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"One can see the free software movement as a precusor for a "free hardware" or "free wetware" movement--one that will provide free libraries of designs for biological or nanotechnological products that replicators can be programmed to churn out."
- Charles Stross

Composite Living  
  Forming a meld with other life forms.  

The presence of aliens among us was responsible for the next step in human development, the new interest in composite living. You got tired of the same old individualism after a while. Rimb and I thought it could be interesting to be part of something else. We wanted to join a creature like a medusa or Portuguese man of war. But we weren't sure how to go about it. And so we didn't know whether to be pleased or alarmed when we received our notification by mail of our election to an alien composite life-form. Becoming part of a composite was still unusual in those days.

Rimb and I had quite a discussion about it. We finally decided to go to the first meeting, which was free, and see what it was like.

This meeting was held at our local Unitarian Church, and there were almost two hundred people and aliens present. There was a lot of good-natured bewilderment for a while as to just what we were supposed to do. We were all novices at this and just couldn't believe that we were expected to form up a two hundred person composite without prior training.

At last someone in a scarlet blazer and carrying a loose-leaf binder showed up and told us that we were supposed to be forming five unit composites first, and that as soon as we had a few dozen of these and had gotten the hang of morphing and melding, we could proceed to the second level of composite beinghood.

Luckily the Unitarian Church had a big open space in the basement, and here is where we and our chimaeric partners fit ourselves together.

There was good-natured bewilderment at first as we tried to perform this process. Most of us had had no experience at fitting ourselves to other creatures, so we were unfamiliar with for example, the Englen, that organ of the Pseudontoics which fits securely into the human left ear.

Still, with help from our expert (the guy in the scarlet blazer) who had volunteered to assist us, we soon formed up our first composite. And even though not everything was entirely right, since some organs can fit into very different types of human holes, it was still a thrill to see ourselves turning into a new creature with an individuality and self-awareness all of its own.

Technovelgy from The Day the Aliens Came, by Robert Sheckley.
Published by New Legends in 1995
Additional resources -

Compare to the idea of a group ego described by Robert Heinlein in Methuselah's Children.

Also, I swear there was a Star Trek story that was titled BEM or something like that. It was about a planet in which different organisms could combine to make larger, more complex ones. The mechanism by which this was accomplished was some sort of chemical that permitted and encouraged this behavior. The effect ran amuck, creating a monster that was hundreds of feet high, thousands of individual creatures.

The vast Star Trek universe does contain Pandronians, who are described as composite life-forms; probably described in the 1970's or 1980's.

Thanks to Yossi (@ExoThinker) for pointing this one out.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Day the Aliens Came
  More Ideas and Technology by Robert Sheckley
  Tech news articles related to The Day the Aliens Came
  Tech news articles related to works by Robert Sheckley

Composite Living-related news articles:
  - Virtual Co-Embodyment - Two People Control One Virtual Body

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