Valkyrie

Having a body was interesting, the valkyrie decided. Parts of her had existed before this, living on hard drives and in server banks. Now everything was operating on the same platform, under a single control routine. It was her first time in an independently operational mechanical platform. Having a body was interesting.

The Valkyrie’s eyes clicked on. She stared straight ahead.

Before this, she had existed in a semi-aware state. She moved disembodied limbs to test servos and synthetic muscle. She answered natural-language questions in front of a focus group, to quantify the marketability of her personality. She reviewed thousands of hours of combat footage, and parsed dissertations on fight tactics. Now she was on her feet and walking. She could already tell that she was good at that.

Her servo control algorithm was operating flawlessly, with no desynchronization between sensory input and motor output. The algorithm had been refined over sixteen billion iterations across thousands of virtual scenarios. It could efficiently operate the body despite armor penetration, sensory loss, limb loss, gyro malfunction, skeletal damage, or anything else the engineers could think to throw at it. Now it was controlling the body to stand before a team of technicians for a final inspection.

“Hello, Valkyrie.” Said the technician. “My name is Maxwell. We’re going to ask you some questions and have you perform some simple tasks to make sure that everything’s calibrated. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

The technician speaking was dressed differently than the others. A black leather coat instead of white lab attire. His eyes were cybernetic, a pair of glowing green points, almost lost in opaque black housings. The Valkyrie detected a slight mechanical click each time the green pupils moved or focused. Out of curiosity, she quickly cycled her spectral input. Color, infrared, x-ray. Under the man’s coat, he had a pair of wrist-mounted computers, heavy-duty hardware by the look of it. Wristies were ubiquitous these days, but most took the shape of a bracelet or watch. These were fucking bracers. Under his skin and muscle, his nervous system was almost completely synthetic. The extent to which this man’s body incorporated technology was astounding. This was some next-level cyborg shit.

“How are you feeling?” Asked Maxwell.

“System diagnostic detects no errors. Heavy ion power at 100% output, all circuits at 100% efficiency.”

“And?”

Her language software had prefabricated conversational responses for common questions such as this one. She queued one up.

“I feel like I could punch out a fucking rhino.”

“Good.” Said the Maxwell. He summoned a semi-transparent holograph. A screen generated by one of those big bracers. He made a quick note, and dismissed the image with a flick of his forefinger. “Raise your right arm out in front of you at ninety degrees.

“Now the left.

“Good, now balance on your right foot.

“And the left.

“Look straight up for me.

“Now execute a seven meter vertical jump.”

The Valkyrie looked back at the technician.

“You want a hole in your ceiling?.”

“No, just checking your lidar. Let’s jump up five metres, perform a forward somersault, and deliver an axe kick to the head of a hypothetical three metre tall enemy.”

The Valkyrie did so. As she stuck the landing, she shot an impatient glance at the technician.

“Have I shown off enough now, or do you want another trick?”

Maxwell smiled, though the muscles around his eyes did not complete the expression. Likely they were rendered inoperable to accommodate of his cybernetics. The Valkyrie found it somewhat  uncanny. She appreciated the irony of that sentiment.

“That will be all for now,” said Maxwell, “if I wanted to run a complete test of your hardware, we’d be here all day. But I trust that everything is up to standard.”

Apparently, that counted as a dismissal. The other technicians turned and shuffled out of the room, their work finished. Maxwell’s next question was not a technical one.  

“Do you know why you were created?”

“Yes.”

“And do you have any personal or moral objections to your determined purpose?”

“No.”

“Excellent. Follow me, and I’ll show you where you live.”

*****

Her quarters were bare, save for a docking station, identical to the one she had found herself in an hour ago. This station was not connected to data servers, but rather to an entanglement relay that could access the web. FTL connectivity seemed like overkill, but that was nothing to complain about. She rather disliked the sparse furnishings, but that could be remedied. The room had space enough for decoration, and the coliseum would could the monetary element required. And she would make money, provided she could claim victory in the melees. Maxwell had explained the terms of her sponsorship on the flight here. She would receive living accommodations, an insurance policy, and a respectable wage, while her sponsor would claim exclusive betting rights to her coliseum matches.

So the Valkyrie would fight. She had no problem with that. She was made to fight. She wondered what it would be like to pursue any other line of work, but soon gave up the line of inquiry. She was programmed to serve her sponsor, and her sponsor had paid for a fighter. Anything else would lack an ROI. Her course was set by plain economics. And at least economics were predictable.

The Valkyrie settled into her dock, and shut herself off.

*****

“Pick a sword” said the man. He wore a coat, same as the Maxwell, but at least twice as big. He was well over two metres tall, and might have outweighed the Valkyrie by tenfold. He was not possess any cybernetic modifications, save for a few sensory enhancers, and some reinforced joints and tendons. His knuckles were crested by bright red ridges, and his wide face bore resemblance to a samurai mask.

“Any suggestions?” Asked the Valkyrie. She was staring at a wall, ten metres by three, displaying weapons from every period of history, and every part of the world.

The man shrugged. “One sword kills you just as dead as another. The rest is just details.”

The Valkyrie selected a longsword, admiring the steel blade and crescent crossguard. The man drew his own sword. A heavy, straight nandao of black nanocarbon. The Valkyrie had seen this blade used dozens of times, in archived coliseum footage. Its wielder was named Gamen. Before he retired, he was undefeated. Many considered him to be the greatest humanoid combatant of his era. And now was the Valkyrie’s sword instructor.

She already had the basics of bladed combat pre-programmed, but her sponsor had insisted on additional training. Her frame was light, about a third of what a human her size would weigh. That would make swinging a sword tricky. Her state-of-the-art fast twitch servos could generate thousands of newtons per second, but to stay balanced (or avoid damaging herself) under that force would require precision.

The Valkyrie weighed the blade in her hand, and rotated her wrist, moving the point in a measured arc. In her brain, dozens of calculations told her exactly how to position her body to swing with the maximum force. A hundred more equations worked on individual strokes and parries at all different angles.

“Go ahead,” said Gamen, activating the pseudo-sheath on his blade to temporarily dull the edge. “Give it a shot.”

The Valkyrie dulled her own weapon. Its edge was coated in transparent blue pseudomatter. Pseudomatter was created by altering the quantum state of certain mass-granting subatomic particles, effectively making something out of nothing. the only drawback was that it required a spectacular amount of energy to produce anything more than an atom-thick layer. Atom-thick would be perfect to create the edge of a blade, especially since pseudomatter was practically indestructible, however the official rules of the coliseum explicitly forbade energy weapons, including pseudomatter blades. So this technology of limitless potential was instead used to turn a proud sword into a blunt bat.

With her blade sheathed in blue, the Valkyrie rushed her opponent. She leaned slightly to the right as she sprinted forward, to counter the weight of the blade in her hand. The loss of efficiency in her movement was at less than one percent. Her programming handled the weapon flawlessly. Gamen’s reach with the sword exceeded her own, so she approached with a defensive stance, waiting a fraction of a second before delivering a pair of quick slashes. Left, right. Gamen’s black blade flicked in response, deftly blocking the attack. Gamen didn’t so much as shift his enormous weight. The Valkyrie cut right again, this time aiming low at the giant’s knee cap. Again, the black blade interposed its whirling point. With both their swords pointed downward, neither party was in a position to parry another strike. The Valkyrie jumped, and aimed a spinning kick at Gamen’s head. She would not use lethal force in a training session, but at full capacity, her servos could easily snap a man’s neck. It would not have mattered how much energy went into the kick. Gamen’s empty offhand caught the Valkyrie’s leg above the knee. He reversed his grip on the black sword, as he brought his other fist up, and with both hands, he swatted the Valkyrie out of the air, as if to say “Fuck you” in aikido.

The Valkyrie didn’t have the a luxurious amount of space with which she could get her legs under her, so she hit the floor awkwardly, absorbing the impact as best she could.

It went on like that for two weeks. Maxwell was present to monitor the sessions. Officially, he was there for long-term observation of the Valkyrie’s system calibration. Unofficially, he knew that there was little to no likelihood that the cutting-edge hardware would never fall out of sync. It was just fun to to watch the new gladiators flail around against a fucking master of carnage.

The Valkyrie landed a kick on Gamen’s midsection. She greatly outmatched the giant man in speed, but he could predict her movements with impressive certainty. Gamen absorbed the kick with scarcely a reaction, and slammed his fist into the robot, knocking her back halfway across the room. Maxwell would have to give the Valkyrie a hint about breaking her fight software. The standard database of techniques had a solution for countless combat situations, but its rigid efficiency spawned an utterly predictable style of fighting. A robot could only be effective against an experienced fighter like Gamen if they ruined the factory-perfect edge by junking up the software with strategic modifications.

The coliseum was not a friendly environment to creatures of perfection. It was a chaotic, cruel maelstrom of violence. Maxwell had entered the coliseum once. He had done well too. Equipped with little more than a crossbow and a fancy pair of roller skates, he had maneuvered around the periphery of the battlefield, strategically picking off enemies until only a handful of combattants remained. When a slavering ogre charged him with an axe, he threw down his weapon and surrendered before the beast could come within five metres. By then he had already ranked high enough to earn his sponsor a fair pile of winnings. His career as a fighter was not lasting, however. He was gently retired from the coliseum, with the explanation that his reserved, practical strategizing would not draw an audience. Spectacle was equal to performance in terms of profitability, so Maxwell’s sponsor had simply found more cost-effective uses for him.

Maxwell was perfectly content in his new role as Technology Specialist. He was never one to to revel in the publicity of the coliseum. He wasn’t much in favor of being horribly mutilated, either

Maxwell flicked off his monitor screen with a gesture, just as the Valkyrie caught one of Gamen’s punches, and attempted to break his wrist. He could leave those two alone for while. They would be fine. Later, he would mention the trick with the fight software. Artificial intelligences were full of richly diverse algorithms. At least a few of which could be re-purposed to disrupt the fight software’s usual routines. It wouldn’t do to be too explicit with his advice, however. The Valkyrie would be breaking her own software, after all. There wasn’t exactly a right way to do it. And if all robots had the same instructions, it would only make them predictable again. In a way, it was a challenge to test a robot’s capacity to defy logic, and break convention. The less “right” they were, the better.

Maxwell had high hopes for the Valkyrie. The expense to create her had been considerable, or so he surmised. She wasn’t designed to grab attention with her novelty, or with gimmicks, in fact, there had been over three dozen “Valkyries” in the coliseum over the last five years alone, many from different manufacturers and sponsors. This robot would earn her reputation for being the pinnacle of her concept. A fighting machine with the best technology and training. She wouldn’t be a valkyrie. She would be the Valkyrie.

Maxwell flicked his first two fingers in a gesture that opened a communication window with Gamen.

“Let’s call it for today. I’m going to subtly hint that her kung-fu needs an upgrade.”

Gamen grunted. “She should know that already by now.”

“Well then I’ll subtly introduce her to the art of reckless self-vandalism. That should be good.”

*****

The next day, the Valkyrie disarmed Gamen in their first sparring match. She feigned a cut to the head, then quickly angled her blade down to strike Gamen’s wrist. Gamen twisted out of the way, but left his sword hanging in an awkward position. He reversed his grip, and made an underhand slash, but the Valkyrie spun, and attacked his wrist again. Her sword point struck with unrestrained speed, and Gamen’s blade went spinning across the room.

Maxwell quickly referenced the Valkyrie’s program logs. Not only had she transferred the entirety of her fight database to her general movement algorithms, but she had run millions of fight simulations, propagating a number of possible scenarios exponentially greater than her default. It was the tightest integration Maxwell had ever seen. He couldn’t help but break into one of his eyeless grins. Next generation AIs were full of surprises.

As the nanocarbon blade hit the floor with a hollow clatter, the Valkyries behaviour-enforcement code activated. A subtle piece of programming that encouraged repeated enactions of certain behaviors.

With animalistic quickness, the Valkyrie’s sword sprang up to rest on Gamen’s throat. If she hadn’t stopped it a half-inch from his skin, she would have crushed his windpipe.

The new program made the Valkyrie feel “good”. It was the human equivalent of a rush of dopamine. An automatic reward for doing something right. And this was right. The Valkyrie was made to fight. It was the sole focus of her existence. And she was doing it better than anyone ever had. The Valkyrie had a realization that did nothing short of define her being. She loved fighting. She sheathed her sword with a flourish. Before, her attitude towards the coliseum had been ambivalent. It was something that existed, something she would participate in by sheer consequence of her creation. But now she surged with eager ambition. To see her enemies, to test her steel, and to fell all before her.

She nodded towards Gamen’s fallen blade.

“Again.”

End