Telai are very clever and curious, and generally physically rather frail on the spectrum of human physiques, although they are stockier than the Lyrisclensiae or Lilitai. Genetically, they are quite diverse, but this diversity is evenly distributed between ships. Wherever a task exists that requires significant effort to perform, there will generally be some contraption or another to do it. This has made them both the source for and the client of many clever ideas.
Essential to Telaian success is the ability to build new ships while in space. Every ship, like its crew, is self-replicating, given the necessary raw materials.
Telai are generally idealistic, and believe that one's highest duty is to find an equitable moral or ethical theory, and be absolutely true to it. In many ways, this policy has made them the best of what humanity can offer—though it is rare that any two groups completely agree on what that best is.
The Telai exhibit an equal balance between the sexes. The overall average height for the species is 1.7 metres (5' 7"), with males averaging 0.05 metres taller than females (2"). The older a crew, the more homogeneous its appearance. Telaian crews show a slight bias towards East Asian features (mixed presence of the epicanthic fold, neoteny, and generally slender features) with tan, tawny, or light brown skin, although examples of all Terran phenotypes are abundant.
Notably, a significant portion (15–20%) of the Telaian population is not human, but synthetic human-like beings called uble-do (singular uble), often translated as "replicant" or (with some imprecision) "android" and "gynoid." For the most part, there is no legal distinction drawn between an uble and any other Telaian crewmember; although some crews choose not to employ them as a matter of philosophical principle, few are unequipped to construct new ones. Uble-do are often expected to take responsibility for certain hostile environments where their bodies are more resilient than those of humans (such as extreme heat), though reciprocally humans must be responsible for magnetic fields that would prove fatal to most synthetic organisms.
Generally, the distinction between organic Telaian and uble goes unmentioned; an uble has a very human-like mind and comparable physical ability, and is not obviously different in anatomy or physiology unless injured. Thessian uble-do are a clear exception to this homogeneity. Around the outer cities, a distinct cultural identity of transhumanist uble-do has emerged, called the Cy, who embrace the unique opportunities for out-of-body travel provided by Thet's many virtual worlds.
Most of the Telai live in a strict social hierarchy. Long ago, military life became the mode among space-dwelling Terrans; over time, it softened to accommodate a less aggressive default posture as a result of finding itself the caretaker of almost the entire species. Compromises were made and comforts introduced, and in time the modern Telaian fleet came to be quite diverse in how each ship is run. Telai living on Thet are a major exception to this due to the continued disintegration of the social fabric and the many other political bodies that have been present in Thessians' lives since the first settlements. This also occurs to a lesser extent on other colonies.
In space, however, the Telai are very closely structured: every person has a superior officer, except for the leaders of the squadron or fleet, who are generally also captains of a ship. A single ship may be said to comprise its own fleet, but it is not normal for a ship to be called 'fleetless' (except perhaps in dismay at being separated from its actual fleet.) Fraternization amongst direct peers is frowned upon when it has a romantic side; superior officers are expected to sculpt their subordinates into better managers and leaders as an aside to the relationship itself.
A major tribe is a social group above a fleet. These emerge when groups have significant theoretical or cultural differences from one another. These splits are consistently bloodless and performed with a professional recognition that, overall, survival will be improved if all groups maintain ideological consistency, although a split is not possible unless at least two ships are present. Smaller fleet splits, even temporary ones, are not uncommon either; these may be caused by personal differences as deep as different outlooks on security and vigilance or actions as trivial as wishing to explore different star systems. Major historical tribe splits have occurred over the decisions to introduce cloning to recreate experienced officers, enabling Cossipian independence, and signing major peace treaties.
A Telai crew has a contract with its ship and its fleet (powers sometimes vested in one person) to perform in the best interest of the group. The fleet itself, in turn, has a contract with the tribe to which the crews indirectly subscribe, although this distinction is sometimes not drawn in smaller tribes. The terms of these contracts are exhaustive, and contain requirements for recreation and social interactions to maintain crew and personal morale. The most variable terms, however, are the crew's objectives: at space any manner of objectives in addition to survival may be set; on soil, generally population growth, recreation, and education are prioritised.
When two tribes remain in close contact for a prolonged period of time, unless they have essential or recent differences, they tend to find their views are generally compatible, or that one set of arguments trumps the other, and so they merge. Colony worlds are particularly efficient at merging tribes, since goals about where to go when they leave the planet are remote and not prone to dividing fleet loyalties. Similar processes may happen to a lesser degree in stationary shipyards, and partially regress once the crews have spent some time in space.
Thessia Major and its successor the Thessian Archipelago collectively constitute the largest Telaian colony in well-remembered history. Such a large nation required that the tribes who settled on Thessia Major cooperate with one another to facilitate the well-being of the collective; this led to the development of Telaian nations on Thessia Major shortly after their arrival. Over time, this sedentary government, in combination with proximity to the other human species, begat a cultural shift, which led the Thessian Telai slowly away from their rigid hierarchy and toward a freer state, where self-direction and personal want became more important, much like they had been on Earth so many millennia prior.
In the modern archipelago, the idea of tribal ties still exists, but these familial bonds are faint and not generally a factor in everyday life. However, it has still been rare to find a Thessian tribe on friendly terms with two nations at war, suggesting that some sense of group loyalty persists. Because of their number and this unity, the Telai have always had a substantial influence in Thessian politics.
The Mandate of Emmet
Yakov Emmet was the last traditional commander in chief of the Terran space force. During his term, he dissolved the core of the military hierarchy on the premise that it had long since ceased to serve any useful purpose; travel distances between various groups of exploratory vessels were so enormous that an overarching command structure simply made no sense, as it could take months or years for communications to be exchanged. His solution to this problem was the founding document of Telaian culture, the Constitution, a document intended to be borne by each self-replicating ship and its crew, and modified as that ship's captain saw fit. This combination of technology, humanity, and legal philosophy effectively created a system of von Neumann probes, each carrying with it the capacity to make rational, sophisticated decisions.