For many centuries, the Freeworlds Region was considered the backwater of the sector. Most of the periphery worlds were rich in ore, but poor in credits, and the houses used them as cheap sources for raw materials. With no major trade routes out of the sector, the houses were the only market for Freeworlds ore.
This all changed with the establishment of the Kaen'anti Bypass. This new route, which linked together many of the periphery worlds, cut days off the heavily traveled K'tem hyperlane which ran from the Romulan Star Empire to the Lorundan Confederacy.
The establishment of the Kaen'anti Bypass brought the colonies into a major trade stream. Competition for the worlds became fierce among the houses, and several skirmishes nearly escalated into sector-wide war before a brokered agreement between the houses diffused the situation by declaring the worlds freeworlds. Like Oscion, they would be independent worlds open to any and all comers.
No doubt most house officials thought that the Freeworlds could be controlled, but it was not long before the principal worlds of the Freeworlds Region - Aelann, Illara Prime, Tinall, Nanaria, Calavar, and Maarok - had the economic power to shake off external influence. They signed trade deals with the Romulans, and grew in power and prestige as the credits flooded their coffers.
Piracy became a problem once the houses withdrew their navies from Freeworld space, so each world began to build up its own navy of patrol ships. Oscion objected to an armed build-up on its borders, but the Freeworlds were feeling confident enough to announce that their navies would not only remain, but would henceforth be subsidized by a new tariff applied to all goods passing through Freeworlds space - namely those heading for the Expanse. This extremely controversial tariff has lead to no end of troubles between the Freeworlds and the Expanse.
The Freeworlds Today
The Freeworlds took a huge loss when the Romulans withdrew from the Par'tha Expanse. Suddenly, a major source of income was gone. Continued trade between the Romulans and the Lorundan Confederacy ceased, and the Lorundans were not interested in dealing only with the Par'tha Expanse. The future seemed bleak.
It was not long after, though, that the Valcarian Imperial Republic forcibly introduced itself into the Par'tha Expanse. The Great Council knew they could not resist the superiority of the Valcarian military, and quickly came to a diplomatic agreement with the Valcarians. The Par'tha Expanse would submit to the rule of the Valcarian Empire, and the Valcarians would allow the Expanse to continue governing themselves.
The Freeworlds have successfully maintained a high level of independence from the houses for several centuries. At the same time, as Par'tha Expanse worlds, they have been protected from gross imperial interference by the arrangements the houses have made with the Emperor. Due to its location at the opposite end of the Expanse Sector from the sovereign territory of the Valcarian Empire, the Freeworlds do enjoy a certain level of political freedom.
However, the Empire, while it did not control the Freeworlds outright, maintained a distinct presence in the Freeworlds Region. Imperial trade offices and diplomats were present on Aelann, Illara Prime, Tinall, Nanaria, Calavar, and Maarok, and the military leased land and space locations for naval bases and army installations. By law, Valcarian military vessels had free passage everywhere in the sector, and the navy often sent its own patrols throughout the Freeworlds and along the Kaen'anti Bypass to discourage smuggling and piracy.
In 2393, however, the noble houses of the Expanse Sector began a rebellion against the Valcarians, and the Freeworlds took this opportunity to expel all Valcarians from Freeworlds space. There is a fear, in the Freeworlds Council, that if the Caraadian nobles lose the war with the Valcarian Empire, that the Freeworlds would not be able to survive the imperial advance to the Freeworlds. As such, the Freeworlds have decided to actively pursue diplomatic realations with the United Federation of Planets, to hopefully gain an ally powerful enough to help them against a possible future Valcarian invasion.
Powers of the Freeworlds
There are several levels of government in the Freeworlds, and they overlap in areas, which can give government officials, barristers, and judges fits. Each world is independent politically from the others, and maintains its own government and defense force. There was a Valcarian Imperial governor assigned to each world as well, who officially at least, had final say over planetary policy. No longer.
But the six major Freeworlds are also members of the Great Council, and are partially affected by decisions made within its halls. They are also members of the Freeworlds Council, which is mostly a trade organization, but also provides for a common defense in case of attack.
While each of the Freeworlds is an independent political power, the six major worlds are banded together in the Freeworlds Council (the other Freeworlds are non-voting members). The Council is a loose-knit alliance which allows the Freeworlds to collude in setting tariffs, provide for a common defense, and make other arrangements which protect and advance their goals.
The Council is made up of representatives from each Freeworld. It concerns itself with only the broadest of issues; setting economic policies, providing defense for the Region, and making treaties with outside powers. Other governmental duties, including enacting and enforcing laws, levying taxes, and so on, are reserved for each world, which also elects its own leaders in its own fashion. The Freeworlds value their independence if only in name; the mining companies pretty much call the shots in most areas of the Region.
The Council Center is located on Illara Prime, and has executive branches on Tinall and Aelann as well. Council representatives also had offices on key Imperial worlds as well, including Tibro and Valcaria. An additional council embassy has been set up on Deep Space 26 to include the Federation representatives.
The Freeworlds and the Great Council
Long ago, when the Freeworlds were directly ruled by the houses, they were represented on the Great Council along with every other world of the sector. When they declared independence, the representatives became non-voting members, but continued to attend sessions, mostly to maintain links with Expanse governments and trading associations.
The Freeworlds representatives are in a distinct minority on the Great Council, and are not admitted in either the Senate or the Council of Ten. This isn't particularly surprising, really; none of the houses are interested in seeing outsiders (as the view the Freeworlders) have a voice in what they see as internal affairs. The Freeworld representatives would have been removed from the Great Council years ago, but the houses fear that doing so would cause the Freeworlds Council to come down hard on house-owned firms in the Freeworlds.
The Expanse Houses
Not surprisingly, the houses of the Expanse are quite active on the Freeworlds, and maintain embassies, trade lobbies, and businesses on all of the worlds. The houses own quite a few lucrative businesses on the Freeworlds, which gives the Freeworlds a bit of leverage.
A far greater source of leverage the Freeworlds have over the houses was formerly the lock they had on all major trade routes into the sector, and now the vast resources and credits they still maintain. The houses dislike the apparent hold the Freeworlds have on their economy, but there isn't much they can do about it officially. Even more alarming is the increasingly friendly relationship between Rettaan and the Freeworlds Council. Should the two unite, the Freeworlds could find a voice in the Great Council and Rettaan would gain some much needed and envied economic support.
Relationships between the houses and the Freeworlds runs very much from hot to cold. On the surface, relations are stable and cordial, but just underneath the surface, an intense enmity born of competition and rivalry seethes unseen. A vast shadow war is underway. Industrial espionage, occasional bouts of sabotage, suspicious pirate raids, blackmail, and such are part of the game. Thus far, diplomacy has prevented hostilities from breaking out into trade wars, embargoes, and armed conflict. Everyone involved knows that such activities in the past would bring in the Valcarian Empire, and few wanted to see that happen. Even now, things are tense between the two segments of the Par'tha Expanse, and have been for a long time.
Like all the Par'thinian worlds, the Valcarian Empire had assigned an Imperial governor to supervise each Freeworld. Officially, the governor had supreme authority over his world, but in day-to-day affairs he tended to defer to local government officials. The Par'tha Expanse was supervised by a Grand Governor appointed by the Emperor, and this territory included the Freeworlds as well as the Expanse. Again, the Grand Governor was less powerful in fact than in theory, though some believed this would have changed if Imperial interests in the sector had grown. With the outset of the Noble Houses' war with the Valcarians, this point is now moot.
Mining is big business in the Freeworlds Region, and the prominent mining companies are all members of the Mining Guild. This gives them a lot of pull in the governments of each Freeworld, and in the Freeworlds Council.
More recently, Alpha Quadrant entities such as the Ferengi Commerce Association and the United Federation of Planets have arrived on scene. If the Freeworlds could reopen trade through the Jenatris Corridor they would retake their place as a major power in the sector.
The Freeworlds are egalitarian societies; their citizens don't care where you come from or who your family is as long as you are good at what you do. Naturally, this is more true in theory than in practice. As everywhere, certain families and individuals tend to hang on to power over the years, especially those affiliated with the mining corporations.
Still, those who come here with a good work ethic and skills to match can and do build good lives for themselves. Those who work for the mining and merchant companies sometimes achieve near nobility status if they play their cards right - enough do to keep the dream alive for the rest.
Visiting nobles are accorded a certain level of polite deference, but the influence doesn't stretch too far - at least not without money. People are far more impressed by a corporate or military title than a family name.
Some Freeworld families are descendants of houses which split away from the Expanse centuries ago. They have long since been absorbed into the general population, but certain of them retain something of their heritage (the first merchant families to be admitted into House Rettaan were long-lost splinters of Kerraron noble families).
The six major Freeworlds pool a certain portion of their defense fleets to patrol the Freeworlds Region - formerly to supplement the Imperial patrols, but also to constantly reinforce the idea of Freeworlds hegemony throughout the sector. This fleet is known as the Freeworlds Common Navy.
By convention, every Freeworlds navy is standardized along the same lines to make maintenance of the Common Navy vessels less expensive and command less complicated. Vessels rotate in and out of the Common Navy on a set schedule, to allow the ships to return to their homeworlds for home patrol.
The capital ships of the Common Navy are built in the Aelann shipyards (mostly frigates, but also one or two carriers). Support craft are more varied, and range from cruisers to corvettes. Starfighters and light escorts are also produced.
The Freeworlds have no separate navy and army. Each world sees to its own defenses, and these forces are supplemented by Common Navy Troopers, which travel with the Common Navy fleets. By and large, the troopers are not as well trained as the house Army units, but are better armed. The regular Navy personnel are about equal with their Expanse counterparts.