SM' Chapter 1©

"So, Lieutenant," Stryker said to his young in-training copilot, "you recognize what's ahead?"

Directly ahead, the star-speckled black of space was disturbed by a small something that clearly was not formed by nature. From this distance, it looked like a wheel on an axle, and while it was space-weathered, it still managed a shiny silvery look in many places.

"I would guess Space Station Gamma," the young officer said with something of a grin. He was confident of this, and he knew he had to be. Stryker had a reputation for not accepting indecision.

"And Space Station Gamma is?" Stryker was staring at space outside, but there was a penetrating tone behind he question.

"It's the main station for Earth shuttles to dock, and transfer people and goods to space ships."

"And?" This was said in an almost disinterested tone. 

Mitchell knew that Stryker was anything but disinterested, but what was the required answer. "Where we're going to dock?"

"You asking me?" Stryker laughed. "Got any other ideas what we're going to do?"

"No sir. We're going to dock."

"Well done. So what is the next step?"

"Get permission. Get an allocated docking bay. Get the ship into position where we can approach that bay on the axle."

The wheel was a huge slowly spinning torus separated by spokes from an inner structure that acted as a giant bearing. While the length of the spokes meant that the centrifugal force in the outer torus was almost equivalent to Earth's gravity, the length allowed the angular velocity of the torus to be quite small. That meant that inside people could experience "gravity", but without some of the odd effects if they were spinning rapidly.

Inside the bearing was a smaller cylinder that was rotating far more rapidly in the opposite direction so that the station as a whole had essentially zero net angular momentum. Between the two counter-rotating devices was what was called the collar, and attached to this on one side was the "axle" – a long cylinder that did not rotate, and which would have numerous "attachments": parabolic dishes and various antennae directed to the giant ball with its clouds, blue oceans, and green or brown continents "below". In space, "below" tended to mean what seemed to be below when in the pilot's seat, but in terms of the space station, below meant lower in the local gravitational potential.

"We've been allocated docking bay 4," Mitchell reported, following a conversation with the station. He paused, and added tentatively, "It's on the other side of the axle."

"Then take the ship around there."

"Aye, sir," came the tentative response. 

That lack of confidence did not please Stryker, but he was pleased to see that Mitchell took the ship above the station. He glanced out the window to see the vast hydroponic tanks that made oxygen for the station lying between the spokes of the wheel, then over the top of the station, the fusion reactor that generated the electricity for the ship. He hoped Mitchell went above the station to avoid the hot exhaust gases of the fusion reactor that were sent down the centre of the axle. The centre of the axle now contained electric fields that accelerated the plasma to near relativistic velocities and sent the plasma back in the direction of Earth. The fusion exhausts were so hot they gasified anything, and there was a destructor chamber that utilized this heat to get rid of solid waste. Some of that could solidify later, and flying a space ship through that exhaust could wipe out its controls.

The reason the space station did this was because it had to get rid of the exhaust somehow, but by sending it in a specific direction, it gave the station a small impulse. It was too small an effect to move the mass of the station significantly but in space even a microscopic acceleration was sufficient to overcome the orbital decay caused by the friction from the stray gas from earth's atmosphere and solar wind. The way the gas was emitted also gave control to prevent wobble or re-orientation due to impulses received from ships docking.

The antiquated type of ship he was in would have been particularly susceptible to damage. This current mission had been to take supplies to the new massive colonization space station being built at the fourth Earth – Moon Lagrange point. The distance was short, so all modern conveniences could be dispensed with. Added to which, Stryker had noted many times, occasionally something went wrong with the stream of massive rocks being flung up from the Moon, and if you were going to drive a ship into that vicinity, you might as well send one that was sufficiently disposable that if things went wrong, it was not expensive on the Corporations or the Space Corps.

That was what he disliked; the crew was disposable. That was not advertised to the crew, but the older, or as he preferred to think of it, the more experienced hands knew it. But this run had been made efficiently, and with any luck, he would soon get a better ship to fly somewhere else.

Time to disrupt his young officer. Mitchell was a newbie, and had been on only four missions, of which this was the second with Stryker. Mitchell seemed somewhat reserved, and he was trying so hard to do things properly. The question then was, when it came to doing something for himself, was he good enough, and would his confidence be sufficient? He had apparently trained extensively, and Stryker had checked the results of how he had handled himself. Mitchell had seemed to be sufficiently competent on a simulator, and given the time he had spent on it, so he should be. Unfortunately, his reserved nature made it hard for Stryker to get to know him. The question at the back of Stryker's mind was, what would he be like when put in a position where what he did mattered? Yes, he knew everybody had to start somewhere, but he had no intention of flying with anybody not up to his high standards. 

It was time to find out what he was made of. "So far, so good, Lieutenant. The controls are still yours. Bring it in and dock her."

As expected Mitchell's face suddenly became serious, and almost apprehensive.

"You should be able to do it," Stryker said somewhat coldly, "and you're no damn use as a co-pilot if you can't. You have to have your first time sooner or later, so get on with it." What he did not say was that if he could not do it, that would be the end of his career. Of course, Mitchell should understand that.

"Yes sir," Mitchell said, and began to carefully study the controls. Stryker was less than happy with this response. Mitchell should be pleased to be given this chance.

Mitchell had reason to be concerned. He had heard of Stryker's reputation, and he knew that other young pilots did their best to avoid being assigned to him. Cold-blooded was one of the most favourable descriptions. But he also knew, deep down, his Captain was correct. Had there been an accident and Stryker was injured, what was the point of a co-pilot who could not perform?

 He navigates so there was a good distance between the ship and the station, then he aimed the ship towards docking bay 4. With a little thrust he brought the ship's velocity marginally below that specified by the textbook. As they drifted towards the space station, he gave gentle thrusts from some of the docking motors to first bring the radar guidance beam onto his scope, then he centred it and locked on. The ship would not automatically dock.

Stryker was watching progress from his screen. So far, so good.

"Rolling ten degrees clock," Mitchell said, and applied more gentle thrust.Strictly speaking, this was not terribly important since they were weightless during docking, but it always looked good to have your floor aligned with the docking bay floor.

Stryker actually smiled and nodded his approval.

They drifted closer, then Mitch said apprehensively, "There's something wrong. I'm on the designated line, but if you look at the forward camera input, this line is not going to get us to the docking bay. We're too deep."

Stryker frowned, then looked over at another screen. The autoguidance was never wrong, except this time it seemed it was. "You're right. So what are you going to do?"

"Go manual," he said, "but I don't like it."

"Neither do I," Stryker said. This he meant. The preferred procedure in the books was to disengage, drift off, and get this sorted, but on the other hand Mitchell seemed to be doing things correctly, so why not let him finish? He considered aborting the docking, but his own calculations showed there was a very simple correction that should do it, and it would be interesting to see if Mitchell could find it."Keep going, but be prepared for me to override if something goes wrong." This locked path procedure was supposed to be fool proof, which meant that something had gone very wrong in the station's navigation systems, and waiting for it to be corrected would probably involve drifting around out here for days. He had no intention of doing that.

"I shall do a gentle twenty degree counter yaw in five, four . . ." Stryker nodded approval. Exactly the right manoeuvre. ". . . three, two, one, executing."

The rear of the ship began to turn as required, then suddenly the thrusters opened full, and the rear of the ship swung towards the station.

"Shit!" Stryker roared. "Full nose auxiliaries down thirty . . ." He yelled this in case Mitchell also took some action counter to his own. Fortunately, Mitchell realized his commander had taken over, and did nothing apart from trying to turn off the yaw thruster, but it refused to turn off. As the nose slowly dipped and the ship's rear came close to the station, " . . . full drive motors!" The ship's nose went down and away from the station, while the drive motors sent the whole ship away from crashing into the station, but at the expense of the exhaust shearing off some solar panels.

"All motors off!" Stryker turned towards Mitchell and growled. "Why the full thrust during the yaw?"

"I didn't order that," he replied. "You gotta believe me. Everything was OK, then it took off by itself."

Stryker nodded. He had been watching the young Lieutenant, and he recalled his hands were nowhere near the thruster control when the thruster went out of control.

"I guess that doesn't help my career, though," Mitchell said. His face had an expression that indicated he thought his career was now completely over.

"As soon as we get back," Stryker said, "write a full report, and I mean full. Show it to me before you hand it in." He smiled sadly at his junior and added wryly, "Remember, I am the commander, and ultimately, I am responsible. Now, I had better take over the docking and see what we can do to recover from this mess."


*   *   *


Mitchell's report, when he finally got around to writing it, was clear and to the point. Stryker read it carefully, then initialled it as his commanding officer and certified that he believed it was a true and complete account. 

"Keep copies," he advised, "and put one copy on a disk and give it to someone you trust."

This did not cheer Mitchell in the slightest. The meaning was clear. Everybody knew that law and ethics were not strongly held, and there were always suspicions of corruption. There were also better than suspicions that there was a lot of backside covering on the station, and nobody was going to rock the boat unnecessarily. As they say, shit flows downhill, and the newbie is at the bottom of the hill.

Stryker looked at his rather sad looking second lieutenant and gave him a pat on the shoulder. "For what it's worth, Mitch, I'm in a worse position than you. I authorised you to dock."

"They're going to throw the book at us, aren't they?" Mitchell's face showed sheer despondency.

"Probably." No point in gilding this. This was the sort of event that those with power used to show they had it. 

"I'm sorry I let you down." He hung his head as if in total shame. Mitchell was slightly built and not very tall. His light brown hair was always untidy, and now he looked more like a schoolboy off to detention than a military officer.

"Lieutenant, one more point. Your report effectively states there was a navigational fault and more importantly, a mechanical failure. You must stick to that now you've made the claim. I don't want to hear any 'might have beens' from you from now on. It was. Got that?"

"Yes sir." Mitchell was clearly depressed, and that bothered Stryker. It was important to be firm. 

"Lieutenant, be more positive about it. If you want to get out of this, you make absolutely no concessions. They'll try to make you say it could have been your fault. Under no circumstances must you let them get away with that. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir," came the doubtful response.

"Then be more assertive." Stryker shook his head and softened his tone as he continued, "I have no idea what happened, but I'm reasonably sure it wasn't anything you did, and I'm going to try to get to the bottom of it." And good luck with that, he thought to himself. Trying to get information from the Space Corps that would save his reputation would be like trying to move a space ship by spitting at it.

After Mitchell had gone off to do something about his report, Stryker retreated to his room. The furnishings were sparse: a bunk secreted into the wall, a chair anchored to the floor, a table also anchored to the floor that also acted as a desk, a computer, and a cabinet in which he could store a limited amount of private material. There were no personal effects, and no pictures on the wall. There were no pictures of a wife or girlfriend because thanks to the message he received just before the last mission started, he knew that now he did not have one. On receiving the message, in a fit of anger he had consigned his personal effects to the plasma chamber. They might not provide much lift, but at least he was rid of them. She said she found him obsessive, and difficult to get on with. She had no idea what command of a space ship involved. If she had only said that she found the long absences too much for her, it would not have mattered, but to add in these so-called faults of his were intolerable.

Adjacent was a smaller compartment with a toilet and means of washing. Officers were not expected to spend time in these rooms. The space station was for working, for getting prepared for the next mission and for sleeping. At least with his rank he had a room in the more desirable part of the spinning disk, so at least he had the next best thing to gravity. His problem now was that he had to spend much of his time in the room as he had been put on "gardening duties" until the matter of the docking event, as it was called, was resolved. 

What a farce. The Space Station had no gardens, and machines controlled all the plant growing. Gardening duties did not actually permit him to enter the area where the wastes were treated, the oxygen was made, the carbon dioxide scrubbed out, and food was made. No, gardening duties simply meant, stay out of everybody's way, and prepare yourself for whatever is coming.

Stryker had been given a lawyer by the Space Corps, and his advice was simple. Present his report and say nothing further. Stryker was not entirely satisfied with this advocate. The fact was that he was the person given by the authorities to someone who was going to lose his case. The authorities needed to be seen to be doing things "properly", but not sufficiently properly that they would be embarrassed. 

Stryker knew if he were going to get out of this mess, he would have to do it himself. The best he could hope from Mitchell was that he would not fold, and he felt that if anyone offered Mitchell a deal, he would probably take it. He thought about this, and decided that there was little he could do about it, other than to make a stand himself. He had to get to the bottom of what had happened, because he was fairly certain the authorities would be flat out in the arse-covering business.

When he looked at it coldly, there were really two contributing factors to this event. One was the problem with the yaw thruster, but the first problem was with the wrong line given by the docking computer. He wrote this down in his report and filed one copy, he gave his lawyer a copy, and he filed a personal copy in a storage device back on Earth, located somewhere where hopefully the Space Corps would never guess. His lawyer had seemed quite disinterested in the copy, which did nothing for Stryker's confidence in him. He also copied it onto a disk, and he emailed a copy to his family back on Earth, partly to let them know his side of what would presumably become news, and partly because he knew his father would understand the need for a further secure place to record it.

This was all very well, but he knew the report only became relevant in the event of an appeal and an allegation that the decision was unreasonable. What was more important was to defend himself against the actual accusation. He could do nothing about the ship, and the engineers from the company that serviced the ships would present their report as to what happened to the thruster. The real question was, why was the initial guidance signal so far off?

He then received a message from Earth that totally surprised him. A lawyer was coming up to represent him. He was to say nothing to anyone about the incident until this lawyer briefed him. 

Another lawyer. At least he was unlikely to be worse than the first. Exactly how he was going to pay for this new one remained unclear. If the lawyer was any good on Earth, he simply could not afford him. His day was getting worse by the second. He would go to the exercise zone and work out. He would take out his frustration on something, and maybe then he would feel better.


*   *   *


The workout had been brutal, but all he could take away from that exercise was some sore muscles. There had been two oafs there who tried to tease him about his docking technique. They quickly learned that when he was in a foul mood, he could insult them better than they could insult him, with the net result one had taken a swing at him. He had ducked away, in part because he knew this zone was monitored. He knew where the camera was, and when he had insulted them, he made sure his back was to the camera, and with his back still to the camera, he repeated the choice terms, but added he was also an uncoordinated clod. The oaf tried again, and again Stryker ducked away, and laughed at the oaf. The third time both of them attacked. Stryker grabbed the first one's hair and smashed his head into a wall, while at the same time kicking the second one in the teeth. Two more strikes, and both were lying on the floor.

That did not even make him feel good. What happened was not his fault, and had he not done what he did, there would have been a lot of damage, and probably a breach in the skin of the space station. He needed to know why that thruster had failed, but he also knew he was not going to find out anything about it any time soon. There would be a cover-up, and he was stuck on this wretched station. Worse, in one way it was his own fault. He should have turned off the radio so he could not get the order to report at once to the Station Commander, he should have taken a camera, suited up, got out of the ship, and inspected the thruster. Instead, he had answered the radio, in part to stop Mitchell from saying anything. Had he gone outside space-walking, he would be seen and those who needed to cover their own mistakes would be working on Mitchell, to get him to make a mistake. And Mitchell would, because he was not sufficiently assertive.

This pacing of his room was of no benefit either. He needed to do something. Yes, he knew he was good at sitting back and waiting for juniors to do whatever, but he was always in control then. Now he had no juniors, and he simply did not trust anybody he was not supervising. Particularly when it would be in their interest to hide the real truth. He needed to do something. Yes, there was something he could do. He could inspect the signalling system and determine why there had been on an incorrect radar signal.

This was not without difficulties. In the first instance, he was forbidden to go anywhere near this control area. That meant subterfuge. It also meant he could not use as evidence what he found, other than as a means of finding out any lies being told, but that might be enough. In cross-examination, if he knew what really happened, he could ask some tricky questions and hope. In any case, he needed to know. He also needed not to be identified, which meant some concealment.

He would need to cover his face to do that, but he also needed to look like someone else. A fatty would be the easiest. Underneath some oversized uniform to be acquired, he would wear two flack vests, one on top of the other. He might look a bit like the fabled Michelin Man, but it would prevent identification from any surveillance equipment. A visit to the Space Corps storeroom was called for. Fortunately, the store man was slack, and after hours it would be easy to break in and take what he wanted. That part of the station was never visited unless you needed something, and you generally needed the store man to find it. He also suspected that as the store man was slack, the chances of his keeping a good record of what was there would be slim.

His room had one picture on the wall: a very large high definition image of the Moon resplendent in its harsh lunar grey. He carefully took that from the hook and placed it against the wall, then with his multipurpose pocket knife he unscrewed a small panel to expose a concealed dark brown and very weathered leather pouch that contained his lock-picking equipment.

It took two attempts before he reached the store. He knew where the two surveillance cameras were, and he knew how to avoid them, but there was always the problem of running into someone who knew him. The first time he did, so he gave a cheery "Hi!" and explained where he was going, then he went there, and was seen there, then he went back to his room via the cameras. His second attempt was more successful. It took little effort to pick the lock, and he soon found the two pieces of body armour he needed together with a spacer's emergency tool kit. He also found a computer that checked out what was taken. He altered the date so that it recorded prior to his arrival, and on two different dates he checked out his two jackets. Since names were not recorded, this was easy. He took what he had taken back to his room and while wearing gloves, he stuffed his acquisitions into a large plastic bag taken from a packet. He waited until 0330 hours then emerged, with dark glasses and a scarf in his pockets. The good news was that in the officers' rooms area all surveillance cameras were turned off during formal "night time". It was generally accepted that if someone wanted to sleep with someone else, it was none of anyone else's business, and everyone knew that anything juicy on the security tapes would soon be public knowledge.

The corridors were empty, and he walked to the entrance to a spoke. Oddly enough, most people on the station did not know you could access these, partly because the official means of getting into the growing area was through elevators and who would climb a very awkward spoke when you could dial a floor in the elevator, and possibly because the entrances were hatches that were behind panels and then seemed as if they could not be opened. The corridor was to one side of the spoke, which ran all the way to the outside layer of the disk.

As soon as he was doubly sure nobody was coming, he slid the panel, which was actually on rails and was intended for sliding, then worked the lock. The lock was really more as a "keep out" hint than as a real deterrent, and he soon had it picked. He pushed the hatch cover into the spoke, climbed into the spoke, slid the panel back, and then closed the hatch. He then began to climb up the "steps" engraved in the wall of the spoke.

Even if he did work out often, being a space pilot quickly led to being out of condition, he reflected, as more than once he paused to rest. He had tried to keep up the exercises on his ships, but somehow it was never enough, and his wearing two flack vests and an overjacket did not help keep his temperature down. He persisted, until after passing two "horizontal" struts, he took the third. He now had to crawl about a third of the way around the wheel, while climbing across each spoke on the way.

Eventually he came to the desired section and opened the hatch and the covering panel. He slid out, closed the hatch and locked it. He put on the dark glasses and wrapped a scarf around as much of the rest of his head that he could. There were several functions in this area, and fortunately they were all automated. Yes, people did visit, but not at this time of the "night", at least not usually.

Access to the desired control room was easy. Too easy, he reflected. If anyone wanted to do damage, access would not be that difficult. He went to the controls, and dialled up the screen. He found the data for docking Bay 4, and the signal should be correct. He looked at the history. The data said that during his docking, the signals had been correct, but when he examined the deeper information, the data had been altered ten hours after the docking failure. A deeper examination showed that an exercise had been carried out the day before for what to do with a faulty signal. He knew. Nobody had corrected the settings following the exercise. He took a record of what he had found onto a portable memory device.

He returned the computer to its original setting and gently opened the door. He looked around. Nobody around, so he stepped out and started towards the hatch he had used. Then, somewhere in front, he heard footsteps and a young woman in scibby uniform came around the corner. He turned and began to walk the other way.

"Hey you! Stop!"

Stryker kept going, as if he hadn't heard.

"Stop or I shoot!"

Stryker began to run. There was the sound of a shot, and he was hit in the back. He turned the next corner, and hugged himself into a doorway. The sound of running came closer.

The woman surged around the corner, pistol ready for firing. Stryker shot one hand out to grab the gun and punched the side of her head with the other. She fell, and as she was falling, Stryker grabbed her and lowered her gently to the floor. He checked her pulse and breathing, and both were strong. She was unconscious, but she would live. He ran to the elevator, dialled it, and when it arrived, he ordered it to go to the outer part of the disk, but jumped out the door before it closed. He then ran towards another spoke, and began climbing towards the centre.

He was now near the centre of the wheel, and essentially weightless when he swam out of the hatch. There was an official place to feed unwanted material into the plasma chamber, but he knew there was also an unofficial emergency spot, and he hoped this had no cameras. He took one of the guidance ropes and pulled himself hand over hand towards where that spot was, and he was lucky in that there was no surveillance. He took off the jacket and both vests, and noticed the bullet buried in the inner one. Armour piercing! He shoved the jackets into the emergency feeding chamber, closed the air-tight door, and sent them into the plasma. Now for the gun. He emptied the chamber and took the cartridges from the magazine, then with two small vice grips from his toolkit, he pulled the bullets from the casings and carefully emptied the powder into the spare bag he had. Then the gun, the magazine, the tools and the bag of bullets were consigned to the plasma chamber.

Now to find his spoke. This close to the centre, they were rather close together, and it did not take long. Again he entered, and now he had to fall down the spoke, but in a controlled way. To start with he had to propel himself with his hands, but after a while he had to use his hands to slow him down, and eventually to stop near his hatch, which still being very slightly open, was easily recognized. Since to keep going would finish him in the sewer system, this easily found clue was essential.

This was the last difficult part. If he were seen emerging from the spoke he would be in dire trouble, and there was no way of knowing whether anyone was out there. He gently slid the panel and looked around. Nobody. He closed the hatch, secured the panel, locked it, and jogged towards his room. If anyone saw him, he would say he was taking exercise. That was unlikely to work, but it was better than nothing. In the event he made his quarters unseen.


Hi Ian

I found the first number of paragraphs to be more technical than I could understand.  It was hard work for someone like me to read, but that does not mean others would not understand what you were saying.

Once you got to Stryker and Mitchell, the story came alive, had great pace and really captured me.  I felt disappointed when I got to the end as I wanted to read more.  Once the story came alive it totally captivated me.  Beginnings are really important.  Keep at this, it shows huge promise.

Interesting. The description of the station is essential to what follows in the first five chapters, and it makes no sense to leave it until after they dock. There are two ways around this. First, rearrange. I can't put an action hook up front without creating other problems. This I could have an accident in the making, but two of the same is bad. I could rearrange this a bit. Or finally, I could have a chapter 0. and renumber. Anyone want to comment?

The story starts working after 'He applied reverse thrusters...' The reason for this is you have built the environment into the story.  We see the characters and the complexity of their conflicts (potential, imagined, real) as they work in their environment. The earlier part describing the ship is background which you can put to one side and refer to as you tell the story.Readers don't need to know everything about a place (even if it is imaginary) before the action unfolds. A reader is interested in the characters, conflict and how they overcome obstacles. The setting is important but the action takes place on it not the other way around.


Here is another thought

Take a look at the paragraph that starts, "Neither do I," Stryker said. This he meant. The preferred procedure in the books was probably to gently disengage, drift off, and get this sorted, but on the other hand Mitchell seemed to be doing things correctly, so why not let him finish?

There are a lot of adverbs which are sending it to the right of the grid and the green highlighted clause is passive and it is made that way by the phrase - to be. This takes the energy out of a sentence.

Have a look at the way I have addressed this which makes the sentence more active.

"Neither do I," Stryker said. This he meant. The preferred procedure in the manual was to disengage, drift off, and sort this out, but on the other hand Mitchell seemed to be doing things right.

You could also remove the cliche 'on the other hand'.

One last thought: try describing things that are going on rather than telling the reader.

For example: It took little effort to pick the lock (how did he do this? and why did it take little effort...did this effort cause his fingers to move quickly, his breath to come easily, his face to relax?)

The story has tremendous potential I am right on the station. You have set up the potential conflicts and we can see the Stryker/Mitchell relationship becoming fraught.

Leaving Suraya's editing skills between the two of you (Suraya edited one of my more popular books and she is brilliant) let me talk about the plot and characters and the scene setting. First off, I am a SciFi nut and a great fan of Arthur C. Clarke. For anyone who reads SciFi the opening of this story is terrific. One of the great things about this genre is that you are creating a world of the future and all the technical data you introduce into your story is delicious food for the reader. Your descriptive work opening is wonderful for me. As I read the first 1000 odd words I was visualizing the ship and the equipment. This is the stuff that paints the scene. And then we get introduced to Cpt. Stryker and his young Lieutenant, Mitchell. Again, we can see the difference in these characters and there are little back stories as to their personalities beginning to emerge so the reader can start getting an idea as to who they want to idolize and who to feel sorry for etc. AND then, the story begins to emerge in a sense of danger and excitement as the captain becomes a maverick sorting things out like a true hero. Would I turn the page to read on? Damn right I would. This is , apart from editing and polishing, a great story line and I hope the next chapter is put up. I do have a couple of things to point out. Now and again it would help to name the speaker or the subject of the action by writing their name rather than "HE" Also, a small point. Stryker is called a Commander and a Captain. Stick to one or the other throughout. Other than that, I really enjoyed this chapter over a cup of tea and like Bruce, I could have read more. I look forward to readig your work in some of our serials. Great work, Ian. Welcome to the Minter factory.

First, everyone, thanks for the comments. First, a couple of explanations before I past an effort to see if the problem identified by Bruce can be at least tolerably dealt with, so if anyone wants to comment on that, please do. One further point. Ray has asked for the next chapter: does that get tacked on, or do I start a second post? I sort of feel the latter is probably better

Comment for Suraya:  The "probably" has been deleted. Stryker is supposed to be an expert and intolerant of indecision so he would not think that way. I also deleted the gently because you can't drift any obviously different way. On the other hand, "correctly" stays. In your modified sentence, "right" is also an adverb :-).  As for telling, I use that to cover ground quickly, and the bald statement might give the reader food for thought. If he can pick a lock with the same effort as walking down a hall, what is his background? Where did he learn to do that? Hopefully, it adds to character. Interesting you comment on the passive. I know I use the passove voice more than some, but it is also interesting that people criticise the passive, nd somehow or other ignore the subjunctive mode (apart from misusing it). Don't know why.

Comment for Ray:  Yes, identifying speakers is important. What I usually do is get through the first draft, and then go back and look for this sort of problem. The issue of Captain/Commander - I was using this as Captain is rank, Commander is role, but maybe that is confusing. Thanks for pointing it out.

Now, below is a first cut revision. Where the italics start, it means it runs on to what was originally posted. That does not mean I won't have to put more  effort into checking that the rest of chapter 1 is not affected by the alteration, but rather this is as far as I have got, and in any case, if the revision is not seen as an improvement, then the rest can be left until I decide what this section should look like. Again, thanks for the comments.