Few facts are known about the XCs at the start of The Xenocide Mission, apart from the fact that their ancestors a century earlier were responsible for wiping out life on a neighbouring planet. Hence their sobriquet, which is short for “Xenocides” …
XCs are six-limbed, having two legs that to human eyes appear to bend the wrong way and four arms. The longer two, the upper pair, are tipped with retractable, razor-sharp claws and are the hunting arms. The shorter, lower pair are the feeding arms. They have flat faces, with eyes quite wide apart (perfect for triangulating on prey) and mouths full of shark-like teeth, used for eating and biting but not speaking. Communication and hearing are both done by vibrating membranes, which makes them excellent mimics. They have, as one character in The Xenocide Mission reflects, “the teeth and hunting instincts of a shark, and the claws of a bear and the reflexes of a cat.”
They are shorter than humans, on average, and covered in a light, short fur. It is still very difficult for a human to think of them as “cuddly”.
Females are typically larger and stronger than males, but otherwise that is the only obvious external difference. No one has yet got close enough to an XC to monitor the internal differences. Both male and female XCs have manes.
Author Comment: “XCs were designed with six limbs for the same reason as Rusties were made quadrupeds — so that I could picture them in my mind’s eye as alien, not as humans in a rubber suit.”
Only female XCs have names; males are formally known as “Third Son of Family Barabadar”, “First Son of Family Dadoi” and so on. Amongst themselves, males tend to adopt nicknames. The Third Son of Family Barabadar, a young male and a gifted runner, is known as Fleet. First Son of Family Dadoi, a grizzled veteran and Colonel in the Space Presence, is Stormer.
Author Comment: “XCs speak by vibrating tympanic membranes, and to a human ear their voice sounds like a series of chimes, bangs and other percussive blows. Hence I gave the two main XC females, Oomoing and Barabadar, percussion-type names that reflected their nature. Oomoing is a scientist, naturally inquisitive; imagine a tympani that makes a boinging sort of sound, going up at the end as if to ask a question. Marshal of Space Barabadar, on the other hand, gets her name from a straightforward martial drumbeat.
The relationship between Oomoing and Barabadar was inspired by that between Stephen Maturin and Jack Aubrey in Patrick O’Brian’s excellent series of naval novels, starting with Master and Commander: Oomoing/Maturin the gifted scientist, completely out of depth in a naval environment, and Aubrey/Barabadar the not entirely broad-minded navy veteran. The novels are heavily recommended, but note that the relationship was only inspired — Barabadar and Oomoing never become that close.”
The physical differences apart, the two most clearly “alien” aspects of XC biology are their Sleeping and Sharing abilities.
- Sleeping: XCs do not sleep and wake on a diurnal basis, like humans and Rusties. Rather they will stay awake, day and night, for up to half a year. Then and only then will they retire to sleep for the remaining half.
Evolutionary science is not well advanced on the XC Homeworld, most XCs choosing to believe in the creative powers of their battlegods, so it is not entirely clear where this habit came from. Oomoing theorises it was to deal with the problem of depleted resources, and the fact that sleeping cycles are staggered was obviously so that those awake could guard those sleeping from danger.
An XC will typically go to sleep in a waking bowl, usually a natural dip or hollow surrounded by secure, sheltered caves. The bowls are always well stocked with small animals. When an XC wakes he or she has no sentient awareness at all; they are simply ravenous predators. They will hunt and feed in the waking frenzy, and as strength returns, so does awareness and conscious identity.
- Sharing: The ability to share is acquired at puberty, along with gender. Again, it is not known where this ability or habit came from. An XC’s brain is constantly downloading memories and experiences into its Sharemass, a collection of dark, leathery nodules hidden under its mane. These nodules are called Shareberries.
Another XC that eats one of these Shareberries will find itself acquiring the knowledge contained within them. Typically, acquired memories and incidental thoughts go into Shareberries at the side of the Sharemass and personal information into the Shareberries at the middle; an XC can usually tell you by feel which Shareberry contains which information.
Sharing after waking from the long sleep is a formal ritual that helps the sleeper catch up on developments over the last half year. It is also a much more personal means of communicating with one’s family than writing a letter.
SkySpy monitors all XC transmissions but the race is not as addicted to visual forms of communication as humans; therefore, although they have managed to translate the XC language, many of the terms are meaningless. For instance, it is known that they have “culling games”, but what goes on there has never been televised so is a closed book to the human and First Breed observers. It is known that the games involve young XCs, and only the survivors of the games rise to genderless sentience and then, at the equivalent to puberty, became an adult of a fixed gender.
XCs will go to war at the drop of a hat, but always in a rigidly codified manner. As one character finds from reading up on everything known about them:
“XC nations would never go to war because one of them had invaded the XC equivalent of Poland, because that kind of thinking was alien to the XCs. It was difficult for an XC nation to run short of resources and need more land, when half the population was asleep for up to half a year at any given time. And those friendly culling games seemed to take care of excess population growth.
On the minus side, when they did go to war it was at the drop of a hat, ritual or no, and a large part of the ritual was to go at the other side hammer and tongs until both sides were so depleted they couldn’t go on. They didn’t target civilians, but that was only because there was no such thing. Warfare for the XCs had been such a constant that they didn’t even give their wars names for future reference. There were theories, based on what little could be made of their dating system, that their outbreaks of war and peace and war and peace had been cyclical, somehow predictable; but they were only theories and mentioned in a footnote.”
When they are not fighting, XCs are extremely courteous. Even complete strangers will be addressed as “Loyal Son”, “Worthy Mother” etc., the precise choice of terminology depending on who is addressing whom.
Male XCs will usually stay in family structures with their mothers all their lives: for example, any of Barabadar’s twelve sons work under her in the Space Presence. Even a son’s mating will be regulated by arrangement with the mother first.
Author Comment: “Some writing is odd, too: for instance, the Xenocides call humans “extraterrestrials”, which would make sense only if they called their own world Terra, which they do not.” – From the review by Infodad.com
Cobblers. The word has nothing to do with our world being called Terra, and is how any word meaning “off this world” would translate from another language into English. Now, using the word “alien” would have been wrong, because that word in English has only come to refer to extraterrestrials very recently. Its more proper use is simply ‘not one’s own’ or ‘foreign’.”
XCs that we meet in The Xenocide Mission are:
- Oomoing, member of the Scientific Institute: scientific, curious, inquisitive and a religious sceptic.
- Barabadar, Marshal of Space. Known both honorifically and affectionately as “My Martial Mother”.
- Fleet, nickname for Third Son of Barabadar.
- Stormer, nickname for First Son of Dadoi. A veteran warrior.
- Jajing, niece of Barabadar and captain of ship Chariot of Rightful Justice, along with her three sons as crew. Usually dependable.
Read Chapter 2 of The Xenocide Mission, the first to show an XC’s point of view.