Bazaar of the Bizarre:FloatingMarkets, mostly, especially those where a relativist clipper or lugger turns up. Agglomerate enough free traders together, and you get a market where you can find anything, or if not anything, someone who probably can tell you where to find anything. Including most of the things you might expect to find at thieves’ markets, smugglers’ markets, and goblin markets, not to mention those peculiar markets you only visit in your dreams.
Some other well-known markets can be like this: Glorious Acquisition Plaza on Baranithil Station, the Gyre of Commerce in Mer Covales, Seranth, and the Little Market in Calmiríë itself come the closest. But still – for the most bizarre in your bazaar, head to the floating markets.
Shining City: Oh, my, yes. If there is a city anywhere in the Empire that isn’t competing in these leagues, it’s because it’s pursuing some other stylistic city trope just as hard as it can.
And in various styles, of course, riffing off their general tastes in Art Deco, Crystal Spires, and Raygun Gothic: the seashell spirals of Cileädrin, the black stone geometries of Leirin, the coral spires and glass-blown bubbles of Lochrannach, the living wood palaces of Veranthyr, the flying – well, hanging off the end of an orbital elevator – multi-leveled golden towers of Mer Covales, the mother-of-pearl pleasure domes of Ameri, the crystal domes of undersea Alaerlor, the vaulted, polished caves of Azikhan, the glittering gemstone pillar-arcologies of Dal Shan, the amber-and-marble mandala streets of Ellenith, the three-dimensional fractal layout of Voxelville, the mile-wide cavern parks of Silverfall City… and so forth.
While enabled by post-scarcity economics, it’s not a product of them and predates then considerably. It’s a product of a species and a culture with very firm ethical opinions on the subjects of beauty, wealth, and excellence, and equally firm aesthetic opinions on visible manifestations of entropy1. Helped along, for that matter, by certain necessities of leadership of a people who universally fail to intimidate worth a damn and are very bad at responding to crude bribery, but who can be impressed. Ergo, dear city founder, you must manifest impressiveness, and architecture is a good place to start.
The ultimate example, of course, is the Empire’s capital, “Eternal Calmiríë, the jewel at the heart of the World”, founded back in the day by Alphas I Amanyr and Seledíë III Selequelios, such that neither existing pre-Imperial capital would have priority over the other. Founded – and bear in mind this was well before the local Industrial Revolution – using the simple principle of going to the biggest damn mountain on the Cestian continent, and saying, “That? Right there? Make it a city.”
Note: not build a city on it. Not even build a city in it, although both of those things happened as part of the project. Turn the entire mountain above and below into a city, complete with all the soaring towers, shining buildings, garden parks, multi-hundred-foot-high statues, fountains, waterfalls, monuments, promenades, giant Tesla coils, shining aureoles of fey light, etc., etc., to be expected of the stone upon which the Dragon Throne rests, the temple of unsurpassed grace and shining beauty, the seat of wisdom ever-growing and power never-failing, and so on and so forth.
Alphas and Seledíë were many things, but small thinkers was not one of them. Especially since, you may note, they had very good reasons to build a capital that could out-impress everyone, everywhere, anywhen.
So returning to the general case, sort of like this:
(The above is an Nvidia test image, named “Complex at the Center of the Universe”, about which the TV Tropes page cross-links to Your Head A Splode. It’s worth clicking through to the full-size image and appreciating all the little details.
This is relevant, in particular, because it would be entirely accurate and unexaggerated to say that your modern Imperial city planner or arcology designer will look at this and thing, “Hm. Not bad. A little modest, but a good place to start.”)
1. And the reality behind those visible manifestations, of course. It would be hurtfully inaccurate to say that the great and near-great worked so hard to abolish poverty just because it offended their sensitive souls to have to look at it, or rather put up with the knowledge that it existed in their personal universes. But it was a nice bonus.
Capital City: Of the Associated Worlds as a whole, that would be the Conclave Drift, the giant habitat in which the Conclave of Galactic Polities is situated. It’s also a major commercial and cultural hub, it being – due to the room it sets aside for every polity in the Accord to build its own little mini-city – one of the few places you can find everyone together, and its markets are one of the few places in the Worlds where you can rely on finding just about everything that it’s legal to buy anywhere. (The Empire had this in mind, of course, when they donated one of their star systems to build the thing in.) It is slightly subverted inasmuch as not all that much freight gets transshipped through it; it would be rather out of the way. But a surprisingly high percentage of the actual deals get made here.
Other candidates for major commercial centers would be Mer Covales, on Seranth (Imperial Core), which houses several major commercial exchanges and which does play host to a great deal of manufacturing and transshipping; and the worlds of the Free Eilish Confederacy, whose policies of neutrality and openness make it a favorite spot for business – and also a favorite spot for back-door politics and for galactic intelligence agencies to host their away games. Neither of those, of course, are political capitals of anything.
Of the Empire, that would be Calmirie (“center of order”), which is both the political capital of the Empire, and a significant commercial (somewhat overtaken by Mer Covales) and cultural (somewhat overtaken by Delphys (Imperial Core)) center. It plays it essentially straight.
As Sev Lan Astrin hurried through the bustling Exchange to his meeting in Gilea & Company’s Golden Tower, the starscrapers of Mer Covales, jeweled and gilded, gleamed in the golden light of Galaion, and reflected back the lights of bright hololiths and scurrying flitters alike in a million multicolored shards.
It was, he thought, arrogant in the special way only the public works of the advanced, extremely wealthy, and utterly lacking in humility could be. “Look upon our works, ye mighty,” it said, “and know that we did all of this for a mere 3.6%, and can do it all again any time we please.”
That the Seranthines had hung their capital thousands of feet above the world’s pristine gray-green forests upon the diamond string of an orbital elevator was just gilding the lily. Or, rather, studding the gilded lily with gemstones and applying unnecessarily intricate iridium detailing.
It all grated on Sev Lan’s nerves, but he did his best to swallow his irritation. CFOs needing a 3×1212esteyn line of credit in a hurry couldn’t afford to have fine sensibilities.