High Crimes and Misdemeanors in the Tintamar setting

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2007

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"Resolving the problem may require the deployment of a regiment of Starsoldiers or an AstroNavy squadron."

Humanity has expanded into space, founding colonies both within and beyond mankind's home solar system. Interplanetary and interstellar distances provide breathing room where the disparate human communities can follow their own cultural paths and seek their own routes to happiness. Magneto-gravitic technologies also make interstellar war possible. The founding fathers of the Terran Federation were concerned with balancing two conflicting needs - unity and diversity. Unity to prevent human worlds from waging war against each other and to prevent political divisions being exploited by hostile alien civilisations. Diversity to prevent human civilisation adopting a single fixed culture which then ossifies over time, leaving humanity vulnerable to younger aggressive races, much as the empires of antiquity fell to barbarian invasions or oriental kingdoms turned their back on the outside world for centuries to their eventual detriment. Hence the Terran Federation, an alliance of semi-autonomous "planetary" governments, where membership in the Federation is mandatory.

People are still people and some are willing to break the law to get what they want. Local police are limited to their world, their moon, their asteroid or whatever. Space is big - no local police force could afford to have its officers scattered throughout the Federation tracking down individual fugitives for weeks or months. That's where the Federation Police (or FedPol) steps in to assist by providing a distributed fugitive identification and recovery service.

Tracking down fugitives and returning them to the appropriate planetary authorities is the bread and butter of FedPol work, and an area that rarely causes friction with the member governments of the Federation. Similarly most planetary governments are happy for FedPol to investigate crimes committed in space and to handle security and investigations relating to aliens in human space.

Such work is not glamorous and rarely makes headline news. This relatively routine work isn't made into expensive entertainment holodramas for syndication across the galaxy. No, when the average citizen thinks of FedPol at all, they think of FedPol officers bringing megacorporation magnates and government leaders to justice for "High Crimes".

So what are the High Crimes?

On an individual scale, FedPol investigates the death of any alien in human space. Murder of an individual alien is a Federal crime regardless of where it occurs. Xenocide in the sense of mass physical murder of aliens by persons, organisations or governments is a High Crime. Cultural xenocide - interfering with individuals or groups of less advanced civilisations, distorting their culture, introducing new technology - is considered an equally heinous offence. The Silth stealing magneto-gravitic technology from Runcori traders and proceeding to carve out an interstellar empire is considered the classic example of why young civilisations should be left to mature in their own time.

Treason to the human species, particularly if it involves conspiring with aliens, is an obvious High Crime. Attempts to overthrow the Federation itself or its major agencies are considered treasonous as the survival of the Federation as a unified human government is considered necessary for the survival of humanity in an increasingly complex and hostile galaxy. Related crimes such as espionage on behalf of alien governments, smuggling of restricted technology into or out of human space and the like are treated quite severely.

Certain areas of research and development are prohibited except under extremely controlled licenses. Nuclear weapons are the obvious weapons of mass destruction. member governments are permitted to build and possess such weapons as a last-ditch defense against alien attack. Using them against another human world or indeed against recalcitrant segments of one's own population is not only a High Crime but will result in a massive Federation intervention. Bacteriological weapons research is strictly prohibited as is the development of self-replicating nanoweapons. It is in no one's interests for a plague to eradicate all human life on a colony world or for poorly designed nanites to run amok and convert a planetary civilisation into "grey goo". To be fair, nearly all of the member governments of the Federation have realised that deploying weapons that inflict massive civilian casualties or destroy the very resources that might be the casus belli of a conflict isn't clever. The danger in this area comes more from splinter groups, separatists, terrorists and rogue megacorporations. Antimatter production is another staple of the doomsday cult and the no-holds-barred revolutionary; conversely vacuum energy research is legal under license.

By the very nature of the Federation, representative and participatory democracies share the same polity with corporate plutocracies, aristocracies, monarchies and outright dictatorships. Members of the former have very different ideas about the rights of the individual and the responsibilities of the government than the rulers of the latter. All regimes must allow their citizens to leave their world. Such defections provide an exit strategy for those who cannot stomach their rulers, and there are plenty of other planets and habitats that will gladly accept political and economic migrants. Certain human rights violations are considered High Crimes and will trigger a FedPol investigation, followed by Federation intervention to modify or replace a regime. The obvious High Crime is genocide against a portion of a planetary population; a more subtle High Crime is compulsory augmentation of citizens, whether this involves genetic reengineering, cybertech or anything else. No human may be transformed against his or her will, nor may they be compelled to accept inheritable modifications. Of the four Interdicted systems, two had governments that were involved in large-scale modification of their populations. There is a suspicion that something similar may have occurred on Shangri-La during its self-imposed quarantine to cause the sudden increase in latent and active psionic potential among its people, but there remains no proof.

Interviewing of suspects and witnesses, careful forensics work, and old-fashioned police legwork all play their part in the investigation of "High Crimes" just as they do with more mundane crimes. Standard police procedures will only go so far when the criminals are megacorporations with unlimited budgets, planetary governments without scruples, or fanatics for whom any means justifies their ends. Undercover FedPol agents may spend months on elaborate "sting" operations to catch not just the low-lifes who do the dirty work but the masterminds who pull the strings from afar. Occasionally situations will occur where time is of the essence - a leisurely investigation with all i's dotted and t's crossed might bring the perpetrators to justice in open court but only after the crime has been committed or a serious threat has emerged to threaten the Federation. By that point of course resolving the problem may require the deployment of a regiment of Starsoldiers or an AstroNavy squadron. Knowing when to take the gloves off to seize suspects under emergency powers, to interrogate by truth drug and involuntary mind scan, to hack corporate computer archives, etc., is critical in such cases. Being prepared to put the gloves back on and submit to whatever punishment is deemed appropriate when a blunder has been made is what distinguishes FedPol from other equally determined security and police services.

Commentary

Looking at the above in-setting text from the metagame level, there are some key points that may be of interest to the SysOp:

Members of the Terran Federation's various services swear an oath that enjoins them to defend the unity and diversity of mankind. From a game perspective, the diversity of worlds, cultures, and environments provides a greater variety of gaming possibilities. The principle of a unified (though squabbling and relatively loose) human authority that keeps the peace gives an ideal that is worth defending.

The Federation Police, or FedPol, draw inspiration from real-world police agencies such as the FBI and Scotland Yard as well as contemporary cop/tec shows such as CSI and its various spinoffs and peers. From a science-fiction perspective, E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensmen saga concerned itself with the solution to the issue of limited jurisdictions versus galaxy-spanning criminals. The Family d'Alembert series (by E.E. "Doc" Smith and Stephen Goldin) featured agents of SOTE (Service of the Empire), an agency dedicated to preventing treason against the Empire of Earth. Larry Niven's Known Space novels and stories include the ARM (Amalgamated Regional Militias) as the UN's police force with an emphasis on containing dangerous research and catching organleggers. Jack Vance's novels of the Gaean Reach particularly the Demon Princes quintet and the Cadwal Chronicles feature agents of IPCC (Interworld Police Coordinating Company) who strive against crime and injustice, sometimes single-handedly.

For SysOps running detective campaigns, the lesser and more routine types of investigations are suggested as possible ways to start a campaign so that players find their feet before having to deal with a major threat. Alternately they can provide interludes between bouts of saving the Federation.

The injunctions against various flavors of weapons of mass destruction are an easy way of raising the stakes for any intrigue campaign. The villains have the doomsday weapons and will use them unless they are stopped by suitably determined heroes. That Federation member governments are averse to deploying weapons of mass destruction should not be interpreted as meaning that all Federation governments are more moral than their predecessors. Rather it is a realisation on their parts that artificial habitats, terraformed worlds, and colony worlds are too fragile to suffer high-intensity warfare, and that repairing the damage and replacing lost population by interstellar immigration is too expensive.

Genetic adaptation, cyberware, translation into electronic characters, and psionics are all possible routes that player-characters may use to become more than human. Transhumanism, the evolution of humanity through technology and that this evolution will change what it means to be human, is a frequent theme in modern science-fiction. The Tintamar setting postulates that there will be organisations, governments, or whatever, who won't wait for the evolution to happen at its own pace. If their experiments are successful, perhaps Homo sapiens sapiens will face a superior human that outclasses us as we would our primeval ancestors.

Many gaming group will push the boundaries of what constitutes legitimate police procedure in their zeal to overcome the bad guys. If they overstep the mark too boldly or too often, it may be time for Internal Affairs to bring them to justice.