Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Colouring in

I've written before about how the characters in the trilogy are split by importance. Echo and York are A list, any character with character B list, people with a speaking part are C list, then anybody else is a cardboard cutout.

What I've only recently realised is that several of the crew weren't content with their place in life. Over the course of three books, the C list get lots of air time, express opinions, laugh and cry and got their kit off. Some of them moved into the B list.

When I started writing, I had a cheat sheet, mostly because I kept forgetting people's names. Only Cavendish (murderous pragmatist) was meant to be in the B list but, as time went on, I added details and colour to the rest of the Bad Girls. Caitlin Acre's line says "angry but funny." and I gave her most of the sarky comments to try and flesh this out. Later on I dropped in a line about her being able to play the flute. She disappears part way through ECHO, but makes up for lost time in OUTCAST and CITADEL. Cromwell and Hall started out in the D list but turn into a double act. Hall doesn't have much to say but gets on with the job. Cromwell is more of a thinker. They are loyal, steadfast and competent. Gregory was great fun to write. A unashamed tart (sleeps with anybody). In difficult situations she's unfailingly cheerful she spends a lot of time off screen, usually in somebody's bed.

Getting to know your characters is important. Echo and York are the focus of the story, but the universe around them is dependent on decisions made by others. I started out with a detailed story, but found that it would have made a novella, not a novel. From there it was a series of set pieces, putting the crew of the Citadel into harm's way and asking what they would do. York would analyse, Cavendish would attack, Acre would make a pithy comment whilst waiting for Cavendish's orders, Cromwell would have figured a solution, Gregory would have relieved the enemy of the keys whilst tumbling with them, Ash would complain about the situation. And Echo wouldn't know what to do in a complex situation (more in a later post).

All well and good, but the trilogy takes place over a three year period. The previous paragraph describes everybody at the start of ECHO and those statements are true at the end of CITADEL.

Jo Zebedee's Abendau trilogy (there's another post) follows relatively normal people in extraordinary situations, and charts how they are changed by their experience. When I read her post,, I wondered if I had made a mistake in not developing character arcs. In the end, I decided that it was okay. The trilogy was their story as much as it was the A listers, but it wasn't a story about them. As much as I liked my people and mourned when some of them died, they are fictional and serve the purpose of helping to tell a story. The CITADEL trilogy has a number of themes (if I haven't written about them before, I will - so many blog prompts tonight) and these are best served by colouring in the crew, but not necessarily changing them.

Perhaps that's something I'll explore in the current work in progress. I have protagonists, and a plot, but I don't actually know what the story is about. I'm twenty chapters in - 60,000 words - but probably only half way through. I know I need to go back and write a tone for each of the chapters (later) so there's still opportunity to pursue that.

And now, here's the Bad Girls doing what they do best. Mayhem and violence

"Fire in the hole."
I zipped the explosives bag shut and picked up both in one hand. The Bad Girls were holding their position and kneeling, backs turned towards me. Cromwell was coming in from my right on an intercept course. She brought me to a halt and wrapped herself around me, protecting me from any shrapnel. I could see that Acre was doing the same for York. The shuttle was climbing away, presumably with Abbott at the controls.
With a boom, the charge blew and, a few seconds later, the hatch cover landed with a loud clang a few metres away from us, dirt and dust shooting outwards.
"Bit too much explosive there, Marianne." mocked Acre.
"Did the job." she retorted.
"Perhaps, but I'd rather not have anything drop on my head."
"She'll be more careful next time." said Cavendish, striding for the entry we had created. "Cromwell and Echo, down. Livingston and Acre, rearguard."
The maintenance shaft was just like the ones in the wreck and the ship in orbit. I handed over the railgun to Cavendish and followed Cromwell down into the tube, using the guide rails as a ladder. We went down a few metres then the path became horizontal and we crawled into the mountain. The intelligence suggested we would need to go fifty metres before emerging into the hangar that was protected behind the blast doors.
"What happened to the missile?" I asked, over channel three.
"Livingston got a lucky shot in." replied Acre.
"Lucky? Kiss my arse, bitch!"
"I'll take that luck, any day." said Cavendish. "We're alive and that's all that matters. Now focus."
"Junction." said Cromwell.
"Not on the plans." replied York. "Where does it go?"
Cromwell shone her lights along the new horizontal shaft.
"Ten metres to the left. Dead end."
"Keep going."
We crawled on. As we passed the side shaft, I looked in. It reminded me of a nest.
"Lights out." called Cromwell. "I'm at the hanger."
It struck me then that, all bunched up in the small shaft, we were the perfect firing opportunity.
"What can you see?" I asked.
"Gunships. A big cargo craft; surprised that fit through the door. Robots."
"Dragons?" asked Acre.
"Fortunately not."
Cavendish had carried the spare railgun in one hand. Now she handed it back to Cromwell who locked it into position on her harness.
"Have they seen us?" asked Cavendish.
"Nothing's moving. I'd say it was a workshop as much as a hanger. Most of the gunships have dismounted panels. The robots have tools instead of weapons."
"When we go, I want everybody out as quickly as possible. Spread out and find cover. Weapons up but watch your targets."
"Yes, Sergeant." chanted the marines.
"Ready." said Cromwell.
"Ready." I said.
Cromwell pushed out of the tunnel, moving left and bringing the two-metre long weapon up. For a moment I was unsure whether to follow her or to break right so we weren't bunched up. Nansen gave me a shove and it pushed me to the right. I ran for the nearest gunship. I could see that the inner workings were exposed and the nearby robots must have been repairing it. They were stood still, inactive. I jumped through the open rear hatch of the gunship and slid across the metal plate floor, coming to rest where I could see out of the other side.
"I don't like all these statues." said Acre. "At some point they're going to start moving."
"Then find the next maintenance tube and let's get out of here before they do."
From my position I could see Acre and Cromwell searching the floor of the hangar for the hatch.
"Got it."
Cromwell ran across and knelt by the hatch cover. Acre moved away to give her space. Nansen had disappeared behind a pile of equipment.
"Do you need the bag?" I asked.
"Still got some plastic." She started to squeeze explosives into a crack.
"Don't send it up like a frisbee this time." chided Cavendish.
"A what?" said Acre.
"Frisbee. A round flying toy."
"You had toys?"
"Of course I had toys. I was a child too."
Somehow I'd always thought of Cavendish as being born an adult.
"Did your parents dress you in pink?"
That started a lot of sniggering.
"Not that I remember. Enough! Focus on the job."
It went quiet. I glanced towards Acre. Gods dancing!"
"Acre, the machine's moving. Behind you!"
"Funny. Is this your revenge for the prank on the Clarke?"
"Acre, it's bloody moving! Turn!"
The robot behind Acre reached out and locked its claw on her arm.
"Shit! Contact, contact."
I heard a noise behind me and turned to see a robot climbing through the opposite hatch onto the load bay of the gunship. Luckily it didn't have a weapon, but the laser cutter it brandished could do me serious damage.
"Echo in contact."
"They're all moving."
"Watch your backs." said Cavendish, calmly.
I heard the first report from a rail gun and the machine attacking Acre spun round. It's arm had been severed, but was still clamped on Acre's armour.
I put the bag with the TNukes down and drew my bolt thrower, clicking off the safety as I raised it. At this range I couldn't really miss and my first round pierced a photoreceptor and the explosive bolt scrambled whatever was in the machine's head. It jerked backwards and stopped. For good measure I put a second round into its kneecap, blowing the lower leg clean off. It toppled over and crashed to the decking.
After a few moments surprise, the marines had re-established their discipline and we're going about the business of systematically destroying the maintenance robots. Livingston was laying down covering fire for Cromwell.
"Fire in the hole."
This time the hatch cover only flipped a metre in the air then crashed down near the opening.
"Form up on Cromwell." ordered Cavendish. She appeared at the far side of the hangar, her weapon up and searching for targets. York was with her, covering her back.
I returned the bolt thrower to its harness, picked up the bag and stepped out of the gunship, just in time to bump into a robot. As it punched at me I dropped to the floor and rolled through its legs. Clearly downward vision was a problem for the machine as it stamped around, blindly. Its foot crashed down too near my head for comfort and, as I tried to crawl out of the way, I realised that it was standing on a loose strap from the bag on my back. I was trapped.
I threw the bag with the TNukes away from me. Without those the whole mission was over. The strap of the other bag was pulled tight across my chest, stopping me sliding out and getting free. I tried to roll over to give myself some slack, but now I was pinned down on my back.
"Echo in trouble." I said, trying not to sound whiny.
"Gods in a row, Echo, we can't take you anywhere." Thanks Acre.
Now the robot was bending over. It wasn't really designed to do that but the claw on the nearest arm was very close to ripping my face off.
"Any time soon." I said.
By lifting my head, I had an upside down view of the hangar. There were still a handful of robots active, much easier to spot with the red markings on their carapace than the black armour of the Bad Girls. A shadow was moving towards me at speed, but it took a few seconds before I figured out it was one of the marines running. Although Ultima was heavy, the energy in the collision wasn't enough to knock the machine over, although it did take a step backwards to steady itself and I was free. I scrambled to my feet and pulled out the bolt thrower. The two figures were a tangle of metallic limbs, difficult to separate. I jammed the gun back in the harness and pulled my combat knife from its mounting on my forearm. In the gaps between the outer plates there were joints, wires and hydraulic cables. I rammed the knife into the nearest elbow joint and cut through everything I could see. Fluid spurted out, spraying my mask, but I kept on with the attack, sawing blindly until the arm dropped loose.
"Thanks." Cromwell pushed herself free and stepped back, then smashed her helmet into the robot's face, breaking the photoreceptor lenses. It reached out blindly with its remaining arm, but wasn't a threat to us now. Even so, Acre put a round from her rail gun through it and it collapsed in a shower of sparks.
"Are you okay?" York was beside me.
"Yes, I'm fine."
"Be careful." His touch on my arm was gentle but firm.
"I will."
"Enough! Let's stop pissing about." shouted Cavendish.
"Yes, Sergeant." we replied.

No comments:

Post a Comment