Sensor nekos accelerate away from a gas giant with a large ring system; the Nekology has converted the rings of this world to a swarm of specialised nekos.
The Nekology was first encountered in 7774 by explorers from the Nanarchy of Hïyes as they explored the spinwards Perseus Arm. After first nearly being destroyed by the defender nekos that came out to challenge them, the Nanarchs managed to make peaceful contact with the processor nekos; it is from this encounter most known information about the Nekology comes. Since then a number of other encounters have occurred, not all of which has been successful.
The name Nekology was coined from the ancient Anglic root "neko" for small artificial lifeform, and ecology. The empire, if that is the right term for it, consists of a system of nanotechnological lifeforms forming a kind of ecology:
The flitters are little more than scavenging solar sails, floating in the solar wind and absorbing energy and small particles. As they grow they split into new flitters, or begin to develop into other nekos.
Sensors are flitter-like creatures that extend long nanotubes to act as sensitive receptors. They signal other nekos if they detect anything unusual or relevant, such as a solar flare or intruding spaceship. They also act as communications relays, sending packets of data to each other and other more advanced nekos.
Nodules are larger flitter-derivatives that contain nanocomputers. They exchange information between each other and the sensors, as well as acting as subordinates for the large processors.
The most dangerous nekos are the defenders. A flitter uses solar energy to construct a small amount of antimatter, and then folds up around it into a tiny missile. The defenders are attracted to unusual sources of energy, and tend to ram into them. The result is that spaceships approaching Nekology systems will be assaulted by numerous tiny antimatter charges, usually more than enough to destroy them.
Miners are flitters that attach themselves to asteroid surfaces. They root themselves, and use solar energy to launch pellets of material into space, each with a microscopic flitter seed inside. As they grow larger they begin to develop into other stages.
Launchers are powerful versions of the miners, launching single large seeds towards sources of light weaker than the sun using telescoping nano-massdrivers. This enables them to quickly spread across the system, and even to other stars. Incidentally they also bombard passing spaceships with seeds.
Processors are asteroids completely converted into nanocomputers, likely housing the most intelligent aspects of Nekology. It was from the processors the Hïyesians got their information; given the fact that they understand Basic they likely have at least some Terragen ancestry.
Many other Neko species exist, but they are rare. It appears that the processors are able to reprogram flitters to produce new forms if needed. The whole ecology is able to colonize the asteroids and minor bodies of a solar system quite efficiently, slowly converting it into a Dyson-like cloud. There is no need for a central planning, and the processors appear fairly late in the process.
The Nekology does more than just colonize system after system. Once it has collected enough matter, it apparently decides what to do with remaining planets. Often magnetism and radiation exploiting ecologies appear around gas giants and nano- ecologies appear on Mercury-type worlds. Terrestrial planets are terraformed (often by the emergence of "kamikaze" nekos in the system that begin to transport needed materials to the planet and fall into the atmosphere). On these terraformed worlds a nanoconstructed ecology emerges, often completely unusual and non-terrestrial. Although evidence is lacking, it seems that these always include at least one intelligent species. What the relationship between the Nekology and the species is remains unknown; it might be creating the species as toys or pets, worshipers, creative resources, or collaborators.
The Nekology has no apparent structure, although it is known that the systems exchange continuous signals with each other, using coordinated patterns of flitters as phased arrays. Most likely it is run by the virtual entities housed in the processors. Different systems appear to have different policies.
Politically it does not appear aggressive, despite the danger of the defenders. It has little need for trade and no apparent interest in information about the outside world. The only thing it appears to want from offworlders is transport: transporting a cargo of seeds to new systems is paid handsomely in unique biosamples or whatever the local swarm can nanofacture. Despite the ban on spreading unknown nanotech in most civilized systems, there is no shortage of smugglers willing to risk it for the chance of earning a fortune in bio-licensing. There is a very real fear among Perseus Arm powers that the Nekology is going to appear just about everywhere soon.
The size of Nekology space is uncertain, but it is believed to be more than 200 light years across, possibly much more. Given the ordinarily slow rate of expansion it has either had help by spacefaring beings or previously exploited similar means.
The origin of the Nekology remains mysterious. It could be the remnants of a fallen Terragen civilisation, a nano-infrastructure continuing after its builders have vanished. It could also be a deliberate creation of some virtual civilisation, preferring to live in the processor nodules. Some rumours claim it is another arm of whatever lies behind the Amalgamation, infiltrating human space and preparing for a massive onslaught where the Nekology charade will be cast aside. Another common rumour is that it is actually the physical support structure for a new archailect, awaiting the right moment to emerge into the light and create a Perseus Arm empire.