(Note: this post has story spoilers, read at your peril)
It’s not a joke, but it might illuminate my writing process a little.
Once I had officially received my official license to write fiction for Frontier Development’s latest game Elite:Dangerous, I spent a month planning, then knocked out a draft in three months. I had a rest from the manuscript, came back to it, gave it an edit then released it to my Alpha readers.
The basic story was all there, most of the same pieces, though some changes were made. Some were personal – for me, others were forced on me – new information coming to light from Frontier Developments as they developed the game and created new and different backstory to fill the gap between the last game (First Encounters, set in the year 3250) and Elite:Dangerous (set in the year 3300).
NOW ITS TIME FOR SOME SPOILERS – LOOK AWAY IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE STORY YET!!!!!!!
So if you have read the story you’ll know that Garry and Gunn raid the secret Ceeper base and get the data for INRA, at great cost to Garry’s sanity – he had to revisit several haunting moments from his past. Together they go back to the INRA fleet, to find it in disarray – the behemoth floating amongst debris. (The Imperial clones that were tracking Garry and Gunn tracked them to the INRA location and had a big fight). Its an obvious double cross, and Garry saves Gunn and the two get the hell out of dodge, though not without Criddoch causing more trouble.
Its at this point that Garry pulls up stumps. He’s had enough of this shit and wants out. Gunn knocks him unconscious with a vicious head butt because she is Gunn. The next scene shows Gunn arriving at an Alliance Base. She has an interesting conversation with her boss:
“Report,” Trotsky said. No thank you, no hello, no ‘great to see you back in the blues’.
Gunn glanced around the office. A desk, a hologram of a middle aged woman, the wife presumably, and a lone pad stylus. No decoration, no loose stationary.
“I’m alive,” she said finally.
Trotsky’s jaw clenched, his cheeks dimpling. “The pirate?”
Gunn didn’t hesitate. “Iced.”
“We escaped. They have narrowed Soontill’s location to three possible points.”
Trotsky leaned forward until the link showed only his mouth. “You’ve got twenty four hours. After that someone more capable will be taking the lead.” He leant back and moved his arm across the view to the link controls. “If we are ever going to have equality with the Empire and Federation we need that Thargoid technology. Don’t screw this up Gunn.”
Trotsky disappeared and with him her faith in her cause.
Gunn’s faith in her boss and the Alliance Secret Police is eroding, and her boss’s attitude is the last straw. The next we hear of Robert is him waking up after the attack:
He awoke trying to fend off her attack. But she wasn’t there. Nobody was there. It was dark. Dark and small. He could feel the wall before his face. He tugged on his arms and legs but they wouldn’t move.
She’d buried him alive.
That was the only thought that made sense. She always promised she’d kill him. She’d talked about it numerous times. Her boss had made it an official request. He’d always thought it would be a bullet to the head of a knife to the back, but Gunn had a vindictive streak. She was probably chortling to herself right now, the bitch.
He pulled again at his limbs but they held fast. His heart beat faster, his breathing losing shape. It was getting hot in here. All this breathing, nowhere for it to go, who knew how much soil above him. . . His breathing sped up, a tempo to match his heartrate. He thrashed and kicked and threw his head side to side. He screamed.
His head hit something that clicked and his coffin hissed. A crack of light appeared around him. Faint, oh so faint, but light nonetheless. The crack widened and the lid of his coffin lifted away.
He released a nervous laugh as the light of a pale sun enveloped him. He wasn’t buried. He was in a personal insertion pod.
He finds himself on an Ice planet, in trouble, again, in the way only Robert Garry seems to be able to produce:
Two skiddoos appeared before the approaching ice plumes. AIS people on board no doubt. There was a pair of skis at the front, tractored wheels at the back, a full width windscreen with a man behind it and a hooded head poking out of the roof from behind a mean looking machine gun, complete with ammunition belt. A moment of professional curiosity overcame him. The Federation had dumped mounted machine guns for pulse lasers before he’d joined up. He’d never had the chance to fire one.
The skidoos drew to a stop at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions around him, snow crunching under their treads. The ice plumes settled, clinking quietly behind the burble of the skidoo engines. Robert waited. Four sets of eyes and two guns watched him. His palms burned and sweat dripped down his eyes. He clenched his teeth down hard against the pain but he didn’t move. He waited.
Needless to say he escapes, and, because I wanted it in the story for no reason other than nostalgia:
A compacted ice road lead him up the far side of the hill. The listening post was a four storey rectangle, aerials and satellite dishes standing proud on the roof. The post didn’t actually hug the rockwall like he had thought. It sat on cantilevered support pylons bolted into the rock. There was a large platform behind it, hidden from cursory view. There was a third skidoo and a two tone blue Cobra Mk III parked on the platform.
And I pretty much came up with the idea of the planet being icy so Gunn could tell her boss she had ‘iced’ the pirate. In my tireder writing moments I thought it was funny. Robert escapes, goes to a corporate world, contacts his boys, but the Ceepers won’t leave him alone:
The glint of steel ahead caught his eye.
Robert’s legs were already throwing him sideways before his gaze could rise the few degrees to eye the owner of the weapon.
A bullet whizzed past his face as he slammed through the nearest house’s door. He passed a surprised bearded man, under an arch and into a kitchen. A clean bench, a food printer, spare cartridges stacked next to it, a few empty cartridges scattered around, and a decorative butchers knife hanging from a shield. Robert reached for the knife as the assailant appeared under the arch and fired. Robert dived and threw the knife.
The fight culminates with Garry having a moment of awareness, of catharsis, the moment he wakes up and realises what he has to do – become the hero he has refused to believe he is:
They boy was staring at Robert. His eyes were wide, but they were flat. There was no weeping, there was no shaking. He wasn’t scared. He was staring straight at Robert and he wasn’t scared.
Robert stared back at the boy, lost how he could be so calm. Then it hit him and his chest constricted and he couldn’t breathe. He was suffocating, but air was all around him, waiting to be inhaled. He felt dizzy.
This little boy, this little man he’d never met was so sure that Robert was a Hero, that he didn’t fear for his life. He knew as night was dark that Robert would save him, with no doubt whatsoever.
Robert clutched the polearm tight, gaze flicking from one side to the other, desperately seeking a solution, a weapon, a bag of weight held by pulley directly above the Brother’s head. But there was nothing but people. The Brother pressed the tip of the polearm into the boy’s throat and the little man whimpered.
He could hear the screaming again, the screaming he heard when he went to sleep every night. The screaming he heard when his attention drifted for a moment. The screaming that could only be silenced by making other people scream. The screaming he had listened to for two hours as he destroyed the Imperial fleet over Villist one ship at a time.
He survives, kind of, and links back up with Gunn and the story continues on as per normal. The Ice Planet scene has a lot of good bits, Robert learns a lot about the Alliances’s underhanded plans for the Galaxy (which are only hinted at in the final version of the story) and we learn more about Robert’s history pirating with his father. But otherwise it doesn’t really accomplish a hell of a lot other than getting Robert Garry from A to B in a relatively quiet way. (Quiet in this context means only blowing up a listening station and three skidoos).
It was this scene that caused me the most consternation, the most naval gazing, the most blue sky thinking. Lying on the ground, staring at the sky, wondering what would be better.
It was an evolutionary process. It was too long. I wanted the story to be leaner, more focused, getting to the point quicker. I wanted the ride to not let up too much for the reader. There was still Soontill to find and destroy after all!
I changed the ice planet to another type of planet, I changed the corporate world, I considered a space station, but in the end I went back to the basics. Each scene needs to accomplish something – it needs to drive the narrative forward. While the Ice Planet got Robert from A to B, he actually needed to get to C with a new mind set, which is what the Corporate world scene did. Why did these things have to happen in separate scenes? Why couldn’t one supercharged scene do both?
So I combined them. I put the corporate people on the ice planet.
Except that kinda sucked. It didn’t really allow Garry freedom of movement for a big arse fight.
So I changed it. It became a trash planet. A corporate trash planet. (Which meant I had to change Gunn’s expression from ‘icing’ people to ‘trashing’ people. I preferred ice but it was a compromise I felt I had to make!) A planet of garbage piles, with machines and crushers and burn off rigs, all manned by communities of people. Then to make it tougher on Garry I made the majority of the workers survivors of Villist who had immigrated under corporate contract – solid work and food sounding better than rebuilding a planet destroyed around you.
So Robert gets dumped, he contacts his crew, he meets Villist survivors, then gets attacked by them, egged on by the Ceepers. He and his crew escape through the garbage piles, but again Robert is caught and beaten, alone, by an angry Villist survivor who blames Robert for the death of his family. Its up to a little boy to show Robert that he is a hero and that he has a job to do out there in the Galaxy:
“Don’t hurt him!” yelled a young boy.
Robert glanced around, seeking the voice. A black haired boy clamped himself to Robert’s legs, hugging tight. The kid with the ringworld.
Robert shook his head at the boarder, mouthing ‘wait’. He pried at the boys arms. “Get out of here, kid,” he whispered. The boy wouldn’t budge. “He saved my grandpa!” the kid yelled.
Robert’s arms weakened. He stared down at this little man. He shook, his head buried into Robert’s stomach, but he wasn’t fleeing. He was scared beyond belief yet he put his life on the line for Robert. A pirate, a failure, the man who had saved his family.
Robert sucked in a breath, realisation suffocating him. There was air to breathe, he just couldn’t breathe it. The boarder and the ship and garbage spun around him.
He heard the screaming again, the screaming he heard when he went to sleep every night. The screaming he heard when his attention drifted for a moment. The screaming that could only be silenced by making other people scream. The screaming he had listened to for ten hours as he destroyed the Imperial fleet over Villist, one ship at a time. They had screamed for help. They had begged for mercy. They had cried for their babies. They had pleaded. The Tutankhamun’s bridge rang from the screams. Broadband and high pitched, mind numbingly rising and falling like a tide of heartbreak while he stuck to his plan until every Imperial ship was destroyed.
All those people screaming for their daughters and their sons, their babies, all those people who hadn’t yet had a chance to live their lives, gone, because he couldn’t save them.
But this boy didn’t see that. All he saw was a man who had beaten the odds to save his grandpa. To this boy, that made Robert a hero. An actual in-the-flesh real life hero.
Character’s have many layers and Robert Garry is no exception. Earlier he tells Gunn that he kind of fell back into piracy, that it was the only thing that made sense. It was a surface response, and true, he did need the familiarity of his father and his previous life, but in the quote above we learn that a little deeper how in pain Robert is, how being a pirate allows him to hurt others to stave off his own pain. He is a tortured fellow, but now he knows his course of action. Of course he has to go and die like a quitter:
There was an instant of numbness, a lack of sensation just long enough for his brain to wonder if the boarder had missed.
Then the pain came.
It came in waves, big rolling balls of fire, washing through him again and again, a tidal wave, destroying everything in its path, nerve endings withering under the fire.
He sunk to his knees, clutching his stomach. Blood poured through his fingers as he covered the crater.
Dad had the same injury. I’m going to die like Dad. He started giggling. He felt lightheaded.
The ground crashed into his head. He rolled onto his back. He needed a son to come and try, but fail to save him. A son to sing the promise with him. A son to cry over his corpse.
But all wars must end.
And so too must all men.
A cold shiver racked his body. His fingers stiffened.
The boarder grew smaller and smaller, climbing toward the ship above.
“Show me the freighter,” Robert choked, blood gurgling from his mouth. Let me see it take off. Please.
The world darkened, grey to brown to black.
Laser beams sprayed across the Sidewinder and it exploded in a fireball.
Robert Garry died.
Now I had a more cogent fight/chase scene with a more powerful ending. It was tighter, more focused, with the chaff cut out. It made more sense, it had more relevance to the rest of the story and it took up less space: 6855 words in the original versus 4757 words in the final version. It ended up being one of my favourite scenes.
So across two drafts, an alpha version, a beta version and 2 ‘final’ edits I wrote and rewrote this section of the story until I ended at this turning point in Robert Garry’s life. Short, fast, powerful, intense. I hope you enjoyed it 🙂
(Note: an 11th hour edit was performed on the novel and this scene was heavily edited, the moment of catharsis was removed and Garry simply dies, apparently shot, though I’m not entirely sure.)