How I Learned to Stop Worrying
Firewall is a clandestine organization with an unknown number of members, coordinated by an inner circle of dedicated veterans known as proxies.
Though its existence is known to many of the powerful and influential factions and individuals throughout the solar system, its existence is denied and its activities are kept carefully shrouded.
Sentinels are the soldiers of Firewall, the reserve troops called to instant active status whenever danger is perceived. Regardless of their location or current affairs, sentinels are expected to move instantly when called into play. It is their own responsibility to cover their absences from their “normal life” during each mission.
There is no applying to join Firewall. Instead, Firewall selects an individual for induction based upon that person’s skills, knowledge, occupation, security clearance, location, status, and a host of other criteria. While such selections usually originate from a proxy, sentinels can exercise authority to bring new initiates into the conspiracy as a mission demands — and they often do. Any sentinel recruiting a new supporter, however, becomes responsible for the new inductee and their actions. If lines are crossed, both will bear the brunt of the consequences.
The vetting process for joining Firewall is necessarily brutal, as sentinels face harsh opponents and must make hard choices in the field. If an individual agrees to accept the invitation, there is no turning back. Each inductee is submitted to a battery of trials and tests. While these vary, they may include deep background searches, fork interrogation, psychosurgery trials, and tests of loyalty. Psychosurgery is performed not to program obedience, but to analyze the recruit’s responses to various situations—an extreme-parameters test to see when a prospective sentinel will break. Many potential members are carefully analyzed by a Promethean with expertise in character judgment and personality profiling.
Those who don’t pass such tests are either killed in a manner that they must resort to an earlier backup or have their memories altered so that they have no recollection of the conspiracy.
Firewall walks a fine line. The concept of dogmatic “unquestioned loyalty” is both counterproductive and anathema to everything for which Firewall stands. Its sentinels need to have the capacity for thinking outside of the box from mission to mission.
At the same time, their ultimate goals are too important to risk—the survival of transhumanity depends on it—so extreme measures must sometimes be taken to ensure the organization remains intact and secure. New sentinels are given a code name and fake identification. Outside of the proxies, the real-world identity of a given sentinel is a closely guarded secret. Sentinels are even discouraged from sharing such information with members of their own teams, though this line is often crossed. Additionally, each sentinel is required to upload a backup to Firewall’s secure servers and to update this backup regularly.
This backup serves a dual purpose, enabling all sentinels to be retrieved should they die, but also putting a copy of the sentinel in Firewall’s hands should they ever need to interrogate them.
Sentinels are all connected via the Eye, Firewall’s peer-to-peer social network. Though each operates behind their assumed identity, they remain in contact, sharing information and resources as needed.
Proxies are the inner circle of Firewall, the experienced cadre that keeps the machinery of their organization functioning. Though fewer in number than the sentinels, many proxies work full time on Firewall operations, serving as the group’s essential infrastructure. Most proxies are recruited from the ranks of the sentinels, brought in based on their skill sets and aptitudes to fill key roles. In a few rare cases, new proxies are fast-tracked and recruited directly from outside of Firewall, usually based on their unique talents or placement within a certain organization with resources the conspiracy would like to exploit. These cold recruits face a battery of tests and trials far harsher than that used to vet sentinels.
By default, proxies have a higher security clearance than most sentinels and are far more in the know. This sometimes leads to resentment and hostilities from sentinels who feel they are being kept in the dark or manipulated. While standard proxy protocol is to adhere to a need-to-know maxim, it is sometimes necessary to bring sentinels more into the loop in order to defuse tensions. Oftentimes, this precedes the recruitment of sentinels into the proxy framework.
Some tension exists within Firewall, mostly due to the influence of so many anarchists and other libertarian autonomists who take a dim view of centralized power, lack of transparency, and the potential for secretive operations to become entrenched and authoritarian. As a result, there is a strong internal culture that seeks to minimize hierarchies and the accumulation of power, promoting transparency and directly democratic decision-making. These desires sometimes clash with the clandestine nature of the organization, however, and the need for some secrets to be kept on a need-to-know basis.
Unlike the loose organization of the sentinels, the proxies are grouped into servers, collective working groups based upon certain skill sets and tasks. To avoid creating power blocks within a given server, personnel are required to rotate between servers after one year of time. This incurs the added benefit of proxies learning new skill sets and increasing their usefulness to Firewall. The actions of each server are kept as transparent as possible, with major decisions brought to an e-vote before the entire proxy membership. However, speed often requires servers or individual proxies to move quicker than a vote will allow. In all such instances, the proxies involved are held accountable for those actions, reviewed by their peers at a later time to see if any reprimands, punishments, or commendations are required.
It is important to note that there is no core leadership structure among the proxies. No one person or cabal is in charge and there is no authority held by one proxy over another; all are peers. Though reputation and experience are major factors, getting something done often means convincing other proxies that it’s the right thing to do. The drawback to being a leader or person with initiative within Firewall is that this usually means you must follow through with such tasks yourself. Luckily, most proxies are dedicated to Firewall’s goals and so this DIY attitude prevails. Despite these safeguards, however, rumors of power blocks within Firewall exist (both within servers and across the organization). Many of these are fueled by the alliances different cliques hold with each other. Others, however, whisper that there is a secret council among the proxies, working behind the scenes and holding on to knowledge they aren’t sharing with the rest.
Crows: Crows continue the goals of Firewall’s predecessor organizations, such as the Lifeboat Institute and Singularity Foundation. Many of these are argonauts, promoting the development and use of new technologies that will benefit the transhuman condition and minimize risks rather than creating new threats or sparking new authoritarian uses — and always conscious of unintended consequences. Perhaps more importantly, crows actively engage in background research of potential x-risk vectors, whether those be aliens, the TITANs, terrorists, or hypercorp activity. Often they will deploy sentinels to aid in this research, via routers, whether this means conducting surveillance or breaking and entering to steal crucial data.
Erasure Squads: Erasure squads are cleanup personnel. They are called into action if sentinels fail to deal appropriately with a situation and the threat is moving beyond control. If the watchword for a sentinel is “unobtrusive,” the watchwords for an erasure squad are “overmatched firepower.” If activated, the time for a subtle solution is passed, and they will use whatever means necessary to resolve the situation. If that means nuking a settlement from orbit to annihilate a nanoswarm and keep it from escaping to a larger settlement, then so be it. After which they’ll use every trick in Firewall’s bag to erase any evidence they were there and to place the blame for the incident squarely on the shoulders of some other party. If necessary, erasure squads can also be called in to fix a sentinel op that has turned into a clusterfuck or otherwise gone south. They are very careful to avoid exposure in such situations, however, which sometimes merely means eliminating all traces of Firewall involvement and letting the sentinels take the fall for their poor choices.
Routers: Routers are mission coordinators. They work closely with scanners and crows, activating the appropriate sentinels whenever a new danger rears up. Each router has the authority to measure the threat and activate an appropriate number of sentinels—whatever is required to accomplish the mission in the least intrusive manner possible. They are also authorized to divert Firewall resources to aid these missions, within appropriate parameters. Routers are held responsible for the ultimate success of a mission. A failed mission will result in a reviewing board staffed by their peers.
Scanners: Tasked with keeping alert for any sign of new active threats, scanners are the eyes and ears of Firewall. The scanners maintain a close eye on newsfeeds and mesh traffic, even maintaining taps inside certain government and hypercorp communication channels. If a danger is detected, it is under their authority, through routers, that sentinels are activated. Due to the power inherent in a scanners’ post, they are held accountable for false activations.
Social Engineers: Nicknamed the Ministry of Disinformation, social engineers provide the scapegoating and plausible deniability that is required by Firewall and its sentinels. If a sentinel compromises their position and endangers the organization, social engineers step in to cover cracks in the facade. They work intrinsically with erasure squads when one is activated to ensure the over-the-top steps taken to eliminate a threat are well concealed and ultimately erased. The power wielded by social engineers can be significant, as it ultimately decides (usually through e-voting consensus, though time does not always allow such a luxury) what organization—political, corporate, independent, etc.—will take the blame and subsequent fallout for erasure squad actions.
Vectors: Vectors are Firewall’s communications security and digital intrusion specialists—in other words, hackers. In addition to defending the mesh security of all Firewall operations, vectors are also deployed to aid crow research, scanner monitoring, and eliminating the trail of erasure squads. Vectors also assist routers in maintaining communication, command, and control over a situation and are sometimes called in to provide overwatch of sentinel operations, especially if a particular sentinel squad lacks their own hacking resources. Needless to say, vectors are supplied with some of the best intrusion and security tools transhumanity has to offer.