Crumbling Empire Placeholder for Chapter 6

This was where Chapter 6 was, which is the confronting-the-past chapter.  Which it didn’t do. It skirts around that issue and tries to figure out why Yuen looks like someone else. I bet you can guess.  Go ahead. Why does she look like someone else? Why, indeed? Maybe it needs explosions.

If you are new, Chapter 1 is here.

As of 1/18/16, I’ve removed it. I left the comments here because those are useful.

 

 

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.

text break

“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.”


 

Snowflake – structure and editing

I was about 15,000 words into a sci-fi novel and in a discussion with my treasured writer friend. “While I was outlining my story, blah blah blah,” he announced casually to me. “Aroo? Outlining?” I asked.  Because I hadn’t. Outlined. Anything. Just threw it on the screen, like you do.

“Post-it notes, whiteboard, outlining, blah blah blah,” he responded.  Post it notes? This sounded painful. I hate the prep work. Hate. It.  I just want to write.

But that’s stupid. Sure, you can write product for days and weeks and 120 thousand words later, you’ve got a novel but it’s poop because there’s all sorts of stuff in there that, you know, doesn’t advance the plot. It’s pretty. Yeah, pretty pointless. So back to outlining.

I pull out my trusty amazon tab and type in “outlining novels.” Up pops this book by Randy Ingermanson which has a link to a website. Cool, I want to get some nuts and bolts without purchasing anything yet.  I hit up Randy’s site,

http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/

There’s steps, concrete steps to take to get your outline done in a few hours/days/weeks and start writing a successful novel. I take copious notes in excel. Then I start grinding.

I hate you, thesis statement. Does ANYONE like those guys? Except English Teachers, and I’m sure they’re just Toe the Line people who have to pretend to like thesis statements Because They Want to Keep a Job.  Yep, all in the name of expediency.  I start with my thesis statement. And it’s hard to boil the whole novel down into one sentence.  Gah!  But this is something that will force me to understand the entire novel and what it’s about… genre-wise, at least.  It’s not a milieu novel, or an idea novel, or a character novel, which leaves E, whatever that is.  (See Orson Scott Card’s MICE system, if you will.)

The paragraph is easier, because I get to type a few more words this time, and you might be able to tell I like typing words.  Thesis statement, one sentence for each act, and a conclusion.  This forces me to write the conclusion.  No wonder I bogged down at 15 K words… no road map.

Then there’s characters. Call me Leo Tolstoy. I got ’em.  That part isn’t hard. I can characterize til I am blue in the face and I’ll still have more.  But the questions — what are the goals of each character? What is the conflict? And so on– those questions force me to examine each character as a person, not just backdrop.  With a group of space marines, it’s tricky, because some of them don’t have goals, or don’t know they have goals, but some of them do.  That guy over there wants to be an officer, and that guy over there is doing it just so he can get off his crummy planet, and that girl is seeking a place to belong, and so on. Right away, I discover that with writing the second character as a foil for the protagonist, that another character is going to die because it’s going to make the scenes following far more conflicted as we see a sub-story: will the NCO be able to function as an officer?

From there, it was a matter of fleshing out each of the sentences in the story paragraph into an entire paragraph detailing the things happening in each act.  And then doing some reworking of the characters because the flow of the story needed some tweaks. I found out at this point that my main POV character was too lowly to be having much conflict, or at least the conflict I wanted to write.  See, there is conflict for a grunt, but it’s manifested as stay alive, don’t let your officers kill you off, and deal with the stupidity of your fellow grunts. Whereas, if the POV character gets a promotion from grunt to fire-team-leader, she’s now responsible for three other characters, has to deal with a second fire team in her squad, and interact with her squad leader, her platoon sergeant, and very rarely the platoon leader.  Maybe even moving her up to squad leader would make her problems come to the fore as the additional responsibility of managing 8 people instead of 3 would be more conflicty.

I haven’t made that final decision yet.

Then I was to write the story paragraphs into full one page summaries.  This part saw me hitting the high level logic of the story and finding more gaps and problems that needed fixing. How do we get from here to there? It was act 3 of the book that was the problem, and on the third re-draft I discovered that the planet the marines end up on has been invaded by another government’s army.

Interesting how that works, isn’t it?

I’ve been finally hitting the scene list, and that went pretty well– I just pulled sentence by sentence from the page summaries.  My Goal was to create the scene list with Scene/Sequel for each of the scenes.

My conflict was that this is not easy to do.  I’m trying to take a story narrative and ram it into S/S format. Ugh.

Disaster! The format of S/S isn’t fitting the narrative. So… I’m back to rewrite stage.  Scene. Sequel. Etc. Argh.