Interstellar Police


The idea of a police force is somewhat alien to humans of the interstellar era; in most communal societies, law enforcement is handled by social workers and community leaders, working hand in hand with local judiciary authorities. Prison sentences are mostly non-existent for offences, especially in the USRE, and the vast majority of investigations result in rehabilitation or community work sentences. More serious crimes are typically handled by regional-level authorities, though they also rarely take the shape of old-fashioned police forces, except in places where the safety of local citizens is directly threatened -- this is the case, for instance, in USRE and Laniakean "grey zones" at the edges of human civilisation on Earth. In fact, the only place where organised police forces that consider themselves as such exist is in space, where the energy density and effective range of ships multiply the stakes -- and potential reach of criminals -- tenfold.

In the solar system, space law enforcement is shared between several institutions that follow similar principles, but greatly vary in their ethos and practices. The USRE relies on the (in)famous Open Handwhose agents have extended judiciary powers and are authorized to carry automatic weapons and personal ballistic protection with them -- a legacy of the Low Age and a practice that makes them both respected and criticized. Due to the highly integrated structure of the USRE, Open Hand agents are only sent on the most critical cases, where local authorities cannot, or should not, handle a criminal matter on their own. Open Hand operatives in plain clothes arriving on a crime scene are never a good omen. Laniakea follows a similar model, with their Gendarmes, famous for their dark blue uniforms, getting involved more often than Open Hand operatives due to the more top-down structure of the Pacifican megastate. Their reputation is certainly better than that of Open Hand operatives, given their tendency to handle trivial investigations much more often -- they're a familiar, reassuring sight, not a distant one falling from orbit. None of these organisations, however, are specifically made for off-world interventions, they only handle them because of the public status of low Earth orbit and beyond.

The only real "space police" resides on Elora, where ground-based police officers virtually do not exist, replaced as they are by qith-affiliated social workers, that benefit from a much higher amount of judiciary freedom (and responsibility) than Earth-based ones. They are known as the Traverse Citizens Militia, or TCM. Wearing plain clothes, but with a white triangular symbol always painted on their backs and sleeves, TCM operatives only act beyond the Karman line of Traverse planets. They are highly skilled in engineering, navigation, space weaponry matters, as well as off-world regulations, and may, if need be, commandeer ships. Operating under the extremely tight weapons regulations in the Traverse, TCM agents are allowed to carry tier 4 weapons in service -- conventional single-shot firearms, combat blades and subsonic semi-automatic guns, specifically engineered for use in enclosed zero-g environments. The Traverse Citizens Militia often uses the services of external contractors, such as Moon Communes workers. It also has its own fleet, under the shape of unarmed Luciole Interceptors. In general, the TCM is relatively well-regarded, in no small part because they handle the extremely boring, and absolutely crucial, task of registering and surveying the thousands of geometry drives circulating around the Traverse's many suns. In recent days, the TCM considerably upped its game, however, getting involved in various high-stakes investigations such as the one that led to the dismantlement of Vyiranga's Dark Sun mafia.

Fully independent planets often use their ground-based law enforcement organisations to regulate space travel and activities around their system -- though many would certainly liken the meta-queen's police in Smyrnia to thugs with nuclear weapons, which would not be entirely inaccurate. 

Astropostale

"Mail always gets through."

Named after its historical Terran counterpart, the Astropostale (literally "space post office") is a non-profit cooperative organisation that has dedicated itself to carrying letters, packages and data storage units from one end of human space to the other. It differs from the Interstellar Post Office and the Ekumen Communications Network in that it does not depend on any superpower or commune and is instead a contract-based operation: every commune or cooperative that wishes to benefit from the services of the Astropostale is invited to pay a contribution in exchange of which the Astropostale guarantees that mail will get through at any cost. This contribution is closer to a tax than a payment: in legal terms, the payment is not a commercial transaction and is proportional to the size and wealth of the commune being covered, not to the service being provided. The raison d'ĂȘtre of the Astropostale is to cover settlements that are too far away or not developed enough to be served by the superpower-backed public mail cooperatives. A commercial payment proportional to the difficulty and distance would run counter to this objective.

Because of this state of things the Astropostale has become some kind of a wealth redistribution outfit: small isolated communes are over-represented among its beneficiaries while large central entities provide most of the funding. Contributors aren't only motivated by generosity, and the Astropostale has a real political role to play, servicing places that would otherwise remain isolated thus maintaining the cohesion of polities on the edges of human space. While most of its activity relies around mail, the Astropostale also dabbles in ship-building through a cooperative known as Alsephina Shipyards, a great manufacturer of weird vessels and odd prototypes.

A "Mail Dart", busy delivering mail on a secluded world

While the majority of mundane messages can be stored aboard a ship and just beamed to the destination, the revenge of physical storage and the subsequent return of physical letters as a means of communications between stars has led the Astropostale to specialize in high-speed, reliable surface-to-ground delivery. This is where the organisation truly excels. After all, moving mail to a secluded settlement is just a matter of navigation skills and patience. Getting mail on the surface of under-settled, diverse and sometimes hostile planets is where the true danger - and fun - relies. With Alsephina's support, the Astropostale has developed a large number of surface-to-orbit and orbit-to-surface vehicles which are closer, in aesthetics at least, to early space age prototypes than modern vessels. Astropostale pilots claim that their ships are more efficient but in truth, they do not really care about efficacy. They care about style. There is something very romantic in what the Astropostale does which would not feel the same if they used drone vessels helmed by mindless computers.

In the interstellar age, this is where the jet fighter pilots of old have come to hide: in the greatest long-distance mail delivery organisation of the world, facing continental storms, rough terrain and hostile life with canisters full of handwritten letters.

Algorab

"Rise, raven, rise."

Much like the Starmoth Initiative, the Algorab Organisation is a child of the Low Age but the conclusions it drew from this time are wildly different. The Starmoth Initiative was born from a secular tradition of progress-focused organisations while Algorab comes from post-apocalyptic cults dwelling in the wastelands of what had once been the western world. Where the Initiative sees humankind's post-apocalyptic survival as the herald of a golden age to come, Algorab considers that humans now live on borrowed time. Our species should not have survived through the industrial era. The fact that it did, against all odds, is an anomaly. All intelligent species have to die, posits Algorab. Humankind should have died in the furnaces of global warming and the killing fields of nuclear annihilation. In fact, for all intents and purposes, it did die. The interstellar age isn't a new golden era of progress, exploration and prosperity. It's the new, accidental evolutionary step of a zombie species that should have never reached this stage. A fragile, foolish band of humans lost in a galaxy it should have never reached. A species that should be protected at all costs because it is now deeply, fundamentally out of its depth.

Where the Initiative sees a geometry drive, Algorab sees a terrifying weapon capable of turning spacetime itself into a weapon. Where the Initiative sees ruins to explore and understand, Algorab sees the tombs of failed civilizations. Where the Initiative wants to reach out, Algorab seeks to protect. Where the Initiative is cautiously optimistic, Algorab is confidently pessimistic.

Though their philosophy is completely at odds, Algorab and the Starmoth Initiative share a very similar structure and organisation. Both are cooperative organisations financed by communal contributions and donations. Both are fiercely independent and operate in deep space at the edges of settled space. The similarities, however, stop there.

The Starmoth Initiative can be considered as humankind's searchlight, seeking shiny objects in the depths of space. Algorab would be a holstered weapon, ready to be grabbed just in case the searchlight encounters something dangerous lurking between stars. It dedicates itself to arming humanity against the potential dangers that could lurk in the shadows of the Milky Way. Algorab's most well-known domain of operation is the military protection of deep space ventures against nonhuman threats, as is the case in the Serene Sea where Algorab is battling the Sequence. However, it would be a mistake to reduce Algorab to this purely military and anti-xeno angle. In fact Algorab's military endeavours are only the surface of their work. Deep down Algorab does not consider unwilling enemies like the Sequence as a true threat. What they are truly afraid of are threats operating at a cosmic level. Gamma bursts that can erase a planet's biosphere in seconds. Holes in the curtain of space and time. Causality loops. Weird matter corruption. Objects and concepts that can not be countered by weapons but by a deep, dangerous and even somewhat eldritch understanding of physics.

This is Algorab's true quest, its deepest purpose: to safeguard humankind against the cosmos itself.

The Starmoth Initiative

"Space dissolves everything. Empires, nations, allegiances, routes, maps. In the expanses of the void, it seems that our destiny is to be mere wanderers, as opposed to the pioneers and colonists of the past."

--Rani Spengler.

"As above, so below."

--Motto of the Starmoth Initiative.

As soon as humankind started expanding in the Milky Way thanks to the geometry drive, one thing was made very clear: the future would belong to explorers. The legacy of the Low Age was one of scientific and spiritual curiosity which had birthed many an institution, society or even cult dedicated to exploration, discovery and study.

In the first decades of the interstellar age, space exploration was enthusiastic but messy. Unregistered ships bounced from planet to planet, landing and taking samples of alien life without much regard for contamination risks. Swarms of Von Neuman probes surged through uncharted systems without warning nor coordination. Long-range exploration missions gathered mountains of data that would never be correctly classified, published or sorted. The knowledge accumulated in private databanks, layers upon layers upon layers that failed at creating a shared repository of space knowledge. Sometimes, even, exploration ships stumbled upon less than amicable things.

The Starmoth Initiative was born in Communal Space as an attempt to solve this problem by coordinating human exploration efforts. The Initiative is a cooperative organisation financed by a mixture of government subsidies and communal donations. Its primary mission is to provide an organized framework for human exploration by creating and enforcing standards for data collection, data sharing, ship rating and exploration protocols. Its secondary mission is to maintain an independent exploration fleet operating at the edges of human space. The two activities are intertwined: the Initiative's field experience provides invaluable feedback to the administrative and procedural side of things.

In the eyes of the Starmoth Initiative exploration is valuable in and of itself, both as a means to further humankind's understanding of the universe and to create a sense of community on the fringes of civilisation. Though the Initiative will happily lend its data and feedback to localized colonization endeavours or private exploration parties, at its heart it is about creating a safe, regulated space for explorers. The Starmoth Initiative operates relay stations in the void, edits guidelines for space travel and maintains (at a great cost) a deep space mail service. The organisation also funds deep space research, having among other things pioneered the Butterfly Engine, a long-range version of the Geometry Drive.

The Starmoth Initiative doesn't only watch explorers from the guidelines. Its active branch has specialized itself in leading long-range deep space exploration endeavours such as the famous Laniakea Run. If a deep space traveller was to stumble upon a lone beacon lost in deep space, there are good odds that it was set up by the Initiative as a reminder of its passage. The twenty-five Inyanga-class ships of the Starmoth Initiative have thus been the spearhead of many an attempt at crossing the uncharted void between galactic arms and will continue doing so for as long as the organisation exists.


Interstellar Communications


"You've got mail!"

One of the problems created by the geometry drive is that while it permits interstellar travel it doesn't enable interstellar communications, which can only at best travel at the speed of light. This creates a very specific paradigm where outside of well-packed systems ships tend to be faster than radio or laser signals.

It is not to say that regular interstellar communications do not exist at all. Some groups do use long-range coms lasers at interstellar ranges for messages that can wait for a few years but those create a lot of additional problems - the main one being that any laser powerful enough to send a message to another star is also a very adequate anti-ship weapon.

No, really, there are better uses for big lasers than sending mail to another star. Propelling lightsails for instance.

The interesting thing with faster than light travel is that it has created what could be qualified as "the revenge of physical storage". As laser beams or radio signals are way too slow, the main vector of interstellar communications is old-fashioned courier ships that carry messages and data on physical drives - often DNA-based storage, though the revenge of physical storage also caused a true renaissance in handwritten mail. In a way the interstellar society operates under a paradigm that is oddly reminiscent of the early 19th century: short-range messages take a few hours to reach their destination, a few months to reach distant places, and there is no equivalent to telephone or telegraph lines.

Most communes have their own courier service, often carried out by cargo ships, but there are also two public interstellar mail organisations: the centuries-old Interstellar Post Office operating in Communal Space and the Ekumen Communications Network in Eloran space. Both use relay stations and fast drones to create a cheap, long-range network capable of transporting mail across the entirety of Orion's Arm. Finally, priority messages are often carried aboard dedicated picket ships that combine long-range computation systems and efficient fusion drives. The Moon Communes even use a unique and frankly odd ship, the two hundred kilometres long, antimatter-powered courier ship No Time To Stop. There is even a panhuman cooperative organisation dedicated to delivering mail to the most isolated of places: the Astropostale.

Of course, the reliance on courier ships means that any kind of immediate interstellar communications is impossible which kills any attempt at establishing real interstellar stock markets - which is not seen by many as a real loss. Once again, 19th-century logics apply: someone willing to take part in a cooperative on the other side of Communal Space will have to be ready to wait a few weeks. Who cares? Most courier ships carry love letters and books anyway.

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