Sunday, 15 June 2014

Eden Paradox Characters: 1. Louise

The character most people talk to me about in the Eden Paradox series is Louise. Male readers seem to be fascinated by her, while quite a few female readers want to kill her. Whatever they think of her, the fact that she occupies readers' thoughts means she has become a strong character.

She wasn't meant to be. In an early draft of the second book, Eden's Trial, I killed her off about half-way through. I then sent the (I thought) finished manuscript to a SF author and some of my pre-readers, and the SF author in particular said that killing her off simultaneously killed the tension in the second half of the book. So I brought her back, and the other readers agreed.

Her 'popularity' (or is it infamy) has only grown as the series progresses, and even some of the Amazon reviews mention that they want her dead. But as an author, I have constructed a manipulative character who is a born survivor. I have actually put her into situations where I'm pretty sure she's going to get killed off, but when I come to write in her point of view, she often manages to find a way to stay alive.

A few people asked me about her name - why 'Louise', which sounds innocuous. Well, some people have innocuous-sounding names until they become world terrors (Adolf, for example),and also the word Louise derives from a Sanskrit word meaning warrior.

Others have asked me if she is based on a real person, and the answer is 'no'. However, I had in mind the type of character Sharon Stone used to play, or more recently I thought of Charlize Theron, based on her no-nonsense role in the film Prometheus. I think Charlize could do the role justice.

One final question I rarely get asked, is about Louise's history, how she got involved with the Alicians. There is a scant explanation in the first book, when she is talking to Micah, but in my mind it started earlier than that.

So, without more ado, here is where it all started for Louise, before the beginning of the first novel in the series, The Eden Paradox. In this short piece I'm not trying to make excuses for her, because what she does later on is pretty terrible, but this is an event that nudged her down that path.

Thirteen years before the Fall of Earth

Bangkok, 2252, Eve of WWIII
Louise fidgeted in the long silk dress with the red dragon pattern; give her combat fatigues any day. But Nick had never seen her in a dress – naked, sure – and they were being called up tonight, so it was now or never. She shifted her weight in the bamboo chair, sipping her second Lao Pane, a kiwi whiskey shake. She mopped her brow with a paper serviette; it was forty-five C in the shade, and the café aircon was bust again. Nick was already an hour late, but she’d wait. This was their last chance: the fourth time in the past month they’d been put on high alert, the difference now being that the tactical nukes had been armed, their mid-range delivery missiles prepped.
            Through the dusty window she watched people in bright colours and straw hats scurry past. Bangkok always bustled, but there were fewer smiles and animated interchanges than usual. Everyone knew a Third World War was just around the corner. According to the indie Sav-minds, half the population would perish. Most didn’t accept it, but she did. Man had always waged war, on increasingly large scales. All you needed to make it go truly global was to interconnect everyone and everything. Nowhere left to hide or run to, nowhere neutral. The screen behind the counter blared out the latest last-ditch peace talks, another excuse for a barrage of rhetoric whipping up normally sane people into a frenzy. All it needed was one trigger-happy finger, one inflammatory event.
Louise leant forward, caught her reflection in the glass table-top, saw the hardness behind her features. Her state of mind wasn’t the best brochure for humanity. Twenty-two years of life had been pretty shit so far, more than her fair share of adult attention as a teenager, and once she could fight back, she’d tried and failed to reinvent herself as a teacher. Instead she’d ended up a marine after one of her few real friends pointed out she had a killer instinct, having witnessed her break a guy’s jaw in a nightclub punch-up on her eighteenth birthday.
Her sex-life had been a disaster zone until a few weeks ago. Nick, a Canadian commando monitoring the US war games in Thailand. Love at first fuck. And now gung-ho politicians and insanely radicalised religious leaders were going to blow it for them, and for everyone else. She could forgive them all if she and Nick could have one last afternoon of passion. Staring over people’s heads outside, she searched for his six-six frame. Come on, Nick, don’t keep a girl waiting.
            She took another sip, and watched a tall woman in a burka  enter the café – must be baking alive inside – and take a seat opposite a man with slick black hair, shiny business attire and mirror sunglasses, none of which suited him. He looked like one of the Green-Shirt politicians who’d been warmongering over the Thai vid channels. They made an odd couple, especially as she seemed to be the one running the meeting. The woman’s eyes suddenly locked onto Louise’s, so she turned back to gazing through the window.
Across the street Nick’s head sailed above the locals, a tall yacht cruising into harbour. She stood up to show him the dress. His shades were down but when he saw her he stopped dead and lifted them, and mouthed “Wow.” He walked faster, waving his hands in the air, pretending to be exasperated by the constant flood of people and biofuel tuk-tuks in between him and the café; it made her smile. Wait till he saw what was underneath. Another man crossed her gaze as he glided towards the café entrance ahead of Nick: bald, no hat, no sunglasses, grey one piece jumpsuit. Her Special Forces instincts kicked in as he cut effortlessly through the crowded street, his features concentrated and alert; he was on a mission. She glanced down at the bag at her feet. No pistol, just her knife.
            The door tinkled as the man stepped inside. He took one brief look around, then sprang towards the woman in the burka, pulling a metal rod from his pocket. The woman, without even turning around, flung herself flat as a thin blue blade whipped above her. A thin blue line sliced across the neck of the politician who had just started to rise to his feet, a gun in his hand, which he dropped, grabbing for his throat as blood gushed through his fingers and he fell to the floor. Louise stumbled backwards as the speed of events caught up with her; she couldn’t move properly in that damned long dress. Cursing, she fell to the floor, amidst the scraping sounds of furniture being kicked aside, swishes of the assassin’s ultra-thin sword, and high-pitched screams and shouts of the clientele as they clambered for the exit. Louise glanced up while her left hand dived into her bag and unsheathed her stiletto. Nick burst through the door, almost taking the frame with him, and thank God he had his pistol drawn. Louise found the knife and grasped its smooth handle, just in case, and got to her feet.
            Nick was right behind the attacker, who seemed oblivious as he hacked his way through tables and chairs towards the woman in the burka, who was far more agile than she looked. Nick shouted at the guy to stop, or he would fire. The assassin didn’t turn around, just flicked the sword behind him and sliced through Nick’s pistol arm and carved a line through his chest; Nick went down. The woman had her back against the wall, nowhere to run.
            Louise darted forward and flung the knife at the killer as he raised his sword. The stiletto plunged into the side of his neck, severed his carotid, and sent a curtain of blood over Louise as she skidded to a halt. He glared at her once and tapped the sword hilt with his other hand as if entering a code. His eyes rolled up into his head and he fell backwards, but she didn’t see him hit the ground.
            Louise had seen explosions before, but nothing like this. Everything turned blinding white, and she heard a deafening crack as a wave of searing heat scorched her entire body, lifted her off her feet and threw her to the other end of the café. She landed in a puddle of melting plastic furniture and burning bamboo. Her left eye still worked, the right was fused shut. She looked down her body: the dress was largely burnt off, her skin a hideous landscape of red and black, the flesh on her right arm barbecued to a crisp. Flames licked her legs, the only saving grace being that she couldn’t feel them. She was glad she couldn’t see her face. Acrid fumes made her cough and her eye water. Getting up wasn’t an option. Through the smoke and fire she tried to make out Nick’s remains.
            A tall figure walked over: the woman in the burka. Steam poured off the black material that now looked more like very fine chain mail, and it flickered silver and white as if it had some kind of tech underneath. The woman was unharmed. She removed her hood and facemask, and bent down forward. Her eyes were the blackest Louise had ever seen. Two sets of footsteps rushed in, speaking urgently in foreign accents, not Thai.
            “Your Eminence, are you alright? Thank Alessia! We must leave straightaway, the police will be here quickly; you cannot be found here!”
            The woman did not reply to them, and spoke instead to Louise.
            “You saved my life, which means I owe you a debt. But you have fourth-degree burns over most of your body.”
            Louise coughed, tried to speak, couldn’t, her throat and tongue like scorched leather and tasted of charcoal. That extent of burns meant only one thing. Louise closed her eye as the pain asserted itself with a vengeance, as if she was being boiled alive. Her body began to shudder, and a single whimper of agony escaped through clenched teeth.
The woman continued, amidst shouts and wails outside, and the crashing of the burning roof caving in around them.
            “The man who did this is called a Sentinel. I believe he has just murdered someone you care about. There are fifty other Sentinels left alive. You have a choice: I can put you out of your misery here and now, and spare you weeks of pain before dying in hospital, or I can save you, if you agree to join me and help kill the rest of these Sentinels. If you wish to die, keep your eye closed. You have ten seconds.”
            Louise thought of Nick; he deserved to be avenged. But what if this woman was evil, and the assassin had been trying to kill her for good reason? No way to know. And right now the world could go to hell as far as Louise was concerned. Besides, if she was dead, there was nothing more, of that she was convinced.
She opened her eye.
The woman touched Louise’s neck with something metallic that made a short hiss, and her body numbed as if she was wrapped in a cloud.  
“Bring her,” the woman said.
Rough hands grabbed Louise’s listless body, lifted her from the sticky floor. Sirens grew louder.
“What about the Minister, Your Eminence?”
“Dead. Leak a report that the Fundies assassinated him. It is the spark we have been waiting for. The war starts tonight.”
Louise’s head tilted back as she was bundled out of the café and into a hovercar. Behind her, in amongst the smoking carnage, she glimpsed Nick’s cremated corpse. In that moment, she hated the world and everyone in it, and was prepared to watch it all burn, until there was nothing but ash. 

The rest, as they say, is history.

The Eden Paradox - where we find out we're not alone...
Eden's Trial - and most species are hostile...
Eden's Revenge - where it gets personal...
Eden's Endgame - where it all ends - due Fall 2014

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