The Spacefarer Union one of the few interstellar civilizations that has no permanent, fixed base at all. Instead the Union is made up of thousands of space-borne mobile habitats, including a wide variety of ships, a number of drifts, orbitals, stations, a few shellworlds and maybe a single Dyson Sphere (if rumor is to be believed). The Union is very old and widespread and its members are found in almost every part of the Terragen sphere, from the Inner Sphere to the distant Perseus Arm. There is no central government, each member ruling itself. Membership is extremely liberal, and so the Union is extremely varied in the range of sophonts and clades it includes.
The League Era
The exact origin of the Union is unknown. However it is generally agreed, by members and others that the roots lie somewhere in the chaos following the Nanoswarm disaster. As SolSys began recovering in the aftermath of the disaster, groups of isolated trading vessels, separated from the almost non-existent megacorporations began coalescing to form small fleets, sharing information and technology. In the early ninth century a.t. a group of about 20 such ships formed an association known as the Spaceman's League. The League offered the use of their ships to factions with the Solar System, in exchange for technology and weaponry for protection from rogue nanoswarms and marauders. The League grew quickly and by 900 a.t. there were almost a hundred ships which were counted as members.
By 950 the First Federation was well on the way to re-establishing peace in SolSys. A number of clades that had been hiding in the asteroid belt and the Oort cloud began moving to the more populated parts of SolSys. The League then offered to transport a cyborg clade from their asteroid in the Belt to the Jovian moons. In return, the clade gave them the asteroid. This was the first territorial acquisition made by the League. This transformed them from a loosely allied group of ships to a proper trading organization with a permanent base. Even though they had a base, the members now calling themselves "units", refused any corporation-like organization. The reason was that a large percent of the units were working as hired traders for the Federation and for the emerging mega-corporations.
The Emergence Era
In 923 a.t. something happened that was to change the League forever. The first non-biont, an AI shipmind named Emergence became a member of the League. Emergence was at the time in control of 3 ships and their crews. What was so special was that one of the ships contained refugees from the Great Expulsion. When E joined the League, he introduced two very important and powerful memes into the meme pool. The more important of the two was an openness to non-bionts as members of the League. The second, less important meme but one that became the characteristic feature of the League, was a dislike of planets as permanent or even long-term residences. This meme was already present in the meme pool, but Emergence managed to strengthen it considerably. Using his considerable memetic engineering capabilities, E soon spread his memes all over the League. The result was quickly apparent. By 940 a.t. two cyborg clades and one vec clade had become part of the League.
Once that was done Emergence became the single most influential member of the League. However, E made no attempts to take complete control over the League. E was quite happy to let the loose structure of the League continue. But more and more ships began joining E's micro-fleet. By 950 a.t., no less than 50 of the almost 300 ships of the League were working with Emergence. With such a considerable number of ships under his control, E decided to take yet another major step in the League's expansion. Until 950 a.t. the farthest any League ship had been from the Sun was the Oort Cloud. But in 952 a.t. he launched a group of fifteen ships, fitted with amat-fusion drives to several nearby starsystems. This act ensured that the League did not just stay confined to SolSys and the Federation.
After E's ships left SolSys, a number of other League ships followed. These ships spent a good few decades traveling to their destinations, which included Tau Ceti, Alpha Centauri, Epsilon Eridani and Sirius. But before even the first of these ships got close to their destinations, another great event occurred. Sometime before the end of the first millennium a.t. Emergence reached the first singularity. The exact date is unknown, but the first effects of this became visible in 1012 a.t. when E (by laserlink) instructed all the ships E sent out of Sol, not to return to Sol, but to trade in their new systems and to find new units for the League. While this caused some degree of discussion, it soon died down. Many attribute this to memetic engineering by Emergence.
For the next fifty years nothing remarkable happened. The League grew as more units outside Sol joined. Then suddenly in 1063 a.t. Emergence confirmed longstanding rumors that he had breached the first toposophic barrier. A month after this announcement E left Sol, with the 3 ships he originally controlled now retro-fitted with amat-fusion drives. E's intended destination was never known, especially since Emergence was never heard from again. Many expected the League to break up without Emergence in relative control. But the League stayed intact, but became a rather low-profile organization, with most of its units working for the megacorps, or the polities on various extra-solar worlds. This low profile was kept for the greater part of the next millennium and half. But even then the League grew slowly but steadily, not only in numbers but also in diversity. The existing members of the league embraced bio-technology and nano-augmentation even more and the criteria for membership became more and more liberal and flexible. This led to a wide range of sophonts including tweaks, cyborgs, vecs and even some su joining the League. A byproduct of this diversification was that a number of members began breaching the first toposophic barrier. Inside the League, the social diversity increased resulting in a wide variety of social and political structures.
As Terragen influence spread to distant systems, the League spread as well, first in ones and twos and later in larger numbers. Their expansion was further helped by the opening of wormholes and the availability of faster conversion drive ships. Then in 2571, the next landmark in the League's history took place.
The War of Re-unification
A number of League asteroids in the Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt, along with a number of ships in SolSys , withdrew their membership from the League, and formed the Starfarer Union, with the main objective of becoming an independent trade superpower. This split was the result of growing fears that as members began working for other concerns, they were memetically, if not officially lost to the League. To many this was a surprise, coming after over 1500 years of peace without Emergence's influence (Though a plot by a rival trade association was suggested, it was never confirmed). As news of the split spread through Terragen space like a shockwave, the members of the League became divided. Those working for megacorps and the emerging archailect empires stayed with the original League, while independent members joined the new Union. The SI:1 members kept themselves aloof from the breach at first, but later as the rivalry and attempts at memetic subversion continued and increased, they too could not keep themselves apart from the effects of the split. Within two centuries it seemed as if a League-Union war and the creation of a third faction consisting of the higher toposophics was inevitable. For the last 200 years events had been building up to one of two possibilities : either a League-Union war would lead to complete destruction of one and the supremacy if the other, or the war would lead to complete destruction of both. To most (SI:<1 beings) it seemed as that a war, both memetic and material was inevitable. Eventually in 2792, the Starfarer Union declared that it had authorized all its members to take whatever action necessary to convert League members to the Union. Its primary objective was, as they themselves stated, "to assimilate at least 80% of the current members of the Spacefarer League, by whatever means are found necessary". In retaliation to this statement, the remaining League members, declared a War of Re-unification, against the Union. Their aims were not only assimilation but also the destruction of those who could not be assimilated. Due to the growing wormhole nexus and the growth of the Known Net, the news of the war spread and with it entire League and Union fleets left their current occupations to actively join the war. As a result of this, many small corporations and polities found themselves suddenly without most of their fleet, which had been composed of League or Union members, working as traders or mercenaries. Entire planets were left undefended and a number of flourishing trade routes became empty. Though the war was entirely confined to League and Union members, its indirect effects were felt through much of Terragen space, especially those parts linked by the nexus. However after almost half a century of the war since the start of the war, an event occurred, which many see as the moment in which the present day Union was born. Some of the SI:1 members of the League had gone into interstellar space to protect themselves from the war. Though many say this was selfish cowardice on their part, there is no doubt that if they had not survived the war, then there would have been no one left the reunite the League and the Union.
Sometime during their exile a number of SI:1 beings (exact number unknown) joined themselves in a hive-mind-like network. Though the exact number is unknown it is known that they included shipminds, post-bionts and post-vecs. The result of this networking was that the emergence of a second singularity mind calling emself Valderon. Whether E was still a hive-mind-like network, or a single individual mind, is still hotly debated. (It is also a common myth that Valderon was really Emergence, transcended and returned to breathe new life into the League) But it is known that for whatever reason, he contacted a Union fleet of about 30 ships and then commandeered the entire (how is still a mystery), including a small number of SI:1beings. Once that was done E set about eir self-imposed duty of restoring some sort of unity between the League and the Union. The rising sephirotic empires, mainly NoCoZo and the Negentropy Alliance were also eager to put an end to the war, which had become known as the War of Re-unification. After over a decade of memetic subversion, material warfare and good old fashioned diplomacy. Valderon backed by other transapients as well as NoCoZo and the Alliance, managed to force a truce between the remaining League and the Union. By that time roughly 40% of the combined League and Union members were controlled in some way or the other by Valderon.
In 2818 after two and a half decades of war, the main governing bodies of the League and the Union - the War Council and the Union Secretariat respectively - as well as representatives from NoCoZo and the Alliance and of course, Valderon's neogen avatar met for the Unification Summit on a luxury cruiser, the Unity, custom built for the purpose. At the Summit both the Spaceman's League and the Starfarer Union were officially dissolved and a new body the Spacefarer Union was created. The Summit also led to the creation and adoption of the Basic Union Operations Protocol, the first and only set of written rules, which members had to abide by. The seven rules, or articles that were and still are a part of the BUOP are:
1. Any habitat, with its inhabitants is considered a member of the Union. But groups of multiple such habitats may choose to have single membership.
2. All members must abide by the Basic Union Operations Protocol.
3. Any member may recruit other members.
4. A member may work for any other polity, corporation or individual, but must remain a member of the Union and abide by the Protocol at all times.
5. Members must assist other Union members, unless members are working for employers having a non-cooperative relation (i.e. working for enemies, rivals etc.).
6. No member may on any account take a decision or perform an action on behalf of the entire Union.
7. No Union members may on their own account interfere with the actions of other polities, corporations, or individuals unless their own interests are at risk.
The BUOP ensured that while the Union retained its loose organization (largely lost during the War) and the members retained maximum freedom, no member could inadvertently start an interstellar dispute involving the Union. Over the millennia, the BUOP has been strictly followed and has been unchanged for the most part. The only time it was amended was during the Elcondris Incident.
The new Spacefarer Union was smaller than the former undivided League. 7% of the members had been lost in the War and another 5% refused membership of the Union for various reasons, but mostly in opposition to sephirotic "interference" and the BUOP. (Though it is a known fact that Valderon carefully and tactfully managed to keep NoCoZo and Negentropist influence to a minimum, especially during creation of the BUOP)
In the millennia after the Union's formation, it has grown and spread across all of the Terragen Sphere. Members come from every major group of sophont life-form. In 2820 Valderon gave up his command of all but ten ships, and from then on never again played a major part in Union history. E is currently somewhere in the Perseus Rift with his fleet of two relativistic worldships and a number of other relativistic ships. E is rumored to have reached the fourth toposophic level.
The Current Union
The Union has emerged to be a major trade power as well as having considerable military potential. But most members are still hired by other polities in roles starting from traders, including diplomats and megascale engineers, going all the way to mercenaries. It has never had any form of central government but has incredibly strong memetics. There are very few recorded cases of memetic subversion of Union members. Members while employed by others, often behave as memetic chameleons, adopting the employers memetic on the outside, but retaining Union memetic.
They are on their own non-aggressive, except when hired as mercenaries or when their interests are threatened. But they are known to have memetically subverted certain ships and habitats into joining the Union, especially if interesting technology or valuable resources are to be gained. The experience in memetic subversion gained during the War of Re-unification has been of great help to them.
The Union members are among the most liberal sophonts in the Terragen Sphere which is reflected by the wide variety of sophonts that are members. Due to their extensively spread out social system, it is almost impossible to known the exact number of sophonts in the Union. Estimates range from 10 billion to 2 trillion. The number of members continually change, as members often combine to form fleets, sharing a single membership. Existing fleets break up just as often, however. The majority of the members are below the first singularity, but there are a large number of transapients, starting from the first all the way to the fifth singularity (probably, but there is no real confirmation from the transapients emselves).
The Union has over the millennia been accused of being immoral and unethical. Most accusations arise from the fact that most Union members will do whatever they think is profitable. Though members on their own may choose to do not do something, there is no restriction that is applicable to the Union as a whole. Examples are often give of various wars when Union members fought for both (or all) the sides. But it is a well known fact that Union members turn deaf ears to all such accusations and prefer to continue doing just what they want to.
The Spacefarer Union has played an important part in interstellar wars, though in an indirect way. Mercenary fleets have often been responsible for defending planets and habitats under attack, often at great cost to their own. In the Middle Volumes, where Sephirotic influence has been late in coming, stories abound of the brave Spacefarers who sacrificed their ships to save the planet (habitat, drift, colony, etc.) from evil pirates (autowars, attacking fleet, colliding comet etc.). What these stories conveniently forget to mention is that the brave Spacefarers always make sure that they get a brand new ship, or something equivalent in return. Whatever criticisms people may have of Union ethics (or lack thereof), it is certain that Union members have never taken any political or military action of their own accord. The only possible exception is the Elcondris Incident, when a Union fleet destroyed a former Dominion outpost in the small system of Elcondris, after the outpost AI went rogue and destroyed an independent Union tradefleet, before isolating itself from the wormhole nexus.
Destruction of the Union tradefleet occurred in 4537, leaving only a few relativistic ships, which promptly fled to a Union mercenary force working for the Dominion. However it was not until after the war in 5212, when a relativistic Union fleet along with a Dominion linelayer reached the system. The outpost AI was promptly destroyed and the Dominion gave the Union fleet viceregal powers over the system (for a short time). This incident showed Terragens that the Union was not just another rag-tag group of ships, and that they had the military potential to get back at those who attacked them directly (as opposed to attacking their employers, which is altogether a different thing). This was also the first time an amendment was made to the BUOP. Specifically Article 6 was changed to "No Union member may take any action or make any decision on behalf of the entire Union, unless to safeguard the private interests of the Union or Union members". Many however see this as extension of Article 5 rather than as a real amendment. Besides this, the Incident did little to change the Union, which is still as liberal and spread out as before. Fears that the Union would become a real sephirotic polity were quickly calmed, as the fleet broke up after matters were resolved.
Since then no Union members have ever taken any such political or military action. The only exemption is the joining of the anti-Amalgamation Defense and Mutual Aid Organization. This was done only after more 150,000 members near the Nexus voted in favor of joining at the request of the transapient shipmind Artulus. Less than a thousand members voted against. (The overwhelming vote was probably due to the Amalgamation's destruction of 27 member ships and some memetic engineering by Artulus.)
The Union continues to be a loosely governed, non-aligned, non-aggressive and even non-political entity. They have always refused to be classified as a "polity" preferring to be called just a union and nothing else. Though non-aligned the Union members have always had extremely good relations with the Shipwrights, including sharing of resources, and exchange of (quite valuable) gifts. The Shipwrights have constructed a number of relativistic worldships and other large habitats for the Union. The current rumor is that the Shipwrights are constructing a Dyson Sphere around a star on the edges of the Orion arm. Both the Union and the Shipwrights are however, silent on the issue. Many others argue that this is only a rumor as an immovable Dyson Sphere would go against Union policy.
All Union members are mobile habitats. They have never colonized a planet for themselves and never stay in a place too long. Though ships are the most common, there are also other types of habitats, starting from movable orbitals to huge worldships and shellworlds (these are less common being hard to move). Almost all their habitats have some form of drive system, allowing them to be moved. There have been numerous cases on which habitats were denied memberships because of their stationary nature. There is also wide variety in the type of ship they use. Union members have everything from ancient ion drive powered interplanetary transports to state-of-the-art relativistic warships, with everything from advanced shielding and weapons (often independently developed, or hybridized from numerous designs) to advanced relativistic drive. The most common drive in the Union is probably the conversion drive, but as the number of archailects and higher toposophics in the Union grow, reactionless drives, especially the displacement drive are growing in popularity. Bioships are probably the rarest, because Union members are notoriously famous for being rather unpredictable about the upgrades and additions that they are continuously making to their ships. However biotech is often used in certain systems where upgrades are not regularly needed. Over the last few millennia many Union members have embraced synanotech, often learning lessons from the Cronosians. In fact Cronosians often enjoy very good relations with Union members. Sociologists attribute this to a similar if not identical social structure. It is not rare to find Cronosian habitats and Union members forming semi-united fleets.
In short the Spacefarer Union is a loose, yet united union of all types of sentients, living in all types of movable habitats, doing almost all types of work, spread across all of Terragen Space. Though not actually considered a sephirotic, the actual resources available to the Union is never exactly known.