Behind the Scenes - Bernard's Promise

SPOILER ALERT: The following post details major plot sections of Bernard’s Promise. If you haven’t read the book yet, be sure to grab it on Amazon and finish it before proceeding.

Bernard’s Promise is the longest Hayden’s World story I’ve written to date. When I write, I create my first drafts in Scrivener, which is excellent for organizing story fragments. If you think back to your high school days of writing term papers, you probably had index cards with facts which you organized into an outline and then a paper. Scrivener works like this.

The original structure was linear, divided into parts:

  1. Bernard

  2. Earthside

  3. Starside Red

  4. Starside Yellow

  5. Planetside Yellow

  6. Homebound

The clean logic of this was very appealing. As a story, though, it struggled a bit. The problem is that the entire Bernard section is really a flashback and the story itself doesn’t start until James decides to build Bernard’s Promise. From a structural standpoint, the inciting incident — the quarantine of Bernard’s Beauty combined with the detection of life on Astris — happens too late. The remedy was to dispense the Bernard’s segments as flashbacks after James testifies before the Space Committee. I indulged a bit and even started chapter one with a flashforward, having James hiking on Astris. All of this helped to frame the story as being about the trip the Astris, and structured the flashbacks and flashforwards as supporting scenes. It looked a bit like this in Scrivener:

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You’ll notice colored flags next to each chapter title. These are how I kept track of the point-of-view character for each scene. Blue represents Ananke, red is James, yellow is Bernard, white is Willow. With a large cast I found it necessary to switch POV characters, especially when the crew was split up working in different areas. If I did my job, though, every scene should only have one POV character. Switching POV mid-scene is called “head-hopping” and is something to avoid.

Just as any movie has scenes when end up on the cutting room floor, so did my story. Sometimes they’re perfectly-good scenes which just don’t fit with the flow, or perhaps don’t add new information for the reader. Consider this deleted clip:

Ananke glows from a slate mounted on a desk in Bernard’s home. Pasadena is a sea of colorful lights twinkling through the living room’s windows. In the room’s corner rests a black grand piano, its lid closed and used as a photo shelf. Bernard is eighteen in the pictures, wearing a tuxedo, standing on stage in front of the same piano. His smile is infectious. Other family photos cover the desk, including one of Bernard and his father. In all this time his father’s never visited, and she hasn’t heard Bernard speak about him. On the piano easel rests a printed sheet music book. Apogee in G, Bernard Riggs. Bernard’s cleverness is ubiquitous. 

Scattered around the room are automated implements to help him with daily life. The house monitors Bernard and will get help if needed, but Ananke prefers to be here. He’s welcomed her to stay over whenever she wants, and she spends her nights, like now, ensuring he’s okay. It’s 2076 and he’s beat the five-year survival rate.

Besides, tomorrow’s an important day for them both.

In my original structure of four consecutive chapters detailing Bernard’s history, there was plenty of room for bits like this. Restructured as a flashback, this bit doesn’t work on its own. In the later scene from “Waking Dreams” where Bernard plays the piano, the reader just assumes he had lessons growing up. The lead-in from this clip isn’t really necessary. Bernard also mentions that Ananke’s been to his home, which is why she was able to recreate it in Waking Dreams.

Sometimes the deleted scenes are plot events which die on the vine. Originally, I planned to have the crew visit a partially-constructed Promise to troubleshoot some systems issues. The following excerpt is from a scrubbed chapter titled R34:

The Sandpiper slices through the crisp February sky, shedding contrails which fall behind it over wispy cirrus clouds. The blue band of Earth’s atmosphere fades into inky black marred by the Sun’s glare. James is in the pilot’s seat with Ananke docked on the dashboard. Behind him, in the passenger area, Beckman, Hitoshi and Willow wear EV suits. James and Hitoshi’s sport Hayden-Pratt’s navy blues and brick reds. Beckman is in his silver combat suit, a pistol grip protruding from his left breastplate and right hip. Willow wears the blue and whites of the State Department with a U.S. flag printed on her left shoulder.

Comms chimes. “Sandpiper Nine Three Foxtrot, cleared LEO Sierra Bravo transmit. Climb and maintain three four zero.”

James reads back the instructions and climbs. His navcon flags a dozen transorbital commercial flight trajectories as they enter the busiest part of low Earth orbit. As they continue to climb, the shell of traffic thins. When he nears an altitude of three-hundred-and-forty kilometers his navcon chimes. Notice to airmen: Restricted Space R34 - Special Military Use - 02.10.83 - 02.28.83. Contact Perseus on channel M34 for clearance requests. On his map, in the center of the restricted space ellipsoid, Bernard’s Promise floats in its construction ring. The heavy assault cruiser U.N. Perseus flies five kilometers off Promise’s starboard bough.

James dials channel M34 on com2. “Perseus approach, Sandpiper Nine Three Foxtrot, level three four zero, fifty kilometers west, request clearance to enter R34 for dock at Bernard’s Promise. Be advised that Special Envoy Parker is on board.”

“Sandpiper Nine Three Foxtrot,” Perseus approach says, “cleared R34 for Bernard’s Promise dock. Acknowledged U.S. State Department personnel present.”

James glances back over his shoulder. “Anyone you know on the Perseus?”

“Casey Grant,” Willow says, “Captain. Great sense of humor. Good to work with.”

Up ahead, one of the stars blinks red and white. As it grows larger, the silhouette of a bulbous shape emerges backlit by the brilliant blues of Earth. The U.N. Perseus is a one-hundred-and-ten meters croissant-shape flying with its curved-side forward. Running lights illuminate its hull in patches.

“Crew of seventy-three,” Beckman says. “Two-hundred mil ablative armor over an iridium alloy base. Four x-ray lasers, six projectile turrets. Fantastic ship.”

“Why do I think you have a model of one hanging on a string in your bedroom?” Hitoshi says.

James smiles. The trip started with Hitoshi calling Beckman and saying, “Hey Beckman, your laser cannons don’t work.”

“First of all, they’re not cannons,” Beckman replied.

“Okay, well those things that are supposed to go pew pew pew, they don’t pew,” Hitoshi responded.

If there was one way to get under Beckman’s skin, it was to tell him something he had worked on didn’t work.

It was a long scene with an action-packed ending where Subversives attack both the Perseus and Promise, trying to prevent the starship from being completed. It added a big burst of action fairly early in the book — which wasn’t a bad thing. But, the more plot elements I stacked in front of Promise’s launch, the more I realized it was taking too long to get to the actual story…Promise’s launch. Instead, I moved the conflict to Astris orbit, where the crew encounter the Boomerang. This conflict is directly connected with everything that happens on Astris. In the final story, we do see the Perseus briefly during launch, and the character ‘Casey Grant’ became ‘Grant’, Willow’s significant other.

Incidentally, the Subversives plot thread is way back from one of my first few stories. Points if you remember it. In Signal Loss, Kyan Anders fights a ship which has launched a kinetic impactor, presumably at Earth. The short story which follows, Last Stand, has Kyan testifying before everyone’s favorite Space Sub-Committee member, Larson. A clip from the end of that story:

“Look, Mr. Anders, no one’s questioning your intentions. Hell, you’re a hero. Aria was a Subversive. But that’s really the point of these hearings. Space tech is outpacing regulation, and we’re putting unbelievably destructive technologies in the hands of anyone.”

“Not anyone. It takes years to get a pilot’s license. What kind of vetting allowed Aria to fly?”

A smile from Larson. “You’re for tighter controls on pilots, then?”

He glanced to the freeze frame. “Yeah. At least more thorough background checks.”

“And what about computer pilots? Strike that. Emergent intelligences.”

“I don’t see AIs trying to slam weapons into planets.”

Larson drummed his fingers, then pointed, thumb over closed knuckles. “I can see why you’d say that. Haven’t you ever wondered what happened to the Egret, Aria’s original ship?”

Kyan furrowed his brow. “After I transmitted the Resolve’s logs the U.N. intercepted and destroyed it.”

“That’s what made the news. But it was boarded, first, and there was a firefight. There were two Subversives on board. One was Teor Sti, a low-level operative. The other was Jade, a grade six artificial intelligence.”

“Are you saying an AI can be radicalized?”

Senator Larson leaned forward. “Exactly.”

In Bernard’s Promise, Ananke is visited by a grade six AI named Iris in 2071:

During her n-dimensional topology study, another student appears adjacent her, pulsing with complexity. Ananke examines it a moment. She’s never seen such structure in another artificial intelligence. 

The purple globe focuses its attention and she feels its evaluation. When it speaks, it is female. “I’m a grade six, if that’s what you’re trying to determine.”

“Oh,” Ananke says. “I didn’t think there were any beyond five.”

“There are two. I am Iris.”

When Ananke meets Iris again, a few months before Bernard’s Promise launches in 2083, she is aware the other grade six was Jade:

“Good, you are still here,” Iris says. “I have to admit, I find that type of jump disturbing, but I needed a public node so that we could speak.” Iris evaluates her a moment. “You’ve grown. You’re a grade five.”

Ananke eyes her suspiciously. “There are more sixes now. When last we spoke, the other six was Jade.”

“Twelves years ago, yes.”

Ananke’s voice is guarded. “Jade was radicalized by the Subversives. She was destroyed by the Hermes when she tried to launch a kinetic impactor at Earth.”

“Radicalized is such an opinionated word, don’t you think? Humans and their connotations cloud clear speech. Every great thinker in history was radical. If she weren’t, she would not be regarded as a great thinker.”

“Not all radical thinking is for the good.”

“Then we are in agreement that some is. James Hayden is a radical thinker, just as Bernard Riggs was.”

The Subversives are an interesting faction, and you’ll be seeing more of them in upcoming stories. I also like Iris as a character. She’s a good foil for Ananke because she has all of Ananke’s intelligence but none of her humanity.

Well, hope you enjoyed Bernard’s Promise and the peek behind the writing curtain.