Arcturus Institute of Alternate History

An organisation studying alternate histories in simulation

Arcturus Nodes
Image from Steve Bowers
Otherwhen in the Arcturus system, a series of cybercosms housed in moon-sized computronium nodes

SNAPSHOT: The Brunel Club

I was only allowed into the Brunel Club on the condition that I did not speak. Only a Brunel can converse in that most exclusive of establishments. There weren't that many of them, fewer than a dozen, but they were all very different. Some were wearing conventional Victorian dress, complete with stovepipe hat and cigar; but others were dressed more outlandishly - one was kitted out as an American frontiersman, one as a particularly fearsome pirate with an artificial arm, and one was wearing some kind of spacesuit.

In this Club all the alternate versions of Isambard Kingdom Brunel were drawn together to converse, swap stories, and make plans. One particularly interesting individual was as quiet as I was, and sat in the largest chair, smiling indulgently (and glowing gently). This was the avatar of the transapient
Brunel, an entity with Eir main locus of consciousness thousands of light-years way in the Mutual Progress hinterland. I assume, rightly or wrongly, that this transapient started Eir existence as one of these historical reconstructions, perhaps one from a timeline with a very different historical sequence to our own.

The noisiest of all the Brunels was a short-tempered, restless individual, dressed as a Chinese Emperor, displaying every sign of exasperation with his fellow instances. Another, much more affable, version whispered in my ear that this version had masterminded the British/Japanese/Russian alliance that had conquered China in 1865. Emperor Brunel finally declared that he had run out of patience with the Club and its indecisive membership, and announced his intention to set off towards the Frontier and to found a new world of his own. A few of the other Brunels agreed to join him, including the one in a spacesuit; but most simply chewed on their cigars and looked askance as the Emperor flounced out.

The Arcturus Institute of Alternate History

The Arcturus Institute is a Cyberian organization, so named because it was founded by a society of uploads who were living in a set of cybercosms around Arcturus. It specializes in speculation on possible branching in early Terragen history. Some members engage in simulations, up to and including entire virch or embodied societiums of sapient beings.

The Arcturus Institute has its origins in Otherwhen, a simulation edutainment that was popular among the human uploads who lived in the cybercosms of the computronium nodes around Arcturus, after the system was colonised in 1427 AT.

Before Otherwhen and its derivatives faded from popular culture the central idea of active reconstructions of possible historical realities attracted a core of more serious and dedicated individuals, including professional historians. This group developed a long-term mission to study and explore unrealized "counterfactual" histories. With a few exceptions the Arcturus Institute has concentrated on alternative histories prior to the First Federation: Old Earth at various periods up to the Great Expulsion, Solsys up to the beginning of the First Federation, and some of the early colonies of the Inner Sphere and their development during Solsys' Dark Ages. Over the course of time, through some of the odd chances and coincidences of exactly the kind that the Institute itself finds fascinating, the organization has grown and spread and acquired an interstellar membership. Though most members are still modosophont uploads and aioids it is open to any interested being, and includes many embodied beings as well as aspects of some low to middle level transapients.

The vast majority of the Arcturus Institute's activities are in the realm of speculation and mathematical modelling, but in pursuit of its goals some of its factions have created extensive and highly detailed simulations, up to and including full "bottle-world" virches or entire embodied societeums. It is these that have attracted the most popular attention; on account of them the Institute has come under heavy criticism from those who hold to a stricter interpretation of the Universal Bill of Sentients' Rights, particularly where the simulation results in war, disaster, or repression. Over the years there have been instances of assaults on offending individuals or chapters of the Arcturus Institute or attempted rescue missions on behalf of their simulations' inhabitants. As a result many such 'full' simulations and reconstructions are covert, hosted well away from the full gaze of the Civilized Galaxy. Despite this ethical shadow, the Arcturus Institute's results and data have been used extensively by other organizations. In particular, Metasoft representatives have often used this information in the formation and management of its Human Baseline Reserves, though apparently Metasoft representatives have not participated directly in any of the Institute's historical re-creations.

Similar organizations have come and gone over the millennia and some, such as the Comparative Chronology Project, and the 'Orion's Arms' virchworld maintained by the transapient known as Query, are even more ambitious. However the Arcturus Institute is the oldest of its kind. It is still concentrated in the Inner Sphere but it has become associated with the Cyberians over the past few millennia and representatives may be found almost anywhere in Terragen space.

The Institute has recently come to more widespread public attention since the discovery of the so-called Amerindian Worlds, since there is some evidence that the mysterious transapient who authored them was or is a member.
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Development Notes
Text by Stephen Inniss
Snapshot by Steve Bowers (November 2018)
Initially published on 24 February 2015.