In order to understand the United, one has to understand their
peculiar biology as nocturnal colonial animals, and the resulting
differences in mentality, senses and culture. They are not humans in
funny suits, they are not even mammals and biochemically they have
less in common with humans than with deep oceanic bacteria. Their
motivations are logical, but subtly different from human motivations,
making interaction between the two species very hard.
United Background and Biology
The United evolved on a terrestrial low-gravity planet orbiting
DM+34 2323, a K-type star. The planet had large, salty oceans and a
significant moon which created strong tides. Its surface consisted
mainly of long volcanic island chains and small continents surrounded by
During the planet's version of the Cambrian explosion a family of orthoceratit-like creatures developed. They had a conical shell protecting the inner organs and a long tentacle/body with a "spinal cord" of jointed bones, and a ring of sensory organs around the tentacle. The earliest forms swam like terrestrial fishes.
A few million years later an unusual but significant development took place: some of the species evolved colonialism. Several individuals linked together, their shells merging and the colony forming a multi-limbed colonial animal. Several different body- plans were developed: radially symmetric "jellyfishes" and "octopi", fans, sessile corals and more complex structures. Different subunits specialized for swimming, eating, sensing or communication. This lineage of organisms became the dominant on their homeworld, just as the insects became dominant on Earth.
One of the most complex forms evolved to a life as a nightly
amphibian gatherer along the beaches of the many islands. During
the day they hid in hollows or beneath the sea for certain flying
predators, to emerge during the night to comb the beaches for
edible plants and animals. In time they developed a beaver-like
lifestyle, where they dug trenches and dams to catch more food or
in time grow it, mud huts and traps for some prey.
The biochemistry of the United is carbon-based but very different
from terrestrial biochemistry. Genetic information is transferred by
chains of polysaccharides linked to rings of polygalactose. Proteins
consists both of amino acids and oligosaccharides, and often linkt to
form long chains where different sections have different functions
instead of floating free as in terrestial cells. They use widely
branching fatty acids for energy storage and to provide a matrix for
many biochemical reactions. Cells easily merge to form a syncyticum,
where genetic information can easily diffuse between cells and
individuals. The structure must be actively maintained, at death the
cells merge together and loose cohesion; the whole organism gradually
turns into a stinking jelly smelling somewhat like burned bread to a
The basis of United anatomy is the modules. Each module has a 30-40 cm long conical shell, approximately 7 cm wide (sensory modules are half as large), From the shell extends a tentacle up to 2 meters long containing jointed supporting bones and braided muscles; it can move in any direction. Along both sides runs breathing flanges and sensory organs, and at the edge of the shell there are numerous small sensory tentacles and the three-toothed mouth/anus. The tentacle ends in a bony "nail". The shell (mainly composed of calcium carbonate and a chitin-like substance) is brownish-red, sometimes with a periodic texture. The tentacle is black and covered with a sensitive but rough skin similar to shark skin.
An individual consists of several modules joined together. The most common body plan has four or five modules pointing backwards and 3-5 smaller sensory modules pointing forward. The back modules acts as legs and heavy manipulators; a common mode of walking consists of balancing using the longest tentacles and walking on the shorter tentacles, using their nails as soles. The forward tentacles act as sensory organs and fine manipulators with atrophied nails. As a whole the shelly body is approcimately 50 cm long, 60 wide and 40 high; when walking the United are 1.5 meter high. The total weight is around 70 kg.
The modules are adaptable, and change depending on their major use. Walking modules become stronger and larger, sensor modules become more soft and sensitive while their nervous system branches out more, and auxillary modules that are little used shrink and become deposits of energy.
Usually only a few modules are used for eating/excreting,
and the digestive system atrophy in the others. United usually mash
their food into a pulp which is ingested in small pieces; to promote
digestion they often add gravel or other abrasives.
The United have very fine taste, smell and hearing, in addition
to an electrical sense which can detect other organisms or
movements in the vicinity.
Their hearing is distributed along the tentacles, and allows them to pinpoint sound sources quite easily. They also have tentacular taste receptors, altough they rely more on the very sensitive smell tendrils around their module-bases. They navigate excellently in darkness, and can easily interpret the echo resulting when they drag their nails across their shell.
On the other hand, they have an extremely limited sight, essentially
just detecting the presence or absence of light (they dislike strong
light, which causes a disagreeable sensation in their skin).
Each module is basically an independent organism, with its own
organs and ability to reproduce. The modules can be "male" or
"female", although the differences are molecular rather than
macroscopic. During the mating season (today regulated using
artificial hormones) they can release freely swimming sexual cells
which seek out each other and merge. At least one "male" cell needs
to merge with a complex of "female" cells for conception to occur.
The cells divide inside a protective and nutritive mass of jelly
exuded by the mating United (usually more than two) and
develop into eggs which hatch into larvae. The larvae are freely
swimming immature modules, which feed on the nutrients in the
larvae dam until they begin to school. The schools sink to the
bottom where they exude a gel which turns into a pupa. Inside the
pupa the larvae join together; the thin shells partially dissolve and
the layout of the new individual emerges. The nervous and
circulatory systems merge, and in time a small United hatches. It
is at first strongly dependent on its parents and protectors while it
learns to organize its behavior, but after a few months it can
already walk and swim.
The United normally do not use clothing, since their amphibious
lifestyle would make it wet and useless for insulation. This has
somewhat limited their activities to warm climates, since they tend
to get too chilled by arctic temperatures. An insulating paste is
sometimes used, but only when absolutely necessary. For protection
they usually wear conical "gloves" on their tentacles, often including
sophisticated devices to transfer or extend their senses. In certain
environments protective suits are used, such as when venturing out
in strong sunlight, space or radioactive environments, but usually
they prefer telepresence.
In general most United wear decorative or useful objects on themselves. Most common are elastic straps affixed to the shell where tools and objects can be carried without encumbering the tentacles. Many United also wear objects similar to the quipus of Beta Virginis to enhance their appearance by adding extra meaning. Some United, especially the radical ones of the outer rings of Denebola, carve or etch their shells into various patterns.
Perfume is ubiquitious; while most United enjoy the natural smells and tastes of others, it is very popular to enhance them in various ways, by complex applications of perfumes and flavoring. Among many orbitals it is popular to add artificial pheromone glands, and some United sport hanging "shirts" of elaborate texture and smell messages. Some resins are also used to change the timbre of one's sounds; among the Harmonic Hedonists is is common to add resonant metal tounges to the shell to improve its sound.
Among the technologically advanced orbitals bionics is used quite
commonly. Most implants are extensions of senses or
communication abilities which allow them to perceive various
forms of energy (including light), send and receive information or
enhance their perception. Adding artificial lobes to their brains
have been a long-term goal, and it has partially been reached by
the quantum cultists who have integrated quantum computers into
their nervous system, enabling them to intuitively solve some
apparently hard problems (and incidentally making them quite
United brains are linked to each other through thick fibrous
bundles but still retain a certain level of autonomy. The first thing a
young United has to learn is to coordinate its thinking and
acting, to "become one". During this time the Parents help the
youngsters to learn to walk, feel and think. The process takes a long
time but the result is a robust and flexible cooperation between the
different brains and their duties. Usually the frontal brains tend to
specialize towards communication and perception, while the postal
brains become more movement, planning and survival oriented.
As adults the United remain colonial beings. Normally they act as one, but they can much more easily than humans splinter into multiple personalities or in certain extreme cases (such as intense physical pain or strong emotions) disintegrate into a twisting pile. United have a large capacity for simultaneous action but also a strong need to communicate internally, to literally tell the left hand what the right is doing. Many United actually speak with themselves, which is considered natural and sound. This makes them more open and easily read; such individuals are considered to be more honest and reliable than silent individuals. This has led to the situation that many United deliberately speak to themselves to give a good impression.
United thinking is parallel and directed towards "weaving": to combine many dynamical units to a functioning whole. They are very good at coordinating processes into wholes and at understanding them despite their apparent complexity. Compare this to the human tendency to think in terms of causal chains and actions on objects; when a human would ask "why?" a United would ask "how?", and when the human would make up a detailed plan to reach a goal the United would rather try to set a lot of things in motion to move in the right direction.
Unlike humans United are very "down to earth": they tend to live by
Occam's razor and seldom imagine things that are not possible or
outside their experience. While this stunts their long- range
creativity, it concentrates their attention to concrete problems at
hand and their solutions. That does not mean that United disdain
creativity and imagination, quite the opposite: an imaginative
individual can quickly gather a following, and the United who have
extended the culture or reach of the United mind are held in high
regard. In fact, past artists and philosophers are remembered much
better than past political leaders or warriors in United culture.
United brains are significantly more dynamical in their structure
and can handle damage quite well by routing around damaged
sections or modules, as well as regrow damage and form new
connections. At the same time their mental flexibility is a liability
since they both easily learn and easily forget. For the United
knowledge is something dynamics that must be retained and used
actively - it won't remain unless one deliberately relearns it or
stores it in some stable way. This has led to a great interest in
storing knowledge permanently in the world, so that the treasures
of culture would be lost. Several times immense libraries have been
built to preserve knowledge and then deliberately been hidden.
Normal United gladly specialize on a certain field and then directs themselves towards it with great enthusiasm (the most extreme example is the Cult of Overspecialization), while others drift from subject to subject, retaining a little but forming vague general skills. Orbitals often use special memory-stabilizing drugs to improve their learning, but most United rely on communication and relearning from the surroundings. The idea is to make the community as a whole act as a knowledge reservoir. The more people who knows something, the safer the knowledge is and the easier it is to learn it.
Compared to humans United are impressionable; by being placed in a certain environment they quickly adapt, adopting the prevalent attitudes and memes much faster than a human would. On the other hand, humans tend to retain their views far more strongly even when faced with counteracting evidence, while United drift from one pet theory to the next with less mental resistance.
The United are adaptable, but also adapts or creates their environment to suit themselves. It is like sand on a beach: they are soft and changeable, but retains their latest form until changed by events again. From their perspective they are a part of the world which shapes and is reshaped in a dynamical interaction, where they weave together the threads of existence into new patterns. The world can and should be changed to suit them, since beauty and truth is to be found in the elegant transformation into a harmonious whole where the United, its surroundings and all events fit together into a harmony. This profound concept of harmony is generally expressed as a mild smell of mildew by United; in human terms it roughly corresponds to the idea of an organic machine working perfectly, all its independent but interconnected parts interacting exactly as they should for a greater purpose.
The human idea that natural objects have an inherent beauty is alien
to the United: a natural object is only beautiful and harmonious if
it fits in perfectly with their needs (like a sharp stone found when
needing something sharp, or a lake with a convenient location). Nature
is not perfect, but it can be made harmonious and beautiful.
United emotions are different from humans. While some are
similar on a basic level, such as pain, pleasure, satisfaction,
aggression and fear, higher emotions do not have human
They are also able to sustain truly mixed emotions since they have several different brains; one brain may experience fear and another curiosity. Such mixed states are somewhat confusing and many individuals dislike them, seeking to remain emotionally unified. However, among some cultures (most notably the philosopher- states of Beta Virginis III) these mixtures have been regarded as refined, a way of creating harmonic superpositions of different true emotions forming a new whole.
The second most unpleasant emotion after physical pain to a United is discordance; conflicts within groups or individuals is felt as an emotional pain. Reaching consensus is important, since without it harmony would dissolve. If a conflict between United occurs it has to be solved, no matter what, and everybody tries to help.
The opposite emotion of discordance is harmony. Harmony is experienced for a variety of reasons, but mainly represents the experience of everything working as expected, as a unified whole. Depending on personality an individual may seek harmony in intellectual, social or practical pursuits, or in combinations of these. This forms the basis for much of United culture, and the different nuances and implications of harmony has been endlessly studied and admired throughout United literature and art.
Confusion is seen as the forerunner of discordance, and the emotion that separates the individual from harmony. United do not like being confused, and many have a real fear of confusion.
There is nothing like the human reciprocal feeling of love between two individuals, but there is something akin to it for whole groups, a kind of togetherness that binds them together. This emotion can not be experienced until the whole group is in harmony and united towards a common goal; at that point it naturally spreads and strengthens the internal cooperation immensely. It is not uncommon for working groups to become together, having children together, rearing them and then gradually dissolving as the original togetherness feeling weakens. Small groups feel less n feelings of togetherness than large groups, but larger groups have a harder time reaching consensus and harmony.
However, there is an emotion of friendship-connection that closely mirrors human friendship with a tinge of love. It is usually expressed for all children and other individuals a certain individual enjoys or admires. It is usually considered the backbone of creating a harmonious group, and can develop into real togetherness given the right opportunities.
United have several abstract emotions that have very little human meaning, such as "desire-for-meta-harmony" (a desire for the creation of harmonious wholes which in turn creates harmony; this is strongly linked to art, child rearing and diplomacy), "flickering-enthusiasm-ambivalence" (a strong, mixed emotion where divergent emotions quickly move between the modules, producing an excited but not entirely pleasant state), "regression-fun" (a playful and deliberate dissolution into component module states, only expressed by very well-integrated individuals to both show they internal harmony and to express humility) or "auxillary-restlessness" (an almost visceral feeling most often felt by Builders to make use of or store available resources, both bodily, mentally or physically).
Pheromones play an important social role. The three different roles as
Parent, Builder and Fighter are each associated with a special social
pheromone affecting behavior differently. Fighter pheromones (smells a
bit like winter to humans) promote alertness and obedience, especially
in non-Fighters. Parent pheromones (odorless to humans) promote
consensus-seeking, and Builder pheromones (smells slightly like dust)
promote physical activity and auxillary-restlessness weakly. These
pheromones are released during certain situations or as part of
speech; they cannot force others to act in a certain way, but they are
a form of persuasion. Normally they are just a faint background odor
of each individual, but they can be deliberately strengthened just
likel humans raise their voices. In general United moods are
infective, and in a group a certain of mixture of moods can quickly
United have less of an ego than humans. While they recognize
themselves as individuals, they see this just as the middle point of a
scale rather than a binary question. While a human feels separated
from everything else, United tend to be a part of their environment
(or make it a part of themselves). While United can be just as
ambitious or ruthless as humans, they have less of a need to protect
or aggrandize their ego; instead they see themselves as verbs in
action, a continual process which changes things according to a
certain paradigm and which must mesh with everything else in order to
function properly. This means that it is very rare for United to
try to seize power and influence in any area alone. Usually they
instead form triads or other small groups working intimately for
shared goals, often loosing their individual identities into the
United are social beings and enjoy having close contact with other individuals. They often gather together in large groups to discuss intimately. These often overlapping groups form the social basis for United societies. The traditional society from the remote past consisted of a extended family group, often divided into two or three main social clusters which overlapped heavily. As United societies grew these clusters became the smallest political units, working together and directed by a governing cluster in turn governed by a triad or influential individual.
Due to their mental adaptability and close contact, group attitudes
over time tend to overrule individual attitudes of United who
are part of a group. Since everybody strives for consensus, it is
very hard to deviate from the group norm. This makes United
groups more stable, but also easily leads to groupthink where the
group makes misjudgements because opinions contrary to its
overall view are simply not considered. Several times in United
history this has caused the downfall of government.
Parenting is important. To nurse, protect and form the offspring is a
central part of all United cultures, and any profession dealing
with it has high status. During the larvae, pupa and early childhood
stages only the Parents are allowed to deal with the children, but as
the children grow up they live in close contact with the other
members of the group, often clinging to their backs. Pollution of the
larvae-dam is regarded as a serious crime in most cultures, but
what constitutes acceptable treatment of the larvae and pupa
varies between different cultures. In some cultures only natural
development is allowed, and the Parents just supervise the process.
In other cultures eugenic selection of larvae and the introduction of
old modules into the pupa are acceptable or normal.
Diseases are frightening, an internal discordance on cellular level
which threatens to spread to the whole group. Earlier the truly sick
were ostracized and forced to live in special enclaves, but today
United medicine has advanced very far at least among the
orbitals, especially in pharmacology and methods for ultrasound
and antigravity surgery.
Another taboo is mistreating the young. To deliberately hurt a pupa or a youngster is inconceivable. Even the larvae are treated carefully, even if they are regarded as a bit expendable before schooling.
Other than that, most taboos are cultural. Most cultures dislike the
deliberate destruction of knowledge and skill, including not
undertaking enough precautions to preserve it. The Philosophers of
Beta Virginis III regard confusion as tainted, and refuse to have
anything to do with confused individuals. The Gamblers of SZ Crater
avoid objects that have belonged to the dead, while the
reincarnationists regard the funeral ceremonies of the other cultures
Normally United are extremely supple, almost snaking. Since
they are blind, posture doesn't say much unless two United
touch. Instead they transmit their mood through sounds and acts;
standing silently is an extremely agressive behavior.
The frontal tentacles are usually the most significant descriptions of mood. If they all are slammed together it is a sign of inner unity, goal direction and decisiveness. If they squirm against each other it means uncertainty or confusion, although it can also be interpreted as an opening gesture. Scratching against different parts of the shell reveals specific moods: rhythmical scratching suggests social cohesion, harmony or possibly the quest for these, a single tentacle that scratches signals discontent, more tentacles scratching suggests more happiness. When tentacles slide over the surface it signals interest, and some sequences of beatings against each other describe a suggestion of change in triad structure.
The general muscle tone is important. Normally United are snaking with their tentacles, neither to rigid or too loose. Rigidness signals internal tensions, fear or apprehension, while relaxation can either signal pleasure or despair (the difference is felt by the smell).
Smells signal mood on a deep level. They change the meaning of
many of the gestures; for example exuding a weak harmony-
pheromone while squirming suggests helplessness and a desire to
be parented, while tentacle sliding combined with a smell of
ammonia is an intellectual applause.
Unlike humans, United do not have the concept of an alpha
male leading the tribe. Instead most of their societies are based on
a system of power division based on function and situation, where
the three leader roles are the Warrior, the Parent and the Builder.
The Warriors are responsible for defending the group against
threats and crises, the Parent deals with the social, cultural and
philosophical institutions of society and the Builder organizes
development, infrastructure and coordination.
Normally the Warrior has a subordinate role and the Builder and Parent are dominant, but if a crisis occurs the Warrior takes the initiative, supported by one or both of the others. The Warrior, Parent and Builder are functions or ways of leading rather than individuals; while most individuals have a tendency towards one of them, aspects of the others emerge when the situation is right. This means that in a triad (the most common form of top-level leadership) the members may act as identical roles if the situation demands it, but usually they tend to distribute their duties so that one is Warrior, one is Builder and one is Parent. Even when all three are Warriors it is common for their behaviors to be tinged with other roles, so that a United who commonly acts as a Builder will become a Warrior with a somewhat builderish way of planning, while a Parent will become a Warrior with a diplomatic approach.
Beneath the triad there are usually three different hierarchies of individuals, divided after the roles. United do not base their social hierarchies on power in the human sense, but rather on merit, past success or sometimes on perceived harmony. For example, the leading Builder would have a staff of people with strong Builder tendencies, divided into teams dealing with engineering, maintenance, planning and scouting, led by the most skilled individuals. As long as the differences in skill, seniority or harmony are clear the leadership is unquestioned. Unlike humans, United do not struggle when the ranking is unclear, but instead try to work together as much as possible, which in time likely will resolve the skill differences. Since some individuals are more skilled in certain areas than others, rank can shift depending on situation. Ambitious individuals often try to work with as many different people as possible, in order to spread the knowledge of their skill and worth as widely as possible.
The Parents bring up the young, educate, create culture, harmonizes social interactions and sometimes act as psychologist/philosopher/priests, "councellors". The councellors seek to harmonize individual, society and the world; the profession is has many specialities and related professions, ranging from "interior decoration" (to bring about maximal mental comfort) to theoretical socio-psychology. The Keepers of the Young are divided into several subgroups: the pondkeepers, who watches over the larvae ponds, the watchers of the pupas (who makes sure the young pass the pupal stage well) and the educators.
Soldiers, military engineers, doctors, explorers and different kinds of emergency personell belong to the Warrior part of society. Their main similarity is that their services are not needed as long as everything is normal; many have double roles as Parents of Builders. When a crisis occurs, the Warriors quickly shift to their duties, often dragging others with them as helpers.
The Builders deal with the material world: engineering, construction, repair, infrastructure, agriculture, research and information management.
The complex interactions between the three roles complicate United society immensely. Most of the shifting is done subconsciously, in ways that are strongly dependent both on personality and the surrounding roles, but most United can shift voluntarily if they perceive the need.
Imbalances between the roles are disruptive and can be dangerous; in a given situation it ought to be clear which role is to be dominant and why. To simplify this a symbolic language was developd during the era of the Labyrinth of Air, based on some ideas developed at the court of the Labyrinth of the Ocean. Situations are classified into symbolic sound-smell situations which are associatied with what the duties of the different roles are. Usually refering to these are enough, but when a conflict or dissonance occurs that cannot easily be resolved the Parents automatically take over to manage the situation.
There is however the possibility of the dreaded "recursive
dilemma", where the dissonance makes it impossible for the
Parents to resolve the conflict. Instead the Warriors and Builders
become too strong, dragging the Parents into their roles and
creating a deadlock. This is what occured on a global scale during
the great breakdown, and it remains one of the greatest nighmares
of United everywhere. The concept of recursive dilemmas has
been seriously studied in the field of theoretical sociopsychology,
which has led to a theory of under what circumstances they can
occur and especially how to avoid global dilemmas. The main result
is that as long as social developments are slow and gradual they are
extremely unlikely to occur; it is at the dangerous element-
transitions the risk is greatest.
United history is very uneven by human standards, with periods
of fast change followed by centuries or millennia of apparent stasis.
In normal situations United devote their energy towards
practical matters that do not appear to be "history" in the human
sense, but to the United are much more relevant. This include
the gradual redesign of an ecosystem, the creation of harmonious
social and technological environments or just the unfolding of a
cultural pattern; this is what many United "history books"
describe at length. Sometimes change accelerates, usually spurred
by a crisis or accident. As things change, the United become fast
adapters and change too. In a relatively short time they can
completely overthrow the old (although it is much more common
that the old is retrofitted into the new). However, they do not
regard change as desirable in itself, and over history a series of
philosophies have sought to control it so that the true flow of
history, the gradual unfolding of United culture, can continue
The development of United intelligence accelerated around a
million years ago, when the skill of building simple dams spread on
one of the largest islands of their homeworld. Dam-building led to
the use of digging tools, and later the discovery of simple pottery to
store food in. The "agricultural" United who built dams to trap
or grow food in gradually spread to other islands using primitive
rafts, and to the lakes of the inland.
For a long time they lived in small tribal communities run by triads or different kinds of chieftains. This was the age of "clay labyrinths", simple conglomerates of huts made of clay and sticks in artificial lagoons. Approximately 100,000 years ago fire was discovered, and soon afterwards simple weapons made of ceramics and later metal. Island kingdoms developed, and for many millennia small wars raged between the different islands.
Technology advanced slowly, allowing better and better
communications. The simple rafts became more elaborate, turned
into boats, first with oars, then with sails (some with underwater
sails to make use of sea currents) or driven by animals and
eventually with engines. Finally, around 10,000 years ago, the
many islands and small continents were conquered and united
under a single rulership. The governing body was housed in a large
complex on one of the most strategic islands which became known
as the Labyrinth of the Ocean. The name became synonymous with
the government, just as 'Pharaoh' once meant "the great house".
The Labyrinth of the Ocean
The Labyrinth of the Ocean ruled the planet through a combination
of military might and farsighted plotting. The rulers selected the
most skilled individuals from the various islands to undergo
education and training at the Labyrinth. This of course made them
more loyal to the Labyrinth and its culture than their home-island,
and also removed the potential leaders. In time practically all of the
inhabitants of the Labyrinth were islanders or decendants of them,
and the original rulers were quietly replaced by a meritocracy.
The meritocratic Labyrinth of the Ocean was a court with no fixed king. Throughout its millennia-old history its internal structure shifted many times; sometimes moving towards monarchy dominated by a dominant triad, sometimes moving towards rulership by consensus. Despite the palace intrigues the Labyrinth managed to subdue the occasional uprising quite well, until Reef- Without-End rebelled.
Technology had never been a high priority for the Labyrinth, which was more involved in the pursuit of the fine arts of strategy, etiquette, logistics, gastronomy, philosophy and rhetoric. This made them blind to the consequences of an invention made on the island Reef-Without-End: flight. Until then most United had practically no concept for the sky as a place in its own right; there was nothing there to hear, touch or smell except for the weather, which was accepted as given. The inventors of Reef-Without-End succeded in creating simple airplanes, navigating using a radar system developed a century earlier. The first experiments showed that the airplane could move anywhere, outside the control of the Labyrinth's warships. The local rulers together with a less-than- loyal governor began to develop flight as a new weapon. When the Labyrinth sent a fleet to bring the island in line, it answered with destroying the fleet utterly - there was no defense possible against airborne attacks.
Over the next years the uprising started by Reef-Without-End
continued, aided by the aircrafts and their fearsome weapons.
While the Labyrinth soon learned about how the airplanes worked
and found out that they could be detected by their radar, it could
not develop a counter-weapon fast enough; it's fleets were defeated
or circumvented, the governors changed side faster and faster and
the court intrigues had turned into rats fleeing the sinking ship. One
night the bombs fell over the Labyrinth and an era appeared to
The Labyrinth of Air
The leaders of the uprising were all strongly influenced by the
culture of the Labyrinth, and agreed on its core value of a
meritocratic rulership over the world. Instead of supporting the
independendence of the many islands, they used their airforce to
found a new labyrinth, the Labyrinth of Air. The Labyrinth
continued where the Labyrinth of the Ocean had left off, but with a
valuable lesson: knowledge, or rather technology, is power. It began
a systematic campaign to make sure no technology and no science
was outside its control.
One of the most influential philosophers of the early Air era developed the Element Theory, which came to have a profound effect on the United civilization. It was a senior governor who had observed the fall of the Labyrinth of the Ocean firsthand, and had formed a theory of how technology changed society. According to the theory, the universe contains many elements which can be discovered and used. The first such element was the clay and mud of the age of clay labyrinths. As the sea was mastered, the age of the Labyrinth of the Ocean began. But it fell when air was discovered and used, and so will the Labyrinth of Air do if another element is developed. Using clear, logical analysis the philosopher delineated how society would develop gradually until the new element appeared, which would lead to a crisis and quick shift to a new society. These ideas quickly became the dogma of the Labyrinth of Air, and it did its outmost to guarantee stability by keeping the risk of unplanned discoveries to a minimum. Science and technology became applied and directed by practical needs, not by curiosity; all scientists had to work within the programs of the Labyrinth. The innate curiosity was instead directed towards the arts, especially the art of creating harmonious environments.
The Labyrinth of Air ruled for 200 years, undergoing many internal changes but remaining outwardly the same. No human government have ever come near its rational ruthlessness combined with sincere concern for the wellfare of the citizens. It carefully made sure nobody and nothing could stand against its rule, it monopolized the knowledge of science and technology and it manipulated the cultures of the world away from any avenue of thought that might become dangerous - but was never corrupted by its power, likely due to the triad social system of the United which counteracted individual ambition and balanced the many groups against each other. It was a fascist democracy creating a world of peace.
The planet was slowly transformed from isolated islands in empty
oceans to a teeming, global society where the seas were crowded by
artificial islands, the sky filled with zeppelins and airplanes and
practically all islands were covered by buildings or parks. The
Labyrinth had a hard time making the limited resources go around,
battling pollution and overpopulation (its more and more strict
population policies was the single major rallying point against its
rule; rearing children was regarded as one of the most sacred duties
and joys of life). It became increasingly clear to the Labyrinth that
the global civilization was quickly running out of options.
The Conquest of Space
Meanwhile, researchers had discovered several unsettling results
which had been carefully covered up by the Labyrinth. It had
begun with research into the damaging radiation during the day;
when sensors for the radiation were used in the night they
signalled smaller amounts of energy from fire and a place in the
sky correlated with the tides. Since this was believed to be linked
to the weather (a major problem for the air industry) the research
went on and discovered the existence of other tiny sources of
energy in the sky during the night. A model was developed,
suggesting the existence of very remote objects beyond the
atmosphere. At this point the research was disbanded as too
However, the results were known by a council of scientists asked to find potential solutions to the growing world problems. They suggested that a cautious exploration of this new and strange world could lead to the discovery of a new element - but if handled the right way the transition could be made gradual, and the Labyrinth would gain new power. For had not the Philosopher of the Elements pointed out that each new element created new possibilities and forms of wealth? That the Labyrinth agreed to go along with the plan was proof that it was desperate; the real danger was still a century away, but to the careful United that was far too close.
The secret project began to study the sky, and eventually came up with a way to travel there. In outmost secrecy, from a quarantined island remote from most civilization, a probe was sent into space for the first time. It was followed by a crewed expedition, and finally a landing on the moon. The moon landing changed the world of the United: the Labyrinth of Air was convinced that raw materials and energy could be found in space, and ordered the colonization of space - in secret.
The Labyrinth of Air had developed an ambitious plan to both keep society stable by keeping the new element vacuum secret (which was possible since everybody who knew about it was a loyal Labyrinth member) and to exploit the resources of the solar system. The first step was to build a fairly small lunar base, building a solar collector array which beamed energy to a large receiver station on the planet using a laser. The venture was successful, and soon solar stations were built in geostationary orbit around the planet, beaming invisible energy to receiver grids below. To the population this was revealed as a new energy source discovered by the Labyrinth; this was happily accepted.
While the technological aspects of the space plan were a complete success the psychological problems proved near insurmountable. To the united, space was fundamentally alien. Space could not be touched, smelt or heard - it was something utterly surreal to the United way of thinking. The United worldview saw the world as a network of places, possibly mutable, but interconnected. A kind of world-labyrinth. But space was disconnected: each spaceship was an isolated universe. The space colonies were not just distant, they were another form of existence.
These philosophical problems were enough to drive over 30% of the first generation of astronauts into near-terminal confusion. For a time it seemed that space was simply too alien to deal with, and that an alternative solution had to be found. Experiments with telepresence were unsatisfactory, and the leaders of the Labyrinth were beginning to despair. But some of the veterans of space managed to retain their sanity, proving that the United mindset could handle it. The only problem was that these spacers were far too changed by the experience to be allowed to mix with the ordinary United - they would definitely be noticed. So the Labyrinth decided on creating permanent habitats in space for the spacers, as self-sufficient as possible.
The Labyrinth planners fully expected the spacers to remain loyal, since they had all been fully indoctrinated and educated by the Labyrinth - they were the cream of the Labyrinth itself. But just to make sure, they tried to plant internal security among the spacers. The problem was that the internal security had to adopt to space and space ways of thinking too. Soon it was more loyal to the Labyrinth of Space than the Labyrinth of Air.
For the next decades, space colonization transformed the world. Cheap, clean energy, efficient global communications and raw materals (and later goods) manufactured in space revolutionized society. While the Labyrinth officially never commented on the space project the rough truth leaked out, and people in general began to believe that a new era, ruled by the unknown element space, had begun. In space the spacers continued their work, less and less constrained by the Labyrinth of Air. They had at an early stage learned that it could not understand the real problems and needs of space colonisation, and had instated a policy of not telling it things that it would not understand, like the existence of an asteroid belt which was the source of many of the metals sent down, or the great leaps in physics that had occured as a part of their engineering research. The Labyrinth of Space grew and became more and more independent.
The Labyrinth of Space felt no restrictions to do research and explore - it was all for the good of the rest of the race, which they deliberately held ignorant of the big picture. When they by accident discovered antigravity they quickly began to employ it. It took them almost a century to perfect the FTL drive, during which time they colonized the asteroid belt and allowed their population to grow. Then they began to explore interstellar space, building colonies ever farther away. To the Labyrinth of Air they simply told that they had discovered a new, unexpected layer of the intricate labyrinths of space.
While they did their outmost to reassure their former masters that
everything was well and no new elements had been discovered,
suspicions were still formed. The Labyrinth of Air demanded
detailled information on the new discoveries, trying to fathom the
real intentions of the Labyrinth of Space. They proposed that some
of the worlds which appeared like their own could be colonized by
volunteers from the overpopulated homeworld. Since they could be
sent in a state of deep anesthezia, they would not need the complex
psychological adaptions to space and could colonize the planet as
ordinary planet-dwellers colonizing virgin territory (by now the
spacers had realized they enjoyed life in space colonies much better
than on planets). The Labyrinth of Space agreed, and the
colonization of several planets began.
The breakdown occured overnight. The Labyrinth of Air had
completely underestimated the Labyrinth of Space, and could not in
its wildest imagination understand what it was up against. The
strange reports from its agents convinced it that it was time to
restore order and once and for all prove that the Labyrinth of Space
was subordinate to the Labyrinth of Air. They didn't understand
that the situation was utterly different, due to the immense gulf of
understanding between the spacers and grounders. The Labyrinth
of Air attempted to seize control over the spacecraft and
spaceports, partially succeeding before the Labyrinth of Space
struck back. Just like the Labyrinth of the Ocean, the Labyrinth of
Air couldn't defend itself, and the global infrastructure began to
collapse as the vital energy supply was cut off.
At that point the desperate Labyrinth released its maybe greatest weapon, possibly without understanding its consequences: a massive, very real plea from help from the billions of suffering United on the planet, directed towards all spacers still loyal to the ideals of the Labyrinth. Many of the habitats around the planet responded, turning against their own Labyrinth. It quickly turned out that as the Labyrinth of Space had always been ruled by consensus among an ever larger and more widespread population, it could easily break down and splinter into a multitude of factions. Some wanted to once and for all tear down the Labyrinth of Air, possibly replacing it with rulership from space. Others wanted to cease the hostilities, or even to withdraw from the planet-dwellers completely. The once unified Labyrinth of Space vanished, to be replaced by confused and disagreeing communities.
The effects were disastrous; coordination began to waver, the
interplanetary infrastructure became unreliable and a horrible,
destructive feeling of dissonance spread through society, ripping up
the social fabric. In some places battles broke out, technology began
to break down and suddenly hundreds of space habitats were in
dire peril as much needed supplies did not appear, spare parts
were not delivered and the officials were paralyzed by a situation
totally out of control. While the billions on the homeworld starved,
millions died as elaborate habitats broke down or were destroyed
by accidents. The interstellar communications broke down, leaving
every system to fend for itself. The survivors huddled together to
share the scarce resources and hide from the frightening sense of
diconnection they experienced.
The Silent Ages
These were the Silent Ages. For over 5000 years the United
communities in different systems remained more or less isolated.
In the beginning scavengers plundered the abandoned outposts to
bring much needed spare parts back to their homes, but the energy
demands were huge; in time the FTL ships broke down and were
not repaired. The Silent Ages were caused more by a fundamenal
breach in trust than any practical problem. And as the communities
lost contact, they turned inwards.
In the places where the United survived new cultures emerged in time. On the homeworld the survivors built their homes among the ruins of the floating islands and energy receivers. After an initial period of chaos they divided into a multitude of small communities, each ruling one group of islands, which sometimes traded, sometimes warred but mostly kept to themselves. The deliberate social engineering of the Labyrinth of Air had led to a situation where there were very few people knowledgeable in engineering in the population; now most of the technological skills were lost, only to be replaced by a multitude of cults and ideologies. Up to this day the inhabitants of the old homeworld remain clannish and independent; most United don't understand them.
Something similar occured on Beta Virginis III, where the colonists found themselves stranded. The colony managed to survive, and in time became a philosopher state. As time went on it grew, budding off secondary city-states, each ruled by a dominant philosophy. Through the centuries the city states of the southern sea remained in contact, developing elaborate systems of trade and travel. The original founders had envisioned a new project for the United: the creation of the wisdom to counteract the dark determinism of the elements. In time this project got sidetracked and diverged into numerous schools, but the general culture was directed towards non-physical pursuits rather than physical exploration.
In space, many orbital colonies became self-sufficient solipsistic nations, hiding from the universe in their asteroids. Some may remain to this day. However, in the Denebola system several large colonies had been used as transit points, and the population base was enough to sustain an open and dynamic culture. After having stripped every accessible abandoned outpost of equipment, personell and useful materials, they began to set up a second Labyrinth of Vaccum. At first it was a simple matter of survival, but later it became a vision of ensuring that no disaster like the breakdown ever occured again. The central ideology promoted openness, decentralization and diversity - only by creating a multitude of independent habitats and worldviews could the continued viability of United civilization be guaranteed. Unfortunately, as the population grew and the new habitats developed in their own directions, the Labyrinth more and more lost influence. Instead the Denebola system became home for an increasingly anarchic collection of wildly differing communities.
During the five millennia of isolation from the outside world the
Denebola asteroid belt became one of the most dynamic places in
the former United empire. While some habitats isolated
themselves, other traded, exchanged information or warred. Several
times habitats were destroyed by sabotage from rivals or accidents,
but in time their numbers grew. Several loose coalitions formed,
based on shared ideologies or trade.
The Reunification and the New Era
Around 1000 years ago, scientists of Brittleness Equation, one of the
most technologically advanced Denebola habitats discovered
antimatter and how it could be used. They quickly found uses for it
in space travel, energy storage and many other fields. The
discovery was hailed as a new element, suggesting that a new era
was about to begin.
While many of the habitats were quite eager to use antimatter, several of the more conservative groups warned against the new element, saying it would disrupt the stability of Denebolan society. Some of the most fanatic conservatives attempted an attack on Brittleness Equation using a stealth bomb, which was narrowly defeated. The attack polarized the habitats of the rings; a coalition of the conservatives formed, proclaiming they had to once and for all put an end to dangerous element research and return to the old truths of the original Labyrinth of Vacuum. In response many of the liberal habitats rallied behind Brittleness Equation. In the ensuing conflict antimatter was used as a weapon for the first time, and it turned out to be more devastating than expected: after the leading two habitats had been utterly anihilated the other conservatives quickly gave in.
The Brittleness Equation War reunited the Denebola habitats enough to form a new Labyrinth, now called the Labyrinth of Gravity (although it would more properly be called the Labyrinth of Antimatter). Its purpose was to ensure that the various habitats never got into the same situation, by enforcing a complex peace treaty which also included bounds on research in the direction of new elements. While several of the most conservative habitats officially withdrew into isolation in protest of the discovery and use of antimatter, the Labyrinth of Gravity supported its use.
When energy began to become plentiful again, the old FTL drives began to look useful. A few tentative explorations revealed survivors elsewhere, and the Labyrinth of Gravity began to open up contact with the other groups. In many cases much diplomacy was needed, but the advanced, confident Denebolans persisted and most societies finally gave in.
The Labyrinth of Gravity immediately realized that the long-lost societies represented a great possibility to regain what had been lost in the now near mythical breakdown. Historians and linguists were sent to retrieve the knowlege that had been preserved by the different cultures; what one had lost another might have preserved. They quickly got strong support by many groups, providing a much needed impetus for further contacts. The philosopher-states of Beta Virginis III gladly gave of their libraries to the explorers, with the stipulation that they were to be given access to all the lost knowledge. The isolationist bases were one after one opened up by diplomacy, the promise of history and the subtle threat of being left behind.
In a surprisingly short time the major centers of civilization became connected. At first only the Labyrinth of Gravity had monopoly on antimatter, but in time several other groups gained the ability to produce and store it (through espionage, research or plain trade).
In 1201 (earth time) the Great Convergence was proclaimed. An influential coalition of Labyrinth diplomats, independent scholars and explorers suggested a huge conclave at the habitat Torsion Readiness to determine the future of the race: should the different societies go their own ways, or were there a single United destiny?
The Great Convergence attracted great interest, and for an orbit of Torsion Readiness philosophers, historians, priests, politicians and sociologists debated the questions. In the end the result was a new synthesis of the old Denebolan philosophy of survival and diversity, the philosophy of restrained harmony of Beta Virginis III, the independent thinking of the homeworld enclaves and the ancient element theory. The Convergents, as they became known, sketched a vision for the United race: united by a hierarchy of labyrinths but still developing uniqueness on all levels, the race would spread slowly among the stars. New elements would in time be discovered, that was unavoidable, but they would not be adopted outright before they could be integrated into the framework of philosophy and politics at that time. The future was endless.
The Convergents and their teachings had huge impact on all of the United race. In a very short time the planet-bound United organized their Labyrinths of Land, Ocean and Air, the habitats organized their Labyrinths of Vaccum and the Labyrinth of Gravity was entrusted with the duty to keep the Convergence going.
For the next centuries the Labyrinth of Gravity began to rebuild the systems that had been destroyed or abandoned during the breakdown, usually by directing exploration and industry oriented habitats to settle there and grow. As the old systems became more and more up to date, the Labyrinth began to develop never before colonized systems. In order to keep the United together, they decided on a policy of first settling the closest systems, slowly expanding outwards in a spherical volume. In 2071, this sphere is roughly 20-25 light-years in radius, encompassing around 30 stars.
The invention of wormhole communications revolutionized the
government of the United, and enabled the Labyrinth to
influence events in realtime. Some independently minded
United have begun to think that the Labyrinth has too much
power, but so far they have had no reason to complain about its
The United World
It is impossible to describe the world of the United as a whole,
just as it is impossible to describe the world of the humans as a
whole. There are too many cultures, languages, ideologies, visions
and individuals, all unique and changing. The United have
developed far since the Silent Age into a multitude of societies
distributed across the stars: several hundred billion United live
on planets, in asteroids or in artificial habitats; United culture is
experiencing the heights of a renaissance never before encountered.
As a whole, the United are directed by the Labyrinth of Gravity, the administrative and philosophical rulership based on FTL travel and antigravity; this body controls the expansion of Unitedkind into space, the colonisation of new systems and the limits of technological development according to the Convergence, the legacy of the Grand Convergence at Torsion Readiness. The Labyrinth of Gravity usually convenes at the habitats around Denebola, where it organizes the collective destiny of the entire race. Its members are both elected by the different habitats and worlds, and selected by the Labyrinth based on their merit.
However, the Labyrinth of Gravity is dependent on the Labyrinths of Vaccuum, the local Labyrinths of the different systems, habitats or swarms. The Labyrinths of Vaccuum represent the different orbital societies, space travel and most of the industrial production. While the Labyrinth of Gravity sets the policies and visions, the Labyrinths of Vaccum implements them. Managing the manifold Labyrinths is a major task for the Labyrinth of Gravity, and taxes even the best diplomatic minds.
On the planets and some old habitats the Labyrinths of Land, Sea and Air rule. These Labyrinths represent the old-fashioned organisation in the natural world. Each society is as unique as a human culture, often deeply traditional and with ideological quirks that makes contact and diplomacy tricky. They have a fairly limited contact with the Labyrinths of Vacuum and Gravity, leaving the large scale planning to them (with some exceptions).
The different United societies are very different. During the last millennia the United have come up with thousands of religions, ideologies, philosophies and ways of living that are followed by a multitude of societies. They range from the Harmonic Hedonists (who seek to create a way of life that is as pleasurable and elegant as possible) and Merchancy (a market-based society trading with the other societies) over the Planetary Reincarnators (traditionalists still performing artificial reincarnation) to the Cataclysts (ultra- radicals who consider change and expansion positive, allied with the shunned Cult of Inaccessible, which seeks to gain information in non-empirical ways). Most societies are fairly mainstream, it is just that the mainstream is extremely broad.
Inside a society conditions vary extremely. Most are fairly open, flexible semi-democratic groups (even if there are a few triumvirates) that keep contact with the outside. There are some that are closed inwards; they are usually tolerated but kept under suspicion (this includes the infamous Cult of Overspecialization, that teaches that specialization perfects the mind and that society should become an elaborate specialist/caste society; it is in direct opposition to most United society, which is based on the Principle of Balance).
The Labyrinth of Gravity sees it as its duty to keep all United inside its field of control, to balance differences and prevent disasters. It has occasionally led attacks on pernicious societies such as the Cataclysts or Cold Junk Retreaters. After the Cataclyst attempt to communicate with the humans the Labyrinths began to systematically hunt them down, but the Cataclysts have hidden some of their colonies and have cells among the population. This has created an uncomfortable situation, as the disharmony of such treachery infiltrates into United societiy. The Labyrinth knows it has to defeat the Cataclysts soon, or the disruptions will seriously damage Uniteddom.
The relationship between the Labyrinths is ruled by the Chord, a
kind of informal racial constitution that emerged during the end of
the Silent Age. Essentially it suggest the different roles played by
the Labyrinths, and how they are to interact harmoniously.
Although it is not formalized, generations of thinkers have
expanded upon the Chord and developed it into an advanced
philosophy of government. It is in many ways stronger than any
human constitution, despite the fact that it has no ultimate
The discovery of humans in 1990 (human counting) was the start of
a huge crisis of United history. Until then the United had
simply considered themselves as the only intelligent beings in
existence, but the discovery of other intelligent life didn't disturb
them at first. Over a few decades the United researchers
analyzed the radio signals, learning a little about the senders but
without actually understanding their meaning. Around 2040 the
signals became impossible to decrypt, since humans had switched
to digital encryption decades earlier. But the United noticed the
exponential rise in power and bandwidth, and eventually realized
that humans did not avoid contact with the new elements; instead,
judging from the signals, they actively sought them despite their
Humans went from a curiosity to a real danger. The Labyrinth of Gravity judged that listening to humans was dangerous, and that all contact should be avoided. Some of the human researchers began to study the question of how to deal with humans if they eventually found a way to get into interstellar space. They didn't have the time to reach a satisfactory conclusion before humans appeared on the United' doorstep.
A research ship sent to a known neutron star to retrieve an instrument package discovered human scientific installations and was hailed with a signal apparently meant to initiate communication. The surprised triad decided to retreat to warn the Labyrinth that the humans were out among the stars.
The Labyrinth of Gravity began to struggle with the problem. One fraction regarded humans as tempters, who attempt to spread the new elements to create chaos to help them find new elements. Another fraction thought humans were hopelessly primitive and didn't understand the importance of the elements; the solution should be limited contact and teaching. The Cataclysts even suggested that the United should contact the humans to learn about the new elements from them, risking everything for the truth. However, the neutral consensus was to cautiously wait and analyze the situation before comitting to any course of action.
The Cataclysts acted on their own, and sent out a ship to contact the humans and once and for all break the for them hateful status quo. Labyrinth agents discovered the attempt and realized that contact had to be prevented at all costs; the Fighter aspect of the Labyrinth became dominant and annihilated the base at the neutron star and the planet the Cataclysts contacted in two quick strikes. The Labyrinth began to organize for war, united by a new purpose.
They correctly guessed that the humans would not try to contact them to spread the elements during a war (which seemed likely given the results of game theory). The plan was a success, and to their relief the humans attempted to restrict information flow to the United. Some groups even suggested that the chaos of war was the force that allows the Labyrinth to reach the next element and at the same time survive the transition as the Labyrinth of Air once did. Other groups warn that the war is escalating beyond its original intentions: the original vision was an uneasy silence from both sides of the border, but the result has been an ever more dynamic war where both sides have to arm themselves more.
Another problem is the relationship between the Labyrinths. The
war was initiated by the Labyrinth of Gravity, and supported by
the Labyrinth of Vacuum. But now the other labyrinths are getting
dragged into it, and they strain against the Chord. The result has
been an increasing subtle tension in United administration; at
present it is manageable, but the planetary United doesn't want
to have anything to do with the war. The presence of the Cataclysts
and the escalating hunt for them also threatens the Chord - more
and more United are starting to think that the Labyrinth of
Gravity is overstepping its bounds and causing disharmony. So far
no active resistance have developed, but it only needs a nucleus to
There exists several languages among United, ranging from the
quantum languages of Beta Virginis III (where words have
undetermined meanings until the end of a sentence, when they
collapse into reality) to the smell-pidgin used by the inhabitants of
some remote systems. The most common language is however a
lingua franca based on sounds made by the tentacles, claws and
shell, although it is commonly combined with smell and electrical
subtexts. It is understood by practically all United in orbit.
Instead of writing recordings are used, but since it is quite hard to understand plain recordings a stylized sound writing system has been developed, which often includes additional information that enables the receiver to understand the message better, including deliberate distortions, synthetized sounds and sampling. This has created a literature based on augmented language, which is partially rhetoric, partially music and partially virtual reality.
The deep structure of United languages is very different from human languages. The most noticeable difference is that they lack verbs. Instead actions are expressed as relations between nouns. For example, "the man goes to the house" would be expressed as "the man is at the house future using legs" and "the Builder digs trenches" would be "the Builder agent-for nothing into trenches" (the builder turns nothing into trenches; the "nothing into X" construction represents creation in United thinking). The exact word sequence is not important, as long as the concepts are bound together into logical blocks which are then combined.
Commonly, United "define their terms" at the start of a discussion or sentence. This can also create temporary abbreviations that are then used instead of long concepts, setting the mood of the discussion through smell and generally preview their thinking. In formal speaking these definitions can appear at several places in the speech, but usually this is considered bad form: one set of definitions should be enough, and the shorter and more descriptive it is, the better.
Since United can easily deal with several streams of information at the same time their language is fairly parallel and its wordyness doesn't matter; instead it helps them to understand better. Educated United often weave several sentences together into elaborate poetic expressions where meaning exists on several levels. This kind of multilevel speaking is held in high esteem since time immemorial, but requires great concentration unless it is computer enhanced.
The actual sounds of United language consists of rasping, clicks, scratches and slithering sounds made by the tentacles and shell. The basic grammar can be expressed using just two facial tentacles and one leg tentacle, anything more just extend the expressiveness. However, United love to speak directly to each other by feeling how the other moves, so they often tend to congregate into small groups of 2-5 individuals which discuss intimately. Here touch, smell and electricity is used to widen the language considerably.
One form of writing which is more used for art, furniture and meditation is tangle-writing, a traditional art form from Beta Virginis III. Text consists of strings of different materials with knots which denote the principal meanings (with taste and texture sub-meanings). The strings are braided together, sometimes branch and occasionally form closed loops (especially in meditative or artistic texts). The whole structure looks like a tangle, but is usually handled very carefully and kept in special boxes; however, Beta Virginis is also famous for its hypertext furniture where large masses of text have been turned into tangles intended to be used for sitting, wall or floor covering or just decoration; new meanings in the mass is the artistic experience, and the hypertext furniture is popular among almost all United. Other texts are intended to be worn, or integrated into the patterning of walls or floors.
United mathematics is influenced by their peculiar anatomy and
language. Instead of counting, United use comparisions with
known quantities or elaborate sets of adjectives. It took a
significant time before a "general" adjective set similar to the set of
numbers was invented, and the concept of a pure number remains
an abstraction most United can't grasp; to them all numbers are
measures of something. On the other hand, due to their way of
thinking United are extremely good at algebra and used it long
before numbers were formalized to describe interrelations. Other
fields where United excel is dialectic logic, the study of general
nonlinear or complex systems, evolution and the theory of
transformations, all with their own alien twist. Number theory and
many branches of geometry are almost unknown; the United
have not yet discovered prime numbers but regard curved curved
fourdimensional spacetime as natural.
United are much more down-to-earth than humans; while
human philosophy and religion has speculated about the origin and
nature of existence the United have just taken it for granted.
Instead of metaphysics they are more interested in practical
philosophy: how should one live, and how can the world be made
better. They tend towards a very empirical, instrumentalistic
philosophy where the highest good is harmony. What kind of
harmony remains the subject of much debate, and has produced
many of the most elaborate thought-systems in United history.
Of special importance is the Philosopher-States of Beta Virginis III, which have had enormous influence on United thought. They were small city states, each dominated by a single philosophy that was endlessly elaborated and analysed. From time to time the states convened into convergences where opposing views were discussed (this had to a large extent replaced open warfare during the Silent Ages, the goal was to convince the enemy about the truth of one's position, making it part of the same philosophical system). While never a unified system, the states developed rules for philosophical discourse, the social sciences and especially the main theories of how harmony could be reached through restraint, self-control and unity.
The most popular "religion" or philosophy today is the Triadic Balance, developed among the Denebolan space habitats: each individual should learn to balance and weave together its subselves into a synergetic unity, which can seamlessly flow from being a Builder to a Parent to a Fighter to a Builder with no internal conflicts or confusions. Once this balanced state is reached, the individual is perfected. In the same way the triadic relations should be maintained and exercised, so that society can work efficiently and harmoniously. The Parents of the Triadic Balance help individuals to harmonize, by acting as councellors, psychologists, self-help teachers and life planners. They have a significant influence in the population, and are regarded as the cornerstone of the Labyrinth of Gravity.
In direct opposition is the small group of the Cult of Overspecialization, which claims that by becoming purely a Builder, or an engineer, or even concentrating singlemindedly on a single task, the individual can perfect itself. All its subselves, all its personality is streamlined and trained into a single pure pattern which is timeless. They envision a society where each individual gradually specializes until it becomes a function; if the society is well designed it will become a self-perpetuating system which is both harmonic as a whole and harmonic in each individual.
Death is more accepted among United than humans. One reason is that United when they die gradually loose cohesion between their subselves and hence never experience dying; they just become confused and die. They also develop from components merging, and to most United it is just as reasonable that these components will disperse. After death it is a common practice to make sure the dead will be as evenly dispersed as possible; in space they are annihilated with antimatter and on planets their shells broken and scattered across the sea. That doesn't mean death is seen as good: in fact the United havre gone to great lengths to defeat it.
The most unusual practice can be found among the reincarnators, who divide old United into modules, which are implanted into the pupae of children. The modules grow into the mass and become part of the children, in theory giving them part of the personality and identity of the donor. The experience of the donor lives on, although in a dispersed form, and the young ones gain a spiritual mentorship (how much memories is actually transferred is uncertain, and the orbitals regard the practice as slightly barbaric, but it is still common on many planets).
Among the followers of the Triadic Balance, death is regarded as a tragedy if it occurs before perfection is reached, but afterwards it doesn't matter - a perfected United can (it is believed) smoothly move from life to non-life with perfect harmony. The Cult of Overspecialization have a similar view of their perfects: they are beyond time when specialized enough - they are the abstract fulfillment of their tasks.
The Cult of Inaccessible seeks to gain knowledge through unorthodox means, and claims that all the truly significant knowledge enters the world by "false passages" from regions of existence inaccessible to inquiry. This means that they are interested in communicating with the dead since they don't exist, studying anomalies and apparent violations of physical laws. So far they have never found anything, but this is regarded as a confirmation of their basic idea: if it was easy to gain knowledge from inaccessible regions they would not be inaccessible.
Among United, as among humans, ethics tend to be fairly simple in theory and complex in practice. The basic idea is that anything which creates harmony is good and anything which creates disharmony is bad. But defining harmony is hard, and some harmonies may have long-term bad effects. The three main schools can best be described as the internal harmonists (harmony is determined by what gives harmony between the subselves), the empirical harmonists (harmony optimizes certain global properties such as survival, stability and flexibility) and the irrational harmonists (harmony cannot be defined, it must be experienced). The Cataclysts are unique in their embrace of change and disharmony, which makes them anathema to most United.
The Triadic Balance contains schools supporting all three views,
including the meta-harmonists of Ridge True who claims that the
perfected can smoothly move between these views with no
contradiction. The Harmonic Hedonists mainly support the irrational
harmonists, while the Merchancy and Labyrinth of Gravity support the
United Science and Technology
United science is fairly similar in practice to human science,
although United are naturally much more fond of deductive
rather than inductive thinking combined with a strong sense of
practicality. This has resulted in a development curve with long
plateaus where results are refined and tested endlessly to become
truly useful, followed by almost vertical jumps as new ideas
suddenly appear and the scientific community quickly turns
completely towards them, the old areas already well worked out.
United technology tend to be extremely reliable and as unobtrusive as possible. It is common to build systems into the walls of buildings and seal it off so that it cannot be accessed without major work, with the clear intention of having the system last longer than the building. Massive redundancy, combined with a clever use of distribution makes systems work fine even if most of the subunits have broken down. United devices tend to be simple and replacable, or complex and extremely resilient.
Another common theme is modularity. Some systems are standardized on the outside and intended to link together into larger units, while the inside is customizable. A typical example is their spaceships or orbital factories, but also their smart materials which often have "interface patches" where they can be bonded.
The three areas where the United excel are gravity
manipulation, smart materials and complexity. They are
surprisingly underdeveloped in nuclear physics, lack
nanotechnology and rely on quantum computers or analog devices
instead of traditional computers.
Gravity manipulation was discovered by the original Labyrinth of
Space during its studies of space phenomena. They discovered a
bizarre effect in some high-temperature superconductors,
developed it into useful antigravity and then continued learning
about antigravity by trial and error until a fairly elaborate
empirical theory had been developed at the time of the breakdown.
They never managed to unify antigravity physics, but still made
use of it in FTL drives and countless habitats. During the Silent Ages
antigravity was finally unified by the group of thinkers calling
themselves Hooked Resonance Far-Towards Multiplicity of
Denebola. The Hooked Resonance theory was nowehere as general
as the human GUT theory, but explains antigravity in a framework
very suitable to United thinking and with the added benefit of
being very easy to use for engineering.
The masterpiece of United gravitic engineering is the wormhole links. Fairly recently, only last century researchers succeeded in creating semi-stable wormholes on the quantum level. They are far too small and unstable to send matter through, but they enable FTL communication outside the normal spacetime continuum. Today most ships, bases and homes have a wormhole link to the nearest center of civilization, which in turn have more links. This unites most of Unitedkind into one big network of FTL signals.
Anther United capability far beyond present human capabilities is the jamming of soliton waves, which enables them to disrupt soliton transmissions or warp fields. A disruptor system (which is fairly bulky and energy intensive) placed in the path of the solitons can disrupt them, destroying warping ships or dissolving soliton messages.
United gravity devices require significantly less power to run than human devices, do not require extensive cooling and are able to create much more complex fields. They are used in almost everything from starships to ambience fields in homes. They consist of ceramic materials where dendrites of superconductors surround quantum wells, controlled by nodes of quantum computers. The whole system is distributed and scalable, able to produce fields of arbitrary geometry if programmed right through its internal computers; it is extremely advanced compared to the crude human units.
The antigravity plates are usually installed in the walls of
spaceships, buildings or devices. In a spaceship, the same plates can
be used to create a warp field, propel the ship or neutralize
accelerations. In buildings the plates customize the local gravity to
suit the inhabitants, creating low-gravity rooms, complex fields to
decorate an environment or just keeping the air clean. In factories
and hospitals complex fields are used to manipulate alloys and
The fine manipulative powers of antigravity are used among other
things to create the smart materials which are used everywhere. It
is quite common to add internal networks of processing nodes to
materials, making them adapt to the surroundings. Another
application is to set up standing gravity waves, creating complex
composite alloys of immiscible metals or unusual stress patterns.
The United have never developed nanotechnology, but they
have developed many materials with properties rivalling human
nanotechnology. The basis for most of them are self-assembling
polymers, fibers and ceramics which form out of tiny subunits. By
designing subunits with different properties materials can be
created which assemble themselves into complex systems, perform
microscale operations and change behavior under certain
conditions. A typical example is surfaces that become liquid in
contact with certain tools and immediately freeze when they are
removed, or self-assembling processing nodes.
United computers are all based on self-organizing networks of
simple processing nodes, forming massively parallel systems. While
the simplest are analogue computers, the more powerful systems
are based on quantum computing. Single processor computing is
regarded as a theoretical curiosity, all United computers are
parallel systems. Information is stored in an associative,
distributed way that is highly resistant to damage and
automatically connects related information. In the quantum
networks information is superposed on itself, and by adding the
right key or partial pattern the stored information emerges. The
drawback is that the storage is not exact as in human digital
computers, but can become subtly distorted. This has created an
elaborate field to retain information purity, which also includes
methods of avoiding inconsistent data, loss of information and the
maintenance of true facts and history over time.
Interaction is through electric fields and sounds. A common system consists of a chamber of smart materials where sounds and electric fields can be projected from all directions. The user interacts by speaking to the computer and possibly by moving in the fields. These information chambers use optical lasers to detect movement or send information across the chamber; to a human a chamber in use is a black room with strobing lights, filled with eerie sounds. In many cases this system discreetly extends throughout the building, and can be reached in a limited form in every room. Information is stored in tiny cones of plastic-like materials which are inserted into holes in the walls.
The United use their computers mainly for information storage, not as much for processing or communication as humans. The computers contain the great works of the United, the great poetry of the orators and the elaborate language sculptures of the Harmonic Hedonists. Often they are a form of semi-AI, molded after the owner of the system but passive instead of active, a kind of an artificial module adapted to and nearly a part of the owner.
The wormhole computer network is in many ways their most impressive
technological artefact. Larger computers are linked by wormhole links
to planetary central nodes, enabling them to dip into the "Information
Ocean", the wast storehouse of United knowledge. Its organisation is
incomprehensible to humans, an associative web of knowledge, data and
culture extending as a single coherent and self-supporting quantum
state across the whole of United space. Everything exists in it, but
finding anything may require the need of information navigators,
guides who are experts in associating in the right directions.
The United have never discovered fusion power; they discovered
nuclear fission and used it for a long time, but their lack of
fundamental curiosity have prevented them from discovering and using
fusion. Instead they have concentrated on building great photovoltaic
panels to gather solar energy, and store it in the form of antimatter.
The discovery made by Brittleness Equation enabled the United to
produce antimatter and store it in gravitation bottles. This was at
first risky, but quickly clever protection systems based on smart
materials and negative feedback from the fields made the bottles
safe. An even more significant discovery was made in the 1300s, when a
smart material was invented which trapped tiny amounts of antimatter
inside microscopic bottles. These antimatter-matter slabs were
extremely resilient; if they were broken just a few of the micro-traps
released their energy with no risk for a big explosion. By a
controlled process of "burning" these slabs can be used to power
almost everything, even down to the level of buildings or vehicles.
While implanted technology is sometimes used by the orbitals,
external devices for enhancement is quite common. Most used are
tool-cones worn on the tentacles. The cones can be plain protection,
a single tool like a knife or contain lasers, detectors for light or
More advanced implants include computer link-ups favored by some
orbitals, including the quantum computer modules (sometimes even
containing a wormhole link to the information sea) used by the quantum
cultists. Most implants are however intended to extend social
abilities, such as artificial phermone glands, sound expression and
analysis devices or even improved artificial skin.
The United are quite good at understanding complex systems
and to manipulate them to suit themselves. This ranges from
programming their parallel computers to redesigning ecosystems.
Much of this is almost intuitive, based on their internal experiences
as they unite after the pupal stage. The rules of complexity has
however been formalized into a "philosophy of united changing
things" (originally described by the Asteroid Plane Orthogonal
habitat during the Convergence) which enables United to build
extremely complex systems that remain stable despite their
The philosophy of united changing things is not a quantitative theory as humans would try to derive it, but a number of qualitative statements about how a mixture of interaction produces a large-scale behavior. It doesn't cover all complex systems, but is so general that it can cover ecology, artificial intelligence, psychology, self-assembly, protein folding and many other important fields. If a system is designed according to its principles, then it becomes predictable using the philosophy even if it is arbitrarily complex.
Based on their knowledge of system theory and psychology the United have developed the twin disciplines of theoretical and practical sociopsychology. They deal with how individuals and societies interact in an empirical way, describing what interactions are possible, how a given society can evolve and how to change it in a desired direction. Practical sociopsychology is directed towards keeping societies healthy and dealing with other societies, while theoretical sociopsychology studies the long-term changes of societies, the element theory and the risks for breakdowns or sudden changes. It is in its current form only adapted to the peculiarities of United societies; humans would be slightly too individual and unpredictable to deal with.
Sociopsychology was first developed during the age of the
Labyrinth of Air, and was one of the contributing factors to its
stability: most social problems could be predicted beforehand and
dealt with. After the breakdown, it became even more important as
the whole race strove to avoid a repetition.
During the early space era the ships were rather random, consisting
of irregular cylinders of bundled tanks, antennas and girders.
Today most United ships consist of standardized double-cone
modules, either small (20 meters long, 6 meters across) or large (50
meters long, 15 meters across). While the exterior is simply a plain
beryllium-titan alloy with semi-regular sensor- and decoration-
nodes and antimatter plating on the inside, the interiors can vary
quite a bit. Common interior cones involve living habitats,
antimatter drives, weapon systems, missile pods, detector systems
and cargo space. Each cone section can be individually switched, it
is only the hull that is standardized and intended to link together
with other ships.
The most common forms are missiles (single double-cones), tripods (three double-cones linked, with antimatter drives, weapon systems and a small habitat or telepresence rig) which act as fighters and shuttles, urchins (30 double-cones linked into a sphere) which act as warp capable headquarters, hangar ships and missile bases, and the huge cylinders consisting of hundreds of cones arranged into long cylinders which are orbital habitats in themselves. All of these forms are detachable and can be dissolved in a few minutes.
United ships have excellent antigravity units, making them faster and more nimble than human ships. Accelerations of 100 G are common, and even small ships are capable of warp jumps. Their lack of military computing makes their aim worse; the United prefer surprise attacks from afar rather than space duels.
United often use asteroids to build habitats rather than building completely artificial ones. They drill long tunnels into the asteroid, branching off rooms and other tunnels into a large tree. How much conveniences that are added depends on culture; most are fairly austere, while some are close to pleasure palaces. It is extremely commong to decorate all the surfaces in some way during the drilling to make them more harmonious.
The habitats are often self-sufficient, using antimatter power plants to drive algae tanks for air, water and food recycling. Some even close themselves completely, becoming isolated universes with no connection whatsoever with the rest of the world.
Much of United industry is located in huge space factories,
consisting of immense hexagonal solar cells and prism-like
industrial complexes. While the general layout is identical and
modular, each prism is individual. Some acts as energy factories,
beaming down energy to planetary surfaces using microwaves,
others produce various products or antimatter.
The United have a long history of farming, both plants, animals
and the mixtures which exist on their homeworld. Most of their
traditional food consists of macroplankton and small tidal zone
creatures. In space food is bred in large tanks, and some
conservative habitats live almost solely on various algae/plankton
mixtures (this is regarded as extremely boring fare by most others,
who enjoy "real" food with the right textures, taste and history).
The most popular food is a ping pong ball-like spherical lifeform, which floats on the surface of the sea in large numbers. It is a colony of animal cells which extend feelers and cilia, and plant cells which produce energy. In the hollow interior new colonies form and emerge when the outer colony dies. These balls are a staple, and exist in a huge number of varieties with different tastes, smells and textures. Another popular form of food consists of tadpole-like creatures which are non-colonial versions of the United module. Usually they are crushed together with balls, spices and some gravel and eaten; some societies employ various sauces or marinades which semi-digest the food before eating it.
Today there are few larger species left of the original homeworld fauna, but in the past several species were used as beasts of burden or for other purposes. In the sea the huge "sea snakes" (a very large version of the tadpole-like creatures eaten) were used to propel boats, on land a composite creature related to te United were used to drag cargo (in time breeding methods were used to turn them into centipede-like creatures that were more efficient).
Interesting enough the United have never had any pets. The closest thing was a species of scavenger that lived in their homes, eating dirt, but it went out of use everywhere except on the homeworld millennia ago. United simply do not feel any instinctive emotional attachment to non-United, and do not feel any need for pets. Sometimes animals are part of creating harmony, but they have to fulfill a practical function.
The United modify other ecosystems by adding designer
lifeforms which replace many (but always not all) local species.
Their ideal is harmonious (from their perspective) beach- and sea-
ecosystems, they do not care much for the mountains or deserts.
The concept of ecological diversity has never played a large role,
although they tend to be careful to make sure the new ecosystem is
stable and viable.
Personal weapons are rare among United. The traditional
warrior spear-gloves and protective plates exist only in museums,
and fire-weapons are equally rare. When they exist today they take
the form of a conical gauss gun worn on a tentacle, sending
targetting signals towards the target and showing them as changes
in touch to the owner. The most common form of ammunition is
poison or taser darts, often intended to merely disable the
opponent. Many weapons are intended to shoot a cloud of darts in
the same direction to improve the chance of hitting.
The United have developed a number of "martial arts" suitable for
different gravities and circumstances, but most are seldom used;
today most United societies are extremely peaceful by human standards.
Labyrinth of Gravity
The Gamblers of SZ Crater
Just before the breakdown a small colony had settled on SZ Crater I,
a faily hospitable world. As the colony found itself stranded, the
orbitals gave up their failing space habitats and joined the small
colony of grounders in the swamps of the planet. While most of
their high-technology was soon lost they succeeded in surviving
despite their numbers and succeeded in creating a highly unusual
The Gambler Game, as it became known, is based on gambling of all kinds. The basic idea, expressed by the disillusioned colonists, is that nothing is certain, nothing lasts forever, life is a series of gambles. So their society is based on status determined by gambling, decision making is influenced by various games and the bets placed by citizens and much of their culture relates to various game strategies. When the Labyrinth of Gravity eventually reached the system, the gamblers took the chance (after a long, high-stakes democratic game) and joined the rest of Unitedkind.
The Gamblers were originally far behind the others technologically, but has done a good job of acquiring the modern necessities. In exchange they produce games and entertainment, some United even travel to SZ Crucis to participate in the complex gambles.
One of the most popular games today is Triad Cylinder Plural, a
United mixture of scrabble, mastermind and poker. The game
pieces consist of cylinders cut into short sections rotating on an axis
of braided ropes used to keep the point count. On the cylinder
sections different ancient United letters are written (they are
stylized versions of the squiggles used by the Labyrinth of Space
several millennia back) and as they are rotated relative to each
other they form words. The aim of the game is for the three players
to guess the words of the others; each attempt allows the
challenged player to rotate one section one step, changing the word.
Various versions exist with both long (for expert players) and short
(training) cylinders; the average cylinder-set has ten sections. The
philosophers of Beta Virginis regard the game as highly useful to
reveal unexpected truths; they play a version where the quest is
not to guess the words of the others but to create a true statement
together with the other players while still following the rules.
Cult of Overspecialization
The Cult of Overspecialization is an insular group which is regarded
as aberrant by many United, but which continues to recruit
followers among the mainstream. It was founded by Twice-Early
Echo Under, a sociopsychologist and philosopher who suggested that
the way to avoid any breakdowns is to create a perfectly rigid
society with no change at all.
The way towards individual perfection is specialization: an individual is vulnerable when it is not 100% a Builder, Warrior or a Parent. The ideal of a balanced unity of roles espoused by the Triadic Balance is impossible to achieve since such a balance by definition would shift depending on circumstances. Instead society and the individual should be modified to fit each other perfectly, creating true harmony. All subselves should be united for a single goal, all unnecessary thoughts, feelings and skills should be forgotten and replaced with one permanent role. Individualism is given up for becoming a function, but at the same time the individual is abstracted and refined into the pure ecstasy of perfection.
Using practical sociopsychology Twice-Early Echo Under and its
followers began to build their society in a habitat in the DM+22
2302 system. They created a first approximation, recruited more
followers, continued with the next approximation, and so on. They
are currently well on the way to success: their habitat is a kind of
social machine, where everybody has sharply defined roles and
functions. Once perfection is achieved, certain drugs are used to
lock the individual's mind into an unchanging state, creating a
growing group of overspecialized experts.
The Merchancy is a trading union that orignally bound together
many Denebolan habitats but today extends everywhere. It is one
of the most dynamic societies, consisting of trading ships constantly
moving between the stars. It has no unified leadership, but is
generally ruled by consensus. Occasionally some part breaks loose
and acts independently for a few years, but in the end they all tend
to gravitate back to the Merchancy.
Most habitats have a simple communal economy, but outside the
group or habitat United commonly trade through barter. Today
computers are used to resolve very complex multi-part barters, but
there is still a need for some flexibility. The Merchancy provides
this flexibility by bartering future goods or abstract entries in the
general bartering tables (roughly equivalent to credits). It acts both
as a trade organization and a central bank.
Cult of Inaccessible
The Cult of Inaccessible is a fairly recent philosophy that claims
that all truly significiant information enters the universe from the
"inaccessible regions", the states of existence that can normally
never be reached like the interiors of black holes, the dead or the
future. They believe that in these inaccessible states reality is not
defined, and sometimes new reality can slip out and create
something new. The element discoveries were in their opinion
results of such information escape. They are closely allied with the
Cataclysts, although they believe that if handled the right way the
element transitions are not dangerous in themselves. Most of the
cultists are simply interested in studying the inaccessible regions,
trying to discover an information escape.
Needless to say, most other United regard the cult as bizarre.
And due to their disregard for the Convergence, they are also
dangerous (even if nobody believes their ideas will ever lead
Cold Junk Retreaters
The Cold Junk Retreaters are in some sense the survivalists of the
United. They first formed during the reunification begun at
Denebola, as some societies feared that a new united Unitedkind
would once and for all doom itself to chaos once the recursive
dilemma surfaced. They withdrew from contact, trying to remain
outside of the Labyrinth of Gravity's sphere of control. During the
Convergence their emissaries fruitlessly argued for dispersal and
isolation, and were in the end turned into Convergents. While
several of the Retreaters gave in and joined the Labyrinth of
Gravity, several habitats left into interstellar space to become
completely self-sufficient and isolated.
However, some zealots remained and began to mission against the
Labyrinths, the Convergence and the Chord, exhorting others to flee
from the doomed civilization. At first they were tolerated, but
gradually they were becoming more and more pernicious since they
threatened the harmony of Unitedkind and the Labyrinth of
Gravity began to hunt them down. Today very few remain, hidden
in the isolated habitats of the conservatives.
There are many conservative habitats that remain largely isolated.
They are small worlds who have turned their back to the rest of
Unitedkind into solipsistic solitude. Most have rather peculiar
societies, highly self sufficient and with no desire to link up with
the rest of the culture.
The Librarians of Denebola
During the reunification the gathering of lost knowledge was one of
the central reasons many previously isolated groups joined
together. The Labyrinth of Gravity fully realized the need to
organize what was found into an usabla form, and founded the first
of the libraries. Since then several indpendent libraries have
emerged, all sworn to preserve the cultural treasures of the
United. Most of them orbit Denebola, although several are
located in other systems. Each has its own distinct style, but they all
adhere to the original library charter of preserving information for
future generations, regardless of disasters, war and breakdowns.
The major libraries are the First Library, the Library of Beta Virginis, the Intercalated Library and the Silent Library; in addition to these there are a dozen smaller libraries. They all act as repositories of information of all kinds, from priceless art to reciepes. This information is ordered in a variety of ways, each unique to each library.
The First Library stores information historically, with great indices and retrieaval programs enabling users to search and follow the ideas through time.
The Library of Beta Virginis is more similar to a human library. It is divided into modules relating to different subjects, with subsections that are more specialized (although the divisions are strange to a human. There is one section for harmonious moods, and another for everything related to the concepts of justice and science). The Intercalated Library at DM+31 2240A uses extensive knowledge networks, reducing acquired information to nodes in the great web of myiapod culture.
The Silent Library of AC+10 95-26 is unique in the respect that it doesn't allow anybody to read what is in it; instead information is permanently encoded and hidden away. The idea is to make sure nothing is lost, nothing corrupted by incompetent librarians. At regular intervals the information is secretly encoded into very robust Encyclopedia Slabs and thrown into deep space.
Most of the libraries are at least partially accessible through the
Information Sea. However, unlike the libraries the Information Sea is
highly associative, and not always useful as a tool for information
searching. Instead the librarians and navigators of the libraries are
contacted through it, and they search out the information in the
libraries for the requester.
This society has taken upon itself to maintain truth. It is a kind of
investigative organization, seeking out errors, rumours and lies, and
exposing them, regardless of if they are in a database, a library or
in the mind of somebody. What they deal with is objective
information (they don't care about views) such as scientific data,
administrative records, news and claims of achievements. They are
widely respected and feared; most societies request a revision
every now and then to keep their minds and archives correct.
Information with their seal of correctness is to be trusted, so far
they have never been wrong.
A large part of the societys resources are used to keep their own
information correct; their home habitats in the DM+31 2240A
system are a mixture between research labs, libraries, philosophical
debating clubs and intelligence agencies. From the habitats
investigative expeditions are sent to all United worlds, gathering
and checking the data they access.
The Quantum Cultists emerged as a divergent offshoot of the Philosopher States
when they encountered the Labyrinth of Gravity. They combine orbital technology
with the fascination of the quantum world the philosophers had, developing a
mystical system based on the idea of the harmony inherent in quantum states
and making it accessible on the macroscale.
Their basic idea is that quantum effects are supremely harmonic phenomena, the different possibilities uniting into the real. By learning more about the quantum world and making its effects accessible on the macroscale the inherent harmony of the universe can be made more prevalent and useful in daily life. To this end they both do elaborate research in quantum mechanics, build quantum computers (they are the main developers of the systems used in the Information Sea) and implant "quantum bionics" into themselves to become more fully entangled in the secret quantum harmonies.
The Cultists are fairly isolationistic, although they keep a close
watch on what is going on and trade with the Merchancy. Most of their
habitats orbit Denebola or Beta Virginis III. The other groups regard
the Cultists as ultimately misguided, but from a practical standpoint
their contributions have been outstanding.
Hedonism has neve had a bad name among the United, although many
philosophies have regarded mere pleasure and contentment as a
distraction on the path to harmony. Several times in their history
gread hedonic movements have gathered followers trying to create a
more pleasurable existence. The Harmonic Hedonists are a
conglomeration of such movements, spread across United space in their
habitats or on planets.
The basic tenet of harmonic hedonism is that harmony comes from
within, and everything that creates harmony also creates pleasure;
pleasure can also bring harmony. This encourages a highly automated,
laid-back society where much energy is directed towards finding new
and better ways of enjoying life.