The Galactic Co-Prosperity Sphere is vast, the mightiest power in the galaxy, a technologically advanced empire that encompasses a huge tract of the Milky Way galaxy. It contains hundreds of thousands of star systems, and well over half a million inhabited worlds, orbital stations, moons, asteroids, deep space facilities and other, more esoteric places; although this is but in truth an estimate, the Corporation dwarfs the other political entities it shares the stars with.
To its inhabitants and enemies alike, The Co-Prosperity Sphere is commonly known as The Corporation, for corporations are its principal units of political power. The corporations are engines of commerce, government and society – if the bland consumerism foisted upon the citizens of the Galactic Co-Prosperity Sphere is worthy of the name “society”. Over three thousand years old, GCPS shows no signs of fatigue. To this day it is continuously expanding its sphere of influence, annexing more and more star systems to its territories.
Within its borders peace reigns. The Galactic Co-Prosperity Sphere promotes harmony between species, free interstellar trade and prosperity for all. At least it does ostensibly; many cultures have found out too late that the promises of co-prosperity are hollow, and that you cannot entirely trust the news on the Corporation infosphere. From its ancient beginnings on the Solar System, the Corporation has spread like a malignant cancer across the galaxy. Entire sectors are covered by its tyrannical rule, suffocating any attempt to live free of its clutches.
But the galaxy is a big place. The Corporation is not the monolithic entity many think it to be, and suffers tensions between the great mercantile houses and companies that comprise it. And all those pampered, rich men who debate and bicker in the sterile halls of Corporation Central share one, deep-seated fear: that sooner or later the Corporation will meet its match in the unexplored expanses of space…
The Corporation’s model of governance is a strictly hierarchical, oppressive plutocracy, whose sole determinant of power is wealth. Centralised power rests within the halls of Corporation Central, one of the oldest human settled worlds in the GCPS. The Government is made up of three chambers of representatives of increasing legislative power. In law they are independent, in truth they are answerable to the Council of Seven. This executive body’s fiat is absolute, and it rules the Co-Prosperity Sphere in all but name.
Members of the Secondary and Tertiary chambers are drawn from all layers of the Corporation’s society – not solely from the corporations but to a lesser extent also the media, the various clergies of the Corporation’s bewildering number of religions, independent traders, artisan houses and so forth. The Primary House is chosen only from fully franchised corporation members, as is the council of Seven. The Seven are elected in secret ballot from the CEOs, princes, non-executive board members and dynastic heads of the most powerful corporations to “oversee” the three chambers. The council of Seven are astoundingly wealthy men, so well remunerated for the duty they undertake that they are supposedly above the turmoil of inter-house bickering. Naturally, this is not the case at all. Rich men will always wish to be richer. The Rebellion dubbed Corporation Central “Corruption Central”, and with good reason.
Corporation Central passes the laws that define the Co-Prosperity Sphere as a political entity, and supposedly strive to ensure prosperity for all. The GCPS is a free trade zone, untroubled by custom tariffs and other blocks to interplanetary trade. In truth the corporations are vastly powerful, and constantly put their own interests first, jockeying hard for influence and power. Corporation Central is thus a hotbed of endless economic and political machinations, deal brokering, and betrayal, where the general well-being of the Galactic Co-Prosperity Sphere’s hundreds of billions of citizens comes a long way down the list of government priorities.
The Corporation centres on Sol, the home star of the human race. Earth, the planet from which Homo Sapiens sprang, is long reduced to rubble, the other Solar worlds abandoned for more hospitable climes. Nevertheless, Sol remains the spiritual home of mankind. Already the GCPS encompasses most of the Orion Spur, and a significant chunk of the Sagittarius and Scutum-Centaurus Arms of our galaxy. Progress further widdershins along both arms has been halted by the mysterious Death Arc, a broad band of dead systems whence came the deadly Plague. Turnwards, at the Long Bar, past where the Orion Spur and the Sagittarius Arm gather together, the GCPS borders the space of the Forgefathers, and here also expansion has been stymied. New expansion is taking place in the main in the Norma Arm and the Galactic core Sol-wards from the Forgefather realm, and out across the inter-arm gulf separating the Orion Spur from the Perseus Arm. Beyond lies the final arm of the Milky Way, and into that few Corporation Vessels have as yet ventured.
In shape then, far from a sphere, the GCPS resembles an elongated kidney, nestling against the blazing heart of the galaxy. Not a poetic image, and one eschewed in favour of a clean globe on official symbols.
With a civilisation so large and diverse, direct central control is impossible. Therefore, the many worlds of the corporation are administered by the companies that own them. Planets are property that can be, and frequently are, sold or traded. Local law is passed and implemented by the corporate entity responsible for each planet, and so a change in ownership can result in profound culture shock for a world’s inhabitants, and a hefty windfall in fines for the new owners.
In theory, there is no limit to the planetary real estate that a corporation can hold. In reality, the sheer distances between systems and costs of traffic between them tends to act as a natural limiter on the size of each corporation, ensuring they do not grow too large, although the richest are truly pan-galactic in scope, with holdings right the way across the GCPS and beyond.
The GCPS is roughly divided into five spheres. The boundaries between them is by no means absolute, they change over time as the GCPS expands, and bickering over which planet lies in which zone takes up much valuable time at Corporation Central. Some worlds lie within one zone, but for taxation purposes and so forth are counted as being in another. Nor are the spheres spherical at all, rather they resemble a nested set of blobs, marred by dents, thinnings and extrusions. It is a very simple geographic model that is in practise bewilderingly complicated. Initially, the zoning was based on how many “jumps” were required out from Sol, with the original boundary of the First Sphere lying seventy jumps out from Earth. The McKinley drive rendered both short-jumping and this form of reckoning obsolete, but some of the most venerable worlds insist on its use to this day, a self-important mark of exclusivity.
This is the heart of the GCPS, a rough ball of star systems about one hundred and fifty light years across that represent the first diaspora from Old Earth. The worlds here are so long settled that they are highly developed, civilised places. They represent the acme of Corporation culture, genuine heavens on Earth for those that can afford to live there, where high technology allows people to live lives of unfettered pleasure. When corporate spokespeople approach a new alien race with the offer of incorporation, it is to the lifestyles of the core worlds that they point, although what the hapless aliens receive is another matter entirely. Starships come from all over the GCPS to supply the Core, its population long since having outstripped its own worlds’ capacity to support it. Society is nominally egalitarian, if you ignore the massive armies of migrant non-Core workers who flock here to serve the idle rich.
Similar to the core, but less developed, and where social inequality is far more pronounced, nevertheless, the Second Sphere is where many GCPS citizens aspire to live when they strike it lucky.
Beyond the Second Sphere, space becomes more regionalised. Large tracts of unsettled systems separate star clusters inhabited by “nations”. Here. many corporations run star systems jointly, each specialising in a particular industry. Often there are two or three highly developed worlds at the cores of these “nations”, each supporting and supported by numerous smaller settlements. In this, they are like the GCPS in miniature. The Third Sphere was settled rapidly at a time when mankind had perfected the art of genetic manipulation, and the pioneers to this zone tended to change themselves rather than the planets they found, leading to some of the more outlandish variations on the standard human phenotype. Life on the capital worlds of these systems is good, and some of the more established have been nominally included in the Second Sphere. Much of the worlds in the Third Sphere have been settled for centuries, the term “New Space” comes from a time when the Third Sphere was the frontier of the GCPS.
The space of The Fourth Sphere is still being surveyed, and new worlds uncovered. There are opportunities aplenty for corporations and individuals alike, and many risks. Unknown alien species, pirates and weird cosmic phenomena are but the least of concerns for those embarking on new ventures. Fortunes can be made or lives lost equally easily in the Fourth Sphere. Those parts of the Fourth Sphere close to the realms of others are subject to periodic invasion, while the majority of the Dead Zones caused by The Plague are to be found in these parts. Nevertheless, hundreds of new planetary licenses are issued every year to corporations who wish to exploit worlds in the Expansion Zone.
The Fourth Sphere shades into the fifth, the actual edge of the GCPS. Claimed by Corporation Central, the influence of the GCPS is minimal this far out; and the species that live here would take violent exception to any mention that they were in Corporation Space at all. It is a realm unknown, where advance scouts hurry from star to star, hunting out new planets for their corporate masters. In places, the Fifth Sphere is squeezed thin as the GCPS brushes up against the territory of other mighty realms. Elsewhere it is an active warzone. Many threats and unknown terrors lurk beyond the Fifth Sphere. Corporation Border Stations, unusually funded directly by Corporation central, keep watch, while swift fleets of Enforcers patrol the endless black. The Rebs keep their own bases here, watching the Enforcers watching for them.
Every alien civilization the GCPS encounters, it will attempt to incorporate and bring under its control.
The Corporation’s strategy is to make contact with alien beings and dazzle them with humanity’s superior technology [Note: Only 27 species have so far been encountered that possess higher understanding of the sciences than the Corporation]. Appearing as benefactors, Corporation diplomats will offer massive technological help to these planets: new forms of power, transit, communication… all the benefits three thousand year old technological society can bring.
Very few peoples turn this down.
Offered membership “as equal partners”, these new citizens of the GCPS will at first be optimistic and proud of their status, but over time they discover the truth. Their societies undergo massive, traumatic change, overthrowing whatever customs and governance they once possessed in return for the bland, pan-galactic culture of the Corporation. Worse, what is initially offered free in the spirit of common sentient interest does not remain so for long. Soon the incorporated culture will be dependent on Corporation goods and services, and bled dry to pay for them.
Turned into little better than puppet states, these slave-societies are drugged by the cheap, get-rich-quick attitudes of Corporation culture, and will gladly devote all of their planets’ resources to enriching the Corporation and the few local bureaucrats that run the business for it, while the majority of the population plummet into a state of poverty and servitude.
This form of cultural imperialism takes time, and it does not always work. Sometimes the most primitive culture can see through the baubles the Corporation offers. At other times, a civilisation may be too savage, too advanced or just too damn alien to risk bringing in to man’s great galactic family. In these cases, the Corporation will deploy its considerable military might. Full-scale invasion and subjugation has been the fate of many, even complete annihilation if a race proves too troublesome.
A system that has been cleared of hostile indigenous aliens is ripe for re-colonization by the humans that form the largest part of the Corporation’s population.
Naturally, this attitude has led to a certain amount of racist nonsense throughout the GCPS.
There are a whole slew of Human Supremacist organisations, and in certain sectors it is dangerous to be an alien, or indeed anything other than a genetically pure Terran-standard human being. In other places, aliens are treated as slaves, in deed if not under the law. But elsewhere, multiculturalism holds sway, with man and alien working side by side. A handful of alien races have integrated remarkably well into the GCPS. By dint of their special talents, superior intelligence, cultural similarity to humanity or simply by their numbers, they have become more or less equal citizens of the Corporation, with those races of similar or greater technological prowess who accepted Incorporation readily being the most successful. Although rare, some corporations are alien owned and run, and there have been three aliens on the Council of Seven. Nevertheless, aliens are hopelessly outnumbered by mankind. For this reason, the GCPS is often referred to as “Human Space”.