Trade is the lifeblood of interstellar civilization. The exchange of goods allows one nation or entity to ameliorate comparative disadvantages in production. It's also an important sociocultural and political staple.
While amenable to free trade, each of the five Barystates has its own socio-economic concerns, political takes on trade regulation, as well as varied means (or willingness) to enforce its own laws.
Freight transit times in The Bary are measured in weeks to years, even as much as a decade. An interplanetary delivery doesn’t take long in the grand scheme of things. Interstellar freight is a much more involved effort. The Barystates plan trade missions years in advance and act as an intermediary for corporations that wish to trade internationally.
Only the largest megacorporations retain their own trade ships. The reason for this is two-fold: travel between the farthest ends of The Bary takes enormous effort, and the anarchy of space is pretty much total beyond immediate planetary volumes. Even before the discovery of Stardust, piracy was a worthwhile profession for the unscrupulous.
Trade missions between nations consist of deep space freighters of enormous volume, several cruisers for endurance escort, and usually an additional diplomatic contingent to see the pre-arranged exchanges through. Freighters contain all manner of containerized goods. Space utilization is prioritized as-needed with national and civil interest preempting private trade.
Trade ships of all sizes exist. But the bulk carriers and freighters of Stardust are too massive to land on a planet; they would not be able to use their powerful drives in atmospheric conditions anyway. This leaves customs inspection to take place at orbital spaceports rather than planetside. By international agreement, orbiting space stations serve as the border or interface between the states themselves. These are controlled and operated by the governments of each state under a port authority or administration.
Of particular interest to these authorities is cracking down on runners and smugglers attempting to bypass legal trade channels entirely. It’s not impossible to hide contraband and hope it won’t be noticed during customs inspection (or pay a bribe). But by far the most common smuggling tactic is just to quickly fly the wares directly to the surface. In doing so, smugglers must rely either on clandestine tactics or brute speed, making it a dangerous if lucrative affair.
Orbital space is a big place. And while the local authorities can track a ship just about anywhere, interception is a different issue. Often the port authority just doesn’t have the law enforcement resources to chase down every offending vehicle attempting to evade the law. They are also loath to simply shoot down these smugglers for fear of what might be on board. Much of this interception work is therefore outsourced to commissioned privateer cutters.
Ashlee Rinn is one of these contractors. Ash is an interdictor, a privateer given the authority to track down ships that have illegally breached the atmosphere. As one might imagine, this is a dangerous line of work.
Re-entry itself is a non-trivial maneuver for any pilot, with ablative shielding the only thing standing between a crew and a fiery death. Interdictors are never quite sure what they are going to find upon forcing a suspect ship to land; privateers like interdictors are the only civilian craft authorized to carry weapons, and the only civilians allowed to carry fully automatic firearms in a vast majority of jurisdictions. As a result, their charter is heavily regulated. They maintain their own cutter class vessels and are patched into airspace control systems. Finally and certainly not least, interdictors are obligated to assist cooperative subjects by any means available, and they often face the inevitable hazards of search and rescue ops in hostile environments far from civilization.
Even with the full weight of greater authorities behind them should reinforcement be necessary, they are first on the scene, making interdiction an unpredictable and hazardous profession.
It is important to note that a star’s gravitational influence does not immediately confer political or economic rights upon a nation-state. Instead, economic and law enforcement volumes are established around major population centers such as planets or megastructures. A foreign warship entering the gravitational influence of a star may be seen as provocative, and it may induce a political or military response, but it isn’t doing anything illegal by sitting idle. This is analogous to maritime law, where national jurisdiction in shoreline greenwater quickly gives way to the pseudo-anarchy of international bluewaters.