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Jul 31

Running the Gauntlet – Story Review and Discussion 2

Review and Discussion

Continuing my story review and discussion of the opening Osprey story, ‘Running the Gauntlet’ as part of my From the Watchtower series of blogs we turn to take a closer look at chapters, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Obvious spoilers alert – Read the story first!

Chapter 2

The Hunt sees Mercy take to the bridge and the op begin in earnest. With the previous chapter setting the game plan up, we’re able to fly through the details of the moves to hunt and race the Orion slaver down. When I write, I usually try to find pieces of music, normal instrumental soundtrack pieces to assist me in finding a tone and develop the pace of the story and especially in any action sequences. For the opening sequences of these chapters the soundtrack that fitted most was The theme from Captain America: Winter Soldier by Henry Jackman.

Running at nine minutes the piece of music fitted the early chapters, evoked the scenes of planning and a stealthy attack all to a timeframe before the action kicks in. The music helped me to set the pace in my mind for the first five chapters of the story. I often find music is useful and inspiring for creating such action scenes. Action scenes are by necessity visual affairs and can be troublesome to bring to the page. With the use of music I find that rather than visual action we as writers can use mood and tone to great effect and key to it is the pacing of the story telling. This particular music piece helped me to visualise and work out the beats I wanted to hit in constructing these various chapters that all run into one another with overlaps or following immediately on from the climax to the preceding chapter.

The slow build up fits the sneaking up of the first chapter and this chapter where we see Faraday implement and direct the plan from the command chair. Again, we see a few differences here. The ship despite sharing lineage with the Intrepid class has a central command chair. No sharing the limelight ala ENT-D or VOY with your executive officer or counsellors.

What chapter 2 reveals to us is the gulf of being in command and sending people out to complete a mission and that so many facets of the op are completely out of the hands of the commanding officer. We see that Faraday struggles with this aspect of her command. She’s itching for updates and wants nothing more for her part in the operation to come into play so she can go bust some balls. Her own moment to be Captain America. The chapter doing more work to highlight some Border Patrol tactics, with an expansion on the ‘rat-trap’ torpedoes and the usage of transponder nodes and transporter plates to beam into hard to reach places.

Notable introductions on the bridge are the ship’s second officer, T’Renna and at helm, Cree. T’Renna appears as a standard Vulcan, cool, stoic and precise when possible. Although often stock characters, I do like my Vulcans as I believe there can be a lot more nuances to their characterisation than the stereotype – albeit when you have a troubled Vulcan like the Kestrel’s T’Vel there’s an infinite amount more complexity and story telling but not every Vulcan character can be like that. Cree is a Bzzit Khaht (seen left sporting the wrong uniform colour! tut tut), adding a little diversity to the species range on the ship but also an alien species I’ve not written for before, so I wanted an opportunity to write for something different.

However, it’s all business here and again the story is coming at the reader from mostly Mercy’s POV. Once more, it’s a deliberate choice to give the reader insight to a degree on the captain and for me as writer to write things more from a Trek captain’s POV. If you consider my Kestrel story, despite how  much of the story revolves around McGregor, he’s as yet to be a POV character in the chapters.

What we do learn is that Mercy puts up a calm front but she’s impatient and chomping at the bit. She’s also worried about the op and how it will pan out. In particular, she’s got issues with the new executive officer and wonders if he’s going to be up to the task. So as the chapter concludes, Mercy races off the bridge to begin her own interdiction assault. Cue chapter 3 where we will learn if Hayes is up to the task and whether the assault, which so far is working out, continues to go according to plan.

 

Chapter 3

The Little Dragon

The Little Dragon

Little Dragon switches POV to Gareth Hayes and his team after they have breached the Orion slaver. The target ship is in a bad way having been adversely affected by the rat-trap. The team move into position from their breach point and are ready to assault the holding cells where the slaves are being held. We’re about to see if Hayes is up to the measure. But just as we are, Hayes gets a gentle reminder (or even a rebuff) as he’s told to stand back and allow the young Ryuu to do his stuff.

Ryuu, the Little Dragon in question, enters into the fray. In the opening chapter, he gets a moment of screen time, here is his moment to shine as we see just why Mercy herself told the XO to have faith in the young man. Of course, as the writer I wanted to convey a sense of his being worthy of that faith and his being a bad ass. It would have been tempting to try and make him to a sort of martial arts guru, however, since the original conception of the character would have made Ryuu Denobulan, I pictured Ryuu as swift and part parkour in his agility and movement. There’s an element of martial arts to his fighting style yes, but we see that he’s focused on a fast surprise attack and the use of some clever additional tech to aid his assault.

The zap bugs are like zappers but small in size and able to be tossed at a target, where they then stick on contact, or can be slapped onto the target. We see Ryuu pull this off as he skims, darts and climbs through an open multilevel area bringing these skills and attributes to his assault. This is where we see the need for his needing a suit that was more flexible and would not encumber his movement. Ryuu also gets to make use of the CPR (Concussive Pulse Rifle) to fell enemies.

If the scene gives a shout out to Ryuu it also shows he’s part of a team and he expects to be supported by one. He feels free and confident to take point and use his swiftness to advantage but only because the remainder of the team is hot on his heels to provide needed backup. With the use of the tac-mat (another tool toy – think of it as a flexible silicone like iPad with a tactical display and you’re on the right line), Ryuu selects targets identified by the sensors and by the hovering tactical drones. Yup, I give my guys lots of cool toys. However, a lot of these are extensions of weapons, technology and tactics used today and extrapolated for the future Trek setting.

tactical drone

We get lots of angry Orions and Nausicaan henchmen standing between our heroes and the freedom of the slaves, presenting Hayes, Ryuu and team with a challenge. The fight is swift and quite fragmented. I was not entirely sure of the piece carrying through so focusing more on the swiftness of the fight rather than getting bogged down in details hopefully lent proceedings a frantic pace. I did manage to throw in a sword fight, stealing from NuTrek Sulu’s sword fight in the first movie with that rather cool retractable sword.

However, Ryuu despatches his combatant in ala The Indiana Jones School of Sword Fighting.

Ryuu followed the elbow up with a quick high kick to the chest causing the Red to stagger backwards for a second but the Red was quickly ready to attack again, shaking his vision clear only to see Ryuu with a toothy smile aiming his CPR at him. “Sweet dreams.” A bolt of blue and the Red Orion crumpled to the ground. Hefting the large CPR handheld over his shoulder, Ryuu swaggered up to The Red before testing his unconscious state with a sharp toe poke.
Around him the fight was over and Ryuu turned to pick up his sword. With a motion of his thumb, Ryuu activated the retraction of the segmented blade back into the small stowable hilt, which he deftly sheathed to the side of his leg. Then meeting his new commander, Ryuu smiled, shrugged and laughed. “What you expected me to play fair?”

The fight is over in the cell compartment but the reality of who they were fighting for hits home as the cells are popped open and the slaves revealed. For Gareth Hayes its a moment when any gripes he has about the assigned mission evaporates. And the focus turns to what is happening elsewhere on the ship.

Chapter 4

Incoming Forces and Faraday beams aboard the crippled Orion slaver in order to prevent reinforcements reaching the slave cells. Mercy takes centre stage in the operation, directing her team with assurance and grit. But we see that the rat-trap torpedo has taken its toll on the ship in this section especially. The plan has had a hitch but they can over come such problems, except, wait … we’ve got henchmen incoming (incoming forces – more puns on the chapter title) and despite Mercy’s attempt to call them to surrender. Maybe she’s got a merciful side to her after all.

Back to Hayes at the cell and we discover among the slaves a large number of Cardassians, a startling discovery and a dangerous new precedent. Is this a sign of Cardassia’s new status in the post Dominion War era? The concerns for the slaves and Mercy’s gun fight all need to take a back seat however as T’Renna chimes in with a countdown to the incoming storm (more incoming forces!) pushing the evacuation time table up.

Already, we see that there are a number of fronts on which the crew is being challenged. Mercy has to stop the reinforcements, Gareth has to get the slavers off ship before the storm reaches them and renders the transporter ineffective, Mitch is putting down resistance in the bridge and then Shelly ‘Sparks’ Logan warns from engineering that the ship’s core is going critical.

The race is on to get out of there. Mercy demonstrates that she’s the first one into the fight and when it come to the evacuation she chides Mercus ordering him ahead of her on the transporter plates as she’ll be the last to leave. Cue the inevitable when the Trek captain says something like that. Just as it looks like they might make a quick but rough get away from the situation, Mercy halts hearing a cry from way back, stops to query it and then the engine room explodes. The superstructure crumples. Mercy is buried in metal.

Bridge loses its signal for the captain … is Faraday really dead?

Well I’d hate to spoil it for you. Go read the next chapter and find out.

Chapter 5

Storm Fronts sees Hayes react to the news that Faraday’s signal has been lost. We know she’s alive but what’s her status? Straight off, I didn’t want or need to add mystery to Mercy’s fate. She’s the starship captain! Would I really kill her off? Actually, I have to be honest, I would as I stand by the story needs but in this case – certainly for this chapter – I need her to be alive still.

The aim at this point was to have a bit of confusion for all parties concerned as to the status of the captain to lend a real time feel to the events. When we switch quickly to the captain, we know she’s in generally good nick considering everything. The drama is not whether she’s alive or not but the fact that she’s trapped with no means of escape. The Gauntlet  is reeking havoc with transporters and with the transporter enhancer plates, smashed by the rubble, Mercy is stuck fast in an isolated section of the ship. Ryuu steps up to get a plate to her position but he needs to move fast. That storm front is fast incoming. But for Mercy that’s the least of her concerns as she hears the cries of a child again.

Obviously, Mercy moves to find the child amid the ruin of a quickly disintegrating ship. The storm is on their tail and T’Renna counts down its approach. Mercy finds not one child but two! The race is on to get them out. She makes use of one of the surviving drones as a wedge to lift the heavy girders. Ryuu arrives with a transporter enhancer plate but the timing is critical here. They aren’t going to be able to get the children free before the storm arrives and you can’t transport with the shields up! What are they going to do? Worse still, adding an extra dimension to this is the fact that the cool and pragmatic Vulcan is the one in command on the bridge. If anyone is going to stick to the plan and the protocols it’s going to be T’Renna. She won’t risk the ship against the onslaught of the storm front and Mercy’s time is up …

This was the trickiest section for me to write. I had it clear in my head. Where the previous cliffhanger ending of chapter 4 was obviously a mere hook, there wasn’t a chance he’d kill her (well again, I repeat I would), but here I wanted to build up to this moment but again the pacing had to lend to a critical time factor. I wanted to create a drama and a dilemma here.

By shifting to Mercy’s point of view and having her get the updates on the storm front via the bridge in the latter part of the chapter, we got ourselves a ticking clock and a real deadline to meet. It is not merely Mercy’s life on the line. There are two children and the plucky and brave Ryuu to factor in as well. Maybe they’ll get saved but maybe not all of them. And how?

As the clock ticks down and it is clear they aren’t going to get out in time, they just need about ten seconds more it feels like, but that’s a time frame T’Renna cannot afford to grant. Here you see why I cast a Vulcan in the role of the second officer. I had toyed with Hayes being back on the bridge and in command and being faced with this choice but I figured it worked more dramatically and less melodramatically to write it this way. It also fit with my plan to make everyone face the gauntlet of challenges in the story.

Did it work? I’d like to think so. Certainly to some degree, with one reader commenting:

Damn, that’s some seriously dramatic work there at the end and I honestly don’t know how it will play out. I’m guessing your not killing off your protagonist and two kids within the first few chapters of your story but still, this is gonna be a struggle either way.

T’Renna is a Vulcan of course, so she has to make not just the most logical decision but also the only one she can make to save the ship, you simply cannot fault her for that.

What an awesome dilemma. Eagerly anticipating the next chapter.

Next time…

In my next story review and discussion, we will treat chapters 6, 7, 8 and 9. Thanks for reading. Obviously, please feel free to share your thoughts.

 

Did these chapters with their focus on the action and the build up to it come off correctly for you? Was the Little Dragon chapter fast paced? Did it lend to giving Ryuu a cool ass vibe or mere stereotype action hero fare? What about Hayes – did he impress? What about those Cardassian slaves, eh? Was Mercy plain dumb giving the reinforcements a heads up and a chance to surrender? Did the explosion create a WTF moment? Did you think I’d kill Mercy off then? Then did the build up to the cliffhanger ending of chapter 6 work effectively? What did you think? These and more, please offer comment.
Meantime, boldly reading, boldly writing, boldly reviewing …cropped-Miranda-Fave-header2.jpg