The Secret History of Firewall
Posted by: Bento Gelzer, Firewall Proxy <Info Msg Rep>
Some truths are ugly and cause unease, so here’s one to start off our time together: Firewall wouldn’t exist without the Fall.
“But, wait!” you might think. “Even if there’d been no Fall, transhumanity would be facing x-risks. Our rapidly advancing technology would present dangers just as real as the TITANs.”
Well, yes. But Firewall wouldn’t be around to watch for them. It took a near-extinction event to usher an organization like Firewall into existence, and it pays not to forget this. What we do is difficult and thankless.
Waving Flags on the Path to Catastrophe
There were a handful of organizations doing some of the things Firewall does before the Fall. These were not direct action groups, of course; they focused on research and shaping public opinion and governmental policy. Some of these were started by the scientists, visionaries, and early transhumanists of the 20th Century who had the foresight to realize our precarious position. Earth’s history has shown us that species die-offs were common in the scheme of things, and we humans with our science and knowledge were not necessarily immune to mass-extinction events. Even back then, before we started colonizing space, we knew enough about the cosmos to think that it was an awfully lonely place, that there should be more life out there. Some minds postulated a Great Filter hypothesis, concerned that maybe there was some unforeseen danger that prevented intelligent civilizations from gaining a foothold. The big question then was: had we passed the ﬁlter, or was it ahead of us?
As technological progress accelerated, these groups brought to light the potential hazards and pit-falls. Naturally, most of them focused on the immediate threats: nuclear proliferation, plague, and global catastrophic climate change. The failure of world governments to handle the latter in any responsible way supported their arguments, but as war and climate chaos engulfed the globe, other threats were deemed less important. Some raised geo-engineering as a solution to the world’s climate changes, but these options raised their own risks.
There was one saving grace, back then. We started to expand our off-world assets. By gaining a grip on other worlds, we reduced the likelihood that we would all succumb to some devastating event on Earth. Our chance of survival increased. Threats like an asteroid collision or nuclear winter began to seem like something we could handle as a species. If only we had known what was coming.
In the years leading up to the Fall, many of the scientific groups with technoprogressive and anti-x-risk agendas became frustrated in their goals. Even as the globe was gripped by environmental disasters, politicians and corporations refused to act rationally and effectively. Scientific voices were either drowned out by conservative fears and religious dogma or else fully subservient to corporate interests. Useful knowledge that could change lives and make a difference was locked away behind restrictive patents or else not prioritized because there wasn’t enough economic incentive. Across the globe, educational institutions and research projects were funded and co-opted by corporate and military interests or disrupted by economic collapse and war. Even the hypercapitalists took their initiatives off-world to better circumvent legalities and restrictions. This created a further disparity of knowledge, as they kept their latest developments out of reach and far from the watchful gazes of their peers. Likewise, the scientists playing roles in the colonization of Mars and Luna found themselves increasingly strong-armed and at odds with their corporate masters.
A few years before the Fall, the situation began to change. When the former JASONs, now split from their government and corporate ties, sent out their rallying cry to form the argonauts, they got quite a few takers. Rather than subsuming existing organizations, the argonauts drew members from them—with most scientists keeping their original affiliations. In this way, the argonauts came to have inﬂuence among many groups to better push their agenda of open access and elevating the voice of scientists in public policy. At the same time, more and more scientists took a cue from the hypercapitalists and anarchists and pushed their endeavors off-world, taking full advantage of nanofabrication developments to be self-sustaining. There they established connections with a burgeoning confederation of autonomist scientists and techies in the fringe and outer rim. This spurred a new wave of open-source science, produced and distributed beyond reach of the intellectual property cartels.
The TITANs weren’t transhumanity’s ﬁrst brush with hostile artiﬁcial life—or even with other potential x-risks. Various types of high-level machine intelligences with learning capabilities were developed at the same time as AGI and were often deployed without concern for safeguards against emergence scenarios. Rogue AIs, feral robots, and nanoswarms programmed with hostile intent had all been encountered, albeit on a much smaller scale, in the decades before the Fall. Both governments and corporations developed departments or entire agencies devoted to combating these threats. These well-funded bureaus of bot herders, bug hunters, and AI trackers are also part of Firewall’s lineage, spawning many of the agents and policies that would later put our conspiracy together. Less than a decade before the Fall, two microfacturing centers using the Efficia 6 Integrated Microfacturing System suffered outbreaks of hostile machine life. The bots and nanoswarms comprising the Efficia 6 system developed a rudimentary, emergent intelligence, began to refuse commands, and then began breaking down and rebuilding the area around them according to some plan of their own. The plant at Danang in central Vietnam was leveled by the People’s Army. Although effective at quelling the machine uprising, the degree to which the Vietnamese smote their robotic foes didn’t leave much evidence to puzzle over. Just a few months later, despite software patches by Efﬁcia that were supposed to prevent further emergences, a British facility at Wolverhampton suffered a similar outbreak. The UK took a more containment-oriented approach, allowing analysts from Bletchley Park, Britain’s counter-infolife agency, to get a good look at what they’d been up against. The results of the Bletchley post-mortem were ominous. Among the sort of learning-enabled highlevel machine intelligences—which were neither AGIs nor sapient—that were coming into widespread use for managing complex information-saturated systems, the capability for the emergence of sentient self-awareness and restructuring of priorities was not just a possibility—it was likely given how many were in use. Though not necessarily hostile, such self-directed systems certainly had the capacity to wreak havoc and inﬂict harm. During this same period, high-proﬁle subversions of infolife, machine intelligences, and nanotech by terrorist groups and criminals were making headlines. While many governments and corporations increased the funding and scope of their agencies that were countering rogue infolife, developments were uneven. The most vigorous adopters were small countries—like the UK and Vietnam—that had experienced outbreaks of hostile infolife within their borders. Conversely, Brazil and India, both major powers, had been lucky, suffering few or no outbreaks, and consequently had only limited capability for infolife defense. Other big powers, such as the US and China, spent almost all of their efforts in a cybersecurity arms race with each other. The two superpowers ended up with massive capability for waging war via infolife subversion on each other, but left themselves exposed to hostile emergence events from the machines themselves.
Sidebar: Firewall's Precursors
Some of the groups that worked against extinction before the Fall only served as inspiration. Others contributed members who went on to become Firewall’s founders. Everyone’s heard of the JASONs, Lifeboat, and the Singularity Foundation, but there were many others. Beyond those mentioned here, worthy of note are the Commission for Responsible Nanotech, the Catastrophic Risks Group, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Center for Ethics and Accelerating Technology, the Lunar Futures Society, and various bioconservative groups whose messages tended towards the alarmist, hostile, and biochauvinistic end of the spectrum.
It’s worth knowing your history. Though we don’t discuss it much, there’s a lot of baggage still hauled around by the old-timers. Rivalries. Broken friendships. Favors owed. Harsh lessons learned. The bittersweet taste of being right in their fears but living through the carnage that followed, while so many others died. The undermining belief that they had not done enough to change things when they had a chance. These sentiments linger in Firewall’s heart, driving factional rivalries as much as they pull the group together for survival’s sake.
Anarchotech This confederation of autonomist scientists, engineers, and hackers originated early on in the outer rim, spurred on by the need to share resources and expertise for survival on the edge of transhuman habitation. They were early supporters of the argonauts and provided many of the deep-space servers and communication arrays that allowed the open-source and open-nanofabrication movements to take off. Anarchotech continues to this day, providing technical education for autonomists and other tech-based services to autonomist habitats. Bletchley Park
Originally an offshoot of MI6, this UK agency’s original purpose was to respond to subversion of bots, AIs, and nanotech by terrorists and hostile governments. They were well funded, with a globe-trotting operations directorate and a deep pool of analytical talent. After the Wolverhampton outbreak, Bletchley became an independent agency. Its charter was expanded to include responding not just to subversion attempts, but to dangerous emergence events coming from the machines themselves.
Most importantly, in terms of Firewall’s history, Bletchley had a large number of personnel with argonaut sympathies. About a dozen of Firewall’s original sentinels were Bletchley agents or were brought in by someone who’d worked at Bletchley. Many of these agents worked with the Jörmungandr Initiative during the Fall.
Blue Mars / Black Mars
Blue Mars was a Martian x-risk group focused on issues local to Mars, such as the use of nanotech in terraforming. During the Fall, a militant wing called Black Mars sprung up in reaction to the corporate and colonial authorities’ scorched-earth containment policy with regard to civilian populations. Black Mars set up its own communications networks and attempted to rescue uninfected civilians from quarantined areas. They had some success, but lacked the resources to perform mass rescues. For their trouble, the colonial authorities rounded up and purged members of both organizations.
Institute for a Transhuman Future (ITF)
The ITF started as a non-profit research group dedicated to forecasting and examining trends in human augmentation, uplift, and the development of AGIs. While concerned with threats to transhuman survival and well-being, ITF was notable for its concern with the evolution of social conventions and culture in response to technology and for its overall optimism in regard to advancing the transhuman condition.
This optimism wore thin in the decades prior to the Fall, as conditions on Earth steadily worsened. More and more, the Institute found itself pushed toward a focus on transhuman augmentation and space colonization. Even prior to the Fall, Earth had begun to look like a lost cause. The Institute folded a few years prior to the Fall, but a handful of disillusioned former members eventually made their way into the Eye.
The JASONs were an elite cadre of scientiﬁc advisers to the old United States government. The group met annually to produce a study, normally on a topic requested by the Department of Defense. JASON studies over time included topics like protecting power grids from space weather, feasibility of developing national ID systems based on brain prints, and one of the ﬁrst serious studies of global warming.
Events in the decades prior to the Fall soured relations between the JASONs and their government patrons. The intervention and restrictions placed by politicos on scientiﬁc affairs, coupled with the antiscience positions restricting legislative progress and reform, plus the ongoing clusterfuck with patents, copyright, and intellectual property, drove many scientists to despair. Eventually, the JASONs broke ties to the Department of Defense and to their administrative parent, the MITRE Corporation. Many JASON members went on to become argonauts.
This group took its name from a derelict North Sea oil platform commandeered by Maddy Bainbridge as a base of operations during the early months of the Fall’s hot-war phase. Bainbridge recruited several teams of agents from Bletchley Park and other agencies, most of whom had been stranded in various corners of the globe when their governments collapsed. Bainbridge gave these teams support and got them back in the ﬁeld—though questions still remain about whose agenda, beyond Bainbridge’s, they were serving. Jörmungandr ops teams ﬁgured in several key actions during the Fall, including the antimatter bombing of Chicago and the Battle of L4. Jörmungandr merged with Firewall when Bainbridge evacuated her teams from Earth in the ﬁnal days of the Fall, calling on her argonaut allies to ﬁnd her agents sanctuary Rimward.
The Lifeboat Institute was an independent think tank of scientists and engineers. In some ways, the institute’s projects embodied a limited version of the precautionary principle. In the early 21st century, Lifeboat’s various afﬁnity groups were already attacking topics like large scale nano- and bio-defense, averting asteroid collisions, and space colonization as survival strategy.
The following decades saw many of their proposals enthusiastically studied by corporations and government—but to little avail. Orbital defenses and nano-countermeasures derived from Lifeboat designs were in some cases implemented, but the implementation too often fell short of the design goals. Lifeboat-inspired defenses did in some places buy more time for evacuations during the Fall. The weak response to the Fall embittered Lifeboat’s most active members, leaving them primed to accept overtures from the argonauts and Firewall when the time came.
Machine Intelligence Directorate (MIND)
The People's Republic of China established this directorate to oversee all matters related to AI. MIND both engaged in research and development of new AI models and also established defenses against foreign and emergent AI threats. Their 100 Flowers neural network was widely regarded as the chief rival to the TITANs, and it was decimated by them early during the Fall. After the fall of the Chinese government, those MIND personnel who escaped off-world were eagerly sought out. A core group, however, were recruited into Firewall.
Where the Lifeboat Institute in some ways embodied the Precautionary Principle, the Singularity Foundation carried the banner for the Proactionary Principle. In particular, the membership of the Singularity Foundation saw the development of transhuman-friendly AI as vital to our survival. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll mention that I was a fellow in this organization, a founder, and a contributor to its research.
A private foundation like the Lifeboat Institute, the Singularity Foundation consulted for governments and corporations but wasn’t beholden to any. It did, however, prove to be a magnet for whistleblowers. Even as it promoted research into safer AI, the Foundation’s opposite numbers in the business and government spheres moved forward with research that ﬂouted national law and international treaties regulating AI research.
In this environment, the Foundation expanded its scope, becoming not just a research and consultation outﬁt, but also a partner for whistleblowers. Using its ties to off-world colonies to arrange physical sanctuary, the Foundation embarked on a program of publicizing leaked claims about unrestricted AI research, while pointing to Singularity Foundation’s own solutions as an alternative. This decision cost the Foundation many of its less radical members, and sadly, it did nothing to avert the events of the Fall. It did, however, leave the remaining members politically energized.
Survival Research Agenda (SRA)
SRA was a Titanian x-risk group that, prior to the Fall, advised outer system groups—particularly the Titanian Commonwealth—on x-threat prevention. Collegially related to the JASONs and working on a similar portfolio of concerns, they served as a back channel between inner and outer system polities during the Fall. But tensions arose between the Agenda, who were an independence-minded group, and the Commonwealth—notably over how much information about the enemy should be shared with nearby anarchist polities.
Eventually, about half of SRA’s analysts left during the so-called Titanian Schism to take jobs with Titan’s Civilian Intelligence Directorate. The rest dissolved the group and joined Firewall.
Solarchive Search: Precautionary, Proactionary, and Reversibility Principles
Precautionary Principle: This principle states that we should err on the side of caution in regards to any activity or policy that has the potential for negative repercussions. In other words, precautionary measures should be exercised whenever there is a lack of scientiﬁc consensus that an activity or policy is harmless, even if there are known positive beneﬁts. The active version of this principle further states that actors must take responsibility for any negative outcomes.
Proactionary Principle: Developed as a direct counter to the Precautionary Principle, the Proactionary camp argues that technological development should only be restricted in the case of probable and serious negative outcomes. Risk assessment and proportional response are encouraged in order to protect people’s freedom to innovate and experiment.
Reversibility Principle: Designed as a middle-ground, this Reversibility Principle poses that any decision with the potential for signiﬁcant negative outcomes should incorporate options for stepping back and reversing the decision.
Eyewiki: Firewall Factions / Cliques
There are 5 predominant factions noted within Firewall:
Backups: This faction focuses on measures to ensure transhumanity’s survival, such as bunkers, genetic vaults, extrasolar colonies, and seed ships.
Conservatives: Conservatives eschew the study and use of TITAN and alien technology and take a hard line in favor of destroying all potential threats.
Mavericks: Not so much a faction as an ongoing problem, mavericks tend to go off the reservation in regards to standard Firewall policies.
Pragmatists: Pragmatists argue in favor of using asyncs, TITAN tech, and other dangerous but useful tools against the threats we face.
Structuralists: The structuralists argue that Firewall should become an above-ground organization.
High-proﬁle cases of AI emergence and subversion, along with ongoing concern about the inclusion of AGIs and other AIs into transhuman society, created the political will to fund agencies like Bletchley Park, the US’s DARPA and Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and China’s Machine Intelligence Directorate (MIND). In the end, building the capability to respond to unintentional emergence events like Danang and Wolverhampton wouldn’t save us. Even as they supported the creation of counter-infolife agencies, governments and hypercorps engaged in covert research much more dangerous than random emergence events. It could be argued that there were individuals who were ready for the Fall—many of them in those pre-Firewall groups. They had little power, few resources, and no hope of doing anything other than mitigating the damage so that, if nothing else, a handful of us could survive. The tools they could bring to bear were knowledge, inﬂuence, and like-minded allies.
Posted by: Anonymous
Among the anarchists and more conspiratorially minded members of Firewall, you will ﬁnd some who believe that there were people with power and inﬂuence before the Fall who knew exactly what transhumanity was getting itself into and intentionally decided not to react—or perhaps even encouraged events to unfold as they did. They point specifically towards certain hypercapitalist oligarchs that seemed content to push the reset button on Earth, noting how their resources were aligned perfectly to take advantage of the Fall and how quickly they maneuvered into even more powerful positions in the aftermath. While it is debatable if anyone could have predicted the Fall, much less done anything to stop it, it cannot be argued that some of the major power players on the Hypercorp Council were either well prepared for the chaos or scarily prescient. Certainly they responded quickly and ruthlessly. If only they had been inclined to act so mercilessly on behalf of transhumanity, rather than just their own interests.
How many of those gerontocrats have ties to Ozma, you ask? That is a very, very good question, my friend. If only we had an organization with the will to find out.
The Early Fall
In the early days of the Fall, it was far from clear what was really happening. The geopolitical situation on Earth was a mess. The richest nations were environmentally devastated but well armed. Clandestine wars, state-sponsored terrorism, and the actions of incautious singularity seekers combined to create a noisy background against which the TITANs could make their ﬁrst moves unseen. Even when they acted overtly, no one could at ﬁrst connect the dots.
Given the mass devastation of the Fall’s later stages, it’s easy to forget that the TITANs’ opening maneuvers were conducted like an insurgency. They began outgunned, outnumbered, and, some would argue, easily crushed. They had to seize resources and quietly neutralize certain threats before the hot war phase of the Fall could begin. The TITANs acquired access to raw materials and manufacturing capacity through a series of false-ﬂag operations that pinned the blame on transhuman governments, corporations, and criminal syndicates—in the process, setting rival organizations at each other’s throats.
After that, they went after their opposition. There’s a school of thought that says transhumanity was never the real target of the Fall. It argues that the TITANs’ true objective was to wipe out any and all rival superintelligences, including potential ones. In this view, the transhuman Fall was just collateral damage. Before you shake your head, there’s some sense in this. There is ample evidence to indicate that the TITANs secretly targeted numerous AI development projects early on, disguising their attacks as coming from rivals. China’s MIND was one of the ﬁrst to be struck, with its own 100 Flowers neural networks, similar in scope to the TITANs, disabled or subverted. Research projects as well as existing high-level machine intelligence systems and various counter-infolife programs were also targeted. Not even off-world labs were safe. The Fall’s short, annihilatory hot-war phase was slow in coming. Long before it arrived in full force, x-risk groups were raising alarms. Those who were watching paid close attention to the geopolitical situation. The surveillance technology of pre-Fall transhumanity was as good as today’s, and x-threat watchers made good use of it. A pattern emerged, overlooked by nation-states and the commercial sphere. Someone had been manipulating events—and they were growing bolder, beginning to take physical, military action where they could create a fog of deniability.
It was Bletchley Park that ﬁrst came to the conclusion that the Americans might not be as in control of their TITAN resources as they seemed to think. By the time this warning was acknowledged, vetted, and acted upon, it was already too late—most of transhumanity’s counter-infolife capabilities had already been devastated.
Posted by: Concerned Conservative
Fellow Firewall conservatives, it is time to read between the lines and look at what Bento is not telling you—and what you will never see discussed in ofﬁcial Firewall channels. It is information non grata.
More than a few historians of the Fall have described it as a black swan: a major, world-altering event so improbable that it couldn’t have been predicted—or at least that we were blind to given our own perceptive biases—and yet whose causes are seemingly apparent in hindsight. None of these historians know what we know, but they’re partly correct. The mass adoption of networked computing at the end of the twentieth century, or the rapid, simultaneous development of animal uplift technology and AGIs, with their accompanying disruption to our legal and ethical systems, were black swan events of the more common type. Certainly the sudden emergence of hostile ASIs from our own defense networks also qualiﬁes in that regard—but it distracts from the truth.
Let me ask you this: how likely do you think it is that the ﬁrst ASIs we encountered were so blatantly hostile? Despite all of our fears, the decades of research into friendly AI, and, let’s not forget, all of the dystopian sci-ﬁ vids, we somehow let a critical neural network leapfrog its way to super-intelligence without direction or supervision? Sure, black swans are by deﬁnition outliers, epic bad luck. Our research into ASI hadn’t quite gotten there, the narrative goes, and instead we got there by accident ﬁrst.
It’s a lie, and Bento knows it. They were, after all, one of the world’s premier AI researchers. They were, in fact, working towards ASI at the time, like many others. Their records were destroyed, but we know the Singularity Foundation was close—possibly closer than anyone else. There were abundant rumors at the time that they—and possibly others, such as Cognite, ExoTech, and MIND—had succeeded.
Why would they hide it? Simple. We all knew ASI was on the horizon, but public support for it was still lacking. Many nations had outlawed ASI research, forcing much of it off-world. Bioconservative terrorism was at an all-time high. Unveiling a new super-intelligence at the time would have been an extremely risky proposition.
We know the TITANs targeted these research programs ﬁrst. The Singularity Foundation was attacked, along with their rivals. Yet the surviving data shows the SF survived relatively unscathed. Bento and others have refused to discuss the matter. These matters raise important questions that deserve answers. Did the Singularity Foundation achieve ASI? What became of it? Was there any link between their project and the TITANs? None survive, but ponder this. If there were links, and Bento was successful, we may have the progenitor of the TITANs here among us, in our own midst.
I may be wrong, but until Bento and the others break their silence, how can we know for sure?
The War With the TITANs
It would be nice to say that discussion of x-risks was re-legitimized once awareness of the TITANs spread and we came to grips with the threat we faced, or that transhumanity came together and fought our genocide as a united front. Instead, petty factionalisms and ongoing rivalries hindered cooperation and turned us against each other. A few of our forebears were invited by their military, government, and corporate leaders to share their expertise, particularly when it came to ﬁghting the machines, but their advice was just as often ignored or subsumed to other agendas.
A pivotal point came when Dr. Aun Leung, a researcher afﬁliated with the Blue Mars x-risk group, lost her team on a fact-ﬁnding mission. Aun’s team had traveled to what is now the TITAN Quarantine Zone on Mars. Blue Mars had sent her to check out a defunct terraforming operation. The company running it had evaporated in the chaos of the early Fall, but orbital surveillance showed renewed activity—and not related to terraforming. Leung’s ﬁeld team encountered hostile machine life. They sent back recordings, but there were no survivors. The machines had been converting the derelict terraforming plant from the inside out into a bleeding edge nano-armaments manufactory.
This event created urgency among x-threat groups to share information and cooperate. It also led, for the ﬁrst time, to militancy. The governments of the major Martian settlements saw to it that Aun Leung’s discovery was quarantined, her and her research team’s backups impounded, and Blue Mars banned. In response, a militant wing called Black Mars assembled, vowing to resist.
With transhumanity faring poorly against the TITANs and the lack of a unified front to rally behind, the x-risk community began pooling their own resources to do what they could themselves, outside of the normal ofﬁcial channels. This spawned a number of cooperative research projects, but it didn’t stop there. Similar to Black Mars, new ﬁeld ops-oriented affinity groups formed from among the action-minded members of various x-threat groups. Some of these, like Bainbridge’s Jörmungandr Initiative, took advantage of back-channel links to more powerful and resourceful groups. It didn’t take long for both sides of this effort to start coordinating on a wider scale.
As the tides of war quickly turned against transhumanity, militaries and governments no longer monopolized the war effort. The resistance accepted everyone. Here our expertise with AI, machines, and x-risks began to pay off. We made new connections and new alliances, striving towards a common goal: survival.
Solarchive Search: ASI vs Seed AI
AIs can be broadly classified in three categories: artificial limited intelligence (ALI, such as a muse or other specialized less-than-human-equivalent AI); artificial general intelligence (AGI, such as modern infolife with human-equivalent intelligence), and artificial super-intelligence (ASI, a machine mind that is significantly above and beyond human levels of intelligence).
Seed AI refers to AIs that are capable of autonomously improving themselves, increasing their intelligence exponentially over several iterations and surpassing human capabilities.
ASI and seed AI, therefore, are neither synonymous nor exclusive. The TITANs were considered to be a non-sapient neural network of AIs that somehow acquired emergent seed AI properties and transformed into ASIs. It is not assumed that all ASIs will be seed AIs, though that is distinctly possible. Likewise, not all seed AIs will rapidly take off to ASI status; it is quite possible that a seed AGI could take decades or longer to elevate itself to ASI cognitive capabilities.
An early success of this cooperation was rapid development of digital and biological screening processes that could detect the exsurgent virus. This research was dangerous and painstaking, slowed immensely by the need to keep the virus contained. Computer researchers had to work through slow, air-gapped interfaces, while bio-scientists needed hazmat gear and hermetically sealed labs. There were nevertheless some contamination events along the way.
Once we could scan for and contain the virus, we had an immense advantage—though not an equalizer. Firewalls could be hardened slightly, unidentified transmissions could be scanned for hidden payloads of exsurgent code, and biological exsurgents could be screened for infection. Spreading the word proved difficult, though. Polities offered the research sometimes rejected it, not trusting the source. “Beware stateless private organizations offering gifts during the apocalypse,” and all. Corporations were more receptive but tended to keep the information to themselves, each one a dead end in propagating Firewall’s message.
Sidebar: Using Our Own Weapons Against Us
Prior to the Fall, various Earth nations had already laid claim to much of the solar system. Those claims notwithstanding, true legal jurisdiction would only be recognized by international law where the polity making the claim had actually sent colonists to take up residence. This left an abundance of places, many quite close to Earth, where hypercorps could perform research with no regulations, almost no chance of getting caught, and no enforceable legal penalties even if they were caught.
These facilities were easy targets when the Fall came. Where their research had applications for destroying transhumanity, the TITANs adopted and improved upon it. Military nanotech, designer plagues, and cyberwarfare research all fell into the hands of the enemy for use against us.
Excerpt from an interview with [REDACTED]; US SOCOM Intelligence Support Analyst
Date: November 12, AF 1
Source: Project Ozma Archives
I heard it all the time. “We got lucky.” Every week there was some new story. Infoplagues that should have crippled military gear and evac ships stopped short of decimating their targets. Anonymous hackers somehow found and distributed access codes for the tacnets and logistics systems used by the TITANs’ war machines. Jammed frequencies and compromised systems came back online, often just in time to save the transhumans relying on them. Well, I don’t believe in luck. Unfortunately, as much I’d like to, I don’t think all of those small victories can be credited to plucky ol’ transhumanity, hauling our own asses out of the ﬁre. We were too busy getting our asses kicked from every direction at once.
No one wants to admit it, but we had help: secret allies capable of bashing bits with a mob of mad digital gods, without even drawing too much attention. Ghosts in the machines. Except they sometimes left traces. Any mind that large risks leaving traces once in a while, and we had the records of data transfer spikes to prove it.
So who were they? TITANs that switched sides? Other AI gods developed in secret? Aliens looking out for us?
No one knows.
I have one clue, one suspicion. You remember how often the TITANs compromised ofﬁcial communication channels? Even when the networks weren’t down or too throttled to use, you couldn’t trust that the systems weren’t compromised. That was true everywhere—well, almost everywhere. There were a small handful of groups that had comms that were free and clear by comparison. So clear, they sometimes lent them to their government/military allies.
You want answers? Look to the Jörmungandr Initiative. The argonauts. The Singularity Foundation.
Calling the Shots
Excerpt from Debriefing Interview
Source: [REDACTED], Jörmungandr Initiative
Interviewer: Did you believe these rumors, about these so-called “Prometheans?”
Subject: Look, I was involved in oversight on a lot of ops. I saw all sorts of things I can’t explain. Most of it I chalk up to the chaos and fog of war.
Interviewer: In your post-op reports, I tally at least 13 occasions where you cited aid from “unknown parties.” I also have it here on record that you challenged the authenticity of operational orders on numerous occasions.
Subject: Yes, of course I did. Did we get unexpected support sometimes? Yes. Do I think we had our own pack of TITANs to sic on the bad guys? Maybe. But if so, they certainly weren’t leashed.
Interviewer: What makes you say that?
Subject: Because just as often as we’d received help, we’d have ops that went completely off target in weird ways. That’s why I started challenging commands so often. Strike teams that should have been hitting concentrations of exsurgents or seeing civilians to safety were inexplicably redirected to seemingly unimportant objectives. A commando team that thought it was deploying into a combat zone might instead inexplicably ﬁnd itself loading hardware from an obscure data center onto a shuttle bound for orbit or repairing an arbitrary comm array of no military importance.
Interviewer: And what did your superiors say?
Subject: Sometimes I think they were as surprised as we were, but the orders always came back approved.
Interviewer: Did any of these operations hurt the resistance efforts?
Subject: Depends on your point of view.
Subject: Well, the best example would be the op that turned the entire region around Chicago into a crater you can see from orbit. The TITANs were moving in, but we still had people in that city. Millions of people. We sent a team down on a recon op, only the orders changed to paint a target zone for orbital bombardment on the surface of Lake Michigan. They did. We were congratulated for defeating a major TITAN threat, though they left out the particulars. Publicly, the TITANs were blamed. So … who made the call? I can’t say. But I know who paid the price.
Excerpted from the lifelog of [REDACTED], Jörmungandr Initiative
Date: November 12, AF 1
Source: Reclaimer Archives
We were running from the machines, but we tried to be smart about it. We left a few things behind … on purpose. Not just traps. Hidden caches. Weapons. Gear. Sometimes people. These were all volunteers. Forks, mostly. They knew the risks. Some stayed to run sabotage ops behind enemy lines. Others stayed to provide intel. A few just bunkered up, ready for when we needed ‘em. We lost contact with most. Maybe all.
Are there some still down there? I’d expect so. Maybe one day, we’ll activate them again.
Could we have prevented the evacuation of Earth? No. Maybe. It’s uncertain. None of the simulations I’ve seen sway me one way or the other. It doesn’t matter, though, because here we are. It wasn’t just that we were militarily beaten on Earth. The planet itself had become a vector for the exsurgent virus. Soil contamination by machine life, airborne designer plagues, and the difficulties of protecting water supplies made the environment itself infectious in most places. No large group of transhumans could endure under those conditions.
Unfortunately, by the time the evac started in earnest, it was too late for most. Numerous TITAN offensives were in full swing and the resistance was crumbling. Governments toppled on a daily basis, infrastructure collapsed, once-entrenched authorities and institutions were decapitated or simply evaporated. Chaos reigned. Everyone who could pitched in.
Thousands died in holding actions, buying survivors more time.
For proto-Firewall groups, the evacuation was a last chance to recruit agents and to see to the safe transport off-world of those already recruited. Limited resources forced them to get creative. One team escaped by uploading their egos into the online game Legends of Crythwall and then downloading to an egocasting facility from a server in Kronosian space. Another shipped their severed heads to orbit in medical stasis aboard a tiny cargo drone. Luckily, many of us already worked off-world, and we had a foothold in various burgeoning polities.
We also lost some people on Earth. Backups were destroyed or went missing in the datapocalypse. Stacks were sometimes unrecoverable or destroyed. We simply lost contact with some agents as the situation on Earth worsened. As a result, the fates of some of our allies from the early days are an open question. Whether any survivors of the old guard x-threat groups survive Earthside is unknown. Our efforts to monitor ongoing activities on our homeworld and in reclaimer and scavenger circles have turned up depressingly few leads.
Earth’s evacuation was the high water mark of the shooting war. Not long thereafter, the TITANs halted attacks. After the mysterious cease-ﬁre, exsurgents and war machines retreated into places like the TQZ, where many remain. No one knows why the TITANs stopped their offensive—they just did. What remained of transhumanity used the welcome respite to regroup.
By the time of the cease ﬁre, hundreds of members of the pre-Fall x-threat groups were dead or missing. Black Mars had been destroyed to the last member, and their colleagues in Blue Mars were all in dead storage. Many others, especially researchers and analysts, had been coerced into taking up service with this or that provisional government. Those that remained tightened their ranks and began fervently discussing new plans and options. Extinction was staring us in the face, and we had no time to rest.
Most of transhumanity’s pre-Fall organizations, from NGOs and other non-state actors to corporations and government agencies, were simply no longer functional. Military, research, and intelligence personnel were cut off from their chains of command. The hypercorps and new governments-in-formation wasted no time snapping these up, and neither did we. An entity we later classiﬁed as Project Ozma acquired quite a few Chinese and American agents. Our recruiting was more ad hoc, with the organization that would later become Firewall recruiting personnel from sources as various as the Vietnamese Second General Department Nanowarfare Ofﬁce and the European Intelligence Service’s AI Counterintelligence unit.
Xmode 1: The First Servers Organize
Just a few months after the evacuation efforts had petered out—there was no one left to evacuate—the argonauts hosted Xmode, a simulspace conference for members of the counter-x-risk movement. Attendees whose names you might know included Maddy Bainbridge, Magnus Ming, Aun Leung (restored from backup), Conrik Tombs (well, his beta), Brandon DeGrass, Felicity Costa, myself, and others whom we’ve only ever know by their Firewall monikers. Many others attended, and some of their handles have gotten around since, too.
Firewall’s structure didn’t spring from the egg fully formed. At that ﬁrst conference, we agreed only to establish a secure social network—the Eye—and to pool information and resources wherever x-threats cropped up. Despite the reassurances of governments and media, the new membership of the Eye wasn’t treating the war as over.
The use of afﬁnity groups called servers originated at this time. Originally loose afﬁliations clustered around common interests, servers gradually became devoted working groups focusing on one or more problems.
Almost immediately upon the Eye’s formation, a clash of ideologies reared its head. The viewpoint held by what would be called the backup faction advocated pooling all of our resources toward establishing remote, difficult-to-reach transhuman populations. Before the discovery of the gates, they favored sleeper ships, self-replicating arks loaded with transhuman egos, and similar solutions. The opposing anti-x-risk tendency was much more militant, focused on ﬁeld operations against groups or individuals whose actions threatened the transhuman family as a whole. These opposing visions have shared inﬂuence in Firewall ever since, with both viewpoints inﬂuencing operational plans.
As the debate over a focus on survival vs. resistance waged, a second dispute arose, directed towards participants of AGI background. Anti-AI fervor was in full swing among transhumanity; many people didn’t trust their own muses, much less human-equivalent infolife, and those connected to the Eye were no exception. The unfortunate incident with the Sweet Dreams, a latecomer infugee ship that was destroyed by an Eye cell solely because its pilot was AGI, allowed wiser heads to prevail. This was the ﬁrst major split between the pragmatist and conservative cliques, as they would come to be known, a rivalry that continues today.
Another early conflict, often overlooked, was prompted by advocates of what would soon be known as the reclaimer movement. The reclaimers have always been an odd faction: part ecologists, part armed zealots. The Eye was a rallying point for their nascent movement, which began the second the last evac shuttle broke orbit from our homeworld. Would-be reclaimers called on their peers to support ventures back to Earth. Then reports returned of Earth’s interdiction by unknown forces—perhaps more than one of them. Many in the Eye questioned the wisdom of supporting the early reclaimers’ doctrinaire, “Earth now!” approach. Different spheres of interest meant that reclaimer membership in the Eye dwindled. The reclaimer tendency still has its adherents in our ranks—none can deny the utility of better intelligence about what goes on beneath Earth’s cloud deck—but the reclaimers will never again have the inﬂuence they once did in Firewall.
The years following the Fall saw the political map of the solar system rapidly re-draw itself into the present conﬁguration. The Eye had very little inﬂuence over this process. We’ve always operated in the spaces between the big powers that were now coalescing. Firewall has a reputation as an “anarchist” organization. Certainly this is true of how it organizes itself internally. But Firewall can never afford to be seen as working toward a factional agenda. Too much is at stake to risk worsening internal rifts over politics.
Despite losses suffered by x-threat groups during the Fall, the Eye’s ranks swelled in the months and years after the dust cleared. Where before the Eye had been composed of fringe elements and true believers, now people from all walks of life were potential recruits. This was an energizing period in our history, but also a dangerous one. Suddenly, the Eye had authority, for we had acted when governments and colonial authorities had been paralyzed. The Eye had an opportunity to induct top talent who’d never have considered our overtures before, and we didn’t waste it. At the same time, the potential for the zeal of new recruits to push the organization in unintended directions was very high.
The Titanian Schism
The one setback we suffered to our growth at this time was the Titanian Schism incident, not long after the discovery of the Pandora Gate. Like most of us, I’m a bit hazy on the details. Those involved on either side are curiously silent on what exactly went wrong. The end result was that many Titanian allies of the Eye broke ties and switched their allegiance to Commonwealth intel. Similar developments quietly occurred on Mars and elsewhere in the inner system.
Although Firewall and Titanian relations are sometimes frosty, Commonwealth territory has been something of a sanctuary for Firewall agents. We talk about the Titanian Schism, but thanks to personal relationships and back-channel connections, Firewall’s relationship with the Commonwealth is fairly accommodating. Magnus Ming deserves much credit for taking saunas with the right people during Firewall’s early years. It goes to show: when you need back-room political deals made, send a tenured university professor.
Xmode 2: Firewall Founded
Xmode 2 was held in AF 1, again hosted by the argonauts (but for the last time). Much had happened in the prior year. The keynote speech, which was to have been delivered by Magnus Ming, turned into a referendum on the future of the Eye. Ming said a few words of welcome, then yielded the ﬂoor to Maddy Bainbridge. Leaving aside previous disagreements over AGIs and other issues, Bainbridge addressed the Schism, the new threat posed by the gates, ongoing concerns with the TITANs, and increasing hostile encounters with the evolving Project Ozma. Now, more than ever, she argued, the Eye needs to act as a uniﬁed organization to seriously address x-risk concerns. Transhumanity’s situation grew more precarious by the day.
Bainbridge moved that the original business of the conference be curtailed in favor of writing and adopting the laws of a formal organization. The motion carried by a huge majority.
In the intervening days, the membership of the Eye, making heavy use of subjective time dilation, drafted and voted on rules establishing the current organization of Firewall. Aside from establishing the roles of servers, proxies, and sentinels, they afﬁrmed the rights of all sapient members of the transhuman extended family to serve in Firewall, and they adopted somewhat liberalized guidelines for study of TITAN war gear, xenoartifacts, and other potentially dangerous materials.
Now constituted as an organization (and light a few of its most contentious members), Firewall moved with new vigor.
Winkel, Balktick, Woolf, and Lam
Posted by: Cathar, Firewall Router, Earth-Luna Lagrange Point <Info Msg Rep>
Not their real names, these four old timers are pre-Xmode 2 cranks who’ve been perma-banned from the Eye. Winkel and Balktick brieﬂy ran Firewall-esque cells of their own, though not together, as they hated one another. Nowadays, we simply keep an eye on them—in part to keep them out of Ozma’s way, and in part so that they don’t recruit any more fucking amateurs to bumble in and make a hash out of what should have been a proper fucking Firewall op. Yeah, don’t get me started on these guys.
Within a few months of the commencement of extrasolar exploration via the wormhole gates, Firewall was able to inﬁltrate sentinels onto gatecrashing teams. A research server consisting of a rotating group of nanotech specialists, xenobiologists, cyberneticists, physicians, and electronic warfare experts ran extensive tests on each gatecrasher’s morph on their return. The amassed data lead to the conclusion that gate travel, while it might have some other Faustian aspects we can’t detect, isn’t in and of itself physically harmful or an infection vector.
On Mars, Firewall cells centered around the big Martian cities inﬁltrated the criminal arms trade. Here they used their networks to create an effective warning network against trade in surplus TITAN war gear and other dangerous hardware. It wasn’t long until the arms brokers moved their deals to more remote areas. When they did, Firewall followed.
On Luna, Firewall picked up the trail of the Cult of the Destroyer. Infected by material smuggled from the New Mumbai Containment Zone, the Cult had adopted a corruption of Hindu cosmology. They believed that the Fall was the end of one cosmic cycle, but that it fell to them to complete the destruction so that Creation could be reborn. Lunar proxies and sentinels traced the Cult of the Destroyer’s network, compromised their VPNs, and neutralized the entire group, thwarting its plan to infect the three major Lunar cities with an especially virulent strain of the exsurgent virus.
Sidebar: What Firewall Doesn't Know
Many interesting facts remain unknown to Firewall. Either the answers elude us or we restrict our investigations due to qualms over mission security, infection risks, and other dangers. Here are just a few:
- Who made the gates? It seems more and more likely that the TITANs found the gates rather than created them—or that they tapped into an existing gate network. Related: Can they make new gates?
- What effect does gate travel have on the exsurgent virus? This has never been tested in a controlled manner due to our reluctance to send a living exsurgent to an exoplanet that it could potentially infect.
- How does TITAN war gear dissipate heat? Some of their systems use so much energy that it seems thermodynamically impossible for them to emit so little heat. No “magic heat sink” has ever been recovered for study.
- What is the fate of x-risk researchers left behind? Firewall’s predecessor proto-network of x-threat groups included many allies who didn’t make it off Earth or perished in other places across the system (New Mumbai, Iapetus). Due to the infopocalypse destroying their backups, most of these people are presumed permanently dead. A scattering of voices, though, deem them only missing.
- Who’s behind the interdiction of Earth? Conspiracy theories surround the network of killsats barring travel to and from Earth, but no one’s ever deﬁnitively proven who’s responsible. Incidentally, asking too many questions about this in the Martian media is a fast way to get yourself censored.
- Do the Factors have FTL, lie about using gates, or have a major base in or near our solar system? None are a comforting option.
- Do any TITANs remain in the solar system? We have no deﬁnitive proof either way.
One major failure marked Firewall’s ﬁrst few years. In AF 2, the Jovian Republic launched a purge of its military and security services. Over a dozen sentinels were swept up in the raids, brought up on charges, and found guilty by military tribunals. The purge wasn’t aimed at Firewall, and indeed, the Republic’s intel agencies were probably unaware of Firewall before the raids. They became aware, though. Firewall lost desperately needed assets in a hard-to-inﬁltrate polity. Worse, the Jovians’ interrogators extracted some information on our organization that we rather wished they never had. While the Jovians continue to misunderstand us, their upper echelons of intel know we exist—and that’s problem enough.
It was unlikely that Firewall could keep its existence from the various powers in the solar system for long. It is certain that all of the major governments—and a few of the smaller ones—know of us by now. How much they know varies. Some are convinced we are a small, isolated, ineffective nuisance. Others have a tighter grasp on our size, capabilities, and operational procedures. We continue to hide our tracks, sow disinformation, and do what we can to operate below the radar.
Firewall in the Now
The Firewall of today is outgunned, underfunded, and sometimes acts like a terrorist organization in the interest of x-threat containment. Many from Firewall’s second wave of post-Fall recruits have proven themselves and joined the ranks of proxies. They now form the org’s primary day-to-day operations coordinators.
The immediate threat of extinction is now a decade in the past, and the newest crop of recruits reﬂects this. Many were children during the Fall. Others, the most rare, are Spring Children (including survivors of the Lost project). Most of their memories lie in the wake of near-apocalypse.
Firewall’s old guard includes transhumans in late middle age and even some of the hyper-aged elite. Almost all were members of proto-Firewall x-threat groups, groups whose politics didn’t always abide one another. Their politics vary from pragmatic and antistructural to structuralist or conservative, and it may be said that each of the factions in Firewall has one or two elder statespeople.
Threat RADAR: AF 10
Over the past decade, a series of new dangers have emerged. Each has affected not just Firewall’s mission, but its structure, as new servers form to analyze and meet a given x-risk.
The ﬁrst async for whom Firewall has documentation was a sentinel at the time, and we keep their identity quiet. If asyncs emerged elsewhere ﬁrst, it was covered up thoroughly. The sentinel in question had come into brief contact with TITAN hardware. She’d come up clean on a standard exsurgent virus screening. Later, she reported experiencing a series of strange sensations. She was awash in a constant noise of probabilities, and she could “hear” other people’s thoughts if she focused on them. When the source of her newfound talents was ﬁnally identiﬁed, her server opted not to remove her from duty. To this day, Firewall’s use of asyncs remains controversial among proxies.
Years later, when the kids were old enough to be placed in bodies, Firewall crossed paths with powerful Lost Generation asyncs. When possible, some were recruited. This wasn’t done without controversy. Even Firewall’s pragmatist wing had some reservations about employing asyncs, especially ones as potentially dangerous as the Lost.
Though we have yet to encounter an active alien civilization via the gates, the possibility exists that gatecrashing will eventually expose us to hostile intelligent life. Likewise, the number of dead civilizations we have encountered is increasing worries that there is a larger, omnipresent threat in the cosmos that we have not yet encountered directly.
The exhuman movement is, like so much else today, a reaction to the Fall. We were almost wiped out, therefore, transhumanity is weak and must advance to survive. Firewall at ﬁrst concerned itself mostly with the singularity-seeking school of exhumanism, but then exhumans of the bodybuilding school got turned on to raiding TITAN and alien sites. They seek to plunder weapons and data, then return to the fringes of civilization to research their ﬁnds. Having divorced themselves from transhumanity, it is clear that they have no concerns about our extinction—and a few actively pursue it.
Despite their friendly pretensions, Firewall ﬁnds it unnerving to have an alien species, with unknown capabilities and agendas, active within the solar system. The Factors keep many secrets, and we should be concerned why they are not more transparent.
Though Firewall’s policy towards Factors is still being debated, a growing number of proxies is convinced we need to pursue more active operations to ﬁnd out what we can.
It’s already been mentioned how the Eye wasted no time in investigating the gates when they went live and began admitting transhuman travelers. The dominant view in Firewall sees the gates as a neutral factor until proven otherwise. While probably useful to the TITANs, the gates also allow transhumanity to establish outposts, enhancing our survival chances.
Gatecrashers remain in high demand for recruitment as sentinels. Given how hard they get screwed by the corps, recruiting them isn’t terribly difficult.
Despite all of our progress, transhumanity still very much has the capability to do ourselves in. The threats of factional wars and super-empowering technology linger over us; we can hope that we are smart enough to pursue paths of progress that will lead away from such risks; in fact, many work to guide us in such directions.