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The main setting for a piece I'm planning is a lab whose purpose is to find the cause of the orcs in my world (they're basically hypermuscular humans, but nobody knows this in-universe yet). It's unsanctioned, so the dwarven scientist owning/running it is trying to keep it quiet. Some nearby orcs suspect something is up, but I want somebody in the dwarven military to notice this as well.

Some details about the lab:

  • It's based on a remote island (Google Maps reference for what I'm basing this on). Any official traffic to the island consists of supply ships to a military observation post.
  • It has enough room for 10 subjects, 30-50 guards, and 10 medical staff.
  • There is at least one operating/observation room to gather tissue samples and expose the subjects to whatever turns people into orcs.
  • The technological level is roughly WW1-era.

My question is two-fold:

  1. How would the owner try to hide it?
  2. How would the dwarven military start to notice this?
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  • $\begingroup$ WW1 era would imply they have flight? $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Sep 7 '16 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Twelfth they do, but there's nowhere to build an airfield nearby - the terrain I'm basing this on is a boggy, rocky coastline. So, I'm not considering flight to be likely around this area. $\endgroup$ – Philip Rowlands Sep 7 '16 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ It does from the perspective of "tech failures cause disclosure" perspective. And since comments can be deleted over time, it seemed to me like a brainstorm variation worthy of recording. Your call. :-) $\endgroup$ – SRM Sep 8 '16 at 1:46
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    $\begingroup$ Beware, you can perfectly use an Airship (Zeppelin, Blimp, Whatever) to do recon (and "landing")... your dwarfen military could have its prototype Blimp over there just for fun and someone, who is vomiting the hell out of himself spots something fishy below him. $\endgroup$ – Confused Merlin Sep 8 '16 at 9:16
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    $\begingroup$ Put your base in an active volcano. People will wonder why you have a military post in an active volcano, plus you get the whole SECRET LAIR vibe going on. $\endgroup$ – JAB Sep 8 '16 at 16:45

12 Answers 12

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Hiding

I'd probably assume that most of the buildings on the surface would be camouflaged against the trees or rocks that they built the lab. That would make it harder to see along the water. Putting stuff underground is also good, but it depends on the resources. Plus you have to put the dirt somewhere if you bury it.

They would need to funnel everything through the military traffic to the observation post, which means getting shipments through those channels. Hiding it properly would take some time, but it is doable (adjusting manifests/shipments, hiring fishermen to hang around, etc.).

Detection

The dwarf's best approach is probably noticing unusual traffic of boats and/or the materials on them. Someone might notice the manifest having weird stuff (why does an observation post need thirty hammers?) or that there is too much being shipped for the manifest (why does someone need a box that big for thirty hammers?). You also have a ship unloading in the wrong place (why are they taking thirty hammers into the woods?) People always talk, that's frequently a good one for revealing secrets.

You have incidentals such as a fire in the base and someone notices smoke. Or a ship that breaks down near the unloading point where it doesn't make sense to weigh anchor or to be there for a while. Or footprints along a trail that someone notices.

If they are doing flybys, someone might notice that a rock or terrain changed. Or that a path has been created by something being dragged (or people simply walking along it).

You also could have radio waves or signals from an unexpected source (RF interference is always a good one). Or flashes of light.

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    $\begingroup$ Seconding on both camouflage netting (pretty classic anti-reconaissance plane stuff) and the shipping manifest thing. I was in the middle of typing both of those. $\endgroup$ – Ross Sep 7 '16 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ I did not think of traffic analysis until I read this. Now I feel the need to make a Wireshark reference somewhere in the story. $\endgroup$ – Philip Rowlands Sep 7 '16 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ @PhilipRowlands Wireshark with WW1 tech? $\endgroup$ – Steve Sep 7 '16 at 20:34
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    $\begingroup$ It wouldn't be automated, but they still had accountants who had to account for fuel expenditures (why does deliver 30 hammers take so much fuel), supply lines, even packing. All those little things just require someone to notice something out of the ordinary to trigger a search. Or missing data (why are the manifests missing? why don't we have patrols in this area?) It seems like a lot of SIGINT is about seeing a break or change in patterns that indicate something hidden. $\endgroup$ – dmoonfire Sep 7 '16 at 20:38
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps it's what you meant, but "weigh anchor" means to raise your anchor and leave, not drop it and stay. $\endgroup$ – Azor Ahai Sep 7 '16 at 21:54
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Overheard Bar Chatter

The lab had to be built by someone, whether the island lab is remote and out in the open, or hidden underground. Presumably the dwarves that built it also go out for a drink from time to time. Perhaps one of them has a little too much to drink and says something along the lines of "don't worry, I just finished a big offshore contract, I won't have to worry about money for a while."

Someone asks the dwarf what he meant by that. He immediately goes quiet, pays his tab, and leaves.

This exchange catches the attention of a member of the dwarf military. Maybe they're a proto-Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden, driven by ambitions of truth and justice in their society. Perhaps they work in some sort of internal affairs department, and this could be the bust that makes their career. Or they are on the need-to-know for the lab, and the more they try to plug the potential leaks, the more attention it ends up receiving, through what we call the Streisand Effect.

Either way, this lab could catch attention from the right people, without any of them ever having to see it in the first place.

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    $\begingroup$ The "Internal Affairs" department would fit very well with one of the characters I have planned. +1 for that. $\endgroup$ – Philip Rowlands Sep 7 '16 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ Secrets are very difficult to keep, I would not put it past someone to let out the existence of the lab accidentally or intentionally. $\endgroup$ – fyrepenguin Sep 8 '16 at 18:25
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Supplies

A smart and capable scientist with adequate funding and WWI technology could build a largely subterranean facility with little difficulty. Hiding it from the air is not a big deal. Strict operational security keeps anyone from going in or out. Any locals who stumble by might need to come join the party.

Keeping that many people fed is going to be a challenge though. You're going to need regular supply smuggling runs. Assuming supply by sea (I'm not sure if you want that bridge there and it's easier to hide sea smuggling.)

I was initially thinking every three months, but smaller, more frequent trips is probably better. A single stocked rowboat from a ship offshore every month should do the trick and help prevent major problems in the case of a missed delivery. Lets assume a well for water supply since transporting that much water would really be a challenge.

That much supply traffic is still going to raise eyebrows. If you want to be doubly clever you can have the scientist bribe the logistics people in the Dwarven army. An investigation into missing supplies could slowly uncover the fact that something is going on.

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  • $\begingroup$ Not to detract from this, but the 'bridge' on the reference map I linked to is actually a signposted track across a beach that only appears at low tide, rather than an artificial one. $\endgroup$ – Philip Rowlands Sep 8 '16 at 9:31
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I'd say that such tiny lab would be quite easy to hide. 10 test subjects and 10 medical personnel? Damn, it could be built as underground storage facility. Or as an underground emergency infirmary in case of naval bombardment.

Not sure what is an acceptable explanation in your setting, but one could even consider a mental asylum for schizophrenic orcs. ;) Or with this size, one could even hide everything in the cellar of the scientist's villa, and officially pretend that all these medical personnel are his friends / servants.

I'd consider as the highest risk:

  • need for some unusual medical equipment

  • being ratted (perhaps unintentionally) by one of soldiers

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  • $\begingroup$ The unusual medical equipment is probably the best thing to notice. That would go very well with @dmoonfire's answer. $\endgroup$ – Philip Rowlands Sep 7 '16 at 20:22
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Things in the WWI era were much easier to hide, since the means of collecting and collating large amounts of data did not exist the way the did in WWII or today.

Even if the secret base was dug by contractors, it could take months for the contractors to get back home via ship and train. Shipments to the base could come from Argentina, the UK or America, leaving massive gaps in any observer logs. And communications over long ranges was very low bandwidth. One famous example from WWI was the detachment of the armoured cruiser SMS Emden from the German Pacific fleet. The single vessel was able to cruise the Indian ocean, tie up almost 100 allied warships searching for it and terrorize the sea lanes taking prizes for a period of three months and steaming thousands of miles. She actually spent some time in places like Dutch Batavia where the locals had not yet been informed of the outbreak of WWI, and treated the ship's crew as visitors and guests.

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So long as the lab's staff is clever and patient, they might not even have to carry out a lot of overt security measures. Even the cover story could be kept in that era by simply doing things in stages: hire one crew to clear space for a resort, hire another crew later to dig the foundations for a mine, hire yet another crew to build a hospital for the natives, etc. Using tramp steamers on an irregular basis makes things even more convoluted, you break the pattern of regular shipments, and captains are not going to look too closely at manifests if the price is right.

So the interesting part of the story would then be how the intelligence service hunts these clues down and pieces them together. The clues will be all there, but widely distributed across both time and space, minimizing the damage that is caused by people talking, and keeping things compartmentalized so even inadvertent clues such as the ideas dropped in other answers don't add up very easily.

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  • $\begingroup$ That's SMS Emden, not Eden that you're talking about. $\endgroup$ – AndrejaKo Sep 7 '16 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ Autocorrect has to be the worst invention ever. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Sep 8 '16 at 1:09
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I don't have any good suggestions for how the lab should be hidden, however one way it could become noticeable is a laboratory accident.

Perhaps you may find some inspiration in the Star Trek TNG episode, "Who Watches the Watchers?". There, their observation station was cloaked by a holographic wall. They were discovered when the station ran into technical problems, an explosion occurred. The power began to fluctuate, leading to the holographic wall momentarily shutting down in places, and they were noticed by the natives. The situation became more complicated when one of the natives approached and was accidentally injured. So e.g. cloaking and a power failure for your lab.

I know that doesn't fit your WW1-era tech requirement, but the concept of an accident leading to discovery is the take-home idea there. Perhaps a visible explosion, perhaps something more drawn out like a dwarf is injured near the lab or something else happens, some orc witnesses the clean-up effort, is captured to protect secrecy, and the ensuing investigation ultimately leads other orcs to the site, or whatever (or maybe the dwarven military witnesses and investigates, and the info about the military discovery of the lab somehow trickles down to the orcs), but you know what I mean.

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Hide in plain sight: you build a secret lab or medical facility, in cooperation with the dwarven military to research "X", but you really research "Y".
After a while, the dwarven military start noticing the smell of that special plant or compound used to research "Y". The smell draws attention and questions...what does that rare plant or flower have anything to do with "X"?

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If they are keeping the supplies to the lab hidden, you could probably have the character notice that a ship has an unusually high waterline or maybe have some stevedores struggling when loading a crate that is labeled with something that wouldn't normally be very heavy.

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  1. Have a house or lighthouse or some other structure on top of the lab in order to hide any human/dwarven activity in the area.

  2. Depending on the experiments/tests being run at the lab electricity may required. Perhaps someone monitoring the power grid may notice an unusual amount of power (compared to what the generally expected level of power use for whatever structure is there should be) being drawn at that location.

This all depends on whether or not they use/have electricity or use their own generator instead, and probably a bunch of other factors also.

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The flora and fauna could be affected by experiments on the island and may be noticed by locals who would have spread such gossip to be overhead. The owner may attempt to hide such evidence by applying strongarm tactics to threaten the locals who ask too many questions or attempt to erase such evidence themselves, thereby exposing themselves to being caught in the act by spies or the dwarven military.

Examples:

  • Sea birds which usually swarm around the island beaches in their hundreds have mysteriously avoided the area since the base was built (due to ultralow frequency machinery noise, or eletro-magnetic radiation, etc)

  • Dead fish with unhealthy green pallor have been washing up (due to strange chemicals leeching out into the surrounding waters or eating the corpses of failed experiments, etc) or plants of unusual size or hue growing on the island

  • Plants which grow abundantly everywhere on the island seem to avoid a particular area or the reverse, particularly abundant growths in an otherwise barren island (due to the hidden entrance, or excessive heat generated, special chemicals in the fumes, etc)

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Let one of the hypermuscular humans escape. After 3 weeks swimming the shark-ridden seas, he washes up on the shore, is found by a local division of the dwarven militia. Half unconscious and fully mad, he starts babbling about Hell going down on a small island far to the east...

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There are some great answers here that you could mix and match.

Hide the lab in plain sight, a quarantined medical facility to study infectious diseases, which would justify the medical technical people. As the facility is being built build a secret lair underneath with the holding cells and all the Tesla coils and such.

Then have a fire or something in a generator and plucky government inspector Bob comes out on a Zeppelin and starts wondering why a 10 bed medical quarantine island needs a 1.21 gigawatt steam generator and a bunch of lightning rods.

Bob knows some Dwarven engineers who make that kind of equipment....

I like this idea, sounds like Shadowrun but more steampunky. :)

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