When I first had the inspiration for the Range Patrol package of stories, Across the Elapine Line was not part of the narrative. I had no conception of any sort of personal relationship between the characters; indeed, platonic professionalism was about it. The plot for this story actually derived from the scene in Range Patrol #2 in which Beamer had surreptitiously swiped Sheila's photo album. After she took it back from him and walked away, I had the idea of his expression being remorseful -- simply because he'd taken the album without permission (again). But the idea came to me: What if there was more to his remorse? This, combined with the theme of interracial relationships that was developing parallel to this in the Shrike Team series, combined to make this a matter of unrequited love, and so by the end of RP #2, I had added a secret profession of Beamer's affection near the end of the story. The only variable was how to make it so that he had a chance with Sheila at some point, and that came simply enough thanks to the Cartel's injudicious experimentation with the genetic monstrosities that were the thug invasion force: They'd no doubt have other genetic tech to do the job, and so the helmet was conceived. And like many elements in these stories, the helmet tech will come into play again...and again.
Once the main narrative was conceived, the principal concept points were the shambling arrival of the infiltrator (page 2 -- that slack-jawed stare was a hoot!); Beamer's approach to Sheila for a date (page 14), and the bridge scene (page 42) in which Sheila acknowledges that she knew all along how Beamer felt about her...of course. She's a smart girl.
The corralling of the prisoner (page 3) gives a good picture of what I think typically happens on Hearthstone when some wrong is committed in a public place. Even in individualistic Nullabor, the community spirit instilled by the rule of the Prycenes remains in place. And of course, I'm fond of the fact that the "victim" is not helpless, but rather capable of being the one who delivers the blow that permits final capture.
I debated extensively over how Beamer would look once he was transformed, and especially whether his tech implants would come over in the transfer. I wondered whether to give his Elapine fur a greenish tinge, but decided in the end that the only hint we'd have that he was once Tilkrig is that his eyes will be the same shade of blue. This would make sense being that he used the same template as the spy did; of course he'd look much the same. I decided to let the implants be lost as it would underscore the break with his old identity -- and of course, the Sk'lan could hardly do espionage as Elapines (or whatever) wearing Sk'lan implants.
One other issue raised was how to resolve the difference in mass between the Sk'lan and the Tilkrig, and a larger race. Pick your explanation -- perhaps the needed cells are cloned. Or I prefer the reader suggestion "that they might just use a thingimajig with a someuranotator."
My apologies to Nicole Nordeman (page 7 on). But I do expect Hearthstone has its own version of contemporary Christian pop.
A reader asked a question that should have been obvious: If the Sk'lan can do this tech, wouldn't this solve their problem (noted in RP #3) of being infertile? Can't they just make new Sk'lan out of other races? I honestly had not considered this, but as it happened the elements were already in place for the answer to be no. The transformed individuals I would suggest would be infertile. More than that, the Sk'lan have some very odd ideas about blood and purity (hinted at on page 18) that would mean they'd consider such an idea vile. But more on that by the end of the Cartel cycle. The Sk'lan have several blind spots that come of an irrational narcissism...if they didn't have their Tilkrig slaves they'd be unable to assert their designs of domination.
Certain scenes in this story, like the "mirror talk" (page 24) and the Ketterling song (page 28) have been nearly last-minute additions intended to enrich the story. I'll be going back through older stories adding elements like these.
The painkiller label was a bit of a fun gag, but it does raise an issue of consumer economics on Hearthstone. With so many races, of course they'd have to come up with ways to keep things like drugs in order; otherwise, you have stuff like what happened to Felicity in ST #1 -- foul-ups based on incorrect racial baselines. Focus group feedback led to the conclusion that for specific prescriptions, there would be packages with the specific racial symbols on them; but for over the counter meds like the painkillers, given the expense of printing out so many different types of labels, as opposed to one that says it all, meds that the races could use in common would probably have fold out labels with the dosage details in extremely fine print. Of course, as one reader observed, "I bet magnifying glasses are a very popular item...."
Remember the threat of the Sk'lan (page 30). There's more to it than apocalyptic poetry.
The interlude between the Ketterlings on page 34 raised a question in the forum focus group: "If Annabelle and Brett need each other to neutralize one another's powers, how is it that Annabelle is in her powered form and Brett is not? She throw an earlier tantrum or something?" This is a good question, one I may go back to answer with more details in earlier stories. The way I have it set up, the thermal and cryonic states are what the Ketterlings will naturally return to, given time and being enough apart from one another. Tantrums (or in Brett's case, laughter/joy) just allow for a quicker recharge. I also allowed for them to be able to manifest the power at will -- turn the switch on, so to speak, as long as some energy was available.
Arguably, they are never actually NOT in their thermal/cryonic states -- just better able to control their manifestations of it when it is at lower levels. Note that they were both able to feel the energies recharging even immediately after a full purge (RP #1, #3). So at a charge level of a certain percent, is when they're in clear power-up mode with the changed appearance. They can also produce manifestations of the energies even in "normal" appearance mode (as when Brett threw the fireball, page 21). One can also imagine that they've been training themselves in controlling the energies as much as possible.
The powers are tied in with emotion, too, so we can imagine that they may be more dangerous to touch when they're in their "recharge" emotion state....keep away from Brett when he's watching comedy DVDs, in other words.
A question also asked: "Are there any S'klan which aren't evil? Or have they all perished?" I can't answer that fully without giving away future stories, but one can certainly assume that there are some good ones (eg Molinist, who was a persecuted Covenant member who was used for experiments). To what extent they exist...I'll leave in the air for now, because indeed, not even Beamer knows the whole truth.
Keep the treatment of the Tilkrig by the Sk'lan (page 38) in mind. A complete contrast will be seen in Shrike Team #7, where we'll see a typical example of how the Prycenes work with "their" Tilkrig as personal equals with a superior talent.
A question raised also: "Wouldn't Beamer, having been raised by the Sk'lan, speak the same way?" This was an interesting question I didn't consider. Feedback leads me to the idea that the S'klan themselves would NOT raise Tilkrig babies but rather set up a communal creche for Tilkrig slaves to handle the diapers and so on. Here they would still be indoctrinated into the culture of the household but not necessarily the speech of the Sk'lan. This is an idea we may see more of in future stories. I can't see any Sk'lan being willing to change the diapers of a slave race...on the other hand, "Sk'lan changes Tilkrig diaper" might make for a good comedy interlude.
The explanation for Tilkrig biological incompatibility (page 43) was, as noted in the insider for A Sanslorian's Tale, a serious modification from the original idea that the Tilkrig's smaller size was the barrier. But it is one that works much better. The only issue one may raise is that back in RP #1, when Beamer affixed a suction cup to Annabelle's forehead using his own saliva, would this not be a risk? The medical consultant (who we thank, once again!) who helped on this issue said no. Annabelle isn't Elapine or Drovine and wouldn't have the same acute sensitivity. The bigger question, they said, was how he got a suction cup to work over fur! It was suggested that Beamer simply expected the cup to freeze to her forehead, but I would suggest that the consumer needs of Hearthstone would result in a suction system that bypassed fur.
Our first look at Hearthstone's lower life forms (page 46) -- for now. I plan to add in at least one scene in RP #1 where a bug will make an appearance.
A reader also asked about the relative speed of the prisoner's health breakdown (compared to Beamer's). Beamer, I do not think was ever quite as bad off (shambling, red eyes, etc) though I did leave the timing aspect open. Our medical consultant suggested a 72 hour limit before damage would become irreversible, and added, "Just because Beamer was showing intial symptoms doesn't mean he was necessarily in as poor a condition as the Sk'lan." I imagine any number of factors might come into play, especially concerning the original biology of the subject. Conceivably a Sk'lan-Elapine transformation might be more (or less) radical than a Tilkrig-Elapine one.
Finally...as for Sheila's own romantic interest (page 55)....wait and see.
The recommended Next Read is Shrike Team #5.