Friday, March 30, 2018

Notes on the Paladins of the Solar Guard

The Solar Guard is a military body that serves the Church directly. The Paladins are the elite of that military.

While most of the Guard acts as to secure the Church's properties and interests across the Galaxy, the Paladins--the Companions of the Pope--are those tasked to handle the most urgent matters, either directly or as a favor to another in the interest of Mankind or Christendom more broadly.

Each Paladin has a place at a chamber reserved for him. This is his Seat. Each Seat is named for a heroic figure of Man's past, such as Roland the Frank. Three of these Seats are named for the three traditional Archangels of the faith, and their holders are the seniors of this fraternity. This chamber is rarely used, as the duties of the Paladins often have then in the field, but when they do meet--and it is not to initiate a new brother--they do so at this chamber in the Guard's headquarters on Palatine Hill in Rome.

Each Seat is the seal for a Super Robot that shares the Seat's name. The holder may call it forth when authorized; the Archangels are trusted to do so without needing permission. They also have a highly-customized Real Robot assigned to them, often named for a weapon or other key item of the namesake. (This is why Durandal is Ramsey's Real Robot.) Between the quality of the work, and the skill of the pilot, these Real Robots have taken on enemy Super Robots and won.

The conventions for Paladins accord them noble status, styling them as "Lord (Seat)" formally; the Archangels are accorded as Peers of the Realm and are entitled to be styled as "Duke (Seat)" but most are used to being "Lord" (having held a lesser Seat previously) and let it go under most circumstances. e.g. Sir Ramsey Hennepin, Lord Roland of the Solar Guard. Paladins are treated as (naval) Captains within a military context; Archangels are as Admirals.

A Knight of the Guard that gets elevated into the Paladin Brotherhood leaves the formal Guard hierarchy permanently, becoming "unattached" and--on the rare occasions where they aren't on assignment--allowed to operate independently. Prior to that point, they enjoy a military career that often has them posted to a variety of posts; in this way, Paladin mentors groom potential successors and test their students' character over time.

There are no female Paladins, just as there are no female Guardsmen, and it is literally impossible to change this.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Crisis at Garmil's Gate - 13

Hiding out in a hollowed-out asteroid on the outer edge of the system, Dashing Jack holds a tablet in one hand and a half-empty wine glass in the other as he looks out over the scene below: his ship held fast in the hangar as his crew scurries in spacesuits to fix it.

"Reporting, Captain!" Gori said as he walked into the office, saluting.

Jack turned out, put down the tablet, and sighed. "Is this about the revolt?"

Gori, stunned, answered: "Yes, sir, it is."

"It failed, didn't it?"

Gori dropped his head. "Yes, sir. It did."

Jack waived his Executive Officer over and handed him the tablet. "Now we know why."

Gori looked at the file on display. He recognized the face as that of Sir Ramsey, but what shocked him was the context for the photograph: his personnel file.

"It came with the regular courier drop a few hours ago, shortly before we recovered the survivors." Jack said, "The boss's man inside provided this to him, and he provided it to us."

Gori skimmed through the film, scrolling down. No mention of a father. No mention of a mother. No siblings. Only who recruited him into the Solar Guard, and later took him as a squire: Sir Aitkin Crow, Lord Michael. One of the three sitting Archangels of the Guard, and therefore one of the three Commanders of the Guard- one of the three greatest living Paladins.

"Since he was a boy, this Ramsey's been living a soldier's life. Learned everything at the knee of one of the living legends of Christendom." Jack said, "He's been doing this sort of thing for about 20 years, Gori."

Gori kept scrolling. No wife. No children. No other dependents.

"No leverage." Jack said, "He's a weapon, Gori, a living and thinking weapon. No wonder the Court of Stars sends him out here."

"He put down the revolt in about four hours, Captain." Gori said, putting the tablet on the desk, "Just him, his ship, and his squire."

"20 years of being, at the risk of being dramatic, a questing knight. Gori, we're in trouble."

"What do we do?"

"The ace unit isn't accounted for, is it?" Jack said, and Gori confirmed with a wordless nod.

"It won't be for long." Jack said, "That's his next play. He's use it to slip in under our noses and then sabotage us. He may even disguise himself as the pilot."

"So what's the plan?"

"We need to buy time before we can pull out of here for good." Jack said, "We still don't have what we came for, and because of this Paladin we need to step up the timetable. It's time to cut the dead weight loose."

"Lord Fang?"

"Outlived his usefulness. Time to give him a problem he can't browbeat away. Signal our man at the tomb to ready for our arrival, and ensure that the noble lord's activity get to our adversary's attention. That should keep him busy enough to let us finish our work and leave."

Gori looked his captain, unconvinced.

"Anything else, Gori?"

"If he's as good as our intelligence implies, it's still coming down to a fight at the end. You should have the data on his unit in yours."

"If it comes down to a fight, Gori, then it needs to be one far more crooked in our favor than having unit data."

Friday, March 23, 2018

Settling in at Solaris VII: Making #AGundamForUs

If you haven't noticed yet, there's plenty of giant robots in Galactic Christendom. As far as any outsider would say, this is a mecha property. It is also a Space Opera property; that's not a conflict in the least. (The Macross franchise at times approaches being a literal Space Opera, but instead sticks to idols and rock stars.) That means that the serial I'm doing here is a mecha story, and I am not being subtle about it.

The follow-up I'm plotting now ("The Taking of Countess Gabriella Robin") has plenty of giant robot combat, starting with a cunning raid on an innocent world in Galactic Christendom and culminating in a fleet battle on the enemy homeworld. Once more, I follow the motto of Mekton: Action, Romance, GIANT ROBOT COMBAT. Throw in massive starships slugging it out in orbit over exotic alien worlds, and you've got something you have to be John Scalzi to fuck up. (Even at his worst, Yoshiyuki Tomino delivered.)

There's going to be more over time. Now that I clearly see an opening, I'm going for it.

Eventually I'll have one of those easily-remembered three-word-titles for my franchise, something I'll need to figure out when I finish a manuscript and need to put together a cover and start a promotional hustle. The overall plan is to use multiple stories to bring a pile of characters on the stage before the big mashup begins and we start building towards the events of "The Ghost Fist Gambit".

So yeah, I'm in the arena. I'm on Solaris VII and ready to throw down.

And I'm not going to be shy about what my ingredients are, or why I'm drawing from those inspirations to make this thing happen.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Crisis at Garmil's Gate - 12

The men in the Oni-class mecha laughed until their sensors blared a warning of an enemy unit suddenly appearing below. The laughter stopped, and one of them moved his unit to the edge to look down. He gasped, and he ran back from the ledge. Before the others could ask what he saw, they beheld the same sight.

Durandal, with its cockpit hatch open, rose out of the mile-deep pit. Standing in the open hatchway, arms folded under his chest and feet spread apart, stood Sir Ramsey. His face wore a mask of terrible resolve, and his eyes fixed upon them as if he could see into their wretched souls.

"This is Durandal, the Sword of Roland." Ramsey said, "I've seen what you can do with your mecha. Now you shall see what I can do with mine."

Ramsey stepped back into the cockpit and closed the hatch. The eyes on the unit's head flared as if awakening, and the four men in the Oni units felt a primal fear arise in them and fix them firmly. All they could do was watch as the gleaming silver-steel came out of the pit and landed before them.

"Come at me, curs!" Ramsay commanded, "Come at me if you want to live."

"Attack!" the man in the royal blue unit said, and the four of them rushed Ramsey with beam swords ignited. But they came at Ramsey in a panic, fear driving them to desperation and away from reason or control, and so they came at him in a manner that Ramsey readily exploited. He met the lead man, caught the man's attack with his free hand, and ran the man's unit in half at the waist. He kicked the first man at the second just before the first's unit exploded, severely damaging the second and blowing him to the ground. This let Ramsey turn about and block the third's attack, which he them slipped down the man's blade and severed the third man's sword arm off.

Ramsey turned to the blue unit. "I will leave you for last."

Ramsey then turned his beam sword into a reverse grip. As the third unit picked up the severed arm to use as a club, Ramsey took a step and stabbed that unit through-and-through the chest. As it fell over and exploded, Ramsey stalked towards the blue unit.

"Stay back!" the man said as he took up his best defensive stance, "I'm warning you!"

Ramsey beat away the beam sword. "Or what?

The man did not reply, so Ramsey held his sword at the unit's hatch. "Get out."

The man complied. He emerged from the blue unit with his hands up. "On the ground. Now."

As the man got down on the ground, on his knees, hands behind his head the Baden-Powell approached. It fired on the one remaining grey unit as it attempted to pull a sneak attack on Ramsey, destroying it.

"Typical!" Sibley said, "You left just one, and that one half-eaten."

"We have a prize, Sibley. Send down the lad to collect it. We may need it later. Send him down when you come to collect this man."

"Aye, Sir Ramsey." Sibley said, "So what now?"

Ramsey looked into the captive's eyes. "Verification."

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Barbarians of the Galaxy Approach

I haven't gotten into much detail about the barbarians at the fringes of Galactic Christendom, but they will be a significant presence when I get around to "The Taking of Countess Gabriella Robin". As with the Periphery and beyond in BattleTech, they too are--generally speaking--using technology comparable to the norms of Galactic Christendom. They also are often in thrall to one or another of the Nephalim or the Fallen Angels, usually as the literal progeny of said master or otherwise corrupt in a fundamental way that renders them a subject people- and then their culture finishing the job of yoking them to the master's will.

As such, when they show up it's a big deal. The deeper into Civilization they penetrate, the bigger the threat they present, and the opening of the aforementioned story is one such barbarian raid on a world commonly believed to be beyond the reach of the barbarians. How this happened, and why, is a subplot for the supporting characters to handle while Our Hero chases after Our Damsel to rescue her from being forcibly bound to the barbarian warlord that seized her.

So, later this year, get ready to see our Paladin of the Solar Guard fight his way through a barbarian horde to rescue the beauty of the galaxy from a barbarian warlord set on possessing her- and he alone.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Crisis at Garmil's Gate - 11

Sir Ramsey called Sibley. "What's the status of the spaceport?"

Sibley answered flatly. "The lad's been clearing out the trash on the guns. The lighter units broke and ran. The heavier ones are covering their retreat. We should have this sorted shortly."

"Mark my location and converge on it when you're done there."

"Acknowledged." Sibley said, "Leave some for us."

"You won't be disappointed, Sibley." Ramsey said with a laugh, and he broke the comlink to Sibley. He looked behind him to see the armed workers and stolen Oni still on his tail, and he smiled as they opened fire upon him to no avail. He again linked to their coms.

"Are you unable to aim properly?" Ramsay said, "One man on a hovercycle going in a straight line, and you can't hit him?"

A shot from a blaster rifle hit just off to his left. "You almost did it! You must be their leader!"

The man in the royal blue unit growled. "Push him into the mine!"

The workers broke off and formed up in a column going down a side road. Their torsos twisted like tank turrets, traversing towards Sir Ramsey, while they launched their remaining rockets in a massive salvo at him. The rockets roared through the air, impacting all about him, but none hitting close enough to force him to ground. Then the guns opened fire once more, bolts of plasma searing the air as they passed through.

"My squire's son is a better shot than you sad lot!" Ramsay said, "Not yet a page, and already scored more kills than you have hits, combined!"

Several blaster shots went just over his head. "Better!" Ramsey said, "But still not good enough!"

As the enemy fire continued to hit all around him, Ramsey turned suddenly and rushed right for the workers once more. They kept up their fire at him, still not hitting, when he ignited his saber and weaved through the column kneecapping the workers and turning them into very awkward turrets- those that were still upright after crashing and rolling.

As Ramsey turned about to finish the rebel workers off, the rebels in the Oni fired upon him again. Having taken their measure, Ramsey easily baited them into hitting the wrecked workers instead turning mobility kills into full kills and eliminating the pilots as well as the units.

"Well done!" Ramsey said, "I'm certain that your master will reward you well for killing your own men."

"Bring me that man's head!" the man in the royal blue unit said, "Even if you have to pull it out of a pile half-burned."

Ramsey laughed. He laughed at them. He laughed at them long and hard as he emerged from behind the wrecks and now charged at them.

"And how will you do that, villain, when you can't even hit a single unarmed hovercycle?"

The three Oni-class mecha now coordinated their fire, pushing Ramsey off his attack vector, but Ramsey didn't seem at all bothered.

"Sibley," Ramsey said, "I've seen enough. Time to finish this. Ready?"


"You know what to do then." Ramsey said, and he lead the enemy mecha to the edge of the open mine pit- where he went over the edge. The three pursuing mecha ran to the edge and looked down, seeing only the impact of the hovercycle as it hit the better part of a mile below. They laughed, and in their laughter they stopped looking down, for Ramsey had let go of the hovercycle.

Ramsey drew forth the baton that Creton gave to him previously. Putting his beam sword away, he gripped the baton with both hands.

"I call forth Roland- draw your sword!"

The center of the baton flashed, and he pulled it apart. Light coruscated from the ends as he turned in mid-air, motioning with the split baton ends as if they were the controls of a mecha, and soon rays of light drew forth a cockpit. They radiated outward, drawing in first the skeleton and then the frame, and finally filling in the armor and externally-mounted weapons. The light faded, and now a fully-functional mecha stood in its place. Thrusters on its back and feet roared to life as its powerplant went online, stablizing it in the air and arresting its fall.

Durandal, the Sword of Roland, had arrived at Garmil's Gate.

Friday, March 9, 2018

No Mercy For The Stupid: Against Idiot Ball Tropism

I don't like idiots for major characters, especially if they're supposed to be experienced characters. If I'm not getting some serious duel-of-wits action between Hero and Villain, I am not satisfied. Outsmarting is necessary, but not sufficient, for outfighting the enemy. This means that I utterly despise the Idiot Ball as a trope.

Good conflict requires a back-and-forth of conceal-reveal, where the parties try to outflank each other for a decisive advantage. It's this sort of thing that makes a fight scene, a battle scene, legal maneuvering, etc. interesting and allows you to demonstrate character by action, which can take something cliche (e.g. a one-on-many firefight) into something spectacular if you execute it right. (And I do try.)

But when someone who really ought to know better acts like a moron, someone who--in that situation--should be slain, ruined, or otherwise utterly defeated, that's when I get mad and put it down. I've dropped books, comics, shows, and films over this and I sure as Hell won't put up with it in my own work.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Crisis at Garmil's Gate - 10

Sir Ramsey saw on his helmet's viewscreen a readout on the Oni-class mecha now facing him. Typical of the class, they were manlike in appearance save for one big eye-piece for a primary visual sensor and light emitter mounted in the head servo, rather than the dual-eye system usually employed. Blaster rifle in the main hand, shield in the off-hand, beam saber in a recessed housing in the main arm, and able to accept mission-specific accessories in external mounts. Not able to fly in an atmosphere unassisted, but can do jumps; said to be a revision of a much older model from the Empire of Man era centuries ago.

Then Ramsey noted the modifications. Three were a dull gray in color, with only a red lens in the senor eye denoting their true allegiance. The fourth was a bright royal blue, with the same red sensor eye lens; he had to be the leader, and the leader's units was likely an ace's custom unit before its mothballing. He would have to be handled last.

Ramsey went back inside the ruined headquarters, heading to the levels below ground--to the parking garage and the motor pool--as he knew what was to come next: complete leveling of all above-ground structures. Sure enough, the mecha began firing to reduce the ruins to rubble, and Ramsey dodged several partial collapses as he rushed down the halls and shafts to find what he sought: wheels, and another way out.

Outside, the man in the royal blue unit raised an arm. "Cease fire!"

The fire ceased. As silence reclaimed the space, and the dust cleared, the Mining Guild compound was now indeed nothing more than a weird pattern of rubble around the courtyard.

"Unit Four, stay here with a squad of workers. Bring back the infantry and have them start mop-up." the man said, "The rest of you, follow me. I know where he's going."

The royal blue unit, two of the gray ones, and most of the workers turned about and left the scene to begin circling around to intercept Sir Ramsey. Inside, Ramsey cut open a shaft door with his beam sword from the inside, kicked it down, and leaped out of the shaft and into the motor pool. He looked about, and then his eyes fixed on a hovercycle.

"Perfect." he said as Ramsey ran to the bike, got on, and started it up. "Now it's time to move to the next step."

Outside, the rebel mecha turned around a bend on a service road connecting the compound with the spaceport. There they saw another road connect to it, leading to another--concealed--entrance far from prying eyes.

"He's got to be there!" the man said, "We've got him! Fire!"

Inside, Ramsey brought the bike within sight of the door leading outside. He revved the engine as he heard the enemy fire upon the door. He revved it higher and higher, and when the door came down he launched out with a shot. Bolts of blaster fire wizzed be his face and rockets flew just past his commandeered hovercycle as he charged right at then.

Rather than immediately turning aside, he fixed his eyes on the worker in the lead and went right for it. As he closed, he drew his beam sword. At the last second, he turned just aside and passed the lead worker. He ignited his sword and sliced into the worker's fuselage where the legs--currently in wheeled mode, acting more like an ATV--met the main body, forcing to swerve and crash.

Ramsey cut into a second worker as he passed through the mob, this time slicing into an external rocket pod. It had rockets left to launch, so moments after Ramsey passed the pod's fire control system caught fire and misfired the rockets. The explosion blew up the worker. Then Ramsey swerved to dodge a blow from one of the grey Oni, passing between its legs, and fled away from the mob at top speed- but not towards the spaceport. Instead, Ramsey ran towards the very open mining pit the rebels came from.

The man in the blue unit laughed. "The madman! There's no way out for him there! All units, turn about and continue pursuit. Let's run this animal to the ground."

Friday, March 2, 2018

Remembering the Knights in Space Opera

I make no bones about where Galactic Christendom comes from. A lot of it is #StarWarsNotStarWars. A lot of it is classic anime from the Giant Robot and Space Opera franchises. But there's one part that I've not talked about yet: the Knightly Romance (and its modern offshoots).

"Paladin" is meant in its older sense, as used in the Matter of France, where the Paladins of Charlemange were His Majesty's close companions and go-to battle-brothers. This is why Ramsey's invocation of the phrase works; it's both intimidation and signalling that the galaxy's powers take the matter seriously, so they sent a Top Man to handle a situation that's about to explode.

Reading Arthurian literature, especially the early stuff, where it's more about Arthur and the boys being hardasses in war and at tournament, as well as the stories of Roland and the Romances spun from them (and related tales, like those of Robin Hood) all got poured into the pot to blend into this Space Opera stew.

It helps that's there's a lot of action, romance, and flashing sword combat (which nicely scales up to giant robot combat). While "Garmil's Gate" doesn't do the dames much (they'll show up soon), I've got a big ol' "Knight fights Monster for love of Princess" story in the works (tentatively, "The Taking of Countess Gabriella Robin"), and I would be a big fat liar if I didn't admit that these two films weren't big inspirations.

Oh, yeah, and some of this:

Why? Because Toshiro Mifune was one of the manilest men to ever grace the silver screen, and Kurosawa knew it. Being like one of Mifune's heroes is not at all an insult, so long as you execute well. That reminds me, John Woo's films also are a significant influence. You wouldn't think Hard Boiled would play into this, until you remember what "Heroic Bloodshed" means and that this film is one of the definitions of the term- itself a modernization of Chinese knightly tales, soured to taste.

Which means that Sir Ramsey is the sort of been-there-done that character who has no issues being who or what he is. He knows what he does is good, that whom he kills is bad, and princess worth a damn appreciate it when you risk life and limb to save them from the monsters- even if they don't marry you and live happily ever after with you.

And yes, there will be that sort of happy ending for Ramsey. But he's got to earn it, and making him do that will be quite the tale.