Since the Shift, three powers have come to dominate the Skein. While there are a handful of neutral stations and asteroid colonies, most settlers owe allegiance to one of these nations. There may be other inhabited worlds beyond the Edge, waiting to be discovered; but for the moment, these are the dominant powers of the Skein.
Once a benevolent mercantile state, the Solrain have been corrupted by greed and the thirst for power. Corporate powers rebuilt Solrain society after the devastating Shift, and today it's difficult to tell the difference between the corporations that maintain the global infrastructure and the criminal organizations that lie just below the surface. Major syndicates such as the mercenary Combine and the bloated Zelcane Trust now control trade and compete for domination of the Solrain Council, where executives rule alongside mere elected officials, and often hold far more power.
This has created a culture of cynics and opportunists. mercenaries, smugglers, and privateers searching for new ways to make a profit. While it is no place for the altruist, Solrain is filled with opportunities for those with the courage and skill to seize them. And beneath the cold veneer, there are a few hidden heroes. Idealists such as the underground Commonwealth Restoration Organization, who oppose the corporate cancer and struggle to restore Solrain virtue.
As internecine conflicts take place in the councils and boardrooms, Solrain's frontiers are threatened by enemies both new and old. The other major nations remain an ever-present source of expansionist pressures and competition for resources, but in the century since the Shift, more vicious groups have arisen with much less to lose. Border disruptions and pirate raids may be an occasional nuisance in frontier systems such as Bleakstone, but when even the busy manufacturing centers of the Zelcane Triangle are threatened, the Solrain's citizens must wonder if the bright trading hub at Solrain Core is still truly safe.
The once benevolent Solrain Nation has in the years since the Shift become corrupted by greed and the thirst for power. During the struggle for vital resources in the anarchic post-Shift years, major corporations and criminal cartels merged into powerful monopolies. The Commonwealth Council still governs, but it is now almost entirely controlled by mega corporate Syndicates, such as Zelcane, AgCore, and the Combine, whose criminal roots are regularly exposed by their harsh business practices and extreme ruthlessness.
Within Solrain space, nearly all opportunity for productive work originates with the Syndicates. Most citizens work for the Syndicate corporations or for one of their many subsidiaries. The Solrain business culture now fosters a stark divide between these powerful mega-corporations, sources of all wealth and security, and the vastly weaker contractor companies and individual free agents that compete bitterly to feed off Syndicate largesse. Even the Solrain military itself is largely supported by the Syndicates, with mercenary companies, paramilitary corporations, and contracted freebooters making up the bulk of available forces. The once-proud Commonwealth Navy survives only as a small kernel of professional soldiers, supported by government defense appropriations.
Though self-promotion and opportunism still thrive among ambitious corporate climbers, Syndicate regulations and corporate controls have largely suppressed the individualism and bold entrepreneurship for which Solrain was famous. Solrain now risks becoming a nation of corporate drones. Only on the frontiers in space are innovation and individual freedoms still considered commonplace; Solrain expatriates are common on the Edge, mining, operating waystations, founding small businesses, and plying the spacelanes as independent traders or smugglers in the old Solrain tradition.
The one organization working to change the status quo is the Commonwealth Restoration Organization, better known as the Crows. Nearly forced into the role of a secret society by the Syndicates, these traders, pilots, smugglers and operatives are most active on the Edge, reminding their fellow citizens of the past swashbuckling virtues of Solrain society -- bold initiative and business acumen, but also independence, compassion, and honor.
Outsiders often scoff at Quantar mysticism, but faith has sustained the Quantar people through many trials. In the wake of the Shift and corruption in the world gone before, the Quantar have splintered; there are over a dozen Quantar paths, each with a different view of the universal truth. They are united by the fundamental belief that human destiny lies among the stars, and that the Skein itself will guide the thoughts of any pilot who learns to listen. The Quantar construct their ships according to spiritual principles, and they believe that the pilot and ship become a single being. While few outsiders take these ideas seriously, there is no question that the Quantar are gifted pilots. This may simply be the result of being raised among the asteroids and having learned to dodge rock as children. Or it may be that the prophets speak the truth, and that it is the Skein that flows through the hands of the helmsman.
Long ago, Quantar's priesthood was its salvation, preserving through the great vehicle of religion all of this ancient civilization's culture, its history, and its science. The Shift a century ago shattered what had been a burgeoning golden age of knowledge, and along with it, the political unity of Quantar. Before the Shift, Quantar had been a coherent nation-state, bound by religion, culture, and a growing technocracy. After the Shift, the remnants of this proud nation were scattered among strange stars, and every surviving clan and tribe had a different interpretation of the profound meaning of what had happened to them. Quantar split into the Paths.
Quantar no longer possesses a central government. Each of the Paths exists somewhat like a separate and independent tribe. However, many philosophies still bind the Quantar culturally, and the people of the Paths manage somehow to cooperate successfully, congregating in space habitats, living, trading, and as their neighbors have learned, defending their territory with the accustomed pre-Shift zeal. Some of the various ideas the surviving Paths hold in common include a reverence for the universe around them, an ethic of mutual harmony and cooperation, a sense of the Skein as nearly an entity unto itself, and a prophecy of a coming Storm that threatens all humanity.
In many ways, Quantar is an enigma to the other nations. Dismissed as superstitious or even ignorant by those who see only a facade of cultural mannerisms, the Quantar often astonish unsuspecting visitors with their sophistication. Quantar technology is every bit as advanced as that of Solrain or Octavius, and though their society seems to have slipped backwards toward tribalism, its adaptive fluidity may actually be more mature than the societies of their brethren. The Quantar are walkers of many paths: the philosopher, the zealot, the peacemaker, the warrior, the scientist, and the evangelist each has his place, both within the society and even within the heart and mind of each individual.
Before the Shift, the Quantar followed an ethic suggesting that habitable planets were like gardens to be tended, but despite a clear tendency toward spaceborne industry and asteroid mining, they used planets as did any other nation. With the loss of their homeworld and pre-Shift colonies, the Quantar have chosen not to exploit worlds they do not consider theirs. The Quantar survivors of the Shift felt there was actually less security to be had on the surface of a new world, and preferred the flexibility and potential mobility of space construction and asteroid habitats. Ambrosius, a Quantar philosopher of the decade immediately following the Shift, asked "Why tie ourselves to worlds, when even them the Storm can shatter, and tear us away? Our homes are now temporary things that we have built for ourselves in the sky. We must aspire to a new sort of existence, and be ever adaptable. My Brother is the Stone. Within the Asteroids can be found all that we need for life." Even now, all Quantar live in deep space habitat complexes, using planets only as gravitational anchors. Many Paths are represented in each complex, though the two largest Paths have each claimed one of the three major complexes as their home and taken primary responsibility for local operations.
Despite the meditative and harmonious aspects to Quantar society, there is a clearly militant undercurrent to many of the Paths. This martial spirit has served Quantar well in defense, with the major Path called Void Storm teaching the arts of war as vital in preparation for the nation's future trials. Militancy has also caused incidents of civil strife. At least one Path has left the fold of Quantar society when its aggressiveness overcame the principles of harmony. History may be repeating itself even now with the isolation and rebellion of the ultraconservative Hamalzah'din Path.
Founded untold centuries ago and preserved through history by the honor of its soldiers, Octavius is a society grounded on military discipline. Every man, woman, and child of Octavius is born into a legion and driven by the desire to restore their ancient empire to its former glory, dreaming of a day when the Empire once again rules known space. Octavius is governed by the Senate, which rules from the transported world of Ares Prime. For the moment, the imperial throne stands vacant. Generals and prelates alike dream of seizing the imperium, but in the struggles of the past century, no one faction has had the power to enforce a claim. The aggressive Phoenix Rising faction calls for conquest, to reunite and preserve humanity beneath the banner of the Nation. Aegis, meanwhile, fights to guard the Imperial Bastion and cooperates with trusted human allies against alien threats. The continual intrigue is a drain on Octavian spirit and resources and a distraction within the Senate. Should a new emperor one day be acclaimed with the full support of the legions, it could herald a dramatic Octavian resurgence.
Once, Octavius ruled a thousand worlds, and not for a moment is that forgotten by anyone with Octavian blood. Brought low many times before by ancient disasters or internal strife, Octavius has always survived to rise again. Though the Shift scattered the once-mighty Imperial forces and ripped the Nation's very heart away from stars humanity knew, the stoic traditionalists of Octavius regard this merely as a stark turn of Fortune's wheel, a challenge to be met with resolution and courage.
Famine, struggle, and desperation have characterized this most recent Dark Age. Enemies old and new seemed to assail the remnants of Octavius on all sides, and only through careful management and resilient defense have the Senate and the Navy once again preserved their people. As in ancient times of threat, the Imperial military organized the people. All resources were marshaled for survival. Farmers and grocers became quartermasters, clerks became military staff, scientists were placed in Research and Development divisions, and laborers fell under the auspices of the Imperial Corps of Engineers. For everyone there has always been a place of honor within Octavius, and no task too mean to be performed with pride.
Internal contention is not unknown, of course. The seat of Emperor has lain vacant since the Shift. Authority now lies with the Senate. Generals and prelates, as ever, strive amongst themselves for influence and prestige, hoping one day to be acclaimed worthy of that highest seat. Every family seeks to improve their station. Honor above all is the unspoken code, yet even bloody deeds may be forgiven by superiors if the victor can honorably prove that the good of the Nation was in some way preserved. Even Senators, trusted to direct consuls, prefects, and generals alike, quarrel over policy and engage in bitter political intrigue. Politically, two factions dominate. Phoenix Rising advocates the traditional policy of conquest, reunion of all humanity under the Octavian banner, for the sake of mutual survival. Briefly discredited in decades past, and most certainly impractical in times of scarcity, the voice of this faction has been growing gradually louder. The opposite side of the same coin, Aegis promotes the venerable creed of peace through strength. Seeing Octavians as leaders of humanity rather than conquerors, Aegis promotes a shining future of cooperation with other Nations, while defending the civilized Bastion against any threat.
The Bastion is indeed threatened. Ravager pirates and mercenary Nova Wolves gather close, seeking to wrest from Octavius that which it needs to survive. Whether opportunity or further threat lies beyond is merely a matter of perspective. But not without reason is the phoenix, the firebird reborn, the symbol and crest of Octavius. Now, after a century among these new stars, the stalwart Octavians have at last looked about themselves and found that, once again, they are strong.