Ozymandias Institute, The

A wealthy and widespread organization that studies the eventual fates of all structures, Terragen and otherwise

Ozymandias Institute
Image from Steve Bowers
There are many different types of megastructure in the Terragen Sphere; however very few ancient megastructures remain from ancient empires. The Ozymandias Institute is dedicated to the study of modern megastructures, and possible explanations for the rarity of ancient examples


I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert.... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on those lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

    — Percey Bysshe Shelley, Old Earth Poet

Note; there is no connection between the Ozymandias institute and any of the several planets named Ozymandias, such as YTS 967110.9c

The Ozymandias Institute has its origins in the aftermath of the Version War. It is a result of information sharing on the Known Net by engineers who were assigned to repair the extensive damage inflicted during that conflict. It remains a rather vague and informal organisation that has no physical headquarters or official leader.

The Ozymandias institute has somehow acquired considerable resources in the millennia since its inception. With this wealth the group has become an association of engineers and related professionals that is devoted to the study of megascale projects and their eventual fates. Bishop rings, terraforming projects, Banks orbitals, Dyson swarms, extremely massive computronium nodes (such as the various Jupiter, moon and Dyson brains), hollowed out asteroids, artificial planets created from oort cloud or asteroidal material and many lesser or supporting projects such as beanstalks, magshields, solettas and city-sized orbital habitats all attract their attention. The Ozymandias Institute is particularly interested in design flaws, catastrophic natural disasters, damage inflicted by sabotage or war and the gradual decay that eventually overtakes any structure, especially if it is abandoned or poorly maintained. They look for weaknesses, project possible lifetimes and analyse failures both real and hypothetical. They are interested in anything from the newest-minted works to the most ancient xenosapient-built ruins, and in everything from the most advanced works of MPA experts to the crudest frontier habitats. Some regard them as ghoulish, negative and parasitical. Kalyptic cults take grim delight in their predictions. Most, however, consider them to be essential pillars of the Terragen civilisations — but all regard them with some degree of unease. The message of their very existence is that things fall apart, that structures and civilizations die and decay.

There are three branches of the Ozymandias Institute: Survey, Archaeology and Analysis. Surveyors are the best known Ozymandias Institute representatives — they are recognised nearly everywhere in the Terragen sphere. Most surveyors are sapient or (more rarely) low level transapient beings with an aptitude for engineering and an inclination to travel. They work alone or in small groups, gathering information on megastructures as they are being built or used in the Terragen Sphere. Sometimes, as in the case of the MPA's Kepleria project, they maintain a long term presence. More often they are wanderers.

In many polities Surveyors for the Ozymandias Institute are invited guests, and they may be handsomely paid for their services. An Ozymandias Institute inspection is highly valued in some quarters. As often, however, they are not at all welcome. This is in part simply the nature of their profession. An uninvited set of Surveyors at the opening of a new Habitat is about as welcome as a professional visit from a coroner or funeral director at a christening. Superstitious individuals believe a visit by Surveyors is a bad omen. Others have more practical concerns: publicists worry about reputations, security experts worry that a weakness might be published and exploited, and innovators prefer that proprietary secrets be maintained. Some authorities, even if they want Surveyors to look at a site, may attempt to ensure that they enter and leave quietly, by the "back door." Others more emphatically reject Surveyor visits and may use anything from legal barriers to lethal force to bar them from examining an area. While Surveyors in friendly territory come equipped only with engineering skill, those in neutral territories may also be empaths and diplomats. Those in hostile territory may even be skilled spies and infiltrators if they cannot simply pass themselves off as tourists.

The Archaeologists are a smaller component of the Ozymandias Institute, though they are better known in popular culture and are more likely to figure in some of the less realistic virch adventures. Their work is to explore and evaluate ruins and abandoned projects. Most of these are Terragen remains, from the ancient Technocalypse-ravaged habs in Solsys to raw terraforming botches on the Periphery. This may be dangerous work. Even if the ruins are those of Sephirotic civilizations, there may be old nano, half-functioning automation or even degenerate and hostile survivors or Hider colonists — not to mention some of the more aggressive salvager clades. Ruins from the Version War or lesser conflicts may also contain booby traps or lurking military entities. More dangerous yet are the remains of installations created by ahuman or anti-human AIs, some of which prove to be inhabited after all. Most enigmatic and dangerous of all is the prize find: one of the exceedingly rare xenosapient artifacts. Their few functioning parts, since they do not necessarily follow Terragen principles of design, can be deadly even if their original function was quite innocent. Archaeologists usually work in mixed-clade groups, the better to gain multiple points of view in their investigations. Usually they are of sapient grade, though transapients may be dispatched to the more intriguing sites. If the builders of a structure are known, a representative of that clade or a closely related one is usually part of the investigating team.

In the settled and peaceful regions of the Civilized Galaxy, agents and members of the Ozymandias Institute who work as Surveyors or Archaeologists may be of any clade, but of course they do be capable of long distance travel. Where there is easy access to the Known Net, a large proportion are aioids of one description or another. It is particularly common for the supervisory AIs of habitats to take up Survey or Archaologist work if they retire, or if their original structures are decommissioned or destroyed. Where civilization runs thinner and access to the Known Net is limited or absent, the range of clades attracted to Survey and Archaeology work is more limited. Those along the Periphery are often Fabers. Fabers have a natural interest in engineering, have an even temperament and unthreatening demeanour, and are not inclined to controversial political or religious opinions. The fact that they are physically robust and versatile is also an asset along the rougher parts of the frontier. In extreme cases, Faber Surveyor teams may associate with a Tavi mob to sniff out potential danger or to effect a rescue if a situation turns difficult for their Faber partners.

Analysts are at the heart of the Ozymandias Institute. Though some of these are sapient or low-level transapient beings, many are mid- or even high-level transapients. It is thought that aspects of the very Archailects take part in the Analysts' discussions. The sapient and low-level transapient Analysts are mostly administrators, popularizers and publicists or even hobbyists of various sorts. Though the Ozymandias Institute has published some fascinating and extremely useful results over the millennia, it appears that the middle and high-level Analysts are also engaged in some larger project or set of projects. Most Surveyors, Archaeologists and junior Analysts will cheerfully tell questioners that they have no idea what that might be.

One fact that has become increasingly clear from the Ozymandias Institute's research is the mismatch between present Terragen construction activities (and those identified at a distance by the HIE and other organizations in some other parts of the galaxy) and the remains of various xenosapients' civilizations. It appears that either those past civilizations created far fewer megascale structures than the Terragens and their distant present-day neighbours, or that an extremely thorough effort was made to erase all traces of past xenosapient activities. With the partial exception of various equivalents to terraforming projects, present-day Terragen space is nearly barren of other traces of megascale engineering, particularly such things as Dyson spheres, computronium nodes and other massive constructs that might be expected to have ruins lasting hundreds of millions of years. The occasional exception to this general rule, such as Oceanus Ultima, the Black Acropolis and Miracle City, only deepens the mystery; if most xenosapients' megastructures were built and then erased, then there were omissions in the process. Whether these past civilizations were destroyed by some extremely thorough external force, as some kalyptic cults believe, or whether they simply "packed up and went elsewhere" as some extreme ascensionists assert, is simply impossible to prove one way or another. When the Meistersinger fleet was first discovered, a Surveyor for the Ozymandias Institute was present, and she took the opportunity to ask them what these data might mean. A Meistersinger representative replied that "your Joy of Discovery will be great indeed".

Many have remarked that the Ozymandias Institute's attempts to gather information on each and every significant structure in Terragen space seem overly obsessive. Also, perhaps in an attempt to uncover the mystery of the Fermi Paradox, the Ozymandias Institute has become increasingly interested in phenomena outside its original area of research. The Verifex Incident has attracted their interest, of course, but the institute has also dispatched a large number of Surveyors and (to general puzzlement) Archaeologists to the Chaos. Its Analysts have recently consulted extensively at Ken Ferjik with experts on the dynamics of the Known Net, apparently in an attempt to discover design flaws, and have begun extensive research on various kinds of collapse or sudden change in sapient and transapient societies. The Ozymandias Institute's experts at all levels have also taken what some believe to be an unhealthy interest in various Blights. What, if anything, this portends, is unknown.

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Text by Stephen Inniss
Initially published on 19 January 2005.