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The Expeditionary Corps is a non-military, uniformed organization of SolGov, reporting to the Diplomacy Committee for Diplomatic Relations. It is governed by some military laws, but has its own customs, regulations, and traditions that at times put it at odd with the Defense Forces. It's considered generally to be more lax than service in the Fleet, but don't let that make you think they don't know what they're doing. It consists of uniformed personnel (enlisted and commissioned officers) and corporate contractors hired on per mission basis.
Things like saluting and strict enforcement of the SCMJ are going to be alien to many of the older EC personnel, although they have used naval officer ranks since their inception. The focus of expeditionary personnel is on science and exploration instead of military objectives.
Corpsmen are often highly specialized for the roles they take on their missions, and they are known for their experimental nature and ability to improvise. Some in the Defense Forces look at the EC as a lesser organization.
The Expeditionary Corps' Directives are the cornerstone of all operations done by the organization, the mission statement and motto rolled in one. They are as follows:
- Exploring the unknown is your Primary Mission. You are to look for land and resources that can be used by Humanity to advance and prosper. Explore. Document. Explain. Knowledge is the most valuable resource.
- Every member of the Expeditionary Corps is an explorer. Some are Explorers by rank or position, but everyone has to be one when duty calls. You should always expect being assigned to an expedition if needed. You have already volunteered when you signed up.
- Danger is a part of the mission - avoid, not run away. Keep your crew alive and hull intact, but remember - you are not here to sightsee. Dangers are obstacles to be cleared, not the roadblocks. Weigh risks carefully and keep your Primary Mission in mind.
The Expeditionary Corps is a uniformed civilian service of the Sol Central Government, tasked with exploring the unknown for the advancement of humanity. However, it is a pale shadow of its former self, operating on a greatly reduced budget until recently.
The Corps consist of enlisted personnel, commissioned officers and corporate contractors. The uniformed members form the core of expeditions and facilities, with specialists contracted from various corporations on per-mission basis for the more niche tasks.
Before the funding increase and renewed interest in exploration, the EC only had half a dozen of vessels that were operational. Three of these were ancient, Slower-Than-Light (STL) craft, from the Expeditionary Corps' founding days and were reliant on Gateway travel.
The Field Operations section of the Expeditionary Corps is what people see in EC recruitment posters and ads - gruff machos hacking apart aliens on exotic worlds with the iconic machete. That being said, the actual work carried out by the EC's exploration teams features far less glamour and machismo, being focused instead on mineral surveys, planet habitability reports and collecting samples of xenolife.
The head of any EC exploration team is the Pathfinder, a mid-level officer of the Expeditionary Corps who often operate with great leeway and minimal oversight when it comes to how their teams conduct themselves in the field. The ragtag demeanour caused by this cavalier attitude has often caused explorers to have a negative image in the wider uniformed service community.
The Observatory, or the SCGECO (Sol Central Government Expeditionary Corps Observatory) is the brains of the Expeditionary Corps - or so they’ll tell you. This section of the EC is responsible for manning the EC's permanent installation, the Observatory, which is located in L4 Mars-Sun Lagrangian point, and is home to the most advanced high power radio telescope array in the Sol system. The station is now the headquarters of the Expeditionary Corps following the closure of the Mars headquarters as part of a budget cut two decades ago.
The Observatory has two methods of handling the investigation of the valuable intelligence it gathers; Post a bounty with all relevant data, to be claimed by any private enterprises, which is the most commonly used method, or, if the data points to a nearby target or one that shows great import, a proper EC Expedition is assembled and sent to investigate personally.
110 years ago: The Expeditionary Corps were established early in SCG history under the Committee for Economic Development to explore the vastness of space in pursuit of knowledge. Or for land grabs over terraformable worlds and resources. It differs depending on who you ask. EC sent out expeditions before the invention and proliferation of bluespace drives. STL missions were small crews, cryo-frozen, with automated systems rigged to wake them up at the destination or for the course correction. Missions took decades, making it a very unattractive investment for private companies.
40 years ago: Spread of ship-mounted bluespace drives made deep space exploration way faster, and corporations stopped seeing it as unacceptably long term investments. Privately funded expeditions boomed, and many officials in SCG started wondering why they would need a separate agency for it. It was viewed as relic of times gone, its budget shrunk with every fiscal year.
5 years ago: Funds starting flowing into EC renewal and the Torch program. Grand scale publicity campaign, corporate sponsorship. And a change of ownership - EC was moved from under the Committee for Diplomatic Relations, to reflect a new stated objective of the Torch mission - making contact with undiscovered sapient life.
The decision to restart the deep space exploration sounded just too good to be true. The sudden change in course and the insistence with which Secretary General Barrow pushed this decision spawned a lot of conspiracy theories on just what sort of secret agenda the government had for the Torch mission.
The main sponsor and participant of the Torch mission was NanoTrasen. An odd move for a greedy transstellar corporation that maintains a sizeable fleet itself, including prospector vessels of their own.
What were they promised for participation?
A Skrell corporation, Krri'gli, agreed to provide a prototype bluespace drive after just a token negotiation, under condition of priority access to the mission’s findings.
Are Skrell using EC to poke at something they’d avoid?
Government initially tried to staff the mission entirely with government employees and NT personnel, opting not to contract outside companies. It was later relaxed due to personnel requirements and public outrage, to the point where independent observers and journalists were tentatively allowed to join the expeditions.
What did they want to hide from the public?
Just a decade ago a mission of this size was unthinkable for the ever-shrinking Field Operations part of EC. So who’s manning it?
The media noise generated by the whole situation attracted new recruits, the curious, the glory hounds, and even few people who genuinely wanted to explore space but believed that EC was done for. Some disillusioned EC veterans unretired, bringing much needed experience. Any eligible personnel could request a transfer from Defense Forces into EC for the duration of the mission. Private contractors filled the gaps as they did for many other EC missions.
All new recruits and most of Defense Forces transferred personnel are put through a six-month Expeditionary Academy. The core facilities are located on the Observatory, with few smaller ones for specialized training programs scattered around SCG territory.
The training is split in two parts, Basic Skills taking 2 months, and Specialty Training taking 4 months.
Basic Skills and Orientation
The first 2 months are focused mostly on instilling some discipline and basic functional adult skills into fresh recruits. Skill-wise, it's the basics - EVA, first aid, living on a space vessel. Recruits are given a rundown on the way EC operates, its mission and priorities.
Recruits are monitored to weed out those who won't be able to cope with life on a space vessel. It’s an open secret that troublemakers from all over the SCG use EC as last resort for escaping the troubles on their planet, so instructors take this part of the Academy very seriously - you either shape up or ship out.
Most of Defense Forces transfers skip this part, aside from the orientation course on the way EC operates.
The next 4 months are the specialized training. The recruits settle on the division they want to join - Observatory or Field Operations and their specialty. Those who have applicable training and experience can opt to pass the certifications and skip this part entirely if they are so inclined.
Observatory recruits are trained to run their namesake, Observatory, or the few ships EC has. The engineers, the data analysts, the infirmary staff, the logistic specialists. They tend to have more in-depth technical training on their specialization.
Field Operations recruits learn more hands-on skills, useful when operating as a part of expedition outside the facilities. The explorers (the job), the field medics, the ‘sapper’ kind of engineers. They tend to be more of generalists, having to juggle the field skills, their specialty, and field science basics.
Ultimately, the decision made in the Academy doesn’t seal your career path - there’s plenty of chances for additional training along the way, and often personnel from either branch is picked for the mission depending on the skills needed. At the end of the day, everyone receive baseline training needed to be a part of an expedition.
After successfully graduating, all recruits are taken on a mock 3-days long Expedition in rural Mars, which often just turns into a celebration party with instructors turning a blind eye. It marks the start of your 2-year tour of duty / contract.
So, you’ve made it through the Academy. Explored countless worlds in the simulator, learned to navigate by map, shot hundreds of toothy aliens in holodeck. You know which end of the sample bag opens, you learned not to eat the berries off the bushes on exoplanets. Now you worked off the hangover from the Martian Expedition and pinned on your grey shields. It’s time to get to that exciting work you’ve seen in the recruitment ads.
First of all, you'd lucky to even be on an EC-operated vessel. Most likely you're piggybacking on some Fleet patrol vessel, or a Merchant Marine ship that passes closest to your destination and is fine with taking a detour. Sometimes you have to hop several vessels along the way. After long and uneventful travel, you’ll have to load up all needed supplies and equipment yourself. Unless you have an EC shuttle docked, the best you would have is a cramped general utility pod. Once planetside, you are in for a mind-numbing routine of mapping out significant features, mineral deposits, taking notes of /everything/, and taking samples of anything you can get your hands on. Machete does come out at this point, but usually for its actual role - getting through the thick vegetation. Then it’s time to get back shipside to pack, label and categorize every single thing you brought from the planet. And it’s back to cryopod, for the trip back.
Now, contrary to what Expeditionary Directives claim, not everyone in the Corps, or even in the Field Operations, actually go down to the exoplanetes to wrestle with alien wildlife. While EC doesn’t maintain a lot of ships, those that are still around need someone to keep the power running, to make sure air is flowing, to cook the meals. While there’s the usual banter between the ‘grunts’ and the ‘househusbands’, anyone but most dense ones understand that at the end of the day, they’re one team and you can’t get anywhere without the either. Sure, some engineers hadn’t been on an uncharted planet in years, but then again not a lot of field explorers can keep the fusion core purring.
Despite the notoriously lax hiring standards for EC, the requirements for the officers were not relaxed since the creation of the Corps. The applicant must hold a university degree in a related field - astrogation, engineering, physics, biology, medicine, etc. With the recent stated mission of establishing contact with alien species, political science and xenodiplomacy degrees are accepted too. Candidates must renounce any state or corporate citizenship they hold for duration of their service in EC, becoming solely citizens of the SCG.
There are several reasons for this relative strictness. Expeditions are often operating outside the communications range, and the officer in charge has to make the calls on site, without consulting the higher command. EC officers are granted a commission by SCG General Secretary, have right to lay an official claim on unclaimed stellar bodies and have the capacity to represent the SCG in first contact scenarios if no dedicated diplomatic personnel is present.
Since candidates already come in with the knowledge, the Academy for the officers concentrates mostly on the deep space operations and leadership. They also learn a lot about the legal matters - teams in the field are given a lot of leeway, and EC wants to be sure the leaders understand not to abuse it.
Aside from poaching the people with degrees, anyone with a rank of Chief Explorer can apply for an elevator program. In exchange for signing a 10 years contract with the EC, their education is funded for a master's degree of their choice, and they are awarded a rank of Lieutenant after passing the Academy.