The Kartelans are a humanoid species native to the Kartelan System in the Gradin Belt of the Delta Quadrant. The Kartelans are a spiritual people organized into a caste-based system. While physically similar to humans, they possess telepathic traits that are a defining part of their society. Although a relatively minor power without a significant military or any territorial claims outside their system, they are well known as traders and merchants throughout the Belt and, since 2388, have been a protectorate of the United Federation of Planets.
Kartelans appear very similar to humans. The only major recognizable difference is that they all have distinctive markings on their forehead and, in some rare instances, running down their entire face.
Kartelans differ significantly from humans in regards to their cortical functions. All Kartelans have basic telepathic capabilities such as empathic sensing, telepathic communication and memory sharing, which serve as a major influence on their simple and spiritual lifestyle.
A small sub-species of Kartelans have dramatically accentuated cortical capabilities, including active telepathy and a complete lack of vocal functions. This sub-population communicates completely through telepathy, including with non-telepaths, and are telepathically linked to each other at all times in a sort of group consciousness. By birth rite, all of these active telepaths belong to a caste known as the Soul Keepers. Through a ritual known as Soul Preservation, Soul Keepers transfer the entire memory of important individuals, near the end of their life, so as to preserve their consciousness in an effort to make their history and culture eternal.
Kartelan society is organized into a caste system. While most of the castes are defined by occupation and capability, the Soul Keepers are a cast exclusively of those with active telepathy, a part of the caste by birth rite.
Kartelan society evolves around three distinct traits: peace, loyalty and respect. The Kartelans are a deeply spiritual people that accept the caste system as part of the Universe's grand plan but also believe that, in living a good life, they or their children may be able to ascend the caste pyramid. Ultimately, all Kartelans aspire to be considered worthy by the Soul Keepers of undergoing the ritual of Soul Preservation, but it is an honor that only few actually receive.
The Kartelan government is a limited representative democracy with two political parties. Voting is restricted to the educated castes of society, not the labour castes, and upon victory, the winning party forms a government and assumes control of the Kartelan Mercantile Fleet and the Kartelan Security Forces. The spiritual Soul Keepers are forbidden from participating in politics in any way.
On their homeworld, the Kartelan people live basic lives preferential towards growing their own food, manufacturing their own textiles and producing their own medicines. Only the wealthy, the government and their freighters make use of advanced technology such as replicators. Generally, spiritual reasons are cited for this, but some argue these spiritual restrictions have led to a "devolution" of their society. Beyond the spiritual reasons, a practical reason for the limited use of advanced technology is that the Kartelan homeworld lacks the complex ores and other resources necessary for widespread use.
The Kartelans have been warp-capable for over a hundred years, but their advancements have been limited by both a desire to preserve their cultural identity and a lack of complex ores on their homeworld. The former has prevented any interest in expanding to other colonies or assimilating other cultures, while the latter has been their key reason for going to the stars at all, namely to trade for goods they need to support their society.
The majority of Kartelan spaceborne vessels are commercial in nature, a wide range of freighters under the flag of the Kartelan Mercantile Fleet ("KMF"). The KMF can be found throughout the Gradin Belt, and its merchants are usually respected in high regard as honest and fair.
The Kartelans have spaceborne military capabilities limited in scale to about that of the Federation in the late 22nd century. Their spiritual beliefs have belated any interest in advancing this capability, although nearby hostilities have created worry among some in the current government that one of their neighbors may turn their attention towards the Kartelan System at some point. This fear is what led to the signing of the Kartelan Protectorate Agreement.