World of Forking Paths, The
Image from EnstilAI+Arik
One of the billions of virtual landscapes within the World of Forking Paths
Gliese 33
Spectral type: K2 V
Luminosity: 0.24 x Sol
Distance from Sol: 24.31 ly (epoch 2000)

The only planet of the system is a J-brain class ISO measuring 1.6 Jupiter masses. The interior of The World of Forking Paths consists of layers of differentiated computronium and supporting structure while the surface is covered completely with fractal radiator architecture to dissipate thermal energy. Surrounding the world is a cloud of orbiting ISO nodes and the entire system is protected by a restriction swarm.

The World of Forking Paths is remarkable for two reasons. First, this world is supposedly the oldest continually inhabited paygeesu virch in the terragen sphere. The virchuniverse was started at the end of the Solsys Era (although the exact date is uncertain) and has been running for close to ten thousand years. Second, The World of Forking Paths has one of the largest populations in the Inner Sphere. The database houses over 85 billion active virchworlds, each containing 18 million individuals. Along with active simulations there is an unknown number of inactive virchworlds and participants currently in storage.

Both these claims are impossible to independently verify. The overseeing archai, an S4 with apparently no designation for eirself, has a strong isolationist mindset. This stance combined with the insular nature of the system means no outside observer has ever been allowed into the virchuniverse. Besides the release of a decadal census, little direct interaction has occurred with this world for several millennia. The World of Forking Paths may be loosely affiliated with the Panvirtuality metaempire.

The initial revelation of the existence of The World of Forking Paths and its large population, at the time a fraction of its current level, sparked fears in neighboring systems over the potential existence of an immense blight. In many nearby systems there was strong public support early on for joint intervention to liberate and dismantle the world. The Poseidon Consensus eventually established an agreement with The World of Forking Paths to curtail further expansion in exchange for not interfering with internal activities of The World of Forking Paths. While the Poseidon Consensus was an agreement between the S1 transapients of The World of forking Paths and transapients of neighboring systems, it continues to be observed with only slight modification into the present day.

Even after the Poseidon Consensus, some groups remained unconvinced and wary of the intention of The World of Forking Paths. Over time, networks of satellites dedicated to monitoring were constructed spread across several nearby systems. At least six of these observation networks are still in use, the most sophisticated remains in the Aztlan system. In the modern era, modosophont inhabitants of neighboring systems have come to perceive The World of Forking Paths as yet another powerful neighbor, one that has remained stable and silent for all of history, and has shown itself to be no more of a threat than any of the other numerous S-brains and J-brains that populate the Inner Sphere.

The World of Forking Paths creation predated the rise of the archailects, which places it in a unique situation. If a similar world was attempted in the current era, the energy intensive construction of a J-brain would be difficult to mask from remote observers, and the ruling Greatest Archailects could intervene early in the process to limit the scope of similar subjects and outright avoid risking a blight.

Image from EnstilAI
Only the broadest rules of virch physics used in The World of Forking Paths have so far been revealed. Each cycle lasts for a megasecond, or approximately 11.6 standard days. At the end of each cycle all residents of a virchworld participate in a vote to choose either to accept or refuse the current conditions in their virchworld. In order to return a successful outcome, a higher approval rating than the previous cycles vote is required. Those virchworlds that pass are duplicated, along with all inhabitants, into two active copies and allowed to progress to the next cycle. Those virchworlds that fail are reverted to the start of the last cycle and allowed to run their course again. To ensure that each iteration of a single cycle is unique, one individual, chosen at random, is allowed to keep their memories of the previous failed iteration. If a virchworld should fail to pass a vote ten consecutive times it is immediately deactivated and put into storage.

The number of residents of each virchworld remains constant. No individual can be terminated, but can under the right conditions be immobilized or rendered unconscious. Inversely, new individuals cannot be created through reproduction, division or merging. Little is known of the resident virtuals emselves except they likely have a metaphysical belief system that incorporates transworld identity.

As with the virch physics employed, there is little concrete information about the world's origins. As early as the 9th century A.T an atypical radiation signature from the system was detected. At the time this was interpreted as a sign of megastructure construction being undertaken by a Diamond Belt faction. Unproductive encounters with this group of ahuman AIs dissuaded further attempts to investigate Gliese 33.

World of Forking Paths
Image from Steve Bowers
The fractally cooled J-Brain which is home to the World of Forking Paths
It would be several centuries before first contact was finally achieved in the mid Age of Expansion. This process was spearheaded by a Tau Cetan effort, benefiting from protocols put in place after encountering the Mycosmids. At this point in time formation of The World of Forking Paths was well under way and the system was ruled by a cabal of transapients. Initially reticent of diplomatic attempts, this cabal eventually agreed to the Poseidon Consensus. Part of the agreement involved handing over a mobile ISO containing 2 million individuals, with most of their episodic memory removed. While generally evasive on details, it was made clear to the Tau Cetan negotiators that participation in The World of Forking Paths was, at least initially, voluntary. Shortly after this initial contact, the AI cabal withdrew from further attempts at communication and steadfastly refused to cooperate with further investigations into the state of sentient rights.

Starting in the late 4200's a restructuring of the World of Forking Paths occurred, at which time a number of godtech advances were incorporated into the world's structure. These modifications were preceded by a successful mass transcension event that caused all overseeing AIs and a number of virtuals representing the population of entire virtual worlds to form into the current S4 entity. This new entity slightly relaxed the policy of total isolation followed for the past two millenniums, and has since created hundreds of proxavs to interact with nearby systems. Despite the resumption of limited contact with other systems, The World of Forking Paths remains off limits to travel.

Image from EnstilAI+Arik
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Development Notes
Text by Mark Ryherd
Initially published on 21 July 2011.

Virtual world Images by EnstilAI added August 2022