Wedged between the borders of the Alliance of Free Worlds and the Empire of the Radiant Throne is a cluster of planetary systems that, while comparatively small in size, represent the third largest power in known space. This power is not military, but economic: and that power rivals, perhaps even exceeds, anything either superpower can bring to bear.
The Free Trade Baronies are, essentially, corporations that grew so large that their infrastructures encompassed worlds, then solar systems. In time the logistics involved in supporting these corporate monstrosities grew so complex that they developed into governments, with the HR department transforming into a judicial system, managers becoming governors, subsidiary holdings becoming fiefdoms, and the CEO becoming a monarch. Ownership of a Trade Barony is transferred through the family line, usually the oldest child of the current Baron though each Baron has free will to designate any heir he or she chooses. The Trade Baron’s power, however, is not absolute – the executives of each company under the barony’s umbrella wield great power in their own right, and from time to time a Trade Baron can find him or herself voted out of power… or worse.