Not too long ago, I created a character for my Apocalypse story who was an old Android. Built in the 1930s, he had become a private detective, with all the standard fashion choices that go along with that line of work. And he was blue. I named him Asta, after the little dog in the Thin Man.
I liked the character, and everyone who read the story seemed to like him. But I’m cutting him out of the story as I’m revising it. He ended up being a plot device as much as anything else, and the story is pretty complex as it is, so I feel like cutting him out is probably the best thing for that particular story.
But, as I said, I really like the character and the concept. He’s been around virtually unchanged for decades, and he’s steeped in the paranormal just enough that I can tell pretty much any story I want with him. I’m aiming for a Wolverine or Conan effect, whereby you can tell any kind of story you want, any time period, with what is essentially the same character. Just think about those characters a bit and it makes sense. They were crafted to be always commercially viable. Need to tell a pirate story? Guess what, Conan was a pirate for a few years before he became a general, then he was a mercenary, then a ranger on the frontier, and then he was a king. Robert Howard did a great job ensuring that he’d always be able to use Conan if he needed, depending on the theme of the magazine where he wanted to publish. Wolverine has the same deal going for him. He was a special ops soldier, a ninja, a samurai, a space-faring super hero, bar room brawler, or anything else you need. And since his age is largely indeterminate, you can jump around in time without losing believability.
Anyway, I’m still working on getting Asta’s voice and personality down, so when given this exercise, I used it to write a little Asta story.
The exercise: Use the following words in your story–project, sit, red, camera, start, change, nothing, fly, table, danger, see, left, care
A Very Real Danger
The room was dark and dank. A single light bulb swung in lazy circles at the center of the room, throwing shadows about haphazardly. A puddle of stagnant water pooled in one corner, fed by a steady leak from the rough-hewn ceiling above. Below the light bulb was a simple wooden chair set before a simple wooden table, and in it sat a figure in a long trench coat and fedora.
The room’s heavy door opened with a grinding screech; two nameless thugs struggled to get it open, and they nearly fell over each other as the door gave way unexpectedly. They quickly regained their composure and took up position on either side of the door. The figure at the table watched them, but said nothing.
Then the boss strode in. He wore a sharp suit and kept one hand pressed against his stomach as he walked. He had a small mustache, bright red hair, and a small scar below his left eye. The boss watched the seated figure for a moment, then slowly shook his head.
“Amazing,” he said. “You are shaped like a man. You talk like a man. You even seem to care like a man. And yet, here we are…”
The figure at the table seemed unperturbed. It lifted an arm to remove its hat. There was a light sheen across the top of a bald, blue head. A blue hand wiped moisture from its head, then replaced the hat. Dark eyes peered at the three men with indomitable resolve.
“Mr. Rudolph,” the blue figure said, the voice strong and confident. “As chairman of the Downtown Renovation Project, you have abused your position and allowed an unseemly element into the wharf area. I also have evidence that the death of Jeffrey Basim is directly related to the illegal activities you’ve allowed to flourish.”
Rudolph laughed and looked to his men, and they joined him in the joke. Rudolph leaned forward and rapped a fist on the table.
“You’re out of your league, Mr. Asta,” he said. “You’re not screwing around with some drunken woman who’s killed her husband, or some amateur kidnapper. This is the government you’re threatening. The people of this city trust me to take care of business downtown, expect me to change things for the better, and that’s exactly what I do. Basim’s ideas would have set us back years and cost the city millions.”
Despite the boss’s bluster, however, Asta could see the man sweating, and the nervous glances exchanged by the guards at the door.
“Cost you millions,” Asta corrected, “not the city…”
Asta trailed off as Rudolph signaled his thugs. The approached from both sides and placed a hand on each of his shoulders.
“Same difference,” Rudolph said. “I know you aren’t really a person. You don’t have the same sort of protections we have. You could disappear and no one would care.”
Asta narrowed his dark eyes. “I’ve always wanted to fly. Send me somewhere sunny, will ya?”
“As I understand it, you’re not too different from a clock,” Rudolph said. “You’ve got a gear for a heart.”
The thugs reached down and tore Asta’s shirt open. Buttons scattered across the table and bounced over the floor. His blue, hairless chest looked pale under the harsh light.
“I don’t get dinner first?” Asta growled. Rudolph leaned forward, just inches from Asta’s face.
“What happens when that gear stops?” he whispered. “Do you have a soul, Mr. Asta? Do you just go dormant until someone trips over you and starts things ticking again? Would any part of you survive that, I wonder?”
The thugs jerked the chair back from the table to give themselves room to work, and then started pounding on the android’s chest with meaty fists. Asta silently endured the beating. Hollow thuds echoed in the small room.
Rudolph sat on the table and calmly lit a cigarette, the flame from his match illuminating his palms.
The thugs finally let up on their punches. They grabbed Asta, hauled him from the chair, and hurled him against the wall. He staggered, but managed to keep stay on his feet.
“Like punchin’ a damn footlocker,” one of the thugs muttered, massaging his fist.
The smoke from Rudolph’s cigarette clung to the still air. “What do the police know, Mr. Asta? Keep in mind, you are in real danger here.”
Asta straightened his collar, though there was little he could do with the shirt torn as it was. “They know everything we’ve said in here, Mr. Rudolph, thanks to the camera built into my ocular cavity.”
One of the thugs moved forward, raising one heavy hand, but Asta easily caught his arm and snapped it back on itself. The man screamed and fell to his knees. His companion looked uncertain, hanging back and glancing at Mr. Rudolph for some kind of cue.
Rudolph remained still, glaring at the detective. “Lies. Shoot him.”
The remaining thug went for his gun, but was simply outmatched. The pistol wasn’t half-way out of its shoulder holster before Asta was on him. The android lifted him up, spun, and tossed him against the far wall. The man crumpled onto the floor and lay still. Asta glanced at the other goon, who was cradling his arm and cowering on the floor. Then he turned his unblinking gaze on the politician. Rudolph froze, the ash building up on his cigarette.
“Mr. Rudolph,” Asta said, “as chairman of the Downtown Renovation Project, you have abused your position and allowed an unseemly element into the wharf area. I also have evidence that the death of Jeffrey Basim is directly related to the illegal activities you’ve allowed to flourish. I strongly recommend you find yourself legal representation at your earliest convenience.” Asta paused, and his head cocked to one side. “Keep in mind, Mr. Rudolph, you are in very real danger here.”