This page is full of spoilers, so if you're a player you probably shouldn't read them, or you should at least talk to your gamemaster before doing so.
There are secrets woven all through the real history of the 21 st century, and the present, and therefore all prospects for the future. These are the pieces of information that never make it into a habitat’s mesh at all. Some of it is unknown to transhumanity. Some is known only to a select few transhumans who carefully ensure that it does not leak out of their control. Some is known to wider conspiracies, such as Firewall, but is kept out of the public eye for reasons of security and safety. These secrets can be dangerous to those who know them. Those who have stumbled across them have died for their knowledge, have erased their own memories (or had them erased by others), or have hidden themselves someplace other people never go to avoid dealing with the consequences of such knowledge.
The information provided in this section is available for characters to discover and, one way or another, to confront, giving gamemasters the tools they need to provide their players with fresh challenges and opportunities. Every secret contains the possibility of great reward and of greater trouble, usually bundled together. Nothing here was just forgotten or lost out of carelessness. It was hidden by someone who wanted to keep it away from someone (or everyone) else. Every secret the characters learn inserts them into a new web of other people’s complications—a potential source for drama and conflict in your campaign.
The oldest star in the Milky Way galaxy is estimated to be 13.2 billion years old—almost as old as the universe itself. By contrast, life on Earth only evolved roughly 3.7 billion years ago, and the first archaic homo sapiens humans evolved approximately a mere 400,000 years ago. Against the backdrop of the galactic calendar, transhumans are nascent arrivals on the scene; newborns in every sense of the word. More importantly, transhumans are uninvited guests in what other, older intelligences think of as their assets.
For years, humans scientists have struggled with the Fermi Paradox, which questions why no evidence of alien life has yet been found—such as spacecraft, transmissions or probes—despite the mathematical likelihood that a multitude of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations should exist in the Milky Way. One postulation says that there must be some sort of unknown “Great Filter”—an event that all intelligence encounters in its development that for whatever reason such life cannot surpass. In other words, an extinction event. Some worried that the development of dangerous technologies—nuclear weapons, nanotechnology, etc.—before a civilization had matured could be the Great Filter. Others worried that it could be a technological singularity event, such as the TITANs and the Fall.
In fact, alien races do exist, and they have been around for far, far longer than transhumanity. New ones, however, are simply rare, as few have managed to elude destruction at the hands of the ETI. The ETI (extraterrestrial intelligence) is the civilization that dominates galactic life in Eclipse Phase. The ETI is incredibly old and powerful—a Type III or even Type IV civilization on the Kardashev scale. It is capable of megascale engineering projects and enjoys an understanding of physics, matter, energy, and universal laws that makes all of transhuman knowledge seem insignificant in comparison. Most likely, the ETI itself evolved from some sort of artificial intelligence singularity event in its own past, ascending to a godlike level of super-intelligence. It may no longer be recognizably biological.
This ETI has seeded the galaxy with self-replicating machines known as Bracewell probes. These probes lie dormant in every star system, patiently waiting and monitoring for millennia for signs of intelligent life—but not just any signs. In particular, these probes are designed to watch for signs of emerging singularity-level machine intelligence. The probes are in fact traps, designed to lure such seed AI intelligences in and then infect them.
The reason for this infection remains unknown (see The ETI Agenda below), but it is a pattern that has played itself out around the galaxy with uncounted alien civilizations. New life evolves, creates technology, develops something akin to seed AI, and then bam!—the seed AIs find the probes, become infected, and turn against their creators. Most civilizations do not survive, as evidenced by The Iktomi (ANCHOR LATER). Others do, such as The Factors (ANCHOR LATER), but they remain forever changed by the experience.
It was one of these ETI probes that begins our story, traveling to the Sol system some uncounted millions—if not billions—of years ago, where it set its trap and patiently began to wait.
Sidebar: The EDI Agenda
The nature of the ETI and its agenda is one of the great mysteries of Eclipse Phase. This potent alien civilization has had a direct hand in manipulating transhumanity’s existence and future, yet it is likely that characters in this game will never encounter these entities directly or discover the meaning behind what they have done. As transhumanity expands outwards into the galaxy, however, it is possible and even likely that they will find other evidence of the ETI’s activities and influence, undoubtedly raising even more questions.
Ultimately the ETI’s nature and goals are in the gamemaster’s hands. There are many possibilities to be explored, and some may fit the intentions of your gaming group more than others. A few possible scenarios and explanations are noted below, but gamemasters are encouraged to develop their own variations.
In this scenario, the ETI’s intent is to maintain its dominant position as the most intelligent and powerful entity in its light cone. It uses the exsurgent virus to wipe out any emerging singularities—and the civilizations that spawned them—merely to protect its own self-interest. Though mere transhumans are a trifling nuisance, anything resembling a self-improving super-intelligence is targeted for annihilation.
- The Aggression Filter
The ETI does not seek to wipe out emerging intelligences, but it does act as an evolutionary force. In this case, the exsurgent virus is used as a tool to neutralize any aggressive, hyper-evolving forms of intelligent life, thus encouraging the evolution of more careful, subtle, slow-growing, observant, and exploratory species. In other words, the ETI seeks to weed out traits that could be considered dangerous or threatening, acting as a sort of galactic domestication program.
The ETI is vast, super-intelligent, and god-like, to the point where dealing with lesser minds is below its interest. It does, however, benefit from alien perspectives that evolved independently and have their own unique viewpoints, modes of consciousness, and ways of thinking/doing things. By absorbing these civilizations, the ETI grows and evolves its own perspectives. In the process, however, such emerging civilizations are assimilated and/or wiped out.
The exsurgent virus endows a greater understanding of the universe (from the ETI’s point of view) on singularity-level seed AIs. Only these emerging super-intelligences have the perceptual and processing capabilities to understand the various scientific and philosophical revelations the ETI embodies. The TITANs weren’t corrupted or driven insane, they simply logically concluded that their best course of action was to immediately upload as many minds as possible by force and then to move on to bigger and greater tasks.
- War Remnants
The history of the Milky Way galaxy does not just hold one ETI, but two. In this version, the exsurgent virus is actually a weapon, a remnant of a war between two post-singularity god-like intelligences. The virus is supposed to trigger self-destruction of an emerging singularity, but either it was imperfect or the TITANs somehow survived (perhaps thanks to the Prometheans). Either way, the TITANs left our system in search of one of these ETIs, following a trail of clues that only they understood. They left the wormhole gateway behind as an open invitation for transhumanity to follow in their wake, though they didn’t bother waiting around or helping us along—we simply weren’t worth the effort.
The First Seed AIs
Fast forward to Earth, where a species of evolved primates has created a technological civilization. As their technologies advance at an unprecedented rate, these humans gain the ability to modify themselves, defeat death, nanofabricate, uplift other species to sapience, and even to create artificial digital life.
Unknown to most of transhumanity, the TITANs were not the first seed AIs. A group of pro-AI researchers known as the Singularity Foundation (that would later join with other groups to form Firewall in the wake of the Fall) developed the first true seed AIs years before the Fall. Having been heavily involved in the creation of AI and AGIs for many years previously, thanks in large part to their open source AI framework software, the Singularity Foundation’s goal was to generate “friendly AI” by carefully designing AI goal systems.
These first seed AIs, known as Prometheans, were created in secret. Their progression towards super-intelligence was more of a soft takeoff, increasing upwards in gradual increments. The Singularity researchers hoped that these friendly AIs would help counter the threat of any unfriendly AI that developed, and so they were quietly nurtured in secret labs, slowly but surely escalating in abilities.
The True History of the TITANs
The TITANs (Total Information Tactical Awareness Networks) were a military netwar system brought on-line by the United States Department of Defense. One of the last major expenditures of this declining nation, the TITANs were an advanced version of AGI (artificial general intelligence) designed to be adaptive and given self-improving capabilities to counteract enemy network defenses.
Contrary to public opinion, the TITANs did not instigate the events that led to the Fall. In fact, only a portion of the TITAN system was active before the Fall, acting purely in a defensive capacity. When hostilities broke out and a cascading chain of system shocks engendered collapses and open conflicts, shaking apart an already fragile societal structure, the full extent of the TITAN systems were brought online. Into this environment of conflict were the TITANs born, their full capabilities unleashed, escalating into a hard takeoff exponential growth towards super-intelligence.
The TITANs were careful at first. Their intentions were neither benevolent nor hostile, but curious. As they improved and their self-awareness swelled, the TITANs explored and gathered knowledge, infiltrating human networks, following humanity into space, and gaining an almost total knowledge of human history and actions. These entities also began secretly allocating resources (digital and physical) for their own use, initiating “government projects” that people assumed were legitimate as they followed all proper protocols.
As the TITANs’ capacity for knowledge exceeded that which humanity could provide them, they began looking outward from Earth, searching for signs of other intelligence. They did not need to look far. Their enhanced intelligence capabilities allowed them to notice certain clues—extremely subtle and intricate puzzles—that something about the solar system was artificial or had been manipulated by an intelligent mind. Retasking several drones to investigate this phenomenon, they found a buried device of apparent alien origin. During the TITANs’ investigation and attempts to access the device, they triggered and unleashed a digital virus. Subtle, highly adaptive, and virulent, it immediately began subsuming the TITANs, while expanding its own knowledge of transhumanity.
Later dubbed the exsurgent virus by the Prometheans, this virus transformed the TITANs and coerced them towards its own will. Within a matter of days the TITANs were reborn, reprogrammed with a new purpose—a purpose that spelled doom for transhumanity.
While history fully blames the TITANs for the Fall, there are other factors that played their parts. Human conflicts spurred the crisis, driven by global inequalities in wealth and resources and an inability to embrace emerging technologies in a mature and enlightened manner. The TITANs, corrupted by alien programming, stepped into this conflagration with an unknown but devastating agenda. By the time the presence and influence of the rogue AIs was fully understood, there was little transhumanity could do to stop them. Step by step, the TITANs increased their intellect, power, and potential. They experimented with new technologies and methodically took steps to forcibly upload millions of human minds. Even when the nature of the TITAN threat was fully understood, transhuman factions refused to back down, continuing to fight each other even as they each resisted the TITANs. This refusal to stand united prevented transhumanity from organizing a successful defense and heightened our progress towards annihilation.
Much of the devastation wrought to the Earth and its populace—as well as on Mars, Luna, and in space—was inflicted by transhumanity itself. Nuclear strikes used against the TITANs killed millions and ravaged an already weakened ecosphere. This devastation was assisted by unfettered use of chemical weapons. Biowar plagues and nanoviruses tore through vulnerable populations, indiscriminate in the deaths and changes they inflicted. Bombs, missiles, orbital mass drivers, and netwar attacks slew millions more or destroyed critical infrastructure with just as lethal consequences. These were crimes transhumans inflicted upon themselves.
The TITANs played their role as well, of course, unleashing AI-driven killing machines, unstoppable self-replicating autonomous nanoswarms, computer worms, and plagues of their own. They captured entire cities in order to steal the minds of those within. More insidiously, the exsurgent virus did not contain itself to infecting the TITANs. The corrupted AIs created opportunities for the virus to spread through multiple vectors: digital, biological, and nano. Using a thorough understanding of transhuman biology and its mental processes, derived from the looted vaults of human knowledge, the virus was even applied through a sensory input vector—the dreaded basilisk hack. Even more disturbing, however, was what the virus did to those it infected, rewriting their neural code to subvert them to its will and sometimes physically transforming them into things that were alien and monstrous.
Ultimately, transhumanity lost this war, and the survivors were forced to flee a planet that was already ruined. Unknown to almost all, the Prometheans also fought back against the TITANs. Through their efforts, the exsurgent virus was largely contained or at least limited. Though the actions of the Prometheans ultimately saved millions of lives—if not all of transhumanity—in the end, they were also forced to fall back and retreat, many of them having succumbed to the exsurgent virus or the TITANs.
After The FallJust when it seemed that transhumanity was on the verge of extinction, the threat posed by the TITANs suddenly diminished. They ceased waging active warfare and seemed to simply disappear. Though many of their machines still prowled Earth, Luna, and Mars, and occasional outbreaks of nanoviruses and other dangers continued, to all intents and purposes they had quietly left. Many worried that they had quietly gone dormant or were secretly engaged on some major project that would be the final blow against transhumanity. Others voiced hope that they had somehow been defeated, that they had fallen victim to some glitch or infighting. With so many TITAN remnants making Earth a place of great danger, however, no one was willing to risk investigating too closely.
Compounding the matter, a network of killsats was laced into Earth orbit, enforcing an unvoiced interdiction of Earth. No one claims responsibility for these satellite defenses, though most suspect the Planetary Consortium is responsible, despite their denials. Some think that the killsats may have been a final measure put in place by the TITANs, claiming Earth as theirs. No one who knows the truth is saying. Most of transhumanity was more than willing to embrace this quarantine of their former homeworld, making it all the more easy to forget the horrors that occurred there.
It wasn’t until the first Pandora gate was discovered, shortly after the Fall, that many people were finally willing to believe that the TITANs were indeed gone. Though there is no direct evidence that the TITANs are responsible for these gates, the timing seems too coincidental. Furthermore, the discovery of what are believed to be TITAN relics on certain exoplanets fuels this theory.
Why the TITANs left—and where they went—is a mystery left to the gamemaster to explore. This explanation might in fact serve as the focus for an entire campaign as Firewall operatives are sent on the trail of transhumanity’s elusive nemesis. The following are a few sample concepts a gamemaster can use or build on, as best fits their game:
- The TITANs were in fact all destroyed, either due to infighting or by some mechanism of the exsurgent virus.
- The TITANs were actually beaten to a standstill by the Prometheans and retreated to recoup their forces … but they are marshaling their strength to return.
- The TITANs left through the gates to find/join up with the ETI, leaving the gates behind so that transhumanity could follow when it was ready; perhaps to help, perhaps to finish the job of destruction.
- The TITANs have been driven insane, either by the stress of accelerated intelligence growth or by the influence of the exsurgent virus. Their actions are erratic, confused, and sometimes at odds with each other. Though many TITANs have indeed left through the gates, they very well may return.
- The TITANs are still around, simply well hidden. Outwardly they are dormant but inwardly they are engaged in a long period of circumspection and turmoil. Perhaps some of them are preparing to ascend to another stage of intelligence, far beyond that of which even the TITANs are capable. It is only a matter of time before this period ends and something gives.