Overview and history
The Agredeem are an ordinary race of Sapients who suffer a chronic case of god emperors. Their history is rather typical, if a bit more dramatic; the regular golden ages and downfalls punctuated by episodes of consuming mania. This persisted after they developed space travel. Their domain grew steadily when sanity reined, and rapidly when it failed. After the death of a particularly twisted emperor, the Agredeem had had enough. To prevent the emergence of the next mad king, they made a panopticon state called the Totality. Through brute surveillance and statistical voyeurism it was hoped that any nascent god emperors would be discovered and neutralized. It worked until it didn't.
The end of the Totality is one of the great political mysteries of the current age. The Totality was a peaceful and open polity with many foreign visitors. One day every visiting diplomat and spy was arrested and killed. Massive crowds of Agredeem took to the streets in a violent purge of outsiders. When the dust cleared, a new God Emperor was on the throne and the Agredeem empire was back, as though the Totality was nothing but a dream.
It is a bit unfair to call the Orphan's Guild the secret police of the Totality. They were hardly a secret, and they ran fewer undercover operations than the populace believed. They could perhaps be called the final police; they were the last line of defense against their people's darker natures, the supreme watcher of the watchmen. The first sign of the end of the Totality was when their agents began to turn up dead in suspicious or improbable ways. Many of them were killed, or fell under the Emperor's sway. The few that escaped started the new Orphan's guild, a group of partisans dedicated to bring down the Empire and restoring the Totality. Their ranks have been bolstered by various Agredeem civilians who were outside the Totality when it fell. Their road is a long one; they are fifth column that can't operate in their home territory for long for fear of losing themselves to the imperial delusion. They track the movements of the Emperor and his* Great Star advisors, looking for targets of opportunity.
The power of the Great Stars
The infamous mind control of the Great stars is not something under their conscious control. Rather it is field that is projected over roughly a thousand square miles (modern great stars use psychic repeaters to effect entire star systems. A sapient being in the field (including intelligent machines) slowly has their subconscious goals aligned with the Great Star. The citizens of the empire believe on a fundamental level that their best option is to follow and obey the Great Star. They truly think that the Empire will make them happy, famous, immortal, whatever it is that they desire. This ability is not a one way street however. As the great star alters their victims subconscious, they are exposed to feedback. A Great Star is a constant nexus of outside desires and urges. This inevitably leads to megalomania, as the Great Star directs their followers to fulfill their collective Id. Great stars are prone to madness and obsession, as random bits of psychic detritus flow in and out of their minds.
It might seem as though the Great Stars are destined to control the minds of the entire galaxy. There are a couple of things stopping that. First of all, it is less effective on Non-Agredeem. It can take up to week for an average sapient to fall in line, and a well self-posed being can hold off potentially indefinitely. Second, the effect fades when a being is no longer in the area of the field (though the delusion can linger if the being doesn't have the force of will to reassert their true beliefs). Third, there is an incredible psychic cost to using the ability as a weapon of war. By linking their minds to those of the combatants on both sides, the Great Star is inundated with a wave of stress and fear. And as the Great Star is a nexus for desires and prejudices, the besieged society frequently crumbles in a dramatic and horrible fashion. War crimes and genocides are common outcomes. An Emperor who relies on their ability to conquer will be driven irrevocably insane in short order. Modern imperial doctrine is to subdue the enemy through conventional means, then bring in a Great Star to complete the pacification.
Biology and culture
The Agredeem are amphibious but are more comfortable in the water. On land, or as they say "the dry side" they are heavier and slower, plus they need to keep their skin moist or else suffer painful rashes and cracking. They also can only reproduce underwater. They practice external fertilization, with the gametes meeting each other in the water. The sexual act is not erotic as we understand it, but rather a social function. It occurs during special "orgies" that are more like parties or soirees. The participants reaffirm their social bonds over some entertainment, and at the end they release their gametes. In their pre-modern era the larval Agredeem would mature in the wild as plankton, and would have to be "harvested" from the ocean floor in order to join society. Nowadays the orgies take place in special filtered tanks, and the fertilized eggs are examined and either kept or discarded. In this era of empire the entertainment at these orgies has grown more decadent and wicked. Gladiatorial combat and public executions are popular choices.
The Totality was a peaceful and mostly rational culture. They saw their Imperial past as a time of shame and madness, but on some level they still appreciated their colonial prosperity. Those planets that were conquered in the bad old days were incorporated into the Totality as gently as possible, though there was some resentment form non Agredeem that found themselves living in a benevolent foreign police state.
With the advent of the new Empire the bad old days have come again. The current mood is one of manifest destiny. The Agredeem people increasingly see themselves as the rightful rulers of the galaxy. Mildly paternalistic relationships with client states are now openly colonial once more. The covetous desires of their living gods become manifest in a culture of decadent display and consumption. Before service to the state was no great honor, merely just duty. Now military officials and high ranking bureaucrats are making themselves into a new aristocrazy. Pomp and propaganda are rampart, their infosphere is a swamp of state lies and self serving delusions of grandeur. And above all of it is the God Emperor and his advisors. Every delusion, vice and folly found in the Empire is also found in this small court. The Empire is a reflection of their twisted desires.
Smell of Rotten Fruit** is the Orphan's Guild liaison for outside contractors. It is their job to recruit and handle non Agredeem agents. Mostly they feed information to pirates and privateers, but they also meet and share information with foreign spies. They're as cagey and secretive as any spook, but they have a real flair for the dramatic. They give a scented calling card to their agents bearing their signature reek, to be left behind to taunt the Empire's own counter intelligence operatives. This is part of a long term "tethered goat" strategy to lure out and capture enemy agents
The current God Emperor is named Gradissophoul, the Revealed Path. His official bio says that he was raised by a sect of monks who guard a secret Obelisk Dreamer site on the homeworld of Agred. It was here that he was visited by a fragmentary Dreamer intelligence that revealed that he was the true inheritor of the Dreamer's legacy, and that it was his destiny to gain the powers of the Bastards for the Agredeem. This is likely nonsense; There has never been any evidence of a Bastard presence on Agred, and the story is very self-serving. Regardless, Imperial Agredeem take it very seriously, as does Gradisophoul. In between state orgies and strategy sessions they spend their time obsessively studying Obelisk Dreamer relics and texts. They often summon renowned scholars to consult with. Those who keep their wits about them and resist the emperor's corrosive will report that he is about as knowledgeable as a somewhat dim grad student . Still, he has the full force of an interstellar empire to follow up on their whims and theories. A rational mind could use the emperor's private collection to make some important discoveries. Unfortunately it never leaves the empire's flag ship, With Divine Feet we Tread
The Emperor has six Great Star "advisors" (most of them are more like henchmen), the chief of which is Xerdofistor, The Mind of God, who is the Emperor's closest confidant and psychiatrist. Her job is to keep the Emperor mentally stable, which is tricky because Xerdofistor is subject to the same extreme mental stresses all Great Stars are. Still, she seems to have a net positive effect on the Emperor, even if their relationship is dogged by rumors, the most scandalous of which is that they mate in private (Agredeem consider sexual acts with fewer than five participants perverse). The Orphan Guild theorizes that with Xerdofistor's influence the Emperor would become unbalanced, so she is under constant threat of assassination. As a result she spends much of their time on board their flagship The Inner Truth of All Minds obsessively study logs and recordings, looking for plots against her. She has a keen mind, but also a lot of psychic baggage. She finds nearly as many real conspiracies as fake ones.
Planets of Interest
The Agredeem homeworld, Agred is the site of over a hundred densely populated Arcologies. Millennium of habitation has weakened the biosphere. When the Totality ruled they devoted significant resources to stabilizing the wounded ecosystem. The empire has no such concern, shifting the economy to a war footing. Conditions in the cities are deteriorating, but the locals don't care. Those not involved in heavy industry and agriculture are building new monuments to the God Emperor and the empire. The planet is defended by a fleet of massive but slightly antique battle stations, plus whatever fleet elements are present.
Maelstrom is a colonial holding of the Empire. Before that it was a small human colony. Before that is was settled by the Obelisk Dreamers. The planet is still riddled with obelisks that are to this day producing a reality distortion field. This field manifests in the planets weather. The climate is unpredictable and often violent, with powerful storms arising and dissipating suddenly. The planet's human inhabitants survived by studying and predicting the weather. When the Empire conquered the planet, the Emperor somehow psychically interfaced with the reality field, resulting in the creation of the Imperial storm, a massive perpetual storm that rolls over the surface of the planet. While it is seen as an impressive monument to the strength of the empire, it also made an already marginally habitable planet even more hazardous. The empire keeps a few storm hardened outposts here, mostly research stations though there are all sorts of wild rumors about secret laboratories and black sites. The planet is also home to a small human cult that reads omens in the behavior of the Imperial storm.
The water world of Emphrina bears the dubious distinction of being the only world to willingly submit to the empire without the influence of a Great Star. The native Emphrinians were peacefully admitted to the empire, then soon after the God Emperor died under mysterious circumstances. These two events are linked in the popular imagination and to this day no Great Star will set foot on Emphrina. Still, the Emphrinians were loyal imperial citizens, then loyal Totality citizens, and now they're back to being loyal to the empire. Emphrina is a popular resort destination for Imperial aristocrats , and the absence of Great Stars makes it ideal for those that wish to deal with the empire without becoming thrall to it.
Below the Agredeem colonies lie the Emphrinian psychodramas. Emphrinians don't have fixed identities , rather they assume different personas each cycle. These personalities range from bit players like "friendly shopkeeper" to major characters like "destined child" and "evil overlord". In the upper reaches of the world ocean they have a functional if eccentric civilization. Things are more chaotic in the lower depths; they engage in endless mock battles and invented struggles. It is theorized that there is some sort of gestalt mind directing their strange plays. If so, the best way to communicate with it may be to interface with the fiction; sending messages by manipulating dramatic elements. This is mostly conjecture, as the occupying Agredeem are uninterested in the antics of their subjects. The Orphan Guild sends the occasional expedition, hoping to unravel the mysteries of the planet.
* Traditionally Agredeem placed little importance on biological sex, and their language was gender neutral. Social importance of Gender is something they picked up from the humans on Malstrom, a sort of psychic infection they caught from our culture
**This is an obvious pseudonym. It shows that its owner has romantic and heroic notions and is maybe a little full of themselves.