It's easy to imagine what it's like to be rich amongst the Stardwellers. The rich own starships and can travel whenever they like. They have access to all the newest inventions and most exclusive designs. Their body is custom-built by human eyes and minds, or by the finest and most detail-oriented digital intelligences. They are respected leaders or idolized artists. The rich are easy to spot.
It's harder to imagine what it's like to be poor. The usual image of homeless individuals sleeping on streets and waiting in soup lines isn't accurate. Outsiders rarely see the poor of Stardweller space, and when they do see them they often don't realize it.
Part of this is because of the basic rights available to all citizens of the Illustrious Stardwelling Armada:
- Food and water to comfort. This is normally provided via replicator, so all manner of foodstuffs are available. The quality can vary if the local replicators are offline. This food is, by mandate, the high-energy, high-nutrition cuisine needed to sustain Biotech 3+.
- A place to sleep, and a place to shelter against inclement conditions. Each mission handles this requirement in their own way. All missions provide public restrooms and showers. Some provide public housing; some keep mass shelters available on public lands; others encourage the use of replicators to create shelter or pre-fab homes. "Inclement conditions" can include fairly esoteric events that happen to Armadas, such as radiation storms.
- Warmth, atmosphere, and oxygen to comfort. The captain of an Armada cannot "freeze out" unwanted passengers. This directive is not an excuse for a Mainstay citizen to travel to northerly climates and then demand rescue or transport, nor is it a guarantee that a physical citizen who wants to visit a dataform mission in deep space will be able to do so. Think of it more as a "may not remove" rule than a "must provide" rule.
- Medical care in times of sickness, as well as preventative care in times of health. This includes mental health and access to the rêvetech services that a Cognitech 3+ character requires.
- Dataform citizens are guaranteed a modicum of processing power, sufficient to maintain Cognitech 3 but not necessarily higher. Physical-form citizens are guaranteed a much smaller amount of public processing power, sufficient to run a sophisticated data ghost but not a sentient mind.
- A modicum of electrical power - not enough to run a personal replicator or enough to charge a Stringtech 3+ character, but enough to recharge a typical remote in eight hours.
- Unfiltered access to the infosphere. All Stardwellers have fairly equivalent infosphere access. The bandwidth available may vary based on one's location, but not based on one's ability to pay. Access to education and skill lenses is not explicitly guaranteed, but there are more than enough sources on the infosphere to find it and no place in Stardweller space bans such things.
- All the usual legal protections of the law.
None of these rights are enforceable. If someone wants to forgo shelter, even at great personal danger or harm, the local constabulary (if there is one) has no ability to move them into shelter. No one is forced to accept health care unless they have violated a fairly serious law; mental health is typically the first concern at that point.
So, then: the vast majority of the Stardwellers' poor are fed, sheltered, healthy, and have continuous access to computer time. Compared to the pre-Diaspora age, or the dregs of Mechanican society, this may seem like a paradise. What factors are not guaranteed?
- The opportunity to work. Unlike the Union and the Tao, Stardwellers do not guarantee a career or even a job to all citizens. Because unemployment is seen as a legitimate choice in most of Stardweller space, rates hover at about 20%.
- For physical citizens, the ability to change one's body beyond medical necessity. Dataform citizens similarly have no guarantee of access to enhancement. Being poor often means wearing a body that you wouldn't choose.
- Dataform citizens are not guaranteed the ability to acquire a body or a remote. Public cameras are fairly rare in Stardweller space, so the dataform poor often interact solely with other dataform individuals.
- Replicator use. Many Stardweller missions have public replicators with thousands of public domain objects and devices available. However, there are some items that one will not be able to obtain, especially those which are recent inventions or which are dangerous. In addition, some missions are more capitalistic, and charge small fees for any use of replicators. These missions see a lower unemployment rate, but their poor suffer more for the lack of basic supplies such as combs, toothbrushes, medical kits, and soap.
- Travel, including via starship or wormhole. The law never prevents citizens from traveling (except in cases such as quarantine), but they can still be charged fees for it.
- Contact with other human beings. For most of the poor in Stardweller space this is not an issue, but some particularly reclusive individuals stumble back into public spaces after years of talking to themselves or a data ghost. Metatech 3+ characters do not retain their abilities under such conditions.
The poor in Stardweller space rarely lack for food or worldly possessions, but they do lack in mobility and the ability to alter their minds and bodies. In a civilization that values freedom and diversity, those can be important and stinging wants.