Here's the link to Potential Protagonist #1. As before, thoughts are in the P.S. section, and drafty copy is available below the jump.
Waiting sucks. Especially in a room without windows. The tactile-hologram skeleton was boring. I had poked a bunch of bones and tried to read the floating text but couldn’t. I stepped on the stool and sat back on the little exam room bed. There were a bunch of things lined on the cabinets and posters with shifting words, but none made any sense. There was an old clock on the wall and a small cross with a guy on it hanging by the automatic door. Waiting sucked.
The door whooshed open after what was like, forever. The woman who walked in was tall, like mom. Dad called mom elegant; she was thin too. Her dark hair was pulled up in a bun, and she carried a tablet of some kind and a green stylus. Mom’s hair was blonde, like mine. She wore two things around her neck; one was silver and tucked into her doctor shirt. The second was a cloth necklace with a little picture ID card.
“Hello Stanley,” She said in perfect French. “My name is Dr. Rita Vasseur.”
“I want to see my parents.”
She put the tablet and stylus down and clicked the skeleton off. She sat next to me; her scrubs were a pale green. Green was my favorite color. She looked sleepy and kind of sick and tired. She took my hand felt my wrist. When the other doctor picked me up at the colony he had used a scanner. Mom said she hated doctors who were “old-fashioned” and hands-on. “What’s the point of all the medical corporations if they’re not going to use it all,” she’d say. I kind of liked it when the pretty doctor held my hand. Her hands were warm, and her voice grew softer.
“Stanley, we will work on reuniting everyone once we reconnect back on Earth.”
“I want them now.”
She felt my cheeks and forehead, and then she pulled a thermometer from her pocket. She pulled some other device from her chest pocket. It was a small, empty glass vial connected to a small metal cylinder with a button. She stuck the tip of the thermometer into it. There was a quick flash, and then she pulled the thermometer free.
“Say ah for me Stanley.”
“What was that?”
“This is a portable sterilizer,” She said. “It uses a flash of localized heat and energy to sterilize my tools.”
“Can I do it?”
She pulled out the sterilizer and handed it to me. “Ok, but then let me take your temperature, ok?”
She put the thermometer in; when I hit the button the bright blue flash happened again. I hit the button again when she pulled the thermometer free again, but nothing happened.
“Did I break it?”
“No; it has a radio chip in it,” She said. “It won’t do anything without a proper tool in there. Now, say ah. Thank you; why don’t you hold onto that and help me? There’s too many tools and I could use an extra pair of hands to finish making sure you’re right as rain. There we go. You’re just the right temperature. Not too hot, not too cold.”
“I want to see my parents,” I said. She put the thermometer into the sterilizer, and I flashed it again. She covered the thermometer and pulled out a small needle; attached the needle was a small red light.
“I want to take a blood sample, so we’ll need to sterilize this too. Good job, Stanley. See the green light now? That means there’s nothing on it, and it is safe. This will prick a little,” Rita held her hand patiently for me. I folded my arms.
“No. I want to see my parents.”
She placed the needle between us and folded her hands in her lap. “We’re working on creating a registry; I checked the manifest for the de Paul, but they aren’t aboard us.”
“What about my sister?”
“Stanley, I promise you, as soon as I hear from your family, I’ll let you know. Have they given you access to the ship board communications yet?”
I shook my head. She messed with my hair and hopped off the cot. I watched her as she opened some of the cabinets and searched around. She started humming, but I didn’t know the tune. My mom never sang. She grabbed something, hid it behind her back and turned smiling.
“Let’s make a deal. You hold out your arm for me and let me finish, and I’ll give you this.” It was like when my dad showed me the model shuttle he had built; from behind her back she pulled a small wrist-mounted projection pad. I reached for it, and she raised her arms just above her head.
“What is it? Let me see it.”
“Hey now, deal’s a deal. Let me have that arm first.”
“Is it going to hurt?”
“Yes. A little,” She said. I liked it when the doctors didn’t lie to you. It was a needle. Obviously it was going to hurt. “But you’re going to need to be brave, that way when your parents and sister come find you, I can say that you were the best patient I had.”
It hurt more than a little, but I didn’t even wince. She ran another one of her tools over my arm and the little pinprick closed up. She rubbed my arm to make sure that it stayed shut and then put the needle into a container. She sat back down.
“Now give me the other arm, I’ll show you how to strap this on.” I held out my left arm and she carefully strapped it around my wrist and my forearm.
“My dad had one like this; he used it to read the news.”
“Well, this doesn’t have access to our outside communication lines. It is just for the medical staff,” Rita said. “Now then, Stanley, let’s get you on the network. Hit that button there. Good.”
The machine said something, but I didn’t understand a lot of it, or any of it, really. I looked at Rita. She cocked her head, then smiled at me. “I’m guessing the LMC colonies never had much need for translators either. I can set the language to French for you, unless there’s a language you’re more comfortable with.”
“French is fine.”
“I see; the default is Italian for our equipment,” She hit a few buttons on my wrist pad. It spoke again, this time I understood it:
“Please identify and validate new user.”
“I’m Stanley Hirsch.”
“Hello Hippocrates. This is Dr. Vasseur; Stanley is one of our patients. I want to give him Guest Access to our networks,” Rita said to the network. “This should be Guest Unit 51.”
“Verifying voice biometrics … Access granted to Stanley Hirsch on Guest Unit 51; authorized by Dr. Rita Vasseur. Good morning Mr. Hirsh. Your guest privileges will allow you to send and receive messages with Dr. Vasseur; you will also be able to query for information regarding your medical history. External access to other networks is currently denied to allow our medical staff to most efficiently use our bandwidth during this refugee evacuation –”
“Thank you Hippocrates; that’s all we need.”
“That’s what we named our network,” Rita said. “You’ve been very good, and I want you to know all you have to do is call up this menu, hit this button, and you can send me a voice or text message. I promise I will get back to you as soon as I have a moment to.”
“Dr. Vasseur, thank you. When I find my parents, I want to introduce you to them.”
She smiled, but in a sad, tired sort of way. She gave me a little hug. “You be brave and patient, young man. Follow the sailor outside; he’ll take you back to your bunk. You let me know if you need anything.”
I handed her the sterilizer back and thanked her again. She gave me a little piece of chocolate. She rubbed her eyes as she opened the door and handed me over to my escort. I put the chocolate into my pocket, wrapping it in my handkerchief. I decided to save it, for my sister.
I didn't like the other piece as much for a number of reasons you can see there. I tried to address those with today's piece. First, I didn't like how our protagonist in the first piece was kind of a phantom we just heard about in passing. This piece was originally going to be Stanley the kid talking about the doctor with someone else. I found that to be a terrible idea once I sketched the idea out. It was just a really awkward scene, and it didn't help emphasize who Rita is.
I also originally had more action, less dialogue, planned. But, I found that I really had trouble giving Stanley a good narrating voice. Kids make bad narrators because it is hard to justify them thinking in big words and using fancy sentence structures/word choices. So, we cut out a lot of that and filled it with dialogue. We also create a trap for our reader; by making a very strongly voiced first paragraph, the weaker/less plausibly voiced paragraphs later on are likely to be accepted or not noticed.
I feel like you get a much better idea of Rita's character, but not a lot about her plot. Meanwhile, with Richard, you get a lot of insight into his past/history, but a lot of his personality is colored by being told from the POV of his wife. Here, Rita gets to stand more on her own as a character. The other thing I like about this piece is that it gives us a better view of the micro-high tech world. We see a bunch of nifty high-tech, plausible, tools (flash sterilizers are probably something I stole from somewhere without even realizing it.) With Richard's narration, we get a much more big-picture view. We learn about the political civil war in the LMC directly (as opposed to it simply being hinted at here), and we also get a bit more information on the vast space faring corporations. In Richard's narration, the de Paul being a space-faring Catholic charity barge is specifically spelled out, while here the name is just barely dropped. In fact, I don't think we ever explicitly say that they are in space. (No, wait, Rita says when we "reconnect back on Earth," that seems to make it clear they are not on Earth.)
So, these are our first two potential protagonists. I like them both for different reasons; Richard seems a more fully realized big-picture character. You know what drives him: He has a dream, a wife, soon to have a kid. Rita is a much fuzzier character; you -know- she cares about people, but you don't know anything about how she got to be who she is. Now, ignoring the actual prose quality (both introductions are still incredibly drafty and need to be tightened up), which approach worked better?
Also, this next realization makes me a bit sad. Here's an experiment I'll never be able to do: How would these have been different if I had tried to write Rita's narration first? How much of the lightness on details and focus on character is a side-effect of having established the setting in Richard's narration?
As a side note on the adventure game roots of these characters. Richard's gimmick is that he uses his robots to solve problems, taking them apart and recombining them to defeat challenges. Rita is a more straight forward adventure hero, focused on improvising to get out of trouble. In one scene, she was supposed to wrap paper around one of the tools to put into the flash sterilizer to start a fire. Also, I think this may be the longest post ever.