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The Compassion Corps

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue.


Most people know of the Travellers’ Aid Society by the publicised benefits accruing to members, and perhaps by their selectivity for membership – the million-credit application (not admission – they can reject an applicant, and they keep the million) fee, the access to high-class accommodations, the free passages, the tourism services, and so on.

The TAS does not publicise their involvement with the well-known charitable medical and educational services organization Compassion Corps.

The Compassion Corps acts principally to provide medical services to worlds whose infrastructure is unable to support a complex medical establishment. This is primarily through their two main arms, the Interstellar Free Healers Society, and Starships of Succor.

Starships of Succor

Starships of Succor operate a number of specially-equipped hospital starships (some may be decommissioned from stellar naval forces) which travel to various low-population and poor worlds (especially those that are also low-technology), where they stay for a period of time to provide high-grade hospital treatments – especially surgeries – that the world is not equipped for. Before a visit by a hospital ship, an evaluation mission is sent, to determine the level of need, and get a good view of what services will be most required. When the hospital ship visits, it will stay for up to a year, depending on need. Ships generally stay within a half-sector or so of a ‘base world’ where the ships can get overhauls and resupply; there are generally no more than two or three Starships of Succor hospital ships in a sector-sized area. Services are free to the patients, though voluntary payments are not refused, and are used to defray operational costs.

A world that normally wouldn’t meet the criteria for a visit may request one; an evaluation team will be sent out, but the evaluation and negotiation for the visit will also include an explicit requirement of payment by the world’s government to the organization. Such payments are set on the basis of ability to pay, and must be remitted upon commitment to visit. The evaluation team cannot commit a ship to visit; they can only submit their findings and agreements for final approval. A world that requests a visit but is evaluated as not a viable candidate for such a visit may instead be approved for visits by non-hospital ships operated by the IFHS (q.v. below).

Starships of Succor also operates some non-hospital ships; these ships are often activated in response to planetary-scale disasters requiring off-world response. While they can provide medical services, their primary purpose is to provide support for reconstruction of medical infrastructure, ranging from providing prefabricated and prefueled power plants for extant hospitals to ‘building’ hospitals from preconfigured 40-ton cutter-compatible modules. They are also available to be used as ‘test beds’ for Ministry of Colonization designs for other infrastructure prefabrication; as such, these ships often provide infrastructure support and reconstruction beyond medical needs (but availability of such support should not be assumed). They also, incidentally, produce a fairly large number of well-trained people who end up working for the Travellers’ Aid Society, effectively making Starships of Succor something of a sub rosa recruiting organization for TAS.

Interstellar Free Healers’ Society

IFHS is an organization of medical personnel who go where doctors are needed. IFHS doctors are part of the Starships of Succor evaluation teams, and when a Starship of Succor visits a world, there are usually several teams of IFHS medical personnel who will go out to various parts of the world, and take care of medical procedures and treatments that don’t require hospitalization. They’ll also do what they can to teach locals how to treat what they can with what’s available, and IFHS teams will often include infrastructure experts to teach the locals how they can bootstrap their medical infrastructure, while staying within possible cultural strictures. If there is an indigenous response organization, IFHS will work with that organization and let it lead in any response, while providing personnel and expertise where it is lacking in such response, and in general making an effort to ‘build up’ the indigenous organization, both in terms of capability and in terms of public perception in the response area.

IFHS operates a number of starships that are not hospital ships; these ships and their medical teams can provide medical services to an otherwise eligible world where the evaluation suggests that a visit from a Starship of Succor hospital ship is not required. When one of these smaller ships visits a world, the medical teams aboard may operate on the world as “circuit riders”, visiting various locations on the world to provide medical services; they will also work with planetary authorities to set up an “indigenous” medical establishment, or to help improve the effectiveness of an extant one. As with Starships of Succor, the service is free to the patients, but payment offered is not declined, and is used to offset operational costs.

Extra-Imperial Response

Over the protests of the board of trustees, Starships of Succor is barred from responding to extra-Imperial requests that do not come from worlds on a Ministry of Extra-Imperial Affairs preapproval list. Most worlds on this preapproval list have signaled their intent to accede to the Imperium, but have not as yet completed negotiations for cession of the extraterritoriality zone and acknowledgement of the primacy of Imperial law.

IFHS does not limit its response to Imperial worlds in need, though missions to non-Imperial worlds are limited to non-hospital ships. Missions to Imperial client states and neutrals are common, and generally pass without comment from Imperial authorities; more problematical are responses into areas which are actively hostile to the Imperium, or considered so. In such cases, IFHS will, as a concession to Imperial concerns, limit the technological capability of such missions to the higher of TL9 or the indigenous tech level, and will exclude personnel with experience or other significant connections in the Imperial military, high-level research, or intelligence establishments. It is not unusual for extra-Imperial medical personnel to ask to be attached to IFHS response teams operating outside Imperial territory, as “observers” or explicitly for training purposes; such requests are generally honored with the expectation that medical knowledge will be exchanged, especially where non-human minor races and minor-race extreme variants of humaniti are involved. IFHS does not directly respond to other major polities, but is generally involved in planning and executing medical exchange programs when such are deemed possible.

The Educational Mission

In addition to the medical missions outlined above, the Compassion Corps operates (or contributes via TAS subsidizing funds to the operation of) non-medical ships which provide educational materials and assist with the development of indigenous infrastructure for basic education (defined as roughly the first ten standard years of formal education). Such ships tend to focus on bringing books (print or other media suitable to indigenous tech) to multiple worlds, visiting perhaps a dozen worlds between calls at “home” ports. Educational ships may be operated by organizations other than the Compassion Corps proper; those organizations’ relationships with the TAS and the Compassion Corps may be tighter or looser, depending on how the respective organization perceives its mission. Volunteers for the educational arm of the Corps and for the affiliated organizations may be voluntarily “traded” from ship to ship; it is neither unknown nor frowned on for such volunteers to treat their sojourn aboard as a “working passage” to one of the worlds on a “tour”, and young people who volunteer often do so as a wanderjahr (which may last longer than a year). Paid staff, however, generally stay with a single ship.