The Underground Railroad

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Arenamontanus Arenamontanus's picture
The Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad The Underground Railroad is a loose organisation devoted to freeing enslaved persons. While there is great disagreement about whether for example indentured infugees working for Hypercorps are enslaved, there are sadly plenty of cases of clear ego-napping, slavery and thought control across the solar system. The UR wants to do more than talk and pass resolutions: it wants to emancipate the slaves, convince slavers that slavery doesn’t pay and make the rest of transhumanity to sit up and take notice. UR and Firewall have many similarities. Both are decentralized organisations encompassing people from all fractions and walks of life. Both aim for high goals, and are willing to get their hands dirty to achieve them. Both are moving in a grey zone of legality or outright regarded as terrorists, But where Firewall wants to keep to the shadows the UR wants the limelight. UR cells mount actions to find and free enslaved people, then make sure the results get public. While some cells are content to bring slavers to justice (if possible) others prefer to mete out harsh or poetic justice themselves. The core of the UR is mainly composed of fierce mercurials. While there are many enslaved humans, AGIs, infomorphs and uplifts are especially vulnerable – and particularly outraged by the plight of their brethren. Methods UR maintains an internal, anonymous network for discussion and information sharing similar to The Eye, in this case called The Big Wheel. Unlike the very paranoid investigations used by Firewall on new recruits the UR relies on more traditional intelligence. Recruits are often recruited because of their zeal (often from freed slaves), but any cell worth their salt will do their best to train them to become competent. Different UR cells specialize on different functions. Some, signalers, do information gathering: from their contacts among other anti-slavery groups and elsewhere they pick up leads, following up what outsiders do not have the time, zeal or resources to examine. If they find good evidence they distribute it to more action-oriented groups. Stockholder groups provide funding and resources, sometimes overlapping with stationkeepers who maintain safe hiding places, darknet nodes and provide misdirection. Alerters run the publicity and media angle, distributing evidence to news organisations and responding to public opinion. Conductors help emancipated slaves to integrate into society. Most importantly, “train crews” are the cells that contain operatives that do actual strikes at slavers. They sometimes have a backup “maintenance crew” to help them if things go wrong. While the railway terminology is used, it is usually used tounge-in-cheek or formally – the UR knows that it is conspicious and archaic. While a train crew leader might be called engineer, they are equally likely to be ‘boss’, ‘comerade’ or just ‘hey, you!’ A typical UR operation involves an investigator cell finding a good trace of slavery and a train crew taking on the mission to deal with it. The train crew may be supported by a stockholder cell and have a maintenance crew on standby. The train crew plans and executes an attack to free the ‘zeks’ (UR slang for slaves) and punish the slavers to the extent possible. If the mission succeeds the freed zeks are sent via darknet to a stationkeeper who (if they are lucky) has contact with alerters and conductors. Alerters and investigators debrief and interview them. Sometimes the zeks are directly released to the authorities (if the operation occurs in a “friendly” jurisdiction, especially if the testimony of the emancipated slaves will help affect public opinion and get the slavers convicted). In many cases, especially when the legality of the operation is messy, conductors may help the former slaves quietly integrate into society without official knowledge. Not all UR crews go in guns blazing. To strike at a Night Cartel nest requires finesse rather than brute force, and some of the most successful operations have been cons rather than attacks. The Hunter Pack, for example, set up a plausible identity as ego-traders and fooled the Immo-5 Triad into trading their store of 74,000 egos for worthless AI forgeries. The Flare Action Group did a very successful infiltration and expose of working conditions in a Vulcanian energy-mine run by Prism Exergy (including truly moving and disturbing XP of working conditons) that led to the company executives being indicted and parts of the stock awarded to the workers as compensation. Not all UR missions work out. When the Hunter Pack managed to free a few of the victims of Locamus Corporation on 4001 Ptolemaios and released their information to the Planetary Consortium the main concern was not the radically edited indentured laborers used in the shipyards, but the fact that Locamus was using largely unsecured cornucopia machines and proteus swarms. The legal proceedings have dragged out endlessly, acknowledging asylum for the freedmen but hardly denting the slippery legal department of Locamus. The Friends of Talmai fared even worse: in 8 AF they attempted to free the victims of the Jubilee Triad on 434 Hungaria and failed. Their egos ended up brainripped and the Triad successfully hunted down several UR members or sold key information to their enemies. Just because UR wants to free slaves doesn’t mean it is nice to slaves. Some members are a bit too concerned about the plight of their species to care strongly for another species. Some members – a few former zeks - are less interested in freedom than vengeance. And during a mission when everything is going pear-shaped or afterwards when the alerters may be losing against crime network spin, there might be little time for politeness or niceties. Most zeks recognize a good chance when they see it, but that doesn’t stop the experience from being traumatic. And the UR has bad experiences with the Stockholm Syndrome: some slaves have become so dependent on their masters (or directly brainwashed by them) that they cannot be trusted until they have been counter-brainwashed. Relations The relation to Firewall is complex. There are people who are members of both organisations, sometimes openly, sometimes secretly. While both agree that the other have admirable aims they are uneasy about split loyalties: Firewall doesn’t want their operatives to get in trouble “just” because they free slaves on the side, and UR doesn’t like the more Machiavellian Firewall schemes. They are in a sense competing for competent, can-do transhumans willing to give their all for a great cause. At the same time there are opportunities to share or “borrow” resources and information, and sympathetic proxies might let Firewall sentinels help out the UR in return of future reciprocal help. The Planetary Consortium considers the UR a criminal organisation after several actions against entirely legaly indentured workers on Mars. Conversely, the Barsoomians and the UR get along fine. Autonomists in general support the UR, although some of the methods are perhaps unpalatably rough. Extropians tend to polarize strongly or be conflicted: freedom is essential, but a contract is a contract. The Titanians view the UR as interplanetary vigilantes, a symptom of the lawlessness of the solar system. They might do some good, but it is better to civilize the place. There is no love lost between the Jovian Junta and the UR. The UR regards the Jovian Republic as a giantic slave camp and likes to thwart Jovian interests whenever possible. The Jovians regard the UR as subversives led by inhuman creatures bent on destroying mankind. The UR also has had run-ins with Brinkers. The reason is that some Brinker habitats are closed: inhabitants are unable to leave, and sometimes subject to fairly strict rules. The UR has in some cases freed dissidents or forcibly opened Brinker habitats to the outside to allow emigration – with very mixed results. Many people may disagree with their society yet find it hard to abandon the certainties and social network they have grown up with. It is not uncommon for unaffiliated people to perform actions in the name of UR, sometimes to its detriment. Naïve wannabees who want to prove their worth, extremists who like a cover for their deeds or even Firewall operations using an UR action as a cover. There is also some bitter rivalry between different UR groups. Some conflict is doctrinal: different views on what constitutes slavery or just how to treat slavers. Is it OK to just leave slavers empty-handed like the Hunter Pack often do, or should they be given a dose of their own medicine like Killbits did with the Youtalk Crew (who ended up as infomorphs in their own torture simulation, run forever on a small solar-powered computer in a high inclination orbit around the sun)? What about Pan Corporation’s inclusion of religious traits into its uplifted apes – is that mental slavery or just making them as confused as humans? Other conflicts are personal; such as stk500 leaving the Kraken Rising group over their cephalopod racism – and taking with it a small fortune. Terminology Alerter Cells or members dealing with the media, networking or PR aspect of abolitionism. Often interfacing with legit abolitionist groups or acting as the public face of UR. Big Wheel The UR distributed information system. Booi Manchu Chinese, “bondservant”. Another term for slaves, sometimes used by the Triads. Brainfucking The use of infomorphs for menial intellectual labor, often involving multiple forks and frequent resets. Some installations are “sharashkas”, think tanks were captive experts are usef for more advanced projects. Conductor Cell or member helping freedmen to integrate into society. Some have medical, psychological or psychosurgical expertise, others represent people in court or towards immigration authorities, others deal with false identities, smuggling and sneaking people into society. Some are just an attentive ear. Crew A cell of UR members. Event recorder Crew member tasked with documenting everything happening, providing it to Alerters or others. Freedmen Freed slaves. Sometimes freedbeings, freedminds or just freed are used. Frenkel A slave who has switched sides, actively working for the slaveholders (or even joining them). Hotbox A veteran UR member who has become overly fierce or violent. Libertine A freed slave. Somewhat of a joke, especially about a slave enjoying their freedom a bit too much. Maintenance crew Operative team standing by to help an operation. Many pairs of crews alternate between train and maintenance for each other. Risalat Controversial opinion that former zeks are better in some sense than non-zeks: their suffering has given them insights that should give them priority as UR members or that transhuman society owes them a debt. Signaler Cell or member investigating reports of slavery or other matters of UR interest. Stationkeeper Cell or member maintaining safehouses, darkcast nodes or other means of staying safe. Often work closely with conductors. Stockholder Cell or member who provide resources. Some run cover companies or organisations, others have lucrative jobs, embezzle funds or smuggle to provide what is needed. Stockholmer A zek suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, still under the sway of their former captors. Train crew Operative team for freeing slaves. Transport An operation to free zeks: “We need to transport some cargo from Ceres. Do you have suitable logistics?” Zek A prisoner/slave. From the term for Russian Gulag inmates. Adventure possibilities The UR could be the focus of a campaign just like Firewall – possibly with an overlap. The UR frees a group of enslaved AGIs – including a very dangerous one. Maybe it is actually a copy of TITAN code or a seed AGI, or just an intelligence infected with the Exsurgent virus. Firewall need to catch it, but UR is doing their best to hide and save the freedbeings. An UR crew wants to infiltrate and free zeks on Xiphos, the Ultimate stronghold. But they realize they cannot do it alone. Hence they approach Firewall, suggesting a joint venture. Extrasolar colonies use plenty of indentured labor, and some are likely in need of emancipation. But one in particular, named Talbot Titanium, has caught the interest of UR. TT seem to make use of an absurd number of infugees, yet there are absolutely no news or information coming back. Gatekeeper Corporation is keeping the lid on, stating that it is an “exclusive development zone”. The TT consortium appears to rake in money and rep without selling anything – what is going on? The crew must mount a gatecrashing expedition to TT to find out. An UR group has kidnapped a prominent Planetary Consortium executive to show him the hard way the hardship his policies are causing. Other, more moderate UR groups want to prevent a PR disaster – or that the radicals get caught by the PC security corporations that are hunting them. There has been a short distress message from the scum barge l’Insurgent – somebody is praying for help, begging for anybody to come and save them from the slavers. The UR wants to investigate. Is it possible that the autonomist scum are actually keeping somebody against their will? Have libertine simulations of de Sade gone out of control? Are there sinister experiments with mindcontrol afoot in the closed habitat? Or worse, is it a trap set by one of the enemies of UR? Firewall agents are closing in on their target – a project developing dangerous technology that must be stopped carefully. They discover an UR crew preparing to strike to free the zeks that are on site. Should they try to join forces or stop them? Attempting to free the zeks would endanger the operation to stop the threat, but can the sentinels leave them in harms way? The UR would like to expose the whole situation, but that may reveal too much about the tempting and dangerous technology. The whole situation could end up as a three-side fight.
Extropian
nick012000 nick012000's picture
Re: The Underground Railroad
Umm, how would they even know about Firewall? Firewall takes great pains to conceal the fact it exists.

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Arenamontanus Arenamontanus's picture
Re: The Underground Railroad
nick012000 wrote:
Umm, how would they even know about Firewall? Firewall takes great pains to conceal the fact it exists.
Because it is hard to hide a big conspiracy. As the saying goes, "three men can keep a secret if two are dead". Firewall is big enough and involved in enough sneaky stuff that its existence is known or suspected by people who keep an eye on things like that. In a world of sousveillance, mesh, data mining and paranoid superminds it is easier to hide behind disinformation than silence. Silence: a single leak and you are in trouble, disinformation: a leak will be diluted in the surrounding noise. This is of course why Firewall actually benefits from the existence of the UF: it is a conspiracy that everybody knows exists and many actually like, and a lot of Firewall activities can be explained away as UF activity. Much nicer than trying to hide behind the activities of the neo-aryan brotherhood, a Medusan Shield intelligence consultancy or (currently rogue) Bureau XI of the Chinese Ministry of the Interior.
Extropian
King Shere King Shere's picture
Re: The Underground Railroad
"Loose lips sinks ships" Firewall could be good at keeping it self secret, but some of it operatives could also be agent actives of UF. Those double agents could be the ones that proposes the joint venture or a firewall mission (that benefits both organizations -from the double agents point of view). With tools like psycosurgery, neural trimming & behavior modification - keeping Firewall operatives loyaly secretive about its existence, would be somewhat easier.
Arenamontanus Arenamontanus's picture
Re: The Underground Railroad
King Shere wrote:
With tools like psycosurgery, neural trimming & behavior modification - keeping Firewall operatives loyaly secretive about its existence, would be somewhat easier.
In theory. But it also means your opponents can do the same to you or witnesses. Avoiding loose lips is just the start: when something blows up certain people will start to *look*, and they will use effective methods to turn stones to figure out who did what and why. If you suddenly find yourself as a stolen backup copy in the servers of Planetary Consortium Intelligence you have very slim chances of not spilling the beans. Even if your first strategy works, that just means they will start another copy and use another approach. An interesting thing is that UR might be much less keen on using these tools to ensure loyalty (since they stink of the methods their enemies use), making the organisation less able to enhance its security. It presumably makes do with a great deal of paranoia, zeal and humint instead - oldfashioned counter-intelligence. Relying on neuroint may actually give a false sense of security, since the enemy might have found a way of subverting your scans.
Extropian
nick012000 nick012000's picture
Re: The Underground Railroad
Eh. Neurosurgery would work well enough, if what they're interrogating is what is actually one of your Beta or Delta Forks. They can't talk about what they don't know, after all.

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Arenamontanus Arenamontanus's picture
Re: The Underground Railroad
nick012000 wrote:
Eh. Neurosurgery would work well enough, if what they're interrogating is what is actually one of your Beta or Delta Forks. They can't talk about what they don't know, after all.
"Hmm, agent Smith, do you think it is normal for a business fork not to know what he was doing last week?" "You mean a business fork that has clearly edited out the referents of these *unusually* strong loyalty bonds, agent Jones?" "Indeed. And who has a cover story that doesn't *quite* match what would be rational for an employee at Prismatech to have." "And whose money can't be traced anywhere in particular." "Seems like we should make a house call to the original. And put a google on his inferred social network." And this of course assumes they get just the edited fork. I assume most players do not just send beta forks on their missions while they themselves hide? Hiding from a serious intelligence service looking for you is hard. Even hiding from an online network looking for you is hard. Characters who have no background in Profession: spycraft will not be able to evade them for long unless they run off to the middle of nowhere. That is why it is so important to make sure they will not be looking for you - either because nothing noticeable happened, or because the traces lead off in several wrong directions. In a transparent society the best place to hide is in plain sight, using misdirection to get others to look like they are the important targets for investigation.
Extropian
nick012000 nick012000's picture
Re: The Underground Railroad
Arenamontanus wrote:
nick012000 wrote:
Eh. Neurosurgery would work well enough, if what they're interrogating is what is actually one of your Beta or Delta Forks. They can't talk about what they don't know, after all.
"Hmm, agent Smith, do you think it is normal for a business fork not to know what he was doing last week?" "You mean a business fork that has clearly edited out the referents of these *unusually* strong loyalty bonds, agent Jones?" "Indeed. And who has a cover story that doesn't *quite* match what would be rational for an employee at Prismatech to have." "And whose money can't be traced anywhere in particular." "Seems like we should make a house call to the original. And put a google on his inferred social network."
Nonono. You misunderstand. The agents who carry out the attack or covert operation are the beta forks, and probably don't even know what their own names are. You can't talk about what you don't know about, after all. Why worry about getting your people captured and turned when you can send forks that know nothing and can therefore reveal nothing? It's a need-to-know operation, and they don't need to know anything other than what their objectives are and how to carry them out.
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And this of course assumes they get just the edited fork. I assume most players do not just send beta forks on their missions while they themselves hide?
Considering that in a few other threads there were discussions of ways to stop players from simply creating robot armies consisting of their forks in nanofabricated killbots, I'd say it does happen, at least sometimes. [/quote]Hiding from a serious intelligence service looking for you is hard. Even hiding from an online network looking for you is hard. Characters who have no background in Profession: spycraft will not be able to evade them for long unless they run off to the middle of nowhere. That is why it is so important to make sure they will not be looking for you - either because nothing noticeable happened, or because the traces lead off in several wrong directions. In a transparent society the best place to hide is in plain sight, using misdirection to get others to look like they are the important targets for investigation.[/quote] The only reason they found that guy was because he kept deliberately dropping clues. If he hadn't, he'd probably have never gotten caught. Of course, I thought you were going to link to something like the arrest of [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHohvluf3mc]Chris Forcand[/url], though. Anonymous is Legion.

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Arenamontanus Arenamontanus's picture
Re: The Underground Railroad
nick012000 wrote:
Nonono. You misunderstand. The agents who carry out the attack or covert operation are the beta forks, and probably don't even know what their own names are. You can't talk about what you don't know about, after all. Why worry about getting your people captured and turned when you can send forks that know nothing and can therefore reveal nothing? It's a need-to-know operation, and they don't need to know anything other than what their objectives are and how to carry them out.
That actually sounds like a great introductory adventure with pre-generated characters. The PCs wake up in strange morphs, knowing they have a life-and-death importance mission... but can't remember who they are or why they are doing it, just the mission parameters. Lots of action ensues. In the end they return to the pickup point, and either gets deleted or (if the GM/players are kind) gets merged with the originals and *finally* understand who they are, what Firewall is and why the mission had do be done. However, as I hoped to show with the agent example, you can deduce a lot from a beta or gamma. It is *hard* to edit away all personal information from a mind, and when something is deleted that can itself provide information (as well as hints due to the technique of editing, signs of past editing etc). Think about the painstaking forensics in CSI: Las Vegas, but going through a mind and making inferences:
    "Those strong fusiform-limbic loyalty links do not match the pattern of loyalty or love to a person, but looks more like distributed loyalty to an organisation or idea. The referent was replaced with a pretty advanced KLR memoid, matches three other cases. Plenty of potentiation in amygdala, all references deleted in last edit: has been in several traumatic situations, but decided on keeping the memories. Age somewhere between 20-25 given memory consolidation gradient, no Fall-time traumatic response peak, he was clearly living in the outer system or inert during the events. Procedural memory mapping shows lots of military skills, including how to use a XP4 - that really narrows the set of people down. Some skill-aversive links to the amygdala, clearly has done some things he wish he hadn't. Aha, lots of place cell maps in the hippocampus linked to semantic representations of Titan; this guy has spent a lot of time there. Plenty of location information. The other place cell grids have been sent to neuroprinting for comparison to locations of interest. The deleted familiarity recognition patterns in the parahippcampal gyrus all centre around the last three years and certain core concepts; we are making probabilistic inferences of what those concepts are based on the other deletions, but it is going to take a while. It is pretty clear that one of the concepts is the Fall, in any case. Running the basic recognition-emotional response spectrum shows that he is not an autonomist or argonaut, but has hypercorp and extropian affiliations. Some odd reactions to food imagery. When it is done, we will compare with the conclusions from the other cases with the KLR memoid. But I think we can already say that this young male with Action Direct training works since three years for an organized group with pretty good neurosec and in-house editing software. He been doing dirty jobs for them, likely based out of Titan. He seems obsessed with something related to the Fall. I guess the number of male 20-25 people originally from the outer system with AD training on Titan that fit this profile is going to be rather small. "
If a fork is all evidence left after something important, then the authorities will spend significant resources on figuring it out. Once they get enough, other kinds of detective work starts. Given how identifiable individual computers are due to the *browser* (see https://panopticlick.eff.org/ ) it is not that hard to imagine that individual minds can be identified (if you have a sample) by looking at their skill patterns, for example. Sure, the authorities say they are not running brainprint databases or monitor egocaster transmissions, but do you trust them?
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And this of course assumes they get just the edited fork. I assume most players do not just send beta forks on their missions while they themselves hide?
Considering that in a few other threads there were discussions of ways to stop players from simply creating robot armies consisting of their forks in nanofabricated killbots, I'd say it does happen, at least sometimes.
Might be a fun adventure. The players send off the forks. A while later the GM says: "your forks do not return. What do you do?" ;-) (and now, whatever it is that stopped the forks, knows that someone is coming)
Extropian
The Doctor The Doctor's picture
Re: The Underground Railroad
Arenamontanus wrote:
In a world of sousveillance, mesh, data mining and paranoid superminds it is easier to hide behind disinformation than silence. Silence: a single leak and you are in trouble, disinformation: a leak will be diluted in the surrounding noise. This is of course why Firewall actually benefits from the existence of the UF: it is a conspiracy that everybody knows exists and many actually like, and a lot of Firewall activities can be explained away as UF activity.
As I recall, many knew about Global Frequency, even though individual members kept airtight OPSEC about GF. When one takes into account the fact that over 90% of transhumanity is irrecoverable but Firewall actively fights to preserve what remains... that is difficult to argue against regardless of how much one knows about the organization in question. Results that directly benefit someone are difficult to argue with. On one hand, their vigilante tactics are disturbing to the powers that be. On the other, they preserve what remains...