Posted by: Cacophonous, Firewall Router <Info Msg Rep>
Hypercorps are infamous for their “rational self-interest,” which is another way of saying they’re egotistical jerks that don’t care about others. As a result, they’re not the usual ones we think of ﬁrst when considering other parties that might be working to stop x-risks. Some of them actually take the wider picture into consideration, however: it’s hard to sell your product when your customer base is extinct. Even then, however, only a few ﬁnd it worthwhile to throw signiﬁcant resources at the matter. Others are more directly linked to the issues at hand due to their own activities and wisely keep an eye on x-threats that might create problems.
Needless to say, Firewall is rarely considered a legitimate operation in hypercorp eyes. Cover stories are a must when engaging with them; if not, you need to convince them that Firewall is too important of an asset to lose.
It may seem odd to include Cognite in this discussion, as they’re not generally on the radar as an entity that has any direct agents working against x-threats. Most of our people correctly assume that they pay their dues to Oversight—possibly Ozma as well—and sit tight with the other hypercorps. The truth is that after everything went to hell with the Futura project and the Consortium and Oversight came down on their asses, Cognite started up and maintains a small internal team to clean up after their own messes. With all the psychosurgery, mental augmentation, exotech, and even TITAN-derived research that Cognite has had its ﬁngers in, their Internal Process Review (IPR) team have had their hands more than full from day one.
IPR has three mandates and lacks the resources to succeed at any of them. The ﬁrst goal is to track down and recollect wayward survivors of the Futura project and escaped or misplaced uplifts. These activities only matter to us because there are a fair few Lost and liberated uplifts that have worked with Firewall, and we have to keep them safe. There’s no telling what damage could be done to our organization if Cognite were to play around in the minds of any of our operatives. Occasionally, asyncs that came from the Lost are deeply tangled up in exsurgent outbreaks or singularity cults, and in those cases we have some grounds for mutual cause with IPR and may be able to use their efforts to our beneﬁt.
The second mandate is to safeguard the use of Cognite’s products and techniques by the general public so there’s no backlash against their ﬁeld of work. Seeing that Cognite has dedicated itself to overclocking the transhuman mind, producing a toybox of products loved by singularity seekers everywhere, playing god by raising other species to sapience, and being the foremost provider of personality-editing and VR-conditioning services, there’s an almost inﬁnite number of problems for them to deal with. The most IPR manages to do on this front is some witness tampering, which involves kidnapping and memory edits. On rare occasions they send assets into the ﬁeld to inﬁltrate or dismantle nascent exhuman or singularity seeker groups. In this capacity, we have crossed paths several times.
Lastly, they’re expected to put out fires when Cognite experiments go horribly wrong before Oversight or the public get wind of them. As we know from our own operations, Cognite has never been shy about crossing ethical boundaries in their labs. It’s safe to say that IPR is under-equipped to check in on dozens of different complex psychosurgical and nanotech projects being performed digitally and in person at lab spaces spread across dozens of different habitats.
There are only about a dozen people working in IPR. Rather than getting together a larger team, they follow the Cognite mandate of replicating experience and presence through short-term forking and multitasking-enabling mental manipulations. The over-reliance on a few personnel actually magniﬁes the operating problems caused by their inexperience with any type of tradecraft, since you have multiple instances of the same person who lacks the same skills not knowing what they’re doing at the same time—truly a marvel of corporate efﬁciency. Sarcasm aside, the people stuck in IPR have to rely too much on their own and Cognite’s strengths, so they have a pretty slim playbook to work from, but it can still be effective.
Searching for people—whether it’s Lost, uplifts, or anyone else they’re interested in—starts with psychographic modeling and behavior analysis. IPR feeds as much known info about the target as they can get into one of Cognite’s corporate VR sims or dream factories to game out different lines of pursuit-and-capture scenarios. They choose whatever they model as the best, or the two or three if there’s a close performance, and hire out established ego hunters: the IPR folks do it all from their desk. Although this type of approach seems easy to escape, it’s actually difﬁcult to shake off.
Cognite’s psychographic capabilities are top-notch and a typical ego hunter is going to be hard to shake when they have a lead. For anyone who’s a Firewall agent, the best plan is to lay low for quite a long time, unless a new identity can be drummed up.
In-person operations for IPR are infrequent, but when they have to shut down a singularity cult using their tech to build a hive mind or clean out a lab that’s been overrun with an infectious meme, they need to get their hands dirty so others don’t ﬁnd out and word never makes it back to Oversight. Combat operations are a weak point for IPR, so they tend to rely on drones and bots or sleeve lots of forks to try for an advantage in numbers. They’ll run skillsofts to shore up weaknesses in their own talents and use any possible circumstantial advantage they can give themselves. Using mesh attack vectors is common: favorites include manipulating hab systems to shut off power and life support, hacking and suborning security measures, and disabling target networks. Their e-warfare is a strong suit, so make sure to watch your own mesh security carefully if you run into them.
I almost feel sorry for them, but their bad situation is our opportunity. IPR is overworked, understaffed, and in over their heads, which makes them a ripe target for inﬁltration or co-optation. In short, we should be friendly and try to build a sympathetic relationship with IPR as an organization whenever we encounter them in an anti-singularity seeker or -exsurgent scenario. If we encounter them doing clean-up for Cognite to avoid Oversight, we can help there as well, as long as we can keep an eye on what Cognite is up to.
It’s not without risk, but I believe a concerted effort to actually help out IPR and see if we can establish inﬂuence in their organization has great potential. Their lack of tradecraft expertise leaves IPR agents vulnerable to humint and subversion operations. Given the stress and poor working conditions, there’s a good chance we could convert one or more of them to act as a double-agent or just defect outright to Firewall. Even one contact like that could provide extremely valuable information on Cognite’s research projects and uplift programs, or even access to their dream factories. The hypercorp’s expertise in psychosurgery and cognitive mapping, however, makes it a challenge to turn their agents.
The holy grail of possible intel from Cognite would be access to their work on hive minds and distributed consciousness in biological morphs. Research in those areas skates dangerously close, if not crossing over, into exhuman or even TITAN tech territory, and we know that’s the dream Cognite is chasing. Firewall’s argonaut contacts are keenly interested in this area, and any information we could get would be prized.
It’s common knowledge that Stellar Intelligence is the de-facto spy agency for the Planetary Consortium as a whole, and at times a major opponent for Firewall, but they’re both less and more than that. Though StellInt depends on business within the Consortium for the majority of its funding, it does not ofﬁcially represent their power or interests—they’re contractors, so they lack the power and authority of designated Consortium agencies like Oversight. However, that ofﬁcial separation allows them to pursue deniable operations and activity throughout the system for anyone willing to pay their rates. The additional freedom to act anywhere and the fact that Stellar is ultimately self-governing gives them ﬂexibility, and in the intelligence ﬁeld that equals power. Consortium oligarchs are smart enough to realize this, which is why Oversight pays such close attention to Stellar Intelligence’s activities, and why the bigger players in the Consortium keep such a tight leash on StellInt’s stakeholder status in the venture.
The situation with Stellar Intelligence gets much more complicated when it comes to dealing with x-risks. The Consortium obviously recognizes TITAN remnants and exsurgent activity as a threat, and Stellar is an integral part of keeping watch for fringe groups of singularity seekers and exhumans that might cause problems in those areas. When problems are identified, the details are passed on to planetary or habitat governments, or the Consortium brings in mercenaries to deal with them directly. Firewall’s concern with that arrangement is that Stellar Intelligence is the organization reviewing and deciding what constitutes a threat and when, if at all, that information is passed on to other groups for resolution. What happens when SI ﬁnds out another hypercorp is behind the problem? There’s plenty of incentive not to rock the boat in the internal politics of the Consortium, and plenty of opportunity for Stellar Intelligence to engage in blackmail, extortion, or collaboration with other hypercorps if they catch them dealing with TITAN, exsurgent, or xenotech contraband.
In Firewall’s dealings in the past decade, we’ve found dozens of instances of the corps playing with ﬁre, but there hasn’t been a single instance of Stellar Intelligence publicly outing another big player in the Consortium for doing so. Who knows what else they’ve found or done in their work for their private contracts? We certainly don’t, and that’s a problem. All the information Stellar Intelligence accumulates ﬂows into the organization for their own internal analysis and use, but they only share select bits and pieces with their clients. We don’t know what they know, suspect, and want to accomplish with their information.
Stellar Intelligence is also a signiﬁcant organizational opponent to Firewall. I’ll get to the discussion of interactions on an agent-to-agent level below, but SI as an entity and Firewall as an entity are on different sides of the ﬁght. Stellar Intelligence has been engaged in constant discovery and compromise attempts against Firewall for years, and they’re the group feeding information to the Consortium public relations machine, pushing the meme that Firewall is an anarchist, anti-Consortium terrorist organization. SI intel is used to supplement and expand on the most-wanted lists for the entire Consortium, as well as the reference and assessment ﬁles that go along with them. We’ve suffered attrition from the information Stellar Intelligence puts together on us and our activities for years.
Since I seem to be in the habit of stating unpopular truths, I’ll get this one out up front: any given Stellar Intelligence agent is probably better at tradecraft than any given Firewall operative, and we need to remind ourselves of that truth. SI is primarily made up of spooks and analysts that were in the intelligence ﬁeld before the Fall, gathered up from the remnants of their former states. From its inception, Stellar has had access to a wide assortment of assets, and they used the early years after the Fall to bring together top talent from across the system. For all the strengths that Firewall’s ad-hoc communitarian structure brings us, consistent training and standards isn’t one of them, and we would be well-served to learn from dedicated professionals.
Stellar Intelligence is ﬁrst-and-foremost focused on intel gathering: they have established a widespread net of cultivated assets for humint and have what is likely the largest and most sophisticated private surveillance network for gathering elint. As a result of their heritage with traditional spying, their agents often pursue soft gathering of information through their humint assets as their primary approach. The rationale for this is: getting information willingly makes the informant complicit, and so more likely to be of use as a possible asset again. Also, people are subjective and can be manipulated through many different means; there are more ways to keep an informant quiet than there are to cover up a brute-force database hack.
These are old-school spooks that can get the job done without all the latest and greatest toys, and that makes them even more effective when they do use the full suite of options. If soft intelligence gathering doesn’t work and they aren’t on an entirely covert project, Stellar agents can use their corp’s pull to gain access to the local security and habitat surveillance systems of most Consortium polities. This is common for general stakeouts and long-term observation of targets when they’re building proﬁles and reference data, and it can be used to help identify possible assets for humint work or to supplement and verify humint data. For our purposes, as long as our operatives are keeping up good data sanitation and a solid cover of daily activity, they should be all right.
When this approach won’t work—because it isn’t available outsystem, isn’t reliable in some of the older or more densely packed habitats, or may blow a Stellar agent’s cover—they resort to old-fashioned physical compromise. Agents that engage in their own direct surveillance can be expected to have access to the best nano-scale and electronic intrusion and observation tech available, up to and including unique designs that are proprietary and not in use outside of SI. Inﬁltration attempts aren’t limited to device tech alone, as our information indicates the use of mimics, swarmanoids, and even more exotic morphs in some operations. When they can’t compromise someone to give them what they want or a sophisticated hack isn’t viable, they aren’t above break-ins and physical theft.
Unlike the other groups we’ve discussed, Stellar will rarely engage in blatant combat operations, usually only as a defensive measure for an agent to extricate themselves. Given the close relationship between Stellar Intelligence and Consortium governments and organizations, they can usually call on local security forces while in-system, but they’re also cautious enough to have freelance support contracts available for backup when they’re working further rimward. If things go horribly wrong, emergency farcasters or dead switches are de rigeur for their agents in the ﬁeld, so it’s almost impossible to take them alive for questioning.
Although Stellar Intelligence as a group actively opposes Firewall, contact in the ﬁeld isn’t always hostile. Their agents are primarily focused on building asset networks and humint; they’re professionals, and most of them would rather have a few connections that even the higher-ups at SI don’t know about if it helps them out, even if it goes against the ofﬁcial company line. Being the ad-hoc organization that we are, I’m sure that many of our sentinels feel the same way. Stellar Intelligence’s focus on in-person ﬁeld ops leaves their agents with a very long leash—just like our own—and that means we have to be able to carefully assess each one on their own merits. As long as our people realize the tightrope they’re walking and don’t get lazy with their own security, it’s a tacit situation that beneﬁts both organizations. My protocol concern is mainly at the proxy level: our handlers need to be keeping an eye on the bigger picture and make sure their assets aren’t getting too friendly with SI personnel, and also that Firewall operations don’t stir up too much notice in areas on which Stellar is also working. When we’re too noisy in what they consider their turf, their handlers start upping the pressure to start bringing us in, and so the cycle continues.
Until and unless Stellar Intelligence becomes more active in engaging with speciﬁc x-threat vectors, we should continue the current policy: we keep a watchful eye on fraternization at low levels and keep up the cold war and compromise attempts at high levels.
# Start Æther Jabber #
# Active Members: 2 #
< While we’re talking SI, I ran across a little tidbit related to Rook. I heard you might be working the proﬁle.
> I might know who is. What did you ﬁnd?
< You’ll understand that I can’t give you much in the way of hard data—got to protect my assets and portfolio too—but if you can keep this between us, I can give you something to look into.
> Really? You’re going to give me the disclaimer every time?
> You know I’m discreet. What do you have?
< SI doesn’t generally let clients know, but they’ve managed to keep a few operating satellites that are running in Earth orbit that they co-opted from some former governments. They move geo-data to reclaimers to fund the black-budget work they don’t want Oversight to know about.
< They keep an eye on the satellites from a little tin can in higher orbit. About two weeks ago, there was a private transit shuttle that launched from Shackle booked for Vo Nguyen, but it made a detour stop to the SI hab and offloaded goods, swapped the shuttle crew for the folks from the tin can, and then went to Vo Nguyen.
> What makes you think Rook had anything to do with it? Those could easily be SI personnel.
< What makes it interesting is the pic of the cargo unloaded. I think you’ll agree it’s unusual.
<encrypted ﬁle received>
> It certainly appears to validate the association.
< After that little exchange, the transmissions from the hab back to SI’s ofﬁces on Luna stopped, and it started transmitting data to the satellites in Earth orbit instead. SI has never sent data to those birds in all the time we’ve been watching.
> We’ll deﬁnitely be in touch. This is problematic.
There are many other hypercorps that, as a matter of course, deal with situations or technologies with x-risk potential. Only a few of these have developed their own internal departments for monitoring, assessing, and combating such threats. Preparations of that sort require considerable effort and capital, and it is usually an expense not deemed worthwhile when such work can be outsourced to another corp better suited to the task. Those that do tackle x-risks themselves usually rely on a small group of experts that are specialized to the speciﬁc dangers the hypercorp faces. While these personnel are often quite knowledgeable, they typically lack the resources to throw at a problem—something Firewall can take advantage of.
This infamous mercenary outﬁt has one thing going for it: a cadre of soldiers experienced in ﬁghting exsurgents and TITAN machines. Most of this experience derives from the Fall, making it slightly dated, but DA troops have had a few notable run-ins with outbreaks and reactivated machines, not to mention the occasional exhuman cell in the fringe or swarm of alien critters on a gate op.
With their hands involved in all things media, it should be no surprise that Experia has a department of personnel that specialize in dealing with basilisk hacks, memetic warfare, and similar mind-hacking vectors. While Experia is mostly interested in ﬁltering out and defending against such exploits, there is no denying that they have pursued some research into this territory themselves. It is likely that any outbreaks they encounter will also be viewed as a learning opportunity.
Gatekeeper, Go-Nin, Pathfinder, and Terragenesis
As defenders and exploiters of the precious Pandora gates, these corporations by necessity have legions of specialists qualiﬁed to identify threats of all varieties and contain them. Their priority is ensuring that nothing passes into the solar system from an exoplanet vector; they are somewhat more lax about threats going the other way. Most of them also retain personnel skilled in classifying and handling various xenofauna, extrasolar environment, and even astronomical dangers. They also, of course, know more about gate operations than almost anyone else. If an alien or TITAN threat were to manifest through the gates, their expertise would be invaluable.
Go-nin, however, has a claim the others do not. Due to their troubles with the Discord Gate, they have devoted considerable resources towards analyzing the exhuman threat. From what we understand, Go-nin corporate security has been mapping exhuman assets through the solar system and beyond the gates. They do not seem content to rely on their ultimate mercenaries to deter the threat and have even undertaken some of their own sabotage and extermination ops against exhuman targets. From what we understand, their efforts to insert their own counterintelligence operatives into exhuman groups have gone poorly, with most of their agents either identiﬁed and killed (and sometimes eaten) outright or going “native” and taking up the exhuman cause.
Gunboat is a private security/military contractor that made their name as (self-appointed, as far as we can tell) experts at detecting and eliminating TITAN threats on newly discovered exoplanets. If their members hadn’t uploaded several XPs of ﬁghts against TITAN machines to the mesh, we’d happily classify Gunboat as a marketing ploy and move on. They may still be, but from what we can tell, they’re a legitimate military outﬁt, and are worth additional investigation. Just keep in mind that any XP they produce or mesh stories about their exploits are as likely to be publicity stunts as they are legitimate combat experiences.
Gunboat falls under the command of one Gena Lebarrie, an ex-mercenary with a spotless record of service dating back to before the Fall. She was brieﬂy involved in Direct Action early on, before setting off to start her own business. Direct Action was an early investor, but they were bought out a few years in by an unknown party. There’s an unveriﬁed rumor ﬂoating around that she was somehow involved with the creation of the TITANs, but any records from that time period either no longer exist or are locked away. Lebarrie also happens to be Gunboat’s public relations expert, spokesperson, and the main source for their XPs. Despite her ranks in badassitude, she’s affable and easy to please.
This hypercorp is small but elite. It counts among its employees some of the best white-hat hackers in the inner system. Many of them are veterans from the digital front lines against the TITANs during the Fall. They are skilled at ﬁnding, countering, and eliminating digital exsurgent infections. In fact, the company takes a sort of pride in continuing to track down the virus a decade after the Fall, before new outbreaks can occur. This is tempered, of course, by a grim exasperation that the virus and other TITAN weapons continue to exist, evolve, and even thrive in various corners of the mesh.
Kali’s mission to eliminate the virus isn’t all benevolent. We know their white hats have used several 0-day exploits that were quite likely reverse engineered from TITAN code, and they are also in the business of selling 0-days on the open market. Some of our own programmers have concerns about their use of TITAN code fragments, though the bits we’ve acquired and analyzed show that they’ve stripped it clean of anything dangerous. Of further concern, however, is that Kali may have seized the command-and-control servers for some still functioning TITAN botnets.
Lucky Star Group
As one of the system’s premier providers of mesh network hardware, Lucky Star’s engineers have become experts in the attacks used by the TITANs to subvert our machines during the Fall. Their Quality Control department takes a keen interest in acquiring and analyzing new threats that are deployed in the wild, so as to harden the next generation of systems. They have an open bounty available to anyone that submits new hardware or ﬁrmware exploits.
Given their seat on the Hypercorp Council and their top ranking in the ﬁeld of nanotechnology, Nanosys is the go-to whenever the Consortium has an issue concerning dangerous nanotech; even Oversight defers to them. A consortium in their own right, they pull upon the expertise of nano-engineers from dozens of hypercorps. They’ve efﬁciently handled numerous incidents with TITAN nanoswarms and other rogue nanotech and reputedly established contingency plans and countermeasures for various nano-threat scenarios. In a few instances, they’ve even been deputized to help Oversight monitor and dismantle criminal groups and hypercorps that were playing with restricted nano.