Sins of The Empire
Economy of the Empire
Money doesn’t just make the world go ’round — it keeps the Galaxy spinning, too.
THE IMPERIAL CREDIT
The official currency of the Terran Empire is the credit. A handful of Senatorial worlds have their own currency, even there credits constitute legal tender, but only credits are valid for Imperial taxes and interstellar trade. Credits have no physical form, but citizens can store them on credisks — thin disks of nearly indestructible plastic with a liquid crystal holographic display showing the value stored on the disk. The holder of a credisk can plug it into any standard bank or commercial exchange terminal to add or subtract value from it; that’s how he buys goods and services, receives his pay, and so forth. People also exchange credisks directly.
A credisk’s built-in data crystals keep a record of every transaction conducted, which means Imperial authorities can trace the disk’s use. Criminals, rebels, and others who wish to keep their dealings hidden often avoid credisks for this reason.
Other governments have different monetary systems. The Perseid Empire uses synthetic jewels called vorads (“stars”). The Conjoined Civilizations Republic has the Republic Trade Unit (RTU), similar in most respects to the Imperial credit. The Velarian Confederation uses Velarian lhendi (“rings”); the Ackalians use halku (“marks”). All these currencies exist in both physical and electronic form — except for the RTU, an entirely electronic type of money. Surprisingly, neither the Mon’dabi nor the Thorgons use money as such.
The Mon’dabi never evolved the idea of a government-backed currency; instead, all transactions involve the barter of goods and services or promissory notes signed by individuals and banks. Among themselves, Mon’dabi use individual notes for smallscale transactions and bank or corporate notes for interstellar commerce. With aliens or someone whose personal note they cannot trust, they only barter. This means almost all business transactions require extensive haggling as the two parties find some combination of promissory notes and objects each considers an acceptable exchange.
Most Mon’dabi households have an odd stockpile of items acquired in barter, awaiting use in future trades.
The Thorgons have such a planned and centralized society they don’t need money. People do their jobs because they must, and they get the supplies they need, with bonuses for good performance.
Only the government can conduct trade with outside entities, and it only barters (but does stockpile foreign money for use in bribes and purchases). A thriving underground economy using a mix of Perseid, Terran, and Ackalian money exists on most Thorgon worlds.
The Varanyi use their own currency, the she’mra, only within their empire. When they buy from or sell to others, they always use the other person’s native currency. Where they come by their stocks of currency remains unknown.
What do interstellar merchants trade to make money? Launching cargoes off planets costs money, even with antigravity and reactionless drives. Inter stellar cargo transport costs at least a credit per kilogram just for energy alone. Adding in the cost of highly skilled labour to operate starships, life support for the crew, amortizing the cost of starships, and various port fees and handling charges makes the price come out in the neighborhood of at least 100 credits per kilogram. Any interstellar cargo must have a price difference of more than 100 credits per kilo between source and destination to be worth shipping at all, and merchants naturally seek out items which pack the most value into the least weight.
Thus, interstellar trade resembles maritime trade on Earth during the Age of Sail — starships carry high-value cargoes on risky speculative voy ages. The few steady profitable routes through Terran space (like the Antispinward Corridor, the Mandaarian Road, and the Spinward Crescent) were long ago taken over by the Imperial government, which regulates who can use them and taxes accordingly. Established trade routes in other governments’ territory are usually the same, though the CCR outlaws monopolies and enforces those regulations strictly.
THE MERCHANT ADVENTURERS SOCIETY
The small independent merchants of the Terran Empire have formed a loose association, the Merchant Adventurers Society. The Society works to protect its members from unfair competition by the big interstellar lines and lobbies the Imperial government for greater protection, less regulation of trade, and other matters of interest to the membership. It also acts as a clearinghouse for news and information about trade routes, business opportunities, and dangers. Membership in the Society costs annual dues (100 credits as of 2640).
TRADERS AND TRADING
Within the Terran Empire, most traders are Humans or Fex. The most commonly encountered alien merchants are Se-lag, Mon’dabi, Mostreen, or Jaruma, though this may vary based on location; Perseids show up frequently in the Spinward parts of Imperial territory, for example, and traders from Velarian space aren’t uncommon at major ports.
Interstellar travelers within the Terran Empire can arrange interplanetary money transfers via large banking companies or the Imperial Bank, using the Hyperspace repeater network to complete transactions. Since this may take a while, many traders prefer to carry relatively large amounts of cash so they can transact business on the spot and keep moving.
Trade by Imperial merchants outside Imperial space usually involves exchanging cargoes for local currency, then spending the money right away on items to sell back in Terran space. In established markets (like Perseid space or the Conjoined Civilizations) traders can spend Imperial credits with a small conversion fee, and can exchange those alien currencies back home with little difficulty. In the case of more remote markets like the Velarian Confederation, or societies without money like the Mon’dabi Federation, all deals involve barter.
Merchant starships come in many different sizes and types. The biggest operate on regular routes, carrying freight and passengers on long term contracts with predictable profits. Too expensive for any but the largest corporations to run, they typically cannot make planetfall; smaller ships must meet them and ferry goods to planets’ surfaces. In Imperial space, the Grand Liner represents the pinnacle of luxury. Flying palaces carrying hundreds of passengers in style and comfort, Grand Liners link the most important worlds of the Empire.
Smaller merchant ships serve smaller colonies, or carry irregular cargoes when bigger ships experience delays or run out of room. Daring traders also use them to seek out new markets, engage in speculative trading, and the like. Small merchant ships tend to have crews of no more than half a dozen, often partners in the venture or part of a family. They’re rarely larger than
Size 12, and often significantly smaller.
Here are a few special commodities produced in Imperial space.
A spice whose taste hints of both heat and salt, hracta comes from the ground buds of a flower that grows only on Karilath IV Valued throughout the Empire and by the Mon’dabi, it typically wholesales for about 50 credits per gram and retails for twice that. Three corporations control most of the supply, making it difficult for independent traders to get involved — though it’s said organized crime controls the corporations.
Translucent teal-coloured gemstones found on Polyphemus, give off an alluring glow when cut and polished, making them ideal for many types of jewelry. Prospectors sell an average-quality trild for about 350 credits per carat; a clever merchant can sometimes get three times that from a jeweler or corporation.
XENOVORE FERTILITY STATUETTES
These small, exceedingly ugly figurines are found here and there throughout former Xenovore space, often in small caches far away from any current or former habitation. Most people find them disturbing to look at, but others — including many art connoisseurs — consider them fascinating. Collectors call them “Fertility Statuettes” even though no art expert or archaeologist can definitively say what the Xenovores used them for or what cultural significance they had or have (and all Xenovores refuse to talk about them). Free for the finding, they usually sell for 1,000 credits apiece (more for particularly fine specimens).
The following are all common cargoes carried by Galactic merchants:
Although crucial for generating power in most ATRI 11 societies, antimatter is difficult and dangerous to manufacture. Many planets and space stations prefer to buy their antimatter instead of making it. Merchants transport it in large, magnetically-shielded containers weighing 1,000 kg. A single container sells for an average of 100,000 credits.
Art is a highly speculative cargo: if the demand exists, prices often soar to incredible heights; if not, it’s so much junk. The price of artwork varies from 100 to 10,000 credits per kilogram. Any inhabited planet can produce art.
COMPUTERS AND ELECTRONICS
Electronic goods or other high-tech gear always fetch a good price on less advanced worlds. Computer technology must come from a source of ATRI 6 or better, and the market must have the same or lower tech rating (but at least ATRI 6). Price is 100 credits per kilogram, with a +10% modifier on the sale price for each ATRI level by which the source exceeds the market.
When it doesn’t have to be there overnight, the cheapest way to ship information is to put it on a high-density storage media and move it as freight. The price is a standard 200 credits per kilogram (and a kilogram of storage media holds a lot of data!). Any world of ATRI 6+ can produce datadisks in various forms.
Bioengineering firms, drug companies, and scientists often find genetic material from new species of plants and animals useful. Easily obtained on new colonies or unexplored worlds, genetic material may command prices of up to 1000 credits per kilogram (100 sample tubes) at the source; the resale price depends on the value of the genomes (some are worth fabulous sums, some are worthless) and the negotiating skills of the merchant.
Rare foodstuffs are often valuable, but the price depends on fashion and they do sometimes require special handling. Rare foods cost up to 1,000 credits per kilo when purchased for resale, and merchants can only obtain them on lifebearing worlds. New colonies seldom produce luxury foods, though an enterprising group might establish a settlement to exploit a native supply.
Drugs, whether legal or illicit, natural or synthetic, often make worthwhile cargo — though many of the most valuable constitute “controlled substances” requiring a special license to transport and trade (lest the merchant run the risk of arrest, confiscation, and imprisonment). Local laws vary considerably; a drug outlawed on one world may be perfectly legal on another. Pharmaceutical production typically requires either a lifebearing planet, or a world with both ATRI 6+ and a population greater than 10 million. The market requires a species with biochemistry compatible with the inhabitants of the place of manufacture (or that the manufacturers knew about the customers’ biochemistry and designed the drugs for it).
PRECIOUS METALS AND GEMS
The oldest and still one of the most dependable ways to move wealth is in the form of rare metals like gold, silver, platinum, or iridium — or, even better, precious gems such as diamonds, emeralds, Dorvalan joratha, or Mon’dabi coruscating sapphires. Both occur most frequently on dense, rocky planets. Most such cargoes go to well-established merchants with heavily-guarded ships (or convoys), not to independent traders, though this may depend on circumstances. Precious metals typically cost 200 + credits per gram, and gems 1,000 + credits per carat, when purchased for resale, but demand or other factors may change this.
Nearly every world can manufacture most of the machinery necessary to sustain its civilization, but certain devices require extremely specialized equipment or highly-skilled technicians to make. Examples include starship drives, stealthy submarine propellers, and many of the machines used to make other machines — lathes, drill presses, robots, and the like. Heavy and expensive, precision machines often command prices of 1 million credits per ton or more when purchased for resale. Demand is inelastic — a planet tends to need machines either desperately or not at all — so a failed Trading roll often means the price at the destination is 0 credits.
Although even more valuable than precious metals, radioactive elements require special handling. Typically traders can buy radioactives for around 1,000 credits per gram. Like precious metals and drugs, radioactives typically get shipped via well-known mercantile firms with high-security trading vessels, and strict legal controls govern their transport and sale.
“Spices” refers to any kind of plant product containing complex chemicals sold as a flavoring or consumer goods, including some perfumes, cosmetics, pharmaceutical feedstock, and the like. They often wholesale for about 1,000 credits per kilogram on the lifebearing worlds that produce them, making them a good commodity for interstellar freight. Some may require special handling or other precautions, however — and a few seemingly innocuous ones have such unusual effects on certain alien physiologies that some governments classify them as drugs or poisons!
Weaponry — especially advanced systems — always fetches a good price. Bulk deals usually involve reducing the price per unit by some degree, whereas special orders, or orders placed by a customer who obviously needs the weapons quickly, increase the cost. Typically, the price goes up by at least 10% for every ATRI level by which the weapons exceed the local ATRI.
Every government in the Galaxy imposes strict controls on the manufacture, sale, and possession of weapons. The authorities scrutinize arms sales closely; a trader without the proper documentation can easily find himself under arrest and his valuable cargo confiscated. This drives a certain percentage of arms deals to the black market, though conditions there don’t necessarily favor the trader to any greater degree.