Star*Drive: Visions of the Verge
Space is chaotic and unpredictable. Although humanity may never be able to fashion stability in the stars themselves, it can put its own house in order. Only when order is maintained is humankind free to pursue goals of profit, advancement, and societal growth. 0nly in the stellar nation called VoidCorp can one find such order, and it is that very order which explains the economic and political leadership of VoidCorp in the galactic community. Or so claim the corporate brochures.
VoidCorp traces its roots to a corporation born in the late 20th century. Originally a software company, VoidCorp’s ancestor Microtel grew into Earth‘s largest and most powerful corporation. When the 21st-century wars between corporations, nations, and superpowers broke out, the corporation in- vested in dozens of industries while maintaining its supremacy in computer systems. With a virtual monopoly on the market, the transnational corporation wielded power greater than that of many nations, and attempts to break it met with violent failure. By the end of the 21st century, VoidCorp’s precursor had secured a position as the most powerful corporation on the planet. It had already gained its reputation for ruthless business practices and territorialism.
With the beginning of exploration into human space, a new corporate division came into existence. The new division, VoidCorp, was stocked with the most talented Employees. Granted vast resources, the VoidCorp mission was explicit and direct: carry the stellar corporation into space. Out among the stars, VoidCorp had the opportunity to found an autonomous collective free of interfering governments. At last, the corporation could define every aspect of the new state.
The corporate plan met with great success. VoidCorp employees settled dozens of star systems, and in 2193 VoidCorp developed the first drivesats to link its star systems together. Of course, some VoidCorp Employees were shocked as the corporation took the final step: Personnel, long listed as a corporate asset, became property of the corporation. Its internal strength assured, VoidCorp grew much as any nation in space.
Humans were not the only servants of the corporation. In 2274, a VoidCorp vessel landed on Sheya, the largest moon of the system’s fourth planet. There, project leader JT795 431WQ (Erim Ollander) had first contact with the alien species known as the sesheyan. JT795 431WQ negotiated a contract with the species. All sesheyans are held to the Sesheyan Com- pact: In return for the benefits of technology and the freedom to leave their own planet, the sesheyans were named VoidCorp Employees in perpetuity. In essence, they became subject to ail VoidCorp corporate rules and VoidCorp authorities, and each sesheyan was assigned an Employee Identification Number.
In VoidCorp space, every child, human or sesheyan, is a VoidCorp Employee from the moment of birth. VoidCorp Employees attend corporate schools and corporate colleges, compete in corporate athletic and academic games, and take their assigned places in the corporate structure.
Within two generations, the remaining vestiges of Old Earth ties were erased. One of those ties was to VoidCorp’s parent corporation. When the First Galactic War erupted in 2299, VoidCorp took up sides with many of the colonies of space against the Terran Empire and the superpowers of Earth. The VoidCorp leadership had long ago relocated itself from Earth to the planet Catalog to take a hands-on approach, and VoidCorp brought with it all of its parent’s stellar assets. As a result, a civil war Was fought on economic grounds. The parent corporation bankrolled the Terrans’ forays into VoidCorp space, and VoidCorp retaliated with the aid of neighboring states. The war fought between VoidCorp and its parent corporation in cyberspace was the first of its kind.
At the end of the war, VoidCorp claimed victory. Its parent had depleted its financial resources, and collapsed under the relentless attacks of its former employees. VoidCorp was named one of the 26 stellar nations in the Treaty of Earth.
In the years after GW1, VoidCorp tightened control internally even as it expanded externally. In 2330, an official corporate memo forbade Employees from ever leaving the company. Ironically, the memo didn’t mention even death as a valid form of leave-taking; the memo was eventually called the Death Oath. At the same time, the edges of VoidCorp advanced farther from Sol than those of any other stellar nation. Management demanded more and more raw resources and hoped to discover another client species.
The Second Galactic War
Such aggressive inclinations led directly into the second war between the stellar nations. Just before the war, VoidCorp signed alliances with two of its neighbors, the Nariac Domain and the Dreth Commonwealth. Both became client states under the leadership of the big corporation, and VoidCorp borders were secure. Although Rigunmor and Solar Union forces occasionally raided VoidCorp territories, its planets survived the first three decades of the war largely unscathed. In 2361 VoidCorp joined the Expansion Pentad. The Rigunmors shattered the Dreth Commonwealth in 2380, and VoidCorp losses rose as it took over that front of the war. Expenditures reached heights that drained even VoidCorp’s immense treasury.
Unknown to most VoidCorp Employees, the worst was yet to come. Insight, a corporate division responsible for Grid and software design, had grown disillusioned with VoidCorp. For decades, Insight provided The FreeSpace Alliance with information about VoidCorp plans and battle tactics. During a Grid battle between the Orions and VoidCorp in 2433, shadows of the Inseers handed the Orions the victory. In 2460, Insight grew tired of waiting and declared its independence, claiming the area of the former Dreth Commonwealth. As VoidCorp readied its response, the rebels countered by ’crashing the Grid upon Which VoidCorp relied. History repeated itself as a corporate division once again spun off into autonomy.
VoidCorp remains at heart unchanged. It has retained its centuries-old focus on computer software, hardware, and the Grid. Its draconian practices still form the most regimented way of life known to man. To VoidCorp management, this structure is the most advantageous avenue for profit. VoidCorp Employees, raised in its culture, accept it as a fact of life. Indeed, when Insight broke off, most VoidCorp dissidents left with it, and now VoidCorp homogeneity is greater than ever.
The VoidCorp corporate structure mirrors its business practices. At the lowest level, Employees are little more than slaves. Over 70% of the population fits this mold. Once in a skilled or managerial position, Employees grow intensely competitive. The society succeeds, evolves, and holds itself together through struggle. Inferiors expect denigration and abuse. Sycophancy, submission, and currying favor mark behavior to a supervisor. When the superior is gone, machinations to gain position take over. Political maneuvering, favoritism, and backstabbing are well established; informers are rewarded. Deaths of superiors that remain unexplained guarantee promotion. 0fficers of vice president rank and above live anonymously. As Machiavellian as it may sound, the system works.
In terms of sheer wealth, only the Rigunmor Star Consortium can boast deeper pockets than VoidCorp. Thanks to its strict hierarchy, VoidCorp can bring resources to bear more effectively than the more disorganized, if richer, Consortium. The VoidCorp military is recovering following Insight’s treachery. VoidCorp commands only 10 fortress ships; eight were lost during the war -seven to Insight and another wasted in tithe to the Concord. The prodigious VoidCorp assets are rebuilding a dominant military. Only the tenacious corporate will to succeed has allowed VoidCorp to weather the ties. The VoidCorp Grid, ironically updated by Insight before its defection, has kept the stellar nation at the top.
Rule of the sesheyans continues as it has for centuries. Few sesheyans have climbed the corporate ladder; most are pawns working as specialist couriers, bounty hunters, or assassins. VoidCorp executives also retain sesheyans as bodyguards. Sesheyan attempts to win freedom are crushed whenever discovered. The native, planet-bound sesheyans can only mourn the loss of their friends who willingly serve the corporate state.
According to management, the corporate structure is the next stage in humanity’s evolution. Minor setbacks such as Insight’s revolt are the last throes of humans resisting their destiny. (Insight’s existence is not officially acknowledged.) Unofficially, the Grid war between the corporations rages on, largely unseen. Shadow saboteurs on both sides scramble to destroy relay stations, databases, and public records. Recent years have been filled with the results: phony press releases from both companies, tampering with annual reports, as well as unexplained power and data losses. Both deny being either the instigators or victims of any act of sabotage.
Playing An Employee
Rank is everything. Stop at nothing to get it. Among Employees, such statements are common, even accepted. VoidCorp executives have expressed their opinion on the corporation’s competitive internal hierarchy: Survival of the fittest is a sound business strategy. Of course, VoidCorp s vice presidents and directors rose to their positions under the same social Darwinism, so they do not encourage any change to the structure.
VoidCorp is well known for its rigid corporate structure, but most rising managers and station leaders point to their own advancement as proof of VoidCorp’s willingness to change. Nevertheless, every citizen holds a corporate rank from birth, expressed in his Employee Identification Number. Each of the 676 ranks begins with a double alphabetical code, ranging from AA, AB to ZZ. Most Employees never rise above CM status, though valuable, skilled laborers reach L ranks. At ranks of M and above, Employees accept management positions whose exact duties vary depending on local departmental and division needs. Directors usually rate at least an S rank, while the anonymous executive officers-vice presidents and above- merit a Z. Rumors claim that a single CEO holds ZZ rank, but his or her identity remains a mystery.
Employees can be found in every corner of human space, often following orders they do not fully understand, or even orders that contradict another Employee’s orders. Despite this reputation for faceless interaction, VoidCorp does not permit retirement-Employees must work until death. When found, escapees (called ‘absentees’ by corporate personnel) can expect harsh discipline, if not literal termination.
Following the failure of early attempts to implement and control a state-sponsored faith, VoidCorp outlawed the practice of religion. Churches have been forced underground, and their members are severely punished when discovered. Most Employees grow up without a personal familiarity with religious practices, and VoidCorp religious education is presented as a purely historical subject. With the exception of the Insight-tainted census of 2481, every official poll shows that Employee believers represent just 6% of the population. However, representatives of several faiths have commented that religious practice is more widespread than VoidCorp would ever admit, without providing any basis for these comments.