"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'être 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.
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.
Pictures: NASA public domain, RAF (status unknown).
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