Where am I? Who are you?
Welcome to Eighth Angel Studios. We're going to write a novel.
This is a collaborative project- contributors (like you) provide characters who are woven into the story as it progresses. But your involvement doesn't end there- as the story progresses you can give feedback on your character, developing them further, influencing their decisions and guiding their actions. The more feedback you provide, the more development your character can receive.
If you want to join in, please follow this blog and comment on this post with a thirty-second description of your character- a name and enough to describe a first meeting. That'll get the ball rolling.
Anyway, enough rambling- on to the plot!
Friday, 10 December 2010
As the train pulled out of the city, cutting and covering through ancient thoroughfares, Carter rested his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, the black sky was beginning to be tinged Prussian blue.
Youla sat opposite, still and almost serene, eyes closed. As Carter looked at him, his eyes opened, looking back. "You snore." He said simply.
Carter had to smile. "I'm Claydon. Gabriel, wasn't it?"
"Yes. Gabriel Youla." He nodded in lieu of a handshake.
"So, where are you from, Gabriel?"
"Brixton. Before that, Sierra Leone."
"Ah. I was there briefly, a few years ago. Interesting times."
"That is not the word I would use. I like Brixton. It is nice to be able to sleep well."
"So, what brought you to England?"
"There was nothing left in Sierra Leone but gunpowder and blood. I was given the opportunity to leave as payment for a job. My sister and I came to England. She is studying to be a doctor."
"A noble calling. What do you do, when you're not catching trains to the middle of nowhere?"
"I work in the docks. It is simple work, but safe and it pays well enough. My sister wants to study at Cambridge in a few years, I must save for her to afford it."
Carter nodded appreciatively. "There's not many people who'd go that far even for family these days."
"There is not, but there should be. But what of you, Mister Carter?"
"Me? Well, I used to work for the Government, mostly abroad. It used to feel like it meant something, but after my grandfather died, well, I felt like the part of me that had enjoyed the work went with him. I worked for myself for a while, then this came along, and they offered me what I missed."
"And what was that?"
"Revealed secrets. I missed knowing the truth behind the lies everyone got told, and they promised to give that back to me. What about you? What did they offer you?"
"Mostly it was the money. But in Africa I did things I would rather forget. I cannot forget them, but I hope I might be able to balance them out."
Friday, 3 December 2010
Carter half-fell out of bed as he clawed over to it, stabbing the green button on the flashing screen to answer the call. "Hello?"
"Carter, we've got a crash situation. Get to the office now."
"It's oh-three-twelve in your time zone. This isn't going to wait for you."
"Who is this?"
"This is Sakura. I'm your operations handler. Enough questions already, put some clothes on and get moving."
"The tube'll be shut."
"I'm sure you can improvise. Office, fast as you can. Freya will meet you there to brief you." The line went dead.
Carter swore, quietly but repeatedly, as he shuffled into the bathroom and flicked on the light. The fluorescent tube hummed and flashed a couple of times before igniting, serving to ruin Carter's night vision as well as temporarily blinding him. He blinked a couple of times, then filled a sink with tepid water to splash his face. This was too bloody early.
Returning to the room he picked up the phone and, while hunting through the wardrobe for something comfortable to wear, called a taxi. This time of night was about the only time you could do that in the city.
Finally he grabbed the go-bag from the bottom of the wardrobe and slung it over his shoulder as he headed for the door. The time on the clock as he left was 03:18.
The taxi pulled up Outside Waterloo Station ten minutes later. Carter paid the taxi-driver, a short, swarthy man with an impermeable accent that sounded like an Indian man trying to speak Welsh, and extricated himself from the black cab. At least the weather was better than the last time he was here.
The short walk round the corner to the Necropolis Railway building served to allow Carter to finish waking up. By the time he stepped through the open door he merely felt a couple of coffees shy of human. On instinct he headed upstairs.
Freya was there, slim, pale hands clasped around a large, steaming mug that smelled mostly of lemon and sugar. "Mister Carter, good morning." She smiled. "We're just waiting for one more to arrive."
There was the sound of a bike engine outside- high revving, probably a supersport. A few seconds later, the door, footsteps, stairs.
Another man entered the room- tall, dark-skinned, shaven-headed and lean, he wore jeans, work boots and a biker jacket. Carter had seen the look in his eyes before- the look of recently-caged animals, or that of veterans from Africa's many recent wars. A soldier?
"Claydon Carter, this is Gabriel Youla. You two will be working together in this matter."
"Mister Youla," Carter shook the man's hand. Firm grip, calloused palms. "Miss Douglas, forgive me for asking out of line, but are we going to be told what's going on any time soon?"
"Of course. Just over an hour ago, a radio distress beacon was detected from a United States Air Force bomber, just off the South Coast of Cornwall. The bomber itself was on a training flight, though it was detected descending to low level not long before the signal was picked up.
"The aircraft in question, callsign Bone Nine Six, was being used under the auspices of a project named Pave Spider, and we believe was carrying a prototype weapon system that poses a significant risk in both the right and the wrong hands; as such we are obliged to treat the aircraft's loss as suspicious.
"We need you to go to Porthallow, where you will act as initial crash investigators for the Civil Aviation Authority. The Air Force is in the process of sending its own team to secure the crash site- you need to get in there before they clear up any evidence. If there is a larger issue at hand, you are to take any steps you deem necessary to resolve it, as long as you do not compromise this organisation. If you need anything else, contact Sakura through the speed-dial on your phones- she will be your handler for the duration of the operation. Any questions?"
"How do you know all of this?" Carter responded, his mind reeling. To have put all this together in an hour...?
"Our access to national and corporate intelligence is extensive; you gentlemen may be the tip of the spear, but the implement itself is much larger. Suffice it to say that should Western intelligence agencies learn something of interest to us, we would learn of it with them."
"You say there will be American soldiers there?" Gabriel spoke, his voice deep and flavoured of central Africa.
"Yes, we believe troops from RAF Mildenhall will already be en-route to Porthallow, the closest point of civilisation to the crash. They will likely be in position before you arrive, however a legend and the required identification will be provided to you before you arrive. Here are your train tickets- I would advise you to move quickly, your first train leaves in twenty minutes.
"Oh, one more thing," Freya called as the two men began to make their way downstairs, "Please be discreet. Our organisation has freedom to act because we do not draw attention to ourselves or to the matters we are involved in. And this, like other instances you may be asked to handle, is likely to be something best hidden from the world."
Friday, 26 November 2010
Carter shrugged his coat a little tighter as he stepped out into the early morning rain on the thronged street. He hated London, especially first thing in the morning. So many people intent on getting from A to B, without a care for those around them. No concept of civility, coupled with a lack of understanding of personal space. This was a city that had to put up signs telling you which side of the escalator to stand on, so the people in a rush could bustle past you. That told you everything you needed to know about London.
At least he didn't have far to go.
Turning away from the station doors he forded the road and headed on through the crowd, like a salmon forcing its way upriver. Grey, sullen faces looked over him as they passed, faces recognising another human but not stopping to comprehend any further. Ambulatory business suits and overcoats devoid of personality marched ever onward under a canopy of umbrellas like a cohort of Roman legionnaires protecting themselves from a hail of cold, wet arrows. Carter threaded himself through the office-bound meat grinder, down the pavement and around the corner, off the main drag and emerging into suddenly quiet breathing space.
No longer shielded by the throng's umbrellas, Carter realised just how bad the rain was. England famously saw every type of rain that fell on God's Earth, sometimes in the same day. Today's deluge was not so much heavy as persistent- like a falling mist that glinted in street-lights and soaked through even the most waterproof coat in short order.
He jogged down Westminster Bridge Road, moving from bus shelter to shop overhang in a vain attempt to minimise the soaking he was inevitably receiving. Why did he ever come back to England?
The building up ahead was at least easy to recognise. The top three floors were red brick, decorated with columns and arches and pocked with dark windows like an oversized tombstone on the street. Its base was a slate-grey plinth two storeys high, dominated by the huge iron door left ajar seemingly just for him. He jogged through, coming to a halt a few steps out of the rain.
The foyer area had variously been a ticket hall and a car park, and it showed. There were a couple of workmen halfway up ladders, arc welders flashing blue-white like industrial-strength sparklers and casting crisp shadows onto polished brick walls. The periods of gloom between flashes were warmed by sputtering gas-lights mounted against the walls, framing the doorway to what was apparently once a ticket office. In the courtyard beyond, a white Ford Transit sat, incongruous against the olde-world charm of the station building. Carter called over to one of the workmen. "'Scuse me mate, looking for the site manager?"
"Upstairs, chap." The workman came down from his ladder, walking over to Carter by way of a large mug of steaming tea acquired from a workbench. "Lass said she were expecting someone. I'd go on up." The man gestured through the doorway into the ticket office with grubby, soot-stained fingers.
"Thanks." Carter smiled enough to put the man at ease and headed in the direction he'd been pointed, transferring from oil-stained concrete to age-worn threadbare carpet. He pulled his coat off, slinging it over one arm and instantly regretting it as he felt his shirtsleeve dampen. Bloody weather. Resigned, he headed upstairs.
Upstairs, there was a reception room. A large desk dominated the area, optimistically an antique but likely merely old. Behind it sat a young woman, slight, dark-haired and bespectacled, reading a newspaper. She put it down and stood as Carter reached the top of the stairs.
"Welcome to the London Necropolis Corporation. May I take your coat?"
"Thanks," Carter gratefully handed the overcoat to the woman, who hung it on a coatstand behind her. "My name's Claydon Carter, I had an appointment with-"
"With Miss Douglas, correct?" Her voice was a mix of regional accents- Carter picked out Lowland Scots and Kerry Irish amongst others. She offered her hand to him, returning his firm shake with a demure one. "Freya Douglas. A pleasure."
"All mine, I assure you. It's not a nice day out there." The old English fallback- always start with the weather.
"Please, take a seat. Would you like a drink?"
"I'd love a cup of tea, if I may." Her accent was infectious, Carter noticed- he'd had to check himself from appropriating part of it.
"Milk and sugar?"
Freya left the room through a door at the rear, and Carter heard the sound of a kettle boiling. The door to his left opened, issuing forth an older gentleman with short salt-and-pepper hair and a figure giving itself over to good living. Carter stood, offering his hand. "Claydon Carter. Good morning."
"Mister Carter," The man smiled genially, returning the handshake. "Daniel Mitchell. I trust you've already met Freya?"
"He has," she replied, stepping back into the room with a tray of three mugs. "Please, Mister Carter, have a seat, let's not stand on ceremony."
Carter returned to his seat as the unlikely couple moved to the other side of the desk. So far, as interviews went, this was pretty haphazard.
"So," Douglas began, "We understand you recently liquidated the assets of your private security company that had been running for six years?"
"That's right. In the current market the overheads of the company didn't make continuing a viable option."
"And before that you worked for...?"
"The Foreign Office. Mostly in Security." The familiar lie.
"I see, the Foreign Office." Douglas looked down at the paperwork on the desk in front of her. "We spoke with your superior at the Foreign Office, who provided us with a strong recommendation for you."
A shiver ran down Carter's spine. This could be bad. "My superior?"
"Correct. If we're to dispense with government euphemisms, you worked for the Secret Intelligence Service for seven years, primarily in the Balkans and Eastern Europe?"
For a moment Carter's resistance training came to mind. He forced down the urge to reply with a serial number. "Yes."
"You're uncomfortable talking about your service?" Mitchell spoke up, his eyes not rising from the document he was reading.
"I'm not normally allowed to talk about it."
"Ah. Our organisation is not bound to the usual conventions of the Official Secrets Act." Douglas gave a cryptic hint of a smile. "Indeed, we largely do not operate within the confines of national or international law."
Carter moved to stand. "I'm sorry, but-"
"You left the Service because of your grandfather, is that correct?" Mitchell again.
"Yes. I wanted to be with him at the end. He was pretty much the only real family I had."
"He was a good man. Ruthless, perhaps, but very good at his job."
"He never mentioned you."
"He wouldn't." Douglas picked up. "Our organisation does not have much in the way of names, hierarchies, or structures. We exist primarily as a geopolitical form of bomb disposal. Every day, somewhere in the world, there's a crisis that has the chance of burning humanity from the face of the planet. You've seen some of them, and I'm sure you've seen the power of a single, well-supported individual in the right place, at the right time, with the right skills. That's where we come in."
"We have a network of officers around the globe," Mitchell continued, "Each on retainer to be ready if we need to call on their services, often at very short notice. We have our own intelligence support and a large pool of resources. Our mandate is simply to detect threats against the survival of humanity as a whole, irrespective of religion, ideology or nationality, and to neutralise them swiftly and quietly."
"If the world knew how close it came to disaster, and how regularly," Douglas went on, "There would be chaos. We keep that from happening, in a way that governmental agencies constrained by rhetoric and bureaucracy cannot. We can be in the right place at the right time to do the right thing, and we would like to offer you the opportunity to assist us."
Carter thought for a moment. "Okay. Assuming you've convinced me, what would I be required to do?"
"We would pay you a retainer salary of fifteen hundred pounds a month, after tax, to cover your living expenses. For this, all we ask is that you are ready to answer the phone we provide you with, should it ever ring. And for whatever service we require you to provide should that happen, you will also be remunerated."
"Moreover," Douglas added, "We promise to show you some of the secrets of the world that even someone of your background may be unaware of. There's a lot more to this world and to the events that happen in it than most people ever know, and we offer you the opportunity to see the truth behind the headlines and behind even the intelligence dossiers. We can show you the real world you live in."
"So," Mitchell concluded, "Do you have any further questions?"
"Just one," Carter replied. "What's my new phone number?"
The plot will continue- however it'll be on hold until I'm in a position to push forward.
In the meantime, however, I'm not going to be resting on my laurels. To keep my hand in I'm going to be dramatising an old plot I worked up. Items in this story will be headed with the code [LNC], for London Necropolis Corporation- so, without further ado, on to some actual writing. :-)
Friday, 5 November 2010
(Leading story, The Sun, UK; large cover image shows the poster from Star Wars with the faces of the three main protagonists blacked out)
Three of our lads will soon be going off to war in outer space.
An anonymous tip-off from a source within the UK Security Services has led this paper to discover that the list of names provided by the alien visitors to the UN has three British names on it, and that they will be sent into space within the next few days.
It's unclear at this time whether the brave souls have been told, or indeed what their names and backgrounds are. Indeed, no names have yet been announced by the UN or any government.
The statement from the UN yesterday advised that the Morning Star would be leaving Earth in three days- that gives our government very little time to track down the "UK Three" before shuttling them away.
If possible, this paper aims to provide an interview with one or more of our Star Warriors before they depart.
Friday, 29 October 2010
The General Assembly hall was full, both delegates and journalists crammed in as thick as possible. She knew the podium would be under scrutiny by dozens of cameras sent from around the world. Most would be broadcasting live, or streaming onto the internet. Her words were likely going to reach almost every person on the planet before she had a chance to take them back.
She realised she couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept. Not properly, anyway. Half an hour’s catnap on a sofa here and there, and a lot of coffee, were the only things keeping her going. She couldn’t even remember the last time she ate, though at the moment she’d be hard-pressed to hold anything down if she did.
The new suit itched. She’d been wearing the same clothes since the first meeting, with no time to go home and change. In a moment of desperation this morning she’d sent an aide into the city with her credit card to find her something fresh to wear. He’d done well, though she feared her bank might disagree. That was a problem for tomorrow.
“You’re on in sixty,” another aide whispered. Karen nodded, knowing that if she spoke her voice might well break up. She closed her eyes, centred herself, calmed her breathing, cleared her mind of distractions as best she could. Whatever happened in the next few minutes, this was where she would be remembered. The least she could do was look like she appreciated that.
“Well, here we go,” she murmured to no-one in particular, and stepped out onto the stage. The tide of hushed voices washed away, replaced by the insectile chattering of dozens of camera shutters. Flash-bulbs seared from all corners of the audience, temporarily brightening the stage and forcing Karen to momentarily avert her eyes. As she took up her position behind the podium, the chatter cleared away into an expectant silence.
“Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. My name is Doctor Karen Wilshaw, of the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs, and primary liaison with the visitors brought to our world by the vessel now in orbit above us.
“I have been authorised by both the Secretary-General and the leader of the visitors to issue the following statement.”
Here we go. No stopping it now.
“The visitors represent the crew of the Morning Star. They have been travelling between worlds for centuries, and have encountered many species. They have come to us under a flag of peace, hoping to forge a bond of brotherhood.
“They do this not for altruistic reasons but for survival. All the crew of the Morning Star are the last survivors of their races. All are the only ones to have escaped the destruction of their worlds at the hands of an implacable force they name The Storm. In the countless worlds that they have visited, this is the first planet they have found with a civilisation not facing its own extinction.
“They have brought us a message: The Storm is coming. They do not know when, but they are certain that our world will soon be forced to fight for its continued existence, that humanity will need to raise arms against a force that has destroyed everything they held dear.
“The people of the Morning Star will stand by us on this day. They have vowed that this time they will not arrive to pick up the pieces but will stand alongside humanity and fight to ensure our world does not vanish into the night as theirs did.
“To do so they have agreed to provide humanity with the technologies to do so. The United Nations will shortly take possession of items of non-terrestrial technology, and in cooperation with agencies and companies around the world will endeavour to reverse-engineer these technologies for our use when the time comes. When The Storm reaches us, we will not be found unprepared.
“The Morning Star has asked for a single favour in return. In their cultures, as in our ancient times, their battles were led by the best and brightest, those most able to stand against the terrors that were arrayed before them. They have asked that forty people join them when their vessel departs three days from now, forty people they have named. These people will journey on into the stars with them, learning their ways as well as the ways of the enemy, so that on the day we take up arms the call to battle may be led by our own people. They will form the bond between our world and those beyond our solar system, and will represent humanity to the universe. They are our heroes and our messengers, and they will carry with them the hopes and dreams of our whole civilisation.
“National governments have been informed of the individuals identified within their borders, and the people requested will shortly be contacted to arrange their transfer to the Morning Star. For security reasons it is necessary to keep details of this confidential for the time being, but more information will be provided as soon as it is safe to do so.
“The last few days have seen a paradigm shift in the way we see both the universe around us and ourselves. We can no longer limit ourselves to considering us to be American, Russian, Chinese, British, French or any other citizen of a flag and an artificial border. We have been shown the border to our nation is the edge of our planet’s atmosphere, that first and foremost, before we owe any allegiance to a flag, or to a politician, we owe our allegiance to the ground beneath our feet and to the air we breathe. Before we belong to a nationality, we belong to Earth. To those outside our biosphere we are Terrans, and we will not be judged on our internal politics but on how we show ourselves on a global scale. We have been shown how ephemeral our concept of nations is, and it is now up to us to rise above that concept and see ourselves for what we may be able to become. The journey will likely be difficult, and for some traumatic. But it is a journey we started on centuries ago. These are just the final few steps.
“Thank you. At this time we will not be taking questions.”
Friday, 22 October 2010
-Jubal Early: Firefly, 'Objects In Space'.
Part of writing- particularly the sort of writing I get drawn to doing- is being able to visualise, describe and draw the reader into things that they have never, or indeed could never experience. A significant amount of that is a lie- it's not like I'm ever going to fly fast jets or handle the first contact with an alien race. A lot of things I describe and am planning to describe I have no direct experience of. So I've got to make it up, based largely on what few relevant experiences I've got and on what I've read by those closer to the subject matter.
Getting shot at, however, was something I figured was worth trying, at least after a fashion. So I went airsofting.
This has taught me some very useful things about combat. first, and most importantly, all the various bits of cool tactical gear you can cram onto your gun and your body will, in most circumstances, serve to get in your way. As the day went on the scope, silencer, hydration pack, scrim netting and pistol holster came off as they were more trouble than they were worth. They're fine for not-fighting, but when you have to sprint, crawl and dive with them your priorities change quickly.
Secondly, running in kit takes a hell of a lot more anergy and a higher level of fitness than you think. You see those videos daying things like "There's fit, then there's Army fit"? They ain't kidding. Three days on and I can still feel the strain in my legs. it's a damned fine workout though.
Thirdly, the more you want to move around the smaller and lighter you want your weapon to be. Even an SMG like the G36C I'd armed myself with weighs quite a bit, and once you've factored in ammo as well you're carrying a fair load before you even think about anything you don't absolutely need. if I'd had a full-size rifle or something even larger, I'd have been holing up and waiting for people to come to me rather than face lugging it around.
Fourth, no matter how good you are, you're only as good as the people around you. When you're being shot at you rely on your friends and compatriots both consciously and unconsciously- knowing they're there and that they have your back lets you concentrate on your task in hand. Meanwhile, you also know that your actions are giving them the same boost.
Writing action-oriented fiction means needing to write heroes, but how does one consciously do that? I've pored through Victoria Cross and Medal Of Honor citations, and the only conclusion I can come to is that those people we call heroes are mostly doing what they hope their buddies would do for them if the situation were reversed. No-one thinks they're a hero- at least no-one, in my opinion, who actually is. The thing, then, that makes a dramatic hero, is a character who'll do the right thing at the right time irrespective of the personal risk. The person who'll go the extra mile not for any conscious reason but because he can't countenance not doing so. And the person who, when it becomes apparent what they've done, won't blow their own trumpet about it because they don't feel they've done anything to deserve it. No-one's a hero in their own eyes.
I'm not the sort of person I've described, at least not as far as I know and as far as I've experienced. I can't say I wouldn't want to be- everyone wants to be a better person. I guess being a hero means stopping wanting it and, when the opportunity arises, aspiring through action to be such a person rather than staying where you are and hoping someone else steps up. These are the sort of people I aspire to write- these are the traits I hope the characters in this tale will develop as time goes on.
if you want to help a hero find their way, I'm still looking for character briefs.