Approximately 60’000 years ago, a star-travelling race – known merely as The Elders – watched in horror as one of their younger contemporaries committed suicide, destroying their entire world and race in nuclear fire. The Elders had gone through their own period when they possessed the ability to destroy themselves, but they had survived and assumed that the younger race would also pass through the dangerous era largely unscathed. By the time a rescue mission was mounted to the destroyed world, there were no survivors and very little in the way of artefacts to recover. The Elders designated the dead world as a shine and pondered mightily on how they could prevent another such tragedy.
Their solution – discussed endlessly with the other races sharing their technological level – was simple, yet effective. The elder races would combine themselves into an interstellar power that would solve the ills plaguing the galaxy (including warfare between newly spacefaring races), protect primitive races and – if necessary – intervene to prevent the younger races from destroying themselves. Their technology, which was already capable of sustaining a post-scarcity society, would ensure that no spacefaring race ever needed to compete with its neighbours. There would be literally nothing to fight over.
The Federation (as it came to be called) embraced three principles. First, following disastrous contacts between the elder races and younger races that had yet to develop spaceflight, the Federation would quarantine worlds populated by younger races and forbid open contact until the younger race had matured to the point where it could accept the presence of advanced alien races. Second, the Federation would keep a semi-paternal eye on all discovered primitive races and intervene – openly or covertly – if the race seemed to be on the brink of self-destruction. Thirdly, the Federation would accept and enforce a decree of legal equality between member races, regardless of their age or the time they’d spent developing spaceflight. It would also provide technological assistance to newly-spacefaring races so that they would be able to bring their own technological base up to match the Federation’s overall level.
Politically, the Federation would be divided into homeworlds and colony worlds. Homeworlds would be ruled by the race that had evolved on them, effectively disenfranchising non-natives who settled on those worlds. Colony worlds would embrace democratic principles and grant the franchise to all mature adults (as defined by their race), joining the Federation as equal members. The Elders calculated that the colony worlds would serve as crucibles, allowing the best of each race to merge together into a unified whole. It was a far from simple process – different races had different standards – but overall it worked fairly well. Colony worlds tended to show a dynamism that homeworlds lacked.
The first two thousand years saw the Federation gaining experience in both meditating conflicts between member races and intervening in primitive societies. Most of the interventions were covert, although one race had to be saved openly after one of its madder leaders unleashed a biological plague that would have exterminated his people if the Federation hadn’t intervened. Careful study of the primitive races was credited with making it easier to explain the Federation to the locals – and to minimise the culture shock as much as possible. Indeed, the race in question – having looked extinction in the face – became one of the most committed of the Federation’s member races. A couple of other races refused to join the Federation, but remained on fairly good terms with its Council.
Disaster struck when the Federation’s expanding border washed over space claimed by the Kayos Tyranny. The Federation had assumed that most spacefaring races would develop a form of democracy before stepping outside their own solar system, but the Kayos had remained under the iron rule of a dictatorship even as they produced their first warp drives. If this wasn’t bad enough, they had discovered two other worlds inhabited by primitive races and invaded them both. The Federation was not seriously threatened by the Kayos – their technology was centuries ahead of the dictatorship’s – but their existence challenged the Federation’s very reason for being. Intervening on primitive worlds was one thing, yet the Kayos were hardly primitive. The political debate lasted for years before the Federation Navy reported that the Kayos were heading towards another populated star system. Reluctantly, the Federation Council authorised an intervention. The Federation Navy met the Kayos ships outside their target system and ordered them to return home. Instead, the Kayos opened fire.
This surprised the Federation Navy – which had assumed that when confronted by a superior force the Kayos would back down – but it didn’t slow their reaction. The Kayos ships were disabled (preventing unnecessary deaths being part of the Federation Council’s orders) and their crews taken prisoner. Many of them had been pressed into service, but others were fanatical in their pursuit of new territory and there were several nasty incidents before the two groups were separated. Following the brief battle, the Federation Navy pressed its way into the Tyranny. The Kayos were totally outmatched, but through suicide tactics managed to destroy a handful of Federation ships before their homeworld finally fell. Using their far greater transport capability, the Federation evicted the settlers on the conquered worlds and shipped them back to their homeworld. Long-term social engineering programs were begun in hopes of convincing the Kayos to live at peace.
It was not long after the war when the Elders began to leave the Federation. Their race was old, far older than most of the other member races. They returned to their homeworld over a period of several thousand years and eventually closed all lines of communication to the Federation they’d created. Their last request was for the Federation Navy to quarantine their star system to prevent uninvited guests from visiting their homeworld. It was generally assumed that they died out or ascended to some higher plane. Over the next few thousand years, a number of other older races followed the same route. Their departure left the Federation discomfited, but it endured. The blending of racial traits had seen to that.
By the time of First Contact, the Federation has roughly 900 races as permanent members and is watching (and covertly taking action if necessary) on 170 primitive worlds. Several races are believed to be on the verge of withdrawing from galactic affairs and seeking seclusion for their transcendence.
The Federation is governed by the Federation Council, which consists of one representative from each member world. Each race is guaranteed one member (from their homeworld), but colony world political leaders have to appeal to several races in order to become elected, promoting unity and compromise politics. The Federation Constitution guarantees certain basic rights to all members, although the exact meaning of those rights varies from race to race. Some races, with non-sentient sexes, keep them in thrall. The Federation would not support, however, keeping an intelligent sex in bondage. Quite what the Federation would do if confronted by a member race that did is an open question.
As a general rule, the only right extended to primitive races is to be protected from outside contact before they are ready to handle it. The Federation does not intervene unless the race is on the verge of destroying itself. While there is a case to be made for teaching younger races from their Stone Ages onwards, the Federation has generally chosen to ignore it. The suffering caused by primitive technology – and warfare – is a part of each race’s history, granting them maturity. Or so the Federation claims. More cynical voices point out that the member races don’t want to push the Federation into intervening too often, or its social engineers might start meddling with the Federation itself.
When a new race is discovered, the Federation will attempt to find out all it can about the new race before making open contact – if that seems advisable. They have been known to spend years watching races that have already opened up their star systems and are on the verge of developing warp drive before opening communications. This allows them to approach the new race without accidentally giving offense. Newly-contacted races are often surprised to discover how much the Federation knows about them, including recordings from their history that they lost themselves. The Federation’s observers record everything.
The Federation uses warp drive as the basis for FTL travel between star systems. Tiny zero-width wormholes are used to provide instant communications between member systems, but the Federation discovered early on that attempting to open wormholes large enough to take a starship was not only power-intensive (even by the Federation’s standards) but also very dangerous. Wormhole research and development is forbidden by the Federation and younger races that do start experimenting tend to be contacted and warned of the dangers.
Standard starships can reach 1LY per day. Federation Navy vessels can reach 1LY per hour.
Oddly, the Federation prohibits the development of Artificial Intelligence and uplifting species into sentience. The Elders tried both during their expansion phase, only to discover that AIs were either heavily restricted or showed a distressing tendency to go mad, while uplifted races had problems coming to terms with what they were. Such matters, the Elders thought, were best left to nature, a dictum that the Federation has taken to heart.