Posted By: Francis Wu, Firewall Filter <Info Msg Rep>
In service of Firewall, we travel the solar system, meeting strange and exotic people and ways of living—and many of those people will attempt to kill you. Unless your goal is to tour transhumanity’s interrogation simulspaces, it’s worth your time to learn a bit about those with whom you’re brushing elbows and tentacles.
I know it says that Firewall is a secret organization on the brochure. In practice, it only seems to be secret from those who don’t care to know anyway. Almost every political body in the solar system is aware of our existence and has SOPs on how to deal with us. Fortunately, most of them are “in on the secret” and don’t care to publicly recognize us or work against the stories we market to the public. The motivation for this varies from organization to organization and actually can be quite telling. One thing seems to be near-universal, however: a Firewall sentinel, if captured, is a treasure trove of information. Avoid that if you can, dears.
The argonauts and Firewall are fellow travelers. We share many of the same concerns and work towards many of the same goals. Like most good siblings, however, we have our disagreements and scufﬂes. The argonauts are essential to Firewall in two ways. First, they provide an ongoing ethical guiding voice. The argonauts serve as transhumanity’s scientific conscience. They guide and shape the public discourse on the responsible, cautious use of technology. They address in the open the ethics of our scientiﬁc progress, super-empowering technology, and technoprogressive issues such as accessibility, democratization, and quality of life. They help steer public policy in ways that Firewall itself can’t. Secondly, they provide the research and scientiﬁc resources that Firewall is often unable to bring to bear on its own. A signiﬁcant portion of our crows are argonauts, and the work they conduct for Firewall operations is often at the expense of the argonauts’ own studies. The relationship is not one-sided. Firewall frequently investigates on behalf of the argonauts, when their research unveils potential dangers and threats. Most of the argonauts within Firewall are pragmatists and backups, though the other factions are represented as well.
We have also had to work against the argonauts on a few occasions. The degree to which Firewall monitors and responds to argonaut incidents may at ﬁrst seem surprising, considering the argonauts take a strongly precautionary stance of their own against x-threats. Investigations into the argonauts are not always easy; they can close up ranks with the best of them. The truth is, if you were to take a count of skeletons in closets, I think you might ﬁnd the argonauts show a per capita surplus. The nature of their research, on the very extremes of transhuman knowledge, means that they are prone to tripping over x-risks (and I do mean tripping over; far more rare is the planned and expected discovery). They’ve had an unfortunate number of scientists get too involved in their work; and some of these have gone off the reservation. We’ve had to put down several that engaged in projects that crossed the line into exhuman and TITAN threats. Sometimes the scientists know they’re crossing the line; they tend to cover their own tracks by spinning off forks and sending them to a secret laboratory to ﬁnish their forbidden work. Unlike corporate labs, where dozens or hundreds of individuals provide support, these maverick scientists normally leave very little evidence of the fork heading into the ﬁeld. In some cases, the alpha forks themselves have been the ones to tip us off about their errant fork’s projects.
Firewall also tends to have a fundamental disagreement with the argonauts over freedom of information. Firewall is in the business of keeping the lid on dangerous things. The argonauts are all about making everything public; their argument is that the more widespread the knowledge, the more transhumanity is capable of defending itself. This means that argonauts are often inclined to share information under the aegis of responsible disclosure, whether it involves a manufactured nanoplague or a widespread exploit in fusion reactor control systems. Naturally, more conservative members of Firewall balk at providing the recipe for an x-threat to the public, so servers are pressured to investigate and resolve x-threats before the argonauts do (and to hide or destroy all of their research).
Finally, it’s worth addressing the persistent rumors that circulate between proxies claiming that the argonauts have their own pet ASIs. This ugly rumor keeps surfacing in various incarnations, sometimes claiming that the argonauts are manipulated by a remaining TITAN, other times insisting that the argonauts have tamed their own ASIs using good wishes and fairy dust to protect us from the TITANs. Each time these rumors have been discredited. There is truth to the suggestions that some argonauts (and current Firewall members) were researching friendly AI before the Fall, and the argonauts continue to research and analyze possible applications of this today—but without instancing actual super-intelligences. It would be best for all if these rumors were treated with skepticism.
Autonomists are nice people. It’s unfortunate when we have to kill them. I mean that sincerely; a majority of autonomists live in very small, closed habitats. Unfortunately, that means when they trip over an x-threat, the entire population is quickly exposed to it. When Firewall arrives, our sentinels are highly vulnerable to being discovered. If these poor souls survive the x-threat, we sometimes have to exterminate them anyway to protect Firewall’s secrecy or to properly destroy said x-threat. It’s very unfortunate when it happens. I know that sounds trite, but it’s true; these autonomist habitats tend to have minimal security, but they’re very effective at recognizing outsiders and are loud in social media. The best bet is to have a solid backstory going in and avoid raising eyebrows, because if you make waves, well … to proxies of the break-a-few-eggs school of thought, a few hundred egos in a tin-can habitat barely even registers. With larger autonomist habitats, that isn’t an option, but ﬁtting in is far easier.
Both the Fissure and Portal Gates are common stops for Firewall missions, as gatecrashers are always bringing in odd things. Fortunately, we have a strong presence at both locations, and most autonomists who know of Firewall are friendly to our presence. We have established especially good relations with the Love and Rage Collective, leading to a mutually beneﬁcial exchange of information and resources.
Practically by deﬁnition, brinkers don’t maintain relationships with anyone. Still, they are literally the edge of transhumanity. That isolation and line of expansion permit all sorts of weird things to crop up, and it’s Firewall’s job to ﬁx situations that go sideways. Remember that out on the fringes (even through the Main Belt, a measly 6 AU in diameter), there is no strong authority. That means if Firewall doesn’t settle things, no one will. Unfortunately, in most cases, those communities are too far for Firewall to provide support in time. In those cases, we can perhaps offer written guidance and alert everyone else in the area to stay away.
Firewall does still try to maintain strong relationships with these hold-outs. We’re well-represented on several brinker stations, especially Whiskey. We even have ongoing connections with several brinker, religious, and survivalist radio stations and mesh sites that we use to establish rapport, share alerts, and get feedback from isolates. It’s an odd position to be in, distributing how-to-guides on repairing batteries and reafﬁrming that the Iktomi love you so that we can also push an email warning for suspected exsurgent infection.
Firewall is on a mission to save transhumanity from extinction. How far are you willing to go to make that happen? Are you willing to die for it? Kill for it? What about work as a soul trader for it? Would you run addictive substances for it? Kidnap innocents for it? Rarely is our conﬂict with criminal organizations one of power or money; it’s one of ethics. Firewall maintains lucrative relationships with a range of criminal and grey organizations. We swap smuggling services, security information, and threat data. The fact is, as far as most political blocs are concerned, the only difference between Firewall and Night Cartel crawling behind the bulkheads is the crunch we make when they stomp us. This makes us allies by necessity. In some situations, it is strictly a ﬁnancial arrangement. In others, our criminal comrades are actually altruistic. We’ve received signiﬁcant no-strings support from groups such as the Sun Yee On triads, and even some wealthy soul-traders from Nine Lives. Of course, that requires that you accept the charity and company of a piece of transhuman excrement who trades cortical stacks as a matter of convenience and reputation. All but the most pragmatic members of Firewall think twice about associating with someone who makes a Consortium senator look straight. This poses a signiﬁcant problem for our relations, as a self-righteous sentinel can permanently burn a critical contact. It falls on the routers to carefully select and control their assets to avoid such a faux pas. If a sentinel requires a memory wipe after the mission is completed, that can be arranged. Firewall does not have the luxury of derailing its mission for the beneﬁt of a few slaves. The weight of all transhumanity is too much for us to take that on as well.
No less controversial, Firewall is in the business of acquiring WMDs and TITAN artifacts as they appear on criminal markets. This is a major point of dispute within Firewall. Those who support purchasing items outright note it encourages sellers to be more open about their wares, providing Firewall with critical information on the artifact and the circumstances of its discovery, as well as ensuring future sales will be detected in time to be intercepted. The contrary argument is that purchasing these items encourages the capture and sale of these items and drains critical Firewall resources. Regardless of the method of acquisition, Firewall spends plenty of time building relationships in markets and scum barges. For the most part, keeping our organization secret is trivial. Instead, our relationships are built on speciﬁc individuals and fronts. Because of disagreements regarding the question of purchase vs. steal, a certain amount of inter-Firewall conﬂict carries on in these theaters. Expect that your most difficult conﬂict isn’t with the uranium dealer, but with the crow from another server trying to goad you into either conforming with their preferred philosophy or abandoning the theater altogether.
Most of our interactions with hypercorp actors are antagonistic. If you are familiar with the hypercorporate x-threat watch list, you’ll know it’s quite a long text. Most of the big names are familiar with Firewall and take a zero-tolerance policy to our intruding, even when it is in their clear best interest. Their proﬁt plan includes creating x-threats, and that means it’s our job to put them out of business. In some situations, hypercorps ﬁnd it smarter to simply cut their ties to a site and carefully direct us to it. If they’ve cleaned up anything we might use for future operations or that might result in bad publicity, letting us handle the deadly alien artifact is just a smart cost-saving measure. When our business is less intrusive, hypercorps tend to be amiable to some degree of cooperation. Our social engineers can share threat data, the status of survivors, and after-action reports and expect that the hypercorp in question will at least improve their safety measures in the future. Of course, the hypercorps rarely take the initiative in sharing information with us unless there’s a clear proﬁt motive for them. They know we’re offering something for nothing, and “gratitude” is not in the hypercapitalist’s dictionary.
Occasionally, our interactions are more sympathetic. Most hypercorps working with x-threats have contingency measures in place. A few aggressively seek out and neutralize x-threats, such as the Olympus Infrastructure Authority who maintains part of the TQZ border. Even organizations that have nothing to hide usually push back against Firewall playing in their sandbox. Expect our teams to be dealt with as they’d handle any other armed intrusion. Our ﬁlters have it easier. The exchange of threat data is mutual and, if the stars align, Firewall can even receive an unofﬁcial sanction to respond to the threat directly.
Firewall does maintain a stable of friendly hypercorps; corporations we own a signiﬁcant share in, fronts we’ve established to conceal our operations, or cases where we’ve established a relationship with someone high enough to support our activities. Oversight does not approve of corporations conspiring with autonomist terrorist organizations, so operations through these corporations are kept strictly hush-hush. Unless the front is disposable, everything must maintain plausible deniability at every step. These people are true supporters of our work, but are operating deep in enemy territory. Treat these people with respect.
There are also a select few hypercorps that have the foresight to recognize x-threats as bad for business and the willingness to make it a budget item. Of the majors, only ExoTech falls into this camp; they’ve initiated their own anti-x-threat ops and have even brought situations to Firewall’s attention on occasion. The corps that are pro-active in this manner should also be respected, but the best policy is to interact with them much as we do with our rivals and frenemies with government backing: keep our distance, share intel when necessary, and limit our exposure.
If there’s one thing the Jovians have truly mastered, it’s how to back themselves into a corner. I can appreciate that; very Sun Tzu. My issue is they play all-in with every single confrontation. Today it’s nanotech, tomorrow it will be population stagnation. I haven’t yet ﬁgured if it’s an intentional act by government to keep their people scared and their military punchy or if it’s just genuine risk-aversion. Most of my interactions with Jovian assets have followed the same philosophy. They hire fanatics—true believers. It’s unfortunate, as in other ways the Junta are our closest allies. No other political body has as strong a stance against x-threats. They don’t resell TITAN technology, and their nanoplague facilities are simply remarkable.
Firewall has a tendency to undersell the Jovian intelligence services. The belief that Jovian spies don’t resleeve or use nanotech is naïve. Remember, Jovians believe these technologies are deadly, but the people selected for the intelligence services have no issue with laying down their lives for the good of their nation. Firewall is lousy with Jovian assets, and very few of them are so gross as to stay in their natural-born ﬂat. I can only speculate on their purposes. Currently, Firewall is more of a thorn in the Consortium’s side than the Republic’s. Is that forestalling a shadow war with the Republic? Or is it the result of Jovian embedded assets nudging Firewall’s focus? Whatever the case, care must be taken when conducting ops in Jovian territory. The ofﬁcial line is that we are a terrorist organization operating outside the law, and they’ll treat us just as they would any other threat.
It seems a prevailing view among Loonie Firewall servers is that they are a separate entity from the rest of us. The ﬁrst response is often to assume classism is just as strong in Firewall as anywhere, but the truth is they are simply following a meme common through the Lunar and Earth-orbiting habitats; a meme that lets them be effective at their work. For many people in the region, they still consider themselves to be the true home of transhumanity. That pride, combined with signiﬁcant wealth and cultural inﬂuence, plus strong isolationist tendencies, has resulted in an insular and egotist cultural vibe.
In order to operate in that environment, our assets must be able to belong to that meme. Our most effective proxies are part of established families. They host débutante balls for their children. They make public appearances at concerts. Of course, their vocation and sources of income are kept secret, but to be effective they must be recognized as part of the community. Scores on reputation networks and ﬁnancial resources don’t count nearly as much as membership in the old-boys’ club. If they don’t know your family name, you are just another member of the clanking masses.
Why does Luna operate differently? In addition to the pride of being the cradle of our species, they are still haunted by regular encounters with TITAN remnants, highly virulent infections, dangerous alien artifacts, and most other forms of x-threats Firewall was created to deal with. They maintain signiﬁcant military facilities, most habitats have rigid immigration and quarantine requirements (if immigration is permitted at all), and formal and community watch programs are standard practice. Lunar x-threat management programs are sophisticated and effective, bordering on paranoid, and that constant yellow-alert stance has leeched into the common mentality as well. Outsiders are viewed with suspicion as possible vectors of disease. Clades, including cultural and national divides, are still alive and well.
As the situation changes, Firewall must adapt. Approximately three-quarters of assets on Luna stay on Luna for ﬁve years or longer, rotating between local servers. New assets are given a year to establish themselves before they’re rotated out. When working in the area, recognize that, unless you ﬁt in, you will face resistance at every turn. You simply aren’t one of them and so your actions will be viewed with suspicion. I’ve seen some people play it up; the oaﬁsh tourist is permitted to break rules that would have more serious impacts on our established agents. Overall, however, you must recognize that building up trust in order to put those you are working with at ease is the ﬁrst priority.
Because of the limited rotation, Lunar and Orbital servers lean heavily towards the backup and structuralist cliques, with most others having been effectively pushed out—or at least taught to keep quiet. Working with our Firewall assets, we frequently encounter more poignant and colorful disputes than is common elsewhere—they have an established way of doing things. It may not always be the best or most effective, but recognize that it is tested and venerated. Understanding and respecting those local norms and avoiding any talk of politics except to express agreement, are useful lubricants to social contact.
The Morningstar Constellation is a paradise in free fall. When it comes to x-threats, they don’t want to see it, they can’t see it, and while they will share it, they won’t talk about it. The Constellation’s focus on operating like a loose confederacy has resulted in limited centralized security administration and no specialized security force to speak of. Morningstar federal security forces focus more on crimes between habitats or enforcing laws regarding politics. Few of the habitats have the training and resources to handle infections or TITAN attacks. Strangely enough, perhaps the strongest resource Firewall has to draw on when operating in Venusian space is the criminal cartels, who maintain private tactical security forces for their own use. Less of a concern is the Morningstar policy of transparency. Firewall is already used to operating under cameras, and the panopticon just makes it easier for our vectors to verify their hacks worked.
Attempts by Firewall to push the Constellation into adopting a more effective security force have met with resistance. The fact is, there’s a movement to forget about our troubled past, and that meme has a stronghold on Venus. Venus is the only inner planet without conﬁrmed TITAN activity. Meanwhile, the aerostats ﬂoating far above the surface are enjoying a cultural and economic renaissance, with their token looming threat of a Consortium coup. Most residents survived the Fall and would prefer to keep those memories buried, and their elected representatives are all too happy to help them.
At this point, the primary Firewall missions on Venus are inﬁltration of key positions and education. Inﬁltration is managed through swapping of services, positioning our crows, and establishing alliances. Firewall has no interests in the Consortium/Morningstar conflict, other than making sure it doesn’t turn into an x-threat situation, which gives us some degree of free range, though meddling of external actors is always cause for some alarm. Education is executed with an equally subtle hand. Exsurgent infection is still a common trope in media, so our social engineers work with simulspace writers to include factual data and appropriate responses (or awful ends to those who respond poorly) in hopes that it will disseminate into the cultural knowledge base. On the average, Venus sees limited x-risk activity, so a more passive and preventative approach is warranted.
The wild card in solar-system relations is the oligarchs. These individuals throw around an inordinate amount of weight, and their motivations are difﬁcult to pigeonhole. To them, the solar system is little more than an elaborate game for them to build or break to their whim. Many people are familiar with the project to reform a rocky exoplanet into a two-septillion-ton bust. When you personally own 2% of all of transhumanity’s currency, the only limitation is patience. When dealing with an oligarch, it’s easy to forget you’re dealing with an actual person; a transhuman with fears, curiosity, and pride. The same oligarch who is keeping a collection of alien WMDs as a memento mori may be attracted by the secret-agent mystique of working with Firewall. If I could only share one thought, it’s that these ladies and gentlemen are far smarter, far better prepared, and far stranger than any other transhuman you are ever likely to encounter.
The Consortium is a nest of snakes gradually consuming their own eggs. The hypercorps are dying, and both our and their analysts know it. Putting long-term sustainability ahead of quarterly proﬁts means you won’t be around long enough to enjoy the fruits of your labor. The best they can hope for is to seize enough resources and maintain a hungry enough proﬁle to survive the big crash. Unfortunately, this leads to a situation familiar to students of the twenty-ﬁrst century. Proﬁting off of climate change nearly gutted the entire system when it threw survivability of the species into question, and all the corporate PR only dug us deeper. The new economy is similarly set for long-term existential threat, if it survives that long. More immediately, enforcing a scarcity economy has made it a zero-sum game. My success can only come from someone else’s loss. Each hypercorp is pitted against its neighbor, and each employee is pitted against their employer. The alliances that make up each hypercorp and the Council as a whole are only possible when there are bigger targets available; usually the public. This means cooperation between corporations is highly reactive to market conditions, with alliances breaking and forming (usually secretly) in response to every spike and drop from the market index. Even the apparently unassailable Council will only survive as long as the proﬁts continue to come in.
The Consortium’s Four-Point Plan is somewhere between a non-binding constitution and a marketing pitch, documenting their commitment to helping protect transhumanity and spreading to the stars. It’s comforting to assume the plan is a commitment by the Consortium and its members to stop all x-threats. Certainly, the Consortium will address anything so gross as a TITAN attack, but in reality the Four-Point Plan has nothing to do with the majority of x-threats we face. Instead, the Four-Point Plan is a thinly veiled attack against its competing economies, especially the autonomists who show the most promise of long-term economic stability. It’s a banner of the new nationalism as the Consortium works to undermine autonomist authority and open those populations for market exploitation. The lesson is, the Four-Point Plan will do nothing to stop x-threats created by the corporate members of the Consortium, and is a war cry for the ongoing Consortium/autonomist conﬂict that is undermining the overall survivability of the species.
Officially, the Consortium’s weapon against x-threats is Oversight. In reality, Ozma addresses most of the interesting x-threats, with Oversight focusing on those existential threats posed accidentally or intentionally by hypercorp projects (and not ofﬁcially sanctioned by the Consortium Council). I cannot think of anybody in the solar system I am more loathe to work with. Oversight is the big dog in the Consortium and they know it. Their auditors operate without legal or ethical limitations. Unlike the hypercorps, who are willing to compromise with Firewall when there’s cash on the line, Oversight makes a point of killing and interrogating Firewall assets every time, no exceptions. The stories of Oversight sending a communique to known Firewall servers that was laced with a basilisk hack is an urban legend, but they do stuff their emails with memetic attacks, malware, false ﬂags, and any other destructive hacks they can ﬁt in.
I like to consider Ozma our richer, meaner half-brother. They have all of the money, all of the toys, all of the access, and they don’t share. The rumors are true; Ozma kills a lot of Firewall sentinels. What your router won’t tell you is we lose more to Ozma recruitment offers. It’s true, Ozma actually pays their agents, but it’s important to remember what you’re working for. When Firewall leaves the scene, the threat is contained or eliminated. When Ozma leaves, the threat is brought to a hypercorp-owned lab for further study and development. Firewall could pay our agents too, if we were willing to sell our souls for it.
Reclaimers are easily dwarfed by the other factions, but they make up for the small headcount with the sheer amount of trouble. Reclaimers (as well as singularity seekers, zone stalkers, and similar types) have made it their driving goal to pull down those quarantine zones keeping the TITAN war machines tucked away. Initially, Firewall expected to make strong headway in reclaimer communities. We exchanged data and offered resources to help contain threats. But even the most liberal members of Firewall were not fast enough to meet the desires of the most ardent reclaimers, and the reputation of our agents fell as they were seen as stodgy anchors. Now, Firewall operates at the fringes, relying on a few conservative accomplices, plenty of involuntary scanners, and heavy sifting of their mesh shadow.
The current situation is a testing ground for how utilitarian Firewall can be. Reclaimer operations are a threat, that is beyond a doubt. We work to eliminate or discredit the most aggressive and risky reclaimers. This isn’t something that permits a soft touch; do half a job and the target just gets smarter. When Firewall decides an individual is too much of a threat to let free, the social engineers do everything we can to make it a clean break. It isn’t just Firewall that holds this position. The Consortium, the biocons; everyone with a crowbar to swing is willing to disappear an overly ambitious artifact hunter now and again. The reclaimer movement is reacting by developing a deep paranoia. Every month, the artifact trade goes deeper underground and our contacts have less data for us to process. And every week, as memories of the Fall fade, the reclaimer ranks continue to swell. The end result of this pattern is predictable, but the political, ethical, and reputation issues around it tie the entire question into knots.
Yes, strong democracy, lots of space, and a healthy economy make Titan a great place to live, but working there is more like spy games in East Berlin. Every major clade has active interests in Titan, from upsetting, preserving, or modifying their politics, sabotaging perceived IP theft or committing technology re-appropriation, or old-fashioned military espionage. The conﬂicts are as you might expect; hypercorps versus microcorps, Jovians versus Fleet Intelligence, Tong versus Night Cartel, and everyone against Firewall. But the result is ever-shifting political lines as alliances of convenience between actors are created and dissolved. Titan’s real-time direct democracy adds an extra burst of energy to the reaction, as partnerships are formed for literally minutes in order to sway voting blocs or push memetic blitzes.
Firewall maintains a working relationship with Fleet Intelligence, at least when we’re operating outside of Titanian space. However, the Security Police are still holding a grudge over past incidents. While they do not, as a rule, subject Firewall operatives to interrogation or permanent ego death, they make it clear Firewall is not welcome. If a sentinel starts upsetting certain political or economic interests, however, they may be targeted for permanent removal. Those with ethics, such as the Titanian judiciary system or most of their established politicians, will work within the system to have interfering sentinels exiled. Others may pursue methods such as psychosurgery or framing for crimes worthy of ego erasure. Firewall avoids interfering with Titanian politics, but the stakes are high enough that experienced sentinels double-check. Know who you’re working with, who you’re working against, and what they’ve got on you.
Ultimates are what you get when you give an exhuman a code of ethics. When it comes to ﬁghting x-threats and beating the odds, you can’t ask for better. There are a few competing philosophies among ultimates as to the care of civilians, so be sure to establish those before the mission. Unfortunately, that same ideological rigidity that keeps them on our side of the exhuman conﬂict can also drive a wedge against Firewall. Ultimates will do it the ultimate way and if you try and derail that, you will be abruptly uninvited. These people expect no assistance. Negotiating cooperative projects with them is a test of one’s humility. Investigating ultimate habitats is justiﬁably considered hazard duty.
One would think these people were fed interrogation from the crèche, given how hard they’ll hold onto a secret. Their loyalty bonds to one another are as strong as fullerenes. Their risk tolerance is deﬁned by years of throwing themselves into every meat grinder in the solar system. They consider Firewall a hobby club. As painful as our encounters with the ultimates are, thank the stars they’re on our side