Labela
Labela
Image from Steve Bowers

The Labela are one of the oldest neb Clades, but they are anything but common. Indeed, their culture demands that they remain comparatively rare. Labela regard themselves as jewels among humanity -- their value is a function of their scarcity and beauty.

History

The earliest genemods were developed for medical purposes. Life extension and cures for various diseases were the main foci of genetic science during the latter part of the Information Age and through much of the Interplanetary Period. This early work laid the foundation for the genetic standards that are common to nearly all neb Clades.

The medical benefits also produced the side effect of an increased average level of physical beauty. Information Age researchers discovered that most of the traits that hu perceive as attractive -- especially smooth skin, shiny hair, clear eyes and symmetrical features -- are indicators of general health. The result was that the children of people who received early genemods tended to be prettier as well as healthier than their unmodified peers were. They also tended to be wealthier; getting genemods in the scarcity-driven economies of Old Earth was expensive enough that only the rich could do it at first. This soon created a kind of economic-genetic elite wherein the rich truly were genetically superior to the poor. This situation was the cause of much unrest until the genemods filtered into the general population (due in equal parts to price reductions and sexual indiscretion). But by then the chain of events that led to the birth of the Labela was already in motion.

The rich of Earth faced threats on three fronts. Their genetic superiority faded as genemods became increasingly accessible to the masses. At the same time their wealth was at risk of being ripped from them by cash-strapped governments and by angry mobs that demanded wealth redistribution. Even more powerful than these threats was the competition within the ranks of the elite; neither communist rhetoric nor higher taxes could stop the "beautiful people" from vying with each other to decide who was more beautiful. Because of this situation the propensity of the rich to live in inaccessible (and therefore defensible) locations intensified. Many retreated to private islands, and those that could took to orbital or lunar habitats. They also became more adept at keeping their wealth from governments that would tax it away -- the Interplanetary Period saw the creation of the first offworld banks. It was in this isolation that scientists in the employ of Earth's elite developed the further genemods that created Clade Labela.

The Nanodisaster struck the enclaves of the rich as hard as they did any other place, but those who had more material resources had greater ability to flee (compared to the poor) and were often better prepared to do so. The result was that many wealthy families reached safety with a sizable fraction of their wealth intact. This head start often allowed the elite of the old world to achieve positions of power and privilege within reconstructed terragens society. By 6004 A.T. the Labela had successfully adapted their culture to post-scarcity economies and were thoroughly entrenched within the economic power structures of the Civilized Galaxy.

Appearance and Capabilities

Labela, like all nebs, have the standard humanoid body plan. They have the same range of skin pigmentation as baselines do except that the deepest tones are absent in all but a few sub-Clades. Hair and eye colors have the same range as in baselines. Pigmentation can occur in combinations that are unknown in baselines -- Labela with brown skin, blond hair and green eyes are not unheard of. Hair texture is straight, wavy or loosely curled. There is no hair below the neck except for pubic hair. Females never have facial hair, and males can only grow it if they are of certain sub-Clades. Labela hair only grows thick on the scalp. A few sub-Clades have epicanthic folds on the eyes. Labela typically range in height from 180-205 cm. for males and 165-190 cm. for females.

The genemods for increased lifespan and disease resistance have been part of the Labela genome since their inception, and those qualities are now highly refined. Labela are highly resistant to whatever naturally occurring pathogens and parasites they are not immune to. Labela genes have also been engineered to resist the mutations that give rise to most cancers. The most remarkable modification is a telomere repair system that delays the apoptosis (programmed cell death) that causes aging at the cellular level. The Labela life expectancy is about 650 years without medical intervention, and senescence doesn't usually set in until well into the fifth century of life.

The long lifespans of the Labela make it necessary to delay the onset of sexual maturity in order to control population growth. Puberty occurs at about age 30 with full physical maturation at around 60. The Labela were among the first neb Clades to adopt conscious control of sperm production and ovulation as their standard means of birth control. Individual Labela must master certain biofeedback techniques in order to become fully fertile, and activating gamete production requires several days of periodic meditation. Few adolescents have the patience to learn the exercises, much less practice them. For this reason unplanned pregnancies are virtually unknown.

The trademark quality of the Labela is their physical beauty. In addition to the benefits of improved health they have genemods for optimizing the attractiveness of their bodies. Their bodily and facial proportions have been engineered to conform to Golden Means. These mathematically determined proportions have been discovered to be universally appealing to beings of hu stock. The Labela have also been designed to have ideal bodily proportions for sexual attractiveness. Males typically have waist-to-shoulder ratios of approximately 0.6 while most females have waist-to-hip ratios of about 0.7. Individuals rarely deviate from these values by more than 5% and never by more than 10%. This, of course, assumes good physical condition (which Labela culture strongly encourages). Labela are aided in the task of maintaining an appealing figure by a change in the human famine response genes. Labela can store excess fat, but not as much as baselines can. Even the heaviest Labela are "pleasantly plump" rather than morbidly obese. Labela also tend to put on fat in even layers all over their bodies, thereby minimizing the impact on their proportions. The end result of these modifications is that even the least attractive Labela are supremely beautiful by the standards of most other hu. They are, in fact, closer to the classical (that is, evolutionarily determined) ideal of human physical beauty than is any other Clade. The only hu Clades that fail to find Labela attractive are those that have been modified significantly from the baseline plan -- i.e. those with drastic alterations to pigmentation or skin texture.

In addition to having attractive bodies, Labela also have beautiful voices. Their genemods include optimization of the vocal apparatus to achieve the ranges and resonance that hu find most appealing. All Labela are at least fair singers, and they instinctively know how to modulate their voices for best effect in social situations.

The subtlest enhancement to the Labela is in their body chemistry. They have been engineered to have a bodily odor that other hu find pleasing. Sub-Clades vary considerably in the details of this scent; some exude musk (which is easily achieved with a mammalian genome) while others give off spicy or floral essence. The one constant is that the output of the scent glands is small. Sophonts whose olfactory sense is no better than that of baselines -- including the Labela themselves -- would only perceive the scent subliminally. The result is that the mere presence of a Labela is an insidious form of memetic attack; the uninitiated are not consciously aware of why they gradually become aroused or relaxed in a Labela's presence. The rarity of Labela keeps many of their fellow hu ignorant of this quality.

Culture

The ruling principle of Labela culture is dalsivida. This philosophy is at once a system of aesthetics and a drive toward living richly. Labela appreciate beauty in all things -- their surroundings (whether natural or manufactured), entertainment, behavior and even everyday items. Simple tools and appliances made by the Labela are stylish enough to resemble objects of art. Most Labela prefer understated elegance to ostentation. Being draped in gaudy clothes and lots of baubles appeals to them far less than does wearing a one-piece mono-colored garment of natural silk (probably handmade) with one or two pieces of platinum-iridium jewelry. The Labela language was derived from the Romance tongues of Old Earth, no doubt because those languages were renowned for sounding pleasant. The modern language contains no harsh gutturals and few sibilants.

The most important articles of beauty in Labela life are their own bodies. They take pains to keep themselves beautiful -- personal hygiene, physical fitness regimens and grooming are major aspects of early childhood education. Newborns who don't conform to community standards of beauty are quietly culled, which is a matter of deep shame for the parents. Personal adornment is a favorite art form among the Labela. They all appreciate fine clothes; dressing well is one of the few ways of standing out in a society where everyone's body is beautiful. Body and face painting are common forms of decoration for celebrations and holidays. Tattoos are mainly restricted to the young; most Labela get them at some point but usually have them removed soon after reaching the age of majority. Piercing any part of the body except for the ears is frowned upon.

One of the most important aspects of Labela culture is wealth. The Clade's forebears lived in scarcity-based economies without themselves experiencing scarcity. Modern Labela have inherited this desire for abundance. Even in post-scarcity economies they strive to control a disproportionate share of resources. In nanotopias this usually means control of desirable locations, intellectual property or other resources that can't be fabricated. They especially prize items that are handmade and/or made of natural (not nanofactured) materials. Labela regard the pursuit of wealth as commendable, even spiritual, yet they disapprove of misers. It isn't enough to merely have wealth; dalsivida demands that wealth be enjoyed. To the Labela mind, living in luxury is the entire point of being able to afford luxury. This is why the various hedonist sects are the most common religions that members of the Clade practice.

An important aspect of wealth, to the Labela mind, is privilege. Labela don't do physical labor when they can hire someone else to do it for them. Those members of the Clade who work almost always do so in some professional capacity; they are doctors rather than nurses or orderlies, engineers or scientists rather than mere technicians. The preferred profession of the Labela is, of course, as the idle rich. Living off of the proceeds of successful investments or intellectual property is the ultimate goal of many. The desire for wealth and the perquisites that come with it means that Labela aren't usually found in polities that lack monetary systems or where even distribution of wealth is enforced. They greatly prefer to live in places that are unique in some way or that have some value that gives the location prestige. Having the resources -- both material and social -- that allow one to live in an exclusive community is a powerful indicator of status.

A Labela is legally adult at the age of 100. They are forbidden to marry or own property before this time -- everything that they have is at the sufferance of their parents. This gives parents a high degree of control over their children's activities (often necessary for beings with such a long adolescence). Taking away resources and refusing to pay for desired goods and services are the usual punishments for misbehavior. Going outside the Clade to marry or have children is an unforgivable sin among the Labela, no doubt due to their desire to keep wealth within the Clade. Minors who commit these offenses are disinherited. Adults are ostracized by the Labela community. They are disowned by their families, shunned by their friends and can no longer find other Labela who will partner with them in business ventures. Fear of such punishment is enough to keep most would-be offenders in line.

An unexpected consequence of the Labela genemods is a lessening of variation in both appearance and vocal range. Labela of the same sex tend to look (barring differences in pigmentation) and sound alike. This sameness increases their drive to stand out as individuals and makes members of the Clade very -- sometimes dangerously -- competitive with each other. Any insult is treated as being far worse if it comes from another Labela. All Labela dislike blending into crowds, and the easiest way to insult them is to ignore them. The Labela talent for holding grudges is legendary. Individuals and even whole families conduct vendettas that last for centuries. The current record is 937 years, and that feud only ended because one of the participants died in a suspicious accident. Labela are reluctant to forgive and forget even when it's clearly in their best interests to do so.

There are only about 24 billion Labela in the Known Galaxy, but the percentage of the Terragens' total resources that they control is approximately 12 times higher than their percentage of the total Terragens population (this is not evenly distributed among the Clade, however). Labela live throughout the Sephirotics, usually in exclusive enclaves, but are most common in the NoCoZo. The overwhelming majority of Labela communities are in polities where infanticide is allowed or where it's possible for the community to gain extraterritorial status. Where neither option is possible, culled infants are given to other Clades for adoption.

Despite their well-developed faculties of intelligence and intuition, very few Labela ascend to higher toposophic levels. They generally prefer the "sweet life" of modosophonts. Those who do become transapients invariably do so in order to acquire resources that mere sapients can't fully comprehend. Post-Labela do not abandon the principles of dalsivida. They merely take the philosophy to another level and learn to pursue more advanced forms of beauty.

 
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Development Notes
Text by Michael Walton

Initially published on 10 May 2006.