A Brief History
Approximately 250 earth years ago, the Lupostra set off to explore the stars. Their home planet’s cultures were united, brought together by the promise that the first astral engine held - a device capable of taking a spaceship into the astral plane, which allowed it to travel faster than the speed of light. Four ships were made, and began to spread across the galaxy, in search of other intelligent life. It was almost three years later that one of them, named Hope for Better Tomorrow, discovered Earth, home planet to humans. Initial contact was peaceful, but wary - over time, the two species began to warm up to each other, learning each other's languages, sharing culture and technology.
Uniting their governments and policies into one as the Galactic Union, the two spread across space, pushing the boundaries of science, exploring and mapping new worlds, and settling waypoints on livable planets. It was 50 years after the forming of the Union that the plans for the first major space station, known as Promise of a New World, or just Promise, were developed. The station was to serve as the first of a new model of livable environment, in stable orbit in a solar system that had no habitable planets in it. Promise was modular, expandable, and adaptable, taking 30 years to complete, and the first build of it allowing 300,000 people to comfortably live in space, mining and exploring the resource-rich system it was situated in. This wasn’t a neutral act, however, and the creation of Promise was under much criticism due to being an expansionary colony, with many humans and Lupostra opposing it.
It was a decade after the construction of Promise that an exploratory astral ship discovered a Rift Gate, a piece of foreign technology used for FTL travel - and soon, with it, Ishari Coalition battleships came to defend their property. Unlike the first contact that formed the Union, the meeting between the Union and Coalition was initially hostile. It took time for diplomacy to happen, and peace to be established.
The Ishari Coalition had been conducting interplanetary exploration and settlement far longer than the Union - even their home planet was surrounded by several others with habitable planets and moons. Their creation of the rift gates kept their own expansion slow, but aided in setting up reliable travel routes. One of their early discoveries was the Ansiarra - a species not yet having developed any space flight technology. The Ansiarra, and their planet, were brought into the Coalition in an act of colonization. It was after this, that the Coalition had found other species - the Union - interfering with their technology, and their brief war of self-defense occurred.
A mutually beneficial arrangement had formed, with the Union and Coalition existing independently, but cooperatively. During this time, space station technology became reproducible enough that many factions began to create their own colonies, separated from any real government. It was an independent exploration ship that discovered a structure floating in astral space. This complex, waiting for almost a billion years in the timeless astral plane, belonged to a species known as the Skalriss, whose star-spanning civilization time had erased. They had sealed themselves in a deep sleep in hopes that a cure for a plague that wracked their species could be found - which never was in their time. Awoken from their slumber, they joined the Union and Coalition, and together the three groups developed a cure for their plague, and began searching for other sealed away vaults to finally awaken those who have been asleep for millions of years.
Life is better than it’s ever been for most people. In any of the major settlements, people’s needs are provided for - housing, food, and other major needs are simply covered. Despite advances in technology, there’s still work to be done - but it’s now optional. Those who continue to work are provided with money to spend on more luxuries, and many instead go into creative fields, hoping to express their ideas or become famous. As such, there’s a new, overwhelming wealth of culture with interests becoming more specialized and divided, to the point where popular culture across wide ranges as a whole has nearly ceased to exist.
Computers have continued to get smaller and faster, to the point where the size limits on computers aren’t about having enough room for the components, but having enough room to make interacting with them comfortable. Often, a single computer system handles the needs of an entire house, including all the personal computers, monitors, and the like, and it’s synced with whatever portable systems users bring in and hook up. Complete systems that are of a pocket-size, and can be plugged into stations at home, work, or in cafes and stores are common.
Most entertainment, be they games, movies, books, or TV shows are just downloaded directly - a few button presses, and a purchase is made or streaming starts. Physical stores for media are now specialized, for extreme high end cartridges. Similar to graphics cards, each cartridge has its own special designed chips to optimize the computing power, and are true high-end luxury experiences. “Downgraded” versions often still exist, but the real connoisseur still goes for the physical copy of media.
The digital and physical split also applies to other forms of technology as well. While most “serious” software is likely just easily downloaded data, things which require a heavy amount of computing power, such as spaceship navigation, experimental AI, or delicate techno-magic calibrations are all done through specialized physical chips which can’t be just downloaded.
The most important technological advancement to current society was the invention of the magi-tech engine. Capable of drawing power from the astral plane, the engine can provide virtually limitless clean energy, making solar, nuclear, and other power sources mostly obsolete. There are still restrictions, however - magi-tech engines require some kind of power source to start and are made with parts which can be broken or worn out and so require maintenance, and need to be of the appropriate size for what they’re powering - private spacecraft often have them taking up the size of a large room, although larger ones scale in power output faster than they grow, making power-plant style facilities still able to power space stations or cities.
For anything smaller than a house, magi-tech engines are too large and awkward to use. The preferred means of powering personal vehicles are batteries - standardized to be easily swappable, with plenty of places where they can be recharged or simply swapped for fresh ones.
Entertainment is more varied and fractured than ever. With so many able to produce creative content, both due to greater free time and large population numbers, there’s things out there to cater to every niche taste, and more media then one could ever hope to possibly keep up with. Groups, both online and offline, dedicated to helping find and recommend interests are important social communities, and sharing your favorite media with new friends who have never heard of it is considered a culturally important bonding exercise.
In most settled places, food is abundant and in great supply. Major settlements are built with large farms, many of which run at all hours using artificial daylight, and are powered by magic that causes the plants within to grow faster. As such, enough plants can be grown in a small area to feed a vast number of people. Plant-focused meals are the most common, although meat still does exist: it is however much rarer, with necessary proteins coming from other forms instead.
On distant worlds, and more remote villages, food scarcity does still exist. While enough farming infrastructure to meet expected needs is usually one of the first things set up, this can still fail: crop blights, pests, failed equipment, and the like can cause a food shortage, with help needed from elsewhere to fix it.
Government & Law
The size of inhabited space and lack of instant communication are the causes of new difficulties in governing and enforcing the law. Both the Union and Coalition follow roughly the same idea of structure - large overarching laws set down by voted-on representatives, and geography subdivided into further smaller and smaller sections, becoming more directly representative as you go. Most people are generally more informed and active in their smaller, local communities, than they are in the higher level organizations.
Across space, law enforcement has been radically changed to prioritize rehabilitation. Actual armed police are a rarity, with instead detectives (whose job it is to solve crime, interview witnesses, and act as general truth-finders) and mediators (who are sent for the vast majority of day-to-day disputes, and to help people find necessary services) handling most tasks. Only those proven to be a danger to those around them are sent to prison, where the goal is rehabilitation or simply allowing them to live apart from society. Minor crimes or infractions are simply dealt with through a warning, arbitration, or fines.
Law enforcement has its limits, however - the areas outside of Dominion and Coalition reach are growing, and in those places, anything goes. At best, the leadership is locally elected. At worse, warlords fight for supremacy, taking control over whatever territory they can control. The Dominion and Coalition are loath to intervene - both have agreements not to continue their colonization spread except in specifically agreed upon ways, and interfering in “neutral” territory would break that truce.
For official groups, hunting criminals down to the edge of space is difficult, and rarely worth the effort. To deal with murderers, pirates, and the like, who flee to the edge of space, a bounty hunting system was established. This is looked down on by both of the big two governments, but both participate through “unofficial” channels as a way to still express power on the edges of space.
The greatest difficulty in computer technology is that while people can travel FTL, wireless signals can not. As people expand further across space, the ability to communicate across all of civilization becomes longer, and more difficult. As such, distinctions between local and long-distance networks are made.
Each house, spaceship, and the like has its own personal network of devices, all connected, sometimes through physical wires with response speeds that are practically instantaneous. For communicating outside the home, as you get further away, data speeds slow - within the same planet is usually kept under 1 second for planets with well developed technology structures. Communication with the moons of the same planet usually has only seconds of delay.
Across a system can sometimes take hours - and to send data any further, it’s often easiest just to load physical media on a spaceship and transport it. As such, different star systems have communication systems that are entirely separate from each other, with spaceships making “deliveries” of data packets between the two: in many cases, you might have to “order” an update from a website, for it to be delivered at a later time depending on ship schedules, or expect delays as information is piggybacked on ships passing through warp gates.
Programmable parts printers have made manufacturing custom components an everyday occurrence. Special shops are available where people can request whatever they need, and have it built right there - and hobbyists have their own versions of these at home. Machines are specialized based on the types of materials they can work with, their precision, and how big or small of pieces they can make. For parts that are needed on a much larger scale, or require specialized designs - such as spaceship parts, or housing parts - specialized machines that work faster and better are still used, although they’re designed to be easily modifiable.
The custom production means remote places can get by with little outside trade beyond just a supply of raw resources. With enough metal, a factory can produce vehicles, tools, weapons, or whatever else its community might need. Rather than having to stockpile each component separately, they’re just made on demand. This means most shipments to such colonies are of raw materials - which can be similarly used by pirates and outlaws, to meet whatever their needs are.
More accessible and more powerful than ever, modern medicine has been greatly advanced due to the push in technology and magic. People live longer, healthier lives than ever before.
Your basic over-the-counter, prescription medicines, and vaccines work largely as they did centuries before. More ailments are covered, and they work more effectively with less side effects, but things like a cold often just need to be waited out. Most ships, and any settlements have a list of basic medicines, including antibiotics, that they keep stocked as per standard protocol. The most common areas of research in these departments are continually adapting and perfecting antibiotics, and creating new vaccines to help fight against new ailments, especially those coming from other worlds.
Emergency medicine has been a source of great life saving advancements. One of the most impactful has been stick-skin bandages: specially treated (species-specific) protein wraps that help disinfect a wound, and promote natural healing by providing a matrix that skin can grow over and form around. These are joined with long term storable artificial blood transfusions and sprayable salves useful for treating burns as emergency care that can be learned in just a single teaching session.
Surgical techniques allow for more precise operations, and faster recovery. Thanks to the help of new drugs, lasers, more precise tools, robotic assistants, and healing magic, surgeries that previously took weeks to heal from can now be walked away from in a matter of days. Surgical equipment like this isn’t widespread, however - it requires space, upkeep, and trained operators, such that while populated areas with trained staff have any equipment needed for immediate care, the specialized equipment needed for invasive, cosmetic, or cybernetic surgery is generally only found in large cities.
Prosthetic and cybernetic advancements is the medical field that has the most focus in research. Current tech allows full replacement of limbs that look and act identical to the original - or “improved” ones, stronger and tougher, who’s mechanical nature is obvious. Artificial organs can be specifically grown, tailored to those who need them for implantation in a matter of weeks. Not all implants are just replacements, however - glands that produce drugs or hormones can be bought so you never have to worry about watching your medication, and cosmetic surgeries of all sorts, including “non-natural” looking ones are growing increasingly common.
Money & Work
While no longer required to survive, money still exists, albeit in a harder to recognize form. Electronic money is what nearly everyone uses, with cards or computer scans used to charge a bank like debit and credit cards now. One wrinkle is the inability to quickly contact anywhere that requires FTL travel to get to - as such, before traveling long distances, money has to be sent ahead, to the bank’s different branch, in order to be available. There are stations at spaceports to facilitate this, and the data can be sent through the ship you’re traveling on. In extreme cases of a small settlement or station not having the proper support for electronic money, physical money is still available to use.
With more jobs becoming automated, there’s less work for people to do - and few enough jobs that it doesn’t make sense to force people to work to survive. The resources needed to live, as well as a stipend to live on, are freely given out to everyone. Those who do work can be afforded more luxuries in their life, but any such work is strictly optional. Far more people spend time pursuing hobbies, both practical and creative for a love of the job - most mechanics, for instance, are more interested in the work than the money.
This lack of work is partially what’s led to the push into new space - people who think mining asteroids or digging up uninhabited planets will be a way to get rich, and move back into the old, settled spaces.
Universal currencies have also been standardized, into a system just known as "credits," by a joint Union and Coalition backing in order to help broker peace and stability. While there are some distant areas that have their own forms of bargaining, almost anywhere you can expect to pay in, and be paid in credits with no conversion required wherever you go.
Advances in transit have made it so travel across planets is a casual trip, and people can travel across the universe… given enough time. Most heavily-populated planets are set up with high-speed rail between major cities, and jets that can get you to the other side of most planets between meals.
Space travel journeys require far more planning, and come in several types. A spaceship from a planet to a moon, or nearby space station, can take as few as 6 hours. To go from planet to planet or a distant station around the same star can take up to a whole day’s travel, sometimes briefly using FTL. To go from star system to star system, usually using rift gates, often involves a day’s travel minimum, or more - with spaceships set up with personal rooms like passenger rail cars.
Astral spaceships designed for exploration can often spend significant amounts of time traveling - weeks or more just to reach distant planets, and need to have supplies and accommodations for such long trips. Such trips are never made casually, as the risk of being stranded or lost is great.
Impossible Made Possible
The Astral Plane
The Astral Plane is the source of magic and a parallel dimension to the primary universe (referred to as the “prime plane”). It’s possible to travel to the Astral Plane through use of magic - and techno-magic engines can transport entire spaceships into the astral. The astral itself is a universe naturally devoid of everything. No planets, no stars, no light - just space. Travel a set distance through the astral plane, and when you return to the prime plane, you’ll find you’ve traveled a distance several orders of magnitude greater - allowing effective FTL travel through it.
The astral plane has other uses, however - on the astral plane, time is changed such that most objects do not naturally decay - although many biological processes tied to sentient living beings still continue - so ships lost in astral space are doomed to float forever, and sealed away Skalriss structures wait for hunters to find them. Even when their location is “known”, finding them can be difficult, as there’s nothing in astral space to guide you.
Those who often travel through the astral plane speak of the Whispers. When moving through astral space, you sometimes “hear” thoughts and ideas in your head that are distinctly not your own. These ideas tend to be overwhelmingly negative - aggressive, hateful urges of the type that people work hard to repress. The educated explanation is that as psychic powers are in some way tied to the astral plane, this is just a form of telepathy - reading the minds of those around you, or even those far away but in the astral plane as well. This is generally accepted as a safe, reasonable answer, with any reports of those who end up stuck in the astral plane for lengthy periods of time (or mages who spend too long in astral meditation) undergoing wild swings in personality and sudden new magical competency simply a result of stress.
Originally developed on Lupostra planets, magic is the ability to create a channel to the astral plane and cause energy to flow between the astral and prime planes, in either direction. All magic use requires mithril in some capacity - Lupostra are able to perform it naturally, as their bodies are infused with mithril, but other species require some form of mithril tool. While the mithril can be made into something as innocuous as a stylus, or sewn into the lining of gloves, many mages have a flair for the dramatic and instead use wands, staves, claw-jewelry, or even orbs with a mithril coating.
Machines referred to as techno-magic, built with mithril circuitry, are responsible for many modern day comforts, as they can provide limitless energy, or energy sinks, and allow faster-than-light travel through use of the astral plane. While seemingly able to break traditional thermodynamic laws (due to channeled energy to or from a limitless secondary source), techno-magic devices still require maintenance and care, as the mithril cannot work without moving parts or electrical flow (which they can provide themselves, once started) that require extremely precise calibration. Despite their efficiency, many techno-magical devices have more traditional backups for when things go wrong.
When first used by the Lupostra, most techno-magic was still crude. Working with other species and combining technology brought a new wave in development of mithril tools and machines, eventually forming engines that produce endless energy and doing away with the need for typical fuel.
Personal magic can be taught and learned like any other skill, and requires no innate talent, and in a way is like learning any other art. While books and online instructions are popular ways to learn, they can be difficult for those without a knack for it. Classes to learn magic are common, but many mages also learned in more personal settings directly from tutors. Personal magic requires careful learning of precise patterns of motion to be made with a mithril tool, and cannot be performed by accident. Mages speak of feeling the “tear” - a small bit of force when the motion opens a hole into the astral plane to finish the last bit of the spell. While machines are better at performing a constant spell at a consistent level, living users are much better at on the fly, and dramatic effects - those with enough training learn to sense and control their spells to a much greater degree, putting a little bit of themselves into their biggest spells. However, performing these complicated, invested spells,tends to leave the user exhausted.
When using magic, nothing more than mithril, a sense of timing, and a focus is required. While a machine needs electricity to power magical effects, the brain and body, with enough focus, can produce what is needed - there are some effects that can only be made with an active user. Many mages have chants that help them produce the required timing and focus - the type of chants tend to be personal and region or teacher based, but oddly-phrased descriptions of the spells, song-like nonsense syllables, and throaty notes are all common.
Magic is capable of a great many things, but is limited in the effects it can produce by how it functions. Magic is fundamentally about moving energy to and from the astral plane - as such heat, cold, electricity, and physical forces are all possible to produce, as well as causing matter to fuse together or come apart, or living things to speed up or slow down natural processes. Magic cannot raise the dead, tamper with people’s memories or emotions, or create objects out of thin air.
The first psions appeared after heavy use of the astral ships. Something about the process of traveling into the astral planes permanently alters the makeup of the traveler, and from then on, all their offspring have a chance of being born psions. Most psions discover their talent late into adolescence, with a minority developing them as young children or adults. Unlike magic, psionic abilities cannot currently be taught to someone who isn’t “gifted”, or duplicated through technology, but this is a field of intense study and research.
The most basic psionic powers involve directly affecting the minds of others, sending and receiving signals brain-to-brain through astral waves. As the power develops, objects can be moved, and eventually, energy can be pulled out of the astral plane as if magic was being used - and the user can even slip into the astral themselves. Use of psionics is not without its drawbacks, as the powers are often difficult to control without intense willpower, focus, and training. The psionic backlash can cause headaches, mental strain, physical weakness, and in extreme cases the body even begins to tear itself apart, skin burning from the energies unleashed. Many psions see their abilities as a curse, unable to get the thoughts of others out of their heads, or to stop projecting their will onto those around them.
Research on psionic powers is ongoing, but slow. No attempts to duplicate psionic powers or produce new psions have succeeded, but they still continue as an active form of research. In the lawless reaches of space, or hidden deep away in corrupt government or scientific institutions, those unbound by ethics have pushed forward with radical and extreme testing, not caring about the harm they do to those they experiment on.
Astral travel is common on any spaceship expected to explore at the edges of known space, or for any ship that needs to avoid common space pathways. Astral travel works by using magical circuitry throughout a ship, to transport the entire vessel into the astral plane when activated. On the astral plane, the ship’s normal propulsion makes it travel across distances that end up being far greater when it is transported back. This method of travel is not without its risks, however - the astral circuitry is vulnerable to being damaged, leaving ships stranded in dark zones outside of communication or stuck on the astral plane, and moving to and from the Astral Plane is dangerous in crowded areas, or areas with high amounts of debris, as it’s essentially done blind, forcing the phasing to happen some distance away from planets. Most planets have specifically designated “Astral hop-points” a day’s flight distance from them.
Rift gates are large structures suspended in space that allow fast travel between two points. Compared to other methods, rift gates are generally more robust, and allow all manner of spaceships to pass through them. Gates need to be constructed at either end, specifically tuned to each other, and activated at the same time. As such, gates are generally only open for certain hours and along specific pre-selected routes, undergoing safety checks and maintenance when not in use. If something goes wrong, the destruction of a rift gate can be devastating to the surrounding area. Due to the potential of destructive accidents, rift gates are only constructed some distance from inhabited areas, and the motion of planets makes it impossible to construct a rift gate on them.
Living on the Edge
Edge of Space
While in populated areas life can be easy, it’s much harder on the edge of space. Supplies often need to be shipped in, communication is limited, and the safety of society cannot be relied on. Living on the edge of space is dangerous, and only a tiny percentage do so - but with so many people alive, the number still ends up large.
The reasons for choosing to live on the edges are many. Some prefer the danger and life of adventure, or just seek to isolate themselves from large stations or cities. Many people see working on the edge of space as a way to make money - asteroid or planet mining, unscrupulous research, and skalriss liberators are all ways to get rich quick, and require workers for the support structures around them.
While risks living on the edge of space are often exaggerated, that doesn’t mean there are no dangers. Isolated communities are always at risk from pirates and raiders, strongmen trying to take control, or disturbed alien animals.
Exploration and Settlement
Known space - the area that is mapped, explored, and lived in - is constantly expanding. And as it expands, the boundaries grow larger, with more areas available to explore. Being an explorer, and mapping new star systems, planets, and asteroids is a viable, if risky profession, but also one looked down on in most circles.
There are strict rules in place for what areas can be settled, and significant environmental impact studies required before ground can be broken on any planet - and even then, usually only in minor amounts, for what must be sufficiently useful purposes, with planets that already contain life having further restrictions. The Union and Coalition have kept new colonies to an absolute minimum. Lifeless asteroids and moons are more difficult to settle on, but can often be resource rich - so most modern settlements are instead in asteroid or moon based space stations. The major exceptions are older locations, from back when the space rush was more reckless that have been grandfathered in, or “temporary” research stations that expand for longer than initially planned.
While these strict rules apply to Union and Coalition settlements, not all follow those rules. Those who are greedy, power hungry, or just idealistic have set up outposts and stations away from the controlling arms of the governments, and are growing in number and influence. Outlaws of various sorts have been known to make their homes on planets that would be untouchable following “the rules”, and hide there after preying on both independents and the big two. Knowledge of habitable planets - especially habitable planets that the law doesn’t know of - are quite valuable to these independent forces. Even in naturally hostile places, it’s quite possible to set up your own space station or colony, which tends to attract more attention, and naturally grow from there.
One of the most important finds an explorer can make is a skalriss vault, a structure located on the astral plane where skalriss have been sealed away for a billion years. Finding such a vault - and successfully tracking its location - comes with a hefty bounty. Vaults themselves contain clues on finding other vaults, with data on orbits and suspected locations that are now wildly out of date.
Outside the Law
Many of those who live on the edge of space do so to live outside the law - either opposing it, or due to a desire to create their own law. The requirements to build a space station can be steep, but not totally out of reach, and many “off the maps” stations have sprung up - and habitable planets making settlements is even easier. Once you have proper magi-tech food and electrical generation going, it’s not difficult to keep it running, allowing societies that don’t need to interact with the wider world except on their terms. These areas, outside of Dominion and Coalition control, are referred to as “gray space”.
This freedom allows the existence of peaceful communities that exist outside of the major government structures, cause no one harm, and are full of people who just want to get away from wider society for whatever personal reason. It also allows the existence of towns and cities that are entirely lawless, and serve as ports and hideouts for pirates, criminals, and more. Worst are the ones run by dictators and despots, who have lured people into their colonies, and then kept them from leaving, or brainwashed them into following. Illegally built, these places are often quite large by the time they’re found by the Union and Coalition, at which point it’s generally too late - as neither wants to be involved in leveling a city outside of their normal jurisdiction, no matter how many pirates may live in it.
Those who live outside the law - either peacefully or not - are still usually part of either Union or Coalition structures, even if they rarely interact with them. They still have bank accounts that slowly fill with their stipend, that they can go to collect on in addition to whatever else they manage to earn or steal, and still have names and records that can be delved into.
Science and Research
Research into new technologies is largely driven by small scale research, with funding split between universities, government groups, or small companies that are often made by a group all funding it. Scientific discovery brings many to the edge of space, and is an alluring, romanticized job.
The most common kind of research happening on the frontier is cataloging. Asteroids, planets, moons, animals, plants, and bacteria - all need to be cataloged and studied. Often done with teams with diverse skill sets, a sector of space is plotted out and combed over in a process that can take years at a time. It’s a dangerous job, however - between pirates, roaming recyclers, mechanical failures, and even just wildlife, a lot can go wrong.
Unethical and dangerous research stations are often hidden on otherwise uninhabited planets, or specially constructed space stations. Pursuing research they know is too dangerous or too unethical to be allowed elsewhere, they’re free to do as they will away from prying eyes, and use the knowledge gained to forge a “proper” method towards their results. Many such facilities are concerned with experimenting on living creatures, through magical, psionic, or cybernetic means, often producing dangerous results.
The Galactic Union
The Galactic Union was founded by a joint Lupostrai and Human venture, bringing their peoples together and to serve as an overarching government. The Union is responsible for maintaining communication, travel, trade, and services in its territory, and is separated into progressively smaller tiers of government. Countries still exist within the Union, as a form of regional government - in much the same way that the countries can be divided up into provinces, which are divided up into counties and cities, but also with planetary governments existing above the countries. Major government figures are decided by voting, with people able to cast votes from the local level to universal.
The Galactic Union’s highest headquarters are located on the space station Testament to Tomorrow, floating in the same sector as Novos, the Lupostra homeworld. From Testament all the major work required to keep the Union running smoothly takes place. Those at the highest level are generally seen as more unimportant figureheads - while important decisions do occasionally need to be made, the Union practically runs itself.
Most of the political debates within the Union are extremely local - how to develop an area, what building projects to fund, what infrastructure needs upgrading first, and so on. Those that are on a higher level tend to be focused on things that are far outside the scale of most people’s interest, like the creation of new stations and warp rifts, and what kind of obscure research to pour funding into. As such, normal citizens can usually tell you all about their own local politics, but likely don’t even know, or care, about those in the Union’s highest branches; while they make decisions about things that are more resource intensive, they rarely affect the day-to-day of the average person, and may not even have visible results for years or decades.
The Union’s military, such as it exists, is likewise broken apart. Those at the top are primarily concerned with things like recruiting numbers and patrol paths. The vast majority of the military never see action - but some are still needed to patrol the edge of Union territory, keeping an eye out for recycler ships and stray pirates.
The Ishari Coalition
The Ishari Coalition was formed by the Ishari governments coming together to fund space exploration and colonization, and grew in power with the addition of the Ansiarra, and later adapted and cemented when encountering the Galactic Union. The Coalition is composed of smaller Member States, each run under their own government, all of whom meet together to form rules they must all follow. They all must provide a minimum standard of services (similar to what can be found in the Union, and usually changing to match) that they all work together to provide, and must all agree to follow much of the same basic laws, as well as providing freedom and representation - but how they go about it is entirely up to them. Unlike in the Union, competition between states is also encouraged - as free travel between the states is guaranteed, and part of the goal is to let everyone find the best state for them. Constant merging and splitting off of states is fairly common, as specific needs are unable to be handled by a whole. The smallest states are only a few hundred people, while the largest cover entire planets.
Member states generally start being built around some kind of regional goal, but some have morphed to instead focus on ideas or specialties, almost like large companies. A state may decide a particular field of research is worth pursuing, and give incentives to scientists in the forms of position and funding to join, or might instead focus on meeting the Coalition’s food needs, and try to draw in the best in farmers and farm technology. This has led to some highly specialized states that are major centers of a particular kind of culture - be it fashion, movies, games, music, and the like, the pooling of dedicated resources and talents has created entire mini-nations that have become synonymous with a type of good.
The Coalition has no set central governing location - it changes based on who is best able to host, when a host is needed at all - when at all possible, electronic communication is preferred. There are regularly scheduled meetings, but more commonly proposals are brought up whenever it is seen fit and handled asynchronously. When something is enacted, each member state is expected to dedicate a fair share of resources to it, with whichever is best suited (by proposals and vote) to carry through being put in charge.
The fractured nature of the Coalition has led to many break-offs: it’s not unusual for a member state to use Coalition research to build a space station, and end up sending it into gray space, and then breaking all ties with the Coalition. The normal civilians within the Coalition and the off-shots tend to view themselves as still part of the same groups - while the higher-ups instead have the understanding that such actions are a bitter insult.
The Academy Arcana is the largest organization of spellcasters in the universe. The academy has dedicated itself to exploring what magic can do for the world - from funding research and building labs, to running universities and online material for those who want to learn. Gaining standing in the Academy is a fast way to increasing influence, and publishing papers, making discoveries, creating new spells, or proving an effective teacher are all means of doing so.
The Academy’s organization is appropriately arcane. Those who want a say in its running can pay dues, vote on leadership members, join committees, and jump through all the necessary hoops of a social structure that is too complex and poorly organized. No one person knows what the entirety of the Academy is doing, and oversight is a tricky subject.
Bounty Board System
The Bounty Board System, or BBS, is an organization of bounty hunters and adventurers who facilitate the selling of their skills. The boards are watched over by a group of volunteer moderators, and anyone is allowed to post requests for jobs - although ones deemed inappropriate (assassinations and the like) are deleted. It’s not just bounty hunting posted - the buy and sale of ships and goods, missing persons notices, and the requests for specialized skills are more common than man-hunting.
The BBS is largely run by retired bounty hunters and explorers - anyone can apply to join the moderation team, and the existing moderates vote on who gets allowed in. All of this is done behind the scenes, and is a constant source of petty drama that most users never hear about until the occasional messy blow-up that never goes anywhere beyond providing juicy gossip.
Rumors of offshoot bounty board systems - including some that trade in jobs that the BBS would never allow - are a popular source of gossip. But if such exist, those involved in them aren’t talking.
Penners is the same of a loose group of activists who truly believe in the “information wants to be free” slogan, who identify themselves online with a symbol of a black and white pen. Penners work together to ensure media is shared across the internet, with a special focus on government documents and reports. If there’s something to be found out, they’re dedicated to finding it out. They mainly communicate online, although there are a few official groups of Penners with offices and everything - most don’t tend to last long, however, due to getting into trouble legally or with organized crime. Still, the Penners are a stubborn, loud bunch who can be relied upon to help spread and disseminate secrets - which hopefully aren’t yours.
Psionic Rescue Network
Not a true organization, the Psionic Rescue Network is a loose connection of people who know people who know people. Originally started as a blog when the first psions were emerging, the network worked to help psions find safe homes, often with each other. Now, there’s no one source, but many smaller websites, postings, and just people generally looking out for each other. People in the network know a guy who can help you get a new home, a new life, or just out of your current situation, Those who dedicate themselves to the network sometimes refer to the people within it as psirens (PSIonic-REscue-Network), but most people who help out don’t see themselves as part of any real major order or group - they’re just doing good for people who need it, helping a friend out, or passing forward the charity they’ve received. The vast majority aren’t even psionic, although the most dedicated organizers tend to be.
Originally started because those with psionic powers were not trusted, that need has faded and replaced by new ones. With the Future Collective stalking new recruits, unethical experiments by those who can get away with it, and even just the danger mind reading or other psionic powers can put you in, the network still has purpose, and if anything, has grown. The network also doesn’t restrict itself to only helping psions - no matter who you are, they can help you get away.
Dispersed as few in number as they are, the Skalriss have set up a number of societies and groups of all sorts in order to find more of their own and help preserve their culture. The fact that the Skalriss were heavily at war before the great plague has caused tensions, and many of their groups have split from that pressure, leading to more, smaller groups, which share the same goals but have difficulties working together due to arcane politics.
The various Skalriss societies provide an important link to the past for the Skalriss, and are an important link to their old lives. The majority focus on meeting the social, psychological, and physical needs of Skalriss today. They’re also responsible for cataloging the believed places of all Skalriss vaults, and funding or rewarding those who manage to locate the vaults and save those Skalriss frozen within.
While the Union and Coalition government serve their people well, there are still positions within them that afford great power - and those drawn to power are rarely the ones who should ever wield them. With the sheer size of the Union, many of those at various forms of power, especially law enforcement and defense choose to use that power to oppress, rather than protect. This is most common on the edges of space, where it’s harder to seek outside help, but isn’t entirely unheard of.
The Coalition has a different problem. As the member states shift so often, like minded individuals tend to congregate. Small states have attempted unsanctioned military actions, or to split off from the Coalition on their own for ideological reasons. Often, these end up becoming aggressive states on the edge of space, and a terror for all around them.
Governments on the edge of space - which may not even be affiliated with the Union or Coalition - are especially prone to corruption. Outlaws turned sheriffs and mayors turned petty tyrants are common, and can often pass by without being dealt with for some time due to the difficulty in having a complaint heard and dealt with by the proper authorities.
The Future Collective is a fascist psionic cult that believes their psychic powers make them inherently superior to those without, and that they are being held back by the lessers. Led by charismatic demagogues, the collective has brought many of those with psionic talent into their fold. While many of their followers are mixed into normal society, they also run hidden communes, and have been known to move en-masse in an attempt to take over areas with important political votes.
The Collective recruits psychics of all species, from anywhere. One of the most important aspects of joining the Collective is the rejection of old family and friends, under the guise that only other psions can understand psions. The Collective preys on the young and restless, especially those seeking help in understanding and controlling their own powers, and recruiters aren’t above using their own telepathy to draw their targets into the fold.
While the Collective attempts to portray themselves as an outward peaceful group, they’re anything but. The collective has ties in murder, political assassinations, and even acts like mass poisoning. Those who try to leave are kidnapped, and dragged to facilities where they undergo torturous experiments to learn more about their powers, so that the collective can find ways to enhance the psychic might of their leadership.
The Leylocks are a magical focused group centered around their belief of a slumbering deity in the center of the universe. The Leylocks claim to have entered an astral trance, and communed with their god - who demands to be awoken, to bring about a new age. Anyone who has spent enough time in the Astral Plane has heard the whispers, and the Leylocks claim to have the real cause of them.
In order to awaken their god, the Leylocks believe they need to focus magical energy through the universe in precise ways. This often involves the construction of magical circuitry on a grand scale - massive runic obelisks, mithril circuitry built into the ground in complex shapes, even space stations and entire habitats formed in the sigils required to channel such energy. The procedure required comes to the Leylocks as they meditate, and burns itself into their mind.
The above would be mostly harmless, if it didn’t nearly always develop into more dangerous “commands”. Leylocks usually become convinced that their constructions need to contain living beings trapped in the astral plane, and construct devices to essentially trap their victims there are tortured “spirits”. Once their construction is complete, Leylocks will defend their creations - often bringing more mages into the fold around them, using the area as bases of operations.
While many Leylocks do end up coming into the fold on their own, driven by their visions, there’s also a central authority that’s developed. The elder Leylocks have taken it upon themselves to find those toiling in their tasks, and send the support needed - who the elders are isn’t entirely clear. They’re well connected and powerful, and able to move a large number of resources and men when needed, but have done a good job at cloaking their real identities.
Pirates and Outlaws
Far away from the safety of civilization, pirates and outlaws prey on the undefended. The vastness of space makes the perfect cover - they’re able to dive onto their victims, take what they want, and speed off to the astral plane or distant planets. Isolated communities are a favored spot for pirates, who can pick at them in raids, taking whatever supplies they need.
Pirates that target ships do so by lurking at places where they know ships are likely to pass through, and waiting patiently. Locations known for ships leaving the astral space before approaching a planet, or just off of isolated, distant rift gates are both common. When their targets appear, they close quickly, and either threaten the enemy ship with destruction or quickly latch onto the ship with a boarding raid. Once their attack is done, they’re gone before any help can arrive.
Pirates tend to set up bases on space stations or on uninhabited planets, where no one knows they exist. Setting up the necessary food, power, and the like to keep such a place running is easy with enough starting resources and minor technical know-how. As long as they aren’t identified and branded outlaws - an extremely difficult thing to do, and why most pirates use bombastic fake names - they can even continue to live a second life in Union or Coalition territory, while enjoying their ill-gotten gains.
Small groups of all sorts, both hobby and political, can find each other online and form their own communities. While this allows those with the most niche of interests to find their own, it also allows dangerous extremists to come together. Political terrorists seek each other out, and can have an effect far more dramatic than their small numbers would normally dictate.
Terrorism takes many forms, and many goals. Attempting to provoke fights between the Union and Coalition is common - and many of that provocation comes from within the militaries of the two governments - in an attempt to have one side conquer the other. Others seek to try to get territory independence through bloodshed, and other more traditional political goals. With bombings, raids, and other attacks, forms of terrorism often only differ from piracy in that the terrorists declare some goal.
The recyclers are one of the most feared threats in the universe - they’re a roving class of machines that kill all in their path, tearing down and adapting anything they get their hands on to build more of their own. The recyclers aren’t intelligent - instead, they're composed of an extremely complicated script telling them how to scout for more resources, draw in appropriate force to deal with the threats, and adapt and steal anything they can. They cannot reason any more than their script allows, or communicate in any real way. They’re not truly thinking any more than an assembly line robot would be. And that makes them even more dangerous.
Recycler space ships often look rundown and derelict, but still function fine - as their inhabitants don’t need life support systems, and often remove components to build more recyclers. The ships are as much recyclers as any other robot in the fleet, with the script loaded onto them and controlling the entire structure. The rest of the recyclers are built from whatever they can get their hands on, be it normally harmless service drones modified with weapons, vehicles given malicious intent, or their own designs cobbled together out of whatever is at hand, often with specialized limbs to build more of their own.
Isolated communities on the edge of space are the most vulnerable to recyclers. Small towns have been wiped off the map by their attacks, and one of their favorite targets are stations that mine asteroids - not only can they strip the station, they can also make use of the half-mined asteroid to produce their own. Their tactics aren’t limited to just simple raiding, however - recyclers often send out scout ships to slowly search through space, checking out planets and heat signatures, before sizing up opposition and calling in a stronger force. With only short-range communication, and no way to communicate FTL, the scout ship needs to return to a larger fleet - making it an important target for living defenders. Recyclers have also been known to use ploys couched in some form of deception, like activating distress beacons of ships they’ve taken over - although this is also written into their code, and not a sign of some devious intellect.
It's unknown where the recyclers came from. Research into their code continues, and it has adapted code from known languages of technology it's taken, but also has signs of corruption - which may be garbled text in some unknown alien language. Some theorize that some long-lost civilization, now totally unknown, was responsible for their creation - and the recyclers lead to the downfall of them. If this is true, that suggests there are recycler “home planets” out there, and possibly even a section of space absolutely swarming with them. Others think the recyclers may have been a more modern research product - likely military in purpose - that went rogue, and with its creators either refusing to own up to their destructive mistake, or having been killed by their own creation.
A fringe online cult, Utopists believe in bringing about a utopia by developing a perfect, singularity-producing AI. According to their line of thinking, a perfect, self-improving AI would be able to solve all problems - it would invent anything needed, do away with all inefficient, and allow people to retire to ideal lives. The world will be so much better that any action spent not developing this AI is, in essence, completely wasted.
Utopists have dedicated themselves to bringing this AI about - for some, that’s dedicating their lives to AI research. For others, that’s trying to convince everyone they can to the importance of the cause. For yet more, that’s kidnapping anyone who might have a useful skill set, and forcing them into compounds where they’re forced to work, around the clock and at gunpoint, to construct the machine god.
Utopists aren’t all one connected group, and as such have a large variety of viewpoints. It’s more about the general ideas that they share, rather than organization and research. The biggest divergence is their view on the Recyclers. If the Recyclers are the first manifestation of the perfect AI, a thoughtless and dangerous corruption, or the next link needed that needs to be captured, studied, and enhanced varies from Utopist to Utopist.