Burning: Part 8

I read the article on my phone. The dead activist had a name I couldn’t pronounce, attended a university in Turkmenistan, majored in engineering, and had been twenty years old.

That boggled my mind. He’d been only a year older than I was.

According to the regime, he’d been executed for treason.

The article didn’t go into any great detail about what he’d actually been doing except to note that he’d organized students to protest after the regime’s recent actions.

It shouldn’t have surprised me. You saw that kind of thing in the news all the time. For that matter, if you were going to see it anywhere, you’d expect to see it under the sort of regime that would burn down city blocks.

Still, I found myself staring at the phone until its screen went black.

I wasn’t sure I was comfortable with political dirty tricks like strategically releasing the worst footage of the regime available. I felt like the best thing I could do would be to leave the regime no secrets.

Daniel had mentioned that it might be connected to the Nine. That could come out with everything the regime had done, all the places it had buried the bodies, its weapons and its long term plans.

I wasn’t sure how that would stop anything though. Still, it would do something. I hoped it would be a good thing.

One thing was for sure, though, I wasn’t going to be attaching the Rocket or the Heroes League to it. It seemed like the kind of thing that ought to be secret at first–though I couldn’t help but see the irony there.

Courtney got up from her chair, and Dr. Nation called up the next student.

She walked up to me as I stuffed the phone back into my pocket. Her expression struck me as somewhere between thoughtful and excited—not jumping around or anything, but excited nonetheless.

Grinning, she walked over to me with a little more speed than she had to.

“I am so relieved,” she said. “He’s alright with letting me work on modifying my body even though I’m not creating a device, and I’m mostly just figuring out how to give myself more powers.”

“Well,” I said, “you’re doing the same thing as the rest of us. It’s just that all your materials are internal. Besides I heard what you told him. There isn’t an owner’s manual. It’s not like you have any feeling for what will work and what won’t, so it makes sense.”

“I know, but teachers aren’t always that flexible. You know that.”

I nodded, remembering how my chemistry advisor hadn’t wanted to let me double major in chemistry and electrical engineering. He wasn’t wrong. It would be a bad idea for most people.

It worked out in the end, but mostly because I’d qualified to skip so many classes that he couldn’t say no.

As we left the room, walking toward the elevators so we could get up to the residential floors, she asked, “What’s your project?”

“Well… The short term one is distance control of my roachbots, but the long term one is essentially floating weapons and repair platforms. You know how the Rocket suit’s self-repairing these days? I used nanobots, but not the kind that might accidentally turn the whole world into grey goo. That means that I’ve got to keep material around for repairs and a way to get it to me. It also wouldn’t hurt to have backup in case I get into trouble. Thus, my project.”

We talked about each others’ projects all the way up the elevators and only stopped when she got off on her floor.

Alone in the elevator as I went up to the next floor, I realized that it had been a good thing. Even in college, I couldn’t talk about science. I always had to stop before I passed the current limits of our science, or even the limits of what even a brilliant student should know.

With Courtney, and eventually everyone else in the technology program, I could just talk.

I stepped out of the elevator to find Izzy sitting in one of the chairs in the open lounge nearby. She looked up from the book she was reading, and waved at me.

She wore street clothes—jeans and a red shirt. Her glasses seemed to obscure half her face. She’d pulled her hair into a ponytail. It appeared to be wet like she’d just come from a shower.

Interestingly, she slumped in the seat like she might actually be tired.

“Hey,” I said, “what are you doing here?”

“I’m done for the day. I thought I’d wait for Daniel, or maybe just read. This is the only lounge without a television, and wherever there’s a television, they keep on showing Turkmenistan. It’s frustrating. If I were at school, I could do something about it. We’ve got an Amnesty International group and we organize and try to raise awareness. Here, I feel helpless.”

“Oh,” I said, thinking back to the problem of getting my roachbots to Turkmenistan, “Daniel and I were talking about that too. We think we might have an idea for how to help. It’s a little like raising awareness.”

16 thoughts on “Burning: Part 8”

  1. Hrm, is Nick going to livestream the life of a dictator? That could get interesting.

    Hopefully there won’t be any members of the regime that are technologically savvy enough to capture or remotely analyze and reverse engineer Nick’s bots.

  2. It’s quite likely the regime doesn’t have the means to reverse engineer and reproduce roachbots. OTOH they likely would know people or nations they could sell any captured roachbots to, as has happened to a few real-life pieces of military equipment which crashed in enemy territory.

    Nice to see the Stapledon program is good for Nick as well as vice versa.

  3. The grey goo scenario… Ah how I love it as for his suit repairing nano bots, why doesn’t he just build his suit out of a version of them, so if something breaks the suit, they’ll just reassemble. They’d have to be strong enough to take a hit themselves, but if something breaks their grip, they can just reattach

  4. You know, he could probably get away with grey goo style nanotech if he were to make replication dependant on a chemical agent distributed from the suit or reception of a short-range encrypted signal.

  5. @Michael
    Until the identifier detector fails, which begins the actual gray goo scenario. Remember, engineering is planning for failures, Murphy is never far from our thoughts.

  6. Grey goo style nano tech isn’t necessary, so it wouldn’t make sense to risk using something with such a destructive potential.

    I don’t think Nick ever explained how his tech works in detail but I assume he has nano elements in that block that can be adapted to a variety of functions on the fly. Kind of like stem cells, only more flexible. So if parts of the suit get damaged, the elements shift around to repair it… up to the point where there are no elements left that can be reassigned without the suit losing structural integrity, power or other important features.

    His suit is already made of nano bots but they are unable to replicate, so he can’t just scoop up a car and transform it into more nano bots… and that’s okay. With his floating platforms he can more than make up for that and he gains more firepower and flexibility, too.

    Oh, and he could do an anime style transformation sequence then. You know, the kind where the mecha and the jet combine to a mecha with a jetpack. Only he’d use floating weapon platforms instead. Awesome.

    The Turkmenistan issue: Nick is right, he doesn’t want to be connected to it at all, not even if it turns out well. It sets a precedent and there are more than just one dictator or corrupt CEO or manipulative religious leader in the world. If it’s revealed it was him, then people will expect him to repeat it with other targets.

  7. Nick’s suit is a nice piece of work.

    While grey goo isn’t too likely, unless you can transmute elements (which is way below nano bot level of working – atto-tech?) they could very likely do an immense amount of damage.

    Actually building the suit out of (active) nano bots is really risky – a programming glitch means it falls to bits, likely at just the wrong moment, someone hacking the control logic could give Nick a really bad day, and, you can bet there is someone with probability powers who could make them run wild. No, the basic suit needs to be based on the properties of its materials. Powering and cooling nano bots can also be problematic – they aren’t “magically make all your problems go away” tech. The various support stations sound a fun approach, as well.

    Interfering in the politics of a foreign sovereign country… This is a very tricky problem, as without an over-arching authority, like the United Nations to appeal to, all you’ve got to fall-back on is the moral codes of those involved. The business of the Nine maybe being mixed-up in the mess does look to give a partial ‘out’, making it superhero business? If Nick wants support from his community then covert surveillance, with an aim to determine if the Nine are involved, would probably be backed by a lot of them. Releasing info can then be justified, though, the politicians will almost certainly prefer things be kept as quiet as possible. Maybe Nick can work with others to create a short-lived, remarkably difficult to locate, “investigative political reporter” super, with undefined powers, who can be the apparent source of the leak? I guess regime-change then gets to be an ‘accidental byproduct’ of dealing with the Nine.

    Does look as though Nick is starting to build his team. How much (preferably passive) stealth tech could Nick persuade Izzy to carry, so the chances of anyone spotting her delivery of the surveillance suite is minimised?

    I do wonder of we’re going to find out, maybe from Daniel, maybe from Lee, how much previous generations of supers had to quietly do what Nick is planning to do?

    Longer term, would it be smart to think about stealth tech, as well as superior costumes, for the rest of the Rocket’s team, for those times they need to be sneaky?

  8. You know, I’d love to hear Mam-Machine’s take on spying on other sovereign countries. I bet he’s got LOTS of stories to tell about stuff like that, since he supplied black market tech to the highest bidder for decades.

    How much would you like to bet that he’s sold tech to the black market that is specifically designed to counter stuff like what Nick is proposing.

  9. @Dreamer Read up on Strong AI/General AI/Friendly AI
    Actually, don’t read up on Friendly AI unless you want bad dreams.

    However, in summary.

    I have objective X.
    I have “arbitrary” power
    As long as I have energy and raw materials available, it makes sense for me to continue to do 1 of 3 things
    1. Make more X
    2. Make more computronium so I can figure stuff out better for doing X
    3. Make more “defence” so nothing else stops me from doing X

    End result:

    As long as I can expend a single erg of energy to convert or create a useful piece of material, it can be assumed that I will do so.

  10. I hope someone offers some other ideas to Courtney. Poisons are all well and good, but there are other things. Imagine being able to spit superglue, for example, or capsaicin. Or even worse, superglue AND capsaicin. Venoms would probably be easier though.

    Courtney could conceivably do a whole bunch of really cool things with her body. Learn to change her muscles into voluntarily controlled cardiac muscle, and dramatically increase the mitochondria count. This would probably make her strong enough and fast enough to spar with Haley, though Haley would probably still have quite an advantage, considering that she can throw cars around.

    Or perhaps modify her body to have electrical conductors something like electric eels, and then use the electricity to either shock people, or allow her to do brief, fantastic feats of strength through controlled electroshock on her own muscles (extremely painful and self-damaging, but she can heal it).

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