The Noble Houses of the Ascendancy are all descended from the council formed by commanders of various orbitals or habitats in the Sol system after the collapse of the Terran biosphere. These commanders groomed their successors for leadership, and with the increasingly stratified society needed for survival, those successors in turn relied on their families to control their subordinates. After about 200 years, the Houses began to take shape, and as the Terrans spread to other stars, they used their clout to control many of the new colonies and businesses that sprang up. Over time, the major Houses fractured and merged, and each diverged from the others, concentrating their efforts and influence on certain areas of Ascendancy space and spheres of operation.
Although the Houses had their origins in the space programs of present-day Earth nations, millennia of intermarriage and adoption of promising individuals has removed any racial associations with the Houses. The erasure of national cultures in the first few centuries of the Ascendancy and the imposition of new cultural norms has mostly eliminated any cultural differences as well, although there are a few minor elements that have survived - Houses associated with East Asian origin nations, for example, tend to use their house name as the first part of their name. Now, the Houses each have their own distinctive character within the umbrella of the Ascendancy - some aspects of their origin nation's character may be preserved in the insignia, naming conventions or stylistic taste of each House.
The Great Houses, who sit on the Ruling Council, are listed below, along with their major interests and origin nationality;
(UKSA - United Kingdom)
This House has the most distributed holdings of all the Great Houses, and its representatives can be found on nearly every inhabited Ascendancy world. Archer specialises in policing and security, and works hand in glove with the judicial system (and indeed is often accused of swaying it). In creating their distributed network of holdings, they also discovered other opportunities to exploit - most notably communications and tourism!
(ESA - France)
House Clervoy family members are strongly encouraged to pursue careers in the sciences, so that they will be qualified to look after the House interests in medicaments and biotechnology. Clervoy mass-produces chemicals, develops drugs, runs hospitals and trains doctors. They are well-regarded by the other Houses, and are seen as taking an active interest in the overall health of the populace, although sometimes their state-sponsored research activities on Terran citizenry have negative outcomes. More than a few uprisings have cited Clervoy “vivisectionists” as a main grievance.
(NASA - United States)
Bolden drives the engine of Ascendancy patriotism, and many of the ruling House members do stints in the army. This House involves itself at all levels of the Ascendancy military complex, and has a lot of influence with the top brass. They service and supply military bases and stations, and push agendas and businesses that keep the general populace loyal and dutiful. Their interests range from property to programming and security services to waste management, all executed with discipline and precision. House Bolden is rumoured to have developed the first successful training techniques to resist mental interference, and they are rumoured to have hidden research facilities that test the absolute limits of Terran will and endurance.
(NASA - United States)
This house is one of the most powerful financial powers in the Hegemony. They have extensive holdings across the banking, shipping and communications sectors. They are advocates of deregulation in the business and trade sectors, and often clash with other Houses with a more authoritarian financial outlook.
(AEB - Brazil)
Regarded by the other Great Houses as somewhat suspect, Pontez outwardly specialises in the location and development of new colonies. However, it is widely suspected that their main source of influence is the acquisition and sale of information, and their networks of spies, both within and outside the Ascendancy, are reputed to be immense.
(KASRI - Korea)
Yi (pronounced Lee in English, but always written as Yi) has exclusive claim over what others consider to be useless stars or barren rock and empty void. To this House, such systems are excellent testing grounds for its main export - weapons and military technology. Its manufactories provide the lion's share of Ascendancy military gear, and it has good links with Advanced Armaments, the military MegaCorp born from this House.
(CNSA - China)
This House specialises in the conversion of base materials into refined products. They are one of the greatest manufacturing powers in the Ascendancy, and their workers and artisans take pride in the quality of their output. House Chen is wealthy, and also produces the trappings of wealth. As well as bulk goods manufacturing, House Chen makes a lot of chits in creating indulgences for the other Houses - jewellery, objet d'art, exquisite wines and foods and other accoutrements of opulence. In their quest for new fashionable materials, cultures and narcotics, House Chen has also built a substantial fleet of exploration and scientific starships, which they contract out to the Ascendancy or MegaCorps when not being used for their own projects.
(ISRO - India)
Malhotra jealously guards its datavaults and research laboratories, where it designs and tests its primary export - starships. House Malhotra is the largest producer of starships in the Ascendancy, and its void-faring vessels are considered among the best. It has held the main shipbuilding contracts for the Ascendancy Navy for nearly two millennia, and has strong links with pilots and ship officers in the Navy establishment. It also operates much of the interstellar freight and bulk passenger transport networks within the Ascendancy.
(ROSCOSMOS - Russia)
Ryzhikov's strength lies in its workforce. They control 7 of the 10 most populated worlds in the Ascendancy, as well as their vast manufacturing bases. The methods they have developed in keeping populations under control has also given them a distinct advantage in the control and exploitation of many of the Ascendancy's vassal species. They are masters of the subtle arts of propaganda, empty promises and bureaucratic manipulation.
(WASRDA - Nigeria)
This Houses seems initially not to have a particular speciality. Their holdings stretch across the Ascendancy, encompassing agriculture, finance, business, the military and many other areas. Adebayo are renowned for having their fingers in as many proverbial pies as possible. Their main asset is considered to be their hospitality and networks of contacts. Their pleasant outward demeanour and willingness to provide a diverse range of “services” - from fine wine to loans to population suppression - has earned them a network of useful associations with other Houses and many prominent MegaCorps. They often provide an outlet for the voice of smaller Houses on the Ruling Council.
(SMEDSA - Algeria)
House Kateb controls most of the “breadbasket” worlds in the Hegemony, and much of the supply of food. Kateb is usually treated well by other Houses - few want to risk disruption to their food supplies and the unrest that could result. Kateb currently have few leaders interested in expanding their remit, however, and have become politically somewhat lethargic in recent centuries.
(ISRA - Iran)
This House is primarily interested in the extractive industries. They run an extensive network of mining colonies across the Hegemony, extracting and transporting both rare and common metals as well as organics and water. The majority of space-based mining stations in the Hegemony are also run by House Ansari, and their members tend to find positions commanding these cramped outposts. House Ansari has a strong culture of internal camaraderie as well as competition, but are regarded as somewhat rough around the edges by other Houses.
As well as the major Houses, there are numerous minor Houses. Some of these Houses are the weakened remnants of former Great Houses, while others were formed in the intervening millennia in recognition of great deeds by their founders, or grants by other Great Houses for political or financial gain. The elevation of a family to a Noble House is controlled by the Ruling Council, and is now a rare event - only a handful of new Houses have been created in the last thousand years.