Old Empires, New Kingdoms
These first star-ships could travel 1 light-year in just over a month. Nearby star systems were visited, and many K and G class types were found to have compatible, if not very comfortable, planets. Various governments started planning small research colonies. Soon though, the technology was improved, and travel that took months, started taking only weeks. While FTL travel had been solved, FTL communication had not. Attempts at instantaneous communication using quantum entanglement had been tried successfully many times, but translating those laboratory successes into a practical communication system proved elusive.
Soon, colonies were springing up almost as fast as new habitable worlds were discovered. Minority religious and political groups staked out claims, allowing them to live as they desired. Countries expanded to other worlds hoping to preserve their culture. Big corporations got bigger as interstellar trade got started, and products started moving from place to place. With commerce on a stellar scale, came crime – also on a stellar scale.
To protect their investments in the colonies, the various earth governments kept their colonies dependent, but gave them representation in a loose ‘Federation’ formed out of the old U.N. The reality though, was that policing the Colonies was expensive, and difficult to sell to taxpayers. The biggest corporations started arming their ships to protect their profits, and the Earth governments discovered that it was easier to let the Corporations do the policing.
Eventually, the ‘Big 7’ interstellar corporations were the law in space, and were granted to power to negotiate with colonial governments, exercise police powers, and treat with any aliens discovered – which, eventually, they were. Most of the Aliens found were somewhat behind human in technology, but a few were ahead of us. All but a few were exploited by the ‘big 7’ as new markets, or sources for advanced tech. As expansion continued, so did the corporations, the ‘big 7’ growing to be the ‘big 20’ and beyond. Because interstellar trade was the single greatest unifying force in space, the corporations acted to keep most conflicts local, and specific. Many Aliens joined in interstellar trade, so not all the corporations were human owned or run. Throughout, the Corporations maintained the illusion of representative government by sponsoring an annual assembly in the solar system, with representatives of all colonies invited. This group had theoretical veto over corporate decisions where they impacted colonial citizen. In reality, most delegates were bought and paid for, and voted accordingly. There were, and still are a few small systems that decided to not participate in any trade, and isolated themselves from the growing corporate empires.
New colonies by then were essentially ‘company worlds’, settled by employees of a specific company, exporting resources for that company, and only accepting trade from ships owned by that company. These company worlds were kept dependent on trade for most essentials, and not allowed to become self-sustaining. Companies also kept secret ‘research worlds’, where they hoped to, and sometimes did, make advances that would give them an edge over their competition. A vast, inter-dependent inter-stellar economy formed, bringing a good, minimum standard of living for almost all participants. After all, a poor population could not buy those nice products…
By the late 25th century, humanity had spread to over a thousand star systems. All but a small minority of trade and travel was controlled by the biggest interstellar corporations. What independent trade there was, formed growing gray and black markets. Some of these small independents grew rich taking advantage of trade restrictions imposed by companies on their worlds, or worlds they had contracts with. Some of the smugglers were even working with the corporations, selling goods into competitor’s markets, stealing profits. By this point, a semi-practical application of quantum-entanglement for interstellar communication was finally in production. It was expensive, and had some peculiarities, but it worked. Unfortunately, its expense and peculiarities made it useful mostly for governments, corporations, and the rich. Ships could carry interstellar communicators, but they tended to only be able to contact the home office.
Then the inevitable happened. One of the many pirates who tried their luck from time to time got very lucky indeed. The famous (or Infamous) Jaston Zolare and his crew were able to take over one of the corporate ‘Security’ ships; essentially a warship. Legends supply many stories for how this happened, but the result was clear enough. Suddenly, Jaston and his band were a real threat on the space-lanes. His pirate navy grew with each successful raid, eventually growing larger then some Corporate Navies. He and his group lasted six and a half years before the interstellar companies finally built up their ‘security forces’ – Navies – enough to protect themselves. They sent out Q-Ships as bait, and had large flotilla’s waiting nearby to back them up. The trade lanes became safer then ever before, and the Corporations even more powerful. Mysteriously, Jaston, his ship, and entire crew seem to have disappeared by this point, and no-one saw them, or any wreckage of their ship – despite very large rewards being offered.
When it was all over, some ‘bright light’ on some company’s board of directors realized just how damaging the pirates were to company profits. He speculated on what would happen if a similar group were to prey heavily on their major competitor… And so corporate backed ‘privateers’ were born. Like Jaston, they had real warships to work with, but unlike him they could get theirs repaired and restocked easily. Corporate espionage expanded into full blown warfare. And because most corporate worlds were totally dependent on trade, when that trade broke down, people starved, and died. Hundreds of worlds starved, or reverted to barbarism. Eventually, many worlds rebelled, and banded together for support. When the smoke cleared, many corporations had bankrupted themselves, and all had vastly reduced capabilities and markets. Many worlds were isolated, and most had to deal with becoming self-sufficient for the first time.
What followed was more a ‘great depression’ then a ‘dark age’, as planets were largely cut off from each other, and were more focused on their own survival then in dealing with each other. It was during this period that the small, independent trader came into it own. Thousands of independent traders started business, using cheap second and third hand ships that were then flooding the market. These traders made it possible for many worlds to become self-sufficient much faster – or at all. It took a generation, sometimes two, before most planetary populations felt secure enough to venture out from their home systems again, coming into contact with each other. Again, there was conflict and cooperation. But this time, the home planets were functioning economies in their own right, and not dependent on others. Trade was nice, but not necessary. People were acting in the interests of their homes, not their employers.
New federations were formed, as well as empires, kingdoms, republics, and what not. Most, realizing that the distances involved kept real representative government from working well, formed autocracies or hybrid autocracy / republics.
This then, is the modern period. The old plutocratic-republic has broken up into a dozen empires, kingdoms, and a lot of independent worlds. They are all trying to grow, all competing for dominance. Some star-nations retained more of their technology then others, but only the remnant of the ‘old republic’ retains the ability to communicate over stellar distances – everyone else uses ships to carry messages.
But! there are undiscovered corporate research worlds where new discoveries were made, but never commercialized, derelict ships, hidden labs, and even new worlds to discover.