Member of The Necromunda Ring
Although warp travel always carries some residual risk, under the psychic light of the Astronomican, it is a relatively safe and almost routine occurrence. Navigators are able to take massive trade barges across tens-of-thousands of light years in a single jump, and still manage to return to real-space within close proximity to their designated arrival point. Although it happens, it is only the few and exceedingly unlucky who are the last crew for the graveyard hulks which are occasionally found drifting through imperial space.
On the Eastern Fringe, however, warp travel is a much more dicey proposition. Near the boundary of human space, the Astronomican's light is dim, and flickers like a near gutted flame. Sometimes, it winks out all together, causing havoc to those who happen to be traveling the shipping lanes. Navigator's often refer to this event as a "Soul Eclipse," and Navigators who are used to basking in the light of the Emperor are often disorientated by the Astronomican's sudden absence. It is not common, but not unknown, for a weak willed Navigator to die, or go insane, when he experiences his first eclipse. When this happens, he usually takes his crew with him.
With the dim to non-existent Astronomican, the Navigator's natural abilities are severely impaired. Although they still have an edge over normal humans using only the warpdive to navigate the currents of the warp, their safe operating range isn't all that much greater than what a normal humans can achieve. Typically, near the fringe, a Navigator or normal human can safely jump 5-10 light years, and even these jumps are more risky than the many-thousand light year jumps in the segments surrounding Terra.
By making these short jumps, or "skips," a ship can reorient itself and navigate effectively, but each skip increases the time and danger of the journey, because the most dangerous portion is entering and leaving warp space. When doing either, one can never be exactly certain what conditions will be like on the other side, and many of an unlucky captain has skipped up into a warp eddy, or skipped down into an asteroid shower. To make matters worse, pirates know as Skip Raiders often wait at popular drop points to ambush ships as they come in out of warp space. Although they are hunted relentlessly, they usually avoid capture, because after making their raid they flee to the other side of the Ultima line, past which Imperial vessels wont travel.
One of the interesting side effects of the weak Astronomican is that it has created a Niche market for independent traders on the Eastern Fringe. In the Imperium, warp travel is safe enough that the economics favor massive barges to transport good from one side of the galaxy to the other. However, no sane investor is willing to risk hundreds of men and billions of Imperial Eagles (IEs) in cargo on a single jump. Instead, it makes the most sense to spread the risk over a large fleet of small ships, so if the warp swollows any one of them up, the losses are trivial. So often, smaller intra-system transports are refitted with warp drives and turned into what are called "Fringe Runners." These ships are cheap enough that it is within the means of an enterprising individual to raise enough money to put together a ship and crew to head into the Fringe in search of fame and wealth.
However, all that would be for nothing anywhere else in the Imperium, because warp trade is restricted to those merchants who can secure a Charter, which is usually hereditary, and always fabulously expensive. However, after the Heresy, none of the major trading cartels were willing to become involved in the fringe trade, because they didn't think the profit would be worth the risk. Afraid that the lack of trade would erode the Imperium's eastern boarder, the Ultima Segmentum's first High Lord, Maxwell finix al Tarkain instituted the Charter Privatus Licens, which means, roughly, "Private man, Unrestrained." And thus the Privateer was born.
The Charter Privatus is available without cost to anyone who owns a warp capable ship, and allows the bearer to travel unmolested over the eastern half of the Ultima Segmentum. However, even though the Charter Privatus is free, it is not unconditioned. If a ship commits piracy (attacking a ship in space under Imperial Charter), Heresy (communion with Chaos or an unsanctioned psyker), or Treason (fratranizing with xenos), then the charter can be revoked. Without a charter, a ship will be attacked on sight by any Imperial patrol and denied permission to land on any Imperial world, and if the ship is stranded, it is considered treason for another imperial ship to lend aid. Furthermore, since the ship is no longer chartered, raiding it is no longer piracy, so an unchartered ship attracts a lot of unwanted attention. In fact, some privateers specialize at hunting down and looting Skip Raiders and other pirates operating on the Fringe.
Another interesting feature about the Charter Privatus is that it is not within the power of a planetary governor to revoke, except for one of the aforementioned offenses. This means that for any misconduct or crimes committed within the atmosphere, the greatest sanction a planetary authority can levy on a ship is a denial of future landing rights. However, this protection doesn't extend to the cargo or crew, so the governor can still confiscate cargo, imprison the crew, or execute the captain, but it cannot stop the ship from lifting off.
This may seem like a horrible rule of law, but there was a method to Tarkain's madness. Given the relatively loose Imperial grip on the Eastern Fringe, Tarkain was afraid that corruption, double dealing, and greed would cripple his privateer fleet as planetary governors gobbled up his privateers. This way, he at least assured the privateer crew would have a chance to escape to spread the world to the other privateers to avoid the system.
Of course, some less than scrupulous privateers have used this as a license to touch down, commit all sorts of crime, and burn off-planet and out of the reach of the law. Several assassin groups are known to be doing just this. However, rather than cripple planetary governments (as many detractors suspected it would do), this law has created a lucrative bounty-hunting trade to collect the prices on these privateer's heads.
Humans on the Eastern Fringe
Xenos in the Eastern Fringe
The Eastern Fringe is home to many alien races, although many are confined to a single home world or system.
Others, such as the advanced and enigmatic Demiurg, apparently reside solely on board massive commerce vessels. These stately craft have become an increasingly regular sight in the Ultima Segmentum over the last centuries, either lending their might to those who offer sufficient financial incentive, those whom they deem as allies - as well as their legendary wars against the Ork race.
The mighty Alaitoc and once-great Iyanden Craftworlds are the most prominent members of the scattered Eldar diaspora in the Eastern Fringe, relying on the Webway -- alongside the Exodite and other Craftworld populations of the region -- to travel from world to world, either as Rangers following the Path of the Outcast, or astride the wings of the mighty war fleets of the craftworlds -- or the lethal talons of the Corsair fleets. So, too, do the Druchii ply the stars via the Webway, striking at colonies and starships in search of souls to enslave.
The Orks are as numerous and militant in the Eastern Fringe as in any other region of the galaxy, their warp-capable starships and commandeered space hulks guided by their warlike gods to battle against alien races, when they feel bored fighting each other!
Like a terrible shadow covering the worlds of the Galactic races, the inexorable force of the Hive Mind brushes aside any psionic resistance as its hive ships ply the stellar void, seeking new worlds to strip of resources and new species to consume.
Eschewing the use of the Immaterium entirely, the ruthless and ancient starships of the Necrontyr use their higly advanced Inertialess Drives to roam the galaxy at will, working towards the time when the bridge between realspace and the empyrean is sealed forever -- and their C'tan masters gorge on the younger races.
Guided by the same warp entities who seek to consume the souls of every living being, the pirate fleets of Chaos have found fresh hunting grounds in the region, despite the great distance to the Eye of Terror.
Given the increasingly precarious situation the Imperium finds itself in the Eastern Fringe, many worlds find themselves de facto abandoned to their fate, be it as fodder for the Hive Mind, as cattle for the Orks or soul-morsels for the Ruinous Powers.
Thankfully, there is a new dynamic on the Eastern Fringe which offers the most rare commodity in the galaxy at war: hope
The Tau Empire
From modest beginnings, the prosperous, advanced and benevolent Tau Empire has spread its aegis to over one hundred worlds by the end of the 41st Millennium, expanding gradually from within their home cluster into the wider Segmentum. In the wake of the Third Sphere expansion, several new Tau colonies have been established, while former Imperial worlds have traded their tenuous and negligent link with Terra for a concrete and rewarding place within the Greater Good.
Central to the success of the tau'va has been the role of the Kor'vattra, the Tau's deep space navy. As a race lacking psionic potential - a blessing from the perspective of races plagued by the ravenous maw of Chaos - they have developed a consistent and efficient means of plying the stellar void without facing the kind of mortal dangers (and without requiring the presence of the likes of the Astronomican) that Imperial and other ships face in the warp.
The divide between the Empyrean and realspace is not a straight line. Rather, it is akin to a deep ocean, whose waters are stirred by the tides of the Warp beneath. A ship lacking a psyker can, at best, force its way down into the depths before being 'bounced' back into realspace, like a balloon held under water. The Tau have designed their starships to generate a gravitic 'wing' around the vessel, which forces the ship deeper into the 'ocean', travelling further than most other vessels could maintain in a similar attempt.
This method of interstellar travel was initially quite slow compared to true Warp travel (the average Warp travel time, the erratic dilation effects possible notwithstanding), being rougly 1/5 the speed of 'average' Warp transit. This ratio has been steadily improved by the industrious and inventive Fio caste, reaching 1/3 average by the time of development of the Il'fannor merchantman and continuing to improve to this day.
Despite the relative slowness of the technology, it offers the Tau a major advantage in that not only are Warp dive speeds and distances consistent, with no dilation effects, they are free of the threat posed by daemonic entities which vessels travelling in the Outerdark would face. This has allowed the Tau to establish a thriving and comprehensive trade route network between their major and minor Septs, as well as to provide a basis for the detailed and rigorous planning of interstellar campaigns required by a race lacking FTL communication.
One of the most prominent consequences of the use of warp dive technology is the ubiquitous presence of Waystations throughout Tau space, placed in deep space along each interstellar route a Tau starship would take within the Empire, acting as a refuelling depot and rallying point for Warp diving ships 'hopping' their way from world to world.
Another aspect of the Tau's use of the warp dive has been the ease at which Tau freighters, exploration vessels, warships and 'privateers' have been able to expand into neighbouring systens at will, circumventing the myriad 'safe' Warp routes limiting Imperial traffic and the decaying Webway system of the Eldar. The Tau are thus able to contunue their expansion into the galaxy with yet another strategic advantage at their disposal. The success at which so-called Commerce Protection fleets (not to be confused with the more recent Qath'fannor CPF, which comprises of the most advanced new Tau starships at the Empire's disposal) have supplanted dozens of trade routes and trade licences across the Eastern Fringe is further evidence of this.
Given the ease at which Demiurg vessels have been able to traverse the Eastern Fringe, it has been theorised that they may operate a yet more advanced version of this technology. Given their proven (and alleged) involvement in the technological and strategic development of the Empire, it would not be beyond the ken of possibility that the advances made in improving Warp dive capabilities seen in recent centuries have been at least in part due to the guidance of those whom the Tau call the Bentu'sin: the Wise-gifted ones.