Facing the Reaper
Posted by: Hurt Alvez, Firewall Apocalypse Engineer <Info Msg Rep>
Transhumans aren’t good at thinking about the end of the world. We don’t like it; it’s uncomfortable, it makes us lose sleep. Most people avoid thinking about it at all and they aren’t prepared when the “unthinkable” happens. These people die. I am an apocalypse engineer. It is my job to think of this stuff for them. I devise new and artful ways of killing everyone in order to save lives. Firewall uses my simulations for analysis and training scenarios. The catastrophes from my shop are used by servers throughout Firewall in designing and prioritizing missions. I also train sentinels like you to recognize a serious risk when you encounter one in the field. This collection of tutorials and articles is intended to provide that critical training. And that begins with The End Of The World As We Know It.
Transhumans aren’t good at thinking about the end of the world. We don’t like it; it’s uncomfortable, it makes us lose sleep. Most people avoid thinking about it at all and they aren’t prepared when the “unthinkable” happens. These people die. I am an apocalypse engineer. It is my job to think of this stuff for them. I devise new and artful ways of killing everyone in order to save lives. Firewall uses my simulations for analysis and training scenarios. The catastrophes from my shop are used by servers throughout Firewall in designing and prioritizing missions. I also train sentinels like you to recognize a serious risk when you encounter one in the field. This collection of tutorials and articles is intended to provide that critical training. And that begins with The End Of The World As We Know It.
Firewall may send resources to save habitats and rescue metropolises from time to time, but our bread and butter is existential risks—risks that threaten the entirety of transhumanity. X-risks have a pretty long formal definition: “Any possible event which would destroy all of transhumanity or create a decline of transhuman civilization from which recovery is impossible.” This isn’t limited to just the death of everyone, it could also manifest as enslavement, environmental holocaust, mass exsurgent infection, and on and on. The point is, an x-risk is something that means the world that we enjoy is now impossible (and the new world is somehow worse). The End Of The World As We Know It. The modern world has given us no shortage of x-risks, and more keep coming. Half of our work is just figuring out the next thing lining up to wipe us out. If there is any lesson we learned from the TITANs, it is how much we don’t know. Our research into basilisk hacks, exhuman technologies, closed timelike curves, and quantum foam collapse are a Pandora’s box. Even as we learn how vulnerable we are, we learn more about how to destroy ourselves—and how much we’ve already been compromised.
We figure out risk by taking the likelihood of the threat happening and multiplying it by the impact. That’s why the bigger threats are things like the unseen spread of an alien mind-control parasite, not exhumans attacking a tiny fringe habitat. This may be difficult to see from the position of a sentinel, but Firewall does spend a lot of resources on babysitting what seem like lesser issues: tracking space objects, monitoring memetic traffic, reporting on financial markets. These are more likely to hurt more people than nuclear bombs or fugitive asyncs. If you’re not a crow in that area, you might not realize those parts of Firewall even exist. Even if they’re not in the field like sentinels are, getting shot at and implanted with alien eggs and other horrible things, they’re saving lives and deserve respect. This math gets a little tougher when the impact is “everyone forever.” That’s what separates a classical risk from an x-risk. When I’m not killing billions of people (in simulation), I’m doing the math to explain how those people died, and the tool we use the most is the Bostrom-Gallows Threat Topology. Basically it’s a chart with four metrics; what kind of x-threat it is, how many people it’s likely to impact, how likely it is to happen, and how likely it is to reach its worst projected impact. There’s a lot of other metrics we track too, but those are the four that proxies care about. For sentinels, we drop it to three by combining the probability of occurrence and the probability of maximum impact into one weighted probability score. That’s how we get the final x-risk rating you normally see on your mission briefs, like Extinction–5/Corruption–5 8% (that’s the rating for the return of the TITANs).
The threat category is based around the end-result of the scenario. Some people used to categorize threats based on their vector, so nanotechnology, political, etc. People like me kept coming up with new threats that didn’t categorize nicely, so Firewall has moved away from it with the excuse that it created blind spots. Instead the scale focuses on how a given threat’s impact will be felt by transhuman society Categories are listed in order of how dire they are. When a threat is measured, we normally focus on the highest category alone. This is in part because a threat in the higher categories will generally fall into the lower categories too (for example, a corruption event will qualify as stagnation, and an extinction event as regression). A risk may be given two categories if the impact or likelihood varies significantly between them. Extinction Extinction dangers threaten to wipe out all of transhumanity. Because we have colonized other solar systems, this primarily encompasses engineered (rather than natural) risks or threats that are thoroughly contagious. This includes things like the TITANs returning, war with aliens, a widespread nanoplague, unexpected space-time failures, or a threat from the Pandora gates themselves. Further down the scale are threats that could wipe out a majority of transhumanity, such as the entire solar system, or smaller-scale extinctions, like a planet or habitat. So this also encompasses things like gamma radiation from a local supernova, solar instability, converting Jupiter into a black hole, asteroid collisions, gray goo attacks, and antimatter bombs. The “nice” thing about smaller scale extinction threats is that they won’t normally spread, meaning that in extreme circumstances they may be preferred over something else (e.g., nuking an entire habitat to prevent a TITAN resurgence). Corruption Corruption threats are the stuff of meaty science fiction. Enslavement, dystopias, fascist governments, mass infection by exsurgent viruses, TITAN dominance, etc. They include any circumstances where transhumans are technically alive and maybe even thriving, but are no longer in control of their destiny and perhaps trapped in a state of permanent suffering. Those TITAN-puppet “survivors” we still hear about on Earth are considered to be in a corruption scenario. Regression Regression risks would trap transhumanity in a previous or primitive state. This could be cultural, political, or technological, but the important factor is that transhumanity cannot return from it. This sets it apart from primitivist habitats, where people specifically decide to put modern conveniences away, but where they are still available. Regression is an unlikely x-risk. Information is very difficult to permanently destroy. Technology has only disappeared a few times in history, and with cultural artifacts and philosophy now documented and shared as readily as it is, that too is safe from easy loss. But events like the political dominance of the Jovian Republic, critical resource shortages, the success of certain destructive memes, or the dominance of forking monocultures could cause a regression event. Stagnation If transhumans are living happily, but can’t continue to grow to their maximal potential, we’re trapped in a state of stagnation. This is vague in part because we can’t define what our maximum potential is yet. But there are some circumstances where we’d know it when we saw it; an extraterrestrial blockade, the destruction of most colonized space, interfactional war, non-optimized political structures, wasteful or destructive policies, and repressive memes are all examples of stagnation x-threats.
Sidebar: Expired X-Risks
The Eye > Forums > X-Risks Posted By: Shiz & Gigs, Vector Eschatology isn’t all bad news. Transhumanity got off Earth and that alone has made most of the pre-Fall x-risks obsolete. Sure, Firewall still loses agents all the time keeping planets and habs safe from those same old threats. But the good news is, even when we mess up and thousands of people die, all the rest of us get to keep on living! There’s a long list of those x-risks that could have killed everyone just a few decades ago, but now are just inconveniently deadly for at most a few million transhumans. My favorites include:
- Extreme global climate change
- Ecological collapse
- Global war using weapons of mass destruction
- Natural or engineered pandemics, such as influenza
- Asteroid Strikes
This good news is really doubled, because this lets us pool our resources against all the new threats that have popped up since. Cheers!
Sidebar: Attenuation Threats
Technically, a fifth x-risk category exists. Attenuating dangers are those that might not wipe transhumanity out, but might irrevocably and severely change it. For example, a danger that wipes out our biological presence, but allows transhumanity to survive in a postbiological state, or perhaps the assimilation of transhumanity into some sort of collective or hive-mind state. Though these risks might fundamentally change the outlook, nature, and historical course of our species, it is a question of debate whether such risks are desirable or potentially even inevitable. To the bioconservative mindset, all of transhumanity is already an attenuating threat to their concept of “natural” humanity; whereas certain transhuman clades would welcome a postbiological or posthuman future. Firewall’s assessment and response to attenuating dangers is complicated and rife with conflict; as a result, risks of this sort are not actively guarded against or even addressed in our categorization schemes. Sentinels should not be surprised if their server
Each risk is also given an Impact Level, or IL, noting the scope of the risk. These are approximations, but it’s difficult to find an exception to them. Even a nanoplague that exterminates all and only transhuman life (extinction–6) will ruin the environment of inhabited planets as our technology fails and the location is contaminated with toxins and radioactive elements, ultimately leaving a nasty legacy for any intelligent life that follows. IL–0: Small Habitat A small number of transhumans are impacted, from a single individual to a small community (less than 5,000). These events aren’t normally called x-risks (although it is for the individuals involved). However, some IL–0 risks are monitored due to the possibility that they might expand in scope. For example, a deadly alien pathogen that does not initially impact transhumans, but that might become a threat if it were engineered or mutated. IL–1: Large Habitat A large population is directly impacted (between 5,000 and 50,000 individuals). Minor repercussions suffered by up to one hundred million other individuals. IL–2: Planet A planet, constellation of habitats, or faction is directly impacted, accounting for 1% to 30% of all transhumans. Lesser impacts likely for all survivors. IL–3: Region Between 30% and 95% of transhumanity directly impacted. Some minor enclaves of survivors may escape, but far-reaching affects anticipated. IL–4: Solar System The entirety of the solar system is directly impacted. Likely to be additional impacts for future intelligent life around the sun. IL–5: Transhuman Space All transhumanity directly impacted, including extrasolar colonies. Permanent impacts for all future life in these systems. IL–6: Milky Way A significant portion of the Milky Way is impacted, including all of transhuman space, and possibly the whole galaxy. Permanent impacts for all future life in the galaxy.
Normally, we label x-risks with the highest impact category, the highest likely impact level, and the weighted percentage likelihood. The percentage likelihood is weighted based on the most likely and most threatening level. So for example, an exhuman attack of inhabited space is categorized as corruption–2 14%. If a sentinel is curious, they can read the full threat profile for the likelihood of corruption–1, which has a probability rating approaching 90%, or corruption–3, which is below 1%, but the IL–2 event is the most important weighted percentage.
Sidebar: Political Impact
Nothing can start a fight like a hypercapitalist, a Jovian, and an autonomist trying to agree on what’s a risk. Every faction categorizes threats around their own priorities. The hypercapitalists follow the market and quantify risks in credits. Preservationists weight scores heavily based on their impact to the local environment. Conservatives tend to be pretty liberal when applying risk ratings to events, and their numbers are inflated as a consequence. Meanwhile, the Jovians apply moral concepts into the mix. Yes, some Jovians, even ones in Firewall, consider a loss of family values to be a form of x-risk. The result is that members of different factions may consider other factions’ definition of success to be a form of x-risk that must be stopped. Firewall formally defines risk based on the quality of life for transhumans, but servers can each put their own spin on that (or add a totally different set of risk weightings). There have been discussions about forcing servers to stick to a single set of risk definitions, and the political theorists have said it wouldn’t be feasible—not only would it degrade the independence of servers, which is a critical part of Firewall’s robustness, it would alienate a lot of good members who feel their concerns aren’t being addressed. That sort of political divide could be the grounds for a schism. In order to maintain Firewall’s long-term survivability, sometimes resources go towards shutting down a drug design studio or stopping corporate malfeasance.
Sidebar: From the Catalogs
To: <Encrypted> From: <Encrypted> I was combing through the Firewall x-risk catalog and they’re comprehensive to the point of being ludicrous. It’s not just things like the spontaneous creation of a black hole that swallows up the sun, but also super-addictive XP, a new art movement causing cultural ennui, the rise of post-rapture Christian denominations that deny objective reality, and the increased market in erotic Factor media. For most of these, they’re only included to say just how far-fetched they are, but it still makes for a good read. I also noticed plenty of individuals have gotten Impact Level ratings, including more than a few Firewall agents. Looks like Firewall recognizes just how destructive some of our agents can get. Usually if you get that distinctive honor, you’re tucked away in a VR world where you can’t actually hurt anyone. Only the ultimates see being labeled a “threat to the universe” as some sort of a feather in their cap.
From our perspective, every Firewall mission is just playing the numbers game. But the folks out in the field are focused more on the nature of the mission. Whatever the x-risk in question, every mission fulfills at least one type of mitigation activity, be it prevention, detection, correction, or recovery.
Firewall prevention activities include gatecrashing missions, seizing exotech assets, destroying dangerous knowledge, and interfering with hostile individuals. This is all bread-and-butter for sentinels. But we also have registers and social engineers playing politics in factions to push favorable legislation or participate in diplomatic envoys to the Factors. We send agents and AIs to conduct safety audits on friendly habitats. We feed a lot of data to the argonauts as well, who have several high-visibility projects training people on exsurgent threats, infosec issues, and other x-risk areas.
Crows and scanners make up the bulk of our detection program. They dive through the media feeds and rumor mills for any signs of an x-threat begging for a dropkick. Our black labs and research cooperatives bring in critical data on what x-threats look like and how they behave. But we also pull on sentinels to conduct espionage and investigations, with everything from tracking dangerous artifacts to planting bugs on Progress. Just as important, we need sentinels to know trouble when they see it. A good number of our leads come from a sentinel running a totally unrelated job, or even on their off-time, who recognized the signs of a potential danger.
Sentinels represent almost our entire corrective action program. This is the bug-stomping, bomb-defusing, crook-grabbing, habitat-burning part of the job everyone loves. It’s when the swarm cat has gotten out of the bag and someone needs to stuff it, shrieking and clawing, back in. Risk mitigation doesn’t need to be handled by Firewall exclusively though. We are a kind and generous conspiracy, and we’re happy to let militaries and police get their taste of the action as well.
The last piece is recovery. For smaller x-risks, this means restoring downed agents from backup, destroying the evidence, and leaving the tidying to the local infrastructure. For larger x-threats, it’s rescuing survivors and bolstering safe habitats. And for system-wide events, we dust off those projects the backups have spent the past decade establishing.
Surviving an X-Risk
Posted by: Jan-43 Frau, Firewall Gatecrasher <Info Msg Rep>
Let’s assume for a second that doomsday is upon us. Despite all of our intentions to build resiliency and plan for the worst, an unstoppable extinction threat is imminent. How do we survive?
Transhumanity’s survival skills have leveled up since the Fall, but we still have a way to go. Everyone wants to live forever, but they don’t always understand that sometimes you have to die a little to get there. See that “43” appended to my name? Yeah. Sure, x-risks sound like a big deal, but with a little planning and a little pain, we can get through it. Take it from me. I am personally on the run from three separate security corporations including Gorgon, and yet I can guarantee I’ll still be badmouthing the Pope long after they’re all gone. How do I do that? I copy my ego to every open server and project I can find. And yes, that does mean a few of my forks are indentured servants or getting ego-swapped by Nine Lives. But what’s a few decades of hard labor compared to an eternity of life? Whether you are personally looking to survive the Fall 2.0, or just keeping an eye out for our species’ best interests, there are a few projects working to tuck away loads of egos safe and sound, waiting for this whole civilization thing to blow over. Now, first, let me just say that there are plenty of backup hypercorps out there that offer you guaranteed, survive-extinction-of-the-sun ego storage and protection. Those sorts of fly-by-night operations aren’t worth anything. Even the electrum executive-level services offered by Ectomorph are going to be worthless come the heavy Revelations-level shit. Why? Because they know neither you nor they are going to be around for a refund. This isn’t the case for everyone. The real bigwigs, the oligarchs, get the full treatment. They own everything inside of the Belt and they intend to outlive it too. They’re putting down billions to build underground cities, survival bunker habs, and private fortified exoplanet demesnes, and you’d better be damn sure they’re getting their money’s worth. These gerontocrats didn’t survive this long by putting all their files on one hard drive. If you’re looking for a good place to tuck a few foul-mouthed copies of your own ego, you could do worse than to follow the oligarchs around. I’ve seen an entire exomoon terraformed to support one rich white lady, her staff, and her toy dogs. There are tons of ego arks, both private and public, that just store libraries of egos and shoot them off to space or bury them underground. Firewall’s backup faction is all about this: look into Operations FORCED RETIREMENT and LONG SHOT . If you ask me, the likelihood of any of these arks surviving real calamity? Thousands-to-one. Plus for the ships, it’s decades before they even reach the Oort Cloud, so first you’re betting they just survive that long. They’re a great second line of defense for your backup insurance, but the ROI sucks for anything more serious. Not to say you shouldn’t, just look at other strategies first. While we’re discussing long-shots, there’s also vanitycasting: egocasting into the depths of space in the hope that aliens will pick up the transmission. This has even worse odds of success than the arks. There’s a billion-to-one chance of anything picking up your ego, and some level of data corruption is pretty much guaranteed. I would not recommend vanitycasting more than, say, four times. Past that, you’re just wasting your credits.
Running and Hiding
Stashing away backups is all well and good, but what about those of us who are still embodied? Assuming all of our plans to fight the threat (side note: read up on Case ASTURIAS BLACK FLAG and Case CLOSE CONTACT, among others, if you have the clearances) have failed, the transhumans still alive have the option of getting as far away from the threat as possible and being self-sufficient enough to survive. This is already the case for our exoplanet colonies. If the threat originates in the solar system, and they have ample warning, they can always try to separate themselves by closing off the gates. That’s a risk, however, as we don’t fully understand the gate mechanisms, and may not have full control. The gate can be destroyed with a big enough bomb, but that’s a temporary measure, as they rebuild themselves. There’s nothing stopping a colony from nuking that gate site every few months, just to be sure. The drawback to closing the gates off is that it’s cutting off a potential escape vector—both for people seeking refuge in the colony, or for the colony itself should trouble come to town. In a real crisis, the gates can be used to evacuate to as many exosites as possible. You could in theory open up a wormhole to three or four new locations every minute, leaving it open just long enough to push through a few transhumans with a load of survival gear before cycling on to the next one. If you’re more concerned about spreading transhuman survivors as far and wide as possible, you could choose unexplored locations rather than known sites. There’s a lot of risk here, of course. Exoplanets, even the nice ones, aren’t ideal places to homestead. No one knows the biosphere or has mapped out all of the threats. There’s no way to call for help if you need it. It might be possible for pockets of transhumanity to survive within the solar system, separate from the rest of transhumanity. When things fall apart, you’ll depend on being so far away and self-sufficient that the only interruption is the Friday evening vidcast line-up featuring a lot more burning and dying. Living in the outer rim is your best bet, and doesn’t get as much credit as it should. Even if the sun goes red giant, the outer rim won’t suffer any major effects. It still has the benefit of distance, but line-of-sight means you can get quality entertainment programming, you know what’s happening in the solar system, and most of all, you know the environment you’re in. There’s plenty of brinker wackos living out in the deep dark who are going to outlast Mars. I should know; I’m a few of them. The issue with the outer rim is usually one of resources. Power generation means you still use fuel, and limited mass means new construction is pretty much impossible. Sure, if it all goes bad, you’re still safe and sound, but living on an island as the ship sinks doesn’t make you any less stranded. A good survival bunker will have a plan for after the system has been burnt to its foundations, even if that plan just involves a few probes with makers that’ll reach the next habitat in a decade. There is also the possibility of hiding out in the inner system. The fact is, when the Consortium finally achieves its goal of becoming a totalitarian oligarchy, the sufis on Mars will probably still be getting along just fine. Even on Earth there are stories about people surviving in the London underground or in old military bunkers. If they can spit in the eye of the TITANs like that, surviving something as minor as a nanoplague or exsurgent outbreak is a walk in the park. The key is preparation. Stock up during the fat times, learn self-sufficiency, and learn to keep a damn secret. I can’t say it’s easy, but I know for a fact it can be done. During an x-risk scenario, we’d see plenty of people trying to escape the solar system by ship. Almost none of them are prepared for the massive distances involved, and would end up as cold, floating husks lost in interstellar space. For those lucky and prepared enough, they still need to contend with technologically advanced pursuers and super-massive weapons, not to mention that we have little idea of what waits for them at their destination.
To really maximize our chances of survival, we have to look at options beyond fighting, running, or hiding. The first option here is to repopulate and rebuild after the x-risk has passed. If you haven’t heard of Operation KUDZU, you need to. Firewall’s backups have been seeding exoplanets with nanohive and ego caches designed to activate 10,000 years down the line. I can’t tell you how many favors I had to spend to get my ego in their system, but now I can sleep at night. The Planetary Consortium has the Ozymandias program, which is pretty similar. Little probes are sent to exoplanets and start digging out self-sufficient facilities immediately. If they don’t get a regular heartbeat signal, they start the clock and about fifty years later all their egos are hatched out of cold storage. I’ve been doing my digging and I’m pretty sure Ozma has a hand in that. I don’t know if it’s for current goals or future ones, but either way, it means I need to work a little harder to get my ego copied over unnoticed. Both Ozymandias and KUDZU are considered top secret, but I’m pretty much ready for Jan-44 anyway. Intelligence services, if you want to gak me for spilling secrets, come and get me! The Jovians boast of their own survival vault, but don’t imagine it’s at all similar. The Jovian program doesn’t include anything that might be vulnerable to exsurgent or TITAN attack. No egos, no sensitive data, no complex electronics. It’s more of a cultural vault, a collection of historical documents and religious items. Imagine the old time capsules you did in the crèche, except big enough for an entire faction. Plenty of factions have smaller projects like this, socking away a collection of egos and a maker on a desolate rock to blossom once some set of conditions are met. In my opinion, any program that’s set up well enough to jumpstart civilization is worth your investment. The downside is, it’s expensive and hard to get into. With these programs, whatever it is that’s going to wipe out everything will likely have run through its course by the time you’re woken up, or you’re so far out there you’re not worth going after. Delete the gate coordinates behind you to keep it that way. At that point you start over as Adam and Eve, and your highest priority is boning transhumanity back into existence.
Separating yourself from danger with distance and time is really ideal, but the risk of that start-up failing is significant. Which leaves us with one final option in the face of the apocalypse: adapt or die. Depending on the particular x-risk, this may not be an option. Even if it is, let’s be blunt: it may mean an x-risk that destroys all biological life, in which case transhumanity has a glorious post-biological future awaiting it. Now, being a synthmorph isn’t so bad, and living out eternity in virtual realities of our own devising could be fun, if you’re into that sort of thing. We should also consider the possibility of evolving our species to something that is no longer categorically transhuman. Now, the exhumans have a bad name, and for good reason, but let’s be honest, they have an advantage on us here. These are the people who have put survival over “people.” They have specifically transformed themselves in ways that make them more prepared for many situations in ways that we are simply not. Now, they took lots of risks to get there, and they may have discarded their sanity and humanity in the process, but there may be some lessons we can learn. I’m not recommending that you go out and join an exhuman cell (I’ve tried it and I really don’t recommend it), or even that we open up communication channels with them. Firewall categorizes exhumans as an existing x-risk for solid reasons. You may not be willing to sell your soul in exchange for surviving the apocalypse, but the Firewall and ultimate task forces studying exhumans are constantly shaking out new technologies that we should co-opt into our own survival toolboxes.
What will the day after the apocalypse look like? Most of us aren’t able to buy our own habitats out in the boonies. That means, when the big one comes, most of us will be dead (or subjugated or whatever) pretty much right away. For the survivors, a lot depends on how prepared they are. We depend on civilization for a lot. Not just power and XPs, but news on space weather, protection from exhumans or Factor takeover, exsurgent virus containment, software patches on our life support systems, not to mention a justice system and defense treaties. If our society collapses, a third to a half of the survivors are likely going to die within the first two years, most of them permanently. When a habitat shuts down, killing everyone on board, there’s no one left to repair it or to rescue those egos. People imagine those self-sufficient habitats way out on the rim are safe, but most of those don’t last for more than a few years, even today. This number is lower than it would have been pre-Fall. The fact is, we’ve learned our lessons. Our critical systems have backups, smart AIs, and simplified controls. After the initial die-offs, people will pretty much be stable. Small habitats will be limited by their available resources. They can’t hope for serious technological development and can’t manage new construction. They’re ships in bottles. Most will die off sooner or later. Some might decide to use that time as best as they are able with time acceleration. Others may go into hibernation, hoping for something better in the future. A few risk-tolerant ones will go mobile, flying out to other habitats or planets to scavenge for what they need. Habitats on exoplanets, or survivors on the inner planets, will have an opportunity for explosive growth. Most of these will fail; a lot of them will fail horribly. Five thousand inexperienced souls on an alien planet with no support are fighting long odds. Worse, they’d know whatever it was that took out home is still able to come after them. Even on an exoplanet, the gates are not our tools, and will always be a threat. Survivors will need to dedicate as much attention to preparing for an unknown threat as they do for mastering their new homeworld. A few decades after, the first seed arks will open. Dating an ark opening is a difficult business. Open too early and you’re liable to get eaten up by the same threat that just took out Mars. Open too late and you’re coming out into a galaxy that’s been conquered by posthumans a thousand years ago and now you are at their mercy. The arks are total gambles, but the best case is a quiet exoplanet with all the resources you need to set a homestead and no idea what destroyed transhumanity. During corruption or stagnation events, we’d likely see what remains of transhumanity changing and spreading still. We’d see new morphs and new adaptations. Possibly we’d see individuals escape from a hostile home culture. Almost certainly we’ll see them try to collect “lost” colonies. A TITAN infection could also begin chasing down and destroying transhuman habitats. Those habitats that were seeking to establish a new civilization would likely be the first to go, with only smaller, quieter enclaves escaping notice. After several centuries, the first seed ships will reach their destinations around other stars. If they do survive the journey, seed ships are probably the safest bet for transhumanity’s survival. Too far to reach by normal means, inaccessible via gates, they might, finally, be safe.
Sidebar: Event Analysis: Fall of Earth
Date: August 2 BF to February 0 AF Categorization (Manifested Events): Extinction–2/Stagnation–4 Categorization (Potential Events): Extinction–4/Corruption–4 Primary Threat Type: TITAN Invasion Event Description: The TITAN invasion and resulting fall of Earth is broadly broken into three phases:
- TITANs ascend to seed AI status, gather data on transhumanity, begin subverting systems across the globe, and begin manufacturing their own weapons and resources in secret. During this period, no damage is caused and there are few or no detectable events.
TITANs initiate false-flag attacks, escalating confrontations between political entities. Armed conflict between nation-states and hypercorps spikes. This included the resurgence of conflicts between actors previously undergoing a phase of temporary peace, the creation of new conflicts between actors with no record of such, and the transition of super-power confrontations from cold war to hot war tactics. It is difficult to pinpoint the amount of TITAN manipulation and interference in world events, but statistical analysis suggests up to 85% of armed conflicts were directly or indirectly caused by TITAN machinations.
Loss of life and destruction of property during this phase is high. Within a few months, civilian and military forces suffered casualties in the hundreds of thousands, especially in contested locations. Financial costs for funding combat operations are estimated in the hundreds of billions, with the destruction of infrastructure in the trillions.
- Direct TITAN assault. The previous months of conflicts served as a distraction, a degradation of military and manufacturing capabilities, and a source of political instability. However, the overall loss of life was relatively low. During the direct assault phase, TITAN war machines, nanoplagues, and exsurgent viruses are directly responsible for approximately 3.9 billion fatalities, human armed response for .8 billion, environmental and other pressures for 1.9 billion. 1.7 billion are unaccounted for and believed to have been alive at the time of the interdiction of Earth, with many assimilated under TITAN control. A series of coordinated strikes by the TITANs effectively decapitates the leadership of most major governments and corporations, leaving many powerful entities in disarray.
Most destruction of infrastructure is caused by the human forces, in attempts to delay or destroy TITAN targets. TITAN forces seize and repurpose human infrastructure. The value of the lost property is estimated at approximately nine hundred trillion credits, and lost access to Earth is valued at four hundred quintillion credits. These estimates are difficult to quantify. Review: Post-Fall Financial Market Analysis, Progress Bank.
- Accounting for fatalities post-Fall is difficult. Several large databases of egos were lost, each likely containing tens or hundreds of thousands of egos. Nearly 100,000 individuals died in the first six months from exsurgent infection, TITAN relics, political conflicts, criminal acts, and failure of infrastructure and could not be recovered from backup. Using pre-Fall financial values, the damage is estimated to be approximately 224 billion credits.
The Fall is the worst recorded calamity ever to befall transhumanity. Its effectiveness was largely due to the lack of precedent. However, there were a number of factors whose presence greatly increased the destructiveness of the Fall and reduced the effectiveness of remedial activities. Lack of transparency, primarily at the government/hypercorp level. The TITANs were created as part of a secret government defense program operated by the United States. Its existence was classified as Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI). With few exceptions, even the individuals cleared to work on the TITAN project were limited in their access to the point that they were unable to see their part in the greater whole and identify possible vulnerabilities. The TITAN inhibition controls were never subject to peer review. When the TITAN AIs reached hard takeoff, there was no effective monitoring in place to track and respond to the rapid development. It is unclear if such monitoring could have been effective against a superintelligence, but the opportunity was not there to begin with. Once the TITANs began attacks, the US government was wholly unaware of the TITANs’ involvement. The responsibility does not fall wholly on the United States government. The People’s Republic of China and Russian Federation had similar programs, although they were still in development at the time of the Fall. Lack of transparency between political actors also protected the TITANs’ activity even once they began interfering with world affairs. Political conflicts were blamed on old enemies and competition. Diplomatic ties failed to uncover the external influences of the TITANs. As a consequence, nations and corporations scaled up to full armed conflict grounded on false premises. It is unlikely humanity’s forces could have successfully defeated the TITANs. However, the fifteen months of heightened conflict prior weakened military forces and infrastructure, and resulted in deep distrust that would hinder later recovery attempts. Some organizations and individuals directly created or were co-opted into misinformation campaigns. There is a wide variety of motives for this, but the results were clear. Social and traditional media campaigns caused strikes, civil unrest, and targeted killings during the early phases, then denial of the TITANs’ existence or their combat effectiveness, violation of quarantine measures, and violence in the later periods. The result of this misinformation was greater chaos, lack of trust in authorities, and an undermining of safety and quarantine protocols. Fragile, complex systems collapsed. Selective attacks on systempunkts (vulnerable nodes in physical or social networks) created widespread failures in critical infrastructure. False-flag attacks leveraging prejudice and weak diplomatic ties kicked off armed conflict. Attacks on communication and power hubs shut down nations, including their ability to farcast civilians to safety. The disappearance of a few critical personnel shut down spaceports, hospitals, and rescue crews. Loss of communications with executives left government services ready to mobilize but unable to move without receiving orders. The temporary shutdown of currency markets suspended international cooperative actions. A large number of fatalities were wholly accidental, resulting from complex habitat and ship equipment built on the assumption of skilled professionals and specialized equipment being available to provide maintenance. The most successful organizations were those that were self-reliant and independent enough to adapt to the local situation and operate without infrastructure support. Ships and habitats with redundant systems and cross-training had much higher survival rates than those without. Factional competition stymied political cooperation. Even once the evacuation of Earth was in full effect, conflict between and within factions continued. The Seventeen-Minute War around Jupiter undermined Chinese refugee actions, attacks on ships in near-earth orbit also greatly limited ship traffic. Worse, many organizations used available cargo space for items of personal financial value over refugees or cargo of global value. Factional competition was greatly increased by environmental pressures at the time. Global climate change had undermined nations and shifted the power dynamics of the planet. Most notably, extreme weather events had effectively caused several previously wealthy nations to collapse, becoming hollow-states operated as shells for corporations. When the TITAN attacks began, nations were no longer able to provide for their citizens directly and when the corporations realized the direct threat to their profit margin, they would attempt ineffective stopgap measures or withdraw support entirely. Nations were also unable to rely on regional support networks, which had already been stressed by decades of resource competition. Individuals who lived in environmentally stressed locations frequently lacked the material resources to support local spaceports or farcasting facilities, and so their opportunities to escape Earth were greatly limited. Transhuman populations were primarily limited to Earth. Almost the entirety of the transhuman population was on Earth. While TITAN attacks did occur outside of Earth, they were far fewer, and far less effective, than those on Earth. Off-planet habitats suffered relatively low casualty rates, were better able to adapt to changes in circumstances, and were more difficult to attack. With the fall of Earth, dozens of cultural groups and several uplifted species disappeared altogether, as they had no representation off-planet. There were several black swan events. Several events that could not have been reasonably predicted occurred in rapid succession. The primary factor was exsurgent viruses. These defied medical technology and ravaged billions of individuals. The viral outbreaks alone, without the interference of the TITANs, were an existential threat with the potential to destroy all transhuman life. The rise of the TITANs forced transhumans to a war footing, and to eventually evacuate and quarantine the planet. These limited the spread of exsurgent viruses, however it is not clear how deadly they would have been if transhumanity had maintained a presence on Earth. The abrupt disappearance of the TITANs is also a black swan event. It is not clear why the TITANs disappeared or went dormant, and so it is impossible to speculate whether their disappearance is favorable or not to the survival of transhumanity. The rise of the TITANs themselves is not considered a black swan event. Seed AIs had been predicted prior, and plans to contain that threat had been formulated. It was specifically the failure to properly apply those controls that permitted the TITANs to reach the state they had.
Posted by: Jarvis Tryscuz, Firewall Sentinel <Info Msg Rep> How do you deal with the impossible? What does impossible mean anymore? If you asked me a week before the Fall if the TITANs could have destroyed our home and largest population center, scattering transhumanity across the solar system, I would have scoffed. Impossible. So keep that in mind reviewing this summary of potential x-risks. Since the Fall, I’ve made my rep by anticipating the impossible—and how to deal with it. Here’s the good news: the single-largest safeguard against a catastrophic threat is already in place. Transhumanity’s spread across the solar system and onto our exoplanet settlements means we’re much harder to impact than the concentrated destruction of Earth in the Fall. Here’s the bad news: our ability to react quickly to any threat is greatly diminished. Still, the biggest single threats are naturally to population centers: Mars, Luna, Titan, and some of the larger habitats. And there are ways to take out transhumanity in a single swipe. Hell, there are probably ways that haven’t yet infiltrated my worst, most paranoid nightmares. This isn’t the realm of individual or small-group survival. I leave that to brinker masturbatory survivalist fantasies and cheap XP. This is the big leagues— anticipating destruction on a massive, transhuman scale and how to deal with it. And if possible, preventing it.
Categorization: Extinction–5/Corruption–5 Reference: Case CLOSE CONTACT, Operation VINEGAR, Operation LONE WOLVES Ever met a Factor? I have. Twice. Apart from the smell, the first thing you notice is that they’re wrong. Not because Factors are just giant bags of pus and primordial scum, but because they don’t work like anything our minds have evolved to comprehend. Even in a time when one of my best friends is an uplifted octopus, there’s something so different about the Factors that it’s hard to wrap your head around. They’re intelligent—they communicate—but evolution on their world (or worlds) clearly took a different tack. And this is the challenge with dealing with any alien species. They think differently, at different speeds. Their motivations are strange. Their biological imperatives are different from ours. Their culture, religious beliefs, and morality are opaque to us. What they value and we value will not be the same, and even attempting to communicate with them is likely to be dangerous. Already we have faced problems negotiating with the Factors. There have been several “diplomatic incidents.” We will face similar challenges upon meeting other aliens. They may view us as prey, or as tasty hosts for their parasitic children to feed on. Our very existence may challenge their deeply ingrained ideological beliefs. A refusal to engage in sexual conduct with them may be viewed as an insult. A single error in protocol could spark a war. We train first-contact specialists for these situations, but we cannot anticipate when or how such contact will occur. How many gatecrashing teams are fully prepared enough to avoid starting an interstellar conflict? What if we encounter a civilization that engages in practices we find morally repugnant, such as slavery or eating their children? What if we start the war before we know what we are getting into? So far, aside from the Factors, the only alien cultures we have encountered are long dead. From what the Factors have told us, there are other species out there with technologies far greater than theirs, or our own. Even if they’re lying or deceiving us, something built the Pandora gates. And that something —or another something—may have destroyed some of those other extraterrestrial civilizations. So meeting another alien species that is more powerful and more hostile may simply be a question of time.
Invading Alien Armadas
The first scenario to consider is that of an alien invasion of the solar system. We’ve seen the Factor’s ships and have some evidence of other alien ship activities, though we have learned little. What happens when hundreds or thousands of them appear on our doorstep? Between the Republic, Consortium, and Alliance fleets, if transhumanity stands together it could potentially defend against such an incursion—a very large if, given our squabbling history. This assumes the invaders could even be damaged by conventional means or didn’t have superior drives or weaponry far more devastating than ours. It’s safe to assume that any species capable of near-light-speed travel or constructing a transport system like the gates will outclass us on the technological front. Our solar system is quite spread out, so coordinating an effective, unified defense against a superior enemy seems challenging at best. While negotiation or even surrender is always an option, we must consider that we may not even be facing an intelligent or biological enemy. It is theoretically possible for a hostile civilization to saturate the galaxy with self-replicating Von Neumann probes, programmed to seek out and destroy all life they encounter. Our only options may be to fight, hide, or run. Firewall’s Case CLOSE CONTACT is devoted to analyzing threats of this nature and developing contingencies. We know the Consortium, Republic, Titanian Commonwealth, and ultimates have their own plans, though most of these focus on defending their own assets and habitats. The Jovians are rumored to keep a war fleet hidden away on the rim of the system, and the Titanians have established sensor stations, telescopes, and other arrays specifically to monitor for approaching threats. And, of course, everyone is keeping a close eye on the Factors, doing what they can to analyze their ships’ capabilities. Don’t be surprised if many of them also have secret anti-Factor weapons programs hidden away in innocuous locales.
Attack on an Exoplanet Colony
An encounter with a hostile alien species on some far-flung planet or moon may be more likely than in our own system. Exoplanet attacks are a far different ball game than a home war. I’d love to say that evacuation protocols are the first order of business, but I didn’t get into this line of work so I could be nominated for sainthood. Here’s the official Firewall field manual for an alien attack on an exocolony:
- Secure the local Pandora gate.
- Collect specimens, biological or mechanical.
- Destroy any and all possible information about transhumanity.
- Evacuate if possible.
- Destroy local gate, if needed.
Since simulations show that the survival rate for such a mission is minuscule, I recommend sending combat-conditioned forks of our top sentinels through the gate in the best morphs we can buy or steal. Unless a miracle happens, it’s going to be a one-way trip.
The Pandora gates go out, but they also lead in. Do you construct a house with a few thousand extra doors and not expect someone to wander in eventually? Now, each entity that controls a gate within the solar system has considered this carefully, and it’s fair to say that they are set to lock out unwanted wormhole connections, are fully surrounded by automated defenses, troops, and sentry spacecraft, and equipped with fail-safe mechanisms that would destroy the gate in the case some Bug-Eyed Monsters come through, overwhelm said defenses, and demand to see our leaders. However, these protections have yet to be tested, and we have no idea what capabilities an invading force might bring to bear. For all we know, they might force a gate open, come through undetected, neutralize our defenses with advanced technology, and otherwise walk all over us. We can only hope that the technology and contingencies we have work as planned. Now, most extrasolar gates, with the exception of a few of the larger colonies, do not have these sorts of precautions. At best they may have the gate locked and some automated sentry and warning systems in place.
Categorization: Extinction–5/Corruption–5 Reference: Case ASTURIAS BLACK FLAG, Operation ERRANT ECCENTRIC, Operation GHOST RADIO Let us not forget: transhumanity created the TITANs. In theory, we have the capability to engineer another artificial superintelligence. So far, it’s only fear of a second Fall that keeps transhumanity from taking this step. How long will that last? How long until some young ego who never knew a pre-Fall system wonders why us old timers refuse to mess with ASIs and creates something new? Firewall has eyes and ears everywhere tracking potential ASI developments, and of course we are not the only ones. Supercomputing clusters, massive movements of data, and new research are all heavily monitored. Existing powerful AI systems are also watched for signs of expansion. The concern, of course, is that an existing ASI would be able to outsmart any efforts to detect its existence. This makes it even more important for us to find and stifle any potential ASI projects in their infancy, as once realized, they will likely cover their tracks too well. They may, in fact, already be among us. Seed AIs pose an even thornier problem. Without fully understanding the mechanisms for how an AGI or non-sapient AI could undergo a hard takeoff and rapidly, exponentially increase its intelligence, we are somewhat limited in ways to detect and prevent this from happening. In truth, we do not know how to cope with the ASI threats that we know we have: the TITANs. The common understanding is that they have departed through the gates, but this is an assumption. They might be dormant, waiting for something, or simply so subtle that we can no longer identify their presence. There are lingering signs of TITAN activity in our system, and the servers behind Operation STORM DRAGON are convinced they are close on the trail of one, though other proxies remain dubious. Even if the TITANs are long gone, there is the possibility they might return. Thus the importance of Operation GHOST RADIO, which seeks to track them down. The end point of this cat-and-mouse game may very well be outright destruction for one side or the other. Even an ASI that is not actively hostile may not have transhumanity’s best interests in its digital heart; it could be a threat simply by not caring and endangering us with its activities. What recourse would we have if such an ASI decided to stellify Jupiter or dismantle the inner planets to build a Dyson swarm around the sun? An ASI that considers transhumanity’s best interest could decide that we are better off all uploaded to live in a simulation or transcending to a postbiological future, and force us in that direction, regardless of our personal opinions on the matter. On the positive side, due to the Fall, the threat of ASIs is the one x-risk that all of the transhuman factions can agree on, and perhaps the only one that might unite us in the fight against it. It is likely that each of the polities would share any early warnings it had of such a danger, and military aid from others could very well be rapid and forthcoming, as it is generally understood that such a threat needs to be neutralized quickly and decisively, before it wipes us all out … again.
Categorization: Extinction–2 The amount of delta-v required to change an asteroid’s orbit was considered unachievable a scant 50 years ago. Now, we slam them into Mars on a regular basis as terraforming projects, and if the rumblings are to be believed, there’s even talk of attempting the same on Ganymede and Venus. Given that scale of development, in another 50 years we might be able to toss Ceres or Pluto. Give us another 50, and we wouldn’t need to hurl rocks at Ganymede; we could just move the whole damn moon. The terraforming projects on Mars have provided us with something we don’t have for most of these other threats: meaningful data on how much thrust is required and how much energy is released when an asteroid hits a planet. Guess what: it’s the perfect weapon, especially for some fringe group that wants to cause destruction on an enormous scale. The stabilization of Phobos could have gone very differently. In fact, Phobos is still the most likely object to be weaponized: a few well-placed explosions and the moonlet de-orbits. The trick, of course, is planning where you want your big rock to hit. With an AI at the helm, the corrections it would take to aim for a major population center would be a cinch. Any dome is a target. Hell, any habitat or remote science station is a potential target. The upside is that flinging rocks at planets is slow business. We’re talking a matter of months if not years, and the major planets and habitats have defenses and telescope networks to detect incoming unknown impact objects; weaponized asteroids are even easier. The same thrust it takes to fire an asteroid at New Shanghai can be used to turn it into another terraforming rock—or to fire it out of the system’s elliptical once and for all. The nightmare scenario is that someone finds a way to move a larger object—dwarf-planet sized, like Ceres or some icy shithole from the Kuiper Belt. This is less likely, but not impossible. Our early-warning system should detect such an object soon enough, but changing its path may require a larger-scale operation than boarding a makeshift habitat and taking out a few terrorists. We’re talking ion propulsion, possible mass driver engines, and more than a few well-placed nukes. Note that, despite what you’ve seen in your favorite hacked XP, blowing up an asteroid on an impact course just turns it into a lot of much smaller asteroids, which will still cause just as much damage when there’s no atmosphere to absorb and destroy them.
Sidebar: Pebble Strike
To: <Encrypted> From: <Encrypted> Remember that asteroid strike that took out the [REDACTED] cylinder last year—or, rather, the asteroid strike that wasn’t? It had all of the hallmarks of an asteroid impact, but there was nothing on the collision and proximity defense scans until right before the impact—essentially it was spotted too late to stop it. We tried to figure out how they stealthed the rock’s approach, to no avail. Well, we have a new theory. What if there was no asteroid, per se? What if, instead, there was a mass of small rocks, each small enough to pass below the scanner’s detection thresholds? What if these pebbles all came together at the same time, from a thousand different trajectories, coalescing too late for the defense systems to activate? It would take quite a bit of sophisticated processing to map out the pebble trajectories so perfectly and to time their launch from all around the solar system, but it would be a near-undetectable way to simulate an asteroid strike. If our suspicions are correct, someone’s already figured this out, and [REDACTED] may just have been their test run
Reference: Case VAPOR DREAD The biological nanoviruses unleashed by the TITANs during the Fall, sweeping through populations like an insidious tide, will never be forgotten. It’s an ugly truth, however, that many of the bioweapons deployed during the Fall were of our own devising: humans killing other humans. Many of these threats still linger, dormant or locked away. Just last month, some nimrod scrapper retrieved a cache of canisters from a hypercorp lab hidden on some habitat wrecked during the Fall, thinking they could get a good price for a bunch of pre-Fall bioweapons. Here’s a recommendation, sentinels: if you’re toting a bunch of bioweaponry around, make sure someone doesn’t lift it off you when you’re passed out drunk, open it, and infect half your habitat before you sober up long enough to shit half your organs out. Back during the Fall, the argonauts developed protocols to detect and contain the various strains of the exsurgent virus. These same protocols have since been expanded to counter the spread of other dangerous biological agents and are followed in most major habitats. Due to genefixing, basic biomods, and medichines, many morphs are resistant to pathogens that decades ago were serious threats; the danger is often passed before people realize they were at risk.But biotechnology has also advanced to the point where almost anyone with a bit of knowledge can brew up something new in their own kitchen, and nanofab designs for nasty bugs can be found in the dark corners of the mesh if you know where to look. This all assumes that no one cooks up an agent that our medical technology and detection protocols aren’t prepared to deal with or decides to monkey around with the exsurgent virus itself. The truth is, outbreaks are still an occasional thing. Luckily, transhumanity has lots of experience containing them, and habitats tend to be isolated by their nature. It’s easy to lock down a sealed box, and synthmorphs and robots can be used to quarantine the sick. If medical care isn’t an option, make sure they’re backed up. In extreme cases, it’s sometimes more humanitarian to euthanize and resleeve. In worst-case scenarios, you have people that resist the quarantine, leading to riots and deaths, or you get a fast-acting pathogen that racks up a body count before countermeasures can be applied. Thankfully, most people have stacks, and they can be recovered, but it still might be messy. In bioconservative areas like the Jovian Republic, it’s a different story. With their strictures against genemods, medical nanotech, and resleeving, a disease could ravage one of their habitats before anyone could get help in—assuming they’re willing to accept it. If they aren’t, Firewall has ways. We locked down a bubble habitat on Europa in hours when some bioconservative terrorist thought he’d end their “godless research.” The challenge with biological agents is that distributing diseases is easy and damn near untraceable. Simply smuggle a package into the settlement or grab the plans from the mesh and manufacture them with an unrestricted fabber. Methods of delivery can be as creative as the terrorist spreading the illness: time-release containers, an infected morph, a piece of chewing gum, or some extra code nestled into the fabrication pattern for the latest Martian fashion. Now let’s talk about alien diseases. If we keep trampling all over the god-damned galaxy, eventually we’re going to find something nasty. Gatecrashers go through a quarantine process whenever they come back through, but eventually something will get past our defenses and instigate a pandemic. It could lie dormant for years. Hell, it could have infected half of transhumanity by now and we might not even know it. That kind of large-scale outbreak could devastate transhumanity, and it would be a masterstroke by an alien species that wanted a good way to access our resources without having to deal with a bunch of pesky transhumans fighting them off. Same protocols apply in that kind of outbreak, sentinels. Lockdown. Contain. Quarantine. Clean. And pray.
Gamma Ray Burst
Categorization: Extinction–4 Transhumanity’s home system is theoretically safe from a supernova. Before the Fall, scientists identified evidence of past supernovae from iron isotopes in rock strata and nitrates in ancient ice. Data from pre-Fall Earth and excavations across the system confirm known supernova from historical records and prehistoric events. To cause an extinction event, a star would have to be within 20 and 30 light years of our system. Only one supernova was close enough to Earth to possibly cause an extinction event: the Ordovician, which ended 60% of all life on the planet, from single-celled organisms to most early animal and plant species. None of the stars within 20 light years of Earth have enough mass and instability to go supernova anytime soon. The closest candidate is IK Pegasi, 150 light years away, which is going to give us a nice suntan and extend our growing seasons, but not widescale destruction. What about a supernova caused by unnatural means? It’s hardly an effective short-term weapon, but causing a star to go supernova near a developing civilization would be an excellent way to put an end to them altogether, or at least blast the survivors back to the stone age. You’d still have to be close—20 light years or so. There are about 10 stars in that distance you could turn into a supernova; the rest are simply too small. If a gamma ray burst event occurred, the danger comes from sustained exposure, and we’d know right away. For perspective, a supernova 20,000 light years away in 1604 was the brightest star in the night sky, and visible during the day for three weeks. If one occurred 20 light years away, there wouldn’t be nighttime for weeks if not months. The radiation shielding on most of our habitats and domes will keep transhumanity safe, and can be quickly reinforced to deal with the worst of it. Bathing Earth in gamma rays wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen; fuck, it might even shut down some of the killing machines still roaming around down there. Those who can go underground should, and those who can’t should hide under the thickest radiation shield they can find, then ride it out. And then we find who tried to wipe us out and see if we can return the favor.
Categorization: Extinction–5/Corruption–5 Reference: Operation EYE MIND What happens when transhuman intelligence is elevated to god-like levels? We have already achieved great strides with intelligence enhancement; achieving apotheosis with brain augmentations or exocortices may not be far behind. While this has potential great benefits for our society, if handled ethically and accessible to all, it has the potential for great destruction should this intelligence be abused or fall into the wrong hands. Much like the ASI threat, the risk of intelligence amplification (IA) is likely inevitable. The question is how to prepare for it, how to lay the groundwork for the most beneficial outcome. Labs all over the system are working at making transhumans smarter—how many are also concerned about making us safer?
A subset of the IA risk is the danger of ego collectivization and hive minds. We have already seen much in this vein with the neo-synergists, fork families and choruses, and various experimental brinker colonies, all voluntary (for the most part). The goal of these projects is enhanced intelligence and capability, with the same inherent dangers as IA. What happens, however, when such minds draw in others against their will? This is especially frightening in the context of a hive mind, which would strip away our individual autonomy and consciousness, assimilating us into a larger entity. There are some who look forward to group mind futures, and they are welcome to them. Those of us who prefer our individuality and freedom will lead the struggle to retain the essence of ourselves.
Categorization: Extinction–2/Regression–4 Reference: Case OZYMANDIAS Let’s take a deeper look at one of the ways an alien invasion force, an ASI, or even some rogue transhuman element could, to put it mildly, fuck us all. What if some entity decides to disassemble a planet or moon? Perhaps this a straight-up attack, or perhaps the intent is to use the raw material for some massive construction project, like a Dyson sphere, a massive starship, or even an armada of smaller ships. Consider a locust-like species that simply moves from system to system every few thousand years, repairing their generation ships (or constructing new ones) with metals and turning a system’s volatiles into fuel. Or consider an ASI that wishes to transform the solar system into a ring of computronium, to maximize its computing power. Annihilating a celestial body will have a larger impact than just killing everyone on it. It would create an enormous debris patch that will make space travel far more difficult, potentially creating impact problems for other nearby planets and moons. The demolition of a large object will also have a knock-on disruptive effect on gravity and orbital dynamics throughout the system. Planets and orbiting bodies can pull and drag on each other across enormous distances, and many orbits are subject to resonances. The whole setup is far more fragile than it appears, meaning a large disruption could send it into chaos, destabilizing orbits, pushing two bodies too closely together, or even ejecting them from the solar system entirely. Even a project with good intentions can go awry. What if, down the line, the Consortium attempts to move Mars closer to the sun to warm it up, or the Jovians figure out a way to stellify Jupiter, transforming it into a star, in order to terraform the Jovian moons? What happens when mistakes are made? Unforeseen consequences or out-of-control cascading effects could spell disaster. Realistically, mega-engineering projects of this size require an immense amount of power and technological sophistication. Time is on our side: a project of this scale could not happen overnight. A threat of this scale is also likely something we would detect far in advance. Fleets of self-replicating harvesters are something we could potentially fight. However, some kind of controlled singularity weapon designed to collapse a planetary body and turn it to dust or gas might be difficult for us to stop. Dropping a microscopic black hole in the Earth’s core, for example, would destabilize the planet in a matter of months and turn it into a debris field that could spread halfway around the sun. That means we’d have time to either fight back and interdict the threat—or form a decent evacuation plan. We’ve evacuated a planet before, although at great cost.
Nanoplagues and Nanotechnology
Categorization: Extinction–5/Regression–5 Reference: Case IRON WIND Ask anyone who’s been back to Earth or in the TQZ about the single worst thing they could encounter and I’d wager many of them talk about the nanoswarms. The TITANs didn’t invent nanoscopic robots, but they certainly honed them to a razor edge far beyond what transhumanity dreamed. Self-replicating nanoswarms are the perfect way to disrupt both morph and ego. They’re harder than hell to eliminate, they can enter an area undetected, and their programming can be updated. Their adaptive nature makes them potent adversaries. ASIs may be artificial life at the apex of evolution, but well-constructed nanoswarms are artificial cockroaches. Give the universe another 50 billion years, the system nothing more than a bunch of cold debris in an empty wasteland, and I guarantee somewhere there will still be a nanoswarm kicking around. The numerous nanoplagues unleashed by the TITANs during the Fall used both biological and synthetic nanobots. The former spread like other biological pandemics, passed from person to person. The latter, however, spread of their own accord, almost undetectably, sometimes attacking their target from the outside, sometimes penetrating their bodies and invading from within. Nanodetection systems now guard most habitats, monitoring their airlocks and ventilation systems, but these protections are not everywhere, and the nanoplague threats themselves are evolving—either on their own or with helpful hands. While TITAN nanoplagues were designed to target most populations uniformly, more insidious nano threats can be programmed for selective targeting: specific morph types, implants, sexes, genotypes, or even individuals. They have been used for assassinations, surgical strikes against rival factions, and discriminatory acts of terror. Creating a nanoplague isn’t difficult for someone with the right skills and gear, and blueprints can be found in certain darknet servers. Distribution isn’t usually a problem, all that is needed are the blueprints and an unrestricted fabber and we have an invisible nightmare to extinguish. And then there’s the possibility of the unintentional mutation or development of killer nanotech. Some of the Consortium terraforming goo on Mars and various exoplanets could quickly make the jump from converting gases and rocks to devouring morphs and structures. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened on Venus already with a little nudge from a Consortium operative in the direction of some Morningstar aerostat. The best defense to these nanoplagues and nanoswarms remains the same: detection systems, containment protocols, monitoring of nanotech research, and tracking of criminal trafficking. Keep your nanodetector on, your nanophages and medichines up to date, and guardian nanoswarms on hand at all times. If you’re up against a TITAN nanoswarm—or Darwin forbid, an alien equivalent—remember that it can drill, pick, or destroy its way through any normal isolation or protective measure. What contains the exsurgent virus or standard nanoplague will not be enough for an adaptive nanoweapon. I do not envy the team facing a threat of this nature; save your egos before you go, because it will get ugly.
Sidebar: BOLO: Dr. Killian Joose
General Alert Broadcast To: All Servers From: Akira Server Our server has been tracking researchers involved with the University of New Shanghai’s program on nanoswarms and nanoplagues, an extension of its studies of the TQZ. Ostensibly this program is to help protect transhumanity from these threats by developing containment strategies, warning implants, and inoculations. We have determined that one researcher, Dr. Killian Joose, has an unusual egocasting pattern, most recently including [REDACTED], a suspect station in the Kuiper Belt. We have since discovered that Joose is an active member of the Jovian Dawn resistance movement with extremist politics. We now classify him and his research as a threat, and suspect his cell may be plotting a nanotech-based terrorist strike in the near future. His current whereabouts are unknown.
Sidebar: Hypercapitalism As X-Risk
Posted by: Margery Lee, Firewall Sentinel <Info Msg Rep> We haven’t learned. Capitalism birthed a litter of foul, hungry monsters; ghosts with spindly arms and enormous stomachs that can’t stop eating, can’t stop consuming. Its machines razed forest and mountains on Earth, gobbled up asteroids and moonlets, and turned Mars from a pristine environment into a polluted hunk of shit. All for resources so that the hungry feudal slaves can keep stuffing more and more in their mouths, their eyes, their brains. Anything to numb the alienation of their meaningless, work-driven lives. All while their masters grow richer and they slowly grow poorer. We didn’t learn from the climate catastrophe and wars of Earth. We didn’t learn from the TITANs. We didn’t learn from the Fall. The Planetary Consortium thinks it can extend the ravenous maws of hypercapitalism’s unlimited growth throughout the galaxy. Where scarcity no longer exists, they will manufacture it to keep their populations in line. They will find more ways to keep people in debt, more ways to acquire indentured servants, and more ways of using technology for repressive control. The glitterati gods will rule over millions of slaves who are more interested in who’s fucking who in the latest XP than the fact that they’re being fucked on a daily basis. Let’s not mince words: capitalism created the TITANs. Capitalism created the Fall. Capitalism creates wars. Capitalism keeps people chained to the ever-turning wheel of competition and economic growth, concentrating wealth in the hands of elites, even when we have more than enough resources for everyone to live happy, fulfilled, and free lives without it. It must be classified as an x-risk and dealt with. When hypercapitalism once again falls into or creates a crisis, as it inevitably does, we must be willing to act and turn the tide. The machinery of unlimited growth must be stopped. The oligarchs must be toppled. The yokes must be removed. We must upset the balance of power and return it to the hands of the people. If we don’t, the elites will continue to consolidate their wealth and power. Transhumanity will never be safe.
Categorization: Extinction–4 Reference: Case ICE NINE So far transhumanity has been lucky that we haven’t managed to thoroughly fuck ourselves over with our scientific tinkering. Sure, the Fall was a result of creating seed AIs, but I’m talking about something of far more destructive power. How did the scientists at Los Alamos know their bomb wouldn’t destroy the entire planet? Or the researchers on Luna know that early testing of antimatter bombs wouldn’t end up taking half the solar system with them? Read some of the pulp sci-fi tales from those times. Over and over again, the same themes recur: we don’t know what will happen, the hubris of applied science and physics specifically, and the potential destruction of the human race as a result. Underneath all of that is fear of an unknown. There is no practical way to test devices that use (or break) laws of physics that most of us could never understand, even with a lifetime of study, except to actually use them. Or, think of it this way: turn a kid loose in a habitat’s tool room full of saws, hammers, drills, laser cutters, and low-yield nuclear devices. Tell the kid, “You can play with anything in here and even make new stuff! But I’m not going to tell you how any of it works. You have to figure that out on your own.” Then set a timer and see how long it takes for the kid to cause catastrophic failure in the habitat. Fucking around with physics is kind of like that, and now I’m tasked with thinking up the worst possible scenarios and how to deal with them. We’re talking well beyond whatever experiments they’re cooking up out on Titan’s Large Collider. As transhumanity understands physics now, phenomenon are localized: whether that means in a few-kilometer radius on the surface of a planet, the gravitational field of a star, the sphere of influence of a black hole, or the space-time-bending mass of a galaxy. Our migration is our safeguard: if someone converts Neptune into a tear leading to another universe, changes are it won’t affect anyone on Titan directly—at least until we can evacuate them. Other possibilities include collapsing space-time by attempting to fold or bend it with an artificial wormhole or a faster-than-light drive. An FTL drive that relies on massive acceleration could warp reality around it, distorting gravity in such a way that it knocks planets out of orbit. The vast amounts of energy required to create an artificial black hole could potentially be mined from Jupiter, but it would leave the Republic circling a useless husk of a planet, disrupting millions of lives, not to mention the Trojans, the Saturnian system, and more. This is one instance where Firewall is better suited for cleanup than prevention. Our boffins aren’t going to stop experimenting and trying new things, not when there’s so much on the line after the Fall. If something goes absolutely wrong, we quarantine that part of the system and move on. There are more drastic survival measures we can put into place, of course, up to and including system-wide evacuation through the Pandora gates. In fact, the gates give us far more options for testing new technology in relatively safe environments that aren’t going to completely screw transhumanity if something goes wrong. Try out your new toy on some lifeless rock somewhere else in the universe, and if you end up creating a tear in reality, get your ass back through the gate and mark that destination as verboten.
Categorization: Corruption–5 Reference: Case SUICIDE DREAMS, Operation GLASS LICH Firewall is a big tent. It’s one of the reasons I like it. Where else can you find people with vastly different ideas of self-government, political structures, and community ideologies working together for a common goal? Not since the Fall, that’s for sure. As big as our tent may be, it’s a safe bet none of us are fascists or totalitarians. There may be a few ostensible nationalists, but Firewall as a whole recognizes the horror a totalitarian regime could inflict on transhumanity. Without intending to be gauche, the Jovian Republic serves as a prime example of the problems dictatorships bring to the table, though they are far from the only examples. You can find protofascist memetic strains among the ultimates, Lunars, and more than a few brinkers. A handful of oligarchs control a vast amount of wealth and resources, and as they get older, they certainly get stranger. It would not take much for a few switches to get flipped and suddenly one of them decides the only way transhumanity will survive is under their direct supervision. Same too for the ultimates. Should they “evolve” to posthumanity, will they leave, integrate, or decide to rule us for our own good? The Republic is totalitarian, but its position in the rest of the system keeps its powers in check—so far. Visitors talk about the oppressive atmosphere, constant propaganda, and almost cult-like status of high-ranking politicians. The Republic has drawn heavily from military and bioconservative ranks, and those who wanted to fled when they could. So while some may consider it backwards and fascist by transhuman standards, the Republic doesn’t quite meet the criteria of “threat.” The far right parties in the Republic have growing levels of support among a population that’s becoming increasingly scared of the rest of transhumanity. Jovian media bears as much responsibility for this shift as the right-wing politicians; outsiders are popular scapegoats, and the Jovians consider their bioconservativism to be a mark of superiority, while the rest of us are tainted. Offensive as the Republic may be to some sensibilities, it could be far worse. Psychosurgery and forced sleeving to reprogram egos to accept a political ideology or specific master may already be occurring in small brinker communities. If the Republic’s far right, or a Consortium cabal, or an oligarch with a hard-on for order, decide to start these practices in larger numbers, it may be time for Firewall to step in. First option is what we do best: cut off the head, kill the snake. Next-best option is to lead guerrilla-style attacks to weaken and enable other resistance cells to take out the threat. Our last resort is open warfare, whether we’re leading or manipulating some other power behind the scenes.
The Simulation Ends
Categorization: Extinction–6 Reference: Case EXCESSION Could advanced beings cook up a computer capable of running an enormous-scale simulation with billions of egos in the same shared space? A world so real that the egos inside didn’t know it was a simulation, and even created their own simulspaces within the simulation? Could transhumanity have done so and forgotten? Or programmed ourselves to forget? Of course. The best free show in the universe, right here. If you want to talk existential crises, let alone existential threats, it doesn’t get any worse than someone pulling the plug on a simulation none of us realizes we’re in. Maybe none of us survived the Fall. Maybe we’re all just egos in some mass simulspace back on a dead Earth, waiting on being resleeved into morphs that don’t exist, just counting down until the power finally runs out. How can we fight back if something could just pull our plug or reboot the machine on a whim? This threat is largely philosophical, and even if we give it credibility, it raises many questions. Why go through the trouble to begin with? Did advanced posthumans create this scenario to explore their past? Is this a gaming environment for unknown aliens? Did the TITANs actually win, but created this scenario to keep our egos occupied? Most terrifying is that this simulation could be stopped at any time. Or even restarted, possibly with different parameters. Sleep well tonight, sentinels.
Solar Activity or Supernova
Categorization: Extinction–4 Reference: Case SUN SHIELD Sol, our beautiful, life-giving fusion furnace from Hell, is still the ticking time bomb it’s always been. She’ll kill us one way or another. Maybe quick-like with a coronal mass ejection (CME), or in a few billion years by expanding to a red giant before collapsing into a white dwarf, or next week because someone drops a Ceres-amount of iron into the furnace and the storms wipe out the inner planets. So many choices, really. Protecting transhumanity against CMEs is easy: shield and hang on for the ride, then rebuild as needed. We’ve got early warning systems, so if something does happen, we’ll know long enough in advance to ’cast the egos out and batten down the hatches. Iron bombing is more of a threat, but if any faction or entity were to gather enough iron from the asteroid belt or harvest it from Jupiter, we’d know about it long before they delivered the payload. If some alien species shows up with some way to burn the sun down to its iron and nickel base, then the jig is up and they’ll feel the explosion over on Barnard’s Star. The entire system gone in a single supernova. Poof. No more transhumanity. Except for those on the other side of the gates.
Space Elevator Destruction
Categorization: Stagnation–2 Reference: Operation EYE STALK There are two remaining space elevators in the system: Earth’s, on Kilimanjaro, and Mars’s, on Olympus Mons. The skyhook on Luna works on the same basic principle and poses a similar kind of threat. Cut the counterweight, and you have a 40,000 kilometer-long chunk of nearly indestructible carbon fiber that will wrap around the entire planet—twice. Not a big deal on good old Earth unless you’re one of the unlucky bastards still sleeved down there, or a reclaimer in the wrong place at the wrong time. A much bigger deal on Mars or Luna, when removing the counterweight will cause almost instant catastrophic collapse of the elevator or skyhook. Firewall has run simulations of such a collapse, and while the damage will be extreme, there will still be enough warning to evacuate residents, either by egocast or physical evacuation of morphs. The bigger impact will be to those worlds’ economies: without the skyhook, Luna is nothing more than a backwater tourist destination—and without the Martian elevator, numerous hypercorps would likely fold within weeks. Not to mention the cost of trying to rebuild. Once an elevator has been destroyed, there isn’t much to do except get the hell out of the way. Firewall keeps an eye on a handful of brinker extremists who talk about bringing down the elevators. So far, it’s just the realm of vague rumor and dorm-room musings.
Transhuman Faction Warfare
Categorization: Extinction–5/Corruption–5 Reference: Case SUICIDE DREAMS If you thought the early 20th—or 21st—centuries on Earth were bad, imagine the kind of atrocities transhumanity can commit these days. For the most part, the physical space between planets is still the greatest barrier to transhuman factional warfare on a large scale, but as memories of the Fall and our drive for collective survival as a species start to fade, the inevitable pendulum swing back towards petty bickering and political (or religious) extremism is inevitable. And this time, we can carpet-bomb a moon with antimatter and wipe out life from the surface to an elevation of 30km in minutes. If you want to avoid a war, you take away people’s reasons to fight. Keep the Jovian Republic complacent. Keep the LLA relevant. Keep Titan free and the Consortium rich. In other words, you maintain the status quo. Here’s the trick: no one wants to fight a war when they’re busy consuming celebrity news and resources aren’t scarce. Extremist ideologies find it hard to take root when people are happy. Hell, if there’s one thing consumer capitalism taught us in the last 200 years, it’s that a docile population will accept exploitation and not seriously consider fighting so long as their basic needs are met and they can get their hands on the latest gadget. If a war kicks off? Remove the will to fight. Take out the leadership, destroy their backups, or egocast them to a prison habitat on some piece-of-shit Reagan cylinder. Unofficially, of course. Firewall isn’t in the habit of taking sides. Wars are inevitable, and they will no doubt get ugly. Our protocols for small-scale warfare are to keep the fuck out unless intel shows that we have something larger to worry about, like a super weapon or similar x-risk, or the chance that it will spread to consume the system. If something goes sour, we step in. We have enough contacts (and sentinels) in the various militaries to know if something’s going to go wrong, and to sleeve into some military morphs on short notice to scale things back. What we won’t do is force one faction or another to win or lose. Our goal is to save the species, not take sides for individual factions. It’s none of our damn business. Then again, a large faction conflict would likely spill over within Firewall, impeding our own operations, And despite what ideology you claim allegiance to, we all need to respect how much more vulnerable transhumanity will be if the Jovian Republic, Planetary Consortium, or the Autonomist Alliance are wiped out. We need each other. If a massive conflict breaks out, would it bring the TITANs back? Fuck if I know. But I’ll say this: start a dogfight near a dog that was raised to fight, and first thing it’ll do is want to join in.
Categorization: Extinction–2/Stagnation–5 Reference: Case NEGATIVE GEOMETRY Pandora gates confirmed something transhumanity’s top physicists could only imagine: you can drill a hole through space-time and travel vast distances instantly. Not only that, but you can stabilize the wormhole on a fixed point—on a planetary body. Could a wormhole be used as a weapon? Absolutely. It’s a backdoor for invasion, either from our own or an alien civilization. You could also, in theory, open a wormhole in the center of the sun and the other end somewhere in a Martian city, and the planet could be incinerated before word reached Luna. What happens when someone opens one in the middle of Jupiter, with the other end next to a black hole, and starts sucking the matter out of our largest planet? But wait—it gets worse. Theories abound that wormholes could—in theory—be used to travel through time. In fact, there’s no direct evidence that what sits on the other side of the gates is even in the same “time” as back in the system. Or even the same universe. Let that sink into your stack for a minute. So what happens when an alien uses one against us, or one of our physicists finally solves this little puzzle? First, there’s no reliable way to detect a wormhole—at least not the ones created by the Pandora gates—until you dig them out of the rock and power them up. The best we’ve managed is observing the fluctuations in energy levels, especially Hawking radiation, as the gates activate. We have no idea how the gates are even constructed and the wormholes established. So something would have to come through the wormhole for us to even know it’s there—at which point it may very well be too late for us. Our control over wormhole gates is suspect at best. Destroying gates is by far the best option. It’s been done several times before, though the gates have always reassembled over time. It’s been theorized that a properly placed and directed antimatter detonation could break the wormhole’s stability in interesting ways. Without studying the effect, we have no way of guessing what would happen: it could knock the wormhole light years away, or a few hundred meters, or simply shut it down. Or it could cause a release of energy that destroys life in our system. I have a suspicion some Firewall team will be testing this out on an extrasolar gate in the near future. All of our concerns about Pandora gate-style wormholes assume that these wormholes are fixed, permanent, and not too large. What if we could temporarily create a stable wormhole from one place in the system to any another point in the universe? It would potentially break the monopoly the Consortium and other interests have on the Pandora gates, but think of the repercussions. No sanctum or fortress would be safe. An invading force could effectively be “teleported” anywhere. Asteroids could be dropped over major cities. Wormholes could be used to suck habitats out of orbit—or to the center of the sun. Damage control, sentinels. Destroy it if you can. Clean up what you can. Capture the research if you can.
The impossible-impossible: a worst-case scenario we can’t even imagine. Except we must imagine it. The absolute worst disasters our primitive, still-simian minds can cook up need to be taken seriously enough to warrant a contingency plan at least. That’s what these are: so-called black swans, from the logic game. They’re things that couldn’t possibly exist but cannot be entirely discounted, because someday we may encounter them. At least no one can accuse Firewall of not planning ahead.
Categorization: Extinction–6 Reference: Case EXCESSION This universe, everything we know and see and experience, could be but one of an infinite number of universes. Travel between these everythings is impossible as we understand it, but there is circumstantial evidence that there may be weak points if not holes in whatever cosmic web connects universe to universe. What happens if an advanced alien civilization in a nearby universe does something terrible, causing their entire space-time to consume itself? Or opens a rend between their universe and ours so unstable that it starts eating away at our universe? What if that starts a cascade effect, destroying multiverse after multiverse until there’s nothing left? And how do you fight such a contingency? So long as this collapse isn’t instantaneous—and if it is, it’s been a pleasure serving with every one of my fellow sentinels—we have a chance, however remote, to formulate a plan. We can work with the Factors and the supposed other advanced alien civilizations out there to come up with a way to fight our demise. Perhaps we can travel through the universes until we find one more stable. Perhaps multiverses are stacked the way universes are, and we can find another multiverse.
Outside Context Problems
Categorization: Extinction–6/Corruption–6 Reference: Case EXCESSION We may be faced with threats from civilizations or entities that are so advanced, so beyond our ken, that we cannot even grasp what the danger is. The capabilities we encounter may seem like magic, with no frame of reference for us to develop a plan to defend against it. In fact, such an encounter is likely to be fatal for transhumanity. Seem hopeless? Perhaps. Hopefully, we’ll never have to find out.