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Cheryl Arko

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  1. Author: Cheryl A. Arko Title: Touch of the Elegrian Genre: Science Fiction, complete at 89,000 words Comps: TOUCH OF THE ELEGRIAN is set on a future human colony world and would appeal to fans of Lois McMaster Bujold. Told from the point of view of a near-human alien like Julie Czerneda’s Sira di Sarc in her CLAN CHRONICLES, the story features a protagonist who manipulates technology using mental abilities similar to those wielded by the main character in Gerald Brandt's THREADER ORIGINS. The backdrop to the action shows the clash between opposing cultures reminiscent of ALIEN NATION. Hook Line: In the aftermath of a First Contact gone terribly wrong, a telepathic alien walks a narrow line between opposing civilizations and faces a choice between his conscience and allegiance to home when one of his own people sabotages the human colony's medical system. Pitch: Rys is a telepathic Elegrian, outwardly human, who uses his mind-body bond to work with near-sentient living data. Katie Kessler is a brilliant human technical expert with a legitimate grudge against aliens. When rogue intelligent data disrupts the medical system on Earth’s foundation colony on Loridan, putting the colony’s children in mortal danger, Rys is desperate to fix it. Stunned when he discovers an Elegrian—one of his own people—sabotaged the system, he forms an uneasy alliance with Katie. He hides a secret from her—his father killed the human envoy at the violent First Contact between Elegrians and humans, creating lasting hostility between the peoples. When traditional methods fail, Rys turns to his Elegrian psychic skills—which are banned on Loridan. Caught, arrested, prevented from completing the job, he escapes with Katie. In a moment of weakness, he lets his secret slip out. He’s on the run. Fighting to regain Katie’s trust. Only a last-ditch effort to form a mind link with Katie, breaking the most sacred tenet of the Elegrian-Human treaty, can save the children. Will she let him? And can he turn against his own people to follow his conscience—and redeem his past? Prose Sample: Purple bruises mottled the little girl’s face. A red line ran a jagged path from her delicate nose to her dry lips. Her eyes shimmered, but she made no sound. The white hospital sheet quivered with her small body’s trembling. Rys pulled up short in the doorway, every muscle abruptly gone rigid. A trick of his mind superimposed the image of another young innocent over the tableau before him. Memory tainted the scene with a dark stain. Another time, another planet… He straightened his uniform jacket and crossed the threshold. “Zhaaaaa... ” He crooned in the ancient language of his own people. It didn’t matter that the child was human, and he was not. He looked human enough for the young one, and the melody of solace was universal. He sensed the scarcest lightening of her spirit. Hasty steps brought him to the girl’s bedside. Hidden under the covers, the bio-bed’s myriad of sensors recorded enough infinitesimal measurements to enable Loridan’s treatment system to cure nearly any affliction. Or would have, if the complex network had not been broken. He crouched, pulled a sterile wipe from the dispenser and gently cleaned the blood from the child’s face. “There. Better?” He pronounced the words carefully. The harder he tried, the more the liquid trill of his accent exaggerated. Could she understand him? “Are you a doctor?” The small voice was faint, but her plea pinged loud and clear on his psychic senses. “No, shimwa.” He searched his memory for the translation. “Little one.” He softened his expression. “I’m here to make repairs. So you can get better.” He reached a finger to dab the wetness from her cheeks. She stared at his uniform sleeve. At the insignia displayed prominently along with those of rank and division. “It’s all right, shimwa. I can help.” She recoiled. He pulled his hand back. He had no words in any language to relieve this fear. A sob shook her little form. “I’m sorry.” He stood and retreated a step. The door snicked. “Katie!” The child’s voice filled the small room. “Oh, honey, don’t cry.” An athletic young woman dashed by to stoop low beside the bed. She grasped the little girl’s hands. “It won’t be much longer. The Patrol’s tech unit has sent someone to help.” Rys cleared his throat. “That would be me.” The woman twisted around and rose. Tendrils of swirling auburn hair glinted chestnut. Her brilliant green eyes reminded him of a mother rakktu. Especially the feline protectiveness. “Who are you?” Her gaze dropped to his sleeve. She inhaled sharply. He stopped himself from fingering the symbol stitched there. Just a bit of red thread—but it marked him as an Elegrian. An outsider. An alien. He’d better introduce himself. “Senior Intelligent Data Tech Rys—” “You’re the guru from the Patrol?” Each word tinkled with ice. “Yessss—” His accent made a hiss of his reply. Her eyes challenged him. “I’m Katie Kessler. Lead system designer. You’ll be working for me.” Bio: The notion of living data springs from my professional experience as a Senior Data Scientist, which includes several years of work in medical research. I’ve co-authored three peer-reviewed papers published in medical journals. I’m also a seasoned dog trainer/competitor, and I’ve been a guest columnist in the American Kennel Club Gazette. My dog training hobby has given me an appreciation of communicating and bonding with another species. Thank you for considering this project.
  2. FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. Alien telepath Erys must use his inherent psychic skills to restore the living data protein in the sabotaged medical system on Loridan, Earth’s foundation colony, before more human children die from untreated Donner's Disease. SECOND ASSIGNMENT: in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them. When two cultures clash, prejudice and suspicion threaten them both. Tares is leader of the Elegrian Elders, the ruling body on Erys’ home world. Tares, a powerful telepath and strategist, hammered out the Treaty of Ackerson between Elegria and the human Alliance to forestall war after the disastrous First Contact on Loridan. Tares took ten-year-old Erys under his wing and raised him after the assassination of Erys’ father, blamed for the harsh terms of the Treaty because he killed a human envoy at First Contact. Tares protected, sheltered, and educated Erys until Erys flouted the wishes of the Elders by leaving Elegria to serve in the human Alliance’s Patrol. Tares views humanity as a lesser species, and he is dedicated to protecting the welfare of the Elegrian people and preserving their traditions. He sabotaged the medical system on Loridan to break humanity’s foundation colony’s control of the Alliance Council and the supply of Tashau, the protein critical to both living data and Elegrian physiology and now only found on Loridan. When Erys comes to Loridan to restore the data and out the saboteur, Tares views him as a traitor and believes he is duty-bound to stop Erys at any cost. THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed). Some Call it Treason Broken Treaty Traitor’s Son FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: Develop two smart comparables for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why? Genre: Science Fiction Comparables: I have three so far and will include them all: Threader Origins by Gerald Brandt (DAW, Jan 2021) Similarities to my book: Brandt's storytelling keeps the reader firmly bonded to the main character In both Brandt’s and my stories, the scientific element involves the main character manipulating technological constructs using mental abilities - in Brandt’s story, the target is quantum strings, whereas in my story it is living data made from a specific protein Architects of Memory (The Memory War Book 1) by Karen Osborne (Tor Books, Sep 2020) Similarities to my book: Osborn’s story is a debut novel by a female author, similar to mine in tone and voice Both Osborne’s and my story involve conflict between humans and an alien species Osborne’s story involves corporate power and competition; my story also involves power and competition Both Osborne’s and my story involve a novel substance: Osborne’s story features celestium, used in fuel and ship hulls, that made a corporation rich; in my story conflict revolves around Tashau, a protein used as the basis of living Intelligent Data that makes Loridan’s humans rich, but is also a critical component of Elegrian physiology Osborne’s protagonist has a terminal disease with a ticking time clock; in my story an important secondary character has a disease that will kill her in seven days, driving my protagonist to find a solution before time runs out Amid the Crowd of Stars by Stephen Leigh (DAW, Feb 2021) Similarities to my book: Leigh’s story deals with possible consequences of the biological conflict between what humans bring from Earth and what is native to a new planet; in my story, new organisms are created by merging those brought from Earth with native life, creating the disease that threatens the human children when the medical system is sabotaged Leigh’s story uses thought communication via tech devices; my story performs thought communication by natural talent Both Leigh’s and my story involve advanced AI integrated with biology FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. Though you may not have one now, keep in mind this is a great developmental tool. In other words, you best begin focusing on this if you're serious about commercial publication. Shamed by his father's crime at First Contact, a telepathic alien acts against his own people to restore the sabotaged medical system on Earth's foundation colony before more human children die. SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction. Inner Conflict: Erys, a telepathic Elegrian, is shamed by his father’s crime at First Contact. Despite the promise of similar outward appearance, the differences between Elegrian and human—especially cultural, belief systems, language, and one crucial non-visible physiological characteristic—overwhelmed the exploration teams. In a reckless attempt to communicate, Erys’ father killed one of the human representatives, setting in motion a long-lasting antagonism between their peoples. Erys is haunted by a moral obligation to repay his father’s debt to humanity. Hypothetical scenario: In one scene, Erys meets with the Elegrian Elders after discovering the sabotage. Tares chastises Erys for leaving Elegria to enlist in the human Alliance’s Patrol and asks him to resign from his position. Erys, racked by guilt for what his father did, believes he made the right choice to try to make up for his father’s actions by serving the Alliance and refuses Tares’ request. Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it? Secondary Conflict: Katie Kessler, the human tech expert assigned to supervise Erys’ work, is suspicious of him just because he is Elegrian. They work together in an uneasy partnership. Hypothetical scenario: When Erys describes the time required to complete the regeneration of the living data using standard methods, Katie wants to call in other resources. Erys tells her that more people won’t speed up the process, but she insists they need someone else to help. He is frustrated and angered when her real meaning dawns on him—she means someone who isn’t Elegrian. FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it. Scenes in this story take place on Earth’s foundation colony Loridan, and on Earth itself. Loridan was a great find for both humankind and Elegria. Hospitable to both peoples and having no dominant high-order civilization of its own, Loridan offered one significant attribute making it priceless to both races: the planet was rich in plant life containing Tashau, a protein previously unknown to the human population of Earth, but critical and now scarce on Elegria. Tashau is the crucial ingredient enabling a breakthrough technology for human civilization: Intelligent Data. Intelligent Data is alive, ingenious, something more than mechanical but less than sentient. Intelligent Data’s living substance catapulted technological development for humanity to reaches previously unimagined, rendering those who control it rich and influential. Tashau plays a different role on Elegria. Home to an ancient civilization, Elegria also boasted abundant Tashau. The potent protein proliferated through the plant life on Elegria. It is the biological component that enables Elegrian telepathy and other psychic abilities. Elegrians do not synthesize Tashau within their bodies and must consume it regularly to maintain physical health. Without it, they will die. Tashau came to figure into Elegrian spiritual beliefs, as well as serve as an essential element of their physiology. Elegria became technologically advanced a long time ago. Careless with their technology, the Elegrians disregarded safeguards for their environment, and the toxic byproducts of unchecked technology damaged ecosystems and contaminated the Tashau fields, destroying nearly all natural sources of the indispensable protein. In the wake of this disaster, the people reverted back to their native mystical beliefs and became anti-technology except where necessary. Against this tragic backdrop, many Elegrians died. Erys’ own mother and little sister were victims to the Tashau shortage. Elegria embraced technology again, venturing into space in search of another source of Tashau. And they found it on Loridan. Their exploration team included Tares, Elder Leader (and the story's antagonist), and Erys’ father. They discovered Loridan with its wealth of Tashau at the same time human civilization claimed Loridan as their foundation colony in their own space exploration. First Contact proceeded badly—neither Elegrian nor human had any experience with an alien race. Elegria’s intense need for a supply of Tashau made their team reckless. In an effort to communicate, Erys’ father forced a mind link on one of the humans—Katie’s father—and it was too much for him, and he died. At the brink of interplanetary/interspecies war, the Treaty of Ackerson was hammered out, specifying the parameters of human-Elegrian interaction. It granted humans control of Loridan as their foundation colony. Elegria gained permission to trade for Tashau with Loridan, but at a high price. Elegrians made many concessions in the Treaty, accepting many prejudicial requirements to secure the Treaty and the right to trade for Tashau. Losing Loridan was a blow to Elegria. The terms of the Treaty were harsh. Elegria went through a period of internal strife—they needed the Tashau and the humans who could provide it, but the actions at First Contact relegated them to a position of subservience. Erys was ten at the time of First Contact. Elegrians blamed Erys’ father for the bad outcome, many viewing him as a traitor, and Erys’ father was assassinated. Tares took the orphaned boy under his wing and raised him. Tares had to protect him from a lot of hostility, and Erys grew up hating having others stand up for him. Erys dreamed of the stars and left Elegria when he was eighteen to enlist in the Alliance’s Patrol—against the wishes of the Elders. He was consumed by guilt for what his father did and hoped to make up for his father’s actions by serving the Alliance. In time, the entire Alliance depended on the technology of Intelligent Data, and therefore on Loridan. Elegria survived, deferring to the Alliance and to Loridan to keep the trade agreement intact. Human civilization rode high with the success of their foundation colony. But, after settling Loridan, they faced a new challenge: Donner’s Disease. Donner’s Disease was caused by a mutated superbug that evolved shortly after the human colony was established when a human bacterium combined with a native Loridian one to form something deadly to humans. During early colonization, many settlers died. One confounding characteristic of Donner’s Disease was that the bug changed itself depending on the individual host. But, once Intelligent Data technology was developed, an effective medication was synthesized by an Intelligent Data algorithm. The new medication, containing Tashau and Intelligent Data itself, adapted itself to what was needed once it was administered. Loridan offers some novel—and dangerous—creatures. Loridan’s physical characteristics combine with its history to furnish the setting for most of the novel. The backstory is not presented in exposition, but rather is shown to the reader in bits and pieces as the action unfolds. All of the historical factors illuminate events that take place scene by scene, leading to the inexorable conclusion. A few scenes take place on Earth, showing the human home world on a parallel path to the catastrophe that befell Elegria. History yearns to repeat itself, on more than one world.
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