One thing that I’ve been thinking about frequently when designing Dark Horizon is how things actually work. There are galaxy-spanning powers but they rely on a network of interspatial tunnels the require hops through all these different systems like some weird island-hopping military campaign. I’ve worked it out in my head over the course of thinking about this for years but it deserves a long discussion in order to establish the setting. Here’s a preview of a sidebar discussing the intricacies. Feedback welcome!
The System of Regional Powers
The regional powers that make up the connected galaxy look like nation-states on Old Earth, but only on the surface. Like nation-states, the powers make top-level decisions that affect their constituent systems, but these decisions are neither sweeping nor final. Political scientists compare it to a host of other systems to put it in perspective. Like a federation, the regional powers are collections of self-governing entities that cede some authority to a larger system, but systems in the regional powers can’t generally be overruled by the “higher” authority. Like a confederation, the systems have broad autonomy on most things but cooperate for specific matters, but the region-wide laws aren’t just about interactions between stellar systems. Like a republic, nearly every regional power government is beholden to its members, but those members have strong local control and so “popular sovereignty” isn’t an adequate way to describe things.
The system instead is known as contractual sovereignty, a term which originates in the days of the Vincularium, and like many things from that ancient society it is a byproduct of the Gates. The regional powers establish what matters they have jurisdiction over and the local systems have only slight input to those decisions if they have any at all. These areas vary from power to power as do their number: the ISC focuses almost exclusively on economic issues while the Eriptych has a constellation of ways it affects citizens’ daily lives. Because movement through the connected galaxy involves traveling through Singularity Gate hubs, local systems have very real political presence and physical power that must be considered all the time. There is no “flyover country” in the Wormhole Network, to use an old human term, and each local government is in constant conversation with its neighbor and the regional power.
Each regional power description outlines what that power has control over and how that control is effected. To give an example, however, let’s consider the matter of AIs in the Interstellar Systems Coalition.
Following the Network Collapse, some systems grew very nervous about AIs and emotions were running high in nearly every system. Because of this, when the ISC was chartered it became obvious that this would be one of the areas where the Coalition would venture into non-economic issues. The relationship that was created and which governs the ISC to this day was that local jurisdictions needed to assure basic rights to AIs: the right to exist, to communicate freely, and to enter and leave the system like any other citizen. Anything else is purely up to the local government. If they decide that AIs can’t own property, can’t file assault charges against biological citizens, and can’t leave a specific volume of space around the Singularity Gates then those are the rules in that system and no other government in the ISC can challenge them, even the Corporate Council.
What if either party breaches that agreement? Well if a local government decides that they want even more draconian laws against AIs and violate one of the statutes (say, they bar AIs from entering or leaving) then their neighboring systems will send in security forces to ensure that AIs are protected. The local government may control a lot but they don’t control the Gates; that’s up to the Gatekeepers and they studiously stay out of all political matters. So external forces come in, the local government loses face and, likely, beneficial trade deals and things go back to the status quo anyways. If the opposite happens, the Council sends security forces in to force a system to allow AIs the right to own property, then neighboring systems would rightly worry about losing their privilege. The Gatekeepers would cooperate but system governments would stop the security forces in between Gates and they would be stranded a dozen jumps from their actual target. If they made it through (by guile or violence) then they will quickly overplay their hand and systems might wonder why they are working with this regional power in the first place.
Contractual sovereignty is tricky. It’s a two-way balancing game that depends on a lot of negotiation. In the Vincularium there was really no alternative but in an increasingly connected galaxy regional powers worry about losing their grip on systems, and the biggest ones worry the most.