Story Engineering, Day 2. Characterization and a summary of what I’ve learned

Today, I’ve chopped through 43% of Larry Brooks book Story Engineering, and I finished characterization.  That was an interesting way to consider how that works. In a nutshell, he says there’s the surface dimension (1st level), which is the façade (oooh, a Basque letter) you present to everyone, i.e. charming ex-CEO who smokes cigars and loves the ladies. The second level is the back story on why you are how you are: upbringing, experiences, abusive uncles, car accident where you were struck by 57 Chevy on the corner near school and it changed your life at 17 so that you were permanently broken and now you’re an addict at 63 and trying to change and you’ve always wanted to own a copy of the car that almost killed you, etc. So yeah, it’s the psychology behind the character, and that backstory needs to come out in the first act so we get a clue to the character’s deeper ideals and why they tick. Then you have the third dimension, which is the times when their true character appears, not the first level facade. We see behind the curtain to the real person.  And the third dimension moments define the character, whether they choose right or wrong, and why they choose that. (He doesn’t say this, but third dimension moments are also not usually on display, they seem to be triggered by some sort of conflict or event. Or maybe he said that in different words. I’d have to go back and reread it. That’s where the kindle isn’t nearly as fast as a dead-tree book.)

There’s a great deal more. He talks about character as structure (how the character develops throughout the story, which is, I think, the character arc). Essentially, certain things have to happen at certain times in the story, or it’ll be all fouled up. Your character needs to struggle all the way into the end of act 2, and if she overcomes that struggle before the climax, it messes up the pacing of the story because that becomes the new climax, and everything else after is anti-climactic.

I was considering this when I was reading Kate Colby‘s The Courtesan’s Avenger (Desertera #2), which, incidentally, was a great read. In it, her protagonist Dellwyn Rutt, a courtesan, has some serious flaws. And her backstory informs these flaws and the bad decisions she keeps making. She makes terrible decisions, but they make sense from the point where Dellwyn feels real and has very good reasons to make her flawed decisions. I kept yelling at the book, “Arc! Arc already!”  Of course, if she’d arced, it’d stop being interesting because then nothing would happen.  Nevertheless, it made for a good read and the character (and supporting cast) are well-characterized. They all have flaws, and this gets in the way of meaningful discourse, just like real life.

Today, I will read and attempt to embrace what Mr. Brooks has to say about Theme. I have a feeling that while I may see the words, I’ve never been one to grasp the underlying meaning very well. That’d be my character flaw. “Huh? There was a theme?” It might be my undoing as an author. Plus, there’s the aspect where I say, “why don’t we just have some nice shoot-em-up scenes.” Well-written, lovely, boring, non-thematic scenes that come out dry and meaningless, when instead I could be writing a thinly veiled polemic about the dangers of senior citizens running for president. As if that’s what the world needs, right now.

You may enrich the content of this blog with your treasured comments below. Especially if you understand theme.

Top 8 Reasons I Didn’t Finish My Book: Be successful; be prolific.

1. Kids were crazy last night. I couldn’t get them to write for me. Of course, they’re 3 and 7.

2. I’m waiting for Kristen Lamb’s next blog post to tell me how to do it right.

3. I have conflicting advice from two different blogs, so I’m waiting for them to fight it out and tell me the correct rule.

4. I’m still collecting rules on writing. I need to read more writing craft books before I can start.

5. You can’t push this sort of genius. It happens when it happens.

6. I have writer’s block today.

7. I could write, or I could play Planetside 2. They need my help in that virtual war.

8. That clickbait about “When you see this picture, your jaw will drop!” or “Mind. Blown,” with a thumbnail intriguing enough that I have to find out what it says? There’s chains of that stuff. It’s like smoking, but much, much worse for your body. Must… click… next… blurb. “Top 5 underdressed red carpet leading ladies.”  “Kanye’s simple trick that will earn you millions.”


Look, you guys, if you write 2000 words a day, you will finish your book in a month and a half. So easy!

Over 20 years, you could have written  14,600,000 words if you did 2000 words a day. That adds up to 146 books of 100,000 words. It’s 243 books of 60,000 words.  It’s hard to ignore an author with a body of work that large.

Perhaps you’re giving me the wall-eyed stare.  I had a professor who taught a very nifty landlord/tenant class at the local community college who was wall-eyed. You could never tell if he was calling on you.  He’d have to point. The class materials were useful, though. I wish I’d had the class back before I’d rented from the one lousy landlord who decided to keep our deposit.

Yeah. Wall-eyed stare. “If that’s true, Pontius, why haven’t you finished <i>your</i> book?”

*Ahem*. Yes. There is that. I’m working on it! I’ve got excuses saved up, and I’m going to sell those on amazon instead. “The Book of Trite Excuses Why I’m Not Finishing My Novel Timely You Guys,” that’s the title.

If you wrote 3000 words a day, you could finish a novel in 20 days. It’s a month and change if you want 100,000 words.


So, what’s your excuse for not finishing a novel? Join me wallowing in guilt! Comment away. And then get back to writing.

5 Common Mistakes Authors Make that Cause Readers and Pesky Editors to Barf Out Loud

We have been discussing use of passive voice and one of the indicators of passive voice, the verb was, and I thought the topic warranted an expansive discussion. (As a side note: I initially wanted to write that sentence as “I thought an expansive discussion was warranted.” Do as I say, not as I do! I struggle daily with passive voice.)  You see, a few decades passed since I last attended a grammar class, and what you see here is the result of reading for forty-two years rather than careful correction by a small horde of English teachers. You’d think I’d be better at it. Reading and writing, that is.

English classes are dull.  The discussion of parts of grammar is dull. This kills it for me, right up to the point where I’m violating that grammar rule and need an answer. For that, we have the internets.

Here’s my list of mistakes authors make that cause readers to barf out loud:

1. Passive Voice.  Sure, it’s evil, all the time, and should be killed wherever it appears.

Or… not.  “By heavens, what, Pontius, are you saying?” you exclaim. I’ll elaborate.

Over here at Now Novel, there’s a post about passive voice. They say:

  • Passive voice error I – Many people make common grammar mistakes by assuming that a passive sentence is any sentence that uses a form of the verb “to be.” In fact, passive voice is simply a sentence in which the object appears as the subject of the sentence. The house was built in 1825.
  • Passive voice error II – Many people believe passive voice is always bad. In fact, passive voice can be used effectively to convey a certain rhythm or mood. It is also unavoidable when the person or thing that performed an action is unknown as in the previous example with the house.

There you go. Permission to use the passive. When your editor screams, tell her that Now Novel said it was okay to “be used effectively to convey a certain rhythm or mood.” And my mood is that I like writing in the passive.

The object appears as the subject of the sentence. That’s simple enough to eliminate, right? When they put it that way, it’s dead simple. I spend much of my time reversing these.

2. As If, so as to, in order to. No, Cher, not your retort in Clueless. Explaining too much. “What’s too much?” asks the head shrinker. “One person’s too much could be your just enough.” Fah, therapy! The Editor’s Blog explains.

Explaining too much or too often. Unless readers can’t possibly catch on without help, writers shouldn’t be explaining dialogue or actions. Tip-offs for explanations are phrases such as “so as to” and “in order to” and “as if.” If you find yourself writing sentences such as He peeked through the blinds to see who was inside the room or He said it with a little-boy voice so she wouldn’t take it too hard, you’ll want to make changes. Readers are smart—let them read intent and meaning into actions and dialogue.

Fix: Don’t explain. Make the action and dialogue convey the message. Search for words that introduce explanation and then rewrite.

This isn’t one I do.  Maybe. I think I need to go check it, now.

3. Commas make us barf. If you forget to put one in, it bugs us so much we’re sick. Really.

Sometimes you do a sentence, you do another.

That,  right there, is an evil comma splice! Kill it! Shoot it! You can either put a period in there, or stick in a connective conjunction. Connective conjunctions are for, as, by, or, and, nor, yet, and but. Go ahead, put one after the comma, and eliminate your lousy run-on sentence. Feel better now?

4. Adverbs. If it ends in ly, as Mark Twain says, just burn it with fire. I’m not sure where this hatred of adverbs stems from, but it’s real and you’d better be prepared to defend every one to the death. Your editor has a steak knife named “deathly.” And another named “Hallows.” Your editor likes Harry Potter a little too much.

5. Commas. Again. Use commas to separate more than two subjects, but don’t use them to keep the two subjects apart. It’s not

The author, and his editor were intensely sick.

Instead, it’s

The author and his editor were intensely sick.

If you want to use commas, add someone to the scene.

The author, his editor, and his wife’s therapist were intensely sick.

Don’t separate two actions of a subject with a comma.

No comma between the subject and its predicate. You’ll make it sad.

The world of commas needs a lot more than two lousy points, but I get fired up on this. I’m passionate about comma usage. I want to see you all employ those suckers with love, control, and joy.

What are the words and phrases you can’t wipe out of your own writing? What are the rules behind them?

Clint Agrees.
Clint Agrees.

Stuff First Sergeant told me

On Saturday, I met a gentleman who had an extensive military career. We got on the subject of explosives, and he was telling us a story about how he’d been in a course that had done demonstration terrorist sizes explosions (car, suitcase, and so on) so the students of the course could see/feel what those were like.

“You may survive the shockwave coming from the explosion,” he explained, “but if you’re standing with a wall behind you, the reflection of the explosion may kill you because it accelerates the pressure.”

Aroo? What? “Why?” I asked, like you do.

“I didn’t ask. There was a lot of guys who had no interest in the physics of it and me delaying the class to ask that would have been a bad idea.”

Good point, that.

But I have the internet, and found this in the Federal Emergency Management database.  Chapter 4, Explosive Blast.

When the incident pressure wave impinges on a structure that is not parallel to the direction of the wave’s travel, it is reflected and reinforced, producing what is known as reflected pressure. The reflected pressure is always greater than the incident pressure at the same distance from the explosion… This figure shows that reflected pressures for explosive detonations can be almost 13 times greater than peak incident pressures and, for all explosions, the reflected pressure coefficients are significantly greater closer to the explosion.

So, standing in front of a wall, the blast wave is going to be reflected back at 13 times whatever it is at the time.

Fascinating stuff. I’ll have to take a look at those stats on ballistics. I might learn something useful.

Publish in Polish!

Flag_of_Poland1_RGB_255_0_0

Why not?

I’ll bet Polish people would like to read Crumbling Empire, too. In their native language! Imagine:

Łaska Bedell nie kapitan Przed objęciem ogolił pozycję na moście. Było jasne, że był w złym nastroju i jeśli komputery były złe, jeśli przeczucie załogi było źle, wszyscy by się pęcherze ból. Kary dookoła. Misery.

Kapitan uznał informacje na wyświetlaczu. “Oni nie są identyfikowane jako łodzi bezpieczeństwa, i nie są one Imperium. Nikt inny nie ma cztery niszczyciele i dwa krążowniki w tym sektorze, ponieważ ich właścicielem. Cholera, nie ma żadnych innych rządów oficjalne. Kim oni są?” Nikt nie odpowiedział. Oczywiście to było pytanie retoryczne.

“Panie, prep na spotkanie zaangażowanie?” XO zapytał.

“Zrób to. Stacje bojowe, dźwiękowe, stanowisk bojowych Hełm, obliczyć pole przechwytywania i zabrać nas, połowa prędkości, taktyczne dać mi rozwiązanie broni jak najszybciej, a XO, muszę aktualizacji na zespoły kontroli uszkodzeń i broni w miejscu dla ewentualnej walki. Czujniki, zacząć ciągnąć dane na temat tego, co te statki są uzbrojeni i chcę swoje dane milliday temu!” Kapitan wyprostował się i spojrzał na holo statków ponownie.

XO aktywowane stacje bojowe i alarmy zabrzmiał na całym statku, podczas gdy kurs potwierdzeń słychać było taktycznych, steru oraz czujników.Chwilę później, Grace Bedell opuścił orbitę Reville i przesunął się na kurs przechwytujący.


Apparently “Misery” and “XO” don’t translate. 😦 That’s why you need a human.

That, and I probably have some really awful language bloopers in there. Google translate, you make me sad.

Crumbling Empire [Chapter 2]

Happy Friday! A few more pages for your delight and perusal. ~2543 3252 words

Edit 3/31/15: Changes with descriptions added, more internal character dialogue. +709 words.

Edit, preserved for comments, content removed 1/18/16.

Chapter 1 is here.


Go ahead, comment. It won’t kill you.  And, um, it’s not because I’m desperate. Because I’m not. I’m NOT! Just comment. If you comment, I’ll be your best friend!  C’mon. I’ll give you a cookie! Yeah, I love the “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” books, too.

Crumbling Empire Novel [Chapter 1]

Crumbling Empire Concept Cover
Crumbling Empire Concept Cover

1970 2670 words, first installment, 10 11 pages. Goal: To have a good opener. Establish protagonist. Establish conflict. Throw dangerous situations at protag. Meet the fireteam.  Make up novel name (not permanent). Set up the middle.

Edit: I have rebranded this as the complete chapter 1. It replaces the original and edited chapter 1 (or installment 1).

Edit: New edits as of 3/31/15.
Added more he/she said tags, to make all dialogue speakers clear. Added more internal dialogue for protag. Added description of shuttles and HCA. Added additional description of environs when possible. +1000 words from previous draft.

Edit: New edits as of 4/21/15.
Eradicated passive voice. Removed all semblances of was. Fixed science in initial scene to reflect how space ships really move. Removed extra alarm notice from marines waking up scene. 2768 words.

Edit: New edits as of 4/22/15.
Really removed all the wases this time. For sure. Really. Reworked first through third paragraphs. They’re tighter. I miss the weak passive voice.

Edit: New edits as of 5/01/15.
Found some errors in a paragraph. How did I miss them? I really need an editor.


Chapter 1

chapter flourish

A critical situation called the Grace Bedell’s unshaved captain to his position on the bridge, because the executive officer had insisted that he couldn’t make the call. The XO should have been able to handle all routine operations of a destroyer. He’d been with the captain for years and never interrupted the captain’s sleep before. Is it serious, then? The captain’s curiosity obscured his foul mood. What event would cause the XO to throw this decision on me? Space contained many surprises, though not on routine patrol.

The captain considered the information on the display. “They’re not IDed as security boats, and they’re not Empire. No one else has four destroyers and two cruisers in this sector because we own it. Hell, there aren’t any other official governments. Who are they?”

No one answered.

“Sir, prep for meeting engagement?” The XO inquired.

“Do it. Battle stations, sound battle stations, helm, calculate a slashing attack course and take us in, keep us slow so we can use Reville’s gravity to slingshot around and possibly attain orbit should they prove friendly or neutral, tactical give me a weapons solution asap, and XO, I need an update on damage control and weapons teams in place for possible combat. Sensors, start pulling data on what those ships are armed with.” The captain straightened up and looked at the holo of the ships again.

The XO activated battle stations and the alarms sounded throughout the ship, while a course of acknowledgments were heard from tactical, helm, and sensors. A moment later, the Grace Bedell accelerated toward the belligerents orbiting Reville.

text break

Alarm. That’s an alarm. Lance Corporal Anasia Yuen snapped alert. She lay for a moment to process. Marine quarters. Grace Bedell. No drill scheduled. What is this?

“Unbelievable,” Private Radawski complained. “Can’t we have drills in the day cycle? I haven’t done this since boot camp.” He stretched, sitting on the edge of his bunk, then passed gas loudly.

“What, a week ago, Radawski?” said another marine.

Lance Corporal Anasia Yuen sat up in her bunk, then slid out of the narrow space to stand up and dress in her under armor suit. The compartment smelled heavily of stale air and sleep. “Radawski, shut up and get dressed.” She noticed his furtive glances at her nude form, and glared at him. It’s an alert and he’s thinking sex. Staff Meyer is right. Boots are pretty dumb. No, inexperienced. But they look dumb. And they do dumb things. It’s the same as if they were really dumb.

The fireteam scrambled to get dressed in the cramped marine quarters. “Move it to the armory,” she said as she checked her personal data unit.

Radawski continued to dress. Get him up to speed in the future. I keep catching flak for his performance. “Radawski, catch up. This is not a drill,” she said over her shoulder.

Other marine fireteams funneled through the wide, brightly lit metal corridors toward their respective armor lockers. No paneling disguised the kilometers of conduit and tubes. Warship crews needed quick access to repairs in battle. The air from the corridor smelled of ozone, electrical.

“What’s the drill, Porn?” came the deep voice of PFC Tama Anaru. Because of Anaru’s extreme tallness and breadth, it had been a difficult process to get him heavy combat armor to fit.

“It’s not a drill, Stalk, this is a real deployment.” Yuen replied.

“What’s the non-drill, Porn?” His words were rapid fire as they walked.

She pursed her lips and tried to read. “Wait one…” She gave up on walking and reading and stopped abruptly. Private First Class Bendtsen ran into her with an oath.

“Six ships,” she read out loud, “unidentified possible hostiles, suit up and combat load on the shuttle, possible hostile action in a centiday.”

“This real?” Anaru asked.

Bendtsen added, “There isn’t a pirate fleet with six warships. Not one that would go toe-to-toe with the Empire.”

Because we are marines. And no one fights as well in space as we do. No pirate. No rag-bag citizen army.

Radawski ran up to them. “I’m here, corporal.”

“About time, Radawski.” Yuen replied. This pisses me off. Boots are supposed to be faster at everything, not slow.

The squad leader, Sgt. Ihejirika, spotted them clustered around Yuen in the corridor and bellowed at them. “Alpha Fire Team, move it! Suited in five milli, MOVE IT!”

Yuen darted forward down the corridor. This should be easy. The plan is to load up in shuttles. But what then? Just sit and wait? “Just move, it’s real, guys.” Yuen replied, “Not a drill. Get your suits, get on the shuttle.” The fire team trailed behind her.

They arrived at and undogged an enormous hatch to enter their armory locker. Four sets of matte black Chieftain Combat Systems Paladin v. 6.8 heavy combat armor lay in organized heaps beneath metal frames. Vertical racks contained rifles and rucks of ammo. The strong smell of gun oil permeated the compartment. They had just finished cleaning all the equipment after a drill a mere… was it only two centidays ago?

By design, the HCA suits enveloped the user in a rapid automatic sequence. Yuen had polished the dull black surface of hers so it shined in spite of the matte finish. The suits did not externally differentiate between male and female, so observers could not tell the gender of the wearer just by looking. On the chest and shoulder were her rank, in gold, and displayed on the front right of the chest, her last name.

Yuen stepped into her suit, grasped the metal frame for balance, and commenced the suiting up sequence. Her helmet snapped into place to complete the process. The suit always smelled of cleaner and mechanical lubricant, and no matter how hard she cleaned it, sweat. There’s nanites that’ll clean the organics out of a system, though you don’t want those on your face. Sure, nanites can solve everything, but they’re like fresh boots, really dumb and linear thinking. The O2 flowed cold and dry, and she took a few breaths and felt invigorated by it.

The heads up display on the visor displayed the boot sequence for the many onboard computer units. “Chieftain Combat Systems” displayed for a moment, then a lot of text Yuen ignored, stating who made the cooling subsystems, the fusion power unit, weapons, the medical care system, comm system, and everything else packed into the armor. Everyone read it the first time in boot camp. Unless you were an armorer or tech, it fell into the background of things you thought about. “Authorized user: Anasia Yuen, LCPL, ISM” displayed after the rest of the system finished booting. Good, my suit recognizes me. This time. You couldn’t count on that always being the case. It seemed like technical problems sidelined 40-50% of the teams’ armor at any given time. Lots of job security for the navy HCA mechanics, though they never seem to have replacement parts.

She considered it fantastic armor, if a little dated. Due to little or no competition in the Empire, replacements were counted as unnecessary. The Marines usually acted as policemen, or sometimes, mafia enforcers. It depended on which official obtained authorization to use the marines.

“Radawski! Are you retarded? Just get your suit on,” Bendtsen said, through the open visor of his HCA. “How did you manage to get through basic? Bribes? C’mon, gehen wir!”

Yuen glanced at the completely suited Anaru, who performed his startup diagnostics.

“Damn, Porn, this thing is a glitchy piece of crap.” Anaru complained.

“Same problem?” She asked. Her suit chimed green on all systems, full power plant, comms, medical, cooling, and movement normal. She grabbed her rifle and a ruck and turned her attention to Radawski.

“Tubesteak, stop haranguing him. Calling him retarded doesn’t help him.” Yuen said. Though it’s spot on.

“Same problem,” Anaru said. “Thought the navy mechs were going to get this all fixed, it’s been two thirty-days that I’ve had this problem.”

I know. I got written up for it. “Do your best. Improvise,” Yuen said.

“He is retarded.” Bendtsen said.

“Screw you, Tubesteak,” Radawski replied.

“Both of you shut up,” Yuen snapped, “Radawski, what’s the issue?”

“Did you hear me, Porn?” Anaru asked.

“Yeah, I heard—” she began.

Radawski interrupted. “This suit’s blotchy, and the Empire doesn’t fix it. Diags show loading fault and I can’t get it fixed. In boot, the DIs would give just scream at us for a while—”

“Radawski. Shut up.” Yuen cut him off. “We all know what they did in boot camp, but we just need to get it fixed.” So quit bitching and start fixing, boot.

“Porn, what do you want me to do?” Anaru asked.

Yuen leaned in to look at Radawski’s suit, crowding Radawski away from the armor with her own armor’s substantial bulk. “Try a reboot sequence?”

“For my suit, or his?” Anaru asked.

“That’ll take a few milli, and we’re outta time, Porn!” Bendtsen replied.

“I know!” she said. “It might not matter… Screw it, we gotta go. Radawski, get your flak wrap and take a pulse rifle and grenade load out, soft kit.” Radawski looked confused. “Soft kit! You know what soft kit is? Dammit, I don’t have time for this! Stalk, issue Radawski that equipment. Move!”

“I didn’t think we used soft kit for anything,” Radawski protested.

“Uh, Yuen, my suit is still throwing faults,” Anaru pointed out.

“Sort it out on the shuttle, Stalk. Just get Radawski his kit,” Yuen said. Do I have to hold everyone’s hand?

“Sure, I’ll probably end up frozen in the airlock with a suit lockup. Let’s go, Radawski, you have to be in the shuttle in a milliday,” Anaru replied, violently shoving Radawski.

“Damn, lighten up, Stalk!” Radawski complained, rubbing his shoulder.

Radawski and Anaru moved to the equipment lockers, and Bendtsen stomped toward the shuttle debarkation port. Bendtsen has no finesse. Just brute your way through it.

“Coming, Porn?” he asked.

She followed him lightly down the corridor. If anyone could sneak up on someone with an HCA, it’s me. She’d learned how to move quietly and be light on her feet in a large, heavy set of combat armor. It did not rank as a very useful skill in a combat unit that placed more value in shock and awe. You can’t shock someone if they don’t know you’re there. But you can punch them with incredible force and that kills them.

“Yeah, let’s get loaded before Meyer and Ihejirika both fuse their brain pans,” she said.

Yuen and Bendtsen hurried through the open airlock to their designated planetary assault shuttle. The shuttle crew had painted the area next to the airlock door to the shuttle a rendition of a blue dragon belching fire with claws extended, with the caption “Hot Boarder.” Navy regulations technically forbade wall art, but navy personnel ignored it. If a shuttle crew cared enough to name their shuttle and paint a mascot on their airlock, they had good morale and took good care of their vessel. A dull, soul-sucking grey smothered the remainder of the bulkhead. Naval regulations required all military equipment to be uninteresting colors. Morale or something. Would it kill the navy to put in some crimson colored curtains or something?

The airlock door and shuttle door were temporarily wedded together, leaving a wide opening into the shuttle permitting easy navigation for Marines in HCA. It wouldn’t bother most of the personnel if there had been leaks, as they were required by regulation to have airtight suits. Airtight suits in boring colors. Everyone is suited up.

Attached to a concave area on the destroyer’s exterior hull, the Skua class combat shuttle lay within the destroyer’s shielding system. Four other combat shuttles were attached at evenly spaced positions on the hull, one for each squad. They were flat, black aircraft, with large swept back wings and hover nodules for short take-off and landing on planets with atmosphere. In micro gravity, the wings served no function, but increased the mass and thus the fuel loss when maneuvering, slowing down, and speeding up.

The two marines plunged into the matte black interior of the crowded shuttle. Four racks open. For my fireteam. Looks like Bravo fire team and squad leader are here already. “Last man in?” anxiously queried the suited up shuttle crew chief, Spaceman Second Class Nolan.

He can’t count? We’re down two, you moron. “Not for this fireteam, two more to go,” Yuen responded, sitting in her HCA rack. Bendtsen locked into the empty rack beside her.

“What, they putting on their makeup?! Crap!” Nolan said. “LT wants us sealed and ready to pop.” He looked at her shoulder insignia and name. “Yuen? Your fireteam is going to get us killed. We’re going to be plastered all over the side of Grace in a milli if your people can’t get here in time. Or we leave them behind.”

Even the normally mellow crew chief is bitching and he’s scared. “Yeah, well, Lieutenant Monroe is more than welcome to get us parts for our HCA when he’s not piloting this shuttle, which is, I don’t know, most of the time? That’ll speed things up,” Yuen said. Lieutenant Monroe is an egotistical, arrogant, self-worshipping jerk. He’s also very good at what he does. I’m pretty sure he has no idea at all what we peasants do once we leave his precious shuttle to go tread around in the mud. Bet he never has missing parts or systems down. Or gets mud on his shuttle.

“Porn, you’re down two… pinging them at thirty meters, sitrep?” Sgt. Ihejirika radioed from the HCA rack at the front of the crowded shuttle compartment. Vessels that needed to operate under atmospheric pressure and high gravity made mass and volume a premium commodity.

He wants to know why my fire team is taking their sweet time. He knows why. Radawski is why.

“Radawski’s suit is redlined and he’s going soft kit. Anaru is helping him.” I don’t blame him. When my fireteam isn’t greened up, Sergeant Ihejirika gets it from his boss, Staff Sergeant Meyer. It’s a shame, really, since Meyer always takes out time of the chain of command to specially counsel me anyway. He doesn’t have to do that. He shouldn’t do that. It’s a nice personal touch, a fireteam leader like me getting nuked by the platoon sergeant. Meyer’s an asshole.

“Get your crap together, Porn. Every time, it’s your fireteam.” Ihejirika replied.

Getting nuked by the squad leader is quite enough. Time to appease him. “I know, sergeant. I’m working to improve the troopers.” A lead ball seemed to form in Yuen’s gut. The dressing down sounded mild, but Sgt. Ihejirika didn’t yell. That’s him yelling.

“No more screw-ups. Fix it.”

Yes, mother. “Understood, sergeant.”As if I know what a mother is like. I do, sort of. Mother Superior. She’s like a mother. Mother Mary. I could never have kids. No training. The sergeant is wound pretty tight, right now. He didn’t say it, but I’m the one who should have stayed behind to supervise Radawski. The leader is always responsible for the actions of the people under her.

Anaru and Radawski arrived in the shuttle at that moment. The other marines of Alpha squad looked at Radawski in his sealed suit over unpowered light armor and carrying a heavy assault weapon. Anaru clicked into a rack next to Bendtsen, and Radawski found a jump seat next to the crew chief, yelling “Last man in!”

Yuen thumbed the fireteam channel. “Ski, you green?”

“Yeah, Porn. I’m… hermit crab without a shell. I could be killed by fly fart in this rig. I got comms and O2.”

A soft ping alerted Yuen that Radawski’s suit, back in the locker, signaled it had rebooted and recovered from a serious error.

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“There’s no reason for us to hold on to the marines. Jettison the shuttles—Send ‘em to Revile for this conflict, tell them to evade and land and coordinate with friendly ground forces,” the captain ordered. At least the shuttles might survive. The Grace has no chance in winning if they turn out to be hostile. They’re not talking so they’re not friendly.

“Aye sir, jettisoning shuttles now.”

“Comms, keep hailing them. We mean business, we own this space, and nobody screws with the Empire. We own thousands of ships.” Just none of them are here except this one.

“Aye sir.”