At first glance, starships seem to just follow
straight lines from origin to destination. The reality is quite different.
There is a kind of terrain in interstellar space; clusters of worlds
and regions of empty space direct ships into distinct channels.
The Imperium is criss-crossed with trade
routes which jump between major worlds, connecting vital suppliers with essential
markets, important government worlds with high population worlds, and strategic
resources with exploiting industry. Trade routes are a natural outgrowth
of economic and market pressures. When a market is no longer profitable,
the trade routes bypass it.
The trade routes are typically the territory of the Imperium's largest trading
companies. They maintain fleets of commercial transports and merchants
who serve these tradeworlds, and they reap large profits in doing so.
But the trade routes directly serve fewer than a tenth of the worlds of the
Imperium. The other 90 percent of the Imperium's worlds are served
by feeder lines, tramp freighters, and free
traders. These smaller companies and unscheduled ships carry passengers
and cargo between worlds off the main trade routes.
A traveller leaving Menorb for Heya would first catch a tramp
freighter for Pixie and transfer to a scheduled liner for Kinorb.
Once at Kinorb, he would wait for the first available ship to
Heya. Ships along the trade routes are scheduled and predictable;
ships travelling to worlds off the main routes are unscheduled and unpredictable.