Back in November as part of NaNoWriMo I embarked on writing my first novel. A sci-fi epic about a veterinarian, working title All creatures, Space and All. In response to James Pyles call out on Facebook for writers to share their WIP during these interesting times I thought I’d provide a bit of insight into where I’m at and a bit of a sneak preview.
At the end of November, I’d written a little over 50k and burnt out threw the manuscript into the digital long grass for the festive period. Sometime late in January I found where it landed and with fresh eyes gave it a re-read. To my genuine surprise, it didn’t completely suck. I mean it wasn’t good, don’t get me wrong, but in amongst the unintentional horrors were some real gems. Since then, on and off I’ve spent a few hours a week separating the wheat from the chaff.
The novel has several overlapping threads which I feel are working quite well in providing a perspective from the micro to the macro of this Universe in development. There are some obvious weak areas, chief amongst them, ship combat. I have yet to really embrace the biological aspects of the technology. A bit of a concern as its the premise for the whole novel – i.e. the MC being a vet on a biological warship. On the other hand, astropolitical elements flourish as I explore the three main cultures society structures, technology and history. It is very much a mixed bag at the moment. It’s also shy of 40k words to finish the book. Oh, and did I mention it’s now a trilogy? Yeah, that kind of happened during November when I realised some of the big story arcs were never going to fit in a mere 100k words.
So what’s the plan to pull this together. Well, at the moment I’ve switched back to writing short stories. I’ve set myself the goal of getting published in at least ten anthologies this year (not included drabbles). Why focus on short stories? Two reasons – networking with writers and publishers and secondly, it’s an easier on-ramp to learning the business of writing, editing and publishing.
That said, as I mentioned, I still spend a few hours a week editing the novel. At this pace, it’s going to take another month to finish the first edit. At which point I will go back and revisit my notes, fix what I’ve spotted. That’s another couple of months. Especially given I’ve got some world-building depth to figure out. My intention is to have what is currently the first ten chapters solidified and the groundwork (outlining & research) done for the next ten chapters before next NaNoWriMo (i.e. next November). My goal in NaNoWriMo2020 will be to complete the 40-50k needed to finish book one. That’s the plan, but you know what they say about plans 😉
In the meantime here’s a random snippet (~2180 words) to whet your appetite. Keep in mind it’s a WIP, not fully edited, missing a lot of world-building depth etc. To set the scene a little, the planet Tau has suffered a horrendous attack from an unknown alien antagonist., a mythical bogeyman race called the Prox. The Taurun have begrudgingly made an alliance with their long time competitors in the system the Toliman. Niam has been asked by Estelle (the Toliman ambassador on Tau) to liaise with the Taurun military on the development of a new class of hybrid ships for a combined fleet. This is the first meeting.
Somewhere in Chapter 10
Niam sat in yet another windowless meeting room. One of many over the last few months and he consoled himself with the thought that one day, soon, he’d be back at the helm of his own ship. A thought only tempered by what horrors might await him in in the inky darkness. Estelle had gone to extraordinary lengths to secure this meeting, putting her career and in her words, the fate of the system in Niam’s hands. No pressure then, he’d told her. He had less appetite for mirth now. The Taurun’s were scared that was clear and had wheeled out an Admiral Halls to attend this first meeting. Niam fingered his tight collar as he waited for the Taurun delegation to arrive. Judging by the distant bellowing he wouldn’t be waiting long.
With a crash, the door flew open and the red-faced Admiral burst into the meeting room. “I don’t care. It’s what we agreed and you’re not going to screw us on this one.”
Niam shot to his feet. Admiral Halls ignored him, opting to go straight for the coffee laid out at the back of the room. A figure female figure materialised into a seat on the far side of the table, startling Niam. “He’ll just be a minute. Contractors,” she whispered. Niam scrutinised her as he slipped back into his seat. He knew the Taurun’s relied on AI’s. Was this one of them? It looked so human. He was suddenly conscious that he was staring. He smiled to break the tension.
The enigmatic figure smiled politely back.
“Right, I’m sorry about that,” Admiral Halls announced, steaming cup of coffee in hand.
Niam shot to his feet again. Unsure if he should salute, bow or shake the Admiral’s hand. Toliman military didn’t go in for much saluting and he was desperate to start on the right foot. The Admiral shot out a hand and Niam grabbed it like a drowning man.
“Fucking contractors,” the Admiral said, indicating to Niam to sit. “The planet is under attack and I’m having to deal with builders. I didn’t even want an extension, but evidently, that’s my highest priority right now.”
“Grace here is no bloody use either,” the Admiral said, pointing a thumb down the table. “Evidently, it’s not a military matter. Between you and me I think she’s picking her battles.”
Grace raised an eyebrow but would not be drawn on the subject.
“Anyway, Captain. How are you enjoying Tau?”
This wasn’t how Niam had imagined this meeting playing out, but he needed to keep the Admiral onside. “It’s beautiful.”
“That it is, son. That it is,” said the Admiral, taking a slurp of coffee. “And that’s the way we’d like to keep it.”
Niam nodded. “Yes, Sir!”
Admiral Halls continued. “Looking at your record, this is the longest you’ve been on terra firma in a decade.”
Niam hadn’t kept track of the time but the Admiral was undoubtedly in the ballpark. He nodded.
“What ya running from, son?”
The Admiral’s directness had Niam on the back foot. At such times he’d found honesty to be the best course of action. “A desk, Sir!”
The Admiral snorted. “I hear ya! Keeping running for as long as you can.”
“Let’s cut to the chase. I’ve got builders to go kill and you’ve got Prox. I’m not an advocate of this alliance. You, more than most of these pencil pushers understand why. As the enemy of my enemy though, you are now my friend and I will do everything to make sure you get what you need. Grace here will take care of the details.” Admiral Halls stood and gulped down the rest of his coffee. Niam leapt to his feet, wondering how the Admiral didn’t scald himself. “These are desperate times, Captain. Prove an old man wrong and make this work,” said the Admiral, shaking Niam’s hand. On the way out, he shouted back over his shoulder. “You’ll likely have it sorted before I get my bloody extension. Grace, get them back on the line!”
Niam fell back into his chair and loosened his collar. The entire conversation couldn’t have taken a minute. Was that it? He’d built it up in his mind and all it had taken was a cup of coffee and a handshake. He shook his head, grinning, and realised Grace was still sat opposite, staring at him. “Is he always like that?”
“Sometimes he’s not so laid back,” she replied. “Now, what do you need Captain?”
“I’ve reviewed the current design concepts for the new ships. They are impressive. From a manning perspective, I’ve got several recommendations for a workable command structure and crew profiles.”
“Very good. If you can send me your report, I’ll take a look,” Grace said.
Niam nodded and transmitted the report and standing, straightened his shirt. “I look forward to receiving your feed-“
“I’ve finished analysing your report.”
Niam hesitated and unsure, slid back into his seat.
Grace smiled and waited until he was seated. “Out of thirty-five recommendations you’ve proposed. Twenty-eight make perfect sense and I’ve already made the necessary changes to adopt them. I’ve provided you with the updated project plan.” She waved a finger in the air and a huge multi-faceted holographic projection swirled above the table. Project plans, ship schematics, staffing structures, all flew past in a blur of colour. A constellation of data; an infinitesimal slice of Grace’s world. With a twist of her wrist, the projection focussed in on several orange items. “Of the remaining eight issues. I’ve made alternate suggestions based on a number of factors. You will, of course, need to discuss them with your government’s advisors and get back to us.”
Niam could already see that the recommendations were improvements on their ideas. In two instances, they were things he’d personally overlooked. With a swipe of Grace’s hand, the projection disappeared. “Which brings us to one key issue we need to discuss today.”
Niam was struggling to keep up with the AI. He was starting to realise, there’d be no other members of the Taurun delegation turning up today.
“You have red-flagged one design aspect of the new vessels; the lack of tertiary systems. Clearly, this is an issue of design philosophy. We believe the cost and lead times to add these units is unwarranted given the probability of their use.” She displayed several charts illustrating the probabilities in various scenarios that any third backup systems might get deployed.
It made for interesting reading and Niam scrutinised the data closely. “Ah, I see. Your model is extrapolated from earlier combat scenarios.”
“That is the only data we have available,” Grace replied.
“I understand, but those scenarios are not representative of the tactics and weaponry employed to date by the Prox. I have a provisional working model I can share with you.”
Grace nodded and Niam sent her the data. As soon as the transmitted notification pinged in his augment, the projected charts swirled and recomputed. It took less than a second. “Interesting,” said Grace, clearly surprised. “I see, survival percentages are significantly higher with a third backup using this model. Thank you, I will take this under advisement and report back in two hours.”
“Thank you,” said Niam. For the first time in the meeting, he was back on solid ground. “I will take the other issues back to my people and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”
Grace nodded. “Is there anything else we need to discuss?”
“I don’t believe so,” said Niam. The meeting had left him spinning. From the cursory meet and greet with the Admiral to the intense deep dive with Grace. It was the shortest meeting he’d ever attended and yet it might just have been the most productive. “I do have one question?”
“Please,” Grace responded.
“Is it true? Is your entire culture run by AI’s like you?”
Grace laughed. “That is overstating it. I have two sisters, Ada and Ida. Between us, we perform the apparatus of government, business and my domain, military. I would best describe our function as coordination.”
“But you appear to be making many of the decisions?”
“Yes. Within pre-agreed policy criteria,” Grace said, cocking her head. “Governance is provided by our respective leaders and the board. I guess it must seem odd from a Toliman perspective.”
“Trust me, anything that reduces bureaucracy I can get behind,” Niam joked.
Grace smiled. “Was there anything else?”
“No. Thank you, Grace.”
“Thank you, Captain.” And with that Grace disappeared leaving Niam sitting in an empty meeting room trying to get his head around what he’d just seen. He’d had his doubts when Estelle had asked him to get involved. He had fewer now. Maybe this partnership with the Taurun could work.
Grace materialised in the Admiral’s office, staring out of the window across the bustling city. Admiral Halls did not look up from the report he was reading. “How did it go? Shock and awe?”
“As requested,” Grace acknowledged. She did not enjoy performing at the best of times.
“Very good. What is your analysis?” asked the Admiral, leaning back in his chair.
“Although slow, the Toliman have provided a unique perspective and some innovative solutions to the challenges we jointly face. They have shared these solutions openly and in good faith. I will be green lighting the tertiary systems modifications based on their modelling.”
“Well, at least Miller and Ida will be happy,” the Admiral scoffed. Grace had already informed her sister of the changes. She’d presented it as a favour. One that would need to be paid back. Favours where the hard currency the AI’s dealt in.
“There is a lot our two cultures might learn from each other,” Grace offered.
“Maybe. When the dust settles. For now, we’ve got a job to do. Like finding some new builders.”
Niam surveyed the large open office. At its far end sat Estelle behind an exquisite coral desk. Two aids sat opposite her engaged in a deep discussion they did not see him at the door. “So, this is where you live?”
“Niam,” Estelle smiled and held up a finger. “Give me one minute.”
She continued her conversation with her staff. Niam hovered at the door taking in the office. He’d seen galleries on Leau with less artwork on display. Each piece was clearly handpicked my Estelle, he knew her style. He also knew the room was a statement, its message difficult to ignore. Estelle had done well for herself since they’d escaped the boondocks all those years ago. Even back then she was driven, little had he understand how far she’d go. How far they’d both go.
The two aids smiled and bowed as they exited past him. Estelle grabbed her jacket and headed over. “Shall we go for a walk?”
“Sure, I could do with the fresh air,” Niam replied.
“Yes, it must be a novelty,” Estelle said, taking his hands and kissing him on the cheek She stared into his eyes for a long moment until she found the boy she remembered. “It really is good to see you, Niam.”
“And you,” Niam smiled. Her hands always felt so cold in his. “You look well. The Tau suns must suit you.”
“I don’t have to wear sunblock anymore, that’s a bonus,” said Estelle leading him along the corridor to the lift. “How long’s it been?”
“For me?” said Niam, checking his augment. “Sixteen months. You?”
“Eight years,” she answered a hint of sadness in her voice.
Niam shook his head. It never got any easier. The distances, the miles, they stole time from the ones you loved. Estelle looked older. He did not, was not, thanks to the Amba tanks. She had eight years worth of experiences without him in her life. Theirs was a long-distance relationship. Not only in space but time, and it was the latter that was the cruellest. The lift arrived with a ding. It was almost full. They squeezed in, face to face. After being apart for so long, to be so close and still unable to touch was torture. Estelle took his hand and squeezed. With a jolt, the lift arrived, and the crowd surged out. Another moment lost.
Stepping out of the embassy into bright sunlight, Estelle stretched and taking Niam’s arm, they strolled into the park.
“How was your meeting?” asked Estelle.
“Well, I met Grace.”
Estelle laughed. “You got off lightly. Wait until you meet her sisters.”
“It’s just bizarre. They literally run this place.”
“And they do a pretty good job of it, most of the time. It seems to work for the Taurun.”
“Do you trust them?”
“Who? The Taurun or the AI’s?” asked Estelle.
“The Taurun people are no different to us, really. There’s good and bad. Human nature is human nature. The AI’s on the other hand, they are something else. I trust them to do what they’re programmed to do. They are trustworthy only in that respect. If I was you I’d make friends with their bosses.”
“Like, Nicholas Soto?” Niam asked.
Estelle stopped and turned to face him. She expected to see anger in his eyes or at least jealousy. Instead, she was confronted with warmth, understanding. The time and the distance had made them both wiser. There was a time they’d be screaming at each other at this point. Right now they only cared that the other was happy. Estelle squeezed his arm before turning and resuming their walk. “Trish is nice. She reminds me of myself when I was that age.”
“She isn’t that bad,” Niam chuckled. “She’s definitely keeping me on my toes though.”
Estelle raised an eyebrow.
“Not like that,” Niam said, embarrassed. “Her father would kill me. We go back to the academy. He saved my life. Now I come to think of it, so has she.”
“Handy family to have around by the sounds of it,” said Estelle before changing the subject. “I assume Grace put on a show?”
“Indeed. It was very impressive.”
“She would have loved that,” Estelle sniggered as they started walking again. “She’s the introvert of the family.”
“Why do they manifest as human?”
“There’s a lot of theories. Personally. I believe they just find it amusing. If you ever see them together, it almost feels like a game. Did you get what you needed?”
“Yes, they’re bending over backwards.”
“Enough of business, it can wait. Have you eaten?”