Most people in the Commonwealth simply refer to their home world as Vulch. The Vulch have never cared enough to correct them. The hobos of the Commonwealth. They are happy to keep to themselves and stay on the edges, taking everything they want for free from everyone else’s cast-offs. Everyone else is happy to let them, as they’re disgusting, unsocial, and produce nothing of value to anyone else. Unknown to the rest, they are collectors of stories— watching and listening to everyone else to record it all for posterity as a holy mandate of their religion. Content to be left alone in peace among their own communities, they live simply and are generally happy with their place in the universe.
Vulch look like a cross between a penguin and a naked mole rat. Generally between three and four feet tall. They have a long, sharp, black beak, the two halves joined by webbing that make it function more like an inflexible proboscis. Their skin is hairless and mottled gray with a green tinge. Their traditional clothing is multi-layered robes, often woven from recycled fibers of other garmets and scraps. They will wear this robe until it is beyond any hope of repair or serviceability. The tattered and stained layers disrupt their outline, especially if the outer layer is pulled over their head like a hood, which creates a sort of urban ghilli suit that allows them to blend in almost anywhere with little notice.
Vulch are carrion eaters, not just of dead animals, but also of sentient species and even each other. They eat similarly to a spider, by injecting stomach juices and necrotic venom into the corpse, which liquefies from the inside out, allowing them to give it another stab and suck it dry like a disgusting Capri Sun. They are also capable of spewing these juices a few yards as a deadly defense mechanism, but it is considered shameful for any but the most desperate act of preservation. Technically Vulch are omnivores, but even plant matter must be rotted and pre-digested first. They process alcohol into sugar so quickly they can use it as a source of food energy with little to no inebriation. It would take a gallon or more of liquor to get a Vulch even tipsy.
Vulch have a deep, ancient culture that has changed little as they have moved into the modern universe. Their religion united them into a single, cooperative community early in their development, and they have managed to nurture that unity throughout their history. The Vulch are the ultimate recyclers. With nearly impervious immune systems and high tolerance for toxins, they are comfortable living in filthy conditions that would sicken or even kill other species. They have little interest in personal luxuries, focused instead on the welfare of their community and their religious obligation to witness and preserve the stories around them. They are perfectly content to gather and utilize the cast-off junk of other species for their needs. While they do not refuse to pay for things, they have the cultural expectation to always use what is at hand first and only buy or create new things when there is no other practical option.
Vulch don't participate in Commonwealth banking, and rarely carry MUT Cards unless on a specific mission to purchase goods for their commune. While offworld Vulch communes are expected to be self-sufficient, the home world will not hesitate to send money for necessary resources should the need arise. The Vulch do not abandon their own when in need.
While the Vulch are very social and welcoming with each other, most of them generally don't think large scale. Individual communities on the same planet don't usually keep track of each other very closely, preferring to focus on more personal, local-scale events. Large scale perspectives are usually the province of Archivists. However, they should at least know about any kind of major event like a death or emergency relocation.
Smell is one of the Vulch's primary senses and a significant part of how they experience the world. It is sensitive enough to allow them to track people and things like a bloodhound when desired. This is often how they locate other Vulch communes they have not previously visited. They identify each other by scent.
Vulch press nostrils together and share a breath, then draw their cheeks down each other's bodies. This merges their scents together while allowing each of them to learn about their individual history and signature at the same time. The greeting is concluded with the phrase "We know you."
All present gather together and perform the ritual greeting, sharing breath and rubbing against each other until everyone's signature merges into one. This marks them as a member of the community and reinforces each individual's connection with the others. The Sharing is often performed in conjunction with a Chorus, or to welcome a new arrival to the commune.
Every day at noon local time, all the Vulch who are able gather together for the midday chorus. They sing the name of The Source to reaffirm their connection to each other and to their divine purpose.
The Vulch believe that the universe was sung into existence by a divine being they call The Source. When entropy finally brings the universe to an end, they believe that the Source will remake the universe to start the cycle over again. However, the universe and all its history is too vast for even the divine to remember, so the Source created the Vulch to watch and listen and remember all that has happened. They are to record all the stories, and carry as many souls within them as they can, to hold in trust to remind the Source of what must be recreated. All offworld Vulch are participating in their holy mandate, either by actively recording the events around them, or by supporting those who do. They regularly send reports and recordings back to the home world to be stored in the Great Archive.
The name of the Divine can not be spoken. It must be sung, just as The Source had sung the universe into existence. It requires the harmony of at least three voices intertwined. That necessity forms the foundation of their connection to each other as much as to divinity — only together can they know the Divine. Only together can they ever be whole. One unified community working together for a single, simple purpose: to watch, to listen, and to remember. They are the memory of the universe.
There are no atheist Vulch (apart from a few Erased). Their religion is the source of their identity, their culture, and their community. Even the rebellious free-thinkers and "freaks" still practice their own interpretation of their religion in their own way, just not as orthodox as is expected of them. The rest view them as misguided or sick and do their best to gently guide them back into the fold as much as they can, though their methods and success vary as much as people do.
The keepers of Vulch religion and culture, Archivists gather and maintain the vast accumulation of data and artifacts housed in a city sized complex of data centers and warehouses called the Great Archive. Archivists also function as cultural and religious advisers. Most large communities will have at least one assigned to them. In offworld communes, an Archivist will also be responsible for gathering and transmitting the recordings and reports created by the community.
While Archivists do not govern directly, their input can heavily sway community decisions and their opinions are often sought out on any important issue facing a community.
Individual Archivists can specialize in many different areas. They can function as councilors, philosophers, researchers, data scientists, historians, linguists, archeologists, and many other academic pursuits.
The Vulch practice ritual cannibalism they refer to as Taking In. They believe that they carry the souls of every being they consume, and every being *they* consumed, and so on to the beginning of time. When the end of the universe comes, the last Vulch will be consumed by the Source, and all the souls she carries will be born again in the next universe to live their lives again. It is the only way to guarantee that an individual's life will be perfectly remembered and recreated in the next cycle.
When a Vulch dies, the community comes together to consume the remains. They will also perform the ceremony on the corpse of any other sentient body they are able to obtain, but it is rare for another species to allow their dead to be eaten. Most non-Vulch bodies they consume are isolated indigents or victims of violent crime undiscovered by authorities.
The greatest punishment inflicted upon those rare few Vulch who cannot be salvaged is to be Erased. They are scrubbed in acidic soap to remove all traces of their community and history. The beak between their nostril holes is burned through with hot metal so that they have only a single, large hole that can no longer whistle (also giving them a severe speech impediment). Their air bladder is sliced open with a hot knife so that the hole is cauterized, and they can no longer sing. They can never again sing the name of the Source, never again be a part of the community. The wounds are obvious, so they are recognized and shunned. Their name and records are expunged from all systems, and all who knew them are never allowed to speak of them again. The only record remaining is the tribunal judgment listing their crimes and the day they were Erased. Even that document only refers to them as The Erased. When they die, their body is either left to rot where it is, or thrown in the trash like an inanimate object. No part of them will be remembered to live again in the next cycle.
Erased Vulch rarely live more than a year or two, even if they don't commit suicide. The Vulch are highly social creatures, and their deeply ingrained need for the support of community makes them unable to tolerate extended solitude. The stress and depression wear them down and their health degrades rapidly.
Only the most severe crimes or the most dangerous, willfully evil Vulch warrant such a punishment. It is done to less than a hundred Vulch in a generation, despite there being over a billion of them scattered across the Commonwealth, so the name of an Erased is often widely known and circulated by the time judgment is made and the sentence carried out. Crimes of that magnitude are infamous, and news spreads quickly among the Vulch.
For a Vulch to Erase themselves is unthinkable (as well as agonizing). It would be like a devout Catholic excommunicating themselves or a Maori burning off all of their moko.
Vulch anatomy prevents them from speaking Hestchik, and their native language is extremely difficult to translate into such a simplistic format, so they are forced to rely on the translation features of their Omni, even if they are capable of understanding Hestchik when spoken to them. Unfortunately, the two languages are so dissimilar that the Hestchik translation comes out confusing and overly simplistic. It's extremely difficult for the Vulch to convey complex concepts or information to outsiders on the rare occasion that they try.