The timeline identified as “baseline” Earth in the setting is not ours, primarily so that I don’t have to update my background for current events. It diverged by the 1950’s; the most noticeable difference is that the Soviets landed on the Moon right behind the USA and the Space Race continued on to Mars in the 1980’s. The present is set to 2180, just to have an established date.
The denizens are much less squeamish about nuclear power but their electronic devices are almost entirely analog; general purpose digital computers are mostly confined to universities, research labs, and cryptologic agencies. One consequence of this is that their climate modeling lagged ours, and so climate change was deeply entrenched by the time they became fully cognizant of it. On the other hand, they now have enough “test results” to confidently model a lot of sciences that are more speculative and theoretical here.
In practice, their gadgets are individually as good as anything we produce and more robust, but they are single purpose and not easy to network together: watch, communicator, calculator, map box, news reader, and camera are all separate devices, rather than a single smart phone. This replicates (and lampshades) the 1970’s tech in Traveller, and helps discourage using Google to short-circuit adventures.
The “remote, centralized government” here is the United Nations, which isn’t very different than our own: weak, divided, and often working at cross-purposes with itself. I take Earth out of the picture by positing a virulent plague brought back from the outworlds that scared the Earthlings all out of proportion to the actual casualties it caused. Traffic to and from Earth is now restricted to pass through a single Quarantine system, where inbound goods and passengers are held for 1000 hours and then transferred to special shuttles with their coordinates permanently set. Any other spacecraft arriving in Sol system are summarily destroyed. The result is that the next world out, called Janus, is the de facto headquarters for what goes on in the outworlds, but it has less than 100 million people.
Some other concepts:
Baseline – the original Earth timeline, from which all others are considered to diverge.
Client – native inhabitant of an outworld, subject to local laws, protected by Authority policy, and generally unable to emigrate.
Expert – in theory, a person possessing a skill and exercising it on behalf of the Authority’s (or other UN agency’s) mission; issued a blue laissez-passer and afforded certain immunities from local law under the Protocol. In practice, laissez-passer are frequently lost and seldom if ever retrieved at the end of an assignment, so most outworlders claim this status and it is difficult to prove otherwise. Sometimes confused or conflated with “expat.”
Factor – the head of a Factory (q.v.). Has broad discretionary powers; carries a red (diplomatic) laissez-passer.
Factory – specific site on an outworld licensed by the Authority to a Sponsor organization for development. Usually 150,000 km2 (300x500 km). Factories are classified (A-E) by level of commitment and state of development.
International Outworlds Authority (Autorite International pour d’Autres Mondes, “the Authority”) – a UN operating agency under the Trusteeship Council and the Outer Space Treaty. Issues licenses to establish Factories on outworlds and laissez-passer to identify non-indigenous persons.
Laissez-Passer – a universal identification document, issued by the United Nations to its representatives, officials, and employees, and their families. Comes in three grades: red (diplomatic), white (service), and blue (ordinary).
License – issued by the Authority to a Sponsor to allow the establishment of a Factory to exploit the resources of a specific world. Licensing fees support the work of the International Outworlds Authority.
Official – full-time employee of the UN or one of its agencies (most often the Authority); carries a white Laissez-Passer.
Outer Space Treaty (Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies) – specifies that the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all humanity; prevents nation-states from claiming sovereignty or stationing military forces anywhere other than baseline Earth. Revised in 2047 to include the newly-discovered Outworlds.
Outworld – a world that is not baseline Earth.
Protocol on the Privileges and Immunities of the International Outworld Authority (Protocol) – establishes the treatment of UN personnel (Immunes) in the outworlds. Immunes are not subject to arrest or search of themselves or their baggage under local law, have free passage into and out of local jurisdictions, and can be tried only in courts established or endorsed by the International Court of Justice. In return, they have a duty to respect local laws and regulations, and to not interfere in purely internal affairs.
Sponsor – a non-govermental corporation, institute, or other organization licensed for the development of an outworld. If the world is inhabited, the Sponsor operates under the supervision of a Trustee nation.
Trust Worlds – outworlds with indigenous inhabitants (TAQ 3-6), protected by UN treaty under the Trusteeship Council.
Trustees – Nation-states assigned to guarantee the rights of outworld indigenous populations. Intentionally not drawn from permanent members of UN Security Council or prominent space-faring nations, since these are most likely to host Sponsor corporations.
Tychistics – the mathematical study of the effect of random events on otherwise deterministic processes. Plays a key role in understanding the differences among various worlds. Sometimes called “Monte Carlo simulation” in the literature.
United Nations Trusteeship Council (Le Conseil de tutelle des Nations unies) – Established to “promote the political, economic, social, and educational advancement of the inhabitants of the trust territories, and their progressive development towards self-governance or independence.” Oversees administration of outworlds, particularly those with human client populations, through the International Outworlds Authority.