booksandstories.com

April 2002 Review

Web Page Progress

The up turn in visits to this site seems to have continued. For a while now I seem to be getting almost double the number of visitors a week that I used to get, and it keeps going up. Something is obviously going on out there but I've no idea what it is. I still haven't checked my ranking position, I still can't remember the sites that used to do this for you. But regardless of the number of visitors to the site, none of you seem to be buying. I wonder what you actually do? Do you read some of the stories then leave? Do you read the free chapters and then not bother to read the rest? I wonder. Never mind. So long as you continue visiting I don't mind. At least you have the choice to stay or go, and once you're here, you might find something you like.

I've received my bill from Worldpay for the next financial year. It seems a shame to pay out the money when the credit card system hardly ever gets used. But I live in hope. More money spent on my technohabit!

A parting message. Even if you don't buy, even if you don't email me, so long as you stay long enough to actually read something, and you like what you read, then that will have to do.

Writing Progress

Oh, dear. Where do I start? "The Friendly Ambassador" is definitely taking over control from me. Characters that were supposed to play mere supporting roles are now pulling the story in different directions. I have rushed on to about eighteen chapters with these characters leading the way. But there are still complete chapters missing in between where other characters and storylines have not moved forward at all. I still have people in the wrong place, and I'm beginning to think that one or two of the characters in these storylines should have taken a different road. There's a lot going on, and most of it I hadn't even considered when I first started. I still know what's going to happen with all of the storylines, and for some of them I can plot out the events well ahead. But others are still bogged down with gaps that I can't as yet fill. And now I have another Monthly Review to write.

Rats!

From an outsider's point of view I'm talking nonsense, but if you have ever written anything of size and complexity, then you will know what I mean. I'll explain.

Writing can be done in several styles, and I'm not just talking about third person verses first person. The actual way you approach the story may vary. A lot of people use the hero style of writing, as in the Star Wars saga. In this style you follow one main character who is snatched from obscurity at the beginning, goes through various changes due to the events that he/she faces, overcomes all the obstacles placed before them, and finally emerges at the end as the hero. That's a simple description of course. Another style is the intrepid journey, where the characters go on a journey somewhere for some reason. On the way they meet different challenges, interact with one another, and again arrive at their final destination changed, and hopefully, improved. There are many other styles, and some are often combined. One other style is the almost drama/documentary style that writers like Michael Criton use. "Jurassic Park: The Lost World" is a good example of this. There are lots of characters and lots of details, and many characters are there for just a moment. The family at the beginning whose little girl is attacked on the beach, the doctor who deals with the case, they are well rounded and interesting, but are quickly gone never to be heard of again. In this case the story is a sequence of events that often moves from one scene to another, with the characters involved having to react to what happens to them. There can still be a hero, but in this style the hero is often the character who features the most, and who ultimately survives either intact, or improved. It is important that these characters are sympathetic, that they appeal to those reading. Only the well recognised 'baddie' should feature as prominently.

I don't think I consciously pick any style when I begin writing. It depends on the idea in my head. For "The Tale Of The Comet" the style is obviously a mixture of the hero and the intrepid journey, where characters are plucked from normality and thrust into a new world. "The Return Of The Sixpack" and all of my contemporary stories are more in the line of the third style, or something similar. Here there are various characters who all interact, none of whom may be the hero at the exclusion of all the others. I like gray areas, where even the 'baddies' have reason to behave as they do. I think "The Friendly Ambassador" falls into this style. When I started I intended for certain characters to be the lead or heros. After a few chapters I found that other characters had begun to wrestle centre stage from those I had earmarked as the stars. It just happens. Events take hold, ideas lead to other ideas, and the story expands exponentially. It's important to keep control, and usually I can do this because I keep my stories hemmed in by certain constraints. For "The Tale Of The Comet" it is the setting on Elerkan and the need to escape within a certain time. For "The Look Of Love" it is the normality of everyday life. Unfortunately "The Friendly Ambassador" has no such constraints. It spans a galaxy, features many characters from several different races, and fires on all fronts at all times. I feel more like a film editor than a writer as I move from one scene and set of characters to another in quick succession. It's much more difficult to write than any other of my stories, it's driving me slightly bonkers, but I like what I've written so far. And I know that I will work out all the kinks sooner or later. I just have to keep at it.

And now for a respite from my agony.

My current and ongoing Short Story continues with the third instalment this month. The second part of the story entitled "The Dreamer: Part II" has been added to the List Page. The bad news is that you still have to wait until next month to see what happens! Yes, the story is a serial! So a shorter Part III this month, and Part IV next month. But I'm not promising that that will be it!

See you next time.

April's Short Story: The Dreamer: Part III

They were all still on the flight deck of the Intrepid. The acceptance of what faced them had slowly sunk in. They were like flies in a trap, stuck as soon as they had landed. Now time was running out and they were facing exactly the same alternatives that those other flies had faced all those years before. And while everyone else slumped and worried about it all, Scott and Carl got down to the practicalities of arguing over who should be left behind to do the heroic and sacrificial job of switching off the gizmo. And for once, Scott wasn't having it all his own way. Carl was close to mutiny, and had already gone well passed insurbordination. Both their voices had quickly become raised.

"I don't care who's in command!" Carl shouted back at Scott. "I'm the one with more hours in a spacesuit! I can do this, Scott!"

"Oh? And how are you going to get back?" Scott asked him. "Once we undock the Intrepid the atmosphere in that whole corridor will blow! You know what happens then! If the door to the room itself doesn't seal, there'll be a bulkhead door in the corridor barring your path when you get back! You'll be trapped!"

"I can use the torch!"

"You're clutching at straws!"

"No, I'm not! I can do this, Scott!"

Scott was now nose to nose with him. "This is my decision! And I'm the one that's staying! You fly the ship! That's an order!"

Carl pushed himself away in the freefall. "You're making a mistake, Scott! I can get back, you can't! My way's the best!"

Lucy added her weight to the argument. "Scott! Listen to Carl! He's right! He has all the training and experience for this! He's used the torch before!"

Scott turned on her angrilly. "I'm in command here! I am responsible for everyone on this ship! And I'm not leaving someone behind to die in my place! Do you hear me! It's not going to happen!"

For a brief few seconds Scott and Lucy stared into each others eyes. Scott's eyes were angry, but pleading. Lucy's eyes shared the pleading look, but they were filled with another emotion, one that led them to well up, and she quickly turned away.

It was at that moment that Angela finally accepted that Scott and Lucy shared more than just a passing affection for one another. It was somehow painful, but it was also a form of closing. She had lost the battle, the war, everything. In fact she had never been in it. It should have made her angry, but the reality of what was facing them brought out her understanding. Poor Scott. What was he supposed to do? Condemn his friend? But there had to be another way. Angela turned to Nac Tikmak. He was switching his large and independant eyes between Angela and everyone else, often watching both them and her at the same time. He seemed to be studying them. Angela turned back to Scott.

"Does anyone have to die?" she asked him.

Everyone stared at her. Scott was almost condescending.

"Just keep out of this, Angela. You've done your bit."

Angela held up her finger, shaking it vigorously. "No!" she said firmly. "No, I haven't. Not yet. What you're forgetting is that whoever goes back there to switch off that thing has to go back with me and Nack Tickmack."

Lucy looked at her wide eyed, and even Luigi started to protest.

"Don't be a fool, Angela! You're talking nonsense! Keep quiet!"

Angela gave him the standard reply. "Get stuffed!"

For once, Luigi looked hurt by the put down, and his search for a better reply was cut short by Scott.

"You are not going!" he said rather firmly.

Angela didn't give up. "Listen to me, all of you! You haven't thought this through yet! You don't really know what this thing looks like. And you don't know what you have to do when you find it. Do you expect it to be a big 'off' switch? You need Nack Tickmack, and that means you need me."

Scott was already shaking his head, and Carl was quick to point out the obvious.

"You haven't any experience of spacewalking, Angela. You get disorientated as soon as you put the helmet on. And, lets face it, you even hate being in a suit in the first place."

Scott then added, "Carl's right. This won't be easy. In fact I don't even think it's viable for Carl. Once we disengage the airlock, the different trajectories of that ship and the Intrepid will begin to move us apart. And we haven't got enough fuel to start manoeuvring around out here. There'll be a brief window when someone might make it. Someone with experience. You haven't got a chance in hell."

"And you haven't got a chance in hell of doing what you have to do without Nack Tickmack!" Angela countered.

Jonathan suddenly said. "He can't go either."

Angela turned to him. "Why not? He knows what to do, he's done it before."

"He doesn't have a spacesuit. And we don't have one that will fit him."

Angela turned and looked at the large form of Nac Tikmak. It was so obvious. All he wore was a light and tatty outfit with the face mask hanging down. She was suddenly crestfallen.

Luigi came forward and tapped her on the shoulder. "Never mind. Good try." He smiled at her, then turned to everyone. "Now can we give up on this foolishness about dying? Angela is right about one thing, we should be able to do this without dying. Think!"

Carl suddenly said, "I could use a tether!"

Scott laughed. "The bulkhead doors will cut it when they seal."

"I could tie it to the wall somewhere."

"The Intrepid will snap it when we drift clear."

"It'll give me some extra time."

"Not enough. And I don't want to damage the airlock on the Intrepid, either."

Jonathan said, "Why not tie it to the EPD?"

Carl seized on his words. "Yes! That's it! The EPD has a big enough mass to stay put during the decompression! If we position it just right, it'll float out when the tether goes taut. It'll drift behind the Intrepid! It'll give me something to aim for! And it'll give me more time! What do you think, Scott?"

Scott shook his head. "It'll take too long."

"I can do it!" Carl insisted.

"You can't outrun that laser in your spacesuit."

"I'll take it off."

Luigi then said, "That's what they did, and they didn't make it."

Carl was not to be put off. "I can make it!"

Scott still wasn't convinced. "Just listen to yourself, Carl. You're going to take off your suit, go into the engine room, switch the gizmo off, run back, hopefully get out without being speared by that laser, put your suit back on, run back down the corridor, suffer the shock of decompression before the bulkhead doors seal, find the torch, cut through the door, get back to the room where we docked, and spacewalk to the EPD. All in about twenty minutes. Did I miss anything out?"

Subdued at last, Carl shook his head. "No, I think that's about it."

"Good!" Scott replied. "That's why you're not going. Only an idiot would try it."

Jonathan quickly added, "And only an idiot would throw his life away for nothing."

Scott turned to him. "My way is the only way. We have to accept it."

"No. Not while there's a chance. If one person has to die, we owe them the chance to live. And that means Carl goes and you stay here with us. The reasoning is simple. Carl will try to get back, even if he does die trying, while you will just sit there and wait for the inevitable because it's your duty. Well, that isn't good enough. You stay here. Carl goes. That's the end of it."

Scott smiled. "I'm afraid you're not in charge, Jonathan."

Lucy said, "And neither are you anymore. This is a collective decision."

Luigi quickly agreed. "Yes! We mutiny! Here and now! We vote who goes and who stays! And even though I think your sacrfice is honourable and the right thing, I must also protest."

And mutiny it was. Scott was suddenly in the middle of a crew that had decided the course they wished to take and were no longer interested in debate. Scott tried to protest, but no one was listeninng to him anymore, they were all far too busy rushing about in preparation. And Carl was now at the heart of it all as he barked out his commands.

"Jonathan, Luigi! Help me get the EPD out of that corridor and into the room! Lucy! grab the torch and find the first bulkhead in the corridor! Fix it nearby so that it doesn't get dragged through before the door closes! Angela! Explain things to Nack Tickmack! Get him to draw something on paper I can use!"

With everyone now darting off the flight deck, Scott finally had to give in. He went over to a wall cupboard and pulled out another note pad and a biro. He handed them both to a surprised Angela.

"Get him to draw small," he said, then headed for the airlock like everyone else.

Angela heard him call out to Carl. "I'll get the tether! Move it everyone! And get your helmets back on! We've got less than twenty minutes!"

Angela smiled. She was now alone on the flight deck with Nac Tikmak. She looked at him. He must have been confused by the sudden frenzy of activity around him, because even now his bulbous eyes were still spinning and darting from side to side. Angela grabbed his hand and the eyes both fixed on her. She quickly pointed at the drawing on the wall.

"We need something more than this!" she told him, tapping the drawing of the gizmo with her finger. "We need to know what to do!" She began to make motions of pulling levers and pushing buttons.

Nac Tikmak nodded his head and said, "Nap ut lop kit- " snap, " -macka saptuk!" He tapped the drawing of the gizmo with his pen.

Angela took the pen from him and drew a matchstick figure in the drawing of the Intrepid. She then drew a line from the figure that traced the path to the engine room and the gizmo. She then repeated the lever pulling gestures. Nac Tikmak nodded again, his eyes swiveling between her and the drawing.

"Ub lik nac- " snap, " -tikmak toop labsoklit- " snap, " -nap ut lop kit- " snap, " -macka saptuk!"

He pointed at the matchstick figure and then pointed at her.

Angela shook her head. "No, not me. Carl." She pointed out the flight deck towards the airlock. "Carl," she repeated, then she pointed at the matchstick figure.

Nac Tikmak nodded his head. Again he pointed at the figure and then at her. "Ub lik nac- " snap, " -tikmak toop labsoklit!"

Angela shook her head again. "No, Carl is going. Carl- Oh, never mind!" She pointed at the drawing of the gizmo then at the notepad, waving the biro over it. Then she held the notepad to her chest, pointed at the matchstick figure and traced the path to the gizmo. Again she repeated the action gestures. Nac Tikmak must have got the message, because he suddenly nodded vigorously, grabbed the notepad and pen and started drawing. Angela watched him. He was very neat, and the drawing was very detailed. How did he know it so well? Was it still so fresh in his mind? Even after all these years? She wished that she could study him for longer, so that she could understand him better. It would take time, but it would come. Maybe when they got back home. That thought made her think about what would happen when they got home with Nac Tikmak. The whole world would go mad. And the chances of her being involved in anything to do with him would be sadly remote. Yes, her only chance to get to know him, to understand him, would be on the trip home. She was suddenly looking forward to it.

Nac Tikmak held out the drawing. Angela took it and stared at it in wonder. It was so clear. Arrows pointed at the right controls, others indicated clockwise or anticlockwise. And above each was a simple Roman numeral to indicate the order: I, II, III, and IIII. Simple. Clear. Beautiful.

Angela held the drawing to her chest and smiled. "Thank you."

-o-

By the time Angela had retrieved her helmet and returned to the abandoned cabin on the derelict, the EPD had been placed end on just beyond the hole in the wall. Scott had attached the tether to it and had laid out the line carefully along the floor and back through the airlock. In the room the tether lay neatly in zig-zagged lines, ready to be taken up, while in the airlock it floated free above the floor. He was still fussing about with it when Angela came through leading Nac Tikmak by the hand. He quickly looked up and waved them aside.

"Don't snag the tether!" he said over the radio.

"Okay! Okay! We'll be careful!"

"Good! A man's life depends on it."

Angela paused inside the room to look around and get used to the gravity again. She hated being enclosed in her fish-bowl helmet. She hated that everyone else wore them and instantly became anonymous. The only other spacesuited figure in the room had 'Milano' stencilled on the front. Luigi was busy stuffing everything that he and Jonathan had gathered into a big, black plastic bag. Angela couldn't see anyone else around.

"Where's Carl?" she asked.

Luigi pointed out the door. "They're all out there, welding notches in the wall to mark the door in case it's closed."

Angela led Nac Tikmak across the room and into the corridor. Just next to the door a piece of metal had been welded to the wall like a flag. Angela recognised it as coming from a piece of metal-framed furniture she had seen inside the room. A short distance away, Jonathan, Lucy and Carl were standing together. One of them was doing some welding. Angela hurried forward with Nac Tikmak in tow. When she reached them she found out what they were welding. The gas bottle for the torch was stood against the wall. Another piece of the metal frame had been placed across the bottle and welded to the wall. It was Carl who had just finished doing the welding, and Lucy was talking to him.

"Have you got the hang of it now?" she was saying.

"Yes," Carl's voice replied. "It burns a bit different in this atmosphere, but I think I've got the mixture right."

Jonathan said, "I hope the door isn't too thick, or you could be here for hours."

Lucy immediately said, "Cut the shortest path, diagonally across one of the bottom corners, either at each end, or in the middle where the two halves meet."

"Right! Good idea!" Carl replied, switching off the flame. "And when the vacuum blows it out, I dive through!"

Angela now held up the notepad. "I've got your instructions!"

Carl put down the torch and took the notepad. He stared at the intricate drawing. "This is better than a bloody manual!"

Lucy looked up at Nac Tikmak. He seemed to get agitated about something as soon as Carl had taken the drawing.

"Is he alright?" she asked Angela.

Angela turned to look at him. His eyes were darting back and forth and his free hand kept pointing at her and at Carl. "He was a minute ago," she said. "Oh, damn these suits! He's saying something but I can't hear him!"

"You better calm him down."

"I will. Just give me a moment." She tried to grab his free hand, but missed. What was the matter with him? What was he saying?

Lucy turned away and looked down at the drawing with Jonathan and Carl.

"Can you understand it?" she asked.

"What's there to understand?" Carl replied. "This one first, then that one next, then that, then that, then run!"

There was a moments silence, then Jonathan said, "That's it, then."

Scott's voice was now heard over the radio. "If you're all done out there, I'd just like you to know that we have twelve minutes. Carl, good luck. Get going. The rest of you, get back here, we're pulling out!"

Lucy reached out and rubbed her gloved hand over Carl's visor.

"Thank you for doing this, Carl," she said, and her voice broke.

"Don't get mushy on me now, Crow-Bennett," his voice came back on the radio. "I'm coming back, I tell you! You just watch me!"

A moment later and he had turned away. Lucy and Jonathan watched him hurry down the corridor until he disappeared around the corner. Then they turned and found the corridor empty behind them.

Lucy was surprised. "That's funny. Where's Angela and Nack Tickmack?"

Jonathan bent down and picked up something. It was Angela's helmet.

Lucy stared at it. "Oh, glory..."

And Jonathan said, "Scott, we've got a problem."

"What now?" came the irritated reply.

"Our alien friend has gone AWOL. And he's taken Angela with him."

"What? Why didn't you stop him?"

Lucy answered him, her voice now desperate. "We didn't know! We didn't even see them pass us! They just weren't there anymore!"

Scott said, "Did you get all that, Carl?"

"Yeah! If I see them, I'll call you!"

"Okay. The rest of you, get back here! Now!"

"But what about Angela?" Lucy protested.

"That's Carl's problem now. Get back to the Intrepid."

Jonathan wedged Angela's helmet between the gas bottle and the wall and then grabbed Lucy's hand. "Come on, Lucy. There's nothing we can do now. Scott's right. It's up to Carl. Come on!"

Jonathan dragged a continually protesting Lucy back to the room and through the airlock. She wasn't the only one who was protesting either, because they found Scott and Luigi fighting in the Intrepid, their bodies spinning in the freefall. Both men had taken off their helmets which floated nearby, and were swinging at each other. It was a rather comical affair as each lunge sent them spinning the wrong way. Luigi finally got a punch in the eye that sent him sailing backwards to the wall. He hit a storage cupboard and dislodged items from inside it. Scott made his escape, heading for the flight deck.

Jonathan let go of Lucy and sealed the airlock. Lucy immediately took off her helmet and went after Scott.

"We have to go back!" she shouted at him.

"We can't go back!" he roared at her. "There's no time!" He looked passed her. "Get strapped in, all of you! As soon as Carl gives the signal, we're disengaging!"

"But what about Angela?" she shouted back at him with tears in her eyes.

"And what about you? And me?" He pointed passed her at Jonathan and Luigi. "And what about them? And Carl? What am I supposed to do, Lucy? Kill us all for one person? We have ten minutes! What am I supposed to do?"

It was a desperate plea that Lucy couldn't answer, that none of them could answer. It was all out of their hands now. It was all down to Carl and to Angela, and to an alien called Nac Tikmak....

End of Part III. Part IV next month.

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