Stardock: Part 24

Through my observation bots, I watched Bloodmaiden take to the air. I knew she could fly, but from her motion, it looked more like she’d jumped. One leg bent in a step, and the other straight, her pose reminded me of early Superman comics, and how Jaclyn jumped.

If she used her ability to fly to cushion her landing, I didn’t notice it. Her boots sank into the ground next to Jaclyn.

She’d jumped over the building. I knew she wasn’t this strong normally.

All the surviving soldiers stared as Bloodmaiden started talking in a harsh, consonant filled language that they obviously understood. I’d never heard it in my life.

One of them replied, and let his rifle fall to the ground. The rest began to follow his lead.

Bloodmaiden smiled. Her teeth were pointed like a carnivore’s–very similar to Haley’s when she transformed. “They’ve surrendered.”

“Good,” I began, but then I realized that I couldn’t see the Xiniti’s body on the ground. I thought about where it could be, and knew that it had to be inside the building.

Worse, if it wanted to, it had had time to kill everyone inside by now. I felt sick.

What could I do next? I needed to know if they were dead or not. I needed Rachel, or no, wait, another observation bot.

A bot would be faster.

I fired one off, but it didn’t matter. A silvery blur rushed out of the front door, stopping in front of Bloodmaiden, swiping across her abdomen with one silvery arm.

I didn’t see its hand connect, but blood flew through the air, spattering the ground in front of her.

She fell over, bleeding through slices in her armor.

The Xiniti turned toward Jaclyn before I even realized that Bloodmaiden was falling. I couldn’t give her any warning. I had no time to think, hope, or fear what would happen next.

All I knew was that Jaclyn became a blur of purple and brown, and the Xiniti found itself flying backward across the clearing. It hit a tree, cracking the trunk.

At that point, you’d have expected it to be dead, but it stood up, and blurred again, running toward me.

I probably wouldn’t have had time to respond except that I’d fired off five killbots when I realized that it was getting up. As I did, I worried that I was wasting bots, but the feeling didn’t last.

The Xiniti slowed and started jerking from right to left, backwards and forwards, but still managing to cover half the distance between the trees and building in less time than I would have.

It was dodging the bots, or at least it seemed to be.

Replaying its last run showed that its movements became more erratic as the bots got closer and closer and its escapes became a nearer thing.

Even in slow motion, I wasn’t sure how it avoided some of them. It seemed to slide between them, but how do you do that when three of the five appear to be just about ready to enter your body?

I don’t know how it died.

Dodging must have slowed it down enough for Cassie to get it in her gun’s crosshairs. So, at the same moment a ball of flame exploded out of its side, a white beam pierced its head.

It fell, turning into barely recognizable silvery goo, and burned biological fragments.

I stared at it, waiting for something. I didn’t know what. Maybe I couldn’t quite believe it was dead. Maybe I needed a moment to process all that had happened in the brief time it had fought.

Grandpa had told me that the Xiniti normally lived and fought in packs. I didn’t like thinking how this fight might have gone if there had been even one more of them.

I couldn’t say I found the way it disappeared when the fight started particularly impressive though. The observation bot I’d fired off showed that Dr. Griffin’s family and staff were still alive, so it hadn’t decided to simply kill them.

Bolting could be something Xiniti typically did during an attack, or maybe it was something Xiniti operating alone did?

As I decided that I’d be best off figuring it out later, Bloodmaiden spoke over the comm.

“Rocket?” Her voice sounded weak and raspy. “I need help.”

I turned toward her. She held her hand over the slices the Xiniti had made in her armor. She seemed to have gotten at least partial control of her bleeding.

Blood wasn’t flowing from the wound. Red lines glowed across the plate armor that covered her abdomen.

She’d need a lot of help. Damaged abdominal muscles would make it hard to breathe, and the intestines behind them held a lot of things that you never wanted to make it out of your intestines.

I called Agent Lim.

“Bloodmaiden’s down,” I told him as he answered. “We’ll need to get Paladin over here or send her to him.”

Indistinguishable voices ran on the background of Lim’s connection, “How bad?” His voice sounded distant, distracted.

Trying not to say it loud enough for Bloodmaiden to hear, I told Lim. “I’d bet it’ll kill her. I don’t know how soon.”

“Shit,” Lim muttered. “She’s not the only one either. Portal will open up a gate to your Jenny, and we’ll bring her through.”

“We’ve also got prisoners.” I glanced over at Izzy and Jaclyn. Having taken the soldiers’ weapons, they stood on opposite sides of the group. The prisoners lay face down on the ground.

Cassie had come out of the woods, and after she’d taken a look at the Xiniti, she’d joined the rest of us.

“Prisoners?” Lim didn’t sound distracted at all. “How did you manage that?”

“I think they lost a lot of confidence after we took the ships out. Plus, I’m guessing Bloodmaiden can speak the language of anything she kills, so she translated.”

“No kidding,” Lim said. “We don’t have any official cells, but we’ll figure something out. NYPD’s got more metahuman containment cells than any other police department in the country.”

Some kind of noise rumbled in the background of the connection. Was it static? An explosion?

“Sorry,” Lim continued, “I’ve got to go, but take a break while you’re waiting for Portal, and find out what Griffin and company were working on.”

“Sure,” I said.

Lim hung up.

23 thoughts on “Stardock: Part 24”

  1. Ah yes, early Superman comics, where he couldn’t fly. He could merely leap tall buildings in a single bound. The flying part I think came about later with either the radio or the TV show.

    As for alien containment and…interrogation. Well, things are going to get a bit nasty, I’m sure. I suggest bringing a poncho to the live viewing, maybe some clear plastic to help keep the entire row dry. Also, you may want to refrain from eating sausages for when parts go flying. You might bite into some intestine instead, which I’ve been told tastes like crap.

  2. Im hoping the Xiniti didnt set a demo charge in the building…then it would be time for Nick to worry about what it did in the building.

  3. From the commentary, this is one of the few times where it feels like Rocket us writing a memoir as opposed to giving a play by play.

  4. Not powers, very advanced technology.
    Besides the armor this Xinity probably has implants, lots of enhancements.

  5. Problem with just using the “very advanced technology” cliche is that it doesn’t take into account processing time, let alone sensory lag. Any sentient being (at least any that we’ve uncovered in RL) has to take enough time to take in the mess of data coming in from their sensory organs and make sense of them, and then make a decision about what to do, and only then can they react. The entire process takes milliseconds, but when you are talking about the speed of bullets (or in this case kill bots) there is not enough time to go through the entire process. Mythbusters did an interesting episode a while back that delved into the myth of dodging bullets, which was really interesting and I’d really recommend.

    With superhumans with enhanced speed (the Flash, Jaclyn, etc) the idea presented is that the same thing that gives them enhanced speed also speeds up their brain and reduces their processing time relative to the overall speed increase. If you are talking about advanced armor (Iron Man, The Rocket, Steel, etc.) the most that the technology can do (as I imagine it, anyway) would be to streamline the process and maybe add automated “scripts” for common and relatively harmless actions that can take place without user input (similar to Timothy Zahn’s Cobra enhanced soldiers). Even neural implants wouldn’t reduce the time to take conscious action enough to dodge projectiles like this.

  6. I’ll refrain from commentary on Xinti abilities aside from the old saw about sufficiently advanced technology and magic.

    And on the subject of advanced tech and interrogation, all I can say is…

  7. Still a great read. A couple of typos:

    A bot would would be faster. (Double ‘would’)

    I didn’t like thinking how this fight might have gone there had been even one more of them. (‘had’ and ‘there’ appear to have gone switched around in all the excitement.)

  8. Umm, Jim?

    You probably know this and the mistakes are more likely typos, but…

    its, possessive (as in *its* head, or *its* nuclear-powered thingamabob”), doesn’t take an apostrophe;

    it’s, contraction (“it is” becomes “it’s”, as in *it’s* the head, or *it’s* the nuclear-powered thingamabob) does take an apostrophe.

    This seems to be something you often confuse in your writing — and yes, I *am* that grammar Nazi.

    All the best;
    Barrendur

  9. Hmmmm that Xiniti armor, Nick should geek out now. Well after he’s done worrying about Blood Maiden.

    And I just love this story. Moooooore!

  10. @Bester;

    Neural implants are maybe 50 years ahead of current RL tech. Make it 500 years and you got sub-cellular organic nanites. Basically, nano-scale machines of various types made of carbon-based substances you implant in an organism’s cells. Carbon-based so they can interface with our body’s own chemistry to replicate or repair themselves.

    Want someone to be tougher? Carbon nanocomposite support structure in his cells. Some of those nanocomposites we got today are 100x as tough as steel.
    Want someone to be stronger? Piezolelectric nanomotors and nanofibers in his muscles to provide the flexing, fed by microfusion reactors on individual cells. Lift a thousand tons with one arm. (support surface below feet not included)
    Want someone to be faster? Replace the electrochemical relays in neural cells that transport information at a few hundred meters per second with superconductors that move information at half the speed of light. A million times faster nervous system function than an unaugmented human.
    Want someone to fly? Miniaturized antigravity modules in his bone structure, fed by microfusion reactors.
    Improve the grossly inefficient hearing and vision in similar ways.

    Presto, you got a fully technological Superman indistinguishable from a normal human to casual observation. Except for the heat vision and super breath. Not to worry though – the capability to fabricate and secrete biological material from common medicine to engineered plagues via a seriously updated immune system, and the wireless network uplink and integrated virtual reality capability are way cooler than heat vision anyway.

  11. “I think they lost a lot of confidence after we took the ships out. Plus, I’m guessing Bloodmaiden can speak the language of anything she kills, so she translated.”

    This is certainly a universal translator with a twist. Typically the twist of a spear after it’s been stabbed into vital organs.

  12. As for Xiniti reaction speeds, if it’s tech based, there’s nothing to say that the biological parts are in control of individual actions when there’s a serious fight. The biological bits send a command to the AI. “Kill that” and the machine components and computers accept the command and act with a degree of speed and control that the biological bits can’t match.

  13. On Xiniti reaction speed: I’ve never intended to make Xiniti abilities a major plot point. On the off chance I ever decide to, here are what I saw as my options when I was thinking what the basis of their abilities might be. Feel free to speculate on which one I actually chose:

    1. Genetic: There’s something in the Xiniti’s environment that required them to have the genetic potential for thinking at a much higher rate of speed.

    2. AI: All Xiniti suits have an AI that handles that kind of stuff.

    3. Both? Xiniti deliberately genetically engineered themselves to interface with devices that make great speed possible.

    Regarding typos: Thanks for finding them. I like to imagine that it’s a result of typing many of my most recent updates on my iPad. Small screens make finding typos harder.

  14. I can’t even imagine doing editing on an iPad. I have a hard enough time dealing with reading on a 17 inch screen when I am used to a 35 inch digital TV used as a monitor.

    If the Xiniti had the tech to do it, and ran into abominators a few times, with enough time to analyze the data they got from the conflicts, I could very easily see them genetically engineering themselves and electrically engineering their equipment to interface. The abominators appeared to have been pretty damn deadly serious, and that would have brought out the best/worst in a race that understood war, that was within shouting distance of the abominators in tech.

  15. Copper wire is something like 10,000 times more conductive than neural tissue. We’ve got superconductors now that are a hundred times more conductive than copper wire. Neural messages , for all practical intents and purposes, go through a packetized network that resembles… well… a 10/100 LAN that uses mostly hubs. Few switches, and very few managed switches… and really, no message priority.

    The Xinti have already displayed technology that borderlines on what we’d call ‘organic so it would be no surprise that they have nano-scale ‘wired reflexes’, and/or evasion programs in their powered armor that automatically evade incoming fire. Currently, we can track the motion of a bullet and reverse extrapolate its flight path using a single workstation-class PC (a few years ago, it took two) so it is not unexpected that in a hundred years it will be something that can run on a chip the side of the head of a pin.

  16. Draven, we’ve hit something of a wall with computing power these days. The improvements are more in software and architecture than in miniaturization. We’ll need to make a paradigm shift in computing technology for a 100x further reduction in processor size, and move to something other than precious metals and semiconductors. Quantum computers really aren’t looking that exciting yet. Whose to say some brainiacs won’t come up with something else, but for now we’re close to banging up against the limit of our current computing architecture’s processing density.

    A PC-sized box can still get hugely more powerful, but there will be a greater corresponding volume of processors in it to allow such an increase, especially after software, operating systems, and architectural tweaking.

  17. Farmerbob,

    I write about computers, if not ‘for a living’, then as part of my living, on a freelance basis since 1997. I also work as a freelance 3d animator.I am well aware of the performance curve of current CPU technologies, but am also aware of the power curve that has been accompanying them. The current top-end Xeon processor is 3.46 Ghz, 12 cores, with a 130w TDP. Nine years ago the top-end Xeon has *two* cores, was clocked slightly faster, and had the same thermal envelope (130w TDP). Mind you, each core wasn’t faster- the individual cores on the older Xeon were less than a third the speed of the current one. One of these 12-core CPUs is faster than the entire renderfarm that was used for Babylon 5 (and almost faster than the one used for Roughnecks). Heck, the processor in my $300 smartphone is faster than that older Xeon.

    We’ve been ‘close to banging up against the limit’ for over a decade now, and we’ve consistently found an ‘out’. There are also smaller and smaller CPUs available, and the use of GPU processing instead of CPU processing has made tasks that can be massively parallelized (video processing, for example) easier to do.

    How about a processor the size of the dimple on a golf ball?

    http://phys.org/news/2014-02-freescale-amazingly-small-arm-mcu.html

  18. Typo:

    “Damaged abdominal muscles would make it hard to breath” (breathe)

    Catching up, archive binge, so I’m off

  19. Oy. Xiniti are friggin scary. All I can hope is that if they hunt in packs, they’re not as off the wall as this guy, since they assume others have their back or something. I mean, it basically required Abominator Tech to take this guy out, and that’s beyond present human capabilities!

    As to Bloodmaiden, she does seem to have interesting, potentially useful powers, so maybe she’ll get priority for Paladin. Plus, y’know, anime, so big, sad eyes or something. (On second thought, strike that, I can’t see her doing much beyond the standard sweatdrop…)

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