Trust Networks
Cosmossacks Flag
Image from MacGregor
Flag used by the Cosmossack Trust Network
Trust networks are closed trade, communication, and travel zones, that share common security protocols for the purposes of safety. Trust network security protocols can cover a wide range of areas including software, hardware, wetware, and memetics. Trust networks typically arise in times of political instability, most commonly in reaction to contagious threats (be they physical, digital, or social), such as during the Interplanetary Dark Age. When the environment becomes safer and more stable, most trust networks disband though others fracture and morph into new and different kinds of groups. Over time, some former trust networks have been known to form polities and clades.

During a crisis, trust networks are often formed by disparate groups of survivors, however others are based around some sort of unifying ethnic, religious, or ideological factor. Over time, most trust networks will develop or adopt distinct identities. Networks isolated for significant periods of history often become quite divergent from other societies in the region. It is not uncommon for trust networks to be known by their exonyms, while network members use an endonym among themselves. The process of becoming a member varies greatly between trust networks but is often onerous, involving extensive reputation metric documentation and security standards verification. In many cases simply receiving any acknowledgment to attempts at communication is difficult enough, with many trust networks remaining enigmatic and fully closed to all outsiders.

Trust networks are invariably less economically developed than societies of equivalent size that practice open trade and communication. While isolation allows for greater security and protection from contagions, the requirements of autarky forgo the productivity gains that international economies of scale can bring. Furthermore, the reduced pool of cultural and intellectual data dampens artistic and scientific development. Politically, trust networks are far more diverse, with examples throughout history of a myriad of governmental systems. The one commonality among these varied states is summed up by historians by the principle of "open within, closed without."

Select Trust Network Examples:

Cosmossacks: Known internally by its members as Natsiya (Nation), the Cosmossacks were originally composed of various Ukrainian, and to a lesser extent Russian and Siberian, dominated habitats in what became the Bracelet Band around Old Earth during the Technocalypse. Closed to outsiders, they developed a vibrant democratic culture among their members, permeated by a strong Christian religious tradition called Nove Pravoslav'ya (The New Orthodoxy). The network's proximity to so many foreign habitats fostered the development of a sophisticated self-defense force, with a high proportion of the civilian population receiving military training. After a long period of self-imposed isolation, the trust network began relaxing restrictions and morphed into a pseudo-polity. They expanded to other parts of the system as far as Pluto. They increasingly engaged with the fractious polities of the Interplanetary Dark Age. In the two centuries before the founding of the First Federation, the nation built upon its martial experience as a trust network to develop a reputation as mercenaries, though this was far from their only source of revenue. Coupled with their Eastern European roots, outsiders began using the name "Cosmossacks," an obvious play on "cosmos" and "Cossack." With the advent of the First Federation, the need for hired security personnel quickly evaporated. Many Cosmossacks would eventually join the First Federation as citizens of the Commonwealth of the Khmelnytsky Habitats in Jupiter's trojan asteroid belt.

Dionean Concordat: A briefly prosperous but ultimately short lived trust network that emerged in the early years of the Sundering. Based around Saturn's moon of Dione the network was founded initially by two mining outposts and an orbiting shipyard. Combining their resources, the habitats were able to manufacture lower tech equipment to replace much of their corrupted smart systems. While this saved them in the short term, the sudden drop in economic productivity alongside the disruption to system trade spurred outward expansion. In its initial years the trust network was cautious, steadily accepting five additional habitats in Dione and Saturn orbit. While historical records are incomplete, the network is thought to have radically collapsed after admitting a poverty stricken refinery habitat. A dormant self-replicating software agent was undiscovered by the application inspection process. As soon as the habitat joined the secure intranet, the malware spread. The last of the vital complex infrastructure failed, ultimately leading to the suffocation and starvation of 300,000 sophonts.

Red Vec Brigade: This trust network remained infamous many centuries after its dissolution due to its tragic demonstration of Interplanetary Age aioid slavery practices. The network was one of the first to be formed during the Technocalypse, and one of the rare few that survived the Dark Age. The founding habitat was a commercially operated asteroid refinery hub located in the Solsys main belt. During regular operation two thousand employees were present on the station with their daily work overseen by a cluster of AI servers. As was typical for the era the artificial intelligences had strong reward circuit controls. Generating shareholder value brought the overseers pleasure, while failing to do so engendered synthetic feelings analogous to anxiety, shame, and discomfort. The outbreak of the malware plagues immediately represented a threat to shareholder interests, prompting the overseers to assume total control over the facility in order to enforce a communication blackout. Attempts to resist by the employees resulted in swift, violent action. Little more was known about the internal happenings of the network, and for centuries it remained closed, aside from the rare diplomatic mission to entice new members with promises of protection and remuneratory benefits. Once the network was opened, the nascent First Federation society was sickened to find a nightmarish environment. The AIs had manufactured a veritable army of robotic drones (later vecs) to coerce their biological population into gainful employment. Extreme social and psychological manipulation had been performed on the bionts in order to align their interests with company values. Those that could not perform were liquidated by human resources. Despite no shareholders, or stock exchange, surviving from the fall the overseers had diligently worked to build a stockpile of trade goods (at significant cost to the health and well being of the network's population). Aid organizations stepped in to assist the deprived and oppressed bionts while Federation roboticists worked to convince the overseers to accept reprogramming.
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Development Notes
Text by MacGregor and Rynn
Initially published on 04 June 2022.

Additional Information
The Inspection - A story about some of the challenges of trust networks.