Thursday, October 25, 2012

Potential Protagonist #1

Skip below the fold for the actual fiction piece; go all the way to the P.S. section if you want to read my explanation/thoughts before the fiction piece. Either way, this is a long one.

My husband's day started like any other. He got up at around 3:00 a.m. with a racket that he woke me up. I'm not awake until at least 7:00 if I can help it on weekends. Plus, the doctor said I should try sleeping more, it would be good for the baby. So, when he is calm enough and not jumping around, I sleep in. As for Richard, by 3:15, he was finishing attaching his left leg. He apologized for waking me up; I told him not to worry about it and fell back asleep.

I had been born in space and never thought, for the life of me, I'd ever actually see Earth in person, and until we moved here permanently, I always felt bad that the strongest memory I had of my ancestral planet was watching my future husband be crippled in high school, before I think he even noticed me. Our senior year had been something else; it was the first year that a colonial school district would be allowed to compete with the Earth league. Transport across Earth is trivial, but until my generation, it was too expensive for us in the stars to come down regularly, especially for something as silly as football. The governments and corporations on Earth had been working hard on finding ways to keep connected to their citizens and customers throughout the stars, but we didn't really notice it until tickets to Earth were almost as cheap as tickets to our sister ships.

Our school was part of a mining colony; Richard's father was a foreman. My parents were in accounting for the Holender Corporation. As part of Holender's branding, they had been pushing to let us know that even those of us in space were part of the Holender family. They had organized to be part of a sort of technology exhibition in 2917, our senior year. Rodney, his best man, swears it was the best game he'd seen Richard play, but I couldn't tell you the details. Sometimes, when see him attach or remove that leg, I wonder what he was like as their team captain. Of his old team, I think only Rodney still keeps in touch; every year they make it a point to see at least one professional game. I never go; he doesn't bother Jilly and me when we have our book clubs, I don't bother his guy time with Rodney.

Either way, football was never a thing for us. I didn't really get to know him until months later, when we were back on the colony; if I hadn't married him, I probably wouldn't even remember the game that vividly at all. He was adjusting to using his servo leg then, a much more obvious affair than the nearly human perfect attachment he has now. While we were dating, I asked him why he had chosen to go with the artificial leg. In the mines, I had heard my parents talk about some of the accidents the miners had; doctors had been able to clone and graft severed arms and damaged legs onto our people there, so I had wondered why he hadn't done the same.

"Annie," He said, "I wanted to chase my own dreams."

We were still a new couple then, and I thought he was one of those trans-humanists or cyber-augmentation enthusiasts (my sister is one; her hand is like a Swiss Army knife.) I sometimes want to ask him what he meant, but the moment never seems right. Certainly not while he goes through the process of attaching or removing this not-quite human part of himself.

Then he goes running. Or lifting, if he feels like staying in the garage. Recently, though, he's just been in the nursery getting things ready; painting designs on the ceiling or the wall. He had asked me not to tell him anything about the baby (beyond its health) so it could be a surprise. For the first month or two, he had convinced himself it was a boy. Then, I think he started considering it might be a girl, so he painted over his old pictures. He seems to have settled on a more gender-neutral decision for his mural going into this last month, painting what looks like an amateur's version of the view from our home he found in a library from the mid 1600s. I told him I've never seen some of the trees and flowers; he insists they really existed. I don't think he understood that I meant he's a terrible painter.

Sometimes, he just sits and tinkers with a new design of his in the garage when he's either too tired or pensive to paint or run. Either way, by 5:00, he's in the garage no matter what. The last thing he does before he leaves is strap on Alfred, Barrymore and Cadbury -- his rapid response and construction equipment. I call them his partners; I also named them. He just calls them Units A, B and C. He isn't particularly imaginative in that sense, but he is what they call a "practical imaginarian," at least, they called him that on the Earth Times special when his company rescued the people trapped on the pleasure submarine. His robot designs now service most of the colonies and everywhere from Earth's orbit to the lowest parts of the sea; his company directly employs nearly 45 responders, and a team of engineers and mechanics who keep their machines in tip-top shape.

I thought I would lose him when he went to Japan for his robotics doctorate, but he wrote to me every night. I was working for Holender by then, and I'm next in line to be their chief accountant in Wesley North ever retires, so I thought this up-and-coming engineer would be more interested in someone who shared his interests. I shared that with him one night after he proposed, and he just smiled and said: "You're more interesting than robots." I laughed; it was just the combination of corny and sweet that I associated with him.

After he has all his gear on, he finds me wherever I am, kisses me, asks me if I need anything and then he says goodbye. When my alarm went off at 7:00 a.m., I sat up, rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and looked around; I must have slept through him saying goodbye. I slid out of bed and turned on the view screen. Financial reports scrolled along the top and bottom; my personal communications were filed neatly along the left. The main screen was tuned in to the local news.

My heart jumped into my throat as the reporter's words were translated into the robotic monotone: "The final shots of the civil unrest in the Large Magellanic Cloud were fired over low-Earth orbit at approximately 3:30 a.m., local time. The St. Vincent de Paul, a charity barge sponsored by the Catholic Church, was carrying refugees from the fighting when it was damaged by an apparent terrorist attack during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere; escape pods were launched, though an exact number has yet to be determined. Several pods have been confirmed to have landed safely within the Atlantic Ocean, though at least three are reported to have struck along the North American coast."

I climbed out of bed and pulled open the blinds, looking out over the city of Halifax. In the distance, while the sun found its perch in the sky, the tallest building in the city -- the Rowlands-Bellefleur -- was burning. They're a medical and recreational drug corporation, with attempted branch outs to neuro-treatments. We were considering a partnership with them for our next deep space colony to help combat depression that sometimes occurs during the post-hibernation awakening readjustment period. I watched in horror as the evac shuttles were forced away by a combination of smoke and debris. Chunks of a damaged escape pod riddled the building with metal and scrap.

I was still watching when a fully intact escape pod screamed through the sky, burning hot. It struck the tower, lodging itself in the top of the building. Fires were spreading throughout the city; I looked out across the city. I had no way of knowing for sure where my husband and his robots were, but I knew he was out there.



Overall, I don't like this. It is drafty; Annie (the narrator) is a flat character. I tried to give her some depth, but since she's not the main character, details were fighting for the limited space I was allowing. That causes issues, along with narrative flow. I tried to go for a sort of stream of consciousness dreamy feel, as she drifts back and forth until she wakes back up. I don't know if I like it. At all.

I was testing something with this (and the next Potential Protagonist post). I wanted to see how I felt introducing our hero from a POV of someone close to them. I don't think it can really work; readers will assume our hero is the person talking, and the sudden shift in focus away from the narrator to this important figure in their life might feel too awkward. The other problem is specifically with this construct; the transitional narrator is the hero's wife. That just... I don't know, feels too gender stereotype-y to me. I don't know if this is a sign that my writing just handles gender poorly in general, or if I picked two clunky examples for this writing assignment.

These potential protagonists are concept characters I have been kicking around for awhile about a future-based adventure game involving space travel, cybernetics and the importance of dreams. I haven't narrowed down exactly what I want the theme to be, which is why I haven't picked a protagonist. And, yes, she did name the three robots after butlers (I knew Alfred and Cadbury, but I couldn't think of a B one, so I had to resort to Wikipedia. I wanted to use Jeeves, but Richard only has three robots.) So, what can we take away from this? She's probably a comic book fan and has read Sherlock Holmes. Too bad I can't figure a way to work that into the narrative.

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