27 Apr 2018

Mecha Academy - Episode 2 - Chapter 1

Mecha Academy - Episode 2 - By Your Leave

Chapter 1 - Going Off Campus

Five students, strangers to each other, were tossed together.  Rhiannon and Dusty, though, share a common history involving the death of the former's older brother.  All five, including Miyami, Ric, and Lars, have passed the first major test, the obstacle course, and are now full-fledged cadets at the Colonel KL Terin Military Academy on Tamar, Lars' homeworld.
"I can't believe you talked me into this."  Abby looked around at the platform at the train station.  "I barely know you, Ric."

"This will be fun!"  Ric spread his arms wide.  "Imagine it.  A weekend out of town to a harvest fair with a bunch of off-worlders."

Lars coughed into his sleeve.  "Off-worlders?"

"With a local guide!"  Ric wrapped an arm around Abby's shoulders.  "A whirlwind adventure!"

"By train."  Abby remained dubious.

"Lars, how long does it take to get to your home from here again?"

"Five hours if you stay at the speed limit."

"And the maglev train takes two hours."

Miyami rolled her eyes.  "It'd take less if we flew."

Lars sighed.  "If there were regular flights.  Vaughan's Landing isn't that big.  The train at least passes through."

"It'll be fun, Miyami," Rhiannon said.  "And we need this break away from school and all the problems there."

"That's the spirit!"  Ric took Abby's hand into his.  "We'll find a place to sleep have fun at the fair."

"Lars!"  A tall blonde woman ran up on the platform.  "There you are!"  Susanna launched herself at Lars.  He staggered a few steps before regaining his footing.

26 Apr 2018

Mecha Academy Episode 1 Chapter 9 Commentary

The final test, in Chapter 9.

The end, already?  Sort of.  The plan I had when I started was to have shorter arcs, much like I had with Unruly.  The idea here is that readers get the story in smaller chunks that can be digested while still building towards what I have planned.  The first arc threatened to just keep going, but the goals I had for it were to introduce the characters and get them in the Academy as cadets.  Conflicts are set up.  But they're not quite cadets, despite Rhiannon's extensive explanation of how titles work in the military last chapter.  The obstacle course was mentioned in Chapter 5, so it was time to bring it in.

The obstacle course is the final test before being fully accepted at the Academy.  The students may have the academic marks to get in, but do they have what it takes to be officers?  Thus, daily physical training, constant testing, working the potential cadets to their limit.  All this comes from my take on what the Royal Military College in Kingston does.  Any errors are mine, not theirs.  What I saw was that RMC had an obstacle course that seemed to be important, so I built Chapter 9 around that idea.  Cadets who fail are discharged, honourably, and can still enlist or go to their alternate choice of university.  Some, but not all, universities in the Empire will save openings for students who can't hack being in the military; the Academy does try to get the best students, so qualifying for one will satisfy most universities.  The ones that aren't satisfied are even more stringent on academics.

The change in order came from me realizing that theta (Θ) comes far earlier in the Greek alphabet than I thought.  I needed the core cast to fret a bit, though.  The solution is to acknowledge the error and make it look deliberate.  Iota thus becomes a deliberate skipping of Theta, not a mistake.  It fit in with a plot thread that will wind through the next few arcs, one that has already started in "Roommates".  Sometimes, what looks like an error will lead to plot bunnies; this is what pantsing is all about, even when there is a plan of sorts in play.

Ric really is turning into the heart of the team.  This was not his original role when Mecha Academy was just a concept.  The role fits him, at least this version of him.  He's been the one to work to turn the squad into a team.  Ric is figuring that their score on the obstacle course isn't just how well they do on the course, but how well they act before, during, and after.  The Academy graduates officers, leaders, and anything he can do to show that he is both is going to be done.

The actual course is all from my imagination.  RMC's site showed a climbing wall, and with some inspiration from the first Phule's Company novel, by Robert Aspirin.  The course tested both individuals and squads; the idea is that officers are expected to lead by example and soldiers of all ranks are expected to work together towards a goal.  The course is faster if teammates help each other instead of working solely for themselves, but a slower teammate could hurt the squad overall.

The conflict between Dusty and Rhiannon still has a role to play.  Dusty doesn't want to be alone with Rhiannon.  It's not that Dusty's afraid of what Rhiannon might do; it's more that she doesn't want to be the reason Rhiannon fails.  If Rhiannon hurts herself, Dusty doesn't want to be near enough to be accused of foul play.  Despite the animosity, Dusty gets to pull Rhiannon up the climbing wall.  This scene came to mind back when I was writing Chapter 7, so I had a direction I wanted to go.  It's a definitive moment for Dusty.  Rhiannon isn't about to give her a break just yet.

The jogging across the finish line came about because I needed to end the chapter.  It is pure Ric to have the squad cross as a group.  Even Rhiannon couldn't dampen him here.  The end's in sight!  Time to show the brass what they can do as a team.  It made an impact, and it meant that Dusty couldn't be failed out for trailing them team.

Miyami's mystery just didn't work, not this early.  Dusty was the one to send her the notes.  Miyami's tablet didn't register Dusty's because Dusty hacked her own device.  Miyami's tablet worked properly, there was just no identifying data provided.  Welcome to the new mystery - why is Dusty's tablet that scrubbed?

That's not the only mystery.  Theta Squad becomes Fifth, but they're the only squad that remains together.  All the other squads were broken up.  Not everyone passed, so squads need to be consolidated, so why not add someone to Fifth?  Susanna would be happy to transfer in.  So why keep the team together, especially when two members are getting on each others' nerves.  Something is afoot.

The height of the climbing wall resulted in a change.  Originally, the mecha were meant to be the tall weapons of war as seen in many anime, like the Gundam franchise, or even in BattleTech.  But I had changed my mind on the size of the mecha, reducing it so that they were more like overgrown powered armour.  So, the height of the climbing wall wasn't the height of the Centurion any more.  I wound up having to change the description of the wall to three times the height of a Centurion on the fly.  Centurions don't have size control circuitry.

The first arc, "Roommates", did what I wanted.  I wanted the conflict between Dusty and Rhiannon out there.  I wanted Miyami's secret known to the audience, though it hasn't really become an issue yet.  I wanted Ric and Lars to have to deal with being in the middle.  Ric really stepped up to be the peacekeeper, which I didn't expect.  Lars is going with the flow, which got him a girlfriend that he's not sure he wants.  Not that Susanna gave him time to decide.  The setting is forming; the idea here is to get the Academy concrete enough that I can build out from there.  There is a universe beyond it that still is coming together, thanks to the nature of the Academy.  Some of it will appear in the coming arc.

What I never expected to figure out is how the cast drinks their coffee.  It's such a minor detail, but it's one that kept coming up.  Ric was the first, being fueled entirely by caffeine.  He takes his with a cream and two sugar.  Because Ric is the one to make the coffee for the squad, the rest of the team's preferences came up.  Dusty doesn't drink coffee, she prefers her tea black.  Lars takes his coffee the same way.  Rhiannon prefers a double-double.  Miyami isn't quite used to the taste of coffee, so goes for a triple-triple.  For a later arc, I needed to stop and work out what sort of clubs and teams the main cast would go for; fortunately, by then, I knew the cast better.  That's the thing about pantsing; a missing details is easier to work out on the spot.  Details like how someone takes their coffee is minor, but it's a way to distinguish characters.

Friday, Mecha Academy, "By Your Leave" Chapter 1, "Going Off Campus".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In , comic book adaptations and costumes.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Star Wars: The Original Radio Drama.

20 Apr 2018

Mecha Academy - Episode 1 - Chapter 9

Mecha Academy - Episode 1 - Roommates

Chapter 9 - Obstacle Course

"Oh, no, dude, I am not digging into this without backup."
"If I wanted that sort of thing, I'd be at a cutthroat business school."
"Then it's not dumb on your part."
"So maybe me disappearing is the best thing that I can do for her."
The next two weeks passed by in a blur of physical training and intense study, leaving each student exhausted, both mentally and physically.  The exhaustion left Theta squad too tired to do much with or to each other.  Rumours about the major test, the obstacle course, ran the gamut, though.  Everything from marching twenty kilometres through some of Tamar's roughest geography to dodging live fire to going through a course on the planet's third moon before running out of air got passed around.

The day of the obstacle course, physical training was cancelled.  After breakfast, all the first year squads were ordered to remain in their dorm rooms until summoned.  One by one, starting with Alpha, the squads were called.  Miyami sat at the window, watching the squads trek across the courtyard and out of sight.  By mid-morning, she hadn't see any return, just squads summoned.

"What's going on?" she asked.  "Why isn't anyone returning?"

"They could still be on the course," Lars said.  "We don't know how long it is."

"Alpha was first.  We should have seen someone from there.  What if they were injured?  Or worse?"

Dusty set down her tablet.  "We would have heard sirens and you would have seen emergency vehicles."

Miyami shot Dusty a dirty look.  "How can you be so calm?"

19 Apr 2018

Mecha Academy Episode 1 Chapter 8 Commentary

All over cereal, in Chapter 8.

Well, it wasn't over just cereal.  There were emotions tied to the cereal.  Rhiannon uses the cereal as a link to her brother.  If any of her other roomies had bought the cereal, she'd be okay.  Maybe not entirely happy, but she would't have tossed them against the wall.  Dusty, though, is tied to Gavin's death.  Communications might have prevented the violence, but neither young woman will speak to the other.  Rhiannon jumped to the worst possible scenario and Dusty, who already is feeling guilty, had no idea why beyond what was obvious to her.

Ric's role has changed since the original concept.  When I first came up with the idea of Mecha Academy, Rick was meant to be the hotshot pilot.  Right now, he's the social adept, the face, the voice of sanity.  Ric is the peacekeeper of the group, thrust into the role after there was no one else willing to step between Dusty and Rhiannon.  Well, Lars was, but only when the first meeting between Rhiannon and Dusty came to blows.  The new Ric is taking to the role well.  He's social, friendly, and a needed contrast to his roommates.

Dusty, for her part, isn't trying to hurt Rhiannon.  She can provoke, but she has her reasons there.  But to hurt Rhiannon on purpose?  That's too far.  Dusty is on an atonement arc.  Causing Rhiannon more anguish doesn't help there.  But, well, no one told her about the importance of the cereal.  She's just being helpful without wanting to call attention to herself.  If Dusty asked people what they needed, the entire cereal situation could be avoided, or at least delayed.

The last scene is more for world building and laying down the foundation of the culture.  The structure of nobility is inspired by the Traveller RPG.  But that's just the base.  I then added by doing a bit of research on British titles, with some extra work to find how to properly address not just the title holder but the rest of the family.  For extra fun, one of the local challenges for NaNoWriMo was to include a ten-word title.  The title wasn't specifically to be for the story or a chapter, so adding in Rhiannon's title, Cadet the Most Honourable Rhiannon Tudor, the Countess of Filton, the Baroness Curren, not only met the challenge, I also got to add thirteen words to my word count.  The scene could have been dropped, but there wasn't any good place to put it.  At some point, the future officers will need to know how to deal with nobles, especially those who are above them in the chain of command.

Friday, Mecha Academy, "Roommates" Chapter 9, "Obstacle Course".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Supergirl Season 1.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, comic book adaptations versus reality.

13 Apr 2018

Mecha Academy - Episode 1 - Chapter 8

Mecha Academy Episode 1 - Roommates

Chapter 8 - By Your Leave

"Why is it oh-loud-thirty?"
"How long have you been watching me?"
"Do you know what today is?  It's my brother's birthday."
"I miss Gavin so much."

Ric turned over in his top bunk as the alarm blared.  He heard Lars grunt below, then the alarm died.  Ric gave his head a shake, trying to clear out the cobwebs.  As his eyes focused, he glanced down at the cot.  The blankets were perfectly made, the pillow fluffed.  "Lars, are you up?"

"Yeah.  Morning, Ric."

"Where's Dusty?"

The bottom bunk creaked.  "Not here."

"Thanks, dude."  Ric swung his bare feet over the edge of his bunk, then dropped down.  He padded over to the empty cot and felt the blankets.  "Dude, did she even come back last night?"

"I was asleep when you got back.  Remember?"  Lars got out of bed.  "Probably for the best after last night."

Ric felt his stomach drop.  He braved asking the question anyway.  "What happened?"

"I'm not sure.  No one gets that upset over cereal."

"I don't have enough coffee in me to figure this out right now, dude."

"There's not enough coffee on the planet."  Lars shrugged.  "Good luck."

"Oh, no, dude, I am not digging into this without backup."

"Whoa, you want me to be at ground zero?  With out any armour?"

12 Apr 2018

Mecha Academy Episode 1 Chapter 7 Commentary

A raw nerve pushes Rhiannon to violence, in Chapter 7.

This chapter really ramped up the conflict between Rhiannon and Dusty.  If people were willing to talk, there wouldn't have been a problem, but Rhiannon isn't willing to listen and Dusty doesn't want to talk.  Not helping is that Rhiannon is still grieving for her brother.  What was a touching gesture became a point of contention, one that Dusty had no way to know.  Also not helping is Dusty shutting down around Rhiannon.  From her point of view, she deserves the abuse she's getting from Rhiannon.  There doesn't seem to be a way out from here between them.

The conflict between the two young women can't continue, from both an in-story and a writing standpoint.  In-story, Dusty and Rhiannon have to either kill each other or find a way to get along.  From the writing side, the conflict isn't sustainable in a series.  They might snipe at each other, they might call each other names - something Dusty has already started - but they have to work together at some point.  I get Rhiannon and Dusty in at least a truce, Miyami will be on-board, eventually.  But, that truce isn't now.  It's due to come in Episode 3, which is still being written.  Episode 3 is somewhat stalled out right now; I have too much happening and reached a point where I have too many characters yelling at each other.  It'll get sorted out, but that's where the conflict turns from

Miyami, Ric, and Lars are slowly falling to the background.  It was an issue with the original work done, too.  The Rhiannon/Dusty conflict took centre stage in the snippets I wrote.  I am trying to get more scenes with the other three in.  They deserve screentime.  So, they get their own scenes in the new work.  Lars picked up a romance of sorts.  Miyami had a scene involving her hacking, though more should be done.  Ric, well, he just goes when he gets a scene.  He doesn't have his own storyline yet, but he's the people person of the group and will get involved in a plot even if I don't want him there.  But, yeah, there are areas that I need to work on here.

And to contradict what I wrote last week, there is a faster-than-light means of communications.  The singularity web isn't instantaneous, but it works well enough for calling people on other planets.  The web uses the same singularity technology that allows for ships to travel between systems.  My bad last week.  Rhiannon did have to wait for her call to connect.  It all works on handwavium, but I need to keep the handwavium consistant.

Rhiannon gets to be the second character to have a parent appear.  Lars had his drop him off at the Academy back in Chapter 1.  Rhiannon's mother is a little more formal.  The scene let me show the reasons Rhiannon has in dealing with Dusty on her own.  She could just tell her parents, but Rhiannon is trying to become an adult who isn't dependent on her family's largesse.  Might be a mistake on her part.

Friday, Mecha Academy, "Roommates" Chapter 8, "By Your Leave".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Arrow Season 1.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Supergirl Season 1.

6 Apr 2018

Mecha Academy - Episode 1 - Chapter 7

Mecha Academy - Episode 1 - Roommates

Chapter 7 - Happy Birthday

"I don't think it's a good idea for me to go, Lars."
"She's nice.  Very nice."
"What happened to putting up a united front?"
"I'm not the best person to ask."
Dusty already stood at attention when Commander Haag opened the door to his billet.  "Sir, you wanted to see me?" she asked.

"At east, Cadet."  The Commander stepped aside.  "Please, come in."

"Thank you, sir."  Dusty entered the apartment, then came to a stop in the sparse living room.

Commander Haag closed the door.  "Dusty, relax."

"Sir, am I in trouble?"

"No."  The Commander sat down in an easy chair.  "Dusty, please, have a seat and relax."

"Yes, sir."  Dusty perched on the edge of the couch, leaning forward.

"Do you want something to drink?  I have some herbal tea still, and I might have something a little stronger."

"No, thank you, sir."

5 Apr 2018

Mecha Academy Episode 1 Chapter 6 Commentary

Dusty's façade broke and Miyami's started to fail, in Chapter 5.

Now that the characters are established, it's time to expand the setting beyond the Academy.  Everyone has a backstory, even if it's not as mysterious as Dusty's.  Lars is from Tamar, the world the Academy is on, so he gets to be the tour guide.  Some of what he mentions will return, but for now, it's local colour.  I got to show that the planet is more than just the Academy and the starport.  There's a farming town a few hours away.  The world is out there, beyond the Academy's compound.

Dusty finally shows a bit of emotion.  She keeps her feelings bottled up.  On first seeing Rhiannon, she didn't let anything slip, not even after being hit back in Chapter 2.  Her history, as shown so far, does give her reason for not wanting to be the tall poppy,  But at some point, she needs to let her emotions out.  Dusty isn't an automaton, as much as she might wish she was one.  At the same time, she doesn't feel safe letting herself express herself openly.  This isn't a good situation for her.

Back in Chapter 1, I established Miyami as being underaged and getting in after hacking her personal information to change her birthdate.  I returned to that idea in part because Miyami needed more screen time and in part because hacking isn't that simple.  Even today, she would have to go after several databases to make the one change.  With a global computer network, getting all the sources is difficult but doable.  Across several worlds where faster-than-light communications isn't instantaneous?  That's going to require constant maintenance.  Not every network is going to be vulnerable.  Not every system is going to crack under a hack.

That leads to another issue I had to work out.  Lag exists on today's Internet, either because of old equipment, poor wiring, or sheer congestion.  The Mecha Academy setting does not have near-instantaneous faster-than-light communications.  Colonies and backwater worlds receive data packets on inbound starships.  Core worlds maintain shunt gates that allow for communications between worlds; transmission times are still measured in hours.  The Empire does maintain a fleet of communications ships to ensure that colonies and backwaters don't go months without data service.

Of course, with shunt gates, it may be time to discuss how faster-than-light works in the setting.  In short, it doesn't.  Ships cannot exceed the speed of light.  What they do instead is open a singularity to let them bypass the normal universe.  Not quite warping space; closer it artificial wormholes.  Major worlds maintain shunt gates, allowing ships to other worlds without needing a shunt drive.  Tamar, though, isn't a major world.  Shunts are one-way, no way back, so ships wanting to leave Tamar need a shunt drive to open a gate to another planet.  The safest way to travel is for two shunt gates to align and connect, giving ships stable endpoints.  Using a shunt drive at the beginning and end is the most dangerous; navigators need to keep an eye on the ship's relative position.

The scene with Dusty and Lars harkens back to the original concepts I had for the story.  In them, Lars had a crush on Dusty; she didn't return his affections mostly because she didn't feel worthy and didn't want him to get tainted with her history.  Right now, that idea is long gone.  Dusty is keeping to herself because she's been identified.  Lars, though, might still have the crush.  Why isn't he acting?  Well, Susanna.  And, as Lars reveals, Vesta.  Which had me wondering if maybe, culturally, high school girls on Tamar are the ones expected to take the initiative to ask someone out.  Ideally, gender shouldn't matter in the far future; everyone should feel able to ask someone else out with the only risk being told no.  Somehow, though, high school on Tamar seems to expect the girls to be the aggressor.  Go fig.

Friday, Mecha Academy, "Roommates" Chapter 7, "Happy Birthday".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Kingsman: The Secret Service.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Arrow.

1 Apr 2018

Camp NaNo 2018

I'm not participating this time out, but for those of you who are...

Camp NaNo has begun!

Those who are about to write, we salute you!