In this chapter, titled Error, Parlay sends a magical robot through the hex door to Jesice. This nameless machine moves toward the cliff-side city on a secret mission. The police and military attempt to stop it, yet they are powerless against the bizarre technology it commands. Guns can’t stop it. Rocket launchers only make it angrier. And fighter jets have their energy cannons’ blasts redirected at their allies.
Now, this is the kind of stuff I love. Wanton destruction! Chaos from an attacking alien force!
However, Kim has sensed a problem with my explosion-fest:
Either add some kind of stakes so we care about the officers winning against the machine (but it you want to keep the machine’s purpose a surprise, might not work), or add more character to the scene so the reader cares about the characters involved. Doesn’t have to be a lot, just little bits of development to get the reader attached to them. Otherwise, there’s a lot of shooting and explosions, but it doesn’t feel like anything really happened. Or maybe just condense the whole scene to a few pages.
Now, she has a point. None of these cops have a large role in the story beyond this chapter. But I don’t want to shorten the scenes that much, since I DO think it’s important to show how the Jesian forces fail against Parlay’s robot. Because when Hatchel and Tecker come to the rescue later, I need the reader to believe that those two rapscallions are the only hope of stopping it.
Maybe I’ll come up with something as I go through Kim’s margin notes.
The chapter begins at a repurposed prison on Jesice. The hex door that leads to Overland is here, guarded by two officers: Lanz and Noldy.
- The bald officer fed his dollar into the soda machine, grimacing as the money was spat back out with a buzz. A man’s cry came from outside.
- Kim – More description? This is a weird transition. Almost as if the man’s cry was due to the soda machine.
You think someone outside is crying over the rejected dollar? “I’ll never get my Mr. Pibb now!”
Before the robot comes through the hex door, Parlay tosses some trash through first. Lanz thinks Noldy is playing a prank on him.
- Noldy slapped at his chest. “No––I swear! Not this time! It just showed up. There was this ‘pop’ and––”
- Kim – Not sure what this gesture means. Whose chest? His own?
Yeah, his own chest. It means “On my honor as a Jesican officer, I did not litter here!” Like over your heart? Except I can’t say ‘over his heart’ because Jesians have four hearts. “He slapped his hand against his second heart by his left pectoral muscle as a vow.”
Yeah, that clears it up.
Now Parlay’s machine pops through. It has to unpack its limbs first.
- In an instant four arms materialized at each of the box’s angular top corners: Long, jointed, and constructed of bright bronze rods.
- Kim – Maybe switch up a little? Almost sounds like this describes the corners at first. “In an instant, at each of the box’s angular top corners, four arms materialized: long, jointed bright bronze rods.” Not sure about “bright” though. Are they shiny or literally bright with light?
Oh, yeah, your way is better. Whoops.
Uh, I’m not really sure what I mean by ‘bright’ so I think I’ll just erase that. The arms are just supposed to look new.
- A ring of dust swept out from the concrete as the machine rose and hovered higher than the men’s heads.
- Kim – Wait, the machine can fly? When did it start flying?
Just now. I guess I should say ‘began to hover’ since it was just sitting on the ground before.
The cops attack with pistols.
- The machine lurched. “ERROR; UNIT 15 ENGAGED; RUNNING COUNTERMEASURE.”
- Kim – Earlier ELEVEN is spelled out, but here’s it’s 15.
Oops I thought I caught all those. I love spelling out numbers, too. Wonder how that one slipped by.
But I’m still not sure what I can change to add ‘more character’ to these cops. I mean they joke around, what more do you want? And I hate to use the “One more week until retirement!” trope.
EDIT: After reading this post Kim sent me an idea for these guys:
You might be able to run with one cop being a slacker who thinks hex door guard duty is an easy gig, and the other cop wants to be a hero and thinks the hex door is the most dangerous gig. And when the machine comes through, the hero one is taken out, and it’s up to the slacker to act and save the hero cop’s life and sound the alarm.
Nice job, Kim! Thanks!
The machine hovers along toward the city, where it is met with more police forming a barricade of cars on a bridge. Captain Leen fires grenades at it while her rookie partner helps reload the launcher.
- “Reload!” Captain Leen growled, and the other officer was spurred to dig out a grenade from under her seat.
- Kim – Maybe give them a name if they’re mentioned this often?
Kim wanted a name for this character so badly that she messaged me about it. I suggested ‘Jo’ as a joke and Kim liked it. What Kim didn’t know is that I based the Leen character after my aunt Joleen who is a retired police captain. Whatever works I guess!
Now Kim did have some good ideas for how to make THESE characters more meaningful:
- Leen could also be a ‘by-the-book’ officer like Mackaba is. However, unlike Mackaba, Leen would learn that bending the rules is okay when you’re faced with an unprecedented situation. Contrast, baby!
- The other officer, let’s just call her Jo for now, would be a rookie. This could be her first combat situation, and she has faith in her captain. But when Leen begins to waver in the face of their bizarre enemy, Jo becomes distraught. Conflict!
Very good, Kim. I’m sure I’ll come up with a way to make this work. Go, officers!
Despite the valiant efforts of the officers, the machine uses hex door magic to circumvent the blockade entirely. Womp womp.
- The road was empty, save for a cloud of smoke where the machine had been. Leen let the launcher’s long barrel droop in her arms.
- Kim – Re-word? Doesn’t sound right.
HA,ha, it does kind of sound like it’s a toon rocket launcher: the barrel wilting downwards like some kind of limp asparagus stalk after Bugs Bunny plugs it up with his carrot.
- The bronze machine glinted and the dawn filtered between branches and leaves of the long, forested road.
- Kim – Is there a way to name this machine? And say what it’s doing? So far, kind of confused.
Kim! I’m disappointed! The chapter is almost over and you’re just NOW complaining about the machine doesn’t have a name? 😉
Well, any ideas? Should I pull a Borderlands? Like how the robot Claptrap’s name is really his model designation CL4P-TP? The characters in that game just call him a common term instead of saying his string of characters every time.
Actually, Parlay’s robot does get a nickname later. The Jesian news calls the machine “Error” since that’s what it’s saying all the time. So how about 3R-R0R? Just have it written on the side of the chassis? Would that be too much? Or would it be hilarious to have the cops read it all out phonetically every single time they mention it?
“It’s Three Ar Dash Ar Zero Ar! GET ‘IM!”
Ha,ha. Thanks for the great ideas, Kim! See you in chapter eighteen!