The universe of Ansel Gedden’s time is dominated by the Sublime Organization, commonly known to humans as The Org. This vast multi-galactic empire is controlled by an enigmatic race called the shen and governed by their three paragon races: the military woad, clerical domos, and the technical carpenters. The twelve worlds which make up human space are a very recent and relatively minor portion of this state. They are one of the gathered races, those with no rights in the eyes of the paragons. Only gathered peoples can be sold as property, and the exotic, attractive human species has become a sought-after commodity. Their self-rule is limited; though the everyday touch of the Org is light, the immense phalanx city-ship that serves as the sector capital can wipe out any of the human planets.
There are six Houses of Humanity following from the death of their first home Earth: Mars (often Old Mars), Ibetida, Far Britain, Savane, Endeavor, and Nuevo Salvador. Each is split into around 200 provinces and each of these is independent of the others. There is no planet-wide human government on any planet except for Mars, through a special dispensation. The Org’s governors of each planet reside on the phalanx and conduct their business from there. This keeps humanity divided and prevents rebellion.
Before their subjugation by The Org, humanity was remaking itself as a spacefaring people. The Consumption of Earth killed that planet, but before it died, eleven worldships were sent out. Only five arrived and it’s from them that the outer Houses grew (Mars had already been colonized by the Consumption). It took centuries for humankind to rebuild the capability first to communicate across lightyears and then to discover fastlight travel. They were on the cusp of a true reconnection when they were set upon by The Org. The five year war which ensued is known among humans as the War of the Tears. At once, the Org crushed the religious and governmental centers of humanity, which were at that time the same.
The deliverance of that small portion of humanity out of the Consumption was regarded as a miracle by those who re-emerged on their new worlds. Soon, the descendants of those who had launched the worldships were regarded as divinely touched, worshipped as radiant and wise, and then acknowledged as the god-like Ascendants. They became the total rulers of their Houses and the center of all religion. In the War of the Tears, The Org largely annihilated the Ascendants, breaking humanity from their link from God. Only the wife of an Ascendant was spared. She took the honor of Ascendant for herself but called herself Matriarch. From that time, the Matriarchs of Ibetida have been the spiritual center for much of the human population, Ascendants in all but name.
Mars stands apart from the general story of human exodus. It was settled in ordered fashion centuries before the Consumption was irreversible. It watched, horrified, as Earth died, too small and poor to do anything but accept those refugees who could make it. As the worldships floated through space and then its people built itself up, Mars grieved. Its faith became one of constant vigil, placating the wailing ghosts of those abandoned on Earth. When the War of the Tears came to Mars, they fought but surrendered quickly. The Org’s hand fell somewhat lighter on them than on the other Houses. It is still, to the other human populations, backwards. They are still, to Marsees, naive.
The presence of Org races on human planets is minimal. The vast majority of the work done, even for The Org, is done by humans. Each province’s government is split into four circles: the Circle of Exchange, dealing with commerce and industry; Circle of Administration, for public safety, utilities, general welfare; Circle of Mediation, for trials and arbitration; and the nefarious Circle of Coordination, responsible for ensuring compliance of human populations with Org writ. It isn’t force constantly applied which keeps them in line. It’s the distant threats of phalanx bombardment and invasion by woad battleclans, as well as the memory of Tears.
The issue of slavery has always been contentious. Human governments have never permitted it; even under Org rule, slavery bills often greatly diminished a sitting government’s numbers as votes were tortured out. Instead, the Circle of Coordination has taken under its own control areas of each province which are called Freetown. Here, only the commands of Coordination (and The Org) must be respected. This has helped to create two different societies in humanity: citizens, who are bound and protected by the law, and outlaws, who can be sold as property and who can deal in slaves. Yet even though this arrangement has gone on for centuries, it has not become amenable to most of humanity.
Revolts against The Org are not uncommon but are all small and all doomed. This hasn’t yet crushed their spirit. They all wait for the fulfillment of a prophecy, spoken of by Hagia Saress the first Matriarch, that there would come a child of two Houses. Both of the Matriarchal House of Yesod and of another, a Hidden House which had escaped the full wrath of The Org and would, at the appointed time, return to create the savior of humankind.