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, 29 October 2010

[STO] Bitter Pill

Karen realised her hands were shaking. She clasped them in front of herself, concentrating on not wringing them in terror. The last few days would be historic, but in the pit of her stomach she knew that the next few minutes would be what she would be remembered for. She had conducted first contact with an alien race, yet her epitaph would be the speech she was about to give.

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

[DIS] You Ever Been Shot?

"They make psychiatrists get psychoanalysed before they can get certified, but they don't make a surgeon get cut on. That seem right to you?"
-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.

Friday, 15 October 2010

[STO] Not Alone

(Leading story, The Observer, UK)

Humanity took its first step into a wider universe today with the first meeting between United Nations officials and representatives of an extraterrestrial race. The meeting took place behind closed doors at the United Nations headquarters in New York, though the arrival of our planet's guests was anything but private.

The first signs of their arrival came shortly before dawn in the UK, when telescopes started tracking a new object in the night sky, a vessel clearly of non-human construction big enough to be seen by the naked eye. It is unclear if any attempts at communication were made, or indeed responded to, but by mid-morning in the United States a craft from the spaceship was seen to enter our atmosphere and perform a dramatic approach and arrival at the United Nations.

Though no official statement has been released, photographs have been widely circulated showing both the streamlined shuttlecraft and its occupants, who appear to be of two distinct species. The first, much taller and heavier-built than humans and protected by a suit variously described as a spacesuit or set of armour, flanked the second species, a single individual of whom was seen. This alien, apparently at home in our climate and atmosphere, appeared to be the group's leader and is believed to have addressed members of the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs as well as the Security Council, convened in a closed emergency session.

Much speculation has already been published across all media outlets as to the aliens' motives, however that they appear to have come to talk rather than wage violent conflict and that they have chosen to speak to our international leaders directly is taken by many as a sign of an intelligent, reasonable and accepting culture willing to treat our race as an equal.

However, the voice of reason is tempered by a number of demonstrations that have erupted across the world. Flash mobs organised through the internet have gathered outside seats of power in seventeen countries to protest against the percieved acquiescence towards the visiting beings, and online demagogues in the US, Asia and the Middle East have released statements and podcasts demanding a 'strike first' policy before an invasion materialises.

The world holds its collective breath, waiting for a voice to be raised and a figure to guide them; it seems now to be a question of whether our leaders have been offered an olive branch or an ultimatum- and whether the people they represent will accept their responses as their own.

(Obituaries section, Chicago Sun-Times, USA)

Major Alan Conroe, United States Air Force

A native of Chicago, Alan Conroe was a proud father of David and an avid aviator. Learning to fly before he could drive, he enlisted in the United States Air Force as soon as he was able and graduated at the head of his class. Serving with distinction during Operation Desert Storm and over the former Yugoslavia, Major Conroe's career and life were sadly brought to an end during a routine training flight over the Atlantic when the experimantal aircraft he was testing broke up mid-flight. He will me sorely missed by his family, friends and fellow pilots in the 101st Reconnaissance Squadron.

Friday, 8 October 2010

[STO] Handshaking

Karen forced another cup of instant coffee past her gag reflex. Her hands were shaking. She hoped it was the caffeine, but her churning gut told her otherwise. It was a Sunday morning, dammit, she should have been in bed! And why New York? Sure, this was the UN headquarters, but why here, why now? And most importantly, why her? Where the hell was the Director? Why couldn't they have landed in Vienna?

She quickly checked her reflection in the window- hair tidy, no stains on her suit, the look of panic on her face somewhat suppressed. It was going to have to do.

"How long have we got?" she asked the security officer at the door, hoping the response would be in days, weeks, months.

"About thirty seconds, Ma'am, they're in the elevator now." Damn. "They asked for directions at the front desk. Can you believe that?"

"They just parked a spaceship on the lawn, right now I think I'd believe anything."

Karen turned to the window, hoping for a moment's calm. Outside, the streets were thronged with people. The city- possibly the whole country- had ground to a halt and it seemed every face was looking up at her, expectantly. Soldiers and police had cordoned off the area around the complex, but their faces bore the same expressions as the throngs of people they held back. Similar expressions to her own. There was an urge in the pit of her stomach to run and hide, to lock herself in a toilet cubicle until this all went away. The President should be here. Or the Secretary-General. Or any one of a dozen world leaders. Or her damned boss whose job this actually was. Or-

The door opened.

The first figure through the door stood head and shoulders taller than the tallest person Karen had ever seen. Humanoid, and clad in what appeared to be iridescent armour the colour of oxidised copper or a beetle's wing casings, its head brushed the ceiling tiles even at a slight stoop. Its face was masked behind a golden visor that reminded her of the astronauts she'd done photo calls with. Astronauts were never this scary. She clasped her hands behind her, mostly to avoid the tenmptation to bury her face in them and cry.

The second figure was shorter, and much more slender. Unlike the first, it bared its face to the world, narrower than a human's with large, dark eyes, which would be expressive, she thought, if she knew how to read its expressions. It had no nose, merely a vertical slit in the centre of its face, and its pupils were a cruciform shape. Arms, legs, body... it was just human enough to give her pause, if not for the features that looked more amphibian than mammalian. Its skin was nominally a mottled blue-grey, but other colours traced across it- greens, reds, browns- as it looked around, examining and absorbing the new world around it. Was it chameleonic? Did the colours represent moods? Was this how it communicated?

"What is your name?"

The question, in English, threw Karen completely. She was so concerned that the colour-shifting skin might be a language she would have to learn, and fast, that for a moment she forgot how to use her own mother tongue.

"I-I... Err..."

The al- not alien, never, alien, individual, person! - approximated a smile. "It is a relatively simple interrogative."

"I- I'm sorry, my name is Doctor Karen Wilshaw."

"Thank you, Doctor Karen Wilshaw. I am Ankjh'ya, of the Kalan'thi. I represent the Morning Star. Do you speak for your world?"

Right now I can barely speak for myself. "I represent the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. Um, I'm not sure if I can speak for the whole world right now, but on its behalf I welcome you to Earth."

The giant behind Ankjh'ya barked something guttural that made Karen jump. She cursed herself for flinching. The speaker smiled again.

"I apologise. It appears Kh!Ruik has won a wager with his kinsmen with regard to your planet's name."

"I'm sorry?"

"It seems that every world, in its native language, names itself after the material underfoot." Ankjh'ya paused for a moment. "I apologise also for our manners. This is the first time since our voyage began that we have happened upon a population that was not bewildered, distraught, terrified and angered. We are used to the extremes of emotion. To meet a new race under calmer circumstances is something new to us. We are used to expecting the worst in a reception."

"In that case I'm happy we can be different." Karen started to relax a little. Questions began to bubble through her terror. "How did you learn our language?"

"Your world is noisy. We have been listening to your broadcasts, learning from them your tongues and your ways to make this day a victory for all. We have learned to be quick studies of languages; when we encounter a new race it is normal for them to be hostile, and the wrong words may be regrettable for all."

"May I ask why? You make it sound like every world is hostile."

A cascade of colours shifted across Ankjh'ya's skin. "The reason is why I must speak to a representative of your world."

Fear knotted itself around Karen's stomach. Oh God, this is going to be bad, isn't it?

"My office is charged with handling our first communications with species from other worlds. In that regard I can speak for my planet." There, she thought. I've said it. Now tell me how bad this is going to be.

"The Morning Star is home to many races, from many worlds, that all share one common link. They have all been victims of The Storm."

"The Storm? What is that?" Oh Jesus, here it comes.

"The Storm is the antithesis of life. It is a plague, a predator and a harvester. It has existed since the dawn of time, and it travels through space searching for planets with intelligent life. Then it destroys them. It attacks all signs of life and strips the planet bare. Those who have survived The Storm did so in deep shelters or on other worlds."

Oh, fuck. Karen's legs betrayed her and she sat in the chair by the window, hoping it didn't look too much like she'd fallen into it. "Is it intelligent? Is it a species?"

"It was once, perhaps, a fleet or a species. Since then it has become a force of nature. There is no dialogue with The Storm, no more than shouting into the wind. Some of our species tried diplomacy. Some tried war. All fell."

"So you've come to give us a warning?"

Ankjh'ya smiled againg, the once-disarming expression now oddly sinister in Karen's eyes. "That was part of our intention. But in the many years we have lived since The Storm took our home we have found many other worlds, and this is the first time we have reached one before The Storm has fallen."

"How long have we got?"

"We are unsure. we believe the time can be measured in orbits of your star, but precious few of them. But we did not come simply to warn."

"Then can you help us?"

"We have learned much from your race already. We have seen your brightest and darkest sides in the information you have sent into space. And we have a... prophecy. We believe that this time, with the right preparation and if the right portents are followed, there is the option not to run, but to fight. Your species may prove equal to the task of standing against The Storm."

"You speak of preparation and portents- what is our part in this?"

"We will provide you with technology in advance of your own, that your own thinkers and makers may be able to adapt. But from you we will need a commitment to stand. We will honour it by standing with you, but once we are on the path we must not falter. And as a symbol of that commitment, we will need something precious from you."

Karen suppressed a shiver. "What do you need?"

"In the first instance... Give us the Ghost Raven."

Friday, 1 October 2010

[DIS] First Contact

In a case of reality connecting with (unwritten) fiction, I heard this week that the UN has appointed an official to lead first contact situations. All power to her, may she never work a day in her life. ;-) However, that got me thinking.

At least in the early parts of the Endless Sky story as it's currently being hashed out, there's going to be a fair amount of interaction with the national and international governing bodies- our planet's rulers and spokespeople. Now that we've got a named spokesperson, should they be included in the tale? Or should I assign a fictional person to a very real role?

That then opens the floodgates. If we're now talking about a parallel world, what other changes to make? Maybe there's a Lib Dem goverment in the UK. Maybe there's another Republican in the White House. Maybe the Soviet Union never collapsed. Maybe Liverpool won the Cup. Where to start, where to end?

Of course, before the plot proper can get underway, I still need characters. I'm in need of around six to eight human characters, and probably the same number of aliens- with the aliens I'm also in need of ideas for species.

For those more artistically- than textually-inclined, I'm also interested in visual depictions of characters, events and designs. Particularly, if anyone out there with a smattering of talent wants to imagine the Morning Star for me much kudos will be given. At present I've got one human character and two aliens in the pot, but I really need more to get the ball rolling. So tell your friends, grab a pen and let rip, I'm gearing up for a big push over the next few weeks to get the show underway.