Arranging things so that a deep-space mission does not come back is very easy, as it takes an innumerable number of details, all of which need to go right, in order for them to go wherever they have gone and then come back safely. The tricky details are the ones more incidental to the marooning, things such as retrieving one's space vehicle and cargo, or fending off escape attempts, or avoiding leaving a trail for giant carnivorous space worms to come after you, all of which are particular to your specific case. There are a few handy rules of thumb to observe, however, which will contribute to success in the great majority of situations.
- Lay the groundwork. If the plan relies on sabotage, make sure that the dastardly vulnerability is put in well beforehand by a trusted (or easily disappeared) mechanic. If it takes a traitor in their midst, a methodical insinuation of that individual among the others, with a convincing backstory, will go a long way to quell notions of anything being amiss. It is the sudden change from a dull routine mission to utter unexpected hopelessness that guarantees the subversion will pack a punch when it comes.
- Keep their minds occupied. Just keeping a space vehicle running within its normal parameters requires constant vigilance on the part of the crew, especially if they are visiting a hostile stretch of void. If you make sure that the ones who have the intellectual and temperamental capacity to uncover your intentions are overloaded with minutiae (perhaps stemming from some unrelated minor crisis), it becomes very unlikely that the trap will be laid bare prematurely.
- The issue of supplies. The relevant time scale after the screws have been applied is set by the amount of provisions (typically a breathable atmosphere is chief among the various components) they find themselves left with. It can range from less than a second to months or years, and it is incumbent on you to ensure that they do not have the wherewithal to pull together a surprise reprisal with the materials at hand within that time limit.
Strokes of genius
- Stranding a spacecraft. Crash landing is often a good bet, easily arranged by engineering an unsuspected failure of the landing jets. If it is your intention that the crew experience their betrayal for a stretch of time measured in months or years, however, a method less likely to be instantly lethal is to jimmy the propulsion system needed for liftoff (a pinhole leak in a supply line is sufficient). For maximum agony, a clear malfunction of the descent rockets is a good way to strand a ship in low Earth orbit, where the crew knows that chancing an entry is a ticket to incineration; leaving the only slim hope of rescue one of a hastily arranged rescue mission which you will also have thoughtfully sabotaged in advance, of course
- Cutting off a landing party. The classic situation is where a small away team is exploring an inhospitable celestial object, and you contrive to have their only means of return blow up, fly away, or silently malfunction, stranding the unfortunate astronauts somewhere where they can see the ship that would be their salvation, with no way to reach it. Obviously this is not a winning strategy if your crew is potentially in a position to obtain or construct alternate passage, say by throwing their lot in with your enemies. What you want is to learn how each of your victims chooses between death by exposure and suffocation and death by suicide capsules which they will discover among their first aid kits.
- One out on a stroll. Cutting an untethered spacewalker loose to consume his or her meager supplies cut off from every other fellow human is the most minimalistic marooning scenario. If you sever the communications links along with the physical links you may keep them from divulging your hand in their lonely doom to other members of the crew who may then be fed on a steady diet of lies as to what happened. Or, if the same outcome is in store for all the others anyway regardless of the reveal, you may keep the link up in order to ramp up the rage and pathos most effectively.
Traps for mere fools
- Nosy busybodies.
- Transhuman vigilante lifeforms.
- Rescue by the cavalry.Beware assistance offered by surprise in the last act of the little drama. This is more likely to be a problem if the crew is marooned in proximity to other spacefaring parties instead of in deep interstellar space or on a barren uninhabited planetoid.
Precious and needful
- Personal mementos of home. (Theirs, not yours)
- Lugubrious minor-key music.
- Gorgeous scenery. Enjoy it, boys.
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- Image credit suicide pills by striatic
- Image credit A Strange Away Mission by Capt. Tim
- Image credit 808 = No by Josh (unemployed IT dude)