Fighting Spirit
Image from Bernd Helfert
By Anders Sandberg (2001)

I found my fighter doing training exercises among the orbital junkyards. Darting from cluster to cluster, sneaking through sensor shadows, jumping out doing a complex series of attacks before getting behind a tiny piece of junk that just coincidentally happened to drift the right way. Several of its siblings were doing the same a few thousand kilometres spinwise; they were obviously all eager to get going.

"Low Fate! Get over here, time to get going!"

"Ack. Zoo, et 34 macros" it answered in its usual clipped jargon. It had picked it up from some history recordings of the Version War and liked to sound like one of the even then oldfashioned relativist clipper people.

I watched as it approached. It was using a beautifully simple trajectory to scoop me up, likely optimal in some energy-time-safety sense just like how anything posthuman moved. Even if they used baseline bodies you could always tell by the way they moved. They were so fast and smart that they could afford to rely not on reflexes and learned heuristics but on optimal movement patterns they calculated on the fly using some microscopic fraction of their intelligence. Never identical, always efficient, elegant and smooth. Of course, when we discussed it between ourselves as children, the posties probably could deliberately play at being human. There could even be posties among us hiding themselves perfectly. With superintelligence you could never tell. But as generation after generation had come to realise, it doesn't matter. If they did sneak around, what could you do about it? And if you found out they didn't, would that really convince you? In the end you always had to face the fact that they could always outwit us when they wanted. The secret, which nobody said aloud of course, was that it didn't necessarily mean that outwitting *them* was impossible.

Some of the posties needed us too, at least a bit. There was of course the usual demand for "authentic baseline" products, services and mentalities, but that was largely entertainment. The law of comparative advantage also led to some jobs where we did work the posties could do but didn't want to spend their valuable posthuman time on - everything from gardening to ice management. Sure, the posties could all be perfect gardeners just by downloading the necessary skills, spending a weekend learning all that there was to know about it or scan the brain of a master gardener. But why bother when you could just hire her and spend that time and brainpower on something posthumanely rewarding? But it was still not a need; they could do it without us if they needed to.

Low Fate blinked into existence just a few hundred meters in front of me, decelerating using a neutrino burst that frightened away several hullbots from the station landing pads. The fighter currently looked like a irregular blob, with sensors and thrusters extending randomly around it. As I jumped out towards it I could see my reflections in the mirror skin flow and merge, until they coalesced into a single brief funhouse mirror image and I melted into the ship.

There is no word for the experience of weapons systems enfolding me. It is not pleasant in any physical way, in fact it is very much a dulling of all my senses. It is not uplifting or a feeling of personal power, because there is no "me" there to experience it. Just a egoless will, a sense of purpose - linked to layer after layer of intelligence amplification, nanosystems, sensors and weaponry. Lots of weaponry.

My job is different from most. I'm a fighting spirit. No baseline or even biobrain could possibly handle the speed of modern space combat. Most engagements last milliseconds, and you have to notice a stray gamma and launch your weapons where a target (that is likely wildly evading) will be in a fraction of a second. Even the proper launching of modern weapons like adaptable orbs, green hellflowers and pitchbombs requires superhuman intelligence. But beneath all the power, speed, tactical genius and pure skill something more was needed. A sense of Why. Why fight this battle? Why not just sneak off into the universe, drop a few assemblers and build your own empire? What are we trying to achieve, and to avoid? That's my job - to know this intimately.

Most people look at me sceptically when I explain it. After all, couldn't the fighters just know that themselves? But the Godlets are not stupid (by definition). Ever heard of the Adara incident? If you give your offense/defense system too much free will they can turn against you - and there is nobody to oppose them. You could lock them down by detailed rulesets and inhibitions, but that would be devastating in a real military dilemma like the Carnimme Standoff (seems like Fate's historical readings have leaked over to me. Happens all the time) where the enemy could use them against you. You want somebody loyal to the core, but still flexible. Controlling the systems directly from On High would be a horrible waste of resources. But if the defense systems get their will from somebody else, somebody who has to protect his home but cannot use them for their own ends, then you get the ideal situation. Hence the baseline fighting spirits. Our job is to be in love with our home - all of it, everybody in the system - and be willing to defend it. Details don't matter, just the basic attitude. Once you are interfaced the system takes over the strategy, tactics, technology and actual action, but it bases them on your values.

I know, it seems ridiculously inefficient. But would the Godlets trust posties at the job? They could concievably trick them (or maybe not - I think the posties regard the godlets as just as infuriatingly impossible to trick as we think of the posties), and worse their values are easily modified by a mental metaprogramming selection. They are too fluid and smart to be loyal. But baselines are predictable, emotional, cheap and actually a bit traditional. We spirits sometimes joke we are really the mascots.

I/we stealth up, and glide away towards the coordination points. This mission today is rather simple. In the ever confusing game of local cluster politics, one group of deepowls has apparently been hired by a nym polity to formally coerce our auxillary wormhole nexus, and we are to discourage them. I'm not sure of the policonomics of the situation, but our job is to beat them. That is all I need to do. Except for that little thing, that something I'm not even supposed to think about...