Humanity’s expansion into space was made significantly easier by the discovery of the Hawking Gravity Points along the edge of the solar system. The Gravity Points – named after the professor who first theorised their existence – allowed a starship to slip from the solar system to another solar system, cutting down the time it took to reach another star significantly enough to make interstellar travel feasible. Unfortunately for the human race, however, the Gravity Points were treacherous. They opened and closed, seemingly at random; a starship could hop through to a virgin solar system and then discover that the pathway back home was closed.
This did not deter any number of groups who wanted to set up colonies far from the increasingly suffocating reach of Earth. They built starships, waited for a suitable Gravity Point to open and then dived through, leaving Earth behind forever. Some were lucky and discovered worlds they could colonise. Some wound up trapped in star systems that didn’t have an Earth-like world, dooming them to eventual extinction unless they could establish asteroid colonies or find a pathway back to Earth (or another settled world). Countless colony worlds were established; a great many grew into settled civilisations, even though they had often altered the ideals of their founding fathers. Some ideas proved to be impractical. Others were simply impossible to maintain as well as survive.
The period from 2200 to 3045 saw slow, but steady expansion. A number of the more reliable Gravity Points were mapped, although spacers soon learned that the points were perverse and sometimes seemed to take a delight in vanishing at the worst possible moment; a number of colony worlds received fresh colonists from Earth, people who were not always welcomed by the previous settlers. However, real expansion had to wait until the discovery of the ‘fixed’ gravity points orbiting Sol, far closer to Earth than the previously discovered gravity points. These points – which were almost undetectable save for very faint gravitational fluxes against the star’s gravity field – seemed permanent, no matter how many starships passed through the nexus and into the new star systems.
A second breakthrough came out of research into the space-warping effects of a gravity point. Scientists discovered that starships could ‘fold’ space around them, providing – for the first time – an effective means of travelling faster than light. Although the phase drive was far slower than any gravity point, it was much more reliable and allowed the formation of true interstellar political entities for the first time. Unfortunately, humans being humans, it also allowed the outbreak of genuine interstellar wars.
As the major power in space, Earth – now ruled by the Federation – sought to establish control over the nearest and most dependent colonies. The motives for this were mixed; some believed that the colonies genuinely needed involvement from Earth, others saw the colonies as both a dumping ground for Earth’s unwanted and new terrain for corporate exploitation. The Federation’s rapid expansion – 3057-3098 – took most of the colony worlds by surprise. They had been founded in an era where interstellar political entities had been impossible and they found it hard to grasp that anyone would attempt to build an interstellar state. Once they did, however, they took rapid and decisive action.
The Colonial League, headed by the Duel Monarchy of Athens and Sparta, stood up to the Federation in 3098, warning Earth’s masters that they possessed warships, advanced weapons and the willingness to use them. A handful of skirmishes along the consolidating frontier eventually convinced the Federation that further warfare would be impractical, at least for the time being. The twin driving urges of Federation policy, however, would not fade away and no one expected the truce to last more than a handful of years.
With a state of cold war between Earth and its colonies, it is unsurprising that military technology advanced rapidly as both sides consolidated their positions and prepared for the next round. Other political units also formed out of the planets settled during Earth’s expansion, some genuinely united by a common purpose and some openly established by force, often driven by a more advanced world. Surprisingly, the peace held until 3178, when a skirmish in the Verge Republic would accidentally trigger the fires of interstellar war…
As of 3178, the major polities are as followed:
Officially, the Terran Federation is a democratic state centred on Old Earth. In reality, it is a cross between a communist and corporate nightmare, dominated by what is – to all intents and purposes – a hereditary aristocracy. The system is heavily rigged and has been so for centuries, with new blood being absorbed into the system or exclude from power. In the name of unity, the Federation has been absorbing worlds through a mixture of social infiltration and outright military conquest.
Many of the families that dominate the Federation are aware that one day it will run out of economies to absorb to support its colossal military machine and feed the insatiable lust of its citizens for free services (all of which are very poor compared to many non-Federation systems) and some of them believe that war will provide the impetus to ram through changes that need to be made if the entire edifice isn’t to one day collapse into chaos. It may already be too late to save the Federation, but its death agonies may destroy half the galaxy…
The Federation controls over 170 worlds, some of which are increasingly rebellious despite the Federation’s willingness to use extreme force to keep the peons in line.
The Dual Monarchy of Athens and Sparta.
Centred on the Athens/Sparta binary system, the Dual Monarchy is a far more complex system than the Federation. There are two Royal Families, each of which produces a King; together they comprise the Heads of State. Tradition states that one King must have served in the Navy and the other in the Marines. Below them, there is a Senate (elected on a federal service system) and Congress (elected by all citizens).
The Dual Monarchy led the Colonial Alliance when it stood up to the United Nations (which became the Federation) at Haven. It is therefore very aware that there will be a reckoning one day between the Federation and the independent states and has been preparing for war ever since. Accordingly, the Duel Monarchy stands at the head of an alliance that includes 80 full star systems and an uncounted number of smaller settlements. Unlike the Federation, membership in the Dual Monarchy is voluntarily and worlds may withdraw if they wish.
The Verge Republic
The Verge is very much the sick man of the galaxy, kept together by a strongman (President-for-Life Lance) and support from the Federation. Comprised of some fifty worlds, it is the poorest of the galactic powers and staggeringly corrupt (and far less efficient than the Federation, which takes some doing). Lance is unpopular among his people; the only thing keeping him alive is a relatively loyal army, his son (who is a fairly competent naval commander) and the existence of Sanctuary as a refugee for rebels who might otherwise turn on him.
Lance isn’t exactly a Federation puppet, but if the Federation were to withdraw its support the Verge would collapse in short order. Militarily speaking, the Verge is outmatched by all of the other multi-system powers and many of the single-system states, a result of Lance’s attempts to coup-proof his regime.
The Verge has been a flashpoint between the Dual Monarchy and the Federation ever since 3050, when the Dual Monarchy established a protectorate over Sanctuary and refused to permit Lance to obliterate fleeing rebels on the planet. Sanctuary is effectively an independent system, although the Dual Monarchy provides its security – something that the Federation has tacitly accepted, partly out of exasperation with Lance and his regime.
Union of Sovereign Republics.
Like a number of other systems, the founding planets of the Union of Sovereign Republics were ethno-preservationist colonies (colonies intended to preserve a national ideal against the crushing sameness of the Federation). Svoboda was/is Russian with a little Ukrainian, Ensenada is Cuban/Chicano, and Highside is Welsh/Canadian. When the phase drive was invented, the three worlds rapidly came under threat from the ethnically Italian/Sicilian Principality of Salerno, where the Mafiosi among the colonists quickly subsumed the original political arrangements and made itself the ruling aristocracy. By the time the resulting war was over – Salerno is now a member of the Union in good standing – the Union had firmly established itself, a good thing as the Federation was brushing against its borders.
The Union’s founding members used social and genetic engineering techniques to ‘fix’ their planetary identities/phenotypes within certain ‘true’ ranges, but the prolonged external threat helped weld those three ethnicities/planetary identities into a single ‘broad-strokes’ common self-image, and internal mobility and intermarriage mean the phenotypes have started to break down as well. As of now, the Union can best be described as comparable to a pre-Civil War America, with a federal government that is tightly controlled by the individual member planets.
It was a member of the Colonial Alliance, but those ties have faded in the years since the Colonial Alliance forced the Federation to stand down. Despite the common threat of the Federation, there are some disputes between the two political entities that make it hard for them to concentrate on a common threat.
The Kingston Empire.
Andrew Kingston was a man with a vision; he intended to found an interstellar community based on his ideas for a strong monarch ruling over his people. Being wealthy enough to build his own colony ship, Kingston and his followers plunged into an uncharted Gravity Point in 2345 and were never seen again, at least until an exploration ship from Earth located the missing colony. Somewhat to their surprise, the Empire had prospered and – armed with the Phase Drive – set out to conquer a number of nearby stars. Kingston’s successors were generally capable men, who picked targets that had good reason to welcome conquest by a more powerful interstellar power, and the Empire expanded rapidly until it came up against the Federation’s expanding borders.
Politically, the Kingston Empire is ruled by the Emperor, an absolute monarch, who is advised by his Council of State. Younger sons of the dynasty are assigned to various world and star systems as absolute rulers in their own right (second only to the current Emperor) or put into high positions in the Empire’s military. Royal children are trained from birth in how to rule, with techniques used to teach them everything they might need to know for their eventual station in the Empire. Rumour has it that their seniors are not above arranging accidents for kids who fail to come up to scratch. Other kids leave rather than accept the heavy discipline that comes with their hereditary rights.
The Kingston Empire is quite prepared to manoeuvre for the benefit of the Kingston Empire, rather than the rest of the galaxy. Accordingly, it is a member of the Colonial Alliance – but is quite happy to sell out the other states if it received a good enough offer from the Federation. However, this is believed to be unlikely. The Federation has been quietly funding separatist and antimonarchical groups in the Empire for the last 50 years and may be hoping to cause the Empire to fragment.
The Vega Consortium.
The founding worlds of the Vega Consortium were founded by a number of corporate interests during the latest years of the first expansion era, several of whom believed that the Federation would eventually absorb all of the corporations in the solar system. These worlds were not intended to eventually produce their own self-government; the corporate leadership intended to make sure that they – and their descendents – continued to rule in their own private kingdoms. Politically, everything in the Consortium is ruled by the corporations, right down to ordinary life. It is extremely difficult for anyone to advance without money, connections or extreme talent. Unsurprisingly, there are rebel groups all across the Consortium.
They are closely-linked to the Federation as the Consortium – whatever its other faults – is a front-line producer of advanced technology. (It is generally believed that the other reason the Consortium has nothing to do with the Colonial Alliance is that the Colonial Alliance finds them unmentionably evil.) About the only thing that stands in their favour is that they are not inclined to hypocrisy. Unlike the Federation, the Consortium makes no attempt to disguise its true nature.
Apart from the six major powers, there are any number of minor powers in existence, mostly in the borderlands between the major powers. These include Zion, Deseret and New Zurich – powers too large for any other minor state, but too weak to stand up to the stronger entities.