30 Mar 2018

Mecha Academy - Episode 1 - Chapter 6

Mecha Academy Episode 1 - Roommates

Chapter 6 - Life in the Halls

"Cadet Tudor, Cadet Tyler, in the ring!"
"Advice, sir.  Wisdom from a teacher.  Bafflegab from an officer, even."
"Pretend you're shooting me, Your Highness."
"I found inspiration, Sergeant."

Dusty returned her gauss rifle to the armourer, making sure the weapon was signed back in properly.  As she turned to leave, Ric caught up to her.  "Hey, wait, okay?" he called.

The idea of pretending she hadn't heard him crossed her mind, but she had turned when Ric called.  "Sure."

Ric signed in his gauss rifle then joined Dusty.  "We really need to talk."

"Isn't that what we're doing now?"

"That's . . ."  Ric sighed.  "You didn't have to provoke Rhiannon like that."

"It worked."  Dusty turned to leave.

Ric fell in beside her, matching her pace.  "What happened to putting up a united front?"

29 Mar 2018

Mecha Academy Episode 1 Chapter 5 Commentary

Time for the squad to learn to be solderies.  Dare Rhiannon take advantage of being in the same ring as Dusty in Chapter 5?

At some point, I needed to show my cast in training.  I figured, why not continue the inter-personal conflicts in a situation where the tension can become physical?  Other than I may lose a main character far earlier than anyone would expect.  But, before the main event, the warm up act.  Ric and Lars.  A little bit of action, more for me than the reader.  I wanted to exercise my action writing chops.  This is a preview for what's coming up later.

Miyami doesn't get to show off her skills.  While rewriting and updating the original idea, the idea of Miyami not fighting fair entered my head.  She doesn't have a reason to fight fair, as far as been revealed.  Miyami has already been shown to be bending regulations, having changed her birth records to get into the Academy.  However, because she doesn't get to fight this chapter, I could only hint at what she is capable of.

Rhiannon and Dusty's match could only go one way in my head.  Dusty has reasons for not wanting to hit Rhiannon, the big one being not wanting to cause any more pain in the young noble.  Rhiannon, though, has a reason to beat Dusty to a pulp.  Dusty has her limits on what she will allow.  Sergeant Chang has no idea of what's happening behind the scenes and can only react to what she sees.  While technically, the cadets outrank her, she has the authority to send them for laps.  Mind, Dusty isn't seeing the running as a punishment.

In the original idea, Ric was designated as the squad's leader.  However, there wasn't anything written down showing that he had leadership qualities.  He was just there by writer fiat*.  The rewrite/reboot/restart took what I had and found it lacking in areas.  Ric, though, decided to be the soul of the team.  He is sociable and friendly, which helps when referring to help from a senior officer as "bafflegab".  Commander Haag, fortunately, is easy going and understands the problem, far more than any of the squad.  The scene let me show a pleasant relationship, one where neither person involved is getting hurt in any way.

Rhiannon and Miyami's description of Suzanna Schroeter - "Valkyrie" and "Amazon", respectively - gave me pause.  Both descriptions come from Terran myth.  The question that leaves is, "Does Earth exist in this story?"  I don`t have an answer, still.  In Chapter 3, I called the setting the Poulos Nova Empire, after the main stellar phenomenon within the borders.  The Empire's main rival is the Grand Republic of the Coreward Worlds, so, again, no Earth.  Yet, I've been using names from Earth for characters and, now, made references to myths and legends from the real world.  The answer is a definite maybe.  There could be a Terran Coalition of some sort, but it's not important to the story I'm writing.

The subject of technology returns.  I may have mentioned before that I like my space opera to look like it's in the future.  Why have cars when I can have anti-grav sedans?  Same thing goes with weapons.  Why have gunpowder firearms when I can put in laser rifles and gauss pistols?  Thus, the cast gets trained on weapons based on magnetic acceleration of metal.  As officers, they are expected to at least be armed with a pistol, a tradition in officer corps even today.  As part of the Foot Guard, they are expected to be able to shoot a rifle.

Of course, once something gets introduced, it needs a name.  I knew the weapons were going to be gauss weapons, but militaries don't have platoons where each soldier has a different rifle.  Standardization means that parts and ammunition are interchangeable.  The military I used as a base standard was the Canadian Armed Forces.  The Canadian army has a selection of weapons which are used in different situations, with one main rifle in use for deployments, the rest being used in specialized situations**.  This gives me an out later if I find I need something else, but for now, the two main weapons are around.  The rifle, the Imperial Military Arms Model Seven Mark Three, gets its name after the weapon the British army used in World War II, the Lee-Enfield Number 4 Mark 1; there's no need for the weapon to have a fancy commercial name given that the main buyer is government.  The pistol's name - Horvath and Lung Model Fourteen Army - was inspired by the manufactuer Heckler-Koch and the Colt Army pistol used by the 19th Century US Army.  All this for two pieces of technology that are just going to be references as "rifle" and "pistol".  At least the description added to the NaNoWriMo word count.

Friday, Mecha Academy, "Roommates" Chapter 6, "Life in the Halls".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Josie and the Pussycats.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Kingsman: The Secret Service.

* The FIAT made an appearance in The Devil You Know Chapter 2.
** For example, the .30-06 bolt action rifle is used by search and rescue operations to protect both the rescuers and the rescuees from Canadian wildlife.

23 Mar 2018

Mecha Academy - Episode 1 - Chapter 5

Mecha Academy Episode 1 - Roommates

Chapter 5 - The Rifle Range

"I'll go check on the girls, make sure none of them died overnight."
"We are so going to the Harvest Fair there."
"Because I am not letting anyone fail."
"Don't promise the impossible."

Ric ducked under Lars' outstretched arm.  He danced around the larger man, trying to find an opening, but Lars had the advantage on reach.  He was vaguely aware of the trainer, Sergeant Chang, shouting at both him and Lars.  Ric swept out with his leg, trying to catch Lars by surprise.  Lars leapt over the leg without a problem.  Ric rolled, getting inside the bigger man's reach again.  A quick jab caught Lars in the stomach, the oversized boxing glove landing with a thump.  Lars stumbled back, then lunged again.  Ric fell to the ground, ducking under the attempt to grab him.

"Time!" Sergeant Change called.  "Cadet Ortiz, Cadet Thorensen, enough!  Take five minutes."

"Thank you, Sergeant."  Ric accepted help from Lars to get back to his feet.  "Dude, you're faster than you look."

"Cadet Tudor, Cadet Tyler, in the ring!"

Dusty's head snapped up.  "Sergeant, is that a good idea?"

"I am not letting anyone fight Cadet Watanabe," Sergeant Chang said, fixing her stare on Miyami.  "I've seen you in the holo-rings.  I won't take responsibility if any of your sparring partners are incapable of having children after fighting you."

22 Mar 2018

Mecha Academy Episode 1 Chapter 4 Commentary

And the space opera starts looking like a soap opera.  Chapter 4 sees inter-personal conflict grow.

Coffee was never meant to be much more than a quirk of Ric's.  After all, it didn't matter how everyone took their coffee, just that they drank it or, in Dusty's case, didn't.  But, it turns out, it became a point that kept coming up.  I try to have people do stuff, like making and drinking coffee, while talking.  First, it lets me avoid using tags like, "Ric said," and "said Rhiannon" over and over when I have more than two people talking.  A dialogue between two people just needs the occasional reminder of who is speaking.  When you have a mass of people talking over each other, the tag gets awkward but necessary.  Second, conversation doesn't take place in a vacuum.  People just don't stand around talking, except in doorways blocking everyone else from getting through.  This also helps give a sense that time is passing for the characters.  Plot can progress when plot needs to during the talking.  Third, since this was NaNoWriMo, I got to pad my word count in a natural way.  Having Dusty check the coffee maker for a timer added far more words than, "Dusty said."  Since I tend to find myself being dialogue heavy, it helps keep things going.

As for how the cast takes their coffee, Ric takes one cream, two sugars.  Rhiannon has hers in the classic double-double.  Miyami, who is still getting used to the idea of drinking coffee as an adult, has hers as a triple-triple.  Lars takes his coffee black; Dusty drinks her tea the same way.  Each character has a reason for how they take their caffeinated drinks, which I hope either comes through or will come through.

Dusty did provoke Rhiannon.  She has her reasons which still haven't come out yet.  It's not time yet.  But, her creative use of insults did need to begin.  Once I got going with them, I decided to not repeat any.  Yeah, let's make this more interesting.  Fortunately, this is just the fourth chapter.  It's not a problem yet.  Dusty only used two insults.  Granted, "Your Highness" is just general disrespect, but it hit harder than she expected.  Dusty could have backed down there instead of going with "Your Queenship" right after.  It's the audience's call whether Rhiannon overreacted or was perfectly justified in her response.

One of the fun things I tend to do when re-writing is completely deviate from the original direction from the previous draft.  Yet another reason why I hate re-writing things - just where do I stop when multiple drafts have very little in common?  Here, because the original work was just bits and pieces spread over a about a year in-story, I started filling in many gaps.  One gap got filled with Cadet Suzanna Schroeter.  She was not one of the original characters.  Her main role was to be an early love interest and distraction for Lars, one who was the more aggressive of the two.  But, as I've pointed out in other stories posted, one-shot characters tend not to stay one-shot, much like Mara in The Devil You Know.  Suzanna will return.

With the cast expanding beyond the original, I knew I was going to have problem with names.  I have an Academy of characters waiting for names.  Even if I provided a name only when needed, I was still going to spend time figuring out as my main cast interacted with teachers and the occasional student.  Fortunately, I figured out a method.  Lars set the style for names of people from Tamar, and it turned out that the style used in the Mongoose Traveller supplement, The Sword Worlds, Scandinavian without being accurate to the country.  The Sword Worlds included sample names, including a random name generator.  Suzanna wasn't the first person I named that used the random generator; that honour belongs to Abby, full name Abigail, in Chapter 1.  The name of Suzanna's cousin was chosen from the list of names.

Friday, Mecha Academy, "Roommates" Chapter 4, "Teamwork".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, hiatus week.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Josie and the Pussycats.

16 Mar 2018

Mecha Academy - Episode 1 - Chapter 4

Mecha Academy Episode 1 - Roommates

Chapter 4 - Teamwork

"You will rise to any challenge and you will be victorious."
"Meet your squad mates if you haven't already."
"You did not kill her brother, Dusty."
"I don't want to see you again tonight.  Got that, Tyler?"

Reveille blared over the loudspeakers outside and on the public address system inside the residence.  Ric rolled over in his bed, stopping when he realized that the ground was much further away than he expected.  The realization woke him up fully.  Below him, Lars rolled out of bed, his blonde hair a mess from sleeping.  "Hey, dude, what time is it?"

Lars picked up his tablet.  "Six in the morning."  His voice was rough from lack of use.

"There's a six in the morning?  Since when?"

"Since forever.  I haven't slept this late in a while."

Ric climbed down from his upper bunk.  "You are a weird dude."

"I'm from a farm.  Livestock don't care about time, just that they want to be fed."

Ric clapped Lars on the arm.  "I'll go check on the girls, make sure none of them died overnight."

"Not funny."

"I wasn't trying to be."

15 Mar 2018

Mecha Academy Episode 1 Chapter 3 Commentary

Commander Haag lays down the law.  Chapter 3 left the cadets forced to work together.

Rhiannon and Dusty's shared past had to come out.  Chapter 1 was busy establishing the characters.  Chapter 2 established the setting.  The initial conflict for the series, while introduced in Chapter 1, gets explained here.  Of course, Rhiannon's memory of what happened is tinged by her loss.  She's not going to be understanding of anyone involved.

The early inter-character dynamics has Dusty pushed to the outside.  Rhiannon has the sympathies of Miyami, Ric, and Lars.  It's fair; Rhiannon lost her brother.  Dusty, though, wasn't the cause.  She was an unwilling participant.  So, from the writer's view, she's an underdog, and the writer supports the underdog.  I am trying to keep that bias out.  Hopefully, both are sympathetic.

Two more major supporting characters get introduced.  Commander Wilhelm Haag, who first appeared in Chapter 1, gets his role at the Academy explained.  He is the Second-in-Command of the school and will handle Student Affairs as part of his job.  Obviously, he and Dusty have a history, once that's still implied.  The other major supporting character is Commandant Francisco Orman, a Colonel in the Royal Foot Guard and the eqivalent of the Dean of the Academy.  His job is to be the face of the school to Command and make sure that the Academy is fulfilling the needs of the Royal Guard.

It doesn't take a social genius to see that there is a problem brewing in the cadets' quarters.  Haag needed to lay down the law, but just ordering a group to become a team won't work.  His speech at the assembly hammers the theme in, possibly a little too hard.  His speech also nails one of my pet peeves, the difference between soldiers and warriors.  The warrior ideal is venerated far too much in fiction; honour and single combat.  The soldier, though, is part of a team.  There is no single combat; there is no need.  The team can handle situations that a warrior cannot.  Thus, Haag's speech.

The Centurion makes a second cameo.  This came about because of the title; if there's mecha in the title, there should be mecha in the story.  The exact form the Centurion takes, though, was still up in the air while writing this chapter.  The original concept was that the mecha were large, similar to BattleMechs from BattleTech or the Patlabors from Patlabor.  However, when I tried to work out how the mecha evolved into war machines, things started to fall apart.  Tanks still exist in the setting, with grav tanks being the primary models.  In comparison, mecha are slow and, at the size I was considering, large targets.  When I started to work out just how the mecha evolved, I realized they should be smaller.  Instead of being walking tanks, the Centurions became oversized powered armour, a step up from Traveller's Battle Dress and Starship Troopers' Mobile Infantry.  A force multiplier for infantry.  And that's when a few more details clicked into place.  The Foot Guard, the Empire's ground forces, not only have mechanized infantry, like today's armies do, but it also has powered infantry in powered armour and armoured infantry in mecha.

Friday, Mecha Academy, "Roommates" Chapter 4, "Teamwork".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, on adapting to tabletop RPGs.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, hiatus week.

11 Mar 2018

Happy Increased Risk of Heart Attack and Fatal Collision Week 2018

Like clockwork, people are placed at increased risk and why?  Because no one wants to examine why Daylight Saving Time exists still.  Saskatchewan doesn't bother with the change and it survives.  The worst part?  Daylight Saving Time starts this year a week and a half before the vernal equinox and last six weeks past the autumnal.  There is no daylight to save yet.  In October, the mornings get darker far sooner than needed.  If the loss of an hour is meant to be a benefit, why isn't it benefiting the people who have to adjust?

Daylight Saving is an outdated artefact.  It's not needed.  Time for it to go.  Bring back the lost hour!

9 Mar 2018

Mecha Academy Episode 1 - Chapter 3

Mecha Academy Episode 1 - Roommates

Chapter 3 - Welcome to the Colonel KL Terin Military Academy

"She and I, we've met before."
"What did you do, kill her best friend?"
"I am aware of the problem, Cadet."
"I've lost my appetite."

Rhiannon held herself tight as she sat perched on the couch in her dorm room.  She tried to will herself to stop shaking.  The gunfire still deafened her ears.  Images from the afternoon her brother died assaulted her, the Republic spies firing without care about who they hit, her family's guards bustling her parents away, the splash of red when her brother was shot.  Ethan was on leave from the Star Guard before shipping out to his new assignment.  Rhiannon had been looking forward to spending time with him before his nine month patrol cruise.  Instead, bodyguards dragged her off as he laid in the street, bleeding.  The last image, though, had burned into Rhiannon's psyche, the defectors being bustled into a van and that girl looking over her shoulder and right at her.  Rhiannon memorized that face, one of the reasons her brother was dead.  And now?  That face returned, a little older, but still out of her darkest nightmares.

8 Mar 2018

Mecha Academy Episode 1 Chapter 2 Commentary

Sides are taken, a spy in the midst, and shunning.  Chapter 2 left a main character on the outside looking in.

Chapter 1 ended with Rhiannon slamming Dusty into a wall.  Chapter 2 picks up right after, with Lars about to jump into the danger zone.  Without Ric there, Lars might not have made it through the chapter.  It's not much of a fight, though.  Rhiannon is the agressor and Dusty is passive.  Dusty does have her reasons for that.

Mecha Academy is an older story idea of mine, inspired by various mecha anime and possibly Marmalade Boy, along with the mecha RPG Mekton Zeta.  I had scenes in mind when I first started writing November 1, 2017.  One of Dusty's lines returned, word for word, though I wasn't expecting it - "She and I, we've met before."  Six words, and they were retyped as I let the scene play out.  There are differences from the original scene I had, the big one being Rhiannon getting violent.  This escalated things early, but holding the characters back at this point didn't work.

I may have accidentally started a basis for shipping Ric and Lars.  As soon as I typed out, "Hey, dude, top or bottom?" I knew I opened a door.  Yet, I left it in.  If Mecha Academy gets popular, then slash fic writers have something to work with.  Not that slash fic writers need anything, but it's there.  The line also had me thinking.  The story is in the far future, with a star-spanning empire and high technology.  Why would such a setting be binary only?  In the 60s and 70s, there were SF series with the first women to be something, like starfighter pilots.  Today, though, that shouldn't be a plotline.  We should be past that.  Same with LGBT in military service.  So, sure, there isn't an issue in the setting about that.  And yet, and this is completely on me, I don't have a planned LGBT character this time around.  But there isn't the stigma, either.

Some of the setting building I did came up this chapter.  Commander Haag's uniform consists of an orange shirt of a heavier material much like the one here, a pair of black pants, and a pair of boots.  Before NaNo started and even during downtimes when I wasn't writing, I brainstormed what the uniforms of the various branches of the Royal Guard would be.  The Foot Guard, which includes the cadets at the Academy, wear what armies around the world today do, with beret colour signifying the type of job, artillery, armour, infantry, etc, the member did.  Most of the colours I came up with were based on the military forces of Canada and other Commonwealth nations.  However, I noticed that search and rescue teams wore blaze orange berets, to be better seen.  If you watch any starfighter battle in Star Wars, most of the Rebel and Resistance pilots wear an orange jumpsuit; the Rebellion wants to recover their pilots if they eject.  And that got me thinking.  Star Guard personnel will spend much of their career on a starship.  They don't need camouflage like the Foot and Sea Guards.  In a battle, they'll need to be seen if something happens to their ship.  Thus, Commander Haag wears an orange shirt.

I also worked out what the cadet uniform is, loosely basing it on that worn by students at the Royal Military College.  The cadets wear a white shirt, have the choice of tan pants or skirt, black dress socks, black shoes, the option of a black tunic, and a white beret.  I may have put too much thought into how the uniform appears, but given the setting, it needed to be done at some point.  Plus, with the information in a separate file, I can reuse the work elsewhere if needed.

Friday, Mecha Academy, "Roomates" Chapter 3, "Welcome to the Colonel KL Terin Military Academy".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Reboot: The Guardian Code.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, on adapting to tabletop RPGs.

2 Mar 2018

Mecha Academy Episode 1 - Chapter 2

Mecha Academy Episode 1 - Roommates

Chapter 2 - Ghosts of History

"I thought about that, but apparently the powers that be thought I'd be perfect for armoured infantry.  You know, the big suits?"
"It's going to be quiet without them always fighting."
"I mean, look, I'm just another cadet here, like you, okay?"
"Sir, I can sleep on the cot.  Mistakes happen."
"What the hell are you doing here?"

Lars stared as one of his new roommates tried to throttle the other.  He started to step in to break up the fight, only to have his arm held back.  Lars twisted to see who wanted to stop him and saw a new person, a young man with a concerned look on his face.  "What?"

"Dude, that is the most dangerous place to be right now."

"We have to stop them!"

"Not if we get hurt instead."

Rhiannon slammed the other woman against wall a second time.  "Who the hell let you back in, traitor?"

Miyami ran into the bedroom.  "Rhiannon!"

The woman against the wall let her arms go limp.  She stared down at the floor, unable to meet Rhiannon's eyes.  "Well?" Rhiannon demanded.  She growled, then tossed the woman to the floor.  "I need air."  She stormed out of the dorm, pushing past Lars and the newcomer.

"What just happened?" Lars said, still bewildered from the fight.

1 Mar 2018

Mecha Academy Episode 1 Chapter 1 Commentary

Welcome to the KL Terin Military Academy.  Shall we try to get along?

This chapter must look familiar, having been posted once before.  I've gone through, cleaned it up a bit, fixed some grammar, and polished it.  This is the soonest a work has gone from NaNo to serial; the others have sat for some time.  There is a reason; dba LTV Paranormalists is still in editing.  Mecha Academy is more linear in its narrative, at least for now.  Paranormalists began with flashbacks, so straightening it out will be interesting.

I've addressed a few things about the chapter already, so let's get into the genesis of the story.  The original idea came out of the life path system in Mekton Zeta, an RPG based on mecha anime.  Dusty was the first character concept to form; the life path included such elements as how well the character gets along with parents and does the character have an enemy.  With Dusty, the answers are not well and yes.  From there Rhiannon, then the shared moment in their pasts.

The rest of the cast built up from there.  Ric, originally Rick but he insisted on the change, was going to be the ace mecha pilot.  Lars is the big guy.  Miyami started as the cute one, not quite the mascot but the mascot.  Her role is changing, though - she surprised me with a few details about herself that she insisted on.  Each of the main cast has an area where they excel, which will be seen in coming chapters.  Like Unruly, this isn't meant to be a coming of age story.  Plot will happen, character driven, though not always by the lead cast.

Despite being almost space opera with unusual technology, I did do some research.  Not necessarily on the mecha, though I did figure out details of that as well.  No, I researched military academies and found a treasure trove with the Royal Military College in Kingston, ON.  I already had decided that the rank system would be based on that use by the Canadian Armed Forces, so it wasn't that big a step to see how RMC did things.  However, I did put my own twist on events.  What training is shown in Mecha Academy is loosely based on what I found; all mistakes are mine.  The research found something extra; which goes to show that checking things out online can lead to more ideas than just looking up something in a book.  RMC included a look at life there, including the daily routine.  This additional info meant expanding what I already knew about the characters.

One of my pet peeves is science fiction that doesn't take advantage of being science fiction.  Some of it from pragmatism, but sometimes, a few small changes make the difference.  One of my very few quibbles with the new Battlestar Galactica was the use of firearms.  I wanted something different, not necessarily lasers, but something not mundane.  So, when I have a choice, I'll add in something that says "space opera!"  The Centurion mecha won't be the only SF item.  The Thorensen's van and the Academy's bus don't have wheels; they has fans, sort of like a hovercraft but smaller and more efficient.  Other tweaks will be pointed out as they come up.  However, even with the near-magical technology, some things don't change.  Public address systems in large public areas will be unintelligible.  Passengers will have to pick up luggage.

I tried not to tie the setting to a specific game system.  Problem is, both Mekton Zeta and Traveller are fairly generic.  Both come with implied settings - Mekton has Algol and Traveller has the Third Imperium - but players aren't obligated to use them.  While working out Tamar, I couldn't help but try to figure out what sort of starport the planet has, what sort of atmosphere and hydrographics there are, and how big is the population, all because of how long I've been playing Traveller.  But, I needed that info.  The goal, then, was to not give the planet's details a number.  Instead, the world is an agricultural colony of the Empire.  Even that raises questions, such as, what is the Empire and what makes a world a colony?  I wound up doing some world building on the fly, though not to the extensive degree as The Elf's Prisoner.

The cliffhanger for Chapter 1 was obvious to me after I introduced Rhiannon.  There will be other conflicts, but the one between Rhiannon and Dusty will carry things until the others show up.  Miyami has her own storyline going on, which needs a little more attention.  The guys, well, they'll see soon enough.

Friday, Mecha Academy, "Roomates" Chapter 2, "Ghosts of History".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, The Pragmatic Adaptation.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, on /Reboot: The Guardian Code/.