The Less Evil Empire

Posted: 2021-06-29
Word Count: 2827
Tags: settings space

As stated previously, one afternoon I though about subverting common political tropes in fantasy and science fiction, particulary the Evil Empire.

But could a truly “good” Empire exist? Probably not. By definition an Empire funnels wealth from its provinces and/or colonies to a central region or authority; typically the residents of those outlying areas produce that wealth, so the Empire must take it by force or threats of force. But history offers a few examples that have their good points:

So I combined these better features into an interstellar empire that, while arguably oppressive and autocratic, would theoretically avoid the excesses of other science fiction empires.


The Kante Empire

Overview

Like all empires, the Kante Empire is a quasi-benevolent protection racket.

Despite the Kante Empire’s very overt militarism, it imposes no culture, government, or religion on its “clients”. Planets can continue on almost like they did before1, as long as they abide by a few rules:

  1. Pay taxes
  2. Abolish slavery
  3. Do not interfere in Imperial affairs
  4. Let no Imperial citizen2 come to harm

The Kante Empire rules hundreds of known systems, and likely dozens of unknown systems. It’s at once the most obvious and most enigmatic government to replace the Old Confederation.

The Imperial Presence

While the Kante Empire tries to keep a low profile on its client worlds, an Imperial world is easy to spot.

Imperial Defenses

Every Imperial world has at least one Imperial station in orbit over it, and a “defense fleet” assigned to it.

The number of stations and their size depends on the size of the population below and the strategic importance of the planet. A sparsely populated colony planet may have only one small station, just big enough for barracks, a hangar, and minimal repair facilities. Typical planets have a standard Imperial station with docks for the Imperial defense fleet and weapons to defend itself or its planet when the fleet is unavailable. Densely populated planets may have two or more stations and/or a ring of manned defense platforms.

The size and composition of the defense fleet depends on similar factors. The “fleet” may consist of anything from two-man gunships incapable of leaving orbit through a single warship with support ships to a fleet of warships and a dreadnought. The Empire itself builds only starships, so they can redeploy immediately if required, but they sometimes augment their defenses with locally built interplanetary ships.3 In rare instances Imperial admirals command local ships with local crews if the locals meet Imperial standards.

Each Star Gate warrants its own base and associated ships. The Empire may also set up deep space bases and patrol ships when a system has a significant population off-planet, when interplanetary piracy or terrorism poses a major threat, or when a system lies within Jump range of an enemy system.

Imperial Administration

While the Empire’s military force mostly remains in space, all but the least populated worlds have an administrative presence planetside. In major population centers the Empire maintains offices or an entire complex for an Imperial Diplomatic Mission, the Imperial Tax Assessors Service, an Imperial Recruiting Office, and if Imperials and locals mingle the Imperial Magistrate Courts, plus whatever security personnel the Imperial Governor deems necessary.

Except for the Imperial Recruiting Office Imperial authorities try to minimize contact with planetside natives, mostly to avoid being drawn into local disputes. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. For example, the Imperial Governor may maintain a residence near or in the planetary capitol when mixing socially with powerful locals maintains friendly relationships. The diplomatic services routinely hire locals for menial tasks that don’t require Imperial citizens. Recruiting offices necessarily have to maintain good relationships with their neighbors in order to attract potential Imperial personnel. The assessor or intelligence services may hire local informants. And so on.

Imperial Taxes

Outsiders may contend that the Empire exists to maintain peace or threaten war, depending on their political leanings. Insiders know the Empire’s primary function is collecting taxes. Building and maintaining all those military assets requires alloys, rare minerals, foodstuffs, various feedstocks, and medical supplies. The Tax Assessors works with local governments to arrange regular payments in local currency, raw materials, or preferably in finished goods the Empire can use.

To this end the Empire maintains offices of the Imperial Tax Service near or in population centers. Census takers and surveyors assess what taxes a planet can afford to pay. Interfering with any of these discreet, hardly noticeable functionaries will meet with swift reprisals.

Imperial Recruiting

The Empire requires personnel to man its warships, collect its taxes, and handle sometimes delicate relationships with its clients. To this end it mostly recruits from client worlds. In return for their faithful and honorable service, recruits get a salary, travel off-world (usually), and lifetime Imperial citizenship. Most recruits serve at least one tour in the military, although those with special talents may go directly into administration.

In this light, the Empire’s abolition of slavery seems less altruistic. How can they find the best and brightest unless every person, regardless of race or social class, can sign up? And how would it look if a current or retired Imperial – soldier, administrator, or other – faced harassment or murder on an Imperial world?

Imperial Colonies

It’s an open secret that the Empire manages a few colonies of their own. Imperial colonies maximize resources extracted from a planet while minimizing complications from civilian laws and customs. Colonists are a mix of retired Imperial citizens making a new life, settlers from other worlds willingly(?) working for the Empire, and sometimes a few dishonored Imperial citizens who deserve less than death but more than a simple discharge.

Like all colonists, Imperial colonists endure hard labor and harsh conditions to pay back the Empire’s initial investment. Unlike most colonists, non-citizens who serve with honor can earn (or regain) Imperial citizenship, and retired citizens can increase their pension and position. Each Imperial colony has a Governor and staff to represent Imperial interests and one or more Marshals to enforce Imperial law.

Organization

The Empire has distinct and theoretically separate Military and Administrative branches, both of which ultimately report to the High Command.

Military Branch

The Imperial Navy is divided into Defense Fleets, which protect each client planet or system, and a few large Reserve Fleets, which High Command dispatches to reinforce a Defense Fleet or to combat some other threat.

On Imperial ships, each spacer must do at least one tour of duty before they’re eligible for the Command Track4. The Command Track requires not only piloting, combat, and technical skill but intense training in strategy, diplomacy, and motivational psychology. Many wash out at Ensign; few reach Captain. Below are the ranks of the Command Track, lowest first.

  1. Cadet: shadows and learns from higher Command ranks in addition to regular ship-board duties.
  2. Lieutenant: acts on behalf of higher Command ranks or commands a short-range patrol ship or gunboat.
  3. Commander: second-in-command on a starship or commands a long-range system ship.
  4. Captain: commands a starship.
  5. Vice Admiral: commands a dreadnought5 or task force of lesser ships.
  6. Admiral: commands an entire Defense Fleet.
  7. Fleet Admiral: commands an entire Reserve Fleet and (temporarily) nearby Defense Fleets.

Naturally, most crew on each ship fill necessary niches: pilots, gunners, information and communications experts, technicians, personal combat specialists (“marines”), and general deck hands. Their ranks and pay grades reflect seniority and competence within their specialty.

Ground, air, and sea forces operate under the command of a Fleet Admiral, or rarely under am Admiral of the Defense Fleet. The Empire seldom conquers territory on a planet; planetary forces conduct punitive actions against rebels, raid military targets of opposing forces, or secure strategic resources that client governments cannot or will not. Where possible, the Empire deploys automated or cybernetic forces instead of Imperial citizen soldiers, in part because it cannot simply conscript the population of client worlds.

The Command structure for planetary forces is similar to its space force. Lieutenants supervise support operations or lead small squads. Each planetary Commander leads a hundred or so units into battle, aided by “Sergeants” with specialized but less rigorous command training to keep soldiers and automated equipment organized. A Captain directs up to a dozen Commanders and is sometimes called a “Colonel”. Likewise a “Brigadier” is equivalent to Vice Admiral and a “General” equivalent to Admiral. Even in its planetary forces, the Empire prefers flat and shallow command hierarchies.

Administrative Branch

While technically parallel to the Military Branch, senior administrators of the Empire typically gained command rank in the military.

A Governor oversees one or more Imperial clients, and the Imperial resources and citizens therein, on behalf of their superiors. Their power depends on the scope of their domain:

Title Scope Direct Report
Colonial Governor one Imperial colony System or Sector Governor
Planetary Governor one heavily populated planet Sector Governor6
System Governor one star system7 Sector Governor
Sector Governor dozens of star systems High Command

A Governor may appoint Directors to oversee parts of the Imperial bureaucracy. A Director may run local offices of:

The Governor over a populous or far-flung region may authorize his Directors to appoint Deputy Directors. Deputy Directors manage satellite offices or specific divisions within the Imperial bureaucracy. A Deputy Director reports to a specific Director, although the Governor approves all Deputy Director appointments and may remove them at will.

Below the Governors and (Deputy) Directors are the field agents, accountants, clerks, diplomats, and internal security personnel who make the bureaucracy work. Outposts and colonies typically has only a Governor and their staff, while populous worlds may require multiple Directors and Deputy Directors with administrative offices in every major city. Nearly all personnel are Imperial citizens, but some offices may hire locals as guides and semi-skilled workers.

Governors may call upon the Admiral or Captain of the local base for assistance when internal security proves inadequate.8 Directors and lower may not. Any administrator may petition High Command directly if they believe their superiors are incompetent or corrupt; in practice, only Ambassadors and the well-connected get any response, and those who complain often suffer for it.

Imperial Law

All active Imperial personnel are subject to martial law.

On worlds where Imperials have significant contact with local civilians, the Administrative Branch reluctantly provides some legal apparatus.

A Magistrate or Magistrate Court mediates disputes between Imperials and locals, even if those locals work for the Empire but lack full citizenship. The Empire refuses to surrender its citizens to local courts as a matter of policy, but it does allow local observers and, when possible, tries to accomodate local standards. Magistrates are appointed by and report to the region’s Governor, but typically work from the offices of a Director or Deputy Director.

Marshals, led by a Chief Marshal, maintain order within Imperial settlements under the authority of the nearest Governor. Usually Marshals operate in Imperial colonies, but a Governor may assign them to protect administrative centers on populated but effectively lawless client worlds.

Other Services

Besides the two branches, a few services report directly to High Command:

High Command

The High Command runs the Empire. It issues orders to Admirals and Captains. It receives detailed reports from Governors via couriers. It sends agents, inspectors, and diplomats to enlist new clients. Admirals, Governors, and some Ambassadors ascend into its ranks; some of those officials resurface as senior Inspectors or in delegations.

But, due to the nature of hyperspace communications and what the Empire calls “operational security”, outsiders and the vast majority of Imperials know nothing about it. Where is it located? Who decides policy? Where does all its wealth go?

Theories abound:

  1. The High Command reports to a planetary government of some kind. The Empire exists to enrich this government.

  2. The “High Command” is ultimately one person, an Emperor. He secretly rules from a dreadnought that tours his ever-expanding domain. The Empire exists to make him both fabulously wealthy and incalculably powerful.

  3. The High Command is a junta of former governors and admirals. They meet at a secret base, then scatter to their private estates. The wealth of hundreds of worlds lines their pockets.

  4. The Empire is an interplanetary corporation, possibly a military contractor, and the High Command its executive officers. Resources exported off-world become profits for an unseen board of directors.

Even the name “Kante” is a mystery. Is it the name of the founder? The ruling family? A corporation? A planet?

Culture and Society

As one might expect, the Kante Empire is incredibly militaristic. Citizens revere the chain of command, even as they complain about it. Even colonies administered directly by the Empire look to their marshals and magistrates for leadership.

Imperials extoll the Empire’s virtues as protectors of client worlds against a chaotic and hostile universe, and even as a bringer of law and civilization. The Empire is, ironically, more egalitarian than most original home worlds of Imperial citizens, so this belief has some merit. Because the Empire tries to remain aloof from local concerns, most active and retired military personnel look down upon the locals as uncivilized or even savage. Administrators tend toward a more nuanced view of their host planets, but even then they regard the Empire as a superior civilization.

The Empire has its own currency, the Imperial Credit, even though it’s accepted only on Imperial installations and in gray markets dependent upon them. Its main use is for internal accounting purposes and to assess the worth to the Empire of resources they tax their “clients”. Conversion between Imperial Credits and local currency depends on the Empire’s reserve of the currency rather than a liquid market. The vast majority of active Imperial personnel receive their food, clothing, shelter, and scant luxuries from the Empire; they’re paid in a scrip that they mostly save in the hope they can convert to enough local currency that they can retire comfortably.

Summary

It’s a dangerous cosmos, or so the Imperials say. Thus hundreds of inhabited worlds quietly tolerate tax collectors and worse skulking around their streets, and warships in orbit over their heads, and people and resources leaving their world never to return (in the same state as they left, at least). And they tell themselves they’re safer.

The Empire, like the ancient state of Prussia, is a military and civil service that has (something like) a government. It has no fixed capitol, no “native” people, and no culture not inherited from preceding civilizations' military and diplomatic services.


  1. Unless a government or its people resist too strenuously. Then, with regrets, Imperial agents (or ground troops) will overthrow the government and put a more … beneficial regime in its place. ↩︎

  2. Roughly, a current or former servant of the Empire. ↩︎

  3. Ships without a Jump Drive tend to be leaner and faster, but obviously lack the ability to overtake a ship that escapes through a Star Gate. ↩︎

  4. The Empire makes no distinction between “commissioned” and “non-commissioned” spacers. Every recruit has an equal (if small) chance of becoming a Captain someday. ↩︎

  5. A significantly larger and more powerful starship. ↩︎

  6. In one case two Planetary Governors who were constantly at odds reported to a System Governor, at least until the Sector Governor could sort out the mess and appoint new Governors all around. ↩︎

  7. Except for planets assigned to a Planetary Governor. ↩︎

  8. Colonial Governors technically can call upon the Military Branch, but are likely to be replaced unless they give a very good reason: pirates, invasion, natural disaster, unnatural disaster … ↩︎