The Rebel Queen, Scene 1

For this week’s post I thought I’d share scene 1 of The Rebel Queen.

The genre is a political drama set among an alien species. The story runs parallel to a section of Vengeance Will Come, which I discussed here.

It’s a longer post (approx 2,000 words) so make yourself a cuppa and get comfortable as you read. Please, do let me know what you think in the comments below.


“When Deckarians are looking for a planet to colonize they seek isolated and inhospitable planets. They prefer geologically stable, arid planets with thick crusts into which they can burrow.

The new colony begins the slow and methodical Deckarian terraforming: diverting surface waters into underground reservoirs, making the planet’s surface more hostile.

It is both a camouflage and a comfort to the Deckarian mindset that thrives underground. To be above ground is to be foolish and invite trouble; to be deep below is to be safe.”

Diary entry of Dr Susan Passive

– – –

The female Deckarian, Khuel, was half-hidden in the dim lighting of the drinking hole. The lighting matched the mood: unpretentious and quiet.

Having nothing better to do she watched the viewing screen with idle interest. Two human males circled each other in the Fighting Pit. Like all humans, both were lanky, long of arm and leg by Deckarian standards and covered with soft, fragile skin. One brandished an axe, the other a long knife. Both wore fear on their faces as they contemplated death.

Khuel was slumped forward so her leathery grime-covered forearms rested on the polished pine counter. Her dirty appearance suggested she’d come straight from work and was looking for a drink, not company. Even still, she’d already cast aside three hopeful males.

With her peripheral vision she saw a male Deckarian enter the drinking hole. He chatted with the pourer just long enough to prospect the room. Picking up his drink the male walked over to sit next to Khuel as though the rest of the counter wasn’t empty.

Here it comes, Khuel thought as the male turned to her, “I’ve seen you in here a few times but we’ve never been introduced. My name is Hun,” the male gave her a friendly smile. Khuel picked herself up slightly off the counter but continued to spin her empty glass without looking at him. Hun persevered, “Looks like you’ve had a hard day?”

She said nothing, but let out a long sigh. She pushed the glass away from her as a sign of completion.

“Don’t be in such a hurry to leave. Let me buy you a drink to improve your night,” Hun offered quickly and signalled the pourer. Khuel didn’t stop him ordering the drink, so she turned and gave him a weak smile in payment.

Hun wore the steel-studded collar of a clutch leader, marking him as modestly successful. He looked ten years older than her.

“There, is that better? A free drink or two and someone nice to talk to, the night is looking up,” Hun said. He hopes, Khuel thought with a slight smile.

“Sure, why not,” Khuel said, sitting up straight and turning her attention to him. Hun’s face lit up like a forming star in response to the encouragement.

“You haven’t told me your name yet?” Hun prompted.

Khuel smiled mischievously. “The drink will get you a smile, if you want my name you’ll have to do better than that.”

Hun smiled as though he’d just struck Rhodium and deployed a well-worn line. “You know you’ve got a pretty face when you smile.”

“So I’m not pretty when I don’t smile?” Khuel rolled her eyes and took a large gulp of her drink, “I bet you say that to all the females.”

Hun noted the rapidly diminishing drink and his window of opportunity. “So, you work in this sector?” he asked.

“I spend my working hours in near-darkness, elbow-deep in fertiliser, harvesting mushrooms.”

“That’s a valuable job. Food production is vital to the wellbeing of the colony.”

“Valuable, perhaps, but very dirty,” Khuel examined her mud-stained fingernails. Hun wasn’t very choosey, but given the age gap between them…

“Oh there’s no shame in the side-effects of hard work,” Hun said with pride. “Better to stink of sweat than smell sweetly like some who do no work.”

“Ain’t that the truth.” Khuel agreed with a sigh. Nothing like a little class hatred to draw friends together. “There seem to be more perfumed preeners in the colony every year; I don’t know where they come from,” she replied.

“Most preeners are pilots of course,” Hun said, “they walk around the colony as though they’re our betters. Some of the soldier class too. And then there’s the occasional worker-“

“Not many,” Khuel interrupted, “It’s not in the nature of us workers to consider ourselves better than others. Even if we were, we wouldn’t say it.”

Hun nodded.

“Have you…” Khuel started and then looked around to check they wouldn’t be overheard, continuing in a whisper, “heard the rumours that the rebel Queen favours the worker class?”

Hun had his glass halfway to his mouth but immediately put it down. He shot her a glare and checked their surroundings too. He leaned in close, but his tone was hard and pointed like a freshly sharpened pick, “Such talk is foolish. Dangerous. Definitely not for public airing; it could be seen as treasonous.”

Khuel put her hands up in tired surrender, “Sorry, I didn’t meaning anything by it. I wasn’t saying I wanted a new Queen, just repeating the rumours that I’d heard.” Hun looked at her sideways. The hunter had become skittish prey.

“Oh come on, don’t be like that,” Khuel pouted, “you’re the first actually nice male who’s talked to me tonight. Sometimes I just think too much…”

Hun didn’t say anything and just sipped his beer with a grim look on his face. I’ve spoiled it, Khuel thought. In several quick gulps Khuel emptied her glass and then started to spin it on the counter. The pourer quickly rescued the glass before drifting away.

“Do you want another?” Hun asked, opening the door to more conversation. Khuel shook her head. Hun grabbed at the bowl of roaches on the counter and began to eat them. Hun spoke quietly in a conciliatory tone, “There’s nothing wrong with thinking anything, you just have to be careful what and when you say things.”

Khuel nodded in understanding and let the silence linger to defuse the tension. “I just thought that maybe some fresh ideas could improve life in the colony for everyone, not just those at the top,” Khuel reasoned.

“Do you really think that?” Hun whispered.

“Sure, why not? Just to be clear I’m not advocating for a new Queen, so don’t freak out on me… I just think some things in the colony could benefit from a change.”

Hun took a slow and very deliberate drink.

“So you’re optimistic and cute… I promise I won’t freak out on you,” Hun said and spoke conspiratorially, “I’ve heard a thing or two about this rebel. She has a lot of interesting, unconventional ideas.”

“Really? Like what?”

Hun gave a knowing smile. Khuel leaned in so that their faces were almost touching. She whispered to him, “Even though I’d never support another Queen, there’s something intriguing about her ideas. And the whole conspiracy – rebels hiding out somewhere in the colony… there’s a danger and a mystery about it which I find… more exciting than I should.”

Hun nodded slightly as he took another drink. “I suppose I could tell you what I know.” Khuel swiveled on her stool toward him and a shrewd glint appeared in Hun’s eye. “Not here; we can’t talk about it in public,” he said.

“Are you just trying to get me back to your bunk?”

“Yes,” he said candidly, “but I do know quite a bit about the rebel group and the Queen’s plans for the colony.”

There was a pause before Hun repeated her own challenge, “A smile will get you that much, but you’ll have to do better than that for more information.”

“I am curious,” Khuel admitted, “but how do I know you’re not just leading me on? Swear on G’Nar.”

“May G’Nar crush me if I’m lying,” Hun said with his hand on his head. “And what will I get in return?”

“I promise on G’Nar we’ll have a night to remember,” Khuel replied. She looking at his half-full glass, “have you finished your drink?”

“Almost,” Hun gulped down the last of his drink as though dying of thirst on the planet’s arid surface. He enthusiastically dug credits out of his pocket and placed them on the counter. He winked at the pourer as he followed Khuel out of the drinking hole.

Outside of the drinking hole the corridor was awash with Deckarians and humans slaves. Like the old saying went, ‘only the dead rest in the colony’, and everyone was about their work duties. They crossed over the crowd and into a quieter side-tunnel.

“Where are you bunked?” Khuel asked.

“Dormitory 14.”

“I know somewhere closer that is just as discreet,” Khuel whispered and led him through several corridors before getting onto her hands and knees and sliding into a narrow access-tunnel. Hun laughed as he climbed in; the crawl-space was so narrow it forces them into each other’s arms. Khuel kissed him and Hun returned the kiss with twice the vigour. Khuel broke free from his kiss and whispered into his ear, “You will tell me everything?”

“Yes,” Hun promised breathlessly, his hands beginning to explore. Khuel smiled as Hun started to nuzzle her neck. Her arms around his neck, she twisted the silver ring on her finger, exposing the hypodermic needle hidden inside.

“Yes you will,” she said, and drove the needle into the soft tissue behind his ear.

He reacted instantly, trying to pull away from her in the tight space. The look of pain and surprise on his face became fear as he crawling backwards, but losing momentum fast. Khuel tucked her legs up into a sitting position as she watched Hun collapse to the ground, like the sack of garbage he was.

Khuel wiped his saliva from her mouth and rubbed it disgustedly on the wall. She smiled her first real smile of the evening; the Queen’s Sting had just captured another rebel sympathiser. Perhaps he would be the one to finally lead them to the rebel Queen.

END OF SCENE 1

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Significant Changes to The Rebel Queen

At the beginning of the year I optimistically planned on finishing my first novel, Vengeance Will Come would be followed by a quick revision of my next novel, The Rebel Queen. I was confident it wouldn’t take too long – after all The Rebel Queen was already drafted and had early alpha reader approval.

On the Writing Excuses podcast they advise that you’re not ready to write your second novel until you’ve finished your first. This is good advice in my experience. Having undergone the task of writing a novel, and importantly the synopsis for submission, I’ve come away with some new insights.

As is proper, my second novel should be better than my first. So in response my revision of The Rebel Queen will be more thorough than originally anticipated.

  • Significantly, I’m going to start by drafting my synopsis. I am going to describe my characters and their arcs first and then keep that in the forefront of my mind as I revise the text.
  • I want to increase the novel’s length. The draft of The Rebel Queen is 65,000 words. This is a medium-sized novel, and not a bad length for a new author. However based on previous experience I’d expect to cut 15% of that during the revision process. Which would result in a very short book.

    Far more important than the actual word count though, is the pace and ending. I’ve noticed I have a weakness in writing the 4/5ths part of the story. I am going to expand that section, making it more cohesive. I’m also going to push-out the ending to get more resolution on the plot.

  • Reduce the number of point-of-view characters. My hope is I’ll be able to go deeper with each character, if there are less to juggle. This will likely be the hardest challenge to manage, as I’ll have to work out how to give the reader insights with less heads/bodies to switch between. Just who is on the chopping-block is yet to be decided.
  • Strengthen the resolution-bringing plot device, which was a little weak (in my opinion). I’ll be looking to change that up too.

That’s my goals for the next few months, what’s yours?

TMI: (Way) Too Much Information

Here on BenEzard.com I’m sharing my writing journey which includes the ugly and the good. If I’m being generous to myself I’d say its a ratio similar to the chemical composition of Hydronium: three ugly for every good.

A while ago I created a method of secret communication for my novel, Vengeance Will Come.  (Lacking expertise in this area I have no idea if this is a plausible solution…) The idea was that one tremendously large file hid the secrets of anyone who paid to use the storage service. To any observer, it would appear just one long piece of encrypted text, with no way of knowing where one message began or ended. Only the sender/receiver would know the coordinates of their message, and the encryption keys to decrypt it.

This was my first attempt at ‘writing it’ (many, many moons ago).

He went to the DataBank site which required no login and no password. After entering his credit card details – one of the number of fake identites he had on Drasius – he entered two coordinates. The Databank held a single file stream which was yottabytes in size.

Unmarked portions of the file ‘belonged’ to the tens of millions of users – individuals and companies who wanted to store data securely. Any person could upload/download any portion of the stream (paying per megabyte). The trick was, only you knew the coordinates in the stream where your data began and ended, and the encryption used on it. Without knowing where the ‘data ownership’ began or ended, or the type of encryption that was used, decrypting it was nearly impossible.

Cameus entered coordinates that were hundreds of megabytes on either side of his desired data block. This cost far more money, but also meant that anyone tapping the planetary-net would have to try decrypting a lot more data. The download process to his computer took a few minutes. Cameus then disconnected from the net and entered another two coordinates into the computer with the encryption details.

These coordinates were where his message was, ignoring the padding on either side. His computer was powerful and compact, but the decryption process would still take about twenty minutes. Cameus headed back toward the warehouse.

Congratulations if you read each of those 226 words. You’d be among the minority, and I don’t blame you if you didn’t make it all the way through. No one – except for me and a very rare egghead care about how the encryption specifically works.

For this reason in the next editing pass I savaged my creation, diluting its so-called brilliance for the sake of brevity.

He went to the DataBank site which required only one of his false identities credit cards. Entering in coordinates that were only known to him and his employer he began to download data. The Databank held a single file stream which was yottabytes in size, the unmarked portions of the file ‘belonging’ to tens of millions of users on Drasius. Cameus had downloaded hundreds of megabytes on either side of his desired data block; which cost more but would exponentially increase the difficulty for anyone trying to locate his message. The download process took several minutes after which Cameus entered the two precise coordinates of his section with the encryption details. His computer was incredibly powerful for its size but the decryption process would still take about twenty minutes.

So I had cut it severely down to 129 words but it was still not enough. The passage was a mouthful without flavor – calories without enjoyment – ready to frustrate the reader. I don’t know about you, but if I’m absorbing calories I want enjoyment: reading is no different.

So now my creation is rendered invisible, for the greater good of the story:

On the roof of the drinking shop he used his wrist computer to connect to the dark side of the net, downloading the encrypted stream from the DataBank. Cameus started the decryption algorithm and headed back to the warehouse at a run.

When the Editor takes the Day Off

I have been reading Red Mars. That is to say, at just over half-way through I’m putting the novel into an airlock and releasing it into space.

Red Mars is a HARD science fiction novel so I knew going in that it was going to be a challenge as to whether or not I could enjoy it. Reading it was an experiment for me.

It did win a Nebula award, and has 45% 5-star amazon reviews. However, as pointed out by more than one reviewer, to say it is a tad wordy is to say a light year is a small distance. There were elements of the story that I did enjoy, but to find the small minerals of goodness there was just too much soil to chew through. I’d rather save myself days of reading and find some plot spoilers online.

It is a great example of what happens when the editor seemingly takes the day off. Take this paragraph:

“Now she could wander in the dim ruby light of sunset, her old jazz collection piped from the habitat stereo into her helmet headphones, as she rooted in supply boxes and picked out any tool she wanted. She would carry them back to a small room she had commandeered in one of the storage warehouses, whistling along with King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, adding to a collection that included, among other items, an Allen wrench set, some pliers, a power drill, several clamps, some hacksaws, an impact-wrench set, a brace of cold-tolerant bungie cords, assorted files and rasps and planes, a crescent-wrench set, a crimper, five hammers, some hemostats, three hydraulic jacks, a bellows, several sets of screwdrivers, drills and bits, a portable compressed gas cylinder, a box of plastic explosives and shape charges, a tape measure, a giant Swiss Army knife, tin snips, tongs, tweezers, three vises, a wire stripper, X-acto knives, a pick, a bunch of mallets, a nut driver set, hose clamps, a set of end mills, a set of jeweler’s screwdrivers, a magnifying glass, all kinds of tape, a plumber’s bob and ream, a sewing kit, scissors, sieves, a lathe, levels of all sizes, long-nosed pliers, vise-grip pliers, a tap-and-die set, three shovels, a compressor, a generator, a welding-and-cut set, a wheelbarrow–and so on.”

How this got past the editor(s) I will never understand. (Perhaps they too, just skipped the paragraph like every other reader?)

Terminology Difficulties

As a new science fiction / fantasy author one of the problems I am wrestling with is the degree to which I make up new words or terminology. If a species or culture is alien (not-Earth based) then how much do I differentiate the language and terminology that I use?

For example the period it takes for the Earth to orbit the Sun is called a year. A day is how long it takes for the Earth to rotate once. But would another species use the same words, or would they have other words to reflect the same meaning? The obvious answer would be that they would use different words… (unless they had a shared history with Earth).

However I want my readers to be able to understand what I am writing without having to interpret a new language. I want to immerse my reader in fictitious places, but I don’t want them to be incomprehensible. A delicate balance.

The Rebel Queen

It started when I was writing my first novel Vengeance Will Come (Galactic Darkness series, book 1) and realised that I was introducing a BIG sub plot and a whole clown-car full of new characters half way through the story.Which is less than clever for a cohesive story.

So I cut out the juicy plot, planning to make it a novelette of around 17,500 words. I began working on this novelette in October 2015. The Rebel Queen is not book 2 of the series, but a bonus-story that runs slightly parallel to book 1 and 2, as shown in this graphic.

Timelines

I started with about 10,000 words of material and thought I could knock the project off in a couple of months. Ha! Evidently I am still learning to gauge time-and-writing- reality properly.

Two busy-writing months after my internal deadline, I am pleased to announce that I have sent The Rebel Queen out to my earliest alpha readers. Far from being a novelette, at nearly 64,000 words it is what I would call a short novel. It is an other-planet based story of empire-building, struggle and strife.

Back in October I used this as the blurb-descriptor:

There are rumours of a rebel faction hiding somewhere within the Deckarian colony. Such a presence threatens the unity of the colony and the Queen’s own ruling interest. The rebels must be swiftly crushed to remove all thoughts of a new Queen…

The rebel is young, inexperienced and has radical and controversial plans for the colony. She wants minimal bloodshed in the transition, but will her idealism prove fatal?

An unexpected human provocation will be the catalyst that puts the opposing forces onto a collision course. They will both learn that victory isn’t always what you expect.

I also like the below version, though it doesn’t describe the factions as well. Which do you like?

The hermaphrodite Deckarian Sue-Le sat in the bowels of the colony complex. The small antennae on her head that revealed her to be a genetic Queen were tied down and covered with a grey scarf. The small group sat in a corner of laundry facility 57, mending the pile of clothes beside them.Surrounded by vast boiling pots of filthy linen and kilometres of drying lines they plotted the overthrow of the colony.

I’m looking for beta readers if you’re interested, please let me know.

The Importance of Finishing Well

Recently I watched Jurassic World.

To be fair I should state that it has a PG-13 rating, which should have been my first clue that it wasn’t going to be a reprisal of the more mature Jurassic Park (MA15+) from my own youth. Given the low rating it was probably designed for teenagers less than half my age. Maybe they would like it more, even if the plot had more holes than a fly screen.

Note the following contains a lot of spoilers and some disappointed grumpiness. The story is based on a reborn amusement park, where de-extinction is done through science. Looking to boost revenue of the now mundane dinosaurs, they create a new genetically engineered hybrid dinosaur called the Idominous Rex, stronger, faster, scarier…

Parts I liked:

  • The idea of genetically engineering new dinosaurs.
  • Any well-done envisioning of future-tech.
  • I kind of like the idea of “how can we use dinosaurs for other purposes…” (caveat below section)

Parts I didn’t like (that met the so-annoying-I-included-them factor):

  • The micro-plot of mum and dad are getting a divorce, which goes like this: I’M ECSTATIC TO BE HERE AND SEE IT ALL! I’m crying now because they’re getting a divorce. Eyes are dry ten seconds later and OH MY, LOOK AT THAT OVER THERE! (Hopefully the ten seconds of tears were enough to endear me to my older brother and make him protective of me, even though he finds me exceptionally annoying).
  • If they have enclosures for big dinosaurs that never get to leave the enclosure, why are doors made large enough for said dinosaurs to walk out of? Can’t make that T-Rex climb out of a human-sized doggy-door can we?
  • The fact that the Indominous Rex is part Raptor, (which is a pack/social animal) who eats its own sibling growing up (err, not particularly socially polite), spends its entire life not socialising in isolation… breaks out and kills anything that moves (also not social)… and THEN communicates with the Raptor pack (ooh social now, and just in the nick of time for a plot twist!).
  • The hero of the story has trained the raptors from hatchlings so that he is the alpha of the pack. He just manages to convince them to not eat the poorly inducted new guy, but then he’s perfectly safe riding alongside them on a motorbike. Despite the fact that the raptors get a new alpha (the Indominous Rex) and eat all the soldiers, they then switch sides in the grand finale to protect the hero (plot twist!). Fortunately by this stage all of their hunting instincts seem to have been pacified because they’re not interested in eating the hero’s companions either…).
  • The hero rides through a jungle on a motor cycle, at night, alongside the hunting raptors who are tracking the Indominous Rex. Fortunately the Raptors chose a path that was free from ground-level obstructions (rocks, undergrowth, branches).
  • And the ending… a big battle between the Indominous Rex, the now-loyal Raptor pack (who nearly all die), a random T-Rex… They all fight valiantly, but at the end of it all the Indominous Rex strays too close to the swimming crocodile-dinosaur and becomes dinner himself. Apart from some brave action the hero has very little to do with the climax – it’s mostly dumb luck that saves the day.
  • Oh, and finally: The woman has found love with the hero and so it’s happy ever after as they walk out hand-in-hand. Never mind the fact that countless people have been killed and injured, you and hundreds of other people are out of a job because the park you were responsible for has just had one of the worst catastrophes ever… oh, and there are dozens of flying dinosaurs headed to the mainland, not to mention a random T-Rex and lone-Raptor who seem to have a cease fire between them for the time being.

If there is one part of the story you want to get right, it’s got to be the ending. Think of it like food: the ending of a story is the taste that the reader has left in their mouth after a meal. If it’s bad, they won’t be back. If it’s great they’ll tell their friends.

Which is why the progress gauge on The Rebel Queen appears to be a bit stuck. I seem to struggle with my endings, so I am putting more work into finishing the story off well. I’m getting there.