One of my favorite things to toy with is the cross-pollination of stories from different genres or times. I find it fascinating to place a character from one story into another tale and see how he or she would go about things differently. This is fertile ground for storytellers and it reinforces the idea that I carry that most good stories have already been told in some form, but that there are many good stories left by rearranging the pieces of those gone before.
I’ve always been a fan of The Ghost and the Darkness, both the movie and the true story. The story has everything I could ask for in terms of adventure, history, engineering, emotion and heroism. It has characters that are as big as life and an enemy that is direct, understandable and yet also mysterious.
Similarly, I love the idea of Indiana Jones (like everyone my age does) and I like the fact that you can tell so many different stories through the eyes of that character.
I’ve been kicking around a retelling of Ghost and the Darkness with a sci-fi, alien bent. Imagine an alien safari of some sort. In so doing I began thinking of my John Patterson character and I wanted to use an engineer from future days. A character that would think as I do, but live in a very different world from myself. Like Indiana Jones, I want to be able to recall this character for more than one story and build a universe around his various adventures.
Rolling these ideas into one I did what I’ve learned other authors do from time to time. I interviewed my character. What follows is a transcript of that interview which I hope will allow me to log the ideas that I’ve had with this as well as get a feel for the character’s voice.
To boost interest, I’m tacking in several bits of concept art (none of which are mine and all of which have been stolen from very talented artists online). As far as I can tell all are in the public domain, but I’m happy to remove anything that offends.
An Interview with Caleb Reese
Tell us your name, residence and occupation.
Caleb Reese, you can call me Cale. I live in Liberty, the only domed city on Mars. As for my occupation, I own my own business.
What type of business is it?
Reese Design and Consulting. We specialize in engineering projects, usually of an unusual nature. Our consulting division is often brought in to supervise special projects or to resolve situations for our clients.
Can you elaborate on these situations and projects?
Well, our clients have confidentiality which precludes me from discussing many of the details. I can tell you that we were asked to oversee the design and construction of a bridge project on Sonora, the Spanish colony in the Gliese system. That was a particularly harrowing project as we had issues with some of the local wildlife.
From time to time we will take on special cargo for our clients.
Can you tell us more about that?
We cater to some clientele that have unusual requests. Out of respect for their confidentiality, I shouldn’t say more.
We promise not to tell.
Ok, why not? Last year we were hired to perform a survey and salvage of an atmospheric research ship which was flying in the clouds of Uranus. The ship had been abandoned for months and we were asked to rendezvous with the vessel, determine if it could be raised from the atmosphere and if so to salvage and return it to its owners.
Were you able to save the vessel?
Sadly no. Once we boarded, certain hazards presented themselves and we did our best to obtain as much data as we could before leaving.
What manner of hazards did you encounter?
We had been told that the mission was purely scientific, and in a way it was, but the research in one section was of a military nature. We encountered a defense system that very successfully kept my team and I out of the engineering areas. In addition, we had problems with an artificial intelligence which ran the ship and was determined to keep these weapons from ever getting out.
After about 40 hours on board, securing an area away from the defense network and using the time to consult with the ship’s AI, we blasted out of there on our intercept shuttle. Shortly after we departed the ship descended into the lower clouds, never to be heard from again.
We understand you yourself have an unusual vessel. Can you tell us about that?
Yes, a few years ago we received a commission to design and construct a luxury spacecraft by Hun Hong.
The leader of the Chinese Technology Market?
The very same. Richest man in China or at least he was. He asked us to design the ship and then oversee construction. She was designed to his specifications and put together in the orbital shipyards here over Mars. We were a week away from closing out the build and certifying her for flight when we got the word that Mr. Hong had passed away. His children had disputes about how his fortune was to be divided up, but in the end, none of them agreed to pay for the ship that we’d built. It was a huge financial blow to our company, but, without another buyer, we’ve done our best to turn the ship into an asset.
This is a luxury spacecraft commissioned by a Chinese billionaire. What kind of ship did he commission?
She’s called the Orca. Mr. Hong was a fan of marine wildlife back on Earth and he wanted a ship in the same basic shape as a killer whale. She was built with a carbon alloyed skin which gives her a black color. That’s accented with white paint along her keel and just aft of the cockpit to complete the look. The cockpit is located basically where the eyes and brain would be. The Orca’s nose opens to allow entry into the bay. The bay is the largest room on the spacecraft. Tau requested us to outfit it as a ballroom or banquet hall for up to 50 guests. I think he planned on using it to schmooze with business contacts and the like. We use it now to haul cargo. Though we did keep the chandelier in place.
There are a series of staterooms along the top of the ship, over the ballroom. The upper level also has access to the engine room which is located in the aft section, or what you’d have to call the tail.
The Orca uses a fusion drive. Thrust is routed through her fins on the sides and the tail. These are all movable which allows for great maneuverability in docking situations.
And you use the ship for cargo transport?
For the moment. The ship has been listed on the open registry for more than a year now. Unfortunately, it seems to be too highly priced for any takers so far. We’re trying to get our investment in the project back and so, for the moment, we’re not willing to come down. If you know any eccentric millionaires who are interested, let me know.
Currently we’ve been using the ballroom to store water tanks. We’ve been ferrying water from trans-Neptunian asteroids back to the inner system. The cargos are easy to manage and we can complete a high-burn transit each month. This has allowed us to keep our head above water in terms of the bottom line.
You mentioned special cargo before. What sort of secret projects do you have?
I have an uncle who operates a genetic laboratory. His primary field is paleohusbandry with an emphasis on gene splicing. His specialty is in predators.
What does that all mean?
He breeds ancient predators and sometimes combines their abilities to make even better, faster, stronger predators.
How is that possible? Or legal?
As far as the possible, I don’t get all the biology enough to say. You’d have to ask him. As for the legal, it’s highly illegal. Even in his lab at the Ocean of Storms.
The Ocean of Storms? He lives on the moon?
Yeah. He’s officially doing gene studies for cures to some exotic diseases. That research is funded by the Solar Health Organization and it’s all above-board. His night job is breeding predators and that is done in secret out of the same lab, which is 20 meters below the lunar surface.
Who wants these large predators and what for?
His clients are just as varied as ours. Usually he’s breeding them for genetic engineers to research on. Sometimes it’s for some of the off-world colonies if they have trouble with local pests. The one time we worked with him, it was for a client who had something more sporting in mind.
My uncle was asked to breed a super-predator based on Smilodon Fatalis, the famous saber-toothed tiger. With his ability to splice other genes he was able to give this new breed not only saber teeth, but also low ambient vision so he could see at night. There were also enhancements to the cognitive abilities of the animal. Nothing close to sentience of course, but the intelligence was amped up a bit.
Why was the animal made?
Our client was a hunter with a lot of excess cash to burn. He liked to challenge himself with big game and soon standard life on Earth could not give him a run for his money as a hunter. He chose not to be like the crazy guy in Most Dangerous Game and instead he had animals designed to challenge him.
With our particular cat, which we named Smiley, our client asked us to drop him off at the ruins of Wrigley Field in what was once Chicago. I’m told that Chicago was a city of some importance before the firewar that left it in ruins. From there Smiley was hunted. It was a battle of wits, just him against our client.
As a man named George IX still rules the British Empire, I think it’s safe to assume Smiley was hunted down. I’m sure it was a battle for the ages though.
Your client was the King of England?
Who else do you know with that much power and wealth who is a fan of hunting?
We’ve heard rumors that you are something of a hunter yourself…
Not exactly. What you’re most likely referring to was our encounter on Sonora. We were building a bridge between 2 different settlements. On Sonora the atmosphere is much denser and so the settlements are built at high altitude on mountaintops and in high plateaus. We had our robotic drones on construction…
Sorry, before we go on, who is “we”…
Oh, Sanjay Evans, my business partner. He’s my right-hand man for whatever comes up.
Okay, do go on…
Our drones were working in amongst the lowlands and the cliffs building the pillars to support the superstructure. We began losing them at an alarming rate. After discovering that the losses weren’t due to accidents or malfunctions, we found a local predator was attacking our drones through their software.
An animal was attacking with software…?
Well, yes and no. The animal was a quadruped and looked similar to many of the big cats one finds in Africa, though the head and coloration was like nothing I’ve seen before or since. It seemed to feed on electrical energy. The creature used electricity both as an energy source and a hunting tool. It found lots of natural electricity in the ion currents which passed through the mountain chasms. To such a beast our drones must have looked like candy. The electrical surges emitted from these creatures (we came to call them Manticore) would cause our drone’s circuitry to overload or in some cases to misprocess the commands which were given to it. Bits and bytes of compute cycles were eaten away and over time the drones would malfunction, or worse, be attacked outright by the Manticore.
How did you resolve this?
Essentially we had to go on a hunt. We had two Manticore who had claimed our territory as their own. It was a matter of trapping and removing them. We tried to do it humanely (not that that term really applies; this was alien wildlife after all). In our first attempt we lost three drones and one of our assistants (a human) was badly injured from electrical discharge. In a second effort the perimeter of the village was compromised and the electrical grid was taken offline for an entire night. The villagers began referring to the two beasts as the Aztec and the Mairu, both of those names having significant cultural meaning to the Spanish colonists. After that we abandoned traps and moved to more lethal methods.
I’m not proud of it but yes. Ordinarily I’d hate to use such a brute force solution, but at the time the price for elegance and nuance was going to be paid in lives. I couldn’t risk any more injuries to our people. Sanjay and I built a small structure to see the plain and below our platform we hung generators to try and lure the creatures. It was from this rig that we shot the first Manticore. Sanjay killed the beast known as “Mairu” with a single shot to the head. It was clean and quick and I hope painless for the animal.
Over the next 3 days we were practically haunted with the cries from the other animal. The creature called “Aztec” mourned for the loss of its partner. I was content to move on and try to resume construction, but when we sent in a pair of drones the next day; Aztec immediately attacked and destroyed them. It was more than defense or feeding; it was vengeance. That animal knew we had killed its partner and it wanted to kill us in kind.
After a bad night in our custom built structure, we abandoned that rig and decided that a low-flying hovercraft might give us the best vantage point for finding and killing the animal. We had a hoverflyer loaned to us from one of Sonora’s wealthier residents. I flew the rig while Sanjay hung over the side with a slug rifle. We spent an hour or so flying over scrub brush, trying to draw out Aztec with static discharges. As we were flying back to the town to call it a day we were hit with an EMP burst. No one had suspected that was within the creature’s capabilities. In retrospect, it was hubris on our part to think we could anticipate the moves of any wildlife, let alone an alien one.
As we climbed out of the crashed flyer we realized that we were surrounded by electrical currents in the air and through the ground. Aztec had set his own trap for us.
I cannot recall a time where I have felt more fear for my personal safety.
Sanjay and I stood back-to-back scanning the edges of the hills to spot the beast approach. It was just before sunset when Aztec made his move. He charged at us from the direction of the sunset. The low light meant we could not see his approach clearly. It was as if he was born from the light.
Sanjay managed to fire a shot as he leapt at us. The shot missed wildly and the beast’s attack knocked both of us to the ground. Sanjay was injured and unable to get up. I drew the small pistol that I kept at my side and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. The pistol relied on electrical components which had fried from the currents around us. Not knowing what else to do I flung the sidearm at the beast. It struck him directly in the head, but seemed to have little effect.
As a last resort, and now fully expecting to be killed, I drew my knife. Aztec flung himself at me and it was only with a quick movement of my arm and wrist that I managed to get my knife into his flank before he killed me. It was pure dumb luck on my part and I hope that I never have to deal with a similar situation again.
What happened after the kill?
I called in a rescue flyer to scoop up myself and Sanjay. The next day construction resumed, unimpeded this time. Both Manticore were buried and I sent a formal recommendation to the authority for colonies that the valleys be kept off-limits to human interaction. I also recommended that a biological survey team be allowed to examine more of the surface by balloon and flyer observations. Sonora got its bridge and the indigenous wildlife got what I hope will remain a stable and human-free environment to thrive within.
Did you keep a trophy of the kill?
Absolutely not. The entire incident sickens me. The beasts were simply defending their territory against an alien encroachment. I made a point to bury both bodies to keep them away from scavengers and trophy-seekers alike. I did not feel at all like rejoicing in their deaths. It was simply another adventure in a long line of them, some with good outcomes, some with bad.
Mr. Reese, thank you for talking with us today.
Absolutely, thank you.
As you can see, there are 2 or 3 stories here worth telling, and enough background to get a decent start.
I’ll be expanding on this further in newer posts.