Association of Hope
Founded and led by Sir Andrew Sandia in 135-986 – while still fighting court (and other) battles to secure his wealth – the Association of Hope (AoH) is a rapidly growing charitable network that works to support and rescue victims of piracy within the Imperial Empty Quarter. Sir Andrew has grown bored with the position of Chairman of AoH: success breeds boredom, and new challenges call out to him, so he is interested in turning over the reins to someone else.
Sir Andrew is a Christian, and is strongly motivated by Jesus’ charitable and compassionate actions in His life. Unlike most Christians in the Imperial Era – who remain as ethnocentric as the rest of the Solomani – Sir Andrew insists that this compassion be extended to non-human/non-Solomani sophonts, as a form of Common Grace.
Most of his staff operates on different principles. The Vilani (racial and cultural) believe that all sophonts should be brought into one unified consensus, and feel that extending mercy and compassion to those in need helps to bring minds together, thus laying the foundation to true unity and a timeless, never-aging grace and peace. Certain Bwap feel that AoH nourishes the Wapawab, the Universal Tree/Network (envisioned as a great and life-giving tree) that brings order and life to all... even while driven to distraction by the AoH’s habit of rule-bending.
The Irilitok Vargr (who make up most of the Vargr within the Imperial Empty Quarter) are strongly inclined to pro- social activities, are quick to recognize the value of human life as equal to their own, and make up a large percentage of the staff in the field. As a large percentage of pirates are Vargr, this makes the Irilitok contribution especially valuable in obtaining information on stolen lives and equipment. On the other hand, as Vargr they are naturally viewed with suspicion… and, some pirates do impersonate AoH Vargr to get their targets to lower their guard, permitting a more easier kill.
There are a small but noticeable faction of Buddhists in the AoH: followers of a monk from Pramas (Empty Quarter 2504) in the Hegemony of Lorean, who led 40 of his most dedicated followers from that world to the AoH office in Hebrin (Empty Quarter 1930) to join and serve without pay. (Six of these followers died on the journey, due to a pirate attack). Sir Andrew is quick to point out to his fellow Christian believers that there are more Hegemonio Buddhists in the AoH than Imperial Christians, Muslims, and Hindus… combined.
Said Christian believers remain unmoved, pointing out that love begins at home, with your neighbors – not with distant aliens from far stars – and his own people need him more than strangers do. A substantial portion of local Christians think that Sir Andrew’s charity is merely a project to curry favor from Imperial authorities – a successful project, as his knighthood proves. Sir Andrew often retorts that perhaps their hearts are as merely as cold and hard as a nickel- iron asteroid… and his people reply that wealth insulates men from reality, allowing wasteful, self-righteous gestures that poor normal folk cannot afford. What is true is left for the Referee to judge: note that it is possible for all of the above to be true
Unlike almost all locally-rooted charities – but like many Noble-sponsored charities – the Association is not tied to a particular race, religion, tribe, world, or culture. It is tied to a particular need, though: the relief of victims of piracy.
- Pirates exist to steal and to kill. Different pirates have different motivations:
- The desire to inflict pain and death, with the stealing part merely being a fringe benefit: Blood Vargr pirates fall in this category.
- Easy money, with violence used as the prod to get what they really want: the dual-species146 Ikonaz Pirates and the race-blind Shadow Cartel comes under here.
- Religious grounds: the Bengal Lions (Hindu Nobles) and Stellar Sheiks (Muslim Nobles) used pirates for numerous proxy wars for centuries (400s – 800s Imperial). This is no longer the case: in 993, the Muslim Brotherhood works against pirates, and not in support of them.
- Racial grounds. The Vargr have an earned reputation as pirates, coupled with their racial pride. In contrast, the pirates of Udusis Subsector are quite humanistic: while happy to steal from their own people, they react with rage when Vargr interlopers come for their own pickings. Attempts by Solomani Security to introduce a racial bias among other pirates, focusing on the Shadow Cartel, have met with abject failure.
- By political goals, with the covert PANs (Political Action Networks) once upon a time being a prime example of this. Nowadays, most of the PANs have largely abandoned the old Abadani ideology, in favor of simply stealing plus shouting some party slogans.
Quite a lot of the victims of piracy are interstellar merchantmen who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some of them merely lose a modular cutter, an air/raft, or some cargo: others lose their ships, and still others lose their lives.
The AoH cannot compensate for financial losses, but they can do the following:
- Trace down and return stranded spacers and passengers to their homeworlds-
- Recover bodies and return them to their loved ones-
- Trace down the enslaved, free them, and bring them home-
- And tend to the wounded.
There are pirates who take hostages, and are willing to negotiate for their release in return for a ransom. The Association of Hope avoids this kind of middle-man position, preferring to give the work to specialized Crisis Negotiation teams. However, there are times when the nearest Negotiation Team is a good dozen light years away, so AoH leaders are trained in the foundations of this kind of work.
The AoH is primarily interested in the protection of sentient life and the return of the dead to their families and clans, and not the return of cargo or property: but if it doesn’t interfere with their primary mission, her members are happy to point out where lost cargo can be found should they happen to know of it.
A thin-but-broad network of hospitable friends of the Association is willing to put up penniless survivors of pirate attacks for free-149 and some allied starship captains are willing to provide transport for free as well.
Finally, the AoH provides a good number of simple-but-useful free educational material, teaching captains the basic tell-tales of a pirate ambush, ordinary people what to do in case of a pirate attack, and the most successful strategies for defense. (Yes, lethal weapons are suggested, and elementary examples of basic squad tactics are provided.) Also, pirates are often linked with dirtside criminal networks, so the basics of tracking your property and people – especially young girls and women – is also provided. “Once they’re offworld, they’re almost impossible to get back, so you have to head them off at the pass”.
The AoH is not a law enforcement agency, nor does it provide security, but her members can bring interested sophonts into contact with the proper Imperial authorities.
As was just written, “The AoH is not a law enforcement agency, nor does it provide security, but her members can bring interested sophonts into contact with the proper Imperial authorities.”
On the other hand, the Association is always interested in tracing down the lost- and the search for them naturally means the collection of intelligence and the building of contacts.
Quite a lot of this intelligence is gained by anonymous tips and discrete hints in various startowns across the Empty Quarter. Some of it is provided by friendly law enforcement officers, or as public releases by the Imperial or Colonial Naval offices. Systems with solid naval forces also comes across the occasional crippled or shattered victim, and the AoH has agents and local friends who keep an ear out for this kind of information. Finally, the typical starmerc come across a wreck every so often, and may choose to drop a note to the AoH directly. In all cases, the AoH is willing to pay market rates for this information: most government officials turn down the payment.
There are those contacts who are willing to provide better than average information, in return for a steady sum: the AoH discreetly pays, puts the information to work, and avoids asking noisy questions on just why said informant gets a regular feed of high-grade, actionable information.
The Association’s information network is based on worlds on the X-boat routes, with a starport class of A to C. Most information is sent on the X-boats, with only the most sensitive information encrypted and couriered by armed, professional operatives. On occasion, information may be sent via free trader to worlds off the X-boat routes: it is on these worlds that actual pirate activity is most likely. One head office is kept in the subsector capital of each of the six Imperial subsectors, with the headquarters located at the Imperial sector capital of Nulinad (Empty Quarter 0338).
The Association of Hope recognizes the authority of the Imperium, and will provide information to Imperial authorities when requested. On the other hand, their primary concern is not to uphold the rule of the Emperor, but to reunite families the pirates have broken, and restore the dead to their clans and families: they also believe in protecting their workers and their less-than-savory contacts as much as is possible under Imperial law.
There are thousands of casual allies and occasional volunteers of the Association of Hope, but total headcount of paid staff is kept at 200 per subsector, for a total of ~1200 salaried workers for the Imperial region of the Empty Quarter. On a per-subsector basis, there are usually 50 sophonts on the subsector capital’s head office, and another 10 or so on the three-to-seven secondary offices. This adds up to ~100 office staff for the subsector- the other hundred or so are mainly field workers, arranging for transport and medical care for the found, and arranging/providing proper rites and transport for the dead. A small number – perhaps a dozen or so per subsector – are agents, either overt or under light cover, gathering information where slaves, hostages, marooned crews and passengers, and the dead are located and can be recovered.
Regarding the men with guns: most of them are guards, hired on contract for a particular job at a particular time. There is a full-time site security specialist, usually tied to the subsector office but occasionally lent out to support a field office. Each subsector also has one armed courier, often with a biotech memory enhancement, for delivering the most sensitive information to the subsector headquarters. Official records depict each courier as a man of Mixed Vilani descent: whether this is true, or a deception to hide a Bwap/Vargr network say, is up to the Referee to decide.
Most of the AoH personnel are either Vilani (Mixed or Pure) tied to the corpse-preparation and medical castes, or the pro-social Irilitok-Imperial Vargr from Udusis (Empty Quarter 1831), willing to give a hand to help all sophonts. Few Solomani are interested though: the caste and race-conscious East Indians aren’t interested in doing ritually unclean work, and the Muslim mainstream look out for their own, first and last. Even though the Association of Hope was founded by an American Indian Christian, the rest of his people have rejected his example as well: “Why are you spending your time and money on outsiders? Your own people are the smallest and the weakest in the sector – you should tend to your own, first and last ”
In addition to running interference with the watchful and unsympathetic Solomani – and getting them to at least not hinder the work of the AoH – Sir Andrew is attempting to recruit more Bwap, Lazisari, and Iper’Mar full-time members. There has been some success with the Lazisari (with a batch of 25 recruits getting ready for deployment this year) but the Bwap and Iper’Mar initiatives are turning into failures. Charity isn’t part of the Bwap conception of the universe: exhaustive compliance with the rules is, and the AoH bends enough rules as part of their daily work to turn most of the Bwap off. The Iper’Mar are aware of the value of their technological skills, and insist on getting paid at market rates if they are to be hired full-time. This would be budget-busting for the AoH, so they have decided to continue to hire the Iper’Mar on a contract, as-needed basis.
Charity LIC is a profit-maximizing medical/biotech business, but they know the use of good publicity. Moreover, the company is built on the bones of a failed medical charity, funded by Imperial Core patrons whose interest – and money – moved on to the next televised crisis.154 Upon occasion, Charity LIC has been known to comes through with some useful advise, surplus equipment, or fresh-faced doctors, nurses, and medical techs to give a hand when it’s most needed – and when the optics are good.155
The Association of Hope maintains two old jump2 Far Traders for transporting the wounded and the dead, donations from wealthy supporters looking to do good and get a nice tax write-off at the same time. Both are armed only with sandcasters: the cargo holds have been retooled to fit over a hundred low berths to transport the living and the dead: the staterooms for the six high passengers are usually given over to medical personnel, the starship gunner, and guards on an as needed basis.
The Far Traders are only meant as an immediate reaction force: because demands in these harsh times often outstretch capabilities, the AoH often contracts out both medical personnel and starships. Charity LIC has been known to assist in the most high-profile cases in return for favourable publicity, but most of the work is a low- profile affair, and AoH depends on public-minded Nobles, local businesses, and private citizens to give a hand when it’s needed.
For long-term operations – when an entire city or region is harmed due to pirate activity (“Give me the money, or I’ll shoot-up every power station on the continent ”), or when there are vast camps of freed prisoners and slaves to tend to – the AoH needs to rely on merchantmen who are willing to brave the hostile void to bring equipment and personnel to the affected worlds, from power plants to hybrid ESTOLAS aircraft. Also, a large amount of relief packs is slowly being accumulated and stored in the subsector capitals of the sector, to be rapidly distributed to those in need.
Excepting Yogesh (Empty Quarter 1328), which has spent much of 992 under a pirate siege/blockade. The pirate hold over Hebrin has been broken in recent months, and escorted convoys has managed to transport relief packs and supplies to Irash (Empty Quarter 2036), fighting off the pirates that mercilessly raid that subsector.
The Rajan Rescue
The biggest victory so far came from the discovery of a pirate prison camp of hundreds of captured women, destined for the sex slave trade. This camp, located on an isolated island on the world of Rajan (Empty Quarter 2331), was successfully raided on 283-990 with the armed support of starmercs – the Colonial Navy was busy with Hebrin (Empty Quarter 1930) system at the time – and several dozen Far Traders and small liners to transport the freed women to the safety of Hebrin. No support was forthcoming from the local military, who was suspected (later proven) to have cut a deal with the pirates: “Don’t raid our people or attack our shipping, and we won’t notice the strange UFO activity around certain obscure islands.”.
This rescue gave the Association of Hope a major boost in fame across the Six Subsectors, and donations roared in. Sir Andrew was able to parley this into a solid donor network, allowing the Association to both expand and stay in the black. By 993, the AoH was deeply rooted this side of the Lesser Rift, operations were running well… and Sir Andrew started getting bored and restless.
Looking to transfer the Association he built to trustworthy hands, the Imperial Knight has started looking for a suitable successor.