Memes: Asceticism, Eugenics, Individualism, Militarism, Social Darwinism
Main Stations: Aspis (Main Belt), Xiphos (Uranus)
The ultimates are a controversial movement that embraces a philosophy of human perfection. Decried by some as immoral or even fascist, ultimates are typically viewed as elitists. The ultimates have established several habitats to pursue their ideal society and were a driving force behind the development of the remade biomorph design.
The ultimates advocate the use of applied eugenics, strict physical and psychological training, and asceticism in order to improve their overall mental and physical stamina and environmental adaptability. Their social traits and entire subculture visualizes life in the universe as an evolutionary battle for survival and is built around the victory of the superior transhuman over both its opponents and peers. Their movement is heavily militarized, and experienced ultimates offer their services as mercenaries and private security forces to hypercorps, independent city states, or wealthy individuals in need of additional protection.

I stand apart, for I rely on myself.
I stand above, for I do not fall.
I look within, to see the need for growth.
I look beyond, to face new challenges.
I move ahead, to claim the future.
I rise, for I am worthy.
I am Ultimate.
—The Declaration, made upon recognition as an Aspirant.

You have survived. Where billions of others have faltered, you have fought through the fall of humanity and endured the birth pangs of transhumanity. For that, you are to be congratulated. That is all, congratulated: a fleeting acknowledgement of a past accomplishment.
So, now what? Spend your days working to afford nights in a VR paradise? Shuffle through immortality caring about which XP stars are doing what to whom? Then what—some new distraction? Why? So many live with scales on their eyes, blind to the potential and promise surrounding them, because they are too lazy to take it.
You seek. What, you may not know, but you have the strength to search for more where the rest of transhumanity says “we have enough.” You realize that being better is not good enough, not when you can be the best. For that, you are to be recognized, and so I challenge you: Be better than you are. Understand that there is more to do than can ever be done, yet declare to yourself and the universe that you are undaunted and resolute. Tell me you are capable, know it to be true, and prove it. Claim your position as one of the ultimates … or don’t. Continue on, subject to the whims of others who own your body and control your fate. Whine impotently at the actions of each leader or government that you blame for your life. Squander the opportunity the rest of transhumanity fought the TITANs for, and died to give you, and hope that the skill of others will save you again in the future.
Ultimates are the uncommon few. Many are not fit to join us. Which are you?
—Excerpt from The Challenge, by Autarch Katalin Asztalos

The First Steps Towards Perfection

A common misconception holds that ultimates are hardass mercenaries with a thousand-yard stare and a yen for obsessive biomodding. While it’s true they are typically more combat-capable than the average transhuman, believing that’s all they are can be dangerous. Ultimates literally see themselves as a breed apart, and their near obsession with the pursuit of physical and mental perfection has deep ideological roots. They model themselves to be philosopher-kings and warrior-ascetics that are accomplished in all areas. To them, life is an active, explicit struggle for survival. Fitness not only guarantees the right to exist, but the right to self-determined superiority over the less-fit “zeros” and “genetrash” that don’t share their beliefs. Most transhumans, when they think of the ultimates at all, believe them to be a fairly recent, post-Fall, movement. But understanding the movement from its pre-Fall origins is key to unlocking the role it could play in transhumanity’s future.
Before the Fall, much of Earth’s population was still engaged in an ongoing battle to adapt to the resource scarcity created by extreme climate change, numerous small wars, and skyrocketing inequality. Small wars over resources—primarily water—were common throughout the equatorial regions. The strong survived and the weak died of deprivation. The ultimates’ founder, Manu Bhattacharya, began as a mercenary leader in the Indian subcontinent. He quickly became a kingmaker when he realized that those in power paid better than those rebelling and that being on the winning side brought with it many favors that could be called in later. His success on the field, connections with multinational forces, and work as a security contractor for various corps and governments quickly allowed this charismatic and intense man to establish his own private military company, Ultimate Security. Wealth, access, and exposure followed, allowing Manu to both influence and be influenced by a broad range of thinking as he codified his beliefs. His personal philosophy of relentless self-improvement, evolutionary fitness, and preparedness mixed with objecivist thinking, free-market capitalism, Confucian philosophy, and even the divine right of kings that he encountered in his research and business dealings. He argued that the most capable can and should rise to power and must exercise it as they see fit in order for humanity to advance, even if it means taking action that violated the freedom or sovereignty of less-fit others.
Debates over the ethics of genetic engineering and voluntary gene therapies also shaped his views. Bhattacharya viewed the benefits of new technology uncolored by any religious morality and saw it as an unalloyed good. If one can improve, one must. The alternative is oppression or death. Putting aside any advantage, either out of some misguided sense of morality, sense or honor, or desire for fairness was the path of fools and the naïve. Manu used his visibility to argue what would become the core tenets of ultimate ideology: informed, voluntary, and consensual editing of the human genome and mind, no matter how radical, was ethical so long as it made positive changes in capability. Bhattacharya viewed forced genetic selection and editing as no different than birth control or corrective gene therapies meant to treat disease or prenatal deformities, since it was informed decision-making to benefit the future. His opinion was that humanity had too narrow a concept of sickness and infirmity. Traits that could be enhanced, should be enhanced. The herd is only as strong as its weakest member, so every individual must continually improve or the growing promise of immortality would only create successive waves of unfit elders, senescent fools rooted in sentimentality and outdated moral codes. Any polity or organization that could, must institute measures to improve its constituents or it would be out-competed by others over time. People who self-select to be inferior have the freedom to choose, but must accept that they are also limiting their capabilities and the rights to exercise them.
Bhattacharya put these views into effect within his organization from the start. Ultimate Security operatives could divert wages with a company match to pay for biomods and implants to boost their capabilities. Those who pushed their bodies beyond normal human limits got fast-tracked for promotion and command. Casualties received some of the best care in the world and often came out of treatment with additional enhancements. Within a decade of establishment, Ultimate Security fielded entire units of the first true transhumans and was working with their employees directly on growing and training the next generation via company-backed genefixing and child-rearing programs. Bhattacharya himself invested huge sums into early research and development on digitized consciousness. Some of the earliest developed cortical stacks were tested by Ultimate Security operatives in combat situations.
At the same time, Manu himself established a popular personal following. His extreme personal regimen of fasting, meditation, and survival excursions to some of the harshest climates, with little or no survival gear, earned him many admirers and imitators. Soldiers within Ultimate Security respected and followed him loyally and were exposed to watered-down versions of Bhattacharya’s asceticism as part of their normal routine. Personal discipline was made a hallmark and prerequisite for advancement in the firm. Even though they were accused on many occasions of using excessive force, Ultimate mercenaries were never once charged with the type of graft and corruption that plagued other mercenary outfits. Their reputation was that they would get the job done, efficiently and quickly, as long as you didn’t question their methods.
Of course Ultimate Security also got dragged through the muck as investigative journalists published dozens of reports detailing human rights abuses and war crimes committed by the organization against civilian populations and enemy combatants. Bhattacharya was always quick to respond that such actions were the work of bad elements or those who had not fully internalized the warrior ethos, though his explanation that such acts against “lesser people” would be unconscionable to a true warrior did little to mollify his opponents. In the years immediately prior to the Fall, the leadership of the organization were formally charged with crimes against humanity by a toothless International Criminal Court, but never brought to justice, after evidence emerged that a commander had ordered all of the residents of a mental hospital in India executed for being “unfit” human beings.
Presciently, Bhattacharya also advocated for immediate and aggressive extraterrestrial colonization, as even a transhuman population would have too much demand for Earth’s badly-damaged environment. He proved his convictions by starting the planning and pre-construction of a habitat in Earth orbit named Struggle in 24 BF. With the publication of his seminal work, Eternal Struggle, Eternal Growth in 17 BF, Bhattacharya laid out a codified set of ideals and organization for a model society that would promote self-improvement and reward those that maximize their potential. In 13 BF, Struggle was opened for initial occupancy and adherents of the movement began to migrate to the station. Supporters celebrated their freedom from the needless restrictions of their inferiors while detractors decried the establishment of a crypto-fascist state and a cult of personality around a war criminal who was using Struggle to avoid having to answer for his actions back on Earth. Despite the criticism, Ultimate Security officially moved its headquarters to Struggle and several thousand self-styled ultimates made the trip to start their new society.

Ultimates in Action and Repose

During the Fall, the ultimates came into their own. Many saw the Fall as eschaton and gladly stepped forward to see if they were fit to survive. Stories abound among ultimates, in some cases supported by Solarchive files, that Manu and his autarchs all led battalions in some of the worst fighting on Earth, including the evacuation of Sydney, the destruction of the TITAN war machine factory in Beijing, and as part of the final defense of the last space elevator. Though the ultimate casualties were significant—almost 80% of those that saw action by some estimates—the fact that they survived at all and even succeeded in several major evacuation efforts bought them enough new notoriety that their ranks saw net growth as a result. Though their Struggle habitat was lost to a TITAN attack, there were other outsystem habitats with significant ultimate presence that were spared, leaving the ultimates well-positioned to quickly establish themselves as a stable political entity. They initiated an active effort to recruit from militaries that had lost their backing state, so those that came to the faction post-Fall were some of the most capable survivors. Within a year after the final Fall of Earth, the ultimates were stronger than they’d ever been, enjoying a surge in popularity and setting up lucrative contracts for mercenary work throughout the system. Ever the canny leader, Bhattacharya rebranded the ultimates, tossing aside the corporate structure that had been necessary when dealing with Earth governments and softening some of the harder-edged philosophical tenets, at least in public. This decreased tensions with many of their more collectivist neighbors and positioned them as a non-hypercorporate alternative to outfits like Direct Action and Gorgon. Though a tiny minority of the transhuman population, they became a disproportionally influential player in rimward politics.
In the decade since the Fall, though, the ultimates have lost much of that momentum. Their resources have been spread thin across projects like the establishment of facilities at Aspis, Xiphos, Ariel, and Eris and increasing response capability and presence throughout the system. The brief swell of popularity vanished as the ultimate disregard for those they viewed as too weak or shortsighted to adopt their philosophy became fixed in the public eye and as relations soured with the Autonomist Alliance and the Titanians. The loss of so many of the original pre-Fall ultimates also damaged the camaraderie and inclusion that the founders and first members shared, so new recruits face a distinct separation from their ideologues and founding members. There has also been a steady loss of candidates who have washed out, finding that their individualist leanings can be more easily indulged among the Extropians, who don’t require the same level of physical and mental commitment.
The appeal to individualists does naturally limit the adoption of a shared culture, and operational demands have also pulled the faction in different directions. The permanent military installation at Pharos and the large numbers of ultimates that spend significant time away from Aspis and Xiphos don’t have the same access to core leadership. Although these activities give the faction very important access to a gate and keep the credits and favors coming in, there were simply too many individuals for the pre- and early post-Fall organization to maintain its earlier cohesion.
Distinct strains of thought have also come into being, as the founding ideals are continuously elaborated and debated away from Manu and his inner circle. Exceptionalists hew closely to Bhattacharya’s original thought and current dissatisfaction with the rest of transhumanity’s shortsightedness. They profess a long-term plan to establish a separate civilization beyond the gates so ultimates would be free of other transhumans’ weakness. Self-styled overhumanists are the most aggressive in their disdain for non-ultimates. Internal debates led by Myron Chalmers question how much longer they should tolerate the less fit “genetrash” before taking action to rule outright since they are more advanced individuals; their condescension is responsible for much of the current ultimate stereotype of being judgmental and arrogant. Bridging the two viewpoints are the iconics, led by Katalin Asztalos, who argue that the ultimates’ philosophy should lead by example and continue to engage with broader transhuman culture to bring more voluntarily converts. All sides agree, however, that other transhumans are weaker than they could be and that weakness is an ongoing threat in a universe where TITANs still lurk. The ultimates must be ready to carry on civilization after the next inevitable Fall.

Standing Among Giants

In order to maintain stability and promote participation, the successful organization of skilled individualists depends on a mutually beneficial social hierarchy. This must recognize personal achievement and clearly separate degrees of authority and levels of inclusion to establish a core of “true believers.” To foster this, the ultimates have developed a symbolically dense system of formalized titles and awards that they use to denote an individual’s physical and mental acumen. The division between the mental and physical spheres is deliberate: an ultimate recognized for their rhetorical brilliance won’t be given command of an ops team clearing out an exhuman hive, nor will a champion athlete be given a leading role in contract negotiations for a gatecrashing operation. One of the strengths of the faction lies in the explicit acknowledgement that one person is not an expert on all areas; indeed, many outsiders are surprised at how collaboratively ultimates approach planning and strategy. Competing viewpoints and areas of expertise are brought in specifically to foster genuine disagreement and debate, and only those positions that can overcome such opposition are deemed worthy of use. Once a strategy is in place, however, all parties involved are expected to support it to their best ability and work smoothly under the guidance of the appointed leadership. It is on the director of an endeavor to see it succeed, though, as ultimates have little patience for failure of any kind and do not hesitate to hold those in high position accountable. Anyone leading should have the wherewithal to identify and overcome any situational difficulties or they don’t have the right to lead.
Deliberate obscurantism through the use of uncommon languages, coded profile information, and encrypted AR displays keeps non-ultimates unaware of the specifics, but allows fellow factionists to immediately recognize one another and help organize themselves around acknowledged expertise as any situation demands. Deliberately taking cues from a mix of military and religious traditions, different types of titles are employed, acording to the realm of endeavor. Standard military rankings are awarded based on active combat operations and the development of skills such as weapons training, vehicle piloting, squad tactics, security procedures, and field medicine. Intellectual, philosophical, creative, and technical achievements are usually recognized with more esoteric titles drawn from meditative religious traditions and Greek and Chinese culture. These are awarded based on rhetoric, social refinement, artistic endeavors that depend on control such as calligraphy and sculpture, and scientific or technical knowledge. Such specialized titles are only used very formally, either as a show of respect and deference to a superior of extreme achievement in a given field or as part of the occasional ceremonies observed by ultimates as a group. Casual reference and interactions use a common nomenclature of rank based on overall standing within the faction blended from all achievements in any sphere: Aspirants have no recognized accomplishments and are those just joining the movement. They have proven themselves committed to the philosophy and possess useful skills and basic personal competence. Typically they will have only read The Challenge and/or Eternal Struggle, Eternal Growthand have little other exposure to the core philosophy. They are put in touch with an exemplar to act as a mentor.
Initiates are ultimates that show significant skill in several valuable areas and have proven themselves useful to the faction. Not yet wholly absorbed into the movement out of fear of spies and infiltrators, initiates are only exposed to certain select works. They are slowly integrated into the faction by other ultimates through involvement with field work that places the initiate in real physical and psychological danger to weed out the unfit.
Exemplars have already proven themselves and often act as mentors for aspirants and initiates. Exemplars are successful and proven in their areas of primary competence and are often deeply engaged in building skill in other areas. Those with this level or recognition often act distinctly distant, condescending, or proselytizing towards non-ultimates. Should they request it, they may be granted occupancy on Xiphos or another ultimate habitat. Exemplars are most often encountered by others as squad commanders of other ultimates.
Ducti serve as the operational heads of major projects such as morph design, hab governance, memetic propagation, and direct large-scale military operations command. They are all highly accomplished individuals and often have very high standing outside the ultimates as well, as their responsibilities to the faction require long-term planning and routine dealings with non-ultimates. Their skills alone set them in the upper reaches of transhuman achievement.
Autarchs are the tiny handful of individuals who serve as the directors of the faction’s ideological, technical, military, and political strategy. These are the transhumans universally recognized as important thought leaders, innovators, and luminaries in their fields. All current autarchs are founders of the movement and are known to have been alive since at least 60 BF. They are the philosopher-kings that other ultimates aspire to be.
The Demiurge is the undisputed ideological leader of the movement, Manu Bhattacharya. His words are pearls, his attacks do not miss, he weeps at beauty and laughs at war. He dares you to surpass him.

Sidebar: Ultimate Attitudes

To: Donovan Astrides
From: Sukhbataar Batu
I am sorry my friend, but there is no way I can help you gain access to Xiphos. Even were you not a notorious anarchist and troublemaker, it is forbidden for any non-ultimate to visit. As to your offer to join us if it would gain you access, I am afraid this is also not possible. While I have no doubt as to your fitness and ability to survive, it is not one shared by my fellows.
In regard to your second question—how do we view other groups of transhumans?—this is complicated. I would say this varies, we are not some hive-mind, all thinking as the Demiurge does, believing as he dictates to us. Individuality is a core aspect of our being, and judging others by their actions and words is stressed over reliance on rumor or stereotype.
That being said, there are certain attitudes that prevail among my brothers and sisters. For those such as you, the anarchists, the scum, and autonomists, we see you as survivors, but not like us. You are tenacious survivors, but so is the cockroach. Worse, you are weaker than the cockroach, as you allow the sick, the infirm, and the unfit to live among you and even procreate.
While we work for the hypercorps, we do not respect them. Any being so given over to the acquisition of material goods at the expense of self-development is unfit and worthy only of scorn. The same applies to those such as the Extropians.
We view both the Titanians and the Jovians as clinging to failed, antiquated models of social organization. They are rooted in a past of states and services, one that will doom them as the weakest among them will drag them into the abyss.
As for the others? Those so-called brinkers are lost and broken people, it is better that they never existed. Criminals, of all stripes, are parasites on the social body and should be exterminated whenever encountered. And the rest, those who cling to a provincial attitude, rooted in a place like Mars or Venus and unable to see the larger picture, we ignore. Soon enough, the tide of history shall wipe them away, showing the error of clinging to a tiny part of the wide universe when the legacy of transhumanity is written in the stars of other galaxies.

Sidebar: Threat Assessment Review: Ultimates

Fellow reviewer,
To recap: since Firewall’s inception, the ultimates have been viewed with caution. The hyper-individualistic ideology of the faction makes their plans difficult to divine to outsiders. Our attempts to get an infiltrator recognized as an exemplar with access to solid intel have also failed. None of our operatives who came to us from the ultimates have shared anything of note, and when—despite very vocal protests from myself and other reviewers—attempts have been made to forcibly extract information from backups, we’ve never found anything to elevate the organization to an actionable risk. After some newly acquired data from [insufficient access], however, we feel it is a priority in the short term to deploy direct operations with Watts-McLeod assets.
The ultimates’ current system-wide PR push to recapture some of the factions’ former good will spur recruitment should be viewed as a peacetime buildup of forces. There is growing internal consensus that if the ultimates were to seize control of both the Fissure and Discord Gates, they would likely be able to make and solidify permanent gains in exploration, colonization, research, and military preparedness. The likely scenario is that Chat Noir would be hit first, given Oberon’s proximity to Xiphos. It’s no secret that the ongoing control of the Fissure Gate by their “inferiors” in Love and Rage is a thorn in their side for many ultimates. Likewise, the ultimate base on Pharos puts them in a prime position to move against Go-nin.
Once in control of two gates, the danger exists that the ultimates could move to seize all of the gates within the solar system. This would be difficult, and would require forceful access through a chain of linked extrasolar gates, but is in the realm of possibility. The high proportion of ultimates involved in gatecrashing missions via all of the known gates provides them with ample opportunity to scout targets.
This scenario could be a major x-risk. The ultimates could become the sole extrasolar power at a stroke. Though other factions would doubtless contest any such action, the initial assaults could very well succeed, and as a result the ultimates could at the very least destroy a gate in order to deny it to their enemies. Though gate destruction is theoretically temporary, it could put the ultimates in control of all of the operating gates for many months at least. It is worth noting that very few exoplanet colonies are likely capable of putting up a strong enough defense against the ultimates on their own. In the event of another x-threat being realized while the ultimates control the gates, they could be the only ones in a position to leave and could theoretically shut out the rest of “unfit” transhumanity.

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