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Sunday, 1 March 2015

Making believable bad characters

The one character everyone seems to remember in the Eden Paradox series - and have a strong opinion about - is Louise (the photo is Charlize Theron in Prometheus; I think she'd make an excellent Louise). She's a badass that divides readers eating no middle ground: many people wanted me to kill her off (several volunteered to do it for me), but many acknowledged that whenever she was 'on scene', it became electric.

She's not based on anyone I know, so I'm not entirely sure how I got it right with her character. At first she was a little two-dimensional, and indeed when I wrote book one (the Eden Paradox) I did not intend her as a major character. But in the second book she really came into her own, with brutal sardonic humour, yet she was still somehow sexy to boot.

It became personal between her and one of the lead male protagonists, not only because they briefly slept together, but because she - in her mind, at least - was wronged by the protagonist, and a feud simmered and occasionally boiled throughout the entire series.

But I'm pretty sure I know when she hooked readers In the second book, Eden's Trial: she ends up fighting for her life against an alien artifact trying to kill her. She's just lost her lover and one path back to salvation, but she's so gutsy you can't help admire that part of her. And she serves as a cold judge of humanity and all our failings, her raison d'être being to put us out of existence.

In the final volume, Eden's Endgame, people asked me to - please - kill her off. Did I? You'll have to read it to find out. But I wanted to give her more backstory - just a little - as I had for the other arch criminal in this series, Sister Esma in the Prologue in Eden's Revenge.

I didn't want to make Louise too human, but just to show the play of events that shoved her down the wrong path. I also wanted this final prologue to show how WWIII actually began, with Louise and Sister Esma at its epicenter.  

So, here is the Prologue from Eden's Endgame, when we see a different side of Louise...

Bangkok, 2252, Eve of WWIII
Thirteen years before the Fall of Earth

Louise fidgeted in the long silk dress with the red dragon pattern; give her com- bat 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, and mopped her brow with a paper serviette; it was forty-five in the shade, and the café aircon was bust again. Nick was already an hour late, but she’d wait. It was the fourth day in the past month they’d been put on high alert, the difference this time 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. Many still 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. One trigger-happy finger, one inflammatory event, and the world would ignite.

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 uninvited 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 in- stinct, 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 lead- ers 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 as she watched a 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. The two of them made an odd couple, especially as she seemed to be the one running the meeting. The woman’s eyes suddenly locked onto Louise, so she turned back to gazing out the window.

Across the busy street she spied Nick, taller than the locals, sailing to- wards her like a 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, pre- tending 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 her dress.

Another man crossed her gaze as he glided towards the café entrance ahead of Nick: athletic frame, bald, no hat, no sunglasses, and grey one-piece jumpsuit despite the heat. Her instincts kicked in as he cut effortlessly through the crowded street, his features concentrated and alert; he was on a mission. She noticed a tattoo on the side of his neck, like a cross but with an oval at the top; the ankh symbol, she recalled. Then she remembered a briefing three days ago: a US politician had been killed in broad daylight right outside the Senate; there had been a photo of the assassin’s body, riddled with bullets, the same tattoo on his neck... She glanced down at the bag at her feet. No pistol, just her knife.

The door tinkled as the man stepped inside, his eyes an intense emerald green. He took one brief look around, reached into his pocket, then sprang to- wards the woman in the burka, brandishing a metal rod. The woman, without even turning around, flung herself flat, as a thin blue blade whipped above her, finding instead the neck of the politician who was rising to his feet, a gun in his hand. The politician dropped his weapon and clutched at his throat, un- able to speak or scream, only gurgle as blood gushed through his fingers. He crumpled 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 had his pistol drawn. Louise found the knife, grasped its smooth handle, and got to her feet.

Nick was right behind the assassin, 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 his blade backwards, its blue edge slicing first through Nick’s pistol arm before it carved a line through his chest; Nick went down. The woman in the burka had her back against the wall.

Louise darted forward and flung the knife at the killer just as he raised his sword. The stiletto plunged into the side of his neck, severing his carotid ar- tery, a curtain of blood spraying over the wall. The woman in the burka dived to the floor. The assassin staggered backwards a pace, glared at Louise once, then tapped the sword hilt with his other hand as if entering a code, ignoring the blood spurting from his neck, and collapsed.

Louise didn’t see him hit the ground.

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 fur- niture 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. It flickered sil- ver and white as if there was some kind of tech underneath. The woman was unharmed. She removed her hood and facemask, and bent forward, her eyes 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 straight- away, the police will arrive quickly; you cannot be found here!”

The woman did not answer them. She spoke instead to Louise.

“You saved my life. But you have fourth-degree burns over most of your body.”

Louise coughed, tried to speak, couldn’t, her throat and tongue dried leather, tasting 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. 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 all around them.

“The assassin who did this to you – and murdered your friend – is called a Sentinel. There are fifty of them roaming this doomed world. You have a choice: I can put you out of your misery here and now, or I can save you – if you agree to join me and help kill the rest of the Sentinels. The choice is yours. 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 a 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 after, 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 cool cloud.

“Bring her,” the woman said.

Rough hands grabbed Louise’s listless body, lifted her from the sticky floor. The sirens grew louder.

“What about the Minister, Your Eminence?”

“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 into a hover car. Behind her, in amongst the smoking carnage, she glimpsed Nick’s cre- mated corpse. In that moment, she hated the world and everyone in it, and was prepared to watch it all burn, until there was nothing left but ash. 

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