.

Traveller is a registered trademark of Far Future Enterprises.
Portions of this material are Copyright © 1977-1996 Far Future Enterprises.
copyright © 1996-1998 Steven Ward