[*** DISCLAIMER: THIS POST HAS SPOILERS FOR MY NEXT NOVEL. STOP READING NOW IF YOU WANT TO BE SURPRISED ***]
This is a continuing series of posts about the writing of my novel, Starveyors. You can start at the beginning and catch up at your own pace, or just read on and try to figure it all out on your own. There’s a link list for these posts on the blog’s sidebar to your right.
Chapter One, Scene Two
Apologies, but this post is long.
Okay, so here’s the second scene from Chapter One of Starforgers. (Another gentle reminder that this is unedited, First Draft materiel that is crufty around the edges.) I’ll let you read it as is and then talk about what I was trying to convey.
“Sir, the enemy warships are closing ranks,” the starman said. His young voice more excited than afraid.
Admiral Alba Mayer stood slowly and took a step off the captain’s dais on the GCU Rylan. The forward view-screen showed hundreds of brick red Votainion warships encircling the white and blue planet Voton. Swirling storm clouds perpetually blocked the surface from view on the frozen home world of the Votainion Empire. The warships were filled with the most fanatically loyal crews in the Empire. The last of a dying breed of galactic warriors.
“They’re moving into a provocative posture. Something must have went wrong,” Mayer said.
The growing pit of despair in his stomach deepened. If the Peace Talks had failed, his mission would change from one of peace to one of war. The Great War would end in one final engagement that would result in the total destruction of the Emperor’s fleet and of the planet Voton. His orders were crystal clear. Peace or Victory. No compromise.
A smaller white starship darted out from behind the warships and sped towards the Alliance forces. It was the Librestar, a diplomatic shuttle. The communication links were silent which did not bode well. Mayer touched the communicator on his collar rank and spoke. “Librestar this is Mayer, what happened?”
The viewer changed to show the shocked face of the young surviving diplomat. “Ambassador Trimble has been killed by a rash warrior. They executed the murderer before my eyes, so I believe that he acted on his own accord. We must have grievously offended them in some way.”
Mayer shook his head. The young diplomat continued, “They want to speak with the President, yet they refuse to bring the Emperor to the circle. Sir, we can’t negotiate if they don’t give us something to bargain with.”
The viewer switched abruptly to a close-up of the Admiral of the Fleet, Dal Richter on his command ship the GCU Ravendore. Richter’s scarred bald head was magnified large enough to see the red veins in the whites of his eyes.
“Mayer, what happened?” he asked. His voice raspy and tinged with disgust.
Mayer raised his chin and braced himself. “There was an incident and my lead ambassador was killed. It looks like they have temporarily broken off the Peace Talks. I’ll know more after I’ve debriefed my team.”
Richter shook his head and sneered in disgust. “Damn bastards, the time for talking is done. You need to let them know they’re about to face the wrath of God if they don’t meet our terms.”
Mayer nodded. “They know, Admiral. Believe me, they know.”
Richter gave him the eye and Mayer realized he had stepped out of line.
“You better come up with a new approach or it’s going to be Armageddon. Richter out.”
The viewer switched back to the orbital shot of the Votainion Fleet. Mayer stared at the closest warship, focusing on the glowing portholes along the bridge. Behind layers of armor plating there was another man much like himself, preparing to defend his home world to the bitter end. What was he thinking? What were his fears and desires? He needed to get into the psyche of that man and find some kind of common ground.
An idea flashed in his mind like lightening. It grew like a late summer storm, more ideas feeding off the original spark. He waved to his First Officer to take over and turned on heel to leave the bridge.
Breaking it Down
This is were we meet two important secondary characters. Admiral Mayer and Admiral Richter. I make it pretty clear that Richter is ready to crush the remaining Votainion fleet and that Mayer’s mission is to prevent that from happening. There is some tension here between these men and that will continue to grow as the story unfolds.
We learn the dead diplomat’s name and his assistant. Not terribly important information, but it helps flesh things out in the reader’s mind. We learn that Voton is a cold, icy world with a thick atmosphere. Again, little world building tidbits tossed in to build a picture of the scene in the reader’s imagination.
The scene is from Mayer’s Point of View, because this Peace Treaty is his responsibility. It will be his inspirational idea at the end of the scene that will cause our next two heroes to be introduced to us. So this scene works as a connective or bridge scene to the next one.
These first two scenes are quick to read and high on tension. Time to slow it down a bit and fill in the picture a bit. The next scene is longer and more informational. To counter that, I’ll end with a final scene that is from the POV of one of principle bad guys – Ambassador Krone.
Chapter One, Scene Three
Read first, then I’ll explain it.
In the privacy of his command room, Mayer took a seat and placed a few calls. One was to Captain V’cre on the CSF Kreylor. The other call was to Dean Nolan Shaffer at USF University. While he waited for the sub-light calls to route and connect, he punched up several documents from his personal files. The latest chapter of the book he was reading, Peace at Any Cost, by Rachel Kelley and the SITREP on the Tuvouy Accord that documented the acceptance of several Votainion planets into the Alliance. It was a technical document written by people associated with the accord. Dry reading by any account. But he had been especially intrigued with the contributions of a young Starveyors officer stationed on the Kreylor. She was a then just junior officer and had a modest if squeaky clean service record. Yet she had somehow managed to bring the two sides together with enough good will to encourage two nearby worlds to leave the Empire and join the Alliance. If anything she had a nerve for negotiating. He wanted someone like that on his team.
“This is V’cre,” the tiny image of a blue Votainion face winked on over the document.
“Captain, I understand you’ve recommended your first officer for a position on my staff.”
“Ka, I have.”
Mayer pushed a series of buttons and the image changed to a life sized holographic image sitting across the metal table from him. He liked to meet with people in person whenever possible and this was the closest thing he could find to that.
“I’m reassigning her to my ship. I just wanted to thank you for bringing her to my attention.”
The Votainion Captain nodded curtly with a slight lowering of this dark eyes.
“Begging the Admiral’s pardon, but you already knew of her accomplishments. I can only assume that you think now is the right time to use her services.”
Mayer smiled dimly. He liked this man already. Not afraid to promote his people and not afraid to speak his mind. Rare traits in a Votainion officer.
“Things are indeed desperate when I have to come looking for junior officers to save the peace talks.”
V’cre raised a thick eyebrow and narrowed his eyes. “Good luck Admiral, the fate of many Kastra rest in the balance.”
Mayer nodded as he ended the call. The three dimensional image of V’cre fell apart and disappeared.
His second call came through before he had time to even send the transfer orders for Commander Cryse.
“Dean Shaffer, thanks for taking my call,” Mayer said.
The Dean materialized across the table where the Votainion Captain had been. He was much older than Mayer, maybe in his early seventies. His white hair was unkempt and he seemed irritated by the interruption. The holo projector was unforgiving when it came to complexion and emotions.
“How may I be of service to you Admiral?”
“I need to borrow one of your esteemed colleagues. Professor Rachel Kelley.”
The Dean shrugged and looked away for a moment. “Are you sure you want Rachel? I don’t think she’s ever left the campus, much less the planet.”
Mayer’s brow wrinkled. “I need her expertise to assist in the peace talks at Voton. She will be off world for an indeterminate amount of time.”
Dean Shaffer seemed to give Mayer his full attention on hearing that. He leaned forward and stared unblinkingly at Mayer. His blue-gray eyes topped by eccentrically bushy white eyebrows.
“Admiral, you can have her for as long as you need. But I can’t guarantee that she will come with you. She’s not the adventurous type if you know what I mean?”
“I think I understand. I just wanted your approval before I approached her in person. I’ll be on your fine campus in a day or so to pick her up. I think it might be better if you didn’t inform her of my arrival.”
Dean Shaffer managed a sly grin before chuckling to himself. “If I didn’t know better myself I’d say you were already familiar with the good professor.”
“I’ve read all of her books but to my knowledge, we’ve never met. I’m looking forward to it.”
“Indeed sir. Indeed. Godspeed Admiral,” Dean Shaffer said, before Mayer cut the connection.
He sat back and pondered the Dean’s reaction. He seemed amused that I would even suggest taking her off world. Surely he jest? Who spends their whole career on a single planet?
Breaking it Down
With this scene I needed to show what the Admiral was thinking when he left the bridge. We find out that our young hero’s boss, a Votainion Captain has recommended her for the peace talks and that he is convinced she can help Mayer’s team. This is important because it proves that Cryse had made an impression already and highlights some of her abilities.
I used these two quick calls to introduce both main characters through people that they work with. This gives the reader a chance to know of them before they meet them. Not sure if this is SOP, but I rather liked the symmetry of the scene.
Because you can’t end a chapter on a rather dull and information heavy manner, we proceed to scene four. Where we get to see the Votainion Emperor and some of his henchmen.
Chapter 1, Scene Four
Read first, discuss later.
Ambassador Krone strolled past the Royal Guards and entered the Emperor’s inner chamber uncontested. He had been to visit the Emperor so many times in the past few cycles it was becoming routine for him. He was greeted inside by another squad of heavily armed Royal Guards. These men were the most loyal warriors from the Emperor’s own Kastra. They wore yellow and black stripes on their armor to identify them as being from the Krey-Nykostra house.
“Ambassador Krone to see the Emperor,” Krone said.
The lead guard nodded his helmet and saluted with his pulse rifle.
Krone waved briefly with his hand, his cloak fluttering as he strode past the hulking warriors.
Inside the inner chamber the Emperor was perched on his throne in conversation with his head Soothsayer, Khiden. Khiden sensed someone approaching and broke away with a bowed head under his heavy cowl. Krone had no trust of Soothsayers and found their presence disturbing. But he knew the Emperor put little confidence in them and for that he was grateful.
“Krone, what news have you on the talks?” the Emperor asked.
“Apologies my Emperor, for I have let you down,” Krone replied, lowering his head in disgrace.
Emperor Krey looked worriedly at Khiden who did not seem alarmed by the sudden confession.
“My exuberant and rash young protege has killed the lead negotiator. He was dealt with promptly by our guards, but I fear the damage may have already been done. The talks are suspended until the Alliance can return with a new team.”
Krey stepped off his throne and took Krone by the shoulder for a walk in the vacant chambers. They walked away from Khiden to keep their conversation private.
“You must do everything in your power to ensure that the peace talks continue. We can’t afford the alternative.”
Krone nodded as they walked. “I understand My Emperor. The Alliance will not budge on your request to occupy land on their home world. I don’t believe they understand what it truly means to us and I don’t know how to convey it any clearer. My words have failed me.”
The Emperor came to a stop and took his arm off the older Ambassador. He moved to a large, stained glass window that was decorated with images of the early empire. Kreg the Unifier bringing the nine houses of Voton together into one Empire at the point of a sword. The scene embodied so much of what it meant to be Votainion. But no human had ever read the stories of ancient Voton and therefore no human could truly understand them.
“Krone. We need to bring the talks here, to Voton. I want to host them in this very chamber.”
Krone looked askance at his Emperor, as if what he had requested was an impossibility. Voton was considered sacred ground. Only pure blooded Votainions had ever set foot on the home world. No alien had ever once visited the planet. Krone saw the look of concern on the Emperor’s face. His dark eyes less shaded by a smaller brow.
“Emperor, we have never in the recorded history of this planet allowed such a thing before?”
Krey looked down at his ambassador with the weight of all history on his shoulders. “We are asking them for permission to occupy land on their home world for that we must be able to reciprocate. If this peace treaty is not signed, they will kill every Votainion on this planet and occupy it forever. Which do you find more palatable, my friend?”
Krone nodded. “I see your point My Emperor. We live in difficult times indeed.”
Krey cut a confident smile. “Better hard times than easy. It is our way.”
Krone returned the confident smile, but his mind was already scheming how to handle the coming negotiations. Never before had any Votainion in history bore such a burden as he now found himself facing. The future of the Empire, the future of his race and the future of the galaxy depended on his negotiating ability.
A disturbance at the chamber entrance cut their conversation short.
Chief Architect Vherom stormed past the Royal Guards and brushed Khiden off without a word. The Emperor bid Krone farewell and the Ambassador wisely slipped out another exit before Vherom could say anything to him. Vherom was short and stout, even for a Votainion and he walked with a noticeable limp. His brutish face was marred with several scars from personal duels. He was the most decorated warrior in the Empire and few dared challenge him anymore.
“Ah, Lord Vherom, do come in,” the Emperor said with a hint of sarcasm.
“My Emperor I have tightened our grip around the planet and await your permission to engage.”
Krey moved away from the delicate stained glass window and headed back to his throne. He was uncomfortable talking to his Chief Architect on the black and white stone tiles of the floor. Despite his height advantage over the warrior, he preferred to sit on high to remind the man who was really in charge.
Vherom hurried an extra step to keep up with his Emperor as they walked. Again, the Emperor had put Vherom at a slight disadvantage in the conversation, in forcing him to keep pace.
“You must not let your captains act in a rash and undisciplined manner Lord Vherom. We are negotiating a peaceful end to this war not a final battle to end all battles. Your forces are to remain on high alert but they must be contained.”
Vherom was well aware of the Emperor’s desire to end the war peacefully, but he opposed it with every fiber of his existence.
“My men will honor your orders, My Emperor,” he said with clenched teeth.
Krey turned to face Vherom as he ascended to his throne. “I have complete faith in your noble captains, Lord Vherom. It is you that worries me the most. You must show restraint, now more than ever. If these talks fail, it will mean the end of our Empire and the dishonor will surely follow you into the afterlife.”
Vherom bowed his head slightly. “You have my complete allegiance My Emperor.”
The Emperor stared down at the Chief Architect and frowned. He had to trust his supreme military commander now more than ever before. But his record of disobedience and recklessness lingered like a foul taste on the Emperor’s palate. So much was at stake now, there could be no room for mistakes.
“I’m moving the next round of talks here. You will tighten security in the castle and the capitol city. We want our guests to feel secure during the negotiations.”
Vherom slowly raised his chin and looked up at the Emperor with contemptuous eyes. His tone became defensive.
“My Emperor, do you realize the significance of allowing human filth to pollute our air and dishonor our sacred land?”
Krey stood up and flared out his robes. “Do not question my orders again, Lord Vherom. I’m well aware of the significance of my actions.”
Vherom lowered his eyes again and saluted with his right arm across his chest. The Soothsayer had slowly made his way behind the Emperor and stood now beside him and to his right. “By your leave, My Emperor,” Vherom said, keeping his fist clenched as he lowered his arm and stormed out of the Emperor’s chambers.
After the Chief Architect had left Khiden ventured a comment. “You will need to keep a firm grip on that one, My Emperor.”
Krey nodded slowly in agreement as he watched Vherom leave. Something told him the warriors were not the only ones he needed to keep a firm grip on.
Breaking it Down
Emperor Krey is the third Emperor we’ve met in this Trilogy. I needed to make him stand out and be different than the other two. He’s ambitious and driven, as were the others, but he’s motivated more by peace than war. Which is a complete turn around from his distant ancestor Empress Nykostra from Starforgers.
In this scene we are introduced to the Emperor and see him inform Krone that he is moving the talks to Voton and that he is willing to let the Alliance occupy land on Voton in exchange for the same thing on Selene. This is unprecedented and it defines the Emperor’s character pretty easily.
We also meet his Chief Engineer, Vherom. Lord Vherom is the antithesis of Admiral Richter. Vherom is a dangerous man, a born killer who would rather fight to the death than end the war peacefully. I think that comes through in this scene. I also have the Emperor warn Vherom not to let his fleet captains restart the war. Of course this is going to happen, we all know that. But until it actually does happen, the reader will be wondering when the poo will hit the fan. So we have some tension.
We also get a glimpse of a secondary character called Khiden who is the Emperor’s Soothsayer. If you’ve read the other two books in this series, you know that Soothsayers have been involved in some pivotal moments in the history of the war. So the reader already distrusts Khiden, as well they should.
Thus ends Chapter One. We haven’t actually met our heroes yet, but we know of them and we know why they are going to be involved. We know the stakes of their mission and we have met the bad guys and a few good guys.
As far as first chapters go, this one is not too bad. More polish is needed, to be sure. But the basics are there. Which is all we need from a first draft.