Stardock: Part 15

I’d noticed clouds forming since the fight started, and as I was about to press Theo on exactly how bad he felt, lightning erupted in front of the building.

Travis had told the glass cannons (mobile artillery, if you wanted to be formal) to help us, and now they were. I’d have taken help earlier, but Daniel was in the group, and he’d probably been responsible for the timing. That meant that this was probably the best possible moment, whatever I might think.

Thanks to my observation bots, I had three different perspectives available. All of them showed essentially the same scene.

As our group dived behind the old factory to get out of the machine race soldiers’ line of fire, the remaining robots split into two groups, some of them heading for the building that we’d started at, and the rest spreading out as they aimed for our building. No matter what direction we turned toward we’d be in some robot’s sights.

At least that’s the way it would have gone.

As the groups began to split, and the group coming in our direction began to spread out, bolts of lightning struck everywhere, shattering pavement, and outlining the robots in bluish-white light. The sound of the thunder went on and on and on. I would have tried that old trick where you learn your distance from the lightning strike by counting the seconds between the lightning and the thunder, but they were practically simultaneous.

The robots didn’t fall to the ground smoking. That would have been too easy, but they appeared to be in the same position as Theo. Instead of continuing along their paths, many drifted, traveling loosely in the same direction after the strike, but not as quickly. Some turned sideways, tumbling in the air.

That wouldn’t have stopped them for long. A few leveled out, and began to aim toward their targets.

Metal objects began to appear in the air, aiming for the machines. I-beams impaled a few. Cars and pickup trucks flew through the sky to smash into the robots’ sides. Old machines from the factories flew out the windows, taking out chunks of the frame on the way, hitting the robots.

That wasn’t all.

Ice appeared around one of the robots, growing in size until the whole mass fell to the ground. Then ice began to grow on another…

The lightning didn’t stop either, and Vaughn added wind, blowing robots into each other in time to be surrounded by ice, or simply crushed when Jaclyn jumped into the air, smashed a robot to the ground and proceeded to flatten it in a blur of blows.

In the face of all this, the spaceship that hovered over Stardock began to float upward. It wasn’t racing away, but within a few seconds it had clearly created some distance between itself and us.

Could we actually have won?

Near me, Theo was talking to Izzy. “I make a kind of… casing… around myself. It protects me from my own plasma… and just about anything else. When they hit me, I made more of it–more than I’d ever made before–so I’m not really hurt. See?”

Izzy gave a quick, indrawn breath, and Patriot Jr. said, “Shit.”

Looking away from my HUD, I noticed Theo’s right arm and side. In the first instant, it didn’t look bad at all. In the second, I noticed that the red costume had melted to Theo’s skin. Where I could see bare skin, it was white, sometimes brown, and leathery.

The fact that he didn’t appear to feel pain did not bode well. On the other hand, he was conscious, and provided we could get him to Alex before he died of something, he’d probably be fine.

Considering his powers, I imagined it wasn’t his first third degree burn.

“The ship over Stardock is leaving,” I said. “Alex, also known as Paladin, can handle this.”

I hoped he could. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever seen him heal anything this bad–though healing Lucas last year had been close. OK, come to think of it, it may have been worse.

Over the Stapledon communicator stream, someone asked, “How badly is he hurt?”

“Third, maybe fourth degree burns,” I said.

“Get him back here. You might as well all come back.”

Lim’s voice came over the comm. “Get him back, yes. Send one person back with him if you can. The rest of you should stay ready to fight.”

It was good that he was being cautious, but the spaceship was even further away now–hundreds of feet in the air or more. All the same, it wasn’t leaving at the fastest possible pace. It hung in the gray sky.

I listened in on the Defenders channel. “Guardian’s taking care of the rocks. We’ll be back to Earth in an hour, maybe less if we’re lucky, and if Guardian’s not too tired. Knowing what’s going on on the ground, we’re scanning for a mothership. None of the spaceships sighted today operate solo.”

I’d kind of known that, but hadn’t had time to spend a lot of time thinking about it.

While I’d been watching the rest of the team fight the robots, we’d landed behind the factory.

We stood in a cluster next to Theo, and next to the factory’s grey brick.

In moments, Jaclyn appeared next to us, slowing down, and resolving into a person instead of a purple and brown blur.

“I’ll take him back,” Jaclyn said. “We may need you to respond as a unit.”

I thought Theo might resist, but he looked down at his right arm, and shuddered.

Jaclyn glanced down his body, and if she found the burns unnerving, she mastered her reaction before I noticed. “Can you fly?”

Theo said, “A little. I’ll be fast enough.”

Nodding, Jaclyn said, “Stay low. I’ll be right next to you.”

Theo began to float, staying with Jaclyn as she ran back.

I tapped into the Grand Lake Heroes League stream.

Haley said, “It’s just floating above Grand Lake. What do you think it’s doing?”

Chris Cannon’s voice came over the comm. “I don’t know. Scanning maybe? That’s what I’d be doing.”

An old man’s voice broke in. “Both of you, quiet! I’d be hacking into our communication system, and the more you talk, the better for them.”

I recognized the voice. It was Chris Cannon’s grandfather–Man-Machine. He was out of prison? He was helping?

I glanced over the Heroes League’s list. Man-Machine appeared next to the Shift.

How did I not know about this?

Isaac Lim’s dot began to blink in my HUD. “We’ve got a transmission coming in. It’s being broadcast everywhere a spaceship appeared.”

Video appeared in a small box on my HUD. A man’s face appeared. Thick featured, with heavy brows, and a prominent jaw, he wore a black helmet with a transparent faceplate.

I didn’t recognize the material.

In the background, humans and aliens (I was pretty sure I saw a Hrrnna) stood at stations on what had to be a ship’s bridge.

As the man in the helmet opened his mouth, I saw that he had a carnivore’s teeth–white, sharp and gleaming.

His voice was a little scratchy, and his accent was unrecognizable, but understandable.

“You will give us the alien devices,” he said. “They are not yours, and will only cause you trouble. Give them to us, and we will tell no one. Keep them from us, and we will burn your cities to the ground.”

32 thoughts on “Stardock: Part 15”

    1. Special Agent Timothy Algonquin opens the interrogation room with a manila folder gripped in his right hand, which he slaps onto the table in front of the sole, handcuffed occupant.
      “Aliens again.” Timothy states quickly. “It’ll be quicker if you read it.”
      “Planet killers to pull the most competent Heroes off planet. That College program protecting NY, LA, and central Nebraska. And if I bother reading everything we’ll all be dead before I can sign everything in triplicate?”
      “Yes, Mr. Cannon… the usual.”

  1. It makes sense, he’d want to help his grandson. And he might’ve gotten over his own bitterness vs the original Rocket. He did start out wanting to help people, but got used by the mob instead.

  2. Sure, sure give these guys, who are trying to hit the planet with huge asteroids, the alien tech because it’s the alien tech that’ll cause trouble. Right.

    Oh, what’s that? They won’t tell anyone? I suppose that’d be fine and dandy if they weren’t sitting up there in plain sight with their spaceships broadcasting all this to everybody.

    Gotta give Machine-Man props on this one, though. He gave me an idea for a plan. Use the communications link to broadcast inside the alien ships in ways that can disrupt them. Brown note, opera-style glass breakage, inner-ear balance issues, give them everything. Make sure they know that on Earth, everybody will hear them scream.

    And if it takes awhile, just have someone hold a knife to the throat of that other Hrrnna and any other such friendly aliens on planet (barring Lee). Be like “Get out of our solar system now or we kill them.” Then, even though these aliens will probably be like “Go ahead. We don’t care,” you can still have people hold them for the allotted time period and then off them. It either forces these aliens to act prematurely or makes them sit tight to see if the humans are serious about something that crazy when they already know it’s not going to happen.

    And, of course, once you kill them at the end of the time limit, then the attacking aliens may find themselves a little bit put off at the entire display.

    Uncle Sam needs you…to knife E.T.!

  3. It’s ok that Man-Machine want’s to help in this situation, I’d just like to see the look on Chris’ face if/when Man-Machine tries to take him under his wing to groom him as a successor & carry on the legacy having Man-Machine 2 fight Rocket 2.

  4. Well, from the government’s PoV he’s an A-tier gadgeteer that’s been mostly out of the game for a while; you can’t buy experience like his. Odds are the super-prisons are being emptied of all of its non-psychotic occupants for the duration. Nobody wants to be stuck in a box while the world ends around them…

  5. It certainly seems like a good time to bring Man-Machine back. I imagine he’d like to have a hand in helping his grandson survive, and perhaps a chance to get together enough brownie points to get paroled and actively help his grandson.

    This might cause… issues. I’m fairly sure, however, that Man Machine doesn’t have a gut level dislike of any of the current league. He’s had a whole bunch of years to stew over what he did, and his fights with the Rocket when it was Nick’s grandfather seemed to be more along the lines of an over-the-top competition than a real hatred. Both of them knew who the other’s families were and far as we’ve heard, never crossed that line.

    With the original Rocket gone, Man Machine doesn’t really have a target to compete against any longer.

    I can’t imagine he’d be friendly with Nick, but he might tolerate him and even work with him from time to time. Sure, he’d be counting coup against a dead enemy, but anything Man-Machine could teach the new Rocket that the older Rocket didn’t manage to teach while he was alive? I think Man Machine would enjoy that to some degree, being the last one standing.

  6. They should force the alien invaders to listen to Celine Dion’s greatest hits on a never ending loop.

    P.S. I don’t care if I spelled her name wrong.

  7. First off- Gecko? Yeah, pretty sure slaughtering the aliens who are refugees on Earth because they [i]liked[/i] Humanity, and wanted to give them a chance in the grand galactic council… isn’t a good thing, anyway you slice it.

    Second- Loving Man-Machine. Also, didn’t Nick say he specifically wanted to develop a suit system based on MM’s modular inside-outside suits? I, too, think Cannon Sr. would probably love to ‘get one over’ on his old rival by being the one to ‘further’ the new Rocket’s education. And him helping out just feels like a good tie to the past- Jaqulyn’s grandaddy and Mystic’s dad might be technical links, but they’re not really that active with the League- I think having a ‘wise old mentor’ presence will help them congeal as a team better- He doesn’t have enough legitimacy to cause a schism of leadership, but he’s experienced enough that he’ll provide a sort of anchor point for thing- people will know that when he provides advice, it’s probably good.

  8. Anvildude,

    I can’t see Man-Machine being the “wise old mentor” type. But I can see him being the crotchety old type to walk up on someone who’s having a problem with assembling something, and saying.

    “Look son, you ain’t holding your mouth right. See the differential between the thingamabob and the roundtuit? You have to bridge that with a bit of elbow grease before you can align the whazzat to the wire stretcher.”

    And then hold out his hand for a couple tools and demonstrate, then walk away shaking his head and complaining about youngers getting everything handed to them these days.

  9. “Dear aliens. Re: alleged alien tech on our world,

    We’re no strangers to war. You know the rules, and so do we. A full commitment’s what we’re thinking of. You wouldn’t get this from any other race. I just wanna tell you how we’re feeling. Gotta make you understand.

    Never gonna give them up,
    Never gonna let our people down,
    Never gonna run around and desert them.
    Now we’re gonna make you cry.
    No time to say goodbye.
    Never gonna just let you hurt them.”

  10. All the coincidences involved here make me wonder if this is a “live test” my the Xiniti or perhaps by the greater galactic community to see where humanity really stands when it comes to resisting abominator influence.

    I can’t see the Xiniti being very concerned with breaking a few eggs to see what Earth’s humanity made of these days.

  11. I love the pointed reminders that Nick just isn’t quite wired the same way as the rest of us. You have managed to sneak a few of them into the last few chapters, and it’s fun to recognize them.

    “Video appeared in a small box on my HUD. A man’s face appeared. Thick featured, with heavy brows, and a prominent jaw, he wore a black helmet with a transparent faceplate.

    I didn’t recognize the material.”

    Transparent faceplate, black helmet. Basically the guys face is being held in front of a black backdrop, and Nick is more concerned about what the transparent substance of the facemask is made from, rather than watching the face – until useful information is presented. Teeth. Speech.

  12. And we might have lost another serial to the dark of the net – Shimmer hadn’t been updating, but I was looking forward to finishing it.

    1. Well, based on how Shimmer has updated in the past, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see it start up again. Right now as I write this there’s a database error there but that’ll probably get fixed by the host.

  13. I figured that’s who they were and it made me wonder if there’s more going on than what everybody thinks. Seeing that the Hrnnna hate ex abominator slaves.

  14. Jim,

    While poking around to see how you put together your sidebars, etc., I noticed this:

    “Copyright (c) 2007-2011 Jim Zoetewey”

    I’m by no means a copyright person, but if you are going to use dates, shouldn’t they include the last couple years?

    Feel free to delete this reply if desired.

    1. You know the line, “the shoemaker’s children have no shoes?” I’m a web developer/sysadmin/tech support person (I’ve had a variety of jobs), and I spend virtually no time on this site.

      I should spend more.

      That’s a long way of saying, “You’re right.” And by commenting on it, you forced me to do something I should have done years ago–set the year to be dynamically inserted each time a page is loaded.

  15. Why is everybody hating on Man-Machine? I seem to recall he told Nick outright that even in their worst fights he and Nick’s grand dad respected each other’s abilities and had agreed that families were left strictly alone.

    Also, to quote Loki in Marvel Heroes “I want to sit on the throne, he wants to destroy everything. Notice the subtle difference?”

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