The Institutes are interstellar organizations of galactic scope, crossing lines of sovereignty. Each one is dedicated to a different cause – a cause necessary to the general well-being. In order of founding, the major Institutes are:

The Institute of Time

This Institute is devoted to preventing paradox plagues – those storms of bizarre probability that arise from careless or malicious use of time travel. More generally, this Institute seeks to make time travel safe for both travelers and contemporaries. Consequently, it offers assistance to local time patrols throughout the galaxy and its history; it also seeks oversight. The assistance is welcome; the oversight is often not. The Institute of Time is known for its secrecy and for giving timely forewarning to other organizations, especially the other Institutes.

The Institute of Time was the first Institute founded, but it kept its existence secret for a long time, so that it was only the second Institute revealed.

Sigils: Linked circular bands with Roman clock numerals on them, one set in mirror reversal, threaded by a double-headed arrow; astronomical Saturn symbol with uprights on the crossbar to make a crown.

The Institute of Life

This Institute is devoted to preventing the extinction of any sapient species. More generally, it is concerned with preventing extinction of any species and with advancing and preserving healthy ecosystems. It is the umbrella organization for all environmental movements in the galaxy. Consequently, it is also very much concerned with terraforming, which has put it in conflict with some of the great terraforming fleets and empires, whom it has criticized. It has also criticized many genetic engineering projects on the grounds that they are cruel or un-ecological.

The Institute of Life also gives assistance for public health and disaster relief. It was the first Institute to be founded, publicly, and has always been the most generally popular.

Sigils: a double helix formed into an ankh, a simple ankh.

The Institute of Wisdom

This Institute seeks to spread wisdom. Since wisdom is an ethereal and controversial commodity, it often settles for spreading education, and even for simply spreading information. The Institute of Wisdom supports schools, libraries, research generally, and news organizations. It combats censorship in all forms, which often involves it in controversy. However, its attitude toward privacy is even more controversial. At the highest, constitutional level, the idea of privacy is not condemned, but at lower levels, the Institute is divided into Privacy and Openness factions, with the Privacy faction a definite minority. However, the Openness faction is at least even-handed; if you go digging up information on someone, they can dig up information on you, including the fact that you have been investigating them.

The Institute of Wisdom suffers more internal tensions than the other major Institutes, not only because of the conflict between the Openness and Privacy factions, but because the dominant Openness stance is in tension with the secrecy used in the administrative scheme of all the Institutes.

The Institute of Wisdom is the most widely publicized and politically active of the Institutes. It was the third to be founded.

Sigils: A stylized book with eyes on its pages; a stylized white feather.

The Institutes of Time, Life, and Wisdom are the "Big Three," the most prominent by far.

The Institute of Luck

The policy of this Institute is summed up in the phrase "random acts of kindness." Agents of the Institute of Luck run a vast web of amalo, secret conspiracy to do good. The higher levels of the Institute run a communications system, alerting agents of deserving subjects and resources. The highest levels define policy about who is a deserving subject and cultivate the resources sent.

The Institute of Luck is second only to the Institute of Wisdom in publicity level, but the publicity consists almost entirely of rumor and rumor-inspired fiction. Hoping for intervention from the Institute of Luck is a cliché dream, along with winning a sweepstakes.

Sigils: The Wildcard: a rectangle with one each of spade, heart, club, and diamond; two squares (stylized dice) showing one dot and six dots; two squares superposed to form an eight-pointed star, enclosing seven dots (superposed dice).

The Institute of Psi

This Institute sponsors research into psionic physics and particularly into psychic powers. It is the most widely recognized certifier of psychic education. It also sets standards for private and professional psychic conduct, most notably the privacy rules for telepathy and clairvoyance. The Institute of Psi promotes public education about psi, seeking to allay fear and to distinguish psi from magic (with only middling success). The Institute also advises on the psychic crime and the treatment and prevention of psychic diseases.

The Institute of Psi has a rather eerie reputation, but as a "college of good wizardry," protecting against evil "magic."

Sigil: A circular field of stars with empty channels outlining a letter psi; a background shading vertically from white to black, bearing a letter psi shading from black to white.

The Institute of Souls

This Institute makes sure that the people are sorted out from the non-people. It keeps a lookout for sapience in newly discovered or created species or new neurodynamic architectures. It keeps a lookout for pseudo-sapience in apparently sapient species and architectures. It fights against slavery, psionic coercion, restrictive transgenics, and other ways in which people are treated as things. More academically, it classifies species and architectures according to degree and kind of sentience, and classifies species, races, architectures, and cultures according to Darbrin Klo status and semantic zone, along with other psychological parameters.

The Institute of Souls is second only to the Institute of Wisdom in the degree of political controversy it gets involved in. The further down the social power scale you look, the more popular it is.

Sigil: A butterfly, usually stylized.

The Institute of Transcendence

This is the newest and least respectable of the major Institutes. It does not have a publically stated purpose, though it is known that it does research on the galaxy-wide transcendences that ended earlier cycles of galactic civilization. It is widely believed to assist and consult with the other Institutes, especially the Institute of Psi, and to be, in short, the galaxy's "ghost busters." The Institute does not comment.

Sigil: An omega enclosing a star.


The Institutes are run from Mother Houses, located in the Core, and then from Chapter Houses scattered thinly through the civilized galaxy. These Houses mostly route information and resources to each other rather than legislate or make policy; their rules and policies are basically fixed.

The Institutes are cryptocracies – each is run by an Institutional Council, but the identities of the councilors are kept secret, even from each other. Decisions are made by anonymous exchange of messages. To ensure anonymity, messages are edited by encryptors, who translate everything into a formalized Institutional dialect and strip out any style or content that could indicate identity. Encryptors are therefore likely to develop ideas about the views and personalities of individual councilors, but are honor-bound to keep their suspicions to themselves. A body of proctors also ensures anonymity and other Institutional rules.

The Institutes' agents are divided into two levels – elicitors, who have authority to start new operations, and operators, who do not. Below the level of agents are associates, who are merely people who have agreed to make themselves useful to the Institute in some particular manner.

The Institutes are charitable organizations and mainly funded by donations. But they also charge for noncharitable services: the Institute of Time charges for historical surveys and tours, and predictions of weather and natural disaster; the Institute of Life charges for cosmetic medical services and landscaping; the Institute of Wisdom charges for news feeds and specialized datastrate access; and so on.

Minor Institutes

Besides the seven major Institutes, there are innumerable minor Instutites, using the same principles of organization, or sometimes just using the "Institute" label. Most are local in extent. A few span the galaxy or a large piece of it, and occasionally come to public attention. The least minor of the minors are:

The Institute of Justice

In pursuing its ideal, this Institute helps locate criminals fleeing from one state to another or into lawless space, assists and coordinates local forces against pirates and slavers, and seeks the release of political prisoners and the overthrow of repressive regimes. It is willing to use drastic methods, including jailbreaks and assassins. So it is not welcome everywhere. In particular, the Humanate does not permit its citizens to be members of the Institute and Keribor does not permit known agents in its territory.

The Institute of Love

This Institute runs matchmaking and adoption services and gives counseling on starting and maintaining families, marriages, households, blood-siblinghoods, and friendships. More intriguingly, this Institute uses psychics to locate "perfect matches" and then uses devious methods to get them to meet. They use similar psychic methods to spot infidelity, jealousy, and abuse. Of course, a minor institute can't patrol the whole galaxy, so these interventions are quite spotty, and are commonest in the Core and the Corridor.

The Institute of Authority

This Institute sets standards for the schools teaching meritocratic statecraft and certifies those schools. It acts as an advocacy group for meritocracy. Its members are, of course, often involved in political intrigue.

The Institute of Novelty

This Institute publishes literature on and gives classes on how to stimulate the creative process. It hosts vast libraries, galleries, and discussion media on all fields of art and invention.

The Order of Artificial Intelligence

This is not an Institute, either in name or in structure, but it is often regarded in the same light, and is older than any of them. It is an advocacy group and benevolent society for AIs. It is the most prestigious trainer and licenser of AI Fabricators, sets standards for AI design, and sells insurance and maintenance and repair services to AIs at low rates. Its headquarters are in Rete.

Secret Institutes

Because of the secrecy involved in their structure, all the Institutes feature in a number of widespread conspiracy theories. But these are the Institutes that only the conspiracy theorists say exist, despite complete lack of public records. But then, a really good conspiracy wouldn't leave records, would it?

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Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2010