Politics and Power
Politics is just as important in the colonies spread throughout the solar system as it was back on Earth, but it is also radically different. Each habitat or cluster of stations is a separate political entity, and many of these habitats are fiercely independent. The only locations where large political entities can exist are on the marginally habitable worlds of Mars and Titan, and the population of Titan is significantly smaller than that of many of the largest pre-Fall cities on Earth.
The Inner System
Though nations no longer exist, they have been replaced by new political-economic entities that may well have been on the road to dominance even if the Fall had not occurred: the hypercorps. While there are many independent habitats and settlements in the inner system, it is largely dominated by the hypercorps. To reduce conflict between themselves and promote the survival of transhumanity, some of the hypercorps have formed an alliance known as the Planetary Consortium. This alliance governs most of Mars and is in charge of the ongoing Martian terraforming project. It also controls several dozen other habitats and many Lunar bases, mostly ones that are in some way involved with the massive Martian terraforming effort.
Since Mars is home to more than forty percent of the surviving transhuman population, most of the human population lives under the rule of the hypercorps or the Planetary Consortium. In the aftermath of the Fall, the hypercorps established three important goals: rebuilding the solar system, protecting themselves from any further attacks (either by the TITANs or any other threats), and growing in both wealth and power. By extension, the second goal means they also help protect the people living in the habitats and settlements against any repeat of the Fall. The hypercorps and the Planetary Consortium are exceedingly skilled at attaining all of these goals. Since popular rebellion and widespread dissent are not helpful in the least in attaining these goals, the hypercorps are also adept at making certain the inhabitants of the habitats and planetary settlements they control are safe, relatively content, and, ideally, unable to cause serious problems.
As the largest and most well organized entities in the solar system, the hypercorps, and especially the Planetary Consortium, are in an excellent position to protect the people living in their habitats and settlements. However, this protection comes at the price of freedom. Living in habitats that use transitional economies, the inhabitants of hypercorp-controlled settlements are relatively well off and need not fear starvation or serious want. Also, the hypercorps strongly oppose bioconservatism, and so anyone who can afford various augmentations or morphs is free to obtain them, as long as none of these augmentations or morphs is equipped with weaponry that can be used to harm the habitat or large numbers of its inhabitants. In return for safety and relative prosperity, however, inhabitants give up any ability to voice more than token criticisms of the hypercorps of the Planetary Consortium.
The Power of the Hypercorps and the Planetary Consortium
The hypercorps and associated Planetary Consortium are the only major non-local political entities in the solar system (with the possible exception of the Autonomist Alliance, which is more of a mutual aid pact than a unified political entity). All of the other political entities are based in a single specific location. The various hypercorps transcend location, however. They have offices and branches all over the solar system, serving the needs of people from Pluto to Mercury and all places in between. While most hypercorps have large manufacturing and processing installations on Mercury or Venus, making use of the abundant energy of the first and the complex chemistry of the second, much of the work performed by all of the hypercorps involves developing new technologies and new cornucopia machine templates, both of which can be done in any place that has meshbrowsing access.
In addition to bases on Mercury, Venus, and other equally resource-rich locations, all hypercorps maintain dedicated research and manufacturing stations scattered throughout the solar system. Well-known facilities include Starware's vast shipyards, the largest of which are located on Luna and the asteroid Vesta, and Omnicor's huge antimatter factory orbiting Mercury. There are many other lesser-known facilities, including the automated mines that the mysterious Zrbny Group maintains in the main asteroid belt and Saturn’s rings, and the qubit factory Nimbus maintains in Mars orbit.
In addition, there is an even larger number of secure and often secret research installations, some of which are so well hidden that they are normally only accessible via highly secure egocaster connections. All manner of mysterious and often highly dangerous research occurs in such locations, ranging from experiments with the relics of the TITANs to attempts to create self-replicating nanotechnology or artificial miniature black holes. Vids and vidgames are filled with stories both of exotic disasters in such research stations and of heroic thieves stealing amazing wonders from them. While the reality of secret corporate research bases is normally far more prosaic, sometimes wonders are created—and there have been occasional disasters, often involving TITAN relics.
Some corporate headquarters are similarly secure and secret, including the corporate headquarters of the fabled Zrbny Group. There are a wealth of rumors and stories about such locations. Intrepid spies, thieves, and reporters regularly attempt to gain access to these facilities, generally without success. Many such attempts, especially by would-be thieves and spies, end with distinctly negative consequences, including the thieves’ temporary (and on some occasions permanent) death.
Hypercorps also own and manage a number of habitats. Many are primarily homes for hypercorp employees, but in many of them at least half of the population are simply ordinary residents of the solar system who simply happen to live there. Though far less regulated than hypercorp research or manufacturing facilities, these colonies are also subject to greater regulation and security than some of the autonomist-controlled habitats on the edges of the solar system. These stations are exceptionally safe places to live. Residents have access to all of the latest products produced by the ruling hypercorp and its corporate allies. The hypercorp habitats all either possess their own security companies or have some form of defense contract with a private security company, typically Direct Action or Medusan Shield, who agree to protect the inhabitants against potential threats by agents of the TITANs, fanatical saboteurs, or other threats.
These same security forces also protect the hypercorps from any threats to their interests. In most of these habitats, residents have fairly open freedom of expression and biological self-determination. However, all potential threats to the hypercorp and its personnel, ranging from attempted sabotage to simple civil disobedience, are dealt with quite harshly, with serious offences resulting in forced indenture and occasionally forced mental editing (see Psychosurgery). Almost all of these habitats use a transitional economy and most residents have a high standard of living to compensate for the limits on their behavior. Many inhabitants of the more independent colonies in the belt or the outer system complain about the repressive nature of the hypercorp-controlled habitats, but inhabitants of these habitats prefer the safety and security found there to the intimidating freedom of the outer system.
To help reduce dissent, residents of settlements and habitats controlled by the Planetary Consortium as well as those controlled by hypercorps can vote on a wide variety of issues. The results of these votes, however, are only binding on issues that are not considered “matters of habitat survival,” “corporate policy,” or “security-related issues,” which effectively includes any issue related to the security, profits, and productivity of the hypercorps involved. Votes on these issues are used in a purely advisory fashion, meaning that they are utterly ignored when the result of the vote is at odds with the hypercorps’ agendas.
While residents of these settlements and habitats can vote about adding a new holiday to honor some important figure or the location and design of a new park, laws regulating indentures, habitat security, law-enforcement, or other important concerns remain under the control of the hypercorps. This does not mean, however, that the results of elections are completely disregarded. If more than two-thirds of the population strongly supports a particular issue, the Consortium or the hypercorp controlling the habitat usually finds ways to modify their current policies to address these concerns without harming their own interests. In contrast, if only a small number of residents are upset by certain policies, then these wishes are ignored and habitat security forces keep an eye out for possible civil disobedience or other forms of resistance.
In addition to these dedicated installations and hypercorp-controlled habitats, many hypercorps maintain offices in stations and planetary settlements. Almost every habitat has a Nimbus office with a farcaster and, in the case of larger habitats, QE communicator facilities for instantaneous communication. Both facilities are open to anyone who can pay Nimbus’s fees. Ecologene, Skinaesthesia, and several other hypercorps also have offices on most habitats. Every habitat interested in interacting with the rest of transhumanity has at least one automated Experia media node. In smaller habitats, these offices are unobtrusive and managed by limited AIs or indentured infomorphs. The existence of these offices, however, is vitally necessary for the continued happiness and existence of transhumanity. Most hypercorps also maintain a number of employees in every large habitat and most of the smaller ones.
Due to the large number of remaining infomorph refugees, most Experia media nodes are managed by indentured infomorphs. These infomorphs monitor the local news-finding AIs and keeps track of any important or interesting developments. They also serve as on-site reporters for any important events that might occur. While postings in small habitats are often rather dull, the infomorph usually has a contract guaranteeing them a morph of their choice and resleeving in the habitat of their choice in return for a term of service, which typically ranges from three to five years.
Similarly, all but the smallest habitats have Medusan Shield or Direct Action offices, where individuals can hire both security consultants and bodyguards ranging from simple AIs to highly trained mercenaries in fully-equipped fury morphs. These mercenaries live on the station and often hire short-term contractors to help with especially large or difficult assignments. Skilled mercenaries may eventually be hired full-time by Medusan Shield or Direct Action, but since contractors are usually given the most dangerous and thankless parts of any assignment, many soon lose interest in hypercorp contract work.
Other employees working out of local hypercorp offices range from ecosystem designers to for-hire scientists and technicians to personal financial advisors to the wealthy and powerful. In important habitats and planetary settlements, as much as twenty percent of the population consists of hypercorp employees or private contractors who are hired on a short-term basis when the local workload exceeds the capacity of the regular staff. These hypercorp employees are in the unique position of having dual loyalties—to their habitat and to their hypercorp. Despite what hypercorp propaganda preaches, the two interests do not always overlap.
Because of the delays involved in normal communication, local heads of hypercorp offices usually have a great deal of autonomy, since asking for instructions from their superiors on another habitat or installation requires either dealing with a time-lag or using expensive qubits for instant QE communication. As a result, except for the most important or difficult problems, local directors deal with all local matters on their own, reporting any unusual or potentially problematic decisions afterwards.
The Outer System
Out beyond the orbit of Mars, the influence of the hypercorps and the Planetary Consortium is far more limited. With the exception of the rigidly authoritarian Jovian Republic, the inhabitants of the outer system have considerably more freedom than those living in the inner system. However, even out here the struggle between the desire for freedom and the longing for safety form an important part of the political discourse.
The Libertarian and Utopian Legacies
Various forms of anarchism and similar libertarian ideologies were quite common among the first transhumans who settled space in the two decades before the Fall. Many settlements in the outer system have inherited this legacy of freedom. The new frontier opened by space colonization presented a fantastic opportunity for those with a strong desire to avoid the authoritarianism of the hypercorp-controlled inner system and Earth to pursue social organizations more based in equality and collective action, or even to simply experiment with new social models. Out beyond the belt, hypercorp influence was weak and preoccupied, giving resourceful colonists a chance to explore their interests unmolested. The more radical of these elements grew out of or maintained ties to progressive, anti-authoritarian, and left-wing social movements and insurgencies on Earth, drawing support where they could. Others simply stole hypercorp resources from the inner system, smuggling them to their secret projects. In a few cases, entire ships or stations mutinied, refusing corporate orders and pursuing their own path. It was rarely feasible for the hypercorps to pursue and punish such subversion.
Even among these radicals, differences existed, so that those adhering to similar socio-political tendencies tended to group together. Over time these have developed into four rough groupings: the anarchists of Locus, the techno-socialists of Titan, the anarcho-capitalists and mutualists of Extropia, and the nomadic free-for-all societies of the individualist scum. These factions form a loose alliance, a united front against the hypercorps and Jovian Republic—or as they call it, the Jovian Junta—and a pact for mutual aid and support, known as the Autonomist Alliance.
Among the more anti-capitalist habitats, the centuries-old doctrine of “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need” is a living and vital philosophy. The ready availability of cornucopia machines ensures that no one wants, and the use of reputation systems encourages people to be active participants towards the common good. Equitable access to morphs and augmentations is also available for residents, though the demand from so many infomorphs in need of a body means that infugees must contribute and build up social capital. However, even for an infomorph, egocasting across the solar system is expensive, and the Planetary Consortium produces large amounts of propaganda about the dangers of these habitats to discourage infugees from considering escape.
Many autonomists consider themselves to be engaged in an ideological conflict with the inner system, a memetic cold war that sometimes extends to physical actions. Some willingly pursue campaigns of sabotage and subversion against hypercorp and other authoritarian affairs, such as smuggling cornucopia machines into habitats where such machines are strictly regulated, like among the Jovian Republic. The hypercorps and their allies occasionally strike back, though open conflict is rare. Even though the inner system and Jovian Republic could wield enough military might to subdue the autonomist factions, an uneasy détente exists. Rumors abound that the anarchists have some sort of card in their pocket that keeps their opponents at bay, perhaps even some threat of mutually-assured destruction.
Concerns over security and potential future attacks by the TITANs also impact matters in the outer system, but most people resist attempts to seriously restrict their personal freedoms in any manner not directly related to maintaining their safety. Inhabitants of the outer system still remember how the old governments’ demands of adherence to bioconservativism and allegiance to distant and often unresponsive leaders did nothing to prevent the Fall from happening, and that memory fuels their mistrust of those states. Those powers were undone by failing to deliver what they promised—when they could not provide the security that they claimed their authoritarian measures would bring, the seeds of their defeat in the outer system were planted.
Space For Experimentation
Both social and political experimentation are common in many of the smaller habitats of the outer system. Because collective decision-making is fairly easy in stations with populations of less than ten thousand, direct democracy is a common method of government. A number of ideologically-based habitats have used this ease of making collective decisions as a way to get all members to agree to some unusual forms of government.
The individual variants that have been tried are too numerous to list, though they generally fit into a few general categories. A few relatively small habitats employ limited forms of authoritarianism. Some have a single leader who has great power, but who is (ideally) kept from abuse or excess through the use of limits such as a list of constitutionally-guaranteed rights or the ability of a relatively small number of people to call an election or a vote of confidence. Some colonies using this model have elected dictators who serve for a limited term, while others are ruled by a single charismatic leader who transforms their habitat into a cult of personality.
Other habitats choose their leaders by random lot, with every adult who can pass a relatively easy competency test being eligible to be the colony’s leader for a period that usually ranges from six months to five years. A few habitats are governed by powerful specialized AIs, which in very few cases are actually hyper-intelligent AGIs or even seed AIs that the colony has secretly created. Several colonies populated by purely informorph or synthmorph inhabitants use special high-bandwidth connections to give their members access each other’s surface thoughts and emotional reactions, allowing them to hold vast democratic political meetings where everyone present can feel the general emotional reactions of all of the other members as easily as they can feel their own.
There are a vast number of different types of government, many of which have never existed before, moving (and sometimes fumbling) ahead in the outer system. Some work far better than others, allowing successful colonies to thrive and making much of the outer system a vast and complex political laboratory.
Keeping the Peace
Each habitat is responsible for dealing with its internal affairs. As a result, standards of justice vary widely from the oppressive police state of the Jovian Junta to the free market judicial courts of the Extropians in the belt to the community justice policies of the anarchists out beyond Saturn. Travelers are strongly encouraged to check up on the legalities and policies of stations they are visiting so as to avoid unfortunate incidents, though muses are generally quite good about maintaining awareness of local conditions so that they can warn their users before straying into gray or illegal territory.
In the inner system, standards of justice and law enforcement tend to be uniform and very familiar to the majority of the population that lived on Earth prior to the Fall, where most nations had relatively similar standards of justice. Across the entire solar system, certain similar standards can be found. Though local laws may differ, there is widespread respect for the idea that punishments for religious or ideologically-based laws only apply to residents. Visitors who violate such restrictions or other minor laws are simply deported to their home and forbidden to return. Standards of evidence for criminal investigations are also common. Modern forensic technology makes collecting and analyzing DNA and other trace evidence an exceptionally swift and easy process. Likewise, with almost all habitats having what amounts to total surveillance of all public places, any potential offenses committed there can be carefully analyzed.
Standards of privacy vary widely from one habitat to another, so during emergencies or crime investigations, law enforcement officials may or may not have total access to detailed recordings of the events in any portion of the habitat including recordings from sensors in private dwellings. In some stations, law enforcement officials can compel everyone who might have been present during an alleged crime to provide downloads of their sensory experiences from the time of the crime. While individuals can edit their memories, discrepancies between various people’s sensory recordings are just another form of evidence. Requiring sensory downloads from witnesses and suspects is common practice in habitats controlled by the Planetary Consortium, the Jovian Republic, and most hypercorps. However, in most habitats in the outer system, law enforcement officials have no access to such records and can only compel sensory recordings from people who have been charged with serious crimes.
The power of modern forensics is such that a sufficiently careful examination of people and places can often determine the nature of a crime and the perpetrator(s) with relative ease. Decisions of innocence or guilt rarely rely upon suppositions, circumstantial evidence, eyewitness testimony or any of the other notoriously unreliable forms of evidence common in past centuries. The best way for someone to avoid being convicted of a crime is to either prevent anyone from learning about the crime or to make certain that no one suspects them as the perpetrator. Once someone guilty of a crime becomes a suspect, there is a very significant chance that law enforcement officers will be able to uncover reliable evidence connecting them to the crime. However, if there is no obvious evidence connecting a specific suspect to a crime, the criminal has a greater chance of escaping discovery.
Law enforcement in the solar system consists of a vast patchwork of separate jurisdictions, occasionally united by various treaties. Most habitats have signed the Treaty of Uniform Security that requires either extradition or on-site trial of criminals who are accused of especially serious crimes such as attempted habitat destruction, use of incapacitating infoware (including basilisk hack attacks), or any attempt to aid the agents of the TITANs in taking over or destroying a habitat. Only the Jovian Junta and a few especially antisocial or anarchic habitats have not signed this treaty, but many habitats in the outer system maintain the right to try offenders accused by other habitats rather than extraditing them. In addition, most habitats require a significant amount of evidence before they are willing to extradite one of their residents.
Outside the Treaty of Uniform Security, there is nothing remotely resembling a uniform code of justice and no widely recognized police force. Instead, each habitat or cluster maintains their own code of laws and law enforcement officers. In most areas, law enforcement is a respected and honorable profession paid for by the government, but in a few, the only options are private security agencies that only protect individuals who subscribe to their services. Among the anarchists and scum, residents are largely responsible for their own protection, which means they may be constantly armed when in public (depending on local conditions). Depending on the stations, the most someone who is the victim of a crime can do may be to go after their attacker or post a bounty. In others, mechanisms exist for community or collective problem-solving that often involve assembling an ad-hoc grouping of peers to assess the situation, offer non-biased judgment, and sometimes pursue collective action.
The only widely-accepted law enforcement officers that attempt to maintain jurisdiction across the solar system are bonded investigators and security consultants from companies such as Medusan Shield or Direct Action. Both organizations have contracts with various hypercorps and inner system stations to provide security. However, in the outer system and in other regions not controlled (directly or indirectly) by the hypercorps, the status of these officers is far more tenuous. In habitats that do not have security contracts with their organization, the best these agents can do is act as bounty hunters.
Due to extensive stories of excesses in the inner system, many colonies frown on freelance bounty hunters—often referred to as ego hunters—and may ban them entirely. Others allow agents from licensed security hypercorps to act as ego hunters, but forbid them from extraditing or otherwise restraining or punishing the criminals they are pursuing. Instead, agents are required to turn over evidence so that the habitat’s own judicial system may hold a trial, in which case a convicted person may be remanded to the agent’s custody. Law enforcement officers experience similar difficulties attempting to apprehend a suspect who has fled to another habitat.
Closely allied habitats in the outer system usually allow full or at least limited legal powers to visiting law enforcement officers from their allies. There are also various small private security organizations that work closely with local law enforcement offices to provide inter-habitat security between habitats that are not closely allied. The members of these organizations attempt to maintain sufficiently high rep to earn the respect of all the habitats with which they work. They act as both bounty hunters and unbiased investigators in situations that involve the laws of several habitats. All of these security companies are located in the outer system, and none has jurisdiction extending beyond a relatively limited location, like the middle belt or the Saturn system. Any such organizations that attempt to grow larger come into direct competition with Medusan Shield and Direct Action and are subsequently either bought out or undercut and discredited by one or both of these organizations.
There are also several private bounty hunters and private investigators, some of whom are highly reliable. Others are known for their extreme moral and ethical flexibility, especially if the pay is sufficiently high. On some of the autonomist stations and scum ships, these private contractors can be hired to simply go on board and abduct or execute a resident as long as this person has a low enough rep. Attempting to abduct or kill a respected member of the community, however, rapidly earns the ire of the entire habitat. The various small-scale or private security organizations from the outer system can sometimes pursue subjects to habitats controlled by the various hypercorps or the Planetary Consortium. Doing so requires background checks, security screenings, and often moderately large payments.
Among the autonomist colonies, forced exile or repaying the victim with an equitable amount of goods or labor are the principle punishments for all but the most heinous crimes (such as attempted mass murder, habitat destruction, attempting to create seed AIs or similarly extreme actions). In the collectivist anarchist habitats, antisocial behavior typically involves expulsion or penalizing reputation, though solutions that involve making amends are often pursued over standard punishments. At the other end of the spectrum, people convicted of more serious crimes in the most violent and lawless habitats are executed and all of their known backups destroyed. In many others, exceedingly serious crimes are usually dealt with by giving the criminal a choice of forced uploading into a humanely outfitted but closed computer or mandatory personality modification—assuming that someone has not simply killed the criminal before they were brought to justice (such killings are generally treated as matters of self-defense). Mandatory personality modifications are generally limited to the absolute minimum necessary to prevent the individual from repeating similar crimes.
At the other extreme, punishments in hypercorp-controlled habitats and settlements controlled by the Planetary Consortium range from fines paid in either money or labor to periods of involuntary indentured servitude ranging from several months to many years. Violent crimes, especially ones threatening either important hypercorp employees or the habitat as a whole, also result in mandatory personality modification. Such modifications often include the creation of a strong sense of loyalty and obedience to the hypercorp. Punishments are even more draconic in the Jovian Republic, where permanent execution and the destruction of all backups is the most common punishment for serious crimes against the leaders or large groups of the populace. Since the rulers of the Republic are strong bioconservatives, personality editing and forced uploading are rarely used. Forced indenture is very common, however, as are more standard forms of imprisonment. The Republic is one of the last places in the solar system that has physical prisons. The vast majority of other habitats fall somewhere between these extremes. Punishments for non-violent crimes consist of enforced repayment, where the offender must work off a debt to their victim or victims or face more serious punishments. Instead of enforced indenture, offenders usually must only work between five and twenty hours a week for their victims and only need to do so until the crime has been suitably repaid. The typical repayment is between two and three times the value of the good or service taken from the victim.