Unforced Error—hard science fiction
This page is about my science fiction novel. My aim is to help readers to better appreciate the story and the concepts it is based on. I suggest you read it in conjunction with Unforced Error, but don’t read too far down too soon lest you spoil the story. Other writers of fiction may find this piece interesting or even instructive—what to do and what not to do as a writer.
Several people have told me they enjoyed reading Unforced Error and had little trouble sorting out who was who in the story. However, others got lost in the first few chapters and decided not to continue with it. This second group intrigues me, considering one of my aims was to write a story that was easy to read. How did I get that wrong, or at least not completely right?
Many authors have written novels that didn’t appeal to everyone. It’s the norm. I’ve read reviews posted to www.goodreads.com for various novels including best sellers. Some reviewers rave about a book and give it five stars; others hate the same book and give it one star. Some people are highly intolerant of an implausible story—see my example in the appendix below. Others seem not to care or even notice. Can an author hamper his or her success by insisting on a logical plot and plausible character motivation? Interesting question.
I can tolerate an implausible plot if it’s a film with amazing special effects, because I’m not expending much energy, and quite possibly I’m consuming a glass of beer or wine at the same time and enjoying the ride, no matter how silly it is. Implausibility in written fiction, however, is not so tolerable for me.
I suspect Unforced Error can be a challenging read because at any one time up to four groups of characters are driving the action. What one group decides to do affects the decisions of the others, and all decisions must be described in a correct time sequence. This means I constantly move the action from one point-of-view character to another, and this invariably involves a change of location. All these groups of characters are introduced early in the story, so the reader has a lot to absorb from the first few chapters. There is a protagonist who is fighting for his life, antagonists who are actively trying to kill him, a separate group of high-level antagonists who are controlling them, and finally the law enforcement people. I’m sure switching from location to location and character to character wouldn’t be a problem if Unforced Error were a film. In that form, the audience gets to eyeball setting and character. That makes any story easier to follow. With the written word, it’s always going to be a harder.
The varied reaction to Unforced Error has caused me to consider how I might help even a seasoned reader of fiction to better enjoy the story. We live in an age of digital publishing, and there is talk about the ‘enhanced’ novel. At present, there is no consensus as to what enhancements might be attractive to readers—or what might make money for publishers. Developments in hardware are currently outpacing developments in content. In any event, I’ve decided to create this simple ‘enhancement’ that describes and explains various aspects of Unforced Error.
If you want to comment about Unforced Error or offer advice on my future writing projects, send me an e-mail at email@example.com. The comments function of this website attracts spambots, so I’ve disabled it.
The Setting for Unforced Error
Man has colonised the planet Cenozoic, so called because the animals (mammals) present are similar to those of Earth during the Cenozoic era. The most ubiquitous predators are chameleon cats. These large felines are almost impossible to see when concealed in vegetation, and they have no inherent fear of man. Incidentally, chameleon cats came from my own imagination. Nothing similar ever existed on Earth.
The colonists live on predator-free islands, but commercial activities must be conducted on larger land masses where dangerous animals abound. The citizens of Cenozoic constantly move from a safe environment similar to that of a modern city on Earth to wilderness regions with little if any infrastructure. Travel is predominantly by air. Keeping people safe in the wilderness is a significant business activity on Cenozoic.
Some Explanatory Notes
Communication in the remote areas of Cenozoic is by satellite link. All citizens carry a SALOCO. SALOCO is an acronym for a satellite location and communication device. It acts as a telephone, emergency locator beacon, television receiver, personal computer and so on.
The pivotal character is YUKON, a genetically modified wolf.
The domestic dog was developed from the wolf, so the dog and the wolf, although often very different in appearance, are essentially the same species. Early man selected the most tractable wolves and bred from those, thus making their canine companions progressively more docile and trainable as time passed. There was nothing scientific about the process, but there is a scientific explanation for what occurred. Man unknowingly selected for pedomorphosis, which is the continuation of juvenile traits into the adult stage of the animal. This is manifested in the dog as, among other things, subservience. Wolf cubs are very like dog puppies during their first weeks of life—friendly and emotionally dependent, but they soon become aloof and impossible to command. Conversely, dog puppies retain their juvenile traits to varying degrees into adulthood. There are breed differences. Some dog breeds are closer to the wolf in appearance and behaviour.
In the development of pedomorphosis, all traits are influenced to some degree. Not only do the affected animals retain immature behaviour patterns into the adult stage, they also retain immature physical traits. These are manifested in the domestic dog as floppy ears, curly coats, small size and so on. In general, the domestic dog is not as physically robust as the pure wolf.
This leads me to my fictional concept of the genetically modified wolf. I’ve proposed that man can selectively alter the genome of the wolf to make the animal more docile and trainable while not diminishing its strength and endurance. Given that the dog and the wolf are the same species, this is a plausible concept. As such, Unforced Error fits the genre known as hard science fiction.
In my story, canines have the ability to detect the scent of a chameleon cat and the effect these cats have on the ‘chatter’ of the forest. This means they have an important role in keeping humans safe on Cenozoic. Yukon is a prototype. It is proposed that his predominantly wolf genome will give him greater physical and mental endurance than a domestic dog, and that he will prove to be the ultimate watchdog on Cenozoic.
Yukon’s handler in the story is CARL RACINE, an expert in animal behaviour. Carl’s task is to investigate Yukon’s potential as a companion for and protector of man on the planet Cenozoic.
The Carl Racine I have drawn is intelligent, self-assurred and physically fit. I read once that authors of a sensitive and meek disposition often create fictional heros in their own image. That might be fine for literary fiction but not for genre fiction. I wouldn’t say I’m sensitive and meek, although Carl Racine’s persona is somewhat more assertive than mine. He is intelligent and, perhaps untypically for an academic, will respond in a physical way when threatened.
The Other Characters of Significance
The other key characters are described below in a more or less the order they appear in the story.
MONTI FASSBENDER is a security operative employed by Ceno-Gene Corporation. He and his team protect Ceno-Gene’s field staff against predator attack in the vast wilderness of Cenozoic. Key management people will do whatever it takes to advance the interests of Ceno-Gene Corporation, and Monti Fassbender is the man who does their dirty work. This includes murdering people if necessary. Making people disappear in the remote wilderness of Cenozoic involves relatively little risk of detection. Monti has six men under his command. In the context of the plot, they are minor characters—they execute Monti’s decisions rather than initiate their own. Their names are JUNO JAMES, DUSAN BECK, VISCOUNT HAGAR, SIRIAN COE, MATT REY and FRANK REY.
KOZLOV POLESHUK is Corporate Affairs Director for Ceno-Gene Corporation. He is Monti Fassbender’s superior. He ordered the hit on the man (LUTHER TAN) whose body Yukon found in Chapter One. In terms of audacity and intelligence, he is equal to Carl Racine. However, Kozlov is a not a virtuous man.
PHILIPPE SAVVIDES is a significant but covert investor in Geno-Gene Corporation. He is also the Minister of Biotechnology on Cenozoic, so has power and position in Cenozoic society, which he will protect by whatever means he considers necessary. Kozlov and his brother Niko have been his proteges since their childhood.
LINUS DUHAMEL is a major in CENOPOL, which is the police force on Cenozoic. He has been corrupted by Kozlov. He can provide important information on investigations that might affect Kozlov and his associates.
SASKATOON VAN BOS is a beautiful young officer in CENOPOL. She reports to Linus Duhamel.
MIKE OSHIMA is Saskatoon’s work partner in CENOPOL.
NIKO POLESHUK is Kozlov’s hard-edged brother. He is an expert on aviation and electronics.
ROLAND SOTACK is another protege of Philippe Savvides. He is a high-profile reporter for the leading news organisation on Cenozoic. He can manipulate media coverage and gather information to the benefit of Ceno-Gene Corporation.
PROFESSOR LEANDER MALAN is Carl Racine’s head of department at Pascal University.
LUTHER TAN is the murder victim described in Chapter One. He was an employee of Ceno-Gene Corporation who had plans to blow the whistle on insider trading.
I was mindful there should be plenty of action in my story, and that major characters (good and bad) should drive that action. I’m sure I’ve succeeded in that respect with Unforced Error.
In the sections below, I explain what happens and sometimes signal what will happen next as a consequence. At the end of each section, I list the critical plot developments and who initiated them. The action is mostly driven by Yukon, Carl Racine and Kozlov Poleshuk. Nothing happens by chance, and every decision the main characters make is a logical response to their perceived situation. Because knowledge of their situation is invariably incomplete or simply incorrect, those decisions often create another crisis.
Advice to the Reader
If you are now reading Unforced Error, I suggest you stop here for a moment. Read Chapters 1 to 7 then refer back to this exposition. Follow this approach throughout.
Chapter One (Day 1)
Yukon leads Carl to the body of a murdered man (Luther Tan) in the rear compartment of a helicopter parked in a secure compound. Yukon has been trained to find lost people, dead or alive.
Monti Fassbender and his team murdered Luther Tan. They see Yukon make his find via a video link that scans the landing pad of the compound. They decide they must capture Carl at gunpoint and kill him. Yukon foils this by attacking Sirian Coe as he prepares to raise his weapon. Yukon can read body language and is instinctively suspicious of all strangers. He and Carl then escape into a dense forest. The forest, however, is home to chameleon cats. No one survives very long in this environment, no matter how well armed they may be. Chameleon cats are too difficult to detect before they strike or too fast to shoot when they do.
At the end of Chapter One, I’m sure readers will be in no doubt that Carl Racine is a good person, and that he’s in mortal danger. But will they care about Yukon? I suspect Yukon appeals to readers who relate well to animals in their own life and therefore to those in a fictional world, but the animal-indifferent demographic may be…indifferent. As I’ve stated, a writer can’t push everyone’s buttons.
I gave some information about Yukon’s origins late in Chapter One, and fleshed them out in subsequent chapters. I was anxious to avoid the so-called and much-derided ‘info dump’. However, I now realise I was too economical in filling in the technical backdrop. Even those who liked the book commented on this aspect. In my next book, I’ll be more generous with descriptions of characters and their background.
Critical plot developments in Chapter One:
Yukon finds a murder victim, thus putting Carl Racine in danger.
Yukon attacks as Carl is about to be captured at gunpoint, thus enabling both of them to escape.
Chapters 2 – 7 (Day 1)
In Chapter 2, the action is seen through the eyes of Monti Fassbender. He’s the main antagonist at this point in the story. He realises Carl Racine has seen too much. His initial plan to capture him went awry thanks to Yukon’s sudden attack, but fate has presented him with a new and potentially better option. Carl has fled with Yukon into a very dangerous forest, has no means to communicate and has no weapon suitable for protection against chameleon cats. He has a compound hunting bow and a few stun grenades. Monti decides to keep him there long enough for a chameleon cat to find and kill him. He and his men get airborne above the forest in their helicopter and ‘see’ the infrared signature of a cat on its scanners. All aircraft on Cenozoic are fitted with advanced scanners, so people on the ground can be monitored and warned of approaching predators.
Chapter 3 sees a change of location and introduces Kozlov Poleshuk. Monti Fassbender has already alluded to Kozlov’s role in Chapter 2, although some readers may gloss over a detail like that. Kozlov is Monti’s immediate superior. Philippe Savvides and Linus Duhamel are also introduced in this chapter.
Chapters 4 to 7 continue with the action. Monti Fassbender’s scanners tell him that a chameleon cat is closing in on Carl and Yukon. His plan is working. Carl and Yukon emerge from the forest onto the floodpath of a small river with the cat in fast pursuit. Monti Fassbender sees this from his aircraft. He is confident Carl is doomed, but Yukon feigns injury and lures the cat away. The ploy works. Carl and Yukon escape into the river.
Monti is forced to put men on the ground to track and kill Carl, but Yukon proves invaluable in detecting their approach. Carl kills Viscount Hagar with his compound hunting bow, but he is then forced to leap off a cliff into a treacherous river. Monti doesn’t see him resurface.
After a search of the river reveals nothing, Monti is confident Carl has drowned. He concocts an ingenious story to account for the death of Viscount Hagar. He will claim that Yukon made an unprovoked attack on Sirian Coe, that Carl Racine shot Viscount Hagar to prevent him shooting Yukon in revenge, then Carl fled the scene in his helicopter. This account fits the injuries sustained by Sirian Coe and Viscount Hagar. It will be a good story provided Carl Racine never returns to challenge it.
To complete the picture, Monti uses his large helicopter to dump Carl’s smaller machine in dense forest where it won’t be found. But Carl, who has survived a long swim, sees this happen and makes a mental note of the approximate location of the wreck.
Critical plot developments:
Yukon saves Carl from a chameleon cat.
Yukon warns Carl of the approach of Monti Fassbender’s men.
Carl kills Viscount Hagar.
Carl is fit enough to survive his plunge into the river.
Monti concludes incorrectly that Carl is dead.
Chapters 8 – 13 (Day 1)
Carl Racine is separated from Yukon. They are on opposite sides of the river and darkness has fallen.
Kozlov Poleshuk is alarmed about developments and discusses these with Linus Duhamel. They decide they must assume Carl Racine has survived and kill him if he has. Kozlov and Niko have a clear idea where he would be if he got out of the river. He would best avoid predators by staying close to the edge of the river, which means he will be exposed on an open floodpath.
Saskatoon Van Bos and Mike Oshima are not convinced that Monti Fassbender is telling them the complete truth, but they have no idea what really happened.
Critical plot elements:
Monti Fassbender tells his story to the authorities. It fits the evidence and is accepted at the time.
Kozlov Poleshuk is obliged to accept what has happened but decides to take no chances. He and Niko will check on the fate of Carl Racine and kill him if necessary.
Chapters 14 – 21 (Day 2)
Yukon crosses the river at night and finds Carl asleep by the embers of a fire. Kozlov and Niko arrive from downstream. Yukon hears them coming and wakes Carl. Carl decides he must escape their scanners by running for the cover of the forest some distance away over open ground. Kozlov and Niko head him off just before he gets there, but as their helicopter descends it kicks up a cloud of river silt. Carl uses the cover well. He lobs a stun grenade into the cockpit of the helicopter and reaches the forest in the ensuing confusion.
Kozlov and Niko cannot safely track Carl and Yukon into the forest. Linus Duhamel has warned them that a concerted CENOPOL search of the area will begin at first light. They’ve pushed Carl back into dangerous forest where they hope he will be taken by a chameleon cat. This was not their preferred outcome, but they have no choice but to give up the chase.
Carl does not know that CENOPOL plan to search for him at daybreak. He assumes that Monti Fassbender will have reported the death of Viscount Hagar as an accident, and that any aircraft in the area will be hostile.
Carl tells Yukon to take him home. Yukon has been trained to follow that command, although never from such a distant location. Home to Yukon is to the north, and that will take them to the coastline. Carl will get his bearings once on the coast. He will know which direction to take to find a safe cabin.
With the help of Roland Sotack, the media man, Kozlov arranges for ‘evidence’ to emerge that Carl trained Yukon to attack people. This reinforces Monti’s assertion that Yukon made an unprovoked attack on Sirian Coe. A post mortem on Viscount Hagar confirms that he was shot with Carl’s compound hunting bow.
Saskatoon and Mike interview Monti Fassbender’s men and Carl’s family and associates. They become increasingly suspicious of Monti’s assertion that Carl is alive and well and simply running from the law. From what they have learned about Carl, this is out of character. Carl is not found during the large-scale search that day.
Yukon and Carl reach the coastline and the cabin by late afternoon.
Critical plot developments:
Yukon alerts Carl to the danger he is in from Kozlov and Niko, thus saving him once again.
Carl takes aggressive action against Kozlov and Niko, thus saving himself.
Kozlov’s actions to smear Carl’s good reputation are well conceived and executed.
Yukon guides Carl to safety through predator-infested forest.
Chapters 22 – 26 (Day 3)
Passersby find Carl in the morning and report his location to CENOPOL.
Mike and Saskatoon fly out to collect Carl and Yukon. Carl learns of Monti Fassbender’s account of what happened on the first day. He has no evidence to support his version. He soon realises he needs to find his helicopter to prove he is telling the truth, and he needs Yukon to achieve that.
Kozlov learns of Carl’s proposed search through Linus Duhamel and decides they should preempt it. Philippe Savvides uses his position as Minister of Biotechnology to order the destruction of Yukon, on the basis that no genetically modified animal should show a predilection to attack people, however provoked. In this case, provocation is denied by the person attacked.
Roland Sotack, with the benefit of inside information from Linus Duhamel, intercepts Carl as he leaves CENOPOL and conducts an informal interview. Carl is being escorted home by Saskatoon Van Bos at the time. Roland riles Carl with his comments about Yukon’s impending death. Carl knocks him to the ground. Saskatoon is increasingly inclined to believe in Carl’s innocence. They will look for his dumped helicopter tomorrow, but without Yukon. It will be clear to the reader at this point that Carl and Saskatoon are attracted to each other.
Critical plot developments:
Linus Duhamel provides Kozlov with critical information that Carl has seen his helicopter dumped and wants to use Yukon to find it.
Philippe Savvides uses his influence to put Yukon on death row.
Roland Sotack provokes Carl, thus adding to the impression Carl is impulsively violent.
Chapters 27 – 31 (Day 4)
Just after midnight, Carl boldly walks into CENOPOL and takes Yukon back. He is stopped by Saskatoon who is working late. He refuses to be stopped, so Saskatoon decides she can only go with him and call for support from Mike Oshima. Carl is happy with this arrangement. He wants CENOPOL to be there to provide protection. He has compelled them to do things his way.
Unknown to Carl, Monti Fassbender is in the process of finding and retrieving the helicopter in response to Kozlov’s instructions. Kozlov takes no unnecessary chances, and Monti agrees with him in this instance. Monti logged the exact coordinates when they dropped the helicopter, so it should be a quick and easy task to winch it out. He and his team back off when they see Carl’s aircraft enter the zone. They see the aircraft land on the open on the floodpath of the river. Monti deduces that it can only be Carl, and decides to capture and kill him. This will make retrieval of the wreck unnecessary as only Carl has a visual recollection of where to look. If Carl simply disappears, Monti believes that CENOPOL can only conclude he was again running from the law. Whether Saskatoon Van Bos and Mike Oshima believe that is true will be irrelevant in the absence of a body or any other tangible evidence.
Monti’s team do capture Carl, but also Saskatoon. This spooks Monti, but he is committed. Yukon was out of the aircraft and shrouded in darkness at the time, so Monti missed him. He was not aware Carl had taken Yukon from CENOPOL, so never knew to look.
Kozlov is equally spooked when he learns that Saskatoon Van Bos, a CENOPOL officer, has been captured and must be killed with Carl. He knows that Saskatoon’s family is known to Philippe, and that Philippe will not want to see her die. Kozlov decides that Monti has screwed up once too often, although these thoughts are not revealed to the reader.
Kozlov tells Monti to take Carl and Saskatoon to a remote location where they can be killed by wild animals later in the day. This outcome and its timing, he explains, make it look as though Carl was simply running away with Yukon and got himself and Saskatoon killed by accident. Monti is impressed with Kozlov’s unflustered reaction to the news. Kozlov soon learns the circumstances of Saskatoon’s involvement from Linus Duhamel, and this convinces him that Monti will be exposed eventually. Mike Oshima will likely get one of his men to talk. Kozlov knows Monti can’t be trusted if this happens. Monti will betray him to CENOPOL. He arranges for Monti’s aircraft to be cleaned of any possible DNA evidence they took Carl and Saskatoon captive. Monti sees the logic in this, but Niko will instead fit the aircraft with a remote-controlled bomb. The reader is not told of this decision, although Niko’s promise to do a very thorough job of destroying all DNA prefigures his intention. Monti does not know of Niko’s existence or what he is capable of.
Mike Oshima follows Saskatoon after receiving her call for assistance. He’s soon concerned and puzzled that she is no longer responding to his calls. He finds Yukon close to Saskatoon and Carl’s advised destination. Yukon is fitted with a short-range locator beacon. Mike wonders why Carl Racine would steal Yukon back only to abandon him on the Southern Continent. He concludes that Monti Fassbender has taken Saskatoon and Carl captive, and that they are probably dead already. He confirms that Monti is in the area. Yukon is heading south into the interior of the continent. He is the only clue to the fate of Carl and Saskatoon, so Mike follows him. Mike does not tell his superiors at CENOPOL about Yukon, fearing what they might decide. He now suspects there is a mole in CENOPOL, although he has no clue who it might be.
Yukon is following the direction that Monti Fassbender’s aircraft took when he captured Carl. Eventually, Yukon reaches open grassland to the south and is then stalked by sabre-tooth cats. Mike lands and takes him aboard. Dusk is approaching. He decides to investigate the terrain ahead, thinking that Yukon was possibly heading in the right direction. He has no other leads.
Meanwhile, Monti Fassbender and his crew have released Carl and Saskatoon on an open plain where they will be killed by a herd of large and aggressive herbivores known as titanotheres (similar to those that once existed on Earth). The plan, as formulated by Kozlov, seems to be going to plan. Monti has antagonised the titanothere by buzzing them. They follow the lights of his aircraft and seem on track to intercept Carl and Saskatoon. However, Carl knows how to avoid detection by these animals, and in the darkness he also gives Monti’s scanners the slip. Kozlov and Niko are monitoring progress. That Carl has disappeared with Saskatoon also jeopardises their plan, which is first to learn of their precise location by following Monti, then to save them from both Monti and the titanotheres—and to not reveal their own identities at any stage of the operation. They know the outcome is not certain, but in the circumstances it was the best Kozlov could arrange. Whatever happens to Carl and Saskatoon, Monti and his men are doomed.
They locate Carl and Saskatoon with infrared scanners and call in Monti. The two aircraft again lure the titanotheres in the right direction. Carl and Saskatoon appear to be in a hopeless situation. Either the titanotheres or Monti will kill them. At a critical moment, Niko detonates the bomb in Monti’s aircraft. The titanotheres scatter. Only now does the reader know what Niko really did to Monti’s aircraft earlier that day. Kozlov plans to anonymously advise CENOPOL of the exact location of a mystery explosion. That will lead to the rescue of Carl and Saskatoon by CENOPOL personnel who are resting up in a nearby compound.
Mike Oshima sees the explosion in the distance and closes in. His unexpected arrival spooks Kozlov, but Niko’s unmarked aircraft is fast enough for a quick escape. Linus Duhamel is also troubled to hear of Mike’s appearance, but he soon learns Mike had found and followed Yukon. Of course, Mike lies to Linus Duhamel about when he made his discovery. In one action, Kozlov has saved Carl and Saskatoon and eliminated people he could not trust—Monti Fassbender and his men. However, Linus Duhamel is now a possible problem. Kozlov figures that CENOPOL know there is a mole in their ranks.
Critical plot developments:
Kozlov instructs Monti to relocate the wreck of Carl’s helicopter.
Carl takes Yukon back from CENOPOL.
Monti elects to capture Carl.
Kozlov makes a snap decision to eliminate Monti, an option that Niko has already hinted at in earlier dialogue.
Yukon follows Carl after his capture by Monti. This does not prove critical to the saving of Carl and Saskatoon, but it reinforces the characterisation of Yukon as a loyal companion with vast endurance.
Niko’s bomb saves Carl and Saskatoon.
Chapters 32 – 36 (Days 5 & 6)
Carl advises Saskatoon and Mike that footage from the scanners in his helicopter wreck will likely identify the owner of a small helicopter that was parked next to Monti Fassbender’s aircraft on the first day. This helicopter is presumed to belong to the man whose body Yukon found. They decide to look for Carl’s wrecked helicopter on Day 6, but to not tell too many people in CENOPOL in advance. However, the plan is revealed to Philippe Savvides by a very senior officer in CENOPOL who has no knowledge of Philippe’s special interest in the matter.
Luther Tan was the murder victim. He was a disgruntled employee of Ceno-Gene who had used his position to gain information on insider trading by a shadowy group of investors that included Philippe Savvides, Kozlov, Niko, Roland Sotack and others. He was going to blow the whistle. He is dead, but Kozlov is concerned he may have left information behind, and that could be unearthed in a detailed CENOPOL investigation. Luther Tan’s body was left at the bottom of a cliff near his home. Earlier, he had been thrown out of Monti Fassbender’s helicopter. At the time, CENOPOL concluded he’d died from an accidental fall from the cliff. A post mortem supported that conclusion.
Kozlov knows the exact coordinates of the wreck, information he got from Monti Fassbender. He figures that going to the wreck and extracting the data from its scanners involves little risk and has a clear benefit. He decides to take Linus Duhamel with him. Duhamel has expertise in forensics and knows how to do the job without leaving incriminating evidence.
However, Kozlov is too optimistic. The wreck is in difficult terrain and getting to it on foot takes longer than expected. More critically, Mike Oshima decides to ignore an order from Linus Duhamel to not to use Yukon on the ground, and Carl provides a very accurate indication of where to start the search. Kozlov and Linus Duhamel reach the wreck first, but the CENOPOL search party is already on the ground and has a covering aircraft overhead, piloted by Saskatoon. Kozlov and Linus Duhamel can’t be extracted by Niko’s aircraft without being seen by Saskatoon. They have to move on foot to a more distant extraction point. When Yukon leads Mike Oshima and his team to the wreck, they find the data is missing, and there are fresh footprints around the wreck. At Carl’s suggestion, Mike decides Yukon should follow any trail from the wreck. It’s the only lead they have.
Niko alerts Kozlov to this new and troubling development. Kozlov is fit, but Linus Duhamel is soon struggling. They’re in danger of being overhauled by Yukon and the CENOPOL search team. Kozlov tells Linus Duhamel they should split. Niko can extract Linus quickly with a winch and then flee the scene in his fast helicopter. He may not be able to extract two men quickly enough, and CENOPOL will assume they were only following one man and not look for a second. Yukon will know he’s following the scent of two men, but he can’t tell Carl that. Linus Duhamel accepts Kozlov’s compelling logic. If he is caught, it would be in his interests to finger both Kozlov and Niko. Thus, it is in Kozlov’s best interests to ensure his escape.
Kozlov, however, has another plan. Niko will indeed extract Linus Duhamel, then he will drop him from the winch to his death, thus eliminating the last person who can finger them. The reader is not told of this at the time. Niko extracts Linus but as a ploy leaves him down on the winch. This reduces his speed, allowing Saskatoon to chase in her slower aircraft. She will no longer be around to spot Kozlov from the air, and she will see Duhamel plummet to his death. Niko will speed away at that point. However, the plan doesn’t work out. Mike has called in a very fast VTOL aircraft to assist, and this takes over the chase from Saskatoon. Niko can no longer outrun CENOPOL.
Meanwhile, Roland Sotack is following events in the air along with several other media aircraft. The other media aircraft follow Saskatoon’s chase, but Roland stays behind. He has been instructed to extract Kozlov. He reports to Kozlov he has seen the infrared signature of a chameleon cat that has been attracted by all the commotion. This cat is approaching the CENOPOL team head on. Kozlov follows the exact path to Duhamel’s extraction point, knowing Yukon will follow him there. Roland Sotack lands very near the extraction point, on the pretext he must scare off the inquisitive and dangerous cat, which he does. Kozlov then exposes himself to Yukon and the CENOPOL search team. Mike Oshima accepts that Kozlov has just disembarked from Roland Sotack’s aircraft. Yukon knows differently, but he can’t tell anyone.
Kozlov is spooked by the news he gets from Niko. Niko pretends to give up his escape attempt. Just as he is coming into land to surrender to CENOPOL, he quickly changes direction and flies Linus Duhamel into one of the propellors of the VTOL. The VTOL automatically reduces to one engine. Niko escapes.
Critical plot developments:
Carl tells CENOPOL that his helicopter wreck could yield vital information on the murder victim Yukon found on Day 1.
Mike and Saskatoon decide to act on this information.
Philippe Savvides has the high-level contacts in CENOPOL, so their plan is not kept secret.
Kozlov decides to go to the wreck and remove the evidence, although he underestimates the time this will take.
Yukon tracks Kozlov and Linus Duhamel from the wreck site.
Kozlov decides to exploit this crisis to betray Linus Duhamel.
Niko extricates himself from a tight situation with a bold ploy.
Chapter 37 (Day 7)
Chapter 37 wraps up the story. Kozlov and his associates have gotten away with their misdeeds. They’ve eliminated everyone who could finger them. They have placed personal effects belonging to Luther Tan in Linus Duhamel’s apartment. CENOPOL surmise that Luther Tan may have witnessed criminal activity being conducted by Monti Fassbender and Linus Duhamel. This shifts suspicion away from Ceno-Gene.
Carl and Saskatoon have become an item. Yukon is unimpressed.
If Tomorrow Comes by Sidney Sheldon
I read this title in the 1980s, and aspects of it remained firmly in my mind when I set about writing my first novel. Two women I worked with at the time rated Sidney Sheldon as the greatest writer of all time. He was still alive and writing then. One of them would buy his latest book in hardcover the moment it hit the shelves. When she was at school, the same woman was required to read The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway. That was the most boring book she had ever read, apparently.
I had to see for myself what Sidney Sheldon was all about.
The story and lead character in If Tomorrow Comes were highly implausible, but I kept reading. It was an easy read. When I came to my writing Unforced Error, I decided that it too should be an easy read, only plausible.
I haven’t found a free copy of Sheldon’s book to re-read, so I’m relying on memory here. The heroine turned into an ace cat burglar, more or less overnight, and ended up in the south of France. There were many unrelated episodes in the story. One of these involved a heist on a mansion that was known to contain lots of priceless jewels etc. It was guarded by two dobermann dogs, so our heroine arrived on the scene at night with an on-heat dobermann bitch, which she hoisted over a big wall to distract the two dogs. When she’d executed the heist, she gathered up the bitch, hoisted it and herself back over the wall and into her car and raced off into the night. On the way along the road, the lights of her car shone into another car that was parked. In that car was her arch rival in thievery, an American man who had with him another dobermann bitch. She’d beat him at his own game.
So, what’s wrong with this? I’m a veterinarian, but you don’t need a degree in veterinary science to know that you don’t need a dobermann bitch to attract dobermann dogs. An in-heat fox terrier would do the same job and be a lot easier to hoist over a wall. In fact, a very strong man might fail to lift a big dog over a big wall. And what about the drop on the other side? Dogs aren’t good at landing from great heights. Would male guard dogs really fail in their duty because there was a bitch available for mating? I’m not sure, and I wouldn’t plan a heist unless I was. Also, bitches come on heat once every six months for a week or two, which really narrows down the number of suitable candidates at any one time. So, Sheldon’s heroine, who I’m fairly sure didn’t speak French, somehow persuaded a local to let her borrow an on-heat dobermann for the night for some unspecified purpose. This process was not covered in the story—she just had the bitch. And her male American rival did the very same thing on the same night. Two on-heat dobermann bitches owned by obliging French speakers on the same night. What are the odds of that?
And now we have the Twilight books. I’m not sure about plausibility being essential, but surely it can’t hurt. Can it?