Jump Space. Its discovery is the greatest the universe has ever known. The invention that harnessed the theory of jump space, allowing beings to leave their homeworlds and visit the stars, has effected every species to have lived in this arm of the galaxy since history was first recorded.
Use of the jump drive has had an impact on every culture in Known Space - an impact greater than the invention of the printing press... the discovery of electricity... implementation of the micro processor... knowledge of anti-gravity fields.
It is not surprising that the six species to have independently discovered jump space and develop jump technology dominate Known Space today. Humaniti, the Aslan, the Vargr, The Hive, the K'kree, and the Droyne all developed jump capability without outside influence, before first contact was made with another alien species. All these races, with the exception of the Droyne, control the largest star-spanning empires in existence.
Because, without the technology to jump through the stars, interstellar governments are an impossibility.
The Imperium today encompasses 23 sectors - 281 subsectors - approximately 11,000 worlds. Communication transmissions travel at the ultimate limit of the speed of light. If a transmission is beamed from Terra to a world on the Imperial coreward border, the transmission will take just under 776 standard years to reach its destination.
The Imperium is vast. It could not exist without jump technology.
When a starship enters jump, the jump drive rips a whole in normal space, allowing the ship to transverse jump space (where space is folded and distances between points are shorter), returning to normal space at a predetermined point. The trip in jump space always takes a standard week, give or take.
By comparison, regarding a slow jump drive, light will travel that same distance in 3.26 years - 3.26 years versus a lag time of a week. If you are talking about the fastest jump drive known to exist - used only on high tech Imperial military vessels - when the starship exits jump space the ship will have traveled the same distance light travels in just over 16 years.
The Jump Drive: There is no faster means of travel.
And, there is no faster mode of interstellar communication. Scientists have not yet been successful beaming messages through jump space. Messages have been attempted, but a device is required to rip open jump space, allowing the transmission to reenter regular space at the destination point.
Because of this, galactic communication, in a way, is reduced to a mode not unlike that which Earth faced in its 17th century - communication speed dependent on the fastest means of travel. In ancient Earth's case, this was the horse. In the Imperium, communication travels at the speed of a starship.
Think of the implications this has on interstellar society. Because of the jump drive, there is interstellar communication, interstellar trade, interstellar travel. The Imperial government can communicate with its defensive troops on the empire's borders. The economic health of the Imperium is dependent, in part, on the network of jump routes branching through the empire. And people can leave the world they are on, if they so choose, and travel to a place they would never be able to visit were jump drive not a reality.
It is not a surprise then, that one of the Imperium's most prized aspects of infrastructure - framework, if you will, that intergalactic society rests upon - is the network of jump routes.
Bad governmental policy toward maintaining jump routes could lead to the fall of the entire Imperium.
This was an aspect of Imperial government not fully respected by either the Vilani empire or the Solomani Rule of Man.
The Imperial Frontier: the Spinward Marches.
The Milky Way galaxy is basically a ball of stars, spinning in a rotation like a planet, with giant arms of stars spiraling out from the center of the ball. The dense grouping of stars in the "ball" is referred to as the galactic core. One of the arms, spiraling out from the galactic "equator", contains Earth and the other 11,000 star systems of the Third Imperium - in fact, all of Explored Space is contained in a small fraction of this one galactic arm.
If you mark a plane through the galactic equator, which bisects the core and the galactic arms, you will have the basis for modern interstellar mapping.
Star systems that lie toward the central core are termed as being "coreward" (galactic "north", if you will). Those that lie toward the rim of the spiral arm are referred to as lying "rimward" (galactic south).
The other two designations lie in either the direction of the galactic spin, or "spinward" (galactic west), or in the direction from which the galaxy has just rotated - "trailing" (galactic east).
From these four galactic directions, any planet or star can be found - in the same manner as finding a city on a world using the north-south-east-west system of directions.
Imperial mapping conventions further break areas of space down into sectors - large rectangles in space marking the "borders" of different regions. Each sector contains hundreds of star systems, and they are further broken down into subsectors. When a planet is mentioned in print, you will also usually see the planet's sector and subsector listed - its galactic "address", if you will.
At the farthest reaches of the Imperium, lying spinward from the Imperial capital, is a sector of space designated as the Spinward Marches. It is the frontier, explored and settled by the Solomani over 600 years ago. Here, Imperial worlds lie bunched up against client states, the broken kingdoms of the alien Vargr, and the empire of another human race called the Zhodani.
Aramis is a subsector of this region, governed by the Marquis Leonard Bolden-Tukera. It consists of 26 solar systems, which float in the lonely dark void of space, exactly on the border between the Third Imperium and the Vargr Extents.
It is here that the Traveller Adventure is set - beginning on a planet also called Aramis, the subsector capital and the personal fief of Marquis Bolden-Tukera.
The Oberlindes Lines' contract.
The major shipping companies owned by the megacorporations service the solar systems lying on the major jump routes. All other planets in the frontier regions of the Imperium (those not fortunate enough to find themselves on an established jump route) must rely on transport, trade, mail and communication service provided by smaller companies and independent merchant operators called Free Traders.
Oberlindes Lines is one of these smaller companies. Headed by Marc halt-Oberlindes, noble born, Baron of the planet Feri, the company is based in the Regina subsector - a direct neighbor region to Aramis.
The Oberlindes operation employs company-owned ships and maintains trade routes in the Regina subsector not serviced by the major transporters. Oberlindes contracts with independent Free Traders as well, servicing systems which lie off-the-beaten-path, on jump routes not serviced by Oberlindes company shipping.
23 years ago, the Emperor ordered a subsidy program be initiated in several subsectors of the frontier. This Imperial initiative included the subsectors of Regina and Aramis in the Spinward Marches. The Emperor's goal: To increase communication, trade, and shipping in these regions - paramount to growth and prosperity of the Imperium along the frontier.
Oberlindes Lines won the contract for the Aramis subsector, allowing the company to push out from the star systems in Regina to the new markets in Aramis.
But, this was an event that shocked the industry.
The competition for any government shipping contract is usually fierce, but this battle was markedly so. The megacorporation Tukera was considered the frontrunner - the Marquis of Aramis, himself, a member of the Tukera noble family by marriage. When it was announced that tiny (by comparison) Oberlindes Lines had won against the political juggernaut of Tukera Lines, many mouths fell agape, from noble and commoner alike.
Marc hault-Oberlindes' victory came at a costly expense, though. The Baron had alienated himself to one of the largest of the empire's thirteen megacorporations, Tukera Lines. The relationship between the two companies would only worsen over the years, and today, over two decades later, sabotage and deadly confrontations are not uncommon when the encounters can be hidden from the eyes of authority.
The MARCH Program.
Emperor Strephon's initiative to increase trade and communication on the Imperium's frontier became known as the March Program - so named for the sector the program was designed to improve, the Spinward Marches. The backbone of the Emperor's plan was government subsidy, and new starships were needed to attract subsidy holders.
In 1083, the Imperium contracted with top ship-builders in the Spinward Marches. General Shipyards, Ling Standard Products, GSbAG, and Clan Severn were the major contractors, but several other builders produced ships in lower quantities. Each company produced ships based on the standard "Fat Trader" specification - 400 ton March-class Type R merchant vessels with Jump-1 capability.
Since the goal of this program was to increase trade and communication in out-of-the-way solar systems, the completed vessels were transported to their subsidy routes - all located in close clusters of stars, all reachable by a one parsec trip through jump space.
The Jump-1 drives would save on expense in lieu of more powerful jump engines, and the short range capability of the starships ensured subsidized Free Trader captains would not look outside their subsidy route for trade and profit, defeating the purpose of the March Program.
Each of the vessels created under this program were christened with the word "March" in their names, designating them as part of the Emperor's subsidy program for the Spinward Marches.
The March Harrier was one of these vessels. Laid down on 363-1083, the ship was completed at the Naasirka shipyards on Aramis and flew its first flight 14 months later on 060-1085.
The March Harrier.
Like every other vessel in the March Program, the Harrier was a subsidized vessel. Commissioned by the Imperial government under the Program, the ship was licensed, at no cost, to Oberlindes Lines under terms of their subsidy contract.
Oberlindes, in turn, found an owner/operator for the vessel to service the Aramis Trace, a star cluster of 8 systems spread out in the Aramis, Rhylanor, and Sabine subsectors.
Home port for the vessel is the planet Aramis, capital of the Aramis subsector, and the terms of the subsidy agreement were thus: The Imperial government commissioned the creation of the ship through the Naasirka shipyards on Aramis, and Naasirka was paid with Imperial funds.
The Imperium then lend-leased the vessel to the subsidy holder (in this case, Oberlindes) at no cost. Oberlindes takes a profit by selling the ship to a Free Trader owner/operator - who agrees to service the subsidy route while the ship is being paid for. In the case of the March Harrier, the term of purchase was 40 standard years.
Owner/Operators, under the March Program, are required to make a 20% down payment on the vessel, but they are not required to make fixed monthly payments, which is standard in most starship-purchase arrangements. Instead, 50% of all gross revenues received from operation of the ship are remitted to the subsidy agent (Oberlindes).
This arrangement is attractive to owner/operators because, after the 20% down payment, purchase of the starship is made on a "commission" type basis - making ownership of a vessel much less risky than if a requirement was made for a fixed amount to be paid on the starship each month.
Oberlindes is compensated for maintaining the subsidy route by generating revenue on a vessel that cost them nothing.
It was an ingenious arrangement and testament to Emperor Strephon's Imperial leadership. Commoners of the empire were benefited by the opportunity given them to own a starship at a greatly reduced cost and rate of financial risk. Oberlindes, in return for managing the subsidy routes, turned a profit on selling starships that were gifted to the company. And, the Imperial government succeeded in its goal to bring increased trade and communication to backwater regions of the empire's frontier.
The March Program was one of Emperor Strephon's master strokes - he devised a plan to enrich the economy of the Imperium over a 40 year period at the cost of a few starships - nothing compared to the accepted costs of running an interstellar empire.
It was brilliant.