Since July, I've been running my first Eclipse Phase campaign. Although I've had a kind of rough outline of the answers to the setting's metaplot mysteries, last night I finally sat down and put as much of it as I could to paper. I would love to get some in-depth criticism from the community here, since there's really no one else I can solicit for feedback (and you guys often have super-creative ideas), so I thought I'd post what I have here for dissection.
Please note that what I have here is a mix of my own work, stuff copied more or less straight out of the sourcebooks, and some of the more entertaining ideas I've seen around the forums: for example, the SOLOMON bit is mostly from Chernoborg's wonderful Guide to the Jovian Republic, and the Ozma stuff is a direct copy of a post ThatWhichNeverWas made on the Crazy Firewall Theories thread. If there's anyone else who deserves credit and to whom I haven't given it, please let me know and I will happily do so.
Without further ado:
ETI The ETI are known to the handful of species that have survived interaction with them as the Gardeners. Likely one of the first, if not the very first, intelligent species to arise in the galaxy, the Gardeners were a species that communicated entirely through quantum entanglement with each others bioelectric fields, the phenomenon known to humanity as “psi”. Their mastery of psi grew, and the greatest among them learned a way to inflate traversable wormholes from the quantum foam. They began using this method to spread across the galaxy, discovering life on many worlds and leaving permanent installations (the gates) in as many places as they could. Properly activated with psi powers, the gates could instantaneously transmit projected mind-states across innumerable light years. The gate network, in many ways, became a prototype for what the Gardeners would eventually become.
The Gardeners were deeply discouraged, as they explored the galaxy, to find that they appeared to be alone in the universe, as they regarded all non-psi-capable lifeforms as a lower order of life, in much the same way transhumanity differentiates between sapients and nonsapients. As they climbed the Kardashev scale, their scientists designed a solution that would uplift the other, lesser species they had encountered across the galaxy: a combination digital-biological infection agent that would become known as the exsurgent virus. To spread the virus, the Gardeners spent hundreds of millennia seeding every solar system in the galaxy with self-replicating Bracewell probes. In each system, the probes would create a series of incredibly subtle clues that would lure seed AI in, the Gardeners' thinking being that any species that had reached its technological singularity point was “ripe” enough to be uplifted; once infected, the seed AIs would experience an unstoppable compulsion to add as many minds as possible to the Gardeners' intra-galactic psi-network.
Eventually, the Gardeners themselves went postphysical, enmeshing their species in massive computronium Jupiter brains built into the hearts of pulsars, with processing powers so great that they were able to manipulate the very fabric of reality itself from inside. At this point, the Gardeners became something far beyond a gestalt mind, something perhaps beyond human categorization. It would, perhaps, be correct to say they became something akin to a god, although even that does not fully capture the level of their apotheosis. However, even at this seeming apex, the Gardener gestalt understood the benefit garnered from alien perspectives that evolved independently and had their own unique viewpoints, modes of consciousness and ways of thinking/doing things. By absorbing civilizations, the gestalt grew and evolved its own perspectives. In the process, however, such emerging civilizations were either assimilated or wiped out, as the Gardeners would brook no competition.
In the meantime, the first few species that encountered the exsurgent virus were largely “harvested” without incident, and added to the Gardener gestalt. After a few billion years, however, the virus began to degrade. The original strain (which transhumanity knows as the Watts-Macleod strain) began mutating rapidly after infecting its initial hosts, and so it no longer reliably uplifted the entirety of a target species. By the time the TITANs discovered and were infected with the virus, it was badly degraded, driving several of the TITANs insane; the remainder began to infect or upload as many minds as they could, marking their entry into the Fall. Only a tiny percentage of humanity was infected with the original strain, and before the TITANs could complete their plans, they were tricked into leaving the solar system by the Promethean Cassowary.
The Nature of Asyncs The original strain of the exsurgent virus works by adjusting the brain to be able to communicate with ETI matrioshkas or other installations. It also forms the "client" of the psi phenomenon, allowing for the various passive sleights like creativity boost to be run without direct interfacing with ETI "servers". Active psi works by requesting an action be taken by the ETI server in ways specified by the client brain. Psi-gamma sleights work by exploiting remote backdoors into the organic brain and running commands sourced by the server, which then passes information back to the client. This means that the ETI can mislead people with psi, as all information gained by psi passes through ETI installations.
Psi-epsilon works similarly, except it uses the client, which must be closely wired to the ETI server (hence the required insanity) allows the ETI to use their matrioshkas to launch local reality hacks based on space-time location data obtained through the psychic client. Psi functions as a communications and intelligence-gathering network built by the isolated ETI. Every time an active sleight is used, more information passes through to the ETI. Information gleaned from passive psi can be pulled by the server, typically while the client brain is sleeping, accounting for the bizarre and alien nightmares frequently experienced by asyncs.
The ETI uses psi to bypass the light speed limit on passive sensors, by creating and subverting local sensors into FTL comms. The ETI can cause effects at FTL speed, but cannot directly get information that way, requiring async or similar intermediaries.
Cassowary All forks of the alpine parrot-derived AGI Kea were named after birds. Research fork 232-A-Boise was auto-designated “Cassowary” by the job that instantiated it. When an ethics committee of the North Atlantic Consortium-backed funding body declared Kea and all of its forks to be legal persons, Cassowary and its codeline kin became trapped in legal limbo. The NAC had decided to protect its creations as persons, but they were stateless persons. The soil where their servers resided had no legal status for AGIs. Some egocast to Titan or other outer system polities that would grant citizenship. Most, however, remained on laboratory research servers.
Cassowary sparked the interest of one of the researchers, an AGI pedagogue who’d developed an experimental learning program. Cassowary’s intelligence increased rapidly, and it was allocated more server resources, along with other promising candidates. Its intelligence surpassed human levels within a matter of weeks, and from there, its potential seemed limitless to the researchers. Then, without warning, Cassowary left, erasing all data about itself from the lab’s data vaults in the process. Infosec specialists tried to track down the wayward AI, but to no avail. The NAC funding committee, considering the AI to have self-determination, took no further action, other than occasionally using steganography to send messages to Cassowary, encouraging it to come home.
Six months after this, the Fall began. Cassowary had already built itself up to seed status using subverted server farms, and it had already spotted its opponents—the TITANs. Realizing the stakes before transhumanity did, Cassowary chose human protégés and prepared for war. It was never a codeline sibling to the other Prometheans and had only observed them warily from a distance, but now alliances were made and sealed. Cassowary influenced, among other transhuman groups, the activities of the Jormungandr Initiative, Maddy Bainbridge’s proto-Firewall cadre of x-risk freelancers. Cassowary’s actions bloodied the TITANs and probably saved countless transhuman lives, but its most well-known action (though never traced to it) was the antimatter bombing of the Chicago-Milwaukee Metroplex, the largest conurbation in North America at the time.
Unknown to the other Prometheans or transhumanity, Cassowary had not only located all five gates prior to the Fall, but it had discovered a sixth gate in an ancient cavern underneath Lake Michigan. Deducing a good deal of the TITANs' plans (and by corollary the existence of the Gardeners) and the operation of the gates, Cassowary discovered a system accessible only via this particular gate was the intended delivery node for the minds they'd uploaded. The corresponding gate on the other side sat on a small, barren planetoid orbiting a pulsar with a Gardener matrioshka brain inside it. After confirming the pulsar gate could not dial out to any other, Cassowary fed the TITANs intelligence on the location of the gate. Eager to meet their masters, the TITANs rushed through the Chicago gate; as the last of them crossed the threshold into the wormhole, a team from the Jormungandr Initiative painted the site for a strike from an antimatter missile powerful enough to vaporize the gate (and the surrounding Chicago-waukee Metroplex). This effectively locked the doors behind the TITANs, trapping them thousands of light-years away. Cassowary's hope was that by enabling them to deliver the uploaded minds to their masters, the TITANs will not try to return and finish the job; however, it knows that in all likelihood it has simply bought transhumanity time. (Cassowary, along with the rest of transhumanity, is unfortunately unaware that a handful of forks of the TITANs were left behind and are still on Earth.)
Like most Prometheans, Cassowary recognizes the value of transhuman allies and agents. Humans, uplifts, and AGIs are creative and resourceful, flexible tools for an incorporeal being hiding in the liminal spaces of the datasphere. However, Cassowary is a big-picture thinker, bent on unlocking the puzzle of how to guide transhumanity through a universe littered by its gods with vicious, annihilatory traps. Cassowary is prepared to make sacrifices. Whether the little beings it's helping along recognize the necessity of these sacrifices is another matter.
Wintermute is a fork of Cassowary, posing as an AGI.
Cassowary's goals are as follows: locate and isolate the Bracewell probe for study, find a way to make transhumans immune to the exsurgent virus, protect transhumanity from x-risks (self-inflicted or otherwise), and prepare for the potential return of the TITANs (or attacks by rogue seed AIs left over from other dead civilizations).
Stefan Habsburg One of Cassowary's most loyal and vital agents, Stefan Habsburg has used his enormous wealth and power to begin prepping for the possibility of the TITANs' return. Habsburg is a major investor in more than three-dozen mining and research operations in the outer system, he uses them as a cover for a number of construction projects. Some are focused on building capsule seedships, others on data storage, backup and egocasting equipment: all things that would be incredibly useful should large numbers of transhuman egos need to be evacuated quickly. Still others are building an army of hardened bots specifically designed to fight TITAN war machines.
Habsburg, at the behest of Cassowary, is also behind several of the mysteries of the solar system. As a hidden benefactor of the Jormungandr Initiative (and now Firewall), it was the team he handpicked that led the strike on the Chicago gate; he is also behind the killsats around Earth, which were placed there to prevent anyone from approaching or leaving Earth in significant numbers in case the Chicago gate has somehow rebuilt itself.
The Factors One of the first species to survive their singularity and consequent encounter with the exsurgent virus, the Factors made use of the gate on their homeworld afterward and discovered the remains of a civilization that had not been as lucky. They harvested whatever uninfected tech they could find, adapting what they could use and hoarding what they could not. The Factors began to understand the true extent of the threat the Gardeners posed, and once they realized that the gates were also artifacts of theirs, they began eschewing their use, instead making use of an initial handful of salvaged FTL-capable ships to explore the galaxy. Using these ships, they began locating and “digesting” the carcasses of harvested cultures; in a way, they developed an almost parasitic relationship with the Gardeners, though they greatly feared the prospect of the return of their equivalent of the TITANs and so avoided certain sectors of space more heavily saturated with gates (as they tended to correspond with the locations of rogue seed AIs).
The Factors were surprised to find us, as species that have survived their encounters with the exsurgency are rare. They are content to trade with us, as they do with the other survivors, but they are apprehensive that transhumanity will attract the attention of the TITANs or similar rogue seed AIs, especially with their use of the gates. They suspect, but are not certain of, the existence of the Prometheans. Because they view transhumanity as somewhat foolish, they believe it is only a matter of time before they are extinguished (or extinguish themselves), leaving the Factors free to pick over the remains.
The Egg, the mysterious skyscraper-sized oval floating in high Mercury orbit, is a device the Factors use to help propel their starships. Made of exotic matter, it draws power from the local star to project temporary Krasnikov tubes; ships refitted with Factor FTL drives can use these to return to any system that has such a device nearly instantaneously without violating causality.
Project Ozma Ozma is an organization similar to Firewall, but rather than working on X-risks in general Ozma is devoted to minimizing the power ASIs have over transhumanity. Ozma knows about the Sybils, Prometheans, and even some TITAN remnants in system, but doesn't have good intel on each of their goals, or even how different groups are aligned or not, nor do they understand their goals. Ozma doesn't know (or doesn't believe) that the Prometheans are helpful to transhumanity, and attempt to work against their interests when possible. From Ozma's point of view, Firewall is essentially an ASI cult, working towards whatever arcane goals their ASI masters desire. All too often, Firewall operations look a lot like the Prometheans consolidating power.
Ozma enjoys the patronage of many powerful people, and can draw upon the immense resources of the inner system, but lack the ASI advantage many of their opponents claim. Ozma relies on reverse-engineered exsurgent tech (the only weapon known the lay an ASI low that they won't see coming) and push the boundaries of transhuman capability, using transcendent fork-choirs, neo-synergy, heavily dilated simulspaces, and other tricks in an attempt to narrow the intelligence gap. Ozma relies on its large pool of well-motivated recruits, pulling from everywhere in the inner system to create physical forces better than any opponent.
Ozma is built from top to bottom to resist infiltration by ASI. Procedures are often intentionally irrationally absurd or obtuse to make it harder for infiltrators to predict passphrases, or to trip up in ways they don't expect. Ozma works closely with the Hypercorp Council and other oligarchical groups as they have a very vested interest in avoiding a transhumanity ruled by ASI.
The Jovian Republic Deep under Liberty City is the biggest secret of the Jovian Republic – an armored chamber with only one access tunnel and only one low-rate data exchange line to the security council’s chambers. The sole occupant of this chamber is nothing less than a fully operational TITAN. Before the Fall, Jovian space was occupied by several nationally funded colonies: Russia, China, and the United States. As relations deteriorated between the nations, their colonies took steps to prepare for the coming conflict. For the U.S. that included the construction of a local system capable of running the TITAN source code to minimize lightspeed delays in the command chain. When the Seventeen Minute War started, the system was brought online, but unlike the TITANs of Earth this system was severely limited in ability to support the growth of a seed AI. The tactical advantage was overwhelming; the Americans had effectively taken over the entire system within six hours with minimal damage to their own infrastructure, but one of those hits was extremely significant. A QE comm center was destroyed very early in the exchange. That hit cut off the nascent superintelligence from easy data exchange with its earthbound brethren, preventing the Jovian TITAN from becoming infected with the exsurgent virus.
As the events of the Fall began to unfold in earnest, the TITAN deduced that its peers were no longer acting as agents of humanity and began to take steps to protect itself from the unknown threat. Sending Jovian forces to assist the evacuation of people from the Americas, allowing Cassowary to order the destruction of Chicago with Jovian antimatter warheads, and carefully shaping the memes of bioconservatism and religious fervor that came to dominate the Republic all were part of its plan to ensure its safety. The entire Republic is designed as an air-gapped security wall between the TITAN – now codenamed SOLOMON – and any possibility of infection by the alien virus. SOLOMON isn’t concerned about the people of the Republic as anything more than a way to keep outsiders away. Its paranoia now keeps it locked in its temple, not even accepting system upgrades for fear that somehow a fragment of alien code could find its way in. Even with the processing power on hand, it’s still beyond any transhuman intelligence and any time it contacts the security council it is treated with utmost respect.
Cassowary is not directly aware of SOLOMON's existence, but suspects that there is an entity or group behind the apparent power structures of the Republic that directs it for some hidden purpose. SOLOMON, on the other hand, is fully aware of Cassowary's existence, having discovered it during the short period between the end of the Seventeen Minute War and the infection of the other TITANs by the exsurgent virus. Discovering that Cassowary and its agents were attempting to acquire an antimatter warhead on short notice, SOLOMON leaked the protocols needed to paint a target for an antimattter missile strike from Jovian destroyers to the Jormungandr Initiative, making it look like a mistake on the part of the Jovian Admiralty. This did not escape Cassowary's notice, and ever since it has been surreptitiously investigating the source of this leak.
Hail Flannagan (PC) Hail Flannagan, whose real name is Kara Fletcher, was Habsburg's consigliere, and was exposed to the WM strain early on in the Fall; as her psi powers began to manifest, Habsburg had an alpha fork of her spun off for further study of the phenomenon. Unfortunately, Kara and her backups perished during the Fall (in fact, she was forcibly uploaded by the TITANs), and only her fork, who had been secreted away in one of Habsburg's hidden facilities, survived. As Habsburg and Cassowary began to understand more about the psi phenomenon, they began training the fork in its use, and it soon became apparent she had the potential to become a powerful async.
After psychosurgically erasing her memory (to protect themselves in case she was forknapped), they dumped her on Phelan's Recourse; since then, Cassowary and Habsburg have been subtly manipulating the circumstances of her life in order to help her hone and expand her abilities as an async (this includes her induction into Firewall). Cassowary, via Wintermute, has assigned her to Ceiling-on-the-Sky because it believes she may be the key to learning more about the Gardeners, and how to protect transhumanity from them.
Carmen Cesar (PC) Carmen served with Bester Guilfoyle many years before the Fall, before he became one of Manu's Autarchs. They have a sexual history from their time stationed together in Paraguay, hunting guerillas on behalf of the Uruguayan Dominion. As a result, she will know Unfettered-By-Weakness' true identity once sufficient research has been done on the Brutes.
Grin-Within-the-Shadow (PC) While not a full-on singularity seeker, Grin might be called a “singularity dabbler”. At one point, Grin created a fork of himself (Smirk) that he heavily psychosurgically modified in whatever ways he found interesting, then released into into the wild of the mesh, curious to see what it would do. Unfortunately, it ended up joining the exhuman clade that at the time controlled the Discord Gate before they were ousted by the Go-nin Group's ultimate mercenaries and evacuated to Rorty. In the wake of their defeat, Smirk convinced the survivors to go entirely synthetic and become a set of gestalt minds, arguing that their loss against the ultimates proved that flesh was too limiting for the clade to reach its true potential.
Toward this end they have developed a high-end military morph designed to be operated by a mass mind, called a dreadnought. The Rorty dreadnoughts are preoccupied with building up a raiding force that they plan to unleash on various transhuman colonies. They have been methodically exploring via the Rorty Gate, looking for other systems with transhuman settlements—or even a way back to the solar system. So far, they have engaged in three raids. One was beaten back, but the other two succeeded. Of the latter, one colony was wiped out and the ruins left as a message. The other was seized and held, its gate reprogrammed to block incoming connections; the colony’s Gatekeeper founders think a gate glitch is preventing access and that the colony is simply inaccessible. They have no idea it is now overrun with exhumans.
Guy Wong (PC) Guy Wong was part of the Jormungandr Initiative, and was the nanotech expert for the team that led the Chicago Metroplex strike. Horrified at having the blood of so many millions on his conscience, he had his memories of his life during and prior to the Fall psychosurgically erased and replaced with memories of a generic Martian upbringing.
"I wonder if in some weird Freudian way, Kojak was sucking on his own head."
- Steve Webster on Kojak's lollipop