Classiﬁcation: TOP SECRET / RED QUEEN EYES ONLY
Location: Neptunian Trojans
Welcome to the cold and dark, where some of our people do exceptionally dangerous stuff. If you’re reading this, you’re either a proxy or some poor sucker who got too deep into the sorts of research sane people would never consider. That’s why Hotﬁre is in the Neptunian Trojans. We’re keeping it far enough away from anywhere else so that anything that gets loose will have a very hard time spreading to anyplace inhabited—or, in fact, to anyplace at all. However, we also want to make certain that it’s not so far out that someone can’t get here in a reasonable time. Of course, if something takes out the lab’s egocaster, help will take at least 10 weeks to arrive, so if you’re working there, don’t expect rescuers to show up in time to save you from some terrible fate.
Hotﬁre is for research that is intrinsically dangerous. The researchers currently have two primary areas of study: basilisk hacks and self-replicating nanotechnology. Each of these divisions is located in a separate, unconnected facility beneath Hotﬁre’s surface. Hotﬁre is a beehive hab roughly 200 kilometers in diameter, so there’s plenty of room.
===The Aegis Lab=== In the ﬁrst division, researchers evaluate and test the few basilisk hacks transhumanity has managed to record. Some of this research demands that they observe carefully what the basilisk hack does. The individuals working on this project use their own edited forks as test subjects. They run these tests using a variety of morphs, forks, and inputs, observing the effects and comparing the results. Their goal is to identify the genetic and neural (or neuroprogramming) traits that make the subjects susceptible, as well as developing potential countermeasures.
Yes, exposing your own fork, even a heavily pruned one, to TITAN-created horror is pretty sickening to consider, but ethically speaking we could only accept volunteers. As long as everyone observes basic safety protocols, this is the safest avenue of research. However, it’s also the least productive. We only have a handful of such hacks. One shuts down cognition or perception for anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, another compels obedience if combined with a command, and the third crashes a mind in a way that only about 40% of targets ever recover from. The Aegis Lab crows have created sensory ﬁlters that can block each of these hacks, but these ﬁlters typically have no effect on new hacks. So far, all options for “immunizing” morphs against basilisk hacks have only proven effective against hacks that were deployed early during the Fall; current basilisks encountered in the ﬁeld have upgraded capabilities.
To date, the Aegis Lab has suffered one serious breach. In this case, a test subject fork managed to fool the researchers into thinking the hack had no effect. We don’t know the full details, but the fork was somehow affected in a way that enabled it to fool all the cognitive tests. Then, it somehow convinced the researcher who created the fork to merge with it, against standard protocols. After that, the infection began to spread. Someone discovered what was going on and managed to trigger the lab’s failsafe measures before anyone or anything could escape. Everyone in that facility had to be restored from their most recent backup, and that entire section had to be rebuilt, but the rest of Hotﬁre was unaffected.
The Pest Control Lab
The Pest Control Lab works with self-replicating nanotechnology. Arguably, this may be the most dangerous research Firewall conducts within the bounds of the solar system. The crows here have a small sampling of TITAN nanoswarms with which to study and experiment on. None of these nanoswarm specimens are kept within the Hotﬁre labs; instead they are sealed inside a teleoperated facility deep within a separate asteroid, dubbed the Rock, which is one kilometer in diameter and orbits Hotﬁre at a distance of 200 kilometers.
The goal of the research here is twofold. First, the crows seek to understand how the TITAN self-replicating nanotech works. In particular, they are seeking out methods of potentially reprogramming these nanoswarms, potentially bringing them under control. This could be a huge boon for countering nanoswarms currently active on Earth and in the TQZ, especially if we can manipulate the nanoswarms to destroy each other. Secondly, the crows experiment with more conventional methods and weapons in order to identify the most effective countermeasures. This avenue of research has proven less effective than most; while some weapons offer short-success in diminishing swarms, they are usually able to regrow and counter the countermeasures over time.
Not unexpectedly, we want to make certain that nothing ever escapes from Hotﬁre. Each of the labs is outﬁtted with plasmablast and thermobaric charges designed to sterilize that facility. Hotﬁre also contains a large antimatter bomb that is designed to vaporize everything there if things go badly wrong. However, these are only part of this facility’s security protocols.
In order to further compartmentalize the labs, Hotﬁre’s egocaster and docking facilities for spacecraft are both located in a separate small cluster hab only a few hundred meters in diameter that orbits Hotﬁre at a distance of 450 kilometers. This physical gap is intended to help contain anything that gets loose. The dock contains spartan accommodations, healing vats, and both personal and large-scale weapons as well as the lab’s egocaster. It also has a QE comm that can be used to trigger the antimatter bomb inside Hotﬁre with the proper authorization codes. Another bomb would destroy the dock. On Hotfire itself, long-range comms of any sort are forbidden, including emergency farcasters, as are fabber templates for all such devices. The teleoperated equipment on the Rock is handled via short-range radio transmissions.
The protocol for visiting ships is to park at least 800 kilometers from both the Hotﬁre and the dock and then to communicate with the individual on comm duty and download and review recent records. If everything checks out, the ship sends over a shuttle controlled from the ship, which carries any passengers and cargo between the ship and the dock. Another shuttle then carries everything between the dock and Hotﬁre. So far, Hotﬁre has managed to contain all problems, but I’m betting they’ll eventually use one or both bombs.
Hotﬁre’s ﬁnal line of defense is the courier spacecraft you see orbiting the facility at a distance of 1,200 kilometers. This vessel isn’t visiting; it’s permanently stationed around Hotﬁre. Called The Dunce, it’s unofﬁcially the dullest duty Firewall has to offer. The crew is made up entirely of biomorphs without cyberbrains. No infomorphs, pods, or synthmorphs are permitted onboard, and no one from Hotﬁre is permitted onboard. All electronics and software on the ship are also limited. No muses or any software above the level of extremely limited AI are allowed. Even XP and software capable of running XP or other realistic simulspaces are prohibited. I’m told that reading, gambling, and playing electronic games created at least 30 years before the Fall are all popular on The Dunce. I hope I never have to ﬁnd out about any of this in person.
The Dunce is in charge of monitoring all sensor feeds from Hotﬁre. These feeds are intentionally low quality, with limited colors, low resolution, and poor sound quality. All of our research on basilisk hacks indicates that The Dunce is incapable of transmitting any basilisk hack to its crew. If the crew notices suspicious behavior on Hotﬁre, they are required to check in with everyone stationed there. If the answers are sufﬁciently off, if anyone or anything on Hotﬁre attempts to attack The Dunce or the dock, or if Hotﬁre attempts to launch or broadcast anything to the rest of the solar system, The Dunce is equipped with four fusion bombs. One should be sufﬁcient to destroy Hotﬁre and vaporize the dock.
There’s one other bit of security to keep in mind: this entire facility is not merely secret from everyone outside of Firewall. Everything except the fact that it exists is kept secret from everyone who isn’t part of the pragmatist faction. We get invaluable results from Hotﬁre, but a fair number of Firewall operatives would shut us down in an instant.
Sidebar: The Third Lab
Trust me, I’ve seen some of the early mission reports, back before the Fall was fully over. Back before they scrubbed all of the records. I know they have an intact TITAN core. The Germans had managed to score one, but we couldn’t allow them or anyone else to keep it. The original plan was to destroy it, but the proxies involved changed the game plan. They were all pragmatists; they couldn’t resist the opportunity to “study” it. Idiots. I’ve spent years trying to track down where they might have taken it. The trail went cold long ago, but I’ve been trying to keep an eye on their projects—speciﬁcally the ones they try to keep off the books, outside of the awareness of the rest of us. I’ve narrowed it down to a few places they might be keeping it. One of them is Hotﬁre.
Why Hotﬁre? It’s one of the few places secure enough. If you ask me, it’s almost too secure for its alleged intended purpose. They’ve gotten something else in there, something they’re hiding under the skirts of a facility that’s already blacker than the hole at the galactic core. A third lab. I know the other conservatives argue that if the pragmatists had a TITAN, they wouldn’t keep it in the solar system. Too risky. I see the point, but they’re forgetting that the gates themselves are a risk. We don’t know who or what made them. We don’t know if they’re monitoring our gate activity. We don’t know if a captive TITAN would make it from one side of the portal to the other. I’m willing to bet the pragmatists didn’t want to take that risk.
I could be wrong. Or the pragmatists could be sitting on a TITAN over there. I can only hope they’ve been smart enough to keep the thing unplugged.