Humanity’s first maps were of the stars. Created millennia ago, they were dots charting the night sky painted upon cavern walls on Earth. One wonders if those original mapmakers ever imagined that one day their descendants would get to visit those stars?
Though the methods have drastically changed, the Imperial Cartography Center (ICC) carries on that proud tradition of charting celestial objects. This UEE government agency is best known for their Deep Space Scanning & AstroGraphical Stations that search for jump points, and for the elite Stellar Surveyors unit that assesses newly discovered systems. Yet, the responsibilities and reach of the ICC extend far beyond those two departments. From working with the Ark to keeping the Starmap current, to tracking the Baer comet as it crosses the Stanton System, the Imperial Cartography Center is essential to modern space travel.
Once Nick Croshaw successfully piloted his ship through the first jump point, aspiring explorers flooded the stars, obsessed with helping Humanity expand its reach ever farther. However, the nascent days of space exploration were fraught with danger. Experimental and unreliable equipment paired with a vast, uncharted expanse led to the tragic disappearances of many.
Humanity grappled with how to govern their growing domain. The various national institutions had not yet unified, so there were few protocols in place to deal with the discovery of new systems. That led to Nemo’s 2364 discovery date coming into question during a famous legal case where two companies argued over who owned the coordinates for the jump into the system from Fora. Meanwhile, the government hid the discovery of Banshee, in 2317, from the public for years out of fear that its powerful pulsar was a safety concern.
After the United Nations of Earth finally formed in 2380, they incentivized explorers to report their discoveries to the government, but left the private sector to chart new systems. This occurred because a contingent of prominent and powerful politicians was dedicated to keeping the new UNE government as lean and efficient as possible. They believed an industry within the private sector would rise to fill the gap, and they were right.
For a few centuries, this arrangement worked relatively well. Initially, there were numerous cartography companies with the ships and technology to chart systems. However, it wasn’t long before conglomerates acquired the most promising firms and slowly pushed out the rest. A few non-profit and academic institutions survived the culling and continued to provide detailed maps to the public for free or at a nominal cost. But due to a lack of funding, their products often took years to reach the market after a new system was discovered.
For the Public Good
Over the years, the government received an increasing number of complaints against cartography companies for egregious inaccuracies or tiered pricing schemes that made detailed maps unaffordable to many consumers. One particular heinous example was when the Monroe Mapping Concern left a whole asteroid field off a map of Hadrian since they had promised exclusivity to a mining company. This led a number of politicians to lobby for increased oversight. It finally reached a tipping point with the Pallas incident. After discovering Pallas, Gaia Planet Services failed to properly scan the system before attempting to terraform Pallas III. Only then did they discover it was already occupied by the Xi’An, an unknown species at the time. Realizing regulations were needed to govern the charting of new systems, the Government Cartography Agency (GCA) was created in 2531.
Initially, the GCA was tasked with charting and scanning all new systems and ensuring that the most current geospatial information was available to the public. When Ivar Messer empowered himself as Imperator in 2546, he realized that the GCA was in a key position to control the knowledge of the known universe. Not long after he was sworn in, private mapmakers got word to shutter their operations. Mapmaking was nationalized, and the GCA renamed the Imperial Cartography Center.
Under Ivar Messer, an astronomical amount of credits was poured into the ICC. Companies with strong ties to the Messer regime received massive orders for top-of-the-line scanning equipment and were granted no-bid contracts to construct deep-space scanning stations. The ICC quickly embedded itself into a number of government agencies and organizations including, most importantly, the military. Deep-space scanning stations kept an eye on Perry Line systems and, eventually, helped monitor Vanduul clans on the western front. Without any private sector competition, the ICC became an essential agency and earned a degree of autonomy not afforded to other agencies under Messers’ rule.
Eventually, the ICC put that political independence to use. In 2715, three years after the fall of Orion to the Vanduul, Messer VIII ordered the system and all jumps to it removed from the UEE’s non-military maps for the public good. ICC Director Loretta De Biasio refused, claiming that it would be more dangerous for people in systems connected to Orion not to know exactly where a clan of Vanduul might suddenly appear.
The Imperator was infuriated by the ICC’s defiance and threatened to drastically slash the agency’s budget. But making matters worse for the Imperator, prominent members of the military came to De Biasio’s defense. Some even threatened to resign if she was fired or the agency’s budget struck with draconian cuts. There’s evidence that retaliatory measures were planned against De Biasio for her disobedience, but Messer VIII was stabbed to death in his bed before they were enacted.
And so, even though the ICC was long associated with the Messers, it survived their downfall. The agency had ingrained themselves too deeply into the fabric of the Empire to be discarded. It had also displayed enough independence to avoid the name change many other agencies received to erase associations with a darker time. Today, the ICC scans for jump points from their numerous stations, provides data to The Ark to keep the Starmap current, and much more.
The ICC is also home to one of the most prestigious scientific organizations – the Stellar Surveyors. This elite unit, composed of multi-talented individuals from both the public and private sector, are the first to visit and chart new systems after they are discovered. In the 29th century, their assessment of Stanton convinced politicians that it would be perfect for a system-wide business park. Recently, they discovered the Kabal System only to find abandoned Tevarin cities on Kabal III. They’ve also been up against their most difficult challenge ever – exploring and mapping the Tamsa System and the black hole at its center.
‘Charting the Way Ahead’ may be the motto of the Stellar Surveyors, but it’s also an appropriate maxim for the entire ICC. Whether standing up to the Messers or finding jump points that introduce the UEE to new worlds, the ICC clearly has its sights set on the future.