Posted by: Parallax, Firewall Eraser <Info Msg Rep>
While we’re on the topic of ideological groups it’s a good time to talk about the ultimates, and the ﬁrst thing we’re going to talk about is that almost everyone talks about them for the wrong reasons, in the wrong context. Even among Firewall proxies, the conversation is distressingly simple and shortsighted. It usually begins and ends with “they’re fascist mercenaries who think they’re the master race, and as long as they keep the talk about genetrash to a minimum with their clients, the inner system is happy to keep paying them to guard gates and ﬁght exhumans.” If we keep talking and thinking about them like that, we’ll continue to fail at getting intel about their organization, and lose any chance of building any type of working détente with them.
Before you freak out, I’m not saying Firewall and the ultimates are going to be allies, or that we should be: there are large parts of their philosophy and operating standards that are just plain ugly, and there’s a real chance that someday the ultimates could be an x-risk. For now, though, we need to wake up to the fact that there are a lot of different forces at work within the ultimates, and some of them are deﬁnitely sympathetic to Firewall activities. Alongside the nastier types of übermensch ideology, there’s a huge focus on self-improvement in all areas of endeavor—not just physical and combat-related. There’s also an extreme awareness of personal accountability to others within the faction and a very overt commitment to ﬁght against the active threat posed by the TITANs and their leavings, the exsurgent virus, and any hostile aliens. The ultimates explicitly talk about the dangers of x-risks from those external factors, and acknowledge that transhumanity could well extinguish itself through its own stupidity. It may not be popular to say it on the Eye forums, but to me that sounds like enough common ground to at least try to have some framework for working with ultimates when we ﬁnd them going after the same threats we are.
There are two groups within the ultimates that deal with what we consider potential x-risks: puriﬁers are their exsurgent/posthuman hunters, and the rajput are their TITAN-killers. I want to emphasize my choice of language there, because it was deliberate. The ultimates have cadres within their organization that are focused on hunting exhumans and exsurgent vectors, and eradicating TITAN-spawn. Firewall, Fleet, the Quraini and Martian Rangers in the TQZ, Consortium forces, hell, even the bastards with Ozma: we try to contain or manage threats like these because we believe we have to, but the ultimates have members who join the ﬁght because they view it as a challenge or to prove they’re better and more capable than what they’re ﬁghting. The difference in psychology is huge, and sentinels and even proxies running ops need to bear that in mind if they think ultimate forces might be in play during an op.
The puriﬁers began as the veterans of the ultimates’ campaign to cleanse Eris of the exhumans that previously held the Discord Gate. Wiping out a major hive of exhumans with access to resources and reinforcements through a gate in a very hostile environment is no small task, and the soldiers who secured the moonlet, established the ultimates’ very proﬁtable relationship with Go-nin, and paved the way for the construction of the base at Pharos received a great deal of respect in their organization.
Their faction isn’t one to give promotions easily, however, so to acknowledge their accomplishments and their hard-won skill at ﬁghting exhumans, their main reward was to formally add the title puriﬁer to the ultimates’ internal litany of recognized achievements. As the exhumans made further attempts on the Discord Gate in the years following its loss, the original puriﬁers that stayed on with the security detail there were able to lead newer ultimates into battle with them. Puriﬁers that moved on from Eris to other assignments carried their mark of distinction, and were included in actions that might result in conﬂict with exhumans and exsurgents.
In the past several years, the puriﬁers have developed into a distinct sub-group within the ultimates: almost a cross between a chivalric order and a special forces group. Growing out of the Pharos base, they are heavily inﬂuenced by the overhumanist philosophy prevalent at that station and view their achievements and many victories against exhumans as proof that the ultimates are the best among transhumanity—and that the puriﬁers are standouts among their own faction. The small amount of ﬁeld intel that we’ve gathered when they’ve been observed in action indicates that they track kills and even set themselves challenges, such as deliberately holding back their most effective ﬁrepower or equipment in favor of hand-to-hand kills, in-combat marksmanship contests, and the like.
Rather than quashing such behavior, the faction seems to encourage it. Those that can pull off such accomplishments are marked for advancement, and those that fail to meet the baseline performance requirements are pushed aside. This has kept the total number of recognized puriﬁers low—less than a thousand by all our estimates—but the individual members are among the best and the brightest the ultimates have to offer. The purifiers’ reputation has also been talked up with other hypercorps aside from Go-nin, and throughout Planetary Consortium governments. That type of expertise isn’t offered by Gorgon or Direct Action, and the spooks from Stellar Intelligence don’t carry out heavy combat operations, so the purifiers are a market differentiator from their competitors, and they bring in a lot of credits for the faction. Anti-exhuman actions are also rarely in the public eye, so it gives the ultimates more intel on what’s actually happening with exhuman activity across the entire inner system—maybe even more than us.
This is speculation on my part, but based on my own analysis of what little we know about deployments in and out of Pharos, there seems to be an active effort to keep personnel moving through that station regularly to get them blooded ﬁghting exhumans in the semi-regular conﬂict that still goes on around Discord. This ﬁts with the supportive approach the faction has taken towards promoting the puriﬁers, as it gives them a wider pool of talent that has a shot at entry, but I think there’s a deeper play here as well. Given that Pharos is a bastion for the overhumanist philosophy—the real rot in their philosophy that says anyone who isn’t an ultimate is inferior, with all the related bigotry—cycling members through Pharos to get indoctrinated then sending them out into the wider population of ultimates helps reinforce that viewpoint. Myron Chalmers, the recognized head of that school of thought, is also one of the ﬁrst puriﬁers, and the current station head at Ariel. He has enough pull in the faction as one of their autarchs to make that happen.
Puriﬁers are deployed for combat and are likely to be some of the best and most heavily equipped personnel a sentinel will ever encounter in the ﬁeld. Heavy armor with a range of environmental protections and defensive measures is standard issue, along with multiple weapons for extreme range, skirmish range, and close combat. Their weapons suites almost always include both energy-based and kinetic weapons. The most common assortment includes rail weapons for their high armor penetration, blades for close-combat versatility, and multiple pieces of single-use ordnance such as mounted seekers and grenades. Specialists with exotic weapons and spray weapons to help with area control are common in squads of ten or more. In terms of conventional weapons, sentinels should assume they will be outgunned by an individual puriﬁer and will be at a huge disadvantage compared to a squad.
Given the ultimates’ general focus on transhuman perfection, they make less use of drones and robots compared to other conventional military forces, and little to no use of AIs. This is the only area where a Firewall team could gain an easy advantage, as the more ﬂexible skill sets they often possess may give them mesh and non-military hardware superiority. The ultimates are not unaware of this disparity, however, and usually have very strong countermeasures against electronic subversion: mesh and electronic countermeasures are always run by active network overwatch within a team.
Puriﬁers operate from a base of extremely strong, squad-based, skirmish-scale tactics and are adept at adjusting those tactics on the ﬂy to account for changes in circumstance when combat begins. Cross-training on weapons and operating roles allows them to carry on effectively even if they suffer heavy casualties, and their morale is almost unshakeable: expect them to ﬁght until they are all dead or subdued. When going into combat, most if not all morphs are equipped with either dead switches or neutrino farcasters to negate the risk of capture and interrogation.
Puriﬁers should always be considered high-threat forces, though with no inherent hostility towards Firewall. Sentinels should exercise extreme caution in dealing with them.
Anyone who’s ever looked at the Solarchive ﬁles knows that the ultimates saw a great deal of action during the Fall, with signiﬁcant and well-publicized involvement during several major battles. Their ﬁrst faction-only habitat, Struggle, was lost during the peak of the evacuation. It’s less well-known that even after Earth was written off as a loss, the ultimates were heavily involved in defending Luna, in what appears to be their only pro-bono action on behalf of any non-ultimates. Their actions during the Fall have always been held up as an example of the faction’s value and proof that their claims of superiority have merit, but that period is actually a major inﬂuence on their internal culture. The ultimates rightly believe that transhumanity is still threatened by the TITANs and the exsurgent viruses they unleashed, since they could return at any moment. To prepare for and stand guard against such an eventuality, they have the rajput.
< Well-publicized is a nice way to put it.
> What do you mean?
< Think about what you’ve heard about the three big successes they claim from the Fall actions.
< They held the line at Sydney so the shuttles could get away, and they were the ones that breached the perimeter and took out the air defenses in the industrial city outside Beijing so it could be nuked. What have you heard about the space elevator?
> That they were the last ones on the ground before it got blown.
< I was there, near the end, and they did stay. A lot of multinational forces did, but they suffered casualties faster because their troops weren’t walking around in 50,000 credits worth of armor and weapons, so it was mostly ultimates left near the end.
> That would be true no matter who was wearing the armor.
< Not the point. The refugees, myself included, were huddled in equipment sheds and ofﬁces around the elevator to take shelter from the ﬁghting. Any time an elevator car was loading, a squad of them would come in, and their commander would pick who was going up: it was never the old, the young, or the injured. We were all “bōdā” to them: weak, feeble, dim-witted.
> Can’t say I’m shocked to hear it, given their devotion to survival-of-the-ﬁttest.
< What did surprise me was when a bigger squad than usual came in with bags of food—we’d been without food for more than a day at that point—and said they were leaving and taking us with them. They told us they were ordered to carry up the foodstuffs, but thought the weight was better spent on us. They said we had 10 minutes to eat, then we were going up. They threw bags of supplies into the crowd and it was chaos. People were brawling to get anything they could. I stayed clear and instead made my way over to the ultimates both to avoid the brawl and to make sure I was at the front of the line when they took us to the elevator: I knew we couldn’t possibly all ﬁt and wanted to make sure I could get out.
< As I got closer, the commander noticed me and waved me over with a smile. She said something in Hindi to the others with her, and they laughed. Then she called me “smart boy” and patted my head. She nodded to her soldiers, and they stepped forward, raised their weapons, and unloaded into the crowds around the food bags. I tried to run but she grabbed my shoulder and held me there, made me watch.
> Good god.
< It was a bloody mess. dozens of people down in seconds. When no one was left standing, the ultimates pulled out combat knives and moved through the moaning victims and started popping stacks.
< I tried to struggle, but I couldn’t get out of her grip. The commander leaned down and said to me: “We can’t take the weight of the food, so feeding it to them wouldn’t help make our trip lighter. They’re too heavy as well, you see, but—ah!—a cortical stack is so much lighter than both. You’re smart enough to know that, even though you think me cruel. It is a kindness we take them at all, since they were not able to take care of themselves. You are smart, and perhaps have just been unlucky, so I will do you a kindness myself.”
> I heard rumors … but … damn.
< I knew what was about to happen and I just stood there in shock. I watched her draw her knife and just stared at it. She called me brave and smiled again, then took my arm and sliced it open from elbow to wrist. She sang something to me, some little rhyme I didn’t understand while I bled out. The last thing I saw was a bloody sack being dropped down next to me.
> Did you ever bring this to the courts?
< Nothing to be done. I wasn’t woken up until AF 2, they were still heroes, and I didn’t have any names or identiﬁcation. I’ve never been able to ﬁnd out what happened to anyone else that was there.
< Well-publicized is a lie.
The Role of the Rajput
The rajput are those ultimates that saw and survived successful action against TITANs during the Fall or against major TITAN remnants since then. We have almost no current hard data to work from, but extrapolating from info in Solarchive ﬁles from the Fall, somewhere between 150 and 200 would qualify. Only the most elite ultimate forces had any survivors, so these are all people that had decades of experience with the faction back on Earth. We can be certain they are deeply committed to the ultimates’ core ideologies and overall success. Due to their prestige and commitment, rajput are widespread throughout the leadership of the entire faction. Based on analysis of the ultimates overall structure—habitat governance, major external operations for hire, internal R&D programs, and the like—rajput constitute up to 85% of the overall executive-level command.
Due to their commitments across the organization, the rajput are not a distinct group with a deﬁned role the way that puriﬁers are. Rather, we should view them as a group with highly specialized shared expertise that is ﬁrst and foremost a command-and-control element for the ultimates as a whole, secondly an ideological group that supports the faction’s core philosophy of preparedness and survivability, and only lastly as a special forces division that can be assembled if needed. They are culture-heroes to other ultimates, and use that role to bolster their own authority and steer the faction’s stance towards preparing for, ﬁghting, and dealing with TITAN remnants.
Since the only time Firewall operatives are likely to encounter rajput is if we’re all trying to deal with some active TITAN tech, here’s what little we’ve got on their ﬁeld protocols. Compared to typical ultimate forces in the ﬁeld, the rajput almost seem quaint with their reliance on simple, analog war gear, which shows how much they internalized the lessons learned during the Fall. Much of the cutting-edge tech that typiﬁes other ultimates’ equipment and supports their tactics is nowhere to be found, for fear that it will be suborned or neutralized. The sole exception to this is the presence of robust anti-nanotech defenses. The rajput take the ﬁeld with no networked personal equipment and hardly any mesh-enabled devices: they rely on the skills and experience of their individual members. Given that almost all rajput are ultimates who have been active with the faction since decades before the Fall, this means that, even without ﬁelding current technology, they are arguably the most experienced special forces team in the system. The rajput also have access to a potent arsenal of analog weapons, including designs for purely mechanical ﬂyers, ground vehicles, and artillery that they’ve continued to design and develop since the Fall. A spike in local industrial-scale fabbing facilities is a common precursor to rajput action, as they custom-print their analog materiel near where they plan on using it, since it would be a logistics impossibility to continually ship it from theater to theater.
As TITAN-killers, the rajput are only ﬁelded as an unit when drastic, overt combat operations are called for. Even when such activity isn’t publicized, it can be detected by unusual activity at industrial-scale fabbing facilities when the analog materiel is being printed, or via activity on passenger ships bringing in troops. There are a handful of known instances where they have undertaken operations against TITAN menaces since the Fall, including expeditions into the TQZ on Mars or the husk of New Mumbaion Luna. Some reclaimer groups chatter about hiring the rajput to escort trips to Earth, but that’s only wishful thinking, as there’s no indication the ultimates would ever sign on for that type of suicide mission.
Rarely, individuals or very small teams might be deployed to investigate or consult with other groups or governments about possible TITAN remnant activities, and this is the sort of action that might lead to contact with Firewall. If the investigation is an independent operation by the rajput, we simply have no idea what they could do. The possible skills and operating goals are almost impossible to plan for given the capabilities of their members, but we need to be careful that they aren’t allowed to make off with TITAN tech. The ultimates are egotistical enough to think they could learn from it, and they have enough talent in their organization to possibly pull it off.
=Sidebar: Rajput Origins
Transcript of a conversation between Nahia Gao, sentinel and covert operative, and Jordan Balcescu, ultimate exemplar.
Gao: Teacher, I ran across an honorific I’d not encountered before while reading on our history and martial accomplishments: rajput. What does it denote?
Balcescu: Glory, Nahia. Bravery and accomplishment in the face of stupidity and weakness.
Gao: I don’t understand.
Balcescu: In Earth’s ancient past, the rajput were the princes of India, sons to the kings and generals. As time passed and there were more kingdoms, more kings, and more generals, there were more rajput. In recognition of their lineage, and to meet the potential afforded them by their birth and advantage, they were trained as warriors from an early age, and taught to pursue martial achievement, and given the chance at positions of leadership. They became feared as ﬁerce and peerless ﬁghters.
Gao: That sounds unusually romanticized for any history worth teaching. Balcescu: (Laughter) It most certainly is. Truthfully, they were simply a noble class that remained focused on the brutal work that their ancestors did to claim power in the ﬁrst place. They fought to keep their privilege, and were taught to stand vigil against the threats that surrounded them. The rajput of our society are the same: they are the companions of Manu and leaders of our brethren who stood and fought the TITANs when Earth burned. The rajput alone can claim outright victory against TITAN forces during the Fall, at the scourging of Beijing.
If Manu is our philosopher-king, the rajput are his warrior-children, and proof that our beliefs and our culture are strong enough to stand against annihilation and hold ﬁrm.
Gao: Do they bear some mark or sigil that I may know them?
Balcescu: Those who stood against the TITANs and earned the name all receive a gift from Bhattacharya himself: a katar. They are to bear it with them always as a reminder to be ready to face the TITANs again. Remember this, for you still have much to learn, and more to prove, before you are ever likely to meet one of them.
Gao: Thank you, teacher.
If you’re thinking that my presentation of the ultimates paints them as a potential threat, you’re right; I think they might be. I also know that their forces are among the best anywhere when it comes to facing down exhumans, exsurgents, and TITANs, and we need to be able to make use of that expertise when our interests coincide. Here are some operating guidelines that should help our people stay on the same side of the ﬁring line when we come in contact, as well as improve Firewall’s position for dealing with the ultimates now and in the future. We need a better working understanding of their organization and connections to their people, so we can judge when we’re on the same side and when we need to oppose them.
Here are some guidelines for interactions with the ultimates:
Focus on the Mission
If we’re trying to kill exhumans, exsurgents, and TITAN spawn, take whatever help is available to achieve that result. Everything else is a secondary consideration.
Don't Talk Philosophy
It doesn’t matter what a sentinel’s individual politics are compared to the ultimates’. If you’re a polyamorous uplifted pig who’s a member of a technosocialist commune and there’s a puriﬁer frothing at the mouth about the coming culling of the genetrash, but cooperating increases the likelihood of meeting your mission objectives, do it.
Don't Cast the First Stone
The ultimates have a bad rep for overzealous combat action going back to the pre-Fall days. If there’s contact during ﬁeld ops, mission objectives come ﬁrst, even if the ultimates aren’t minimizing collateral damage. Remember that Firewall has plenty of blood on its hands as well. Think carefully and make the hard call about whatever injustice is happening compared to the results of intervening if it throws you into direct conﬂict with the ultimates and jeopardizes a mission.
We need more intel on how the ultimates work, particularly special forces like the puriﬁers and rajput. Take in as much information as you can on their tactics, equipment, and combat methodology. Learn names, mesh IDs, insignia, anything you can pick up. Any details that might shed light on their internal dynamics and organization could be useful in the short term to help develop our own understanding of them as a group, and in the long term to improve our own operations with or against them as the situation warrants.
Watch Out and Clean Up
These aren’t hab security forces or Consortium military: they’re a group made up almost exclusively of specialists and experts. The ultimates have their own factions and conspiracies, and they’re as interested in Firewall as we are in them. If there’s any chance they believe you’re a Firewall operative, assume that they’re actively documenting all interactions with you and that there will be subversion and surveillance attempts on your mesh and physical activities after coming in contact with them. Make sure all security and cover protocols are being followed aggressively, and exercise extreme caution in making any contact with other Firewall assets thereafter.