The Underworld

Crime has remained part of life even as Humanity spread to the stars and became one of the Galaxy’s leading civilizations. Some of the crimes have changed, but the very existence of rules governing society inevitably means some people try to gain advantage by breaking them.

CRIMES

Since the Empire handles all law enforcement between planets, it mostly concerns itself with crimes in space. Naturally, people living in space commit many of the same ancient wrongs people everywhere perpetrate — murder, theft, assault, fraud. The Empire devotes most of its law enforcement efforts to preventing three space crimes: piracy, smuggling, and quarantine violations. Imperial security services also spend a lot of time fighting treason, which they define as any attempt to undermine the Empire’s power or authority. And finally, organized crime groups have found ways to bring the old vice of slavery into the starfaring Galaxy.

PIRACY

The most colourful and famous interstellar crime is piracy. Space pirates usually operate along major trade routes with good pickings. Typically they lurk in remote systems the Navy doesn’t patrol, preferably not far from an interstellar border, and dash out to seize ships and cargo passing by. The Imperial Navy broadly classifies pirates into two types: hijackers and classic pirates.

Hijackers don’t have ships of their own. Instead they board starships as passengers, take crew positions, or sometimes have themselves shipped in a cargo container with its own life-support system. Once the ship gets far away from help, the hijackers strike. They capture or kill the crew, confine the passengers, and steer the ship to a friendly star system where they can sell it and its cargo. (Some more savvy hijackers park the ship in a hidden location for a few months until the owner gives it up for lost, then discover the “abandoned” ship and sell it back to the insurers or the former owner.) Many hijackers have a well-deserved reputation for viciousness. They don’t want to leave witnesses, so they murder everyone aboard the ships they steal (typically by ejecting them into space). Some have connections to slaver rings and sell their captives alive.

Classic pirates use armed starships to intercept merchants in space. They rely as much on bluff as on actual combat ability, threatening their victims with destruction unless they surrender. Since classic pirates prefer for their victims to surrender without a fight, they treat captives much more humanely than hijackers. Most pirates simply loot the prey ship and let it go, thus encouraging future captives to play along. But they treat merchant captains who don’t surrender with extreme savagery, to make an example of them.

Piracy survives only when pirates have places to resupply their ships and sell their cargoes. The Empire has done a pretty good job of cracking down on pirate ports within Imperial space, but a few neutral systems outside the borders turn a blind eye to ships bringing in obviously stolen “salvage.” Besides Drago’s Reach in general, the most notorious such port is the Venwordien system, located in the Vorsan Expanse. A hot planet with extensive jungles, Venwordien IV is inhabited by a mix of Mon’dabi, Humans, rascals from across the Galaxy, and the occasional Malvan. Venwordien’s law enforcement ignores complaints of piracy as long as visiting raiders pay a stiff fee to register their ship with the local government. Unregistered pirates get arrested and extradited back to wherever wants them. The local government plays the Humans, Ackalians, and Mon’dabi off against each other diplomatically, and so far that’s kept the pirates free of interference from hostile fleets.

SMUGGLING

As old as trade itself, smuggling thrives in the Galaxy. Like pirates; smugglers fall into two broad types, one much more vicious than the other. Some smugglers buy goods which are legal on some worlds and take them to planets which ban or heavily tax them. These smugglers often see themselves as fighting for freedom of trade, and are usually quasi-honest merchants most of the time. If caught, they can try to plead ignorance or insist the goods were destined for a world where they’re legal. The Imperial Navy doesn’t waste much time hunting these smugglers, since they violate planetary laws rather than Imperial ones.

The second type of smuggler deals in goods illegal throughout the Empire — slaves, controlled substances, military weapons, fugitives from justice, brain-control implants, and the like. This kind the Navy pursues; they fight viciously when cornered. Many of these smugglers have substantial bounties on their heads.

Both kinds of smugglers use the same methods to move goods: secret cargo compartments, false containers, fake invoices and permits, and bribery or blackmail of customs officials. The most daring ones actually try “stealth insertions,” landing in remote areas to offload contraband before the authorities arrive.

QUARANTINE VIOLATIONS

A planetary biosphere is a fragile thing, especially on a carefully-tended terraformed planets. An unplanned-for alien organism can wreak ecological havoc, so all planets maintain a biological quarantine. Usually quarantine procedures barely slow travelers down: customs officials scan new arrivals and irradiate their baggage to kill potentially harmful organisms; travelers who show symptoms of disease get a broad-spectrum antivirus/antibiotic cocktail injection.
Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple. Some people like to have exotic pets or foodstuffs, while others think they know more about ecological engineering than the professionals and want to introduce new species. Deliberate eco-sabotage allows corporations or even planets to weaken rivals.
Imperial Navy security forces on orbital spaceports handle quarantine enforcement in conjunction with planetary customs officials. On the ground local authorities handle it by themselves. The ISP hunts persistent violators and organized rings, while the Ministry for Evolution monitors the spread of dangerous organisms.

TREASON

The Terran Empire legally defines "treason’ as aiding and abetting enemies of the Empire, or performing acts that could harm the Empire or its citizens. In practice the Empire defines it as “anything the TSS doesn’t like”. Marissa is sufficiently secure, and has enough of a sense of humour, not to punish criticism or mockery of her regime — but anyone actively advocating the overthrow of the Empire attracts TSS attention. Just talking won’t get someone thrown in jail or killed, but it may lead to an uncomfortable interrogation and a warning. “Overt acts of treason” — helping rebels either directly or by concealing them from the authorities, conspiring with foreign governments or would-be usurpers, and any direct action against the Empress, the Empire, or its agencies — merits the death penalty.

The TSS has an ugly tendency to use treason as a catchall crime to accuse anyone Marissa doesn’t like or who has opposed her too successfully. The Empress keeps this to a minimum (chiefly because she understands it could lead to a backlash), but it happens.

SLAVERY

The slave trade has come back into existence in the twenty-seventh century for a variety of reasons. First, many societies do not consider aliens “people” so they have no rights and citizens can treat them as property. Second, psionic and neurochemical methods of mind control make it possible to erase memories and control behavior. Finally, significant demand exists: hostile worlds need workers; wealthy perverts want playthings; the Malvan arena always needs more gladiators.

Under Imperial law, no one can hold a member of a recognized sentient species in slavery. Even on a libertarian world like Rand IV, a person must sign a contract agreeing to work on some terms. But a couple of dodges exist: on many worlds “labour agreements” can effectively enslave individuals.

Other planets don’t recognize certain alien species as sentient, or deny that genetically modified Humans qualify as people. Finally, psionic mind control or memory-erasing drugs can lock a victim into slavery without his even knowing it.

Enforcement of anti-slavery laws remains spotty (one reason the trade thrives). The ISP interprets the law strictly and investigates any reports of slavery. The Navy and TSS don’t consider it a problem unless it involves Human victims (including modified Humans). The ISP calls in the Mind Police when a slavery incident involves psionics, but many Mind Cops are reluctant to bust fellow psis.

CRIMINAL GROUPS

Crime, like most businesses, works best when a large organization allows for specialization and economies of scale. In the Terran Empire many criminal organizations exist, mostly planetary or system-wide in scale. But three organized crime groups operate throughout the Empire (or the Galaxy).

THE CLONE MOB

Established shortly after discovery of Hyperdrive and still going strong, the Clone Mob was founded by Jax Maljek, an innovator in the creation of new illegal drugs and biopiracy in the early twenty-third century. Maljek built up a thriving criminal empire and wanted to see it continue, so he began creating clones of himself and training them for his organization. For six centuries, the clones have continued Maljek’s work. Terran authorities estimate that as of 2640, the Clone Mob has at least half a million members, all as alike as brothers.
The Clone Mob specializes in slavery (especially the creation of illegal clones of media stars), prostitution, the manufacture and sale of designer drugs, and ecological sabotage for hire. What makes the Clone Mob so durable is the remarkable trust and cooperation among its members. No clone has ever betrayed the organization, and if the ISP arrests the senior leaders, or they get killed in gang warfare, other clones can take over smoothly. The organization has one major weakness, though — its members are easily recognized.

Currently the Clone Mob operates mainly in the older Terran colony worlds and on Earth. The ISP has received disturbing reports that the clones have established safe houses and front organizations in Perseid space.

THE HZEEL OUTFIT

When the Hzeel failed to conquer the Earth and lost their civilization, they scattered; many became criminals. Today, the Hzeel have spread across the Galaxy and run a powerful criminal organization.
Loosely organized — so loosely it’s sometimes questionable whether it actually constitutes a unified organization — the Outfit consists of small system- or sector-dominating gangs operating mostly autonomously. The umbrella organization provides funds, specialized resources, and refuges for members fleeing the law. Each gang has a leader known as a Boss, who obeys only orders issued by the organizations supreme boss, the Overboss. No one outside the top echelons of the Outfit knows where the Overboss lives.

The Outfit’s activities include smuggling, fencing stolen or pirated goods, illegal gambling, and slave trading. It also has a thriving line in faked archaeological artifacts, prostitution, and blackmail. It prefers to avoid violence, and makes a point of gathering as much information as possible. It sometimes trades this information to Galactic intelligence services in exchange for assistance dealing with troublesome legal authorities, and helps the authorities rid it of rival crime groups by passing on incriminating information.

THE XENOVORE FLEET

The most fearsome pirates in the known Galaxy are the remnants of the Xenovore battlefleet. They mostly operate in Terran space, though their ships sometimes venture into Mon’dabi territory. Everyone still calls it “the Xenovore fleet” but by Marissa’s reign more than half the crewmembers are Humans, Ackalians, Hzeel, and Fex.

The Xenovore Fleet has no central headquarters or commander, but ships and captains cooperate, pass on information, and occasionally join forces for a big operation. In addition to piracy, Xenovore Fleet ships also get involved in smuggling, mercenary service, and slaving.

The Underworld

Sins of The Empire Dholcrist