Trope-a-Day: The Neutral Zone

The Neutral Zone: Played straight, although given the nature of the stargate plexus as, essentially, a mesh network, it’s not so much a zone, but a list of Neutral Nexi.  No-one tries to enforce deep space as a neutral zone, mostly because it’s just too damn big and remote to patrol – unless someone leaks the existence of a hidden base out there, anyway.

It’s not even all that common as an entire constellation – usually, the list of Neutral Nexi is a thin surface one system thick, or even a single chokepoint system – because it’s rare for any powers to bother developing the wormhole infrastructure to connect them so intimately to their enemies.  Although there is the Seam as a whole, and particularly the Csell Buffer, which was a semi-developed constellation going by the name of the Csell Reach in between the Galith Waste and Voniensan space shortly before the Silicate Tree turned up and claimed the Galith Waste, and then Things Did Not Go So Well.

They’ve Been Doing This Far Too Long

Galch (Vanguard Reaches) a.k.a. K-11/54 (Vonis 36) [DISPUTED]
Demilitarized Border Zone

“Unknown ship, we have you on our screens.  Identify.  Over.”

“Republic vessel at 220 asc 14, nineteen-point-three light-minutes, confirm identity.  Over.”

Imperial vessel, this is our space.  We say again, identify.  Over.”

“Republic vessel of approximate destroyer class, the hell it is, but as a courtesy, this is CMS Gold and Iron, armed merchant of the Centralia Line.  Over.”

Gold and Iron, this is VNS Solidarity.  We read you as a cruiser-class vessel.  You are in violation of treaty.  We order you to heave to and prepare to be boarded.  Over.”

Solidarity, Gold and Iron.  Whether we are or not is irrelevant, since we are a civilian vessel owned by a merchant concern which may legitimately go armed in unsafe border regions.  And in any case, if you check that treaty, we’re fully half a displacement-ton smaller than its definition of the cruiser class.  You, meanwhile, are quite definitely armed with energy weapons larger than the treaty permits.  You heave to and prepare to be boarded.  Over.”

Gold and Iron, Solidarity.  We most certainly are not.  This is an vessel of peaceful exploration.  We are merely equipped for remote geological surveying, including breaking up asteroids and drilling planetoids. All of which is permitted by the treaty.  Your request is denied.  Over.”

The channel is silent for a few seconds.

Solidarity actual, Gold and Iron.  Do you think that’s enough posturing for form’s sake, Holoth?  Over.”

Gold and Iron actual, Solidarity.  Yeah, Galen, I think that should do.  Do you have leave on Ódeln again next month?  Over.”

Solidarity actual, Gold and Iron.  As ever.  Bring some decent booze next time.  Gold and Iron, clear.”

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.

Welcome to the Seam

“The Seam” refers to the region of the Associated Worlds in direct contact with the Voniensa Republic, consisting of the Crimson Expanse, the Vanguard Reaches, and Csell Buffer constellations on our side of the border, and Vonis 31, Vonis 36, and Vonis 41 on the Republic side.  The Borderline arterial runs down our side from Istria (Crimson Expanse) to Quor (Csell Buffer) via Karal (Vanguard Reaches), and those three systems have Imperial naval depots in them.  They’re safe.

The Borderline route and the links back into the rest of the Worlds are heavily patrolled.  They’re mostly safe, as are some of the systems other navies base out of – depending on where you’re from, of course – and the freesoil world Ódeln (Vanguard Reaches), the principal entrepôt between the Republic and the Worlds.

The rest of the Seam?  Well, it’s a nice place for pirates and perversions, raiders and Renegades, and smugglers, snakeheads, and spies.  Also unbonded mercs, slavers, black labs, blacknet nodes, survivalists, the crazier kind of cult colony, and everyone else with a good reason not to be found – and the people trying to find them.  And it’s a not so nice place for the law, insurance companies, and anyone who’s not a walking arsenal.

No, not like the worst bits of the Expansion Regions.  Worse than that.  With the Conclave and the Republic staring each other down across the border, waiting for each other to blink, and twitching every time a decent-sized military ship moves towards the Supposedly Demilitarized Border Zone, no-one’s investing any time in bringing civilization or even keeping the peace hereabouts.

Good places to visit in the Seam?  If you fit any of the above description, you already know where you’re going.  If you don’t, for the love of Flame and Star, go somewhere else.  Even if you’re fixing to die, Nepscia’s cheaper.

– Around the Worlds on ¤1,000 per Sol