Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Three Pillars of Federation

More thoughts on another Traveller setting (ghosts optional I suppose). The Federation in the Solar Queen novels is enormous and pretty wide open. In Sargasso of Space they mention that they've encountered only five other races (with ftl space flight). There are a number of early and pre-spaceflight cultures perhaps thousands. In Plague Ship the Solar Queen gets a contract to the planet Sargol that is described as a quarter of the way across the galaxy. A round trip is said to take six months for the aging freighter. So they must have something better than jump drives (or even warp drive).

So we are talking about a lot of planets, a lot of aliens and a government that runs humanity (mostly). The Federation is administrated through a number of Services. The three major Services in the stories are the Patrol, the Survey and Trade. Let me try to explain the Services in terms of tomatoes. The Survey heads out and marks the positions of all the tomatoes and grades them according to freshness (intelligent tomatoes with some degree of spaceflight are grade A.) Trade heads out and deals with the tomatoes bringing them things like plant food and new soils in exchange for ... tomato juice. The Patrol makes sure everyone treats the tomatoes in an ethical fashion, enforces travel safety laws and hunts down your occasional bad tomatoes.

The Survey and Trade seem to have similar functions. Survey finds the star trading worlds, ones with intelligent life. Close behind them, sometimes slightly ahead of them comes Trade. As new cultures are contacted Traders operate as ambassadors of a sort opening up new markets and bringing them into the Federation.

So Trade is a sort of amalgam of Traveller's Scouts and Merchants. They are trained in xenopsychology and contact strategies. They go in with a minimum of information to open a new market. The Trade Service monitors its members carefully to insure fair dealings with aliens. Breach of contract can result in loss of license. Any foods, herbs or drugs have to be certified by a committee of human and local doctors before introduced to a planet and weapons are right out.

Traders are expected to use violence as a last resort relying on nonlethal weapons in all but the most dire situations. Most ship arsenals are under lock and key though sleep rods are regularly carried. In spite of this Free Traders have a reputation as fighters. They have to be to survive. In fact some outlaws view the Traders as worse than the Patrol as they have fewer restrictions on dealing with criminals and conduct with prisoners. The stories I read so far bear this out. The crew of the Solar Queen are not to be screwed with.

Trade is dominated by huge companies. Three or four have the profitable inner world runs that generate the most profit. Though they will make a grab for juicy markets out on the rim most of those risky ventures fall to the Free Traders, men who own and operate a single ship or small fleet. In spite of their vital role in pushing back the frontier Free Traders are often regarded as almost  the bottom rung of their service (interplanetary traders seem to vie with them for that spot.)

In spite of some people's negative attitudes to Trade it is regarded as a vital Service by the Patrol and Survey. Not only does it open new markets and bring new planets into the Federation, it maintains the bonds of trade that prevent war. Ten years after a particular Mars-Terra conflict the Patrol regarded Trade as their essential partner in improving relations and keeping the new peace.

Next: The Patrol.