Monday, 25 May 2015

On fighting aliens, hand to claw...

Last night I caught the tail end of Cowboys vs. Aliens on TV. I actually like this film, mainly because it has two of my favorite actors in it (Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig). Funny thing was, I bumped into Daniel Craig in London a few years back, and was going to ask him if he'd thought about doing science fiction, and then a few weeks later I was watching the film at the cinema!

Anyway, one thing I liked about the film was the combat scenes with aliens, near the end of the film. The humans don't actually stand much of a chance, since the aliens are bigger, tougher and faster. Of course the humans win (yawn) but for me it gave an inkling of what it might be like. Another film (this one I didn't like) that also had man-to-alien combat was Starship Troopers. I don't know what the American obsession is with machine guns, they appear in so many alien films as if bullets would stop an alien with a tough exoskeleton. Still, for me it occasionally gave a sense of what it might be like going up against nasty aliens. 

Incidentally, recently I visited the Imperial War Museum in London, and there is a section dedicated to the Victoria Cross, the highest medal in Great Britain, awarded for bravery, specifically running towards enemy machine-gun fire. Maybe in SF we need the equivalent for going up against aliens in open war. 

Of course, in reality (!) war with aliens is never likely to come down to hand-to-claw combat, since it will be waged in space. But the late Iain Banks neatly circumnavigated this in his first Culture series book Consider Phlebas, which starts out with long range war but ends up in very gritty fight scene (I won't spoil the ending for you) between the protagonist and a rather large and tough alien. 

In my own Eden Paradox scifi series there isn't much hand-to-hand combat between humans and aliens, partly because a major theme is that the aliens get the humans to fight each other. However, in the fourth and final book, Eden's Endgame, I decided to pit the protagonist (Micah) against the original enemy of humanity, a Q'Roth queen. Micah is not a natural fighter, and is in fact an anti-hero. In this scene, near the end of the book, he teams up with Gabriel, warrior extraordinaire, inspired by Frank Herbert's swordmasters of Ginaz from his Dune series. This scene starts when they have landed on the Q'Roth home world, Korakkara. The Q'Roth destroyed Earth twenty years earlier. Micah is there to parley, since the entire galaxy is in jeopardy due to a war between two hyper-advanced aliens, Hellera and Qorall, and the Q'Roth could tip the balance. But Gabriel, a clone fabricated by Hellera, has a different agenda...

The air outside in the cavern was dank but breathable. They approached the guardian; Micah was sure its six eyes were a deeper red than those of a normal Q’Roth. The four-metre-tall warrior turned and led the way, Micah and Gabriel having to break into a trot to keep up. The tunnel twisted and turned, always descending, as they threaded their way through many intersections; Micah hoped his resident was keeping track of their pathway through the catacombs. As he’d expected, it grew hotter the deeper they went.
            Finally, they emerged into a dome-like chamber, empty except for a square dais upon which stood two black pillars the height of a tall man. Four guardians stood in front of the dais, each carrying a three-metre barbed spear that shone like titanium.
            There was a dragging, clomping sound, and Micah turned to see the High Queen enter, taller than the guardians. Her ribbed belly reached all the way to the ground and tapered off a couple of meters behind her in a coarse tail with three spikes. Her back was different to other Q’Roth he’d seen: two long bony rods hung straight down from either shoulder, corrugated translucent skin nestling in between. Wings. He hoped they were defunct, a throwback to a former Q’Roth age. She hauled herself onto the dais and leant on the two pillars using her mid-legs, leaving her forelegs free.
            “The one you call Louise has given us Nchkani ships. You say she will betray us?”  
            She spoke in Q’Roth, Micah’s resident translating; he hoped Gabriel understood. Glancing at the Youngblood clone, he noticed something odd about the way he was standing: completely relaxed, and his face… his expression was as if he wasn’t really there.
            “We are enemies of Louise,” Micah said, “but the message we relayed to you comes directly from her, just as she left this system.”
            The Queen didn’t seem surprised. “I will send word to have her killed as soon as the fleet reaches Hell’s End.”
            The pieces fell into place for Micah. His tone didn’t hide his disappointment. “You are changing sides, joining Qorall’s ranks against Hellera.”
            “An offer of accelerated enhancement to Level Twelve, taking over from the soon-to-be-annihilated Rangers and intermediate species. And if Qorall loses, he will destroy the galaxy. It was not a hard decision.”
            Micah said the words, though he guessed they were to no avail. “You could have honoured your commitment, stayed loyal to Hellera.”
            “I fail to see why the Tla Beth allowed you humans to survive during your species’ trial. You revel in Level Three thinking. I studied your world before we culled it; your lions and antelopes had a better grasp of the true order of the universe than you humans. You will not endure for much longer as a species.”
            Gabriel stood next to Micah, then spoke to the Queen in a strange voice; the intonations were all wrong, rising and falling randomly. It sounded so… inhuman. Micah had heard someone speak that way once before. Hellera.

“The Tla Beth re-engineered you, bred you for aggression, the perfect soldiers. They should have explained the rest: that you would never progress beyond your Level.” 

The Queen rose from her pillars to her full height, her upper legs flexing outwards. Ebony wings, like those of a bat, began to unfurl. “Enough! Qorall has given us Level Sixteen technology. No one can stop us now!”

The guardians began to close around Gabriel and Micah. Without warning, Gabriel placed a hand on Micah’s chest and pushed, sending him flying across the room, until he landed and skidded across the floor. On his back he saw a second Queen, smaller and yellow in colour, high above Gabriel, hanging upside down from the ceiling. Winded from the push, Micah tried to warn Gabriel, but barely a croak emerged.

Gabriel continued to speak, unrushed, in Hellera’s oscillating tones. “Technology does not equate with intelligence. These lowly humans, as you think of them, will dance on your unmarked graves.”
The guardians attacked. Micah’s vision could barely keep up with the blur that was Gabriel; frenetic movement interspersed with images of decisive slices from his nanosword, blue blood spraying in all directions as Gabriel decapitated each guardian in turn. But the smaller Queen hanging high above him dropped silently, her six claws stretched out, ready to thresh Gabriel to pieces, while the larger Queen watched.

Micah knew that although Hellera might be viewing events from inside Gabriel, she was still limited by his perceptual abilities. He yelled, but Gabriel stood his ground, and in the last instant threw the nanosword in Micah’s direction.
            The yellow Queen crashed onto Gabriel. Her lower claws nailed his torso to the ground while her mid and upper claws made short work of severing his arms and legs from his body.
            The hilt of the de-activated nanosword rolled next to Micah. He picked it up as the yellow Queen’s gash of a mouth yawned wide then clamped down on Gabriel’s skull. A gruesome sucking noise reverberated around the chamber. Micah began walking backwards toward the entrance, unable to take his eyes off the scene. The Queen released Gabriel’s cracked open head and swiped his corpse aside in the pool of human and Q’Roth blood. Her head tilted back as she emitted a roar that sent chills down Micah’s spine, then turned her head to look at him. But the larger Queen spoke.
            “This one is mine.”
            Micah turned and sprinted for the exit, his resident snapping into action, showing him the way forward into the catacombs. He heard the slow beats of giant wings flapping in the windless chamber, but dared not turn around. Micah increased his speed to maximum, barely able to breathe in, desperate to reach the temporary sanctuary of the tunnel.
            A strangled cry erupted behind him, and the beats changed, faster, and he realised the Queen was hovering in mid-air above him. Then she suddenly turned and flew back to the centre. Micah raced through the tunnel entrance and skidded to a halt. Forcing air into his lungs, he dared to pause to see what had happened. The yellow Queen – he had an intuition she was young – staggered left and right as if drunk, clawing at her head wildly before collapsing on the ground, legs twitching and flailing as her head bubbled and disintegrated, chunks of flesh sloughing off until she stopped moving. Micah understood. Hellera had used Gabriel as a weapon to take down the Queen, most probably using nannites. Sandy had been right all along. But Hellera hadn’t factored in the appearance of a new Queen.
            Micah knew what came next. With a sense of dread, he took a deep breath and bolted down the tunnel. He heard a long, gut-wrenching scream of anguish from the larger Queen, followed by the beats of powerful wings, and a heavy thud as she landed at the tunnel entrance. Micah then heard a sound he’d not heard in a long time; the jackhammer galloping of a Q’Roth running him down. Micah pumped his arms to run faster, navigating each turn as his resident showed his progress towards Shiva, and the Queen’s position behind him, closing very fast. No chance. He needed a Plan B.
  Micah’s muscles strained to maintain his speed. The Queen was right behind him, and he imagined her raising her sharp upper claws for a slash that would stop him in his tracks without killing him. His resident flashed a sharp left turn. He didn’t question it, darted to the side and ricocheted off the wall where, a moment later, a single Q’Roth claw slammed into it as the Queen skidded noisily behind him. Micah dashed through the passage. It was narrowing, but not enough.
He entered a bowl-like chamber, its walls sloping slowly upwards from the floor to a flat ceiling. A dead end. He tripped over something and ended up in a pile of bones and rotting hides. His panic peaked as he clambered over skeletons to the other side of the bowl.

He searched the walls frantically, but there was no other way out, only the entrance. He imagined the Queen chasing prey in here, watching them run up the walls in fear, only to slide back down to their doom. The Queen’s steps were measured; she knew he was trapped. Micah willed himself to push down his fear and think. He wasn’t Ramires, nor Gabriel. His only weapon was his brain... 

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The golden rule of blockbusters: how to break it, how not to break it

There is a golden rule for writing a blockbuster.
The hero (the protagonist) must end up fighting for what (s)he believes in, alone, and against insuperable odds. And of course the hero must win. In order to win, they must go up against their own darkest fears, overcome their main weakness. As readers we like conflict - no conflict, no interest. So the conflict is maximized when it's both internal and external. In a book, there has to be a lot of internal conflict, because we as readers have to imagine it, and on the page that can be easier than imagining big explosions and car chases. On film, the reverse is true - for blockbusters, there are more special effects and carnage than internal conflict, That's ok, books and films are different media, and we can all make up our minds what to see/read.

The latest blockbuster, Mad Max Fury Road, is extremely high on the external conflict, less so on internal conflict, since we don't get to know the characters well enough. But it breaks the golden rule. How? First, let's dig deeper into the golden rule itself, what lies underneath.

One of the most successful blockbusters of all time is the Lord of the Rings. A bunch of characters go up against the embodiment of evil, Sauron, who has marshaled a terrifying army to drag the world into chaos and despair. Each of the fighters has their own internal conflict, for example, Boromir, and in his case it is his undoing, though it leads to his brother doing the right thing when it counts.

And look at the photo of Frodo. Is he confident, or is he scared? He's about to enter Mordor, and he's just a Hobbit, not a Ranger. Do you get the point? He's like us. We see us in him, facing terrible odds. We are glued to the page, and to the screen.

Think Harry Potter. Sure, he has his friends, but how many times does he end up against Voldemort alone, especially in the grand finale? And he's been told he must die in order to win. He has to sacrifice himself as his mother did the first time, to protect him. How would you feel? Again, he is like many of us, a normal person who feels unexceptional, thrust into a destiny with huge consequences.

I just watched Mad Max Fury Road. I liked it. It's a blockbuster, sure, but it does something a little different. It breaks a golden rule. First, as already mentioned, there is not much internal conflict. The two protagonists are both damaged, internally scarred by events we don't get to see, though they are hinted at. But that's okay, this is high-octane adrenaline-pumping action, it's relentless without being breathless, and the choreography and special effects are flawless.

It's also reminiscent of the original series of films which I loved (well, the first and second, at any rate). It also, as an aside, paints an interesting vision of post-apocalyptic Earth, the screenplay sublime in resisting of the urge to explain anything, including the very obvious question of 'Who killed our world?', as is asked in the film, and so plunges the viewer into the heart of what life in this desert world is all about, survival, where the past is gone and largely irrelevant. The survivors don't know what happened - why would they?

What's interesting is that the film is about an unlikely partnership, rather than being about Max himself. This means that at the end they both face extreme jeopardy. Arguably, the Furiosa character played by Charlize Theron, faces more, and to my mind she steals the show. So, this breaks the golden rule, because the protagonist (Max) does not face the highest risk alone. Does it work? For me yes, and it's more realistic. Our world is very complex, and it's becoming increasingly unlikely that one person alone will save the day. In fact, in the film other characters - who incidentally the viewer might relate to more easily - also do their bit in saving the day.

But breaking this rule can go wrong. For me, the latest Avengers film (the Age of Ultron) tried to do more 'internal conflict' than it could handle, and got bogged down. Usually, although these films are about 'teams', the one character who you would reckon is the central protagonist is Iron Man, because he's more like us, rather than say, Thor, and because he's also the best actor. However, the way he and all the rest of them faced their own personal demons got too complicated, and dispersed any emotional attachment the viewer might have for them. Scarletta Johannson (Black Widow) saved the film for me - just - as her character handled both internal and external conflict well. I began to care less about what happened to the others.

In a book, it could have worked, but then the Avengers is not based on a book, but on comics, and it should stick to the medium; maybe one character can have strong emotional turmoil, but not all of them.

In my last book, Eden's Endgame, I went down the 'Harry Potter' road, so that at the end the protagonist faces his own inner demons and also the galactic equivalent of Tolkein's Sauron. But in my latest work, a thriller I've just finished called Sixty-Six Metres, I have two protagonists who both end up in equal jeopardy, as in Mad Max. I've just sent it off to a literary consultancy, so it will be interesting to see what they say about it, and the fact that it is breaking one of the golden rules...

Monday, 11 May 2015

Galactic Chess

Imagine a chess game played to win or lose an entire galaxy. If you step back from the human involvement in the story, this is the basic premise of the finale to the Eden Paradox series, Eden's Endgame. Two incredibly advanced aliens, Hellera and Qorall, are fighting over the Milky Way, Hellera to save it, Qorall to destroy it. And it's not the first time they've played. Two billion years ago, Qorall lost, and an entire galaxy was destroyed. He wants revenge.

The humans, barely a pawn in this titanic struggle, are naturally on Hellera's side; well, most of them.

The high-stakes game they are playing would be more akin to five-dimensional chess, since after the obvious three dimensions and the fourth temporal one, rendered more complex by time dilation effects when considering galactic distances, they each have access to a fifth dimension, though not the same one. Both have surprises up their sleeves. Hellera's surprise is what the Spiders - co-habitants on Esperia where humanity's refugees live - can do, and Qorall's surprise relates to a black hole he has weaponised.

Of course it's not really chess they are playing, but the metaphor is apt, as it is all about deep, very long strategies, and savage all-or-nothing tactics. The opening move actually occurs two books earlier, in Eden's Trial, in a chapter which I also published as a quirky short story (you can read it here), as the galactic incursion is seen from the viewpoint of an amorous drone. It then ramps up in the third book, Eden's Revenge, but the final face-off doesn't occur until the penultimate chapter at Hell's End, a galactic level 'Battle of Waterloo'. Does humanity play a pivotal role? Well, let's just say that even a lowly pawn can still make a decisive move in chess.   

I called it Endgame, because it is about strategy, and the final battle, the last few moves each of these super-beings can make, will decide the fate of everything. Here is an extract from the final battle, where Hellera is sizing up Qorall, his fleet, and his strange black hole...

Hell's End
Hellera surveyed the warscape. Qorall’s asteroid ship hovered just off the event horizon of his customised black hole, a few million miles from a rip in the galactic barrier’s fabric. Surrounding him in space tinged a ghostly green were three fleets, the first two cannon-fodder, Level Seven and Eight species she no longer cared about. Some had very large, Mega-Class ships, ten times the size of her own Crossbow, but after Level Fourteen one learned that bigger ships only meant easier targets. The third fleet was more of a challenge: Nchkani vessels, a hundred and eighty of them. They were manned by Q’Roth, but that didn’t make them any less dangerous, and Qorall’s greenspace neutralised Hellera’s gravity-based weapons.
On her side were a dozen fleets, the ones that mattered being the twenty-seven remaining Tla Beth Gyroscope ships, forty-seven Rangers in assorted small but well-armed scout ships, and fifty Ossyrian Diamond ships. The latter had drawn her attention, not because of their fire-power – they were no match for Nchkani – but because the Ossyrians had obviously retrograded, escaping their pacifist yoke, and had quickly fabricated war ships that had terrorised the galaxy sixty thousand years earlier. Each Diamond ship was fashioned from the joining of the bases of two hospital pyramid ships. Hellera reflected that directive evolution was painstaking, requiring careful steps over hundreds of millennia, whereas species regression, by comparison, was as easy as falling off a cliff.
            She waited for one more ship to join her armada. She switched her sensors to show the Spider ships and Hohash in the underlying subspace, contingents of Shrell accompanying them. Qorall could probably see them too, and must be wondering about their capability. At least he appeared to have no soldiers in subspace.
            Hyper-assessments had yielded uncertain results: the emergent predictions of who would win remained unstable. Reluctantly she downgraded into a more basic analytic framework. Kalaran had trusted these humans, and had confided in her that there was something about the crude and undisciplined nature of their thinking processes that had tactical value, so she uploaded one of the templates Kalaran had extracted, Blake’s, and fed it with data using a ridiculously small bandwidth.
The black hole: that was the problem. Neither she nor Kalaran had been able to fathom what it was exactly, as it was certainly not a normal singularity. Each galaxy she had visited – quite a few during her lifetime – tended towards a maximum number of black holes, reaching an equilibrium. They were nodes, intersections between universes, but not necessarily portals. Only twice had the Kalarash broken through to another universe, the first time it had been a one-way trip and their colleague was never heard from again, and the second was one where the laws of physics were different, the habitat of the Spiders. Their universe was smaller and ran faster – it would end long before this one – hence the Spiders had also been keen to explore other universes than their own time-limited space. They had travelled to fifty other universes, but few contained the conditions for sentient life; some had already fizzled out, others would stretch endlessly without organic species, bland space deserts spattered with dark stars in an endless ocean of space marred by vicious gravitational fluctuations.
            In strategy terms, she held more firepower than Qorall. She should win. But since Qorall had defeated Kalaran, she had doubts. Qorall had been a game-changer since starting this current war: penetrating the Galactic Barrier, using organic weapons, the Orbs… Perhaps he had not yet run out of surprises.
            Shiva arrived. Hellera contacted the ship mind and downloaded all its data. All had gone according to plan, except the second Queen, but Micah had handled that one. She was about to dissolve Blake’s template, but elected to keep it running in the background.   
Hellera stared hard at his black hole, his fleets of ships, and his greenspace. She realised she was missing something. He must know by now that his super white hole device at the galactic core had been neutralised. Yet Qorall had never bluffed before. He had, as Blake would have said, something else up his sleeve. But she had no idea what it was. She signalled her fleets to prepare to engage.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

A Mindship called Shiva...

One of the things I most love about science fiction is space-ships. Having grown up during the space race, I naturally wanted to be an astronaut. I go to Washington DC every year or so, and when I get the chance, I dip into the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and take a look at the early Mercury and Apollo capsules, and see how unbelievably cramped they were.

My first dalliance with scifi ships was via the film 2001 a Space Odyssey, where I was mesmerized both by the space station twirling to the sounds of Strauss, and the longer ship heading out to Jupiter. And of course there was the malevolent computer, HAL (you probably know this, but HAL is one letter backwards from IBM, the computer giant at the time).

In Scifi I was less interested in ships that were simply hardware, like Star Trek, and more interested in ships that had intelligence, and a personality of their own. Iain Banks had mindships in a number of his books, and Peter F Hamilton had ships that were born in space or gas giants, echoed in the Farscape scifi TV series.

So, when it came to writing the finale of my Eden Paradox series, I wanted a mindship, one that kicked ass. At the end of the third book, Eden's Revenge, the protagonist Micah is introduced to Shiva:

Blake and Micah gazed at the Scintarelli Scythe-ship hovering silently a foot off the ground like a massive, dark crescent, while they waited for Jen to arrive. There were no windows, protuberances or even ridges or exhaust holes anywhere on the smooth, matt black exterior. Where they stood, near one of the two ‘blunt ends’ as Blake had put it, the ship stretched upwards about four decks in human terms. Earlier, they had walked to the middle of the curved vessel, to the ‘sharp end’ that was about one deck high, where Micah presumed the bridge to be. The ship’s entire leading edge tapered to a razor’s width that he didn’t want to put to the test with his finger. The vessel looked powerful enough to slice through another ship and remain intact. Jen had told him that the Scintarelli, legendary master ship-builders, hated all other ship designs so much they ensured their own could reap them like wheat. Evidently the Scintarelli wanted their ships to live up to their names.
Blake patted him on the shoulder, and almost grinned. “Looks mean, Micah.”
Standing at the rear end of the ship, Micah wanted to touch its dark hull, but Ukrull had been very clear on that matter, and so he and the gathered crowd stood away from the ship.
There were no visible signs of thrusters, engines, or gun ports, though he knew it had formidable weapons. When asked, Jen had confirmed that it had no teleportation – only Kalarash ships and Ukrull’s Ice Pick had such capability, as well as Ngank surgeons whose physiology was extraordinary even by galactic standards. But there were two heavily-armed Rapier shuttle-craft in the aft sections, which they could use to descend to Savange. Also, the Scythe’s shields were coated with a specific form of strange matter, impervious to anti-matter and most other weapons; something Hellera had added, apparently.

Jen carved her way through the throng, making a bee-line towards him. “Touch the craft, Micah,” she said in a business-like fashion. He stared at her a moment then walked toward the closest rear-end of the ship, the crowd stilling as he raised his hand and then pressed his right palm to the metal. It was cool, but quickly warmed to his body temperature. He felt something, almost heard something calling as if from far away, like the distant shriek of an eagle. His resident blurred into action, numbers and strange alphabets whirring through his mind’s eye. Images from the recent past flashed by in subliminal fashion for several minutes, before settling on Louise’s face when he’d last seen her, Antonia and Sandy, and the location of Savange on the holomap Jen had shown them three weeks earlier. He withdrew his hand, understanding – it was an intelligent ship, now attuned to his way of thinking, his goals, even his values and ethics. It would anticipate his needs, and never disappoint.

That was the introduction, but in Eden's Endgame, the final book in the series, Micah and Shiva get to know each other. But Shiva, above all, is a warship, and relishes battle. Below is the section I sent to legendary scifi artist John Harris, who then conjured up the artwork for Shiva that became the front cover. What you see here is the first sketch, in pastels, and lower down, the final cover design from a painting in oils.

Shiva burst through the cloud layer, and raced down towards the purple savannah studded with green pines that led to Savange City. Micah found himself edging backwards into his chair as the tree-line rushed upwards.
“Er… Shiva?”
            At the last millisecond, Shiva pulled up and cleaved a furrow between fir trees, bolting forwards at an altitude of twenty metres and a speed of five hundred kilometres an hour. The aft screen showed pine trees ablaze.
            “Was that necessary?”
            “I needed to verify certain subsystems were functioning optimally.”
            “Sure,” Micah said, trying to breathe normally. 
To the East, the orbital tether continued to fall from orbit, coiling giant loops that pummelled into the ground, flattening trees, sparking fires, and shattering boulders into plumes of dust. The city was to the South, so the natural spin of the planet meant the tether fell away from the inhabitants; Micah presumed they’d planned it that way, just in case. 
            “Kat,” Micah said. “Are you in position?”
            “Almost,” she said, panting.
            He looked at the timer. Ninety seconds. “You have –”
            “I know!”
            He leant back, tried to slow his heart rate, which his resident was inconveniently displaying in the corner of his right eye. “Vashta, you have all their life signs and locations? 
A display next to Micah opened up: the terrain ahead, the city, and beneath, where all except Kat were. 
They flashed over a lake, and Shiva dipped lower, sending a fountain of water up into the sky behind them.
Micah cleared his throat. “We’re not going for subtlety then, Shiva?”
“They are tracking us Micah. In fact they are firing at us.”
“Let’s see what they’ve got against a Level Fifteen Mind-ship.”
The display blazed white, then red, then white again. Then the screen readjusted, filtering out the high energy plasma fire so he could see the tracer lines coming from two towers at the edge of the city. At first they reminded him of battleship towers, as if some giant vessel had been buried just below ground level. Each tower had an array of weapons turrets and cannons, almost all of which were firing simultaneously. The intensity of the energy bearing down on them was igniting everything between Shiva and the towers, creating a tunnel of fire. He wondered how they protected the city from the heat and backwash radiation, then he saw it; a shield, similar to the one around the orbital city.
“Take down their shield.”
A mauve circle spat out ahead of them, unperturbed by enemy beams, and grew in size, then narrowed into a cone that sped off and disappeared. A second later, the shield fizzed and died, and the enemy beams cut off; an intelligent protection system, since there was no point having a defence grid that killed most of Savange’s population.
Shiva slowed so fast that thunder roared around them, then she slewed lazily between the two towers. “Drop-zone,” Shiva said.
“Okay, bore the hole.” Micah turned to Vashta. “The Bridge is yours.” He ran to the aft of the ship, knowing that Shiva was tilting to a vertical position, from whence she would core a deep shaft.                 
“Kat, tell me you’re ready.”
Micah leapt aboard the sled as the aft door opened. Steam flushed in, then cleared, revealing a smoking hole, five metres in diameter. He engaged the sled engine and dropped out of Shiva, circling once, scanning the rim of the hole. “Kat, where the hell –”
She slammed into his back, and locked her arms around his waist, just as Shiva roared off to combat another weapons-tower.
“Go,” she said.
He let the sled drop like a stone, no lights, his resident projecting an image of the polished cylinder around him, and the floor a kilometre below to the fiftieth level; where Sandy, Antonia and the other captives were, and where Louise would be waiting. 

Shiva plays a pivotal role at the end of the book, in the climactic battle at Hell's End, but I don't want to give too much away about that.

By the way, a ship is always female. If you read the series, you find out why. 

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