Author’s Note: Astrography

So let’s talk a little about the setting of our ongoing fiction, the Associated Worlds.

First: they’re big. Really, really frakkin’ big. Sci-fi writers with a sense of scale big. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemists’, but…

Ahem. Enough of that.

So, let me draw you a picture. The free-space volume of the Associated Worlds is an irregular mostly-oblate spheroid. Along its major axes, it’s about 3,300 light years from core to rim, 4,100 light years from spinward to trailing, and 2,000 light years from acme to nadir. To put some perspective on those numbers, that means that at its tallest part, much of the center, it completely fills the galactic disk top to bottom. Meanwhile, the Lethíäza arm of the galaxy in which it is located is approximately 3,500 light years across, and since one slightly-flattened end of the spheroid – expansion having slowed, although not stopped, to coreward on encountering the inter-arm gap – is pressed up against its coreward side, it lacks only about 200 light years of running into the rimward side of the arm, too.

As those of you with calculators will already know, that’s approximately 27 billion cubic light years of volume, which contains approximately 100 million stellar bodies of various kinds. Like I said, big.

Of course, on the cosmic scale, or even the galactic scale, it’s still a barely significant mote. Space is like that.

The kicker, of course, is that most of that is unused and only explored astronomically. The expansion pattern of the Worlds has been, essentially, to look for interesting things, and then fire off a long-range stargate to a system near them and weave a constellation from there. The one black hole in our neighborhood? That counts. The blue-white supergiant? That counts, too. Any system which appears to have signs of intelligent and usually technological life? That definitely counts, as maybe we can sell ’em something. That sort of thing.

That process has resulted in maybe 10,000 star systems over that whole enormous volume being actually connected to the stargate plexus and thus readily visitable. That would be roughly 0.01% of the stellar bodies in that volume. The rest would be the “Inner Periphery” of systems that didn’t seem so interesting at the time but which are likely to be hooked up if and when they become interesting, or if and when polities in inner constellations feel like expanding locally, rather than out in the ecumene, and also feel like paying for it.

So when you think of the Associated Worlds, think of a cobweb. The strands are long-distance wormholes. The dewdrops clinging to the points where they intersect are local constellations, where constellation in this case is defined as maybe fifty systems linked together with short-range stargates with three or four long-range gates connecting to it at various points. And the empty spaces are not-quite-empty space.

To hang some numbers on that, the Empire has all of one constellation (the Imperial Core), and about half each of five more (the Imperial Fringe), close to 250 worlds in total if you include its colonies out in the ecumene. Which is to say, it’s the tiny kernel at the heart of the big nut – although that said, it’s nearest competitors, the Photonic Network and the League of Meridian, are only 120-150 world polities. To divide up the rest, in the divisions Where’s Where in the Galaxy would offer you, these six constellations and 73 more make up the “true” Associated Worlds, the well-developed, comfortable, and stable metropolitan regions.

109 more constellations surrounding those make up the Expansion Regions, which are a bit less developed but not actually frontier. They tend to be the places where most of the action is, when there’s astropolitical action.

And the 23 constellations of the Periphery, found all around except to acme, nadir, and along the border with the Republic, are the wild and wooly frontier.

Leaving the Worlds proper for a moment, the Voniensa Republic, featuring rather heavily at the moment, is located spinward and slightly to rimward. It has about 8,000 worlds in its volume, although by no means all of those are politically part of the Republic. (More than a few of them belong to people who are currently being Prime Directed, for a start.) It’s also substantially smaller than the Worlds in free-space volume, because while they’re not quite as bad at insisting territorial volumes make sense in space as the members of the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms, they do pursue a much more consolidate-y expansionary policy.

And finally to note, cutting through the rimward systems of Lethíäza, and thus both the rimward side of the Republic and the fringe Periphery – only a few stargates at the far edge of the rimward Periphery breach it – is the Shadow Veil, which is a vast dark nebula of opaque gas and dust that does a fine job of obscuring both the view further rimward from most of the Worlds, and vice versa.

(So even if its still flexible galactic location turns out to be directly coreward of us, there’s still a reason why our astronomers *there* aren’t getting all excited about those distinct signs of someone building megastructures and operating pion drives. Heh.)

Author’s Note: Where’s Where in the Galaxy

For those following along with the worldbuilding at home, the Starfall Arc, the home galaxy of the Associated Worlds is, yes, the Milky Way seen from another perspective.  The “prominent satellite galaxies” identified as the Greater and Lesser Ancíël Whirls are those which we call the Large and Small Magellanic clouds, and the galactic arms are those we know as the Norma Arm (Arilíäza), the Scutum-Centaurus Arm (Vierníäza), the Carina-Sagittarius Arm – home of the Associated Worlds – (Lethíäza), the Orion-Cygnus Spur (Sulíäza) – in which Sol and Earth are located – and the Perseus Arm (Dúraníäza).

The placement of the Associated Worlds in the outer part of the Carina-Sagittarius Arm makes them roughly 5,000-6,000 light years coreward of us, and thus conveniently out of the way, in a galactic neighborhood about whose location I don’t plan on being too specific in order not to get angry letters from astronomers because I’ve mislocated a bunch of stellar objects for literary convenience.  (Which is also to say: please don’t try and locate it from my textual references; given the distance and the knowledge gap, I’m just making the details of local space up for literary convenience, ‘kay?)

Where’s Where in the Galaxy (1)

To begin at the beginning, the galaxy in which we dwell, the Starfall Arc, is a barred spiral galaxy, possessing four major spiral arms, and attended by a number of satellite galaxies, most prominent among which are the Greater and Lesser Ancíël Whirls.  These arms, from innermost to outermost, are Arilíäza, Vierníäza, Lethíäza (with its outer spur Sulíäza), and Dúraníäza.  The Associated Worlds are to be found near the outer edge of the Lethíäza arm.

The most important part of the Starfall Arc for us, as sophonts, is the middle third, encompassing Vierníäza, Lethíäza, and Sulíäza; those stars further from the galactic core than one-third of the galaxy’s radius, the Inner Third Ring, and so far enough away to avoid the high radiation, prevalence of supernovae, and other hazards of the core, and yet still close enough to for carbon and heavier elements to be prevalent in quantities sufficient to support the evolution of life.  The pulsar Tehelmír, the galactographic reference point closest to the center of the Associated Worlds, sits almost precisely in the center of this third, close to the galactic plane.

The Associated Worlds themselves make up a small fraction of one piece of this described life-friendly region. In theory, the Associated Worlds are composed of six nested spherical regions similar to a palel-fruit, from innermost to outermost:

The Imperial Core, the heartland of the Empire, containing the eldrae homeworld, the Thirteen Colonies, and other tightly-linked purely Imperial worlds;

The Imperial Fringe, a half-dozen highly Imperialized – but not exclusively Imperial – constellations close to the Imperial Core;

The Associated Worlds, the majority of the developed constellations of the Worlds, and what might be considered “civilized space”;

The Expansion Regions, the areas of the Periphery near the developed Worlds, currently targeted for colonization or other development by various polities of the Worlds, but not yet “fully civilized”.  The busy transitional zone between the worlds, and;

The Periphery, the furthest reaches of the stargate plexus, containing few if any colonies, and still being fully mapped and explored by the Grand Survey and other astrographic organizations.

The Outback, that area of space which, while unconnected to the stargate plexus, has still been reached by lighthuggers or starwisp probes, manned or unmanned, and so known to the Worlds in some terms not purely astronomical.  Everything beyond the Outback, space which has never been visited and is known only by astronomy, is simply the Beyond.

This simple theoretical picture, of course, is a nonsense.  The boundaries of the stargate plexus sprawl thousands of light years wide, and the galactic disk is not so thick; and colonization has not proceeded equally in all directions, but has proceeded more vigorously to coreward than to rimward.  Thus, the true shape of the Worlds resembles more a flattened egg, its point towards the galactic core; and to acme and nadir, the Expansion Regions are thin and the Periphery nonexistent, squeezed out by the edge of the useful galaxy.

Also, along its spinward edge, the stargate plexus of the Associated Worlds has intermingled, along a line three constellations in size, with that of the Voniensa Republic, another galactic civilization of nearly equal scope, again flattening the spinward side of the Worlds.  The area of the Expansion Regions closest to the Republic, the Crimson Expanse, Csell Buffer, and Vanguard Reaches, is informally known as the Seam.  The Expansion Regions and Periphery are thin here to spinward, as there has been little expansion of the plexus in areas which would be actively contested by the Republic.

And finally, as you might expect, these terms are themselves broadly disputed.  Few outside the Empire use the terms Imperial Core or Imperial Fringe, preferring not to escalate any polity of the Worlds above the others, galactographically speaking, or at least choosing their own to so escalate.  The term Associated Worlds, therefore, commonly refers to all of the developed systems within the Expansion Regions, including both the Core and the Fringe.  The use of the term Expansion Regions, too, is often controversial in its application to any given constellation both by Peripherals who dislike creeping colonization, and by those worlds which wish to consider themselves part of the metropolitan, and thus developed, Worlds.

Also unmentioned is the so-called Inner Periphery.  While the web of constellations incorporates many of the stars technically within the outer boundary of the stargate plexus, many remain unconnected, and accessible only by lighthugger.  While most of these have been visited, at least by unmanned probes, they are not considered part of their containing galactic region, due to their inaccessibility, forming a backwater region intermingled with the heart of civilized space.

Having defined these principal astrographic divisions of the space we inhabit, we can now discuss the economic, cultural, and less formal divisions of the Worlds.