Monday, March 4, 2013

20 Years With A Plutonium Rock Goddess

For the last four days I've been plugging away at Hair of the Throug That Bit Me, writing 1-3 scenes a day (mostly rewriting, piecing together, or fleshing out partial scenes and scene ideas).  As of now I'm only a few scenes from the end, and I have a 17,500 word story with multiple plot lines.  It's a little confusing, and I don't really know if it all hangs together or if I missed something major, but it seems like it improves each time I work on it.

Way back when, my idea for this story was to have Vashti arrive in Styx aboard a smuggler ship that she'd left Hautakivi on, to attempt to join up with the band Bitted Throug, and then to have to leave Styx in a hurry by jumping aboard the pirate ship Iktome.  My first idea was to have her meet up with her former manager Lo-Pan Chau, and wind up being accused of his murder -- which he had actually faked.  I don't remember why him faking his own murder was supposed to make any sense; I long since abandoned that idea and rewrote large portions of the story to fit another plot that I hope makes more sense.

But to show how far back the roots of this story go... Tai-Pan issue 8 was published in 1995.  This was our first issue after Whitney had dropped out of the project, and Gene had become our new editor/publisher.  It was also the publication of my first actual Vashti story, Reputation.  I remember that when I was writing this story I'd published it "online" so to speak on G.E.'s GEnie bulletin board system, on the Beastie Board section.  (I still have my Beastie Board badge somewhere!)  I especially remember that one person in particular really disliked the story -- you always remember criticism, I guess.  But this was back in the days before many people had a way to connect to the internet at large, or even before there was such a thing as an internet at large (it was more of an internet at small, hehe).

Some of my friends posted to the Beastie Board too, and later a bunch of us were on Prodigy, another bulletin board system.  I was never on AOL, by the time I left Prodigy I wanted to connect to the internet, forget all of that bulletin board stuff!

But somewhere along the line I was already working on my first couple of Vashti stories, and Whitney decided to start up a group story on either GEnie or Prodigy (although I think it was on Prodigy).  Her opening lines were:

Third Science Fiction and Fant
Category 39,  Topic 9
Message 1         Sun Feb 06, 1994
W.WARE [SATIN]               at 17:12 EST

Hello, and welcome to Fat Wu's Dim Sum and Chi Emporium.  Fat Wu's is a spacer's establishment in the lawless pirate system of Styx.  Anthropormorphic Terran species, humans, and aliens of all professions and temperments visit the Emporium, providing us mundane folk with lots of story‑ telling opportunities!
This topic is intended for writers involved in the Tai‑Pan Project, an anthropomorphic space‑opera shared‑world universe.  However, the topic is open to all interested readers and writers ‑‑ please feel free to join in!  We'd love to have you!  We only request that you please drop by the "Wu's Spoilers" discussion topic for introductions and character approvals before posting new material.

I can't recall if Fat Wu's Dim Sum and Chi Emporium has actually appeared in any published Tai-Pan stories, and we're past issue 50 now.  But the first thing I posted in Whitney's new online round-robin story was this (and for the record, mine was the second scene written after Whitney's and Chuck wrote after me.  I still have this file, heh):

Third Science Fiction and Fant
Category 39,  Topic 9
Message 3         Thu Feb 10, 1994
M.DAVIS2 [Miko/Eli!]         at 02:35 EST
The shuttle door slid shut, and Captain Tallulah Taga grabed one of the handrails as the transport began to move.  Her eyes wandered over the holo‑advertisements above the windows near the ceiling, then she studied the people who had entered with her.  Each wore a black patch with a silver snowflake embossed in the center.  It was her design, her patch for the ship she was captain of, the Winter's Dance.
Only three of her crew had accompanied her to this part of the station.  There was Sully, in the back, watching over everything as was his way. Sully the samurai, she sometimes called him, for the way he followed her faithfully.  There was the cotton‑top tamarin, Minta, her comps specialist, if you could call him that. He was more of a tinkerer than an expert, and a clever card player.  She reminded herself to avoid any card games with him.
Then there was Vashti.  Tallulah sighed, and focused on the large, black and tawny‑yellow wolverine, who was dressed in flashing silver and violet with layered jewelry, which did nothing to hide the basic viscious looks of her kind.  The vorine stared back with penetrating eyes.
"I've been Captain and Cargo Master of the Winter's Dance for more than a decade," Tallulah said evenly.  "I don't need you to mess up my deals for me."
The wolverine crossed her arms and nodded.  "Clearly, you're good at messing them up by yourself," she said, her lips curling.
"I had everything under control."
"You were conducting the deal in standard..."
"I speak standard," the Captain snapped.  "Everyone speaks standard. That stupid lizard spoke standard well enough didn't he?"
"He's from Alioth," the wolverine replied with a great show of patience.  "He will give better deals to those that bargain in his native tongue."
"And you speak Aliothian, do you?"
"A little."
"Look," Tallulah said, "I got a good deal, didn't I?  Fair enough; I'm used to being descriminated against because I'm human."
"It's not because..."
"MAYBE... just maybe, you could have worked out a better deal.  You furs cut each other deals, I know that.  I've had to deal with that."
"But he's not even..."
"Listen to me, Vashti Ahandra!  I had to do this myself before you joined, and I'll have to do it myself after you leave.  So I can't have you making deals behind my back or talking to my clients in languages I don't understand.  How do you think that makes me look?  It makes me look weak, is what.  Am I right?"
"I was just trying to help," the wolverine, Vashti, said.
The doors slid open behind the Captain as the transport came to a stop.  "Just keep your opinions to yourself, vorine, and do what I pay you for," the human muttered before turning to leave.  "Sul?"
A towering bear stepped from the rear of the transport.  "Coming, Tallie‑San," he rumbled, following her out.

**  **  **

"I could have saved her a lot of money," Vashti growled.  She and Minta were walking along one of the concourses of Harper's station, taking in the sights.  "I can't believe she's that dense.  Did you hear that whole 'I'm human, I'm descriminated against by furs' thing?  What's with her anyway?"
Minta shrugged and ran a paw through his white mop of hair.  "She's like that, yes?  She is always like that.  It's her money, yes?  Let her throw it away if she wants.  She is happier that way.  Tonight she will get drunk and forget everything."
"It's our jobs on the line if she runs into the red," Vashti replied. "I'd rather keep my job at the present."
"You want to?" the tamarin asked.  "What for?  You are smart vorine, yes?  You even famous, maybe.  You don't need this good‑for‑nothing job.  You can do many other things.  Me, I will not find Captains beating each other over the chance to hire me, if the Winter's Dance fails.  I should be worried. But if I am not worried, why are you worried?"
Vashti grinned.  "Because, Minta, I am smart vorine, yes?"
"You imitate me!" the tamarin laughed.  "You are very funny for a too‑ tall fierce fur with face full of teeth!  Ha!  Look!  I see gambling, and where gambling is, there is Minta!"
The tamarin broke free from Vashti's company and scampered ahead what was clearly a casino entrance.  In many‑colored neon‑bright lights above the entrance were the words "Fat Wu's Casino".  Vashti shrugged and followed her crewmate inside.

Almost none of this exists in my current story, but the basic characters and situations are still there.  So I guess I've been working on this particular story for almost 20 years -- and the last time I seriously worked on it was about 2007 I think.  Pretty sad, really.  But I'll have a finished version of the story within a week or two, I'm fairly certain!

Yet a few lines of Vashti's and Minta's dialog from above still exists in this scene in my current story:

  Minta, Klause and Vashti met up with Art and Aleks at a place called Fat Wu's Dim Sum and Chi Emporium.  Away from the grimy docking bays, the interior of Harper's Station was awash in neon lights and flashing signs, all enticing space-weary travellers to spend their hard-earned pay.  Fat Wu's was the premier locale... not just a restaurant, but a complex series of interconnected restaurants, lounges, and casinos serving every kind of entertainment one could want.  They catered to all geneteched and uplifted Terran species, humans, and all known aliens.
Soon the five were seated at a table sharing drinks and playing a complicated card game that Minta had introduced.  It involved gambling -- everything Minta did involved gambling -- and Vashti, despite having just been paid, had little extra money to spend.  But she was in a foul mood and needed a distraction.
It wasn't working.
"I could have saved her a lot of money," Vashti growled..  "I can't believe she's that dense."
"You still talking about that?" Minta asked.  He paused to deal the cards.
"Yeah," Vashti said.  "Those were priceless relics from Hautakivi.  You can't find them anywhere.  She stole them, of course.  I risked my life to help her get them off that planet!  And then she screws up the resale, all because she can't trust me to negotiate in a language she doesn't know."
Art's eyes bugged out.  "That's what was in those containers?  We traded guns for junky art shit?"
"No!"  Minta growled.  "This earlier deal, not involve you!"
"It just bugs me," Vashti continued.  "And did you hear that whole 'I'm human, I'm descriminated against by furs' thing?  As if humans and other terrans are somehow any different on a genetic level!  What's with her anyway?"
Minta shrugged and ran a paw through his white mop of hair.  "She like that, yes?  Always she is like that.  Is her money, yes?  Let her throw it away if she wants.  She happier that way.  Tonight she get drunk and forget everything."
"But it's our jobs on the line if she runs into the red," Vashti replied.
"What you care?  You smart vorine, yes?  You even famous, maybe.  You not need good-for-nothing job.  You can do many things.  Me and Klause, we not find Captains beating each other to hire us, if Winter's Dance fails.  We should worry, maybe.  But if we not worry, why you worry?"
Vashti knew that what Minta said was true.  As the ship's comps specialist, Minta was more of a tinkerer than an expert, with no certification and little to reccomend him to a new employer.  His situation was not quite as dire as that of Klause, but it would be a hard search to find a new job if Minta were cut loose from the Winter's Dance.
"All we need to do is get rid of her," Klause said darkly.  "If she were gone, Sully would be Captain.  I could live with that."
Vashti raised an eyebrow.  "Is that true?  Sully's in line to get the ship?"
Minta and Klause both nodded.  Minta paused to lay down his cards in a complicated pattern on the table.  He sat back, eyeing them proudly.  "Ha!  You see?  Is triple finooki!  I win!"
Art tossed his cards onto the table in disgust.  "Who's idea was it to play this stupid game anyway?" He grumbled.  "We switch to poker now or I'm out."
"Is poker then," Minta said.  "I win whatever we play.  I even let you deal!"

I only realized tonight that I didn't have a full name for Sully the first mate of the Winter's Dance.  I knew a lot about him by this point, but I didn't know his actual name, just his nickname.  In true fashion I'd never created character information sheets for any of these characters.  So I did that today -- that is, I created a CIS file for each of the characters in the story.  I haven't really filled most of them out, but I know what Sully's full name is now.

I also took a look at Bitch, which tells the story of how Vashti met these people and joined the Winter's Dance and got off of Huatakivi.  It doesn't have any complete scenes but most of the story is there.  The last time I worked on it, I rewrote it to be from Sully's point of view, which I think was the right decision.  And it includes a story of a Serengeti samurai that Sully admires very much (I admit, my fondness for Usagi Yojimbo shows very much in this scene), and a short bit of conversation at the end of the story between Vashti and Sully that comments on the samurai legend and directly foreshadows something that happens in Hair of the Throug That Bit Me.  And which I'd completely forgotten, of course.  Rereading that helped me with one of the scenes I worked on today.

Another thing in Bitch that I'd forgotten:  Vashti mentions the name of the drummer in her previous band Bedlam Circuit.  Here I was thinking of doing a story in which her old band reunited, and I didn't remember that I'd every named any of the other members.  Heh.

As for Whitney's original Fat Wu's story, it's hard to say where it might have led.  The file that I have goes to April, with a post from Whitney on April 6th, 1994.  Within a few months she'd given up on the Tai-Pan project altogether, and I eventually began to salvage what I'd written in the Fat Wu's thread for my own self-contained story.

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