The Public Interstellar Transportation Network, also known as P-ITN, "Webway" or "Communal Line", is a massive, galaxy-spanning transportation system, leveraging the capabilities of the Farseer Transporter to provide cheap, publicly owned, long range transportation in the galaxy. While the majority of interstellar transportation in human space is publicly owned and operated, the P-ITN differentiates itself by its size and and international nature. The network is primarily operated by the USRE Office of Infrastructure, but virtually all Earth-based, space-capable polities contribute towards it. The Network currently 6 has members: the United Socialist Republics of Earth, the Republics of Laniakea, the Lebanese Space Interests, the SAOU (South American Off-World Union), the Canadian Communes and the Integrated Communes of Al-Andalus. The Eloran Ekumen and the Starmoth Initiative had association status with the Network, providing marginal funding and logistical support, but without direct political involvement.
The P-ITN operates fifty-seven Farseers and a total of two hundred relay stations, accounting for fifty thousand active personnel. The Transporters travel back and forth between relays, carrying smaller vessels, passengers and cargo across tens of thousands of lightyears. Centred on the Earth, it links the four corners of the Milky Way with regularly scheduled journeys, operating like the myriad of smaller networks in human space, albeit over much larger distances. The P-ITN is financed by a special tax, raised by its members, with only a small contribution required from passengers, be they individual persons or ships. Attribution of ship, passenger and cargo slots on the Network's Farseers is determined by the administration. The P-ITN administration tends to favour deep space relay resupply runs, long-range expeditions and diplomatic ventures, in that order. The P-ITN is designed to run at a loss; its utility isn't economic but social, as it offers a service that, in the long run, benefits the human community as a whole by allowing exploration and expansion in the less-travelled parts of the galaxy. While it has priority access treaties with recognized organisations such as the Starmoth Initiative, the Network ultimately obeys to its national members alone.
The bronze liveries of its Farseers and the dark blue uniforms of its personnel are known across all of human space. While the P-ITN is not universally accepted as a neutral organisation like the Astropostale, its prestige allows it to moor ships even in the least USRE-friendly corners of human space. P-ITN agents are known for their diligence, especially when it comes to helping passengers...and dismantling smuggling circles trying to use the P-ITN as a stellar highway. The Network operates its own security force, with thirty Luciole Interceptors, dedicated to the protection of the Farseer convoys against human and non-human threats. It is not uncommon for Network Farseers to fly with a Luciole hidden between two containers, ready to spring out and engage hostiles. Network ships travelling through Sequence space sometimes mount heavy weaponry on their own, including spine-mounted ultra-relativistic particle beams.
Six lines are currently in operation.
- The "Golden Line" links the solar system with Elora. This safe, well-travelled line only covers 500 lightyears and is often used for the initial training of P-ITN crews and christening of newly acquired Farseers. It is the only profitable P-ITN line, owing to the large amount of commercial cargo carried between the two planets.
- The "Silver Line" starts in Elora and goes all the way through the Perseus Arm and to the end of the Outer Arm at Finistelle Station. Running over several tens of thousands of lightyears, this is a long, lonesome line, especially in the inter-arm gap, where stars are almost nonexistent.
- The "Queen's Line", named after the Meta-Queen of Smyrnia, links the Earth to Gondwana Port, in the Perseus Arm, with several stops in the Smyrnian Bubble and the ruins of the Gondwana Region. Relatively short, this line is known to be quite lively due to endemic pirate activity around the Smyrnia-Silesia system.
- The "Necropolis Line" runs from the Earth to Station Zero, at the very edge of the Milky Way, alongside the legendary Laniakea Run. This complex line forces Farseers to move quite far above and below the galactic plane to avoid Sequence megastructures capable of FTL interference. It stops in Mundis and alongside the relays around Garro's Respite.
- The "Great Highway" links the Earth to the galactic centre, through Okean, Tyra and large swathes of former Forgotten Traveller space. The presence of many neutron stars alongside the route allows for very accurate FTL target acquisition, allowing the Farseers to cover the twenty-five thousand lightyears of the line in less than three months.
- The "Armilla Line" is the longest of them all, running across the galactic halo, both above and below the galactic plane, through seventy stops and more than one hundred thousand lightyears. As halo stars have very high relative velocities compared to the stars of the plane, this is the most taxing line, requiring long burns at full thrust.
A seventh line is currently in the process of early exploration and charting. The prospective "Millenium Line" would dive deep in the galactic "North", beyond the galactic centre.
The Farseer is illustrated by Lilly Harper for Starmoth. Milky Way background: NASA public domain.
Most of the Vriij keep to themselves and remain on their makeshift homeworld of Okean, mourning their star cluster and the long-lost civilisations they once called their brethren. Interactions between the remaining Vriij populations and human scientists are few and far between. However, a few Vriij have decided to break their mournful isolation and embark on human vessels. They are known as the Vriij Ascendant -- quite litteraly, as they ascend from their waterworld and into the stars.
The Vriij Ascendant are bound to humanity the same way barnacles are bound to a ocean-going vessels. While the Vriij are perfectly capable of manufacturing advanced pieces of technology -- and indeed, did so in the past, to the point they could rival the Sequence in a bitter war for their home cluster -- they have consciously chosen not to, for reasons that remain unclear, but have to do with the ultimate fate of their cluster and the hundreds of billions of sophonts it once contained. In truth, there is little doubt that the Vriij could manufacture their own spaceships and leave Okean behind to rebuild their lost empire somewhere else in the galaxy -- or even, if they fancied it, upon the ashes of their glorious past. The Vriij Ascendant do not resort to human technology because they have to, but because they wish to.
To become a Vriij Ascendant is to leave the homeworld behind, never to return. The Vriij live in tightly knit communities, where the constant renewal and reaffirmation of personal links is paramount to maintaining one's place in society. To leave the planet, even for a year, is to doom oneself to social death. A Vriij Ascendant becomes an outcast the moment they leave Okean's atmosphere -- but it is exceedingly rare for Vriij Ascendant to be unwilling exiles. The vast majority of them chose to remove themselves from their brethren, leaving friends, lovers and families behind in quest of something grander. In total, there are almost one thousand Vriij Ascendant in human space.
The Vriij Ascendant do not consider themselves to be part of the Vriij, to the point they refer to themselves as "strangers-in-waiting", identities that need to be confronted to the radical alterity of another sapient species to fully realize themselves. However, thy do not adopt human names or identities either. They remain in-between, with their own cultures and experiences. Free from the rigorous bounds of a society dedicated to enforcing pre-spaceflight traditions and forgetting the rest, they adopt new physical shapes, relinquishing the heavy, powerful frames of underwater Vriij to grow thin, slender bodies better accustomed to low and microgravity. It is rare to see a Vriij Ascendant without a colorful sleeve suit, protecting their skin beneath a layer of salty water and allowing them to interact with humans through integrated translator systems that convert their sonar clicks into audible sound. With their tentacles and pressure-resistant frames, the Vriij Ascendant are very well-suited to life aboard a spaceship and this is where most of them decide to spend their time beyond Okean.
The Vriij Ascendant are organized as a loose community of individuals, sharing advice, stories and ideas on human networks -- while they form as many emotional bonds as Okean Vriij, they tend to do so with human sophonts rather than with other Vriij Ascendant. They are particularily good friends with AIs, for social and cultural reasons -- decentralized artificial intelligences are the closest they can find in human space to the coral-based sapients Okean Vriij share their adult lives with. While the Vriij Ascendant travel and live alone, they tend to follow self-identified paths that cover a wealth of religious and cultural significance. These paths, as far as we know, are unique to the Vriij Ascendant: they are not present in water-bound Vriij culture.
The Wanderer, in Stars Awake is the most common path and leads the Vriij Ascendant to seek the company of human explorers, often hailing from the Starmoth Initiative. These Vriij aim to steer away from their dead cluster, to fill their minds and eyes with the wonders of the universe, following in the trail of faster-than-light human expeditions. The Watcher, in Dust Shrouded is the path that leads a Vriij Ascendant to explore the ancient ruins of the Vriij empire, trying to elucidate the mysteries of their own kind. It is an exhilarating but dangerous path: it is not rare to see Watchers fall victim to targeted assassinations, that we can only speculate emanate from their Okean Vriij brethren, through human underworld networks. The Seeker, in Embers Clad is the third major path and leads the Vriij Ascendant on a bitter trail of war and violence against the Sequence, which they hold as the main culprit for the dereliction of the cluster. They often work with Algorab, outside of official human networks.
llustrations by Mark Molnar for Eclipse Phase, distributed by Posthuman Studios under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-alike 3.0 Unported License.
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 minor 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 Hand, whose 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 Sea Guards, famous for their dark blue uniforms, more prone to direct involvement 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. This space police 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, as well as off-world regulations, and may commandeer ships if need be. Operating under the extremely tight weapons regulations of the Traverse, TCM agents are allowed to carry tier 4 personal armaments 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, comprised 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, getting involved in various high-stakes investigations such as the one that led to the dismantlement of Vyiranga's Dark Sun mafia.
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.
"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).
"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 object 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.
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