At Spin Two Swords
Life in the Big Empty
In any system, most people live on the most habitable planet. That planet becomes a hub of activity and has its own central government. It controls the space within 20 widths of the planet and is basically the destination of most spacers. It is also probably the home of the spaceport owned and maintained by the Imperium.
Now consider: the sheer volume of a system is enormous. Most habitable planets are tiny in comparison. If Earth were the size of a peppercorn, the system would be about half a mile out near Pluto. That’s a lot of empty space, even just around the disk of the system. Right now, these spaces are prohibitive to space travel, but in the future, these spaces can be covered with ease.
For the most part, this empty space isn’t particularly usable. Even the uninhabitable planets are mostly left alone except for resource harvesting and science experiments. So, the big question is not so much how, but why would anyone choose to live out there?
The answer has a lot to do with what that empty space continues to supply: anonymity. That much size, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to monitor the entire system even in a heavily populated and trafficked area. Even a planetoid might escape notice indefinitely. This anonymity allows for the maintenance of all manner of operations: casinos, chop shops, ridiculously amoral medical experiments, whatever. Not to mention all the crazy weird Star Trek-y alien stuff that one encounters when moving around the Big Empty.
Outside the 20 widths range, the Big Empty falls under the purview of the Imperium. The Imperium, obviously, has laws against illicit activities and is likely to shut operations down that fall outside the scope of those laws, maintaining by decree or even by force, but let’s face it, no matter how big subsector fleet is, it can’t cover everything that happens in an 8×8 square of systems, all with enormous amounts of big empty. They may happen, occasionally, on illegal operations, they may be informed about such operations by scouts or agents, but they are, in general, not going to stumble on an illegal lab floating out in the middle of nowhere trying to clone a race of super-Aslan.
What’s more, the Imperium, because of the way it operates, has what are known as “forgiveness laws.” The basic concept here is rather simple. In order for organizations to operate out in space without constant help from the Imperium, they must have a certain amount of autonomy. After all, the Third Imperium isn’t going to show up to make everything better whenever a threat looms. The result of which is that, when the Third Imperium does show up, it must be somewhat lenient with what it finds. Sure, their cloning a race of super-Aslan…what? You mean, that’s illegal?
Generally, the Third Imperium offers up a cease and desist. They may take away particularly dangerous or controversial equipment, but as long as the organization isn’t harming the regular flow of shipments or communication, they get a first time warning. If the Third Imperium shows up again, and the same crimes are being committed, arrests will likely be made, but who’s to say whether or not subsector fleet is going to make a special trip that way.
Any facility floating around in the Big Empty needs food, water, and oxygen. Chances are, it either is located near sources of these materials, uses collectors and filters to make use of its waste, gets regular shipments of these materials delivered, or all three. Because of the need for “survival resources,” most habitats out in the Big Empty continue to be connected to the local economy somehow. Often, the connection is through criminal agencies or through competing political organizations. This connection can be, however, rather roundabout.
What’s most needed in these situation isn’t however, food or water, or even oxygen; it’s money. Because of this very few operations floating around in the Big Empty are doing so for scant profits. The goal is to make big money outside the watch of local law. If all you want to do is farm beats, you can do that planetside well enough.
Big Stops in the Big Empty
The description, so far, suggests that there isn’t anything out in the Big Empty but people attempting to do criminal activity. To be clear, there are criminals and then there are criminals. If you want to run a floating casino in a system that is run by a fundamental theocracy, you aren’t really that much of a criminal. If you want to set up a four star hotel and your only provision is that it’s within a parsec of three wealthy populated systems, you’re not really a criminal at all. Some people like to cater to reclusive scientists, rock hoppers, and scruffy nerfherders.
Many systems have serious stopovers in the Big Empty that do not reflect the general tenor of the local habitable world. Some of these places are popular among spacers and their ilk and some even rival the power of the habitable planet and its spaceport. It depends heavily upon the nature and scope of the business.
Getting Around and Getting Jumped
The Big Empty, while it is excessively empty, occasionally generates an encounter or two. The truth is that these may be safe and normal, but realistically, there’s nothing really stopping people from jumping each other out there 2 AUs from the nearest star. It is the lawless netherworld and it can get kind of rough.
Most spacers out in the Big Empty have ways of dealing with imminent danger: drone based surveillance, bribed spaceport agents, loose alliances, running silent, whatever. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. Guile can be a spacer’s best friend. It is, however, often offset against complacency. A thousand trips through the nothing without occurrence can lull a pilot away from his vigil, and then, boom, suddenly he runs into a pirate armada or a psychic manifestation or an army of cloned Aslan.