October 13, 2017 at 12:17 pm #346502
I am 70k words into this concept and would love some feedback. Thank you!
by J.GARRETT MILLER
What becomes of someone raised for combat, but forced to abandon what they know best? A mastery of hand-to-hand fighting is not a skill transferable to most other trades, even in a new existence near another corner of space, where so much is determined by the strongest, the quickest.
So there he sat, staring up into the belly of a large frigate. Medium brown hair, with streaks of grey showing his failing battles now with Father Time. A rough, unshaven, shadow obscuring an olive brown skin, pale from too much time hiding in the vastness of space. Hazel eyes as deep as that vastness he called home, more green than brown. A middleweight boxer’s build, not quite in his peak of conditioning – one too many stops at spaceport diners, ordering whatever tasted good, but holding no nutritional value. It was a far cry from his diet during his days in the games. He captained a ship now, the Aphelion. The perfect name for a ship who lurked in the furthest point between two star systems.
Kael Kingsley was what many might call a pirate, a space pirate. Empty space held very little, aside from opportunities to expand one’s worth, at the expense of others. You might have believed that acquisition of wealth would no longer be the primer for success as evolution pushed the human race past the confines of the capitalism cherished so highly on early Earth. Funny thing was that greed can be a much more powerful and resilient desire than the pursuit of knowledge. The change in address to a whole new part of our galaxy only changed the resources coveted between each new home world.
Any great captain, any great space pirate, must have a crew of equally great statures. History would show that the metal of a successful pirate ship was built from the backs of a successful crew. As with any exception to a rule, not all teams would follow the same molds.
“My sealant, you stupid jacker! I can’t get our slip drive ready for the flight to Rogandinar without that stinking sealant…………Bronn!”
“You’ll get that sealant shoved up your backside,” grumbled Bronn, in what most closely resembled a grizzled, Aussie accent. Bronn was a Tivolian, a sub race of HomoSapien Prime that populated a dense planet in the Valkeerie system, after the ‘Great Crunch’. Half a meter smaller than Kael, but average for his race, Bronn looked powerful. The intense gravity of Tivoli molded the inhabitants of this planet to adapt very quickly. Thick bones, with disproportionately large muscles structured the frame of a juggernaut. The appearance of nearly no neck, just body builder proportions, showed how truly amazing evolution could change a living being to meet their environment, (and a bit of early genetic engineering).
Bronn headed towards Kael with a tube of cover sealant in hand. A perpetual glower was slightly hidden behind massive shoulders as he walked, head down. This ship looked immaculate and pampered, and its captain made sure everyone knew his one love now was the Aphelion.
The Aphelion was a beautiful example of 27th century engineering. The hull was a deep, gun metal grey, with an emerald green outlining parts of the command section and accenting other areas of the fuselage, like the haze of the Aurora Borealis. This color pallet made the brighter, green glow of the engines seem like all of the ship flowed perfectly together. The Aphelion was a frigate class warship, built by a failed collaborative effort of the Galactic Council of Planets. Forgotten and unique, this ship seemed to be made to order for its new purpose. How Kael was able to purchase this military grade vessel was unknown, and he wouldn’t offer that tale freely to anyone.
The third member of this crew was Rodney, the Aphelion’s artificial intelligence. Rodney was able to fully integrate with all the Aphelion’s systems, to include its five detachable fighter pods. Fully self-aware, Rodney sat in as part of the crew whenever discussing options or participating in preferred course of actions. Rodney took orders from Kael, but was no servant to any carbon based master. A sarcastic wit, powered by extraordinarily advanced computers, made sure that Rodney was never short of remarks or opinions.
Rounding out this collection of unfortunate events, and second in command, was Alex Kingsley. Younger sister to Kael and every bit the warrior he was or still is. She challenged his authority regularly – a sort of checks and balances to Kael’s substantial ego. Alex still maintained the discipline of a fighter. She was a pretty woman, by all estimations, but wore her scars with a higher regard than she would give to a well maintained hair style.
“My buyer won’t wait much longer. We need to offload quickly and get back to the Expanse.” Alex tapped her wrist to better accentuate this urgency to her brother.
“If we can’t get the Aphelion back in working order, we’ll get picked out of the sky long before getting within fifty AU of your buyer,” added Bronn to a growing list of annoyances, deepening the scowl on Kael’s forehead.
Kael postured up, staring at his completed repair with a smug smile. “Perfect, just perfect… Get this mess cleaned up Alex and we’ll get the Aphelion ready for takeoff.”
“Love it when you cut it so close… I was beginning to think you were stalling,” Alex jabbed with a defiant glare.
“What do you mean by that? Why would Kael want to trash this payday,” asked Bronn, quickly realizing he had just depressed a pressure sensitive land mine. Before he could retract from this question, the sudden tension between the two siblings was as thick and smothering as the air immediately following a storm. Bronn saw lightning developing in the eyes of his captain. Alex suggesting her brother was not as eager to get to Rogandinar as he was trying to project, was intended for Kael’s ears only, but she gladly offered Bronn the clarification he asked for.
“The contact we’re meeting with was the games master chosen to sit on the judgment panel during Kael’s expulsion hearing… He could have swayed the judgment, but instead chose to push for the lifetime ban from the games…..” Kael sat quiet and purposefully uninterested, as he shunned the conversation and cleaned up his own work area. Disregarding her brother’s passive aggression, Alex proceeded to fill in more background details about the incident to Bronn. He only knew the short form version, since it was a topic aggressively avoided by Kael.
“As you already know, fifteen years ago, Kael was in the finals match of the 135th Apastron Games. He was the field commander for the Phoenix team, representing his planet and ultimately, its emperor.” Easing her way on to a retaining wall near the front of their ship, Alex paused a moment to adjust herself and gage her brother’s reaction to her regurgitating what was a painful memory for him. “All the planets knew he was a brilliant strategist, bred to lead his team…”
“Were you on his team then,” asked Bronn. He pulled a barrel up close to Alex. Now that the dam Kael created around this subject was being decimated, he planned to let the flood of information his sister was unleashing finally fill in the gaps he had always wondered about.
“No, I was new to the circuit… Just graduated from academy, but I was being prepped to take his place soon.” A grunt of derision came from Kael to mock the idea of his sister usurping his role on the Phoenix team as field commander. Ignoring this, she continued. “To really understand what happened, you have to understand the challenges FC’s have to navigate as the on-field general. All the various differences each planet brings to the games and the pressure exerted by our own government to win,, well, it can be overwhelming. With each team using protective armor and weapons of their world’s own design,,, with only a vague guideline of rules they have to follow,,, the team looked to the FC to create a plan.” Alex would glance back to see what Kael was doing periodically, hoping he might jump into this story time.
Bronn never fought in the leagues, but like most in the systems, watched the matches at every opportunity. He marveled that the weapons were as unique as the skills prized most from each culture. Tivolians, for example, chose to dawn heavy armors and wielded large blunt force weapons, due to their slower speeds, but much stronger frames. In contrast, the fighters from Rogandinar came from a planet with little, direct light from their star to warm it up. The dark skies and biting cold evolved these inhabitants to possess keen eyesight and an amazing sense of awareness. Rogandarians leaned towards smaller, bladed weapons.
The twelve other worlds making up the Galactic Council of Planets were, in many cases, as different in the games as their planets were from each other. They all participated in tournaments that culminated with the strongest teams fighting for the two final spots of the Apastron Games championship. From a bit of personal research, Bronn already knew the teams important to Kael’s incident were Ho’Oh and Prochnost.
Ho’Oh was Kael and Alex’s home world. It came to be populated by the interstellar transport ship that was housing mostly those of Japanese descent, during the exodus of Earth in 2183. Nearly a century of interracial marriage aboard the ferry, however, diluted most of the physical traits historically associated with those from Japan, but the manner in which they carried themselves endured and made it easy for most when identifying them as Ho’ans – the Kingsleys were no exception to this standard.
It was capitalism of the early twenty-second century that forced the common tongue all planets used before migrating to their new homes. Only subtle variations of Americanized English survived aboard the transport ships. That early evolution of speech facilitated better communications and commerce between worlds, even in planets like Ho’Oh, where a Japanese heritage dominated its culture.
It was a proud people with a rich sense of history and honor that molded Kael and Alex’s fighting careers. It was basic human arrogance that destroyed it for Kael. That extreme measure of self-importance ended up embarrassing his people and angering an Emperor.
When the opportunity to re-establish the imperial traditions and lineage of their ancient culture was presented, without societal pressure from other nations, Ho’Oh quickly jumped to populate a planet surprisingly similar to Earth. An Empire was established immediately following their immigration to the planet they would call Ho’Oh, the Japanese word for Phoenix. The Empire of the Phoenix quickly became a dominant interstellar player amongst the other worlds. All Ho’ans united under a deified imperial monarch.
Stealth and precision weapons tended to be the tools of choice for the Ho’ans during combat. An unwavering commitment to perfection in their combat performance was the burden to bear as Ho’an fighters. This was a commitment Bronn had a hard time seeing now in his captain.
The planet of Prochnost was one of the colder worlds in the two solar systems. As the name might imply, Prochnost was populated by mostly those with ancient Russian backgrounds. This name translated to strength in English. It had always been known that Russians were a strong and imposing people, and their new homeland had only enhanced that image. Prochnost was the first planet to genetically modify their citizens as a government sponsored program. They focused primarily on a stronger circulatory and respiratory system that would resist the production of lactic acids in their muscles from the long days of hard work needed to survive their mines. These modifications were essential to making the Prochnostan people better able to endure the tough winters of this new world.
It was continuing genetic enhancements to their genome that focused on even stronger hearts. These were needed for the larger bodies and denser muscle mass that their government saw as an additional advantage against any aggression from the other worlds.
If one could compare a Tivolian to a dwarf from standard fantasy novels, then the people from Prochnost were the giants. At an average height of 2.14 meters and 145 kilograms, this form of gigantism within our species towered over the other developing races. Clubbing weapons and large broadswords were what Prochnostans most enjoyed in combat, and they did enjoy combat.
“The 135th Apastron Games featured Ho’Oh against Prochnost,” declared Alex with her arms stretching out like she was announcing it to the 150,000 people at the arena. “It was precision and skill against the superior physical gifts of the Prochnost team… Speed was the key advantage over the larger Elemental team… As field commander, my brother had decided to use this speed advantage against the Prochnosts as their primary game plan.”
Kael picked up the last grease rag and headed inside the ramp on the Aphelion. His shoulders slumped, with his neck and ears still glowing red with a suppressed desire to stop this story before it continued.
“Anyways,,,” shouted Alex in defiance to Kael’s perceived pouting. “With a strategy to focus on, Kael had his team dressed down in light armor and short quarter weapons… The thought was, the faster his team could maneuver, the better he saw their chances of frustrating the Elementals into making mistakes.”
Kael was a well-respected and feared field commander. His prowess in combat gave him an ego and arrogance that was equally unrivaled. Bronn was realizing from Alex’s description of the events that ego and arrogance was what sent Kael to his ultimate expulsion from the games.
“Wasn’t that a gamble on the terrain generators,” asked Bronn with a squeak. Critiquing Kael, even in his current sedentary state, wasn’t a great idea for anyone looking to keep their nose symmetrical on their face.
“For this match, he felt his team couldn’t lose… To be honest, Ho’Oh had destroyed the Prochs in the games every time they met that season. The only reason they made the finals was because Avalon’s guardian was struck by a reflected arrow… Pure luck!” Alex and Bronn could hear Kael trying to be inconspicuous while ‘fixing’ something on the ramp.
“Not much has changed with that team of limeys. Still unlucky as ever.” They both nodded vigorously.
“Kael firmly believed that speed, accuracy, and skill would best strength and size any day,,, so he made that gamble.” Leaning forward, face more drawn now, she lowered her tone and steadied her voice. “This is the part he has tried to forget for fifteen long years; Drunk out of his mind the night before the Apastron finals, he bet a very large sum of money on his team to win. How could he not, right?”
“Isn’t that an ethics violation?”
“Yeah, was added after the 135th… Some call it the Kingsley Act… On game day, Kael gave his pep talk to the team, I was allowed in the locker room. Still remember it like it was yesterday, ‘We have this game already won! No one can match our skill in combat or our determination. Play to your potential. Play for your honor and the honor of our Empire. Rise from the ashes, great and strong as a Phoenix. Let these giants know that they face real warriors today. Make it clear to them that victory can never be stripped from our talons. We are ever reborn stronger…..’ Man, got the blood burning! That team roared in unison, that war chant rang with an intensity that rattled the walls of their locker room. ‘WE ARE PHOENIX!’… What I saw after that speech was the determined faces he forged into a granite will. Kael looked like the world was screaming to him, ‘You are untouchable.’ He had later told me that he had plans to split his winnings amongst his team. A grand gesture,,, I’m sure. We both know that he knew it would get him some much needed positive media attention… All they had to do now was the inevitable,,,,, win.”
Bronn had attended the finals one year for the Apastron Games. The arena was immense! Set on an icy, mountainous world known as Olympus was the home for the Galactic Council of Planets – the diplomatic center for two systems. Its buildings were architected like it was designed by the master builders of ancient Rome. The main city and core of Olympus, was Olympia. All the structures of Olympia radiated outward from its hub, the arena. A much larger twin of the Coliseum, the arena could seat more than 150,000 people, surrounded by beautiful statues that adorned nearly every visible wall or nook inside and outside of the structure. Generations of celebrated fighters were sculpted in great detail and displayed as inspirations to all. During Alex’s story, Bronn imagined walking through the entry tunnel towards the interior of the arena, remembering the smells of cotton candy, hot dogs, and other foods normally associated with county fairs or theme parks, overwhelming his senses.
The Apastron Games Championship was much more than a sporting event; it was the culmination of an entire season of planets battling for just two coveted spots in the final game. Glory, wealth and celebrity awaited any that competed in this game. Status and preferential treatment were bestowed upon the victorious planet holding up that sacred crest from the opposing team.
To better understand how a combat-based society of planets formed, it’s important to note that these games were forged over centuries of unrest – from a history that forced the ancestors of ancient Earth to seek out new homes. This history was actively kept alive in the cultures of all fourteen worlds. From each world and in each version of this tale, the capacity of the human race to endure laid a foundation for the next generation of academics, artisans, engineers, and warriors;
October 13, 2017 at 2:12 pm #654556
You have a terrific first short paragraph (in my opinion). But the intrigue didn’t carry over into the second. It might have done if you’d started the second paragraph: “Kael Kingsley sat, looking up…” because then we would have known your first character by name, instead of “he”.
This is a long piece to read through and I really don’t have that much time right now. However, I’ll make time this evening and offer you my opinion. One thing before I go: it’s great to see a true science fiction story on this board. I’ll be back!
October 13, 2017 at 4:12 pm #654557
Agree with Oldtimer that the first paragraph sets up an interesting scenario – but there is way too much exposition and backstory here. I would take a close look at HOW MUCH of the information is actually important for the reader to know, HOW DETAILED that info has to be to understand the main story, and WHEN it’s important for the reader to know it.
For example, the character descriptions. Personally, I don’t like character descriptions that have nothing to do with the actual story. In this case, for example, I don’t really need to know Kael’s eye color – but it’s probably good to know that he’s a bit out of shape, as that could figure in not only with future action scenes but his psychology as well.
I would also cut a lot of Kael’s “disgrace” from this chapter. Bits and pieces, because you make the point that it’s a very sensitive subject for Kael – but then you have the opportunity to explore it more in future chapters. Ditto the whole “history lesson” that takes up almost half the chapter. Give readers what they have to have to get started, add details through the story when they are necessary. Don’t make the dialog a monologue attempting to disguise an infodump.
Last comment – try to make the characters a little more sympathetic. The reader needs to have a reason to care at least a little about what happens to this crew; my overall impression was they could barely stand to be on the same ship. Maybe spend a little less time on “facts” and a little more time on the characters.
I know this sounds pretty negative, and I’m sorry for that – but these are common problems, so take heart. 🙂 I think there’s just too much information presented in one piece. Consider the start of the story the appetizer – give the reader just enough to make them want to move on to the next course, not so much they’re already filled up.
October 13, 2017 at 4:25 pm #654558
ostarella and Oldtimer, thank you so much for your insights! You validated what I was expecting…. Disguising the info dump with a monologue back-story was very thick to the start of the story. I appreciate very much the time you both took looking over this!
October 14, 2017 at 2:18 pm #654559
I came back late last night to finish my comment but it looks as if Ostarella has pretty much already pointed out the areas that, in my opinion, you need to work on. This could end up a very interesting story and I’d like to see more of it when you have finished honing. Writing ain’t easy. All the best. 🙂
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