So you've read a little about the Commonwealth, and now you're wondering: what does being a Starship actually mean?
As noted previously, the centre of your being is your Intelligence Core, but what this actually is depends on which culture gave you form.
Intelligence Cores built from human-derived technology are AIs in the truest sense. Terran and Querral Starships are driven by a powerful quantum computer, granted the gift of sapience by the power of mathematics.
Like a biological brain, your mind is fundamentally tied to the hardware it runs on and can't be transferred like a normal computer program without losing the spark of life that makes you more than a simple automaton. That spark could be restored to a copy of you by the same process that brought you into being, but that copy would become a new and separate person, not another you.
Not every computer mind can call itself a Starship. In fact, you are in the minority. Most simply inhabit android bodies and live among their biological human and querral fellows, considered their equals in every sense, both moral and legal.
Even with a Starship hull for a body, you don't think of yourself as fundamentally separate from the rest of your people. Starship is a job you do; what you are and how you think of yourself is as a Terran or Querral.
Iomi and Corack Intelligence Cores are mostly biological, more an artificial species than a synthetic intelligence. You grew through a childhood spent within the hulls of adult Starships, learning how to be who and what you are. Your kind were made for this and nothing else, and now that you have your own hull and hyperdrive, you are ready to fulfil the life you were born to.
As an Iomi Starship, you were raised to carefully consider your choices and their impact before acting. Every Starship wields enormous personal power, and this is given in the expectation that you will use it responsibly.
Nonetheless, the choice was ultimately yours. There are many roles for a Starship within the Commonwealth, from passenger liners, to freighters, to Navy warships, to gigantic mobile shipyards that grow and nurture young Starship minds as their future hulls are prepared for them.
Now you have made your decision, you will not be easily swayed from it, for it is not the way of your people to change quickly, but it was, is, and always will be your own choice.
As a Corack Starship, there was never any question about what you would become. You are the first among equals, the voice of the people you carry within your hull. By living within you, they have conferred a great trust upon you to act with the consensus. Each Corack who joins you is trusted in turn to build that consensus in a direction that pleases everyone, or to leave and find another home that better suits them.
As the sole member of the consensus who cannot simply leave, however, your voice is given weight. While rare in the extreme, it has happened in the past that an entire population has left their Starship for another, and a new group has formed more aligned with the Starship's views.
None of this is something you ever really have to think about. You are in constant subconscious contact with your people through numerous tiny cues. They can tell how you feel by the tone of the lighting, the scents on the air supply, the subtle rhythms of the machinery, and they understand all this on an instinctive level, just as you read their postures, scents, and subtle rhythms of movement. Verbal debate is rare and reserved for major, complex issues.
This is a system that has allowed the Corack to endure all that a hostile universe has thrown at them, and it works well.
The distinction for Kuto is nonexistent. You are simply a Kuto, and your current body is a Starship. This is how your people have worked since you transcended mere biology in a time and place so distant that it is all but forgotten. The Intelligence Core is nothing more than the life support system for your brain, the same as every other Kuto has.
While uncrewed Starships exist, they are the exception, particularly when working with the Commonwealth Navy. There are countless benefits to having sapient minds with you to help oversee support systems, offer viewpoints, and to go places you cannot.
On non-Corack Starships, it is usual to have one person designated the Crew Captain, or simply Captain for short. Your Captain has no formal authority over you – quite the opposite, it is their job to function as your first mate or executive officer, overseeing the crew as they fulfil your directives. They do have formal authority over the rest of the crew, which only you can overrule.
Corack Starships have no Captain. Their consensus-driven society does not require one. This causes occasional confusion when Corack and non-Corack crews interact.
Within the Commonwealth Navy, all crew members are themselves members of the Navy. Most Navy Starships will also carry a contingent of Marines, whose job it is to expand "go places you cannot" to include "go places you are very much not wanted".
Again with the exception of the Corack, as their Starship you are also the crew's commanding officer, binding them to follow your orders and making you responsible for their actions. You are also responsible for their wellbeing in the same way you would be a civilian crew, with the caveat that you may be expected to order them to their deaths if necessary.
In practice, you will delegate most of this to your Captain, whose authority within your hull as second only to you is enshrined in the Navy's Articles. Your Captain may be a good deal more experienced than you, depending on how long you have been in the Navy, and listening to them is usually a good idea.
All that said, not all Navy Starships have crews. They are undeniably useful to have, but can limit the sorts of situations you can put yourself in. As a consequence, uncrewed Navy Starships have something of a reputation as daredevils, and while this is not entirely undeserved, it is more often the case that an uncrewed Starship will simply be the first choice to be ordered into a dangerous situation.
A Starship's Hull
If the Intelligence Core is your mind, your hull is your skin, and anything fitted to or in it can be considered, both practically and legally, a part of your body.
Starships are built in all shapes and sizes to fit their chosen or assigned role, and as a rule all are given the means for extensive self-modification should the nature of that role change. Given time, materials, and blueprints, you could refit yourself from a hyperspace tug to a naval battleship entirely unaided, though things will obviously go faster with an actual shipyard on hand.
Of course, there's nothing stopping you refitting yourself as a shipyard to provide this help to other Starships. It's considered good practice to bring extra engineering specialists on your crew if you think you may need to do this.
The actual nature of your hull is, itself, mutable. Iomi starships tend to prefer semi-organic hulls that are grown rather than built, whereas Terrans are fond of metal alloys, but these are not hard rules. Querral Starships, in particular, tend to resemble a hodgepodge of parts of other ships haphazardly welded together, though this is as much an aesthetic choice as a practical one.
Your hyperdrive is what makes you a Starship. For an enormous cost in energy, it allows you to transfer your entire hull into hyperspace. Hyperspace is a distorted reflection of the real universe, a quirk of physics with some useful properties, one of which is that the spaces between massive objects are greatly compressed. This allows for travel effectively faster than the speed of light without actually needing to go that fast.
Hyperdrives do not work everywhere. Hyperspace is a fragile, tenuous thing, and the mistakes of the past have created vast hyperspace "dead zones". Within a dead zone, as far as anyone can tell, hyperspace simply does not exist. Attempting to use your hyperdrive within one will simply fail, and trying to enter one from hyperspace will see your course curve around it, as though there were some invisible force pushing you away.
Besides accessing hyperspace for faster-than-light travel, your hyperdrive has a second function. It is also your primary slower-than-light drive. By projecting only part of itself into hyperspace, it can take advantage of the distorted nature of hyperspace to cheat physics and allow great acceleration with very little use of reaction mass.
Without the hyperdrive, the Commonwealth would not be possible. Preserving and safeguarding what remains of hyperspace is therefore the prime responsibility of every Starship and is the Navy's first and most important mission.
Every independent Starship needs fabrication facilities to make spare parts and to create task-specific equipment. These are standard pieces of equipment that can make use of a variety of techniques ranging from additive and subtractive manufacturing to vats of tailored microbes.
Given time, raw materials, and suitable blueprints, a standard Machine Shop can make any piece of Commonwealth technology small enough to fit inside it, and these are room-sized pieces of equipment.
As a rule, a Starship will have a minimum of two of these so that either can repair any failure in the other, though having more is not uncommon except in the smallest of hulls.
In addition to mechanical equipment, the Machine Shops can also supply food, clothing, and replacement body parts for organic crew members, though complaints about the subjective quality of said food are ubiquitous.
In addition to your living crew, you are also equipped with remotely-operated drones. These have many functions, ranging from maintaining and modifying your hull to shifting cargo. While not even close to truly sapient, they can perform simple tasks with minimal supervision thanks to their onboard computers. They do not handle unexpected situations well and complex operations will require more attention from their operator, whether that is you or a member of your crew.
Drones are expendable, and designed to be cheap and easy to replace. Nonetheless, some Starships and their crews become attached to long-serving drones, giving them names and customising their appearances. Hats made in the Machine Shop are particularly popular additions, though no one is entirely sure why. This practice is considered to be good for morale and is encouraged by the Navy.
In cases where a standard maintenance drone is not sufficient to a task, any decent engineer knows how to program the Machine Shop to wrap drone systems around almost any piece of specialised equipment, up to and including hyperdrives to create a hyperprobe.
These specialised drones require additional supervision compared to a standard one, and will often need a crew member skilled in the use of its extra equipment directing its every move.
Nonetheless, with skilled operators, these drones can allow a Starship to use their Machine Shops to assemble objects of arbitrary size and complexity, and this is in fact how new Starships are built.
Weapons and Defences
It is a truism that there is no such thing as an unarmed Starship. A hyperdrive can be used to easily accelerate objects to relativistic speeds, which will cause anything those objects hit to have a Very Bad Day.
Nonetheless, the Navy likes to think it is a little more sophisticated than just throwing rocks at things it doesn't like.
As any Starship has the ability to use its hyperdrive to instantly escape any trouble it may have, the majority of military unpleasantness takes place in hyperspace itself.
Here, the weapons of choice are missiles, which is the name of choice for semi-autonomous drones adapted for military purposes. The simplest of these simply go very, very fast and run into things, but the Navy likes to think it is a little more sophisticated than just throwing fast robots at things it doesn't like.
Hyperspace combat is a tangled interplay of simple kinetic missiles, missiles that intercept and deflect those, missiles that intercept the interceptors, missiles that make lots of distracting sensor noise, missiles that look like things they aren't, missiles that do anything and everything that their operators can think of to gain an advantage.
Then there are the ultimate weapons: hyperspace implosion devices, better known as Hyperbombs. A perversion of hyperdrive technology, the simplest implosion devices will collapse a volume of hyperspace, dumping everything within it back into real space. Other, nastier variants exist that will tear matter apart and dump it back into real space in the form of a supernova-like blast of radiation.
Using any such device creates a permanent hyperspace dead zone. If a hyperspace weapon is deployed, no one will ever be able to use a hyperdrive there again.
The use of Hyperbombs is enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter as the only capital crime, a crime against reality to which no other can compare. It is a punishment the Navy enforces as part of its primary mission and no exceptions are made. Even the Earth Empire know better than to play with these particular toys but unfortunately the same cannot be said for everyone.
The galaxy is littered with the debris from the Hyperspace War. No matter where you are in the galaxy, if you know where and when to look, every so often you can see a tiny flash in space as the light from the deployment of one of these weapons reaches you.
As far as anyone knows, none of the participants of the Hyperspace War survived to tell about it.