Mini-Setting: The Pan-Sentient Confederation (Part 1)
I’ve occasionally heard people say they would like to run campaigns in the Traveller’s Third Imperium universe, the Star Trek universe, the Star Wars universe, etc., but they never do because they don’t want to deal with the canon fanatics. My solution is to just not play with canon fanatics. However, I realize that this may not be possible for everyone. Another solution is to file the numbers off the setting by creating a new setting that can be used for very similar adventures/stories but is different enough that the old canon obviously would not apply.
Back in the 1990s, when I was an assistant sysop on GEnie’s Third Science Fiction Roundtable (SFRT3), we had a similar situation. We had people who wanted to write fan fiction set in that “Final Frontier” universe but could not because GEnie’s management/lawyers would have had a fit. Our solution was to file the numbers by changing terminology, history, and the like enough to create a different but obviously similar universe. I rediscovered my background notes on this setting a few weeks ago and thought it might make and interesting alternate universe setting for exploring the final frontier with the Final Frontier canon getting in the way.
Please remember that this material was written with writing fiction in mind, so it probably goes into more detail than needed for a tabletop RPG on some background material. This writeup was produced by taking messages I posted on SFRT3, editing them slightly to correct typos (and probably to add different typos), and rearranging the posted material to be somewhat more organized. All of this material is copyright 1996 by Randall Stukey.
“Pendragon Log, Standard Date 35-2378.02, Captain Roland Boyer recording. 4 hours ago, communications picked up a faint distress call apparently originating in the Gamma Zeta Seven system on the Brenspace border. Although the signal died as we entered hyperspace, we have no choice but to investigate. The Pendragon dropped to the fifth level of hyperspace, which will put us in system about 10 hours from now.
“Given intelligence reports of considerable recent activity in Brenspace, I have ordered a tactical analysis of the Gamma Zeta Seven system in anticipation of a Bren ambush….
His computer’s seductive voice interrupted. “I’m sorry to interrupt your log recording, sir,” Jenny stated. “But I have a urgent report from communications on hold.”
Boyer sighed. “On screen, Jenny.”
His holoscreen, which had until now be displaying the relaxing shifting patterns of the hyperspace surrounding the Pendragon, shifted to a portrait shot of his Polarian Chief Communications Officer. His green face tentacles waving in barely suppressed excitement, he stated “I’m sorry to disturb you, sir. The cryptography section has identified an ancient Earth code in the pattern of short and long pauses between words in the distress call.”
Boyer stared at the holoscreen. “You have my complete attention, Lieutenant.”
“Only two words, sir. `Bren’ and `Nova’. I’m sorry that it took so long to find this, but the code used predates the Confederation. If fact, according to the information banks, it predates space flight on Earth.”
Boyer frowned. “It’s not much to go on.” He paused a moment. “Mr. Gradlax, inform the senior officers of this message and that there will be a briefing in two hours in the central briefing room.”
“Aye-aye, sir. Communications out.”
Boyer drummed his desktop absently as he thought. Starforce intelligence had reported that the Bren were working on a new class of ship which had been codenamed “Nova.” However, it was supposedly still in the planning stages. As his mind drifted on the possibilities, he suddenly realized that the use of an old Earth code probably meant that their were Confederation citizens, probably from his home world, in the supposedly uninhabited Gamma Zeta Seven system. Their presence could only complicate matters for the Pendragon.
With the discovery of hyperspace in 2112 CE, humankind began the exploration and colonization of the stars with the same fervor that they explored and colonized the western hemisphere of the Earth in the previous millennium. However, they quickly discovered that they shared the galactic arm with hundreds of alien species, some of which were as advanced technologically as (or even more advanced than) they were, if not nearly as prolific. The Pan Sentient Confederation (PSC) was formed in 2289 as a trade and defense alliance when humankind and their informal trading partners first encountered the Bren.
Today, the Pan Sentient Confederation (PSC) is a confederation of over 7,000 member planets of many different species. While the PSC started out almost four hundred years ago as a trade and defense alliance, it has grown into an actual government, although it is more of a United Nations or a European Economic Community of the stars than it is a United States of the stars.
The PSC is governed by a President, elected every 10 standard years by the Confederation Council with the approval of the Confederation Senate. The Council has 45 members: the Confederation President, representatives of the 12 founding cultures and 32 members elected to staggered 8 year terms by the Senate. The Confederation Council is in continuous session, but its powers are strictly limited to trade, defense, enforcement of the rights of Confederation citizens and the laws approved by the Senate, and any other duties specifically delegated to it by Senate. The Confederation Senate normally meets for three months every two years, although special sessions can be called if needed.
Each member of the Confederation has one vote in the Senate. This became a problem as the PSC expanded. Not only did the size of the Confederation Senate quickly become unwieldy, but less wealthy planets — especially those further from the center of the Confederation — had trouble funding a Senator. With the admission of the 2000th member planet in 2507, the PSC Charter was amended to allow member planets to assign their votes to other member worlds. This practice tends to keep the actual voting body to a reasonable size. However, it transferred much of the politicking from the very public floor of the Senate to back rooms where deals for control of proxy votes were made.
The PSC has an extensive bureaucracy, but its powers are generally limited to administrative areas as the Confederation Charter does not allow the Senate to delegate legislative authority to any body other than the
Confederation Council. The Charter includes a strong Bill of Rights that protects both the rights of individuals and the rights of member planets. Except in cases of emergency, all Confederation laws must be certified as constitutional by the Confederation’s Constitutional Court before it is allowed to take effect. This certification does not prevent challenges to the constitutionality of specific applications of a law, it is simply a means of preventing obviously unconstitutional laws from being imposed on the citizens and member planets — or, at least, attempting to. If any part of a law is struck down as unconstitutional when the court reviews it for certification, the entire law is sent back to the Senate or Council to be rewritten. The all or nothing nature of the certification process was a deliberate attempt to prevent large, complex, “everything but the kitchen sink” laws on the part of the PSC’s founders.
The authority of the Confederation is limited to defense, space, and to protection of the rights of PSC citizens visiting starports on member worlds. Other laws can be passed, but any member world can nullify those
laws on their own worlds (outside of starport areas where Confederation law always applies just as it does off-planet) if they wish.
This odd arrangement is what allows the Confederation to work. There are uniform laws in space and travelers/merchants are protected from odd local laws — thus allowing trade to flourish; and the Confederation StarForce protects its members from hostile powers. Yet outsiders cannot impose the morality and beliefs on the cultures of member worlds simple because they are more numerous and/or more influential.
For example, the Confederation has banned the import of the ecatasy-producing drug Thorrin — yet it must allow the drug to reach 37 hedonistic member-planets who have elected to nullify the law. As might be expected, this produces a number of enforcement headaches. However, it is the price that has to be paid for bringing such a large group of very different societies and species together in one working entity.
One of the most unique rights of PSC citizens is that equal protection under the law is clearly defined in the Confederation Charter to mean that all citizens must have equal access to the legal system without regard for their wealth or power and that all punishments must, in so far as possible, have the same effect on all subject to them. The latter means that in Confederation law almost all fines are defined as a percentage of worth and almost all prison terms are defined as a percentage of lifespan. The intent of this is to make sure all punishments have the same deterrent effect on all citizens regardless of their species or their wealth. (Think about it, here in the US a $150 speeding ticket is a great burden to someone supporting a family with a minimum wage job, but would be pocket change to a billionaire.)
The “cruel and unusual punishment” clause also has a couple of interesting differences from modern America’s. First, it prohibits “cruel, unusual, and excessive punishments or judgements.” This applies the provision to both criminal and civil cases. Second, this provision makes it clear that what constitutes “cruel and unusual” must be judged differently according the physical and mental attributes of each species. However this section of the charter also makes it clear that a punishment that does to the criminal what they did to their victims is not in and of itself cruel, unusual, or excessive punishment.
The Charter’s Basic Rights also apply to all organizations operating under the authority of the Confederation or under an Confederation charter (such as interstellar corporations).
The Confederation strongly supports free enterprise and a free market at the interstellar level so long as businesses are honest and strictly adhere to Confederation laws and regulations. Businesses operating only on a single planet are generally not subject to Confederation regulation, only to those of the planet they operate on.
Competition is enforced to ensure that consumers get the best possible goods at the lowest possible prices. All forms of non-government interstellar monopolies are illegal. Taxes are kept as low as possible and regulation merely for the sake of making work for an army of Confederation officials is avoided. Long-tern planning is rewarded while catering to the whims of stock speculators is strongly discouraged. Trademarks are limited to the company’s name, product or service names can not be trademarked. Advertising and sales pitches are required to be completely honest and product data easy to compare with the competition.
While the ideal is free competition at the interstellar level in an honest, open environment with the rights of customers, workers, management, and owners protected (generally in the order listed), there are millions of businesses that operate at the interstellar level in the Confederation. Obviously many are going to operate less than legally and not be caught unless they get too cocky, too greedy, or have a run of bad luck. The punishments for businesses that break the law to increase their profits, however, are extremely harsh — often confiscation of a major part of their wealth, imprisonment for their management, and confiscation of a percentage of each stockholder’s stock. The latter is intended to encourage stockholders to elect directors who place a very high priority on obeying the law while still limiting a stockholder’s liability.
Hyperspace and the Hyperspace Drive
The major means of interstellar travel known to the PSC is through the various levels of hyperspace — alternate universes, generally nearly empty of matter, where travel is not limited by relativity. Hyperspace drives generate gateways to these various universes and provide a stable set of physical laws for their ship in the various hyperspaces — thus allowing life to continue to exist within the ship. Because ships must pass through the “lower” levels of hyperspace to reach the “deeper” levels as their drive powers up, space is often thought of as the “top” of an ocean with the various levels of hyperspace stacked one beneath the other below that “surface,” with each level of hyperspace having an ever stronger “current” that pushes ships along much faster than the “current” of normal space. Scientists and engineers cringe at this terrible analogy, but it is often used as it is easy to understand — while what actually happens requires one to be able to think in complex math to even begin to grasp.
There are nine (known) safe levels of hyperspace. That is, there are nine alternate universes where ships can travel faster than allowed in the “real” universe safely. The approximate speed of travel in the various levels of hyperspace is as follows:
|Hyperspace Level (HL)||Approximate “Real” Universe Speed||Approximate Travel Time|
|1 parsec||100 parsecs||1000 parsecs|
|1||0.2 parsecs/day||5 days||17 months||13.5 years|
|2||0.5 parsecs/day||2 days||7 months||5.5 years|
|3||1.0 parsecs/day||1 day||3.5 months||2.75 years|
|4||2.5 parsecs/day||10 hours||1.3 months||13 months|
|5||5.0 parsecs/day||5 hours||21 days||7 months|
|6||10.0 parsecs/day||2.5 hours||8.3 days||3.5 months|
|7||1.0 parsecs/hour||1 hour||4.2 days||1.4 months|
|8||4.0 parsecs/hour||15 minutes||1 day||10.5 days|
|9||8.0 parsecs/hour||7.5 minutes||12.5 hours||5.3 days|
Unfortunately, the energy requirements for maintaining a vessel in the deeper levels of hyperspace are so great that most vessels cannot enter them at all. Most Confederation commercial vessels (and those of other nearby cultures) cruise in HL 4. The faster ones can cruise in HL 5. Most Confederation military vessels (as well as those of other nearby cultures) can cruise nearly indefinitely at HL 5, for 3 to 4 months at HL 6, and for 1 month or so at HL 7 before a major overhaul of the drives and power accumulators is needed. Large capital ships (heavy cruisers and above) can normally operate one hyperspace level deeper for the same periods of time. These larger vessels can also briefly enter the highest levels of hyperspace (approximately 1 week at HL 8 and 2 days at HL 9) but doing so puts a great strain on the hyperdrives.
A ship that cannot maintain the level of power needed to keep itself in a given level of hyperspace “rises” through the levels until it either reaches one that has power to maintain itself in or reaches normal space. The only exception is that vessels in the three deepest levels of hyperspace are sometimes thrown into unknown (or known but deadly) hyperspaces if they exit these deepest hyperspaces in an uncontrolled power down. This occurs because there has not yet been enough experience with these deep levels of hyperspace for sufficient safety features to be built into the hyperdrives. About 99% of the time (when this is believed to happen), the ship is never heard of again. It is assumed it was destroyed by entering a hyperspace whose physical laws would too different for the ship to compensate for. The 1% that survive and manage to return to normal space is one way new levels of hyperspace (many of which, of course, are not useful) are discovered.
As most sensors do not work reliably in any of the hyperspaces, only vessels very close to each other can reliably detect and/or communicate with each other in hyperspace. Most hyperspaces look very strange to creatures from normal space, although some people find the shifting curtains of color in hyperspace levels 4 through 6 to be very relaxing. A computer is normally used to display the real universe as if the ship were moving through it on holoscreens and tactical displays.
Hyperwave communications travel at 5 parsecs a day and can be received by properly equipped ships in normal space or in the first five levels of hyperspace.