Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Mel Keegan's NARC series: the Backstory

Mama Google is probably going to hate me for doing this. I think they call it "duplicate material" or something ... in the Real World, we call it "cross posting," so right now I'm going to grit my teeth and just go ahead and post this ... because I wrote it, I have permission to use it, and there's no way I can rewrite this whole column! (I just found out I have a few RL problems to take care of ... bang on cue, soon as I started this blog. It'll be maybe a week before I can post again -- sheesh -- and I have to make even this one quick.) So I'm about to cross-post (with permission!!) my feature article from the NARC website. Here is the original URL: http://www.dream-craft.com/melkeegan/narc_jarratandstonefile.htm, and if you suspect I've done something disgusting and "scraped" it, contact Mel or DreamCraft direct and they'll tell you I'm innocent!! Here's their contact page: http://www.dream-craft.com/melkeegan/contact.htm

Backstory biographical information compiled from the all five books, by ARICIA GAVRIEL. Note: some comments below are cross-referenced with HELLGATE, which takes place in the same universe, two centuries after the NARC stories. Excerpted from Aricia's webpage and used under association.

NOTE: this fact-file has been updated to include information revealed in SCORPIO and STOPOVER. Be aware of plotspoilers!

Kevin Jarrat and Jerry Stone are around thirty years old and are of un-genetically engineered human stock, though only Stoney was born on Earth.

Jarrat began life on a 'halfway world' called Sheckley, and does not even know who his family is. He was only three or four years old when a man who was probably his father left him behind on Sheckley ... luckily for the child,because the man who seemingly abandoned him, one Keith Jarrat, was killed along with all other colonist son the Lombard Explorer, which was outbound to start a new colony.

If the child had been aboardwhen the ship left Sheckley station, Kevin Jarrat would have been dead at age four. In fact, he was raised in a hospice for foundlings and orphans, and as soon as he was old enough joined the Army as a means of escape from a 'nothing' world.

Sheckley was built as a refueling station for the huge colony sleeper ships that were heading out to build new worlds in the days before the powerful, fastdrive engines that are more common in Jarrat's and Stone's era.People who know Sheckley call it a 'gas can with lights.' It is not a planet, but a hollowed-out planetoid, and it looks a lot like a cross between an oil rig and a launch gantry! It is very far from a place one would want to grow up ... and it was already full of Angel when Jarrat was getting into his teens. We visit Sheckley in STOPOVER.

Jarrat says atone point, he was probably lucky to not become a user. Many of his friends were not so lucky, and one friend (a teenage lover) died of Angel. Losing this friend was Jarrat's inspiration to enter NARC and play his part in the drug war.

But first, to escape from Sheckley, Jarrat enlisted in the Army at age 17. The arrival of a Service recruitment ship was timely, and Jarrat never looked back. He made good in the Service, though his Army career was a little patchwork. At least one promotion came as the result of a personal relationship with a senior officer (!) &#151 but Jarrat 'paid' for that promotion time and again in the field,when only his own wits, courage and his ability to 'think outside the square' won the day. (A story told by Jarrat to Stoney, in Death's Head.)

His unorthodox 'result getting' capabilities soon came to the attention of NARC, and when his Army hitch was up, Jarrat applied to NARC and switched Services.

He took with him into NARC all his Army skills, probably most notable among which is his ability as a combat pilot &#151 though all NARC officers as flight trained as a matter of course.

Kevin Jarrat is described as tallish, though not especially tall (one guesses, about five-eleven to six-one), and his hair is light brown and sun-blond. He works hard, trains hard, and also plays hard.He was able to undertake the undercover assignment into the Death's Head Angel Cartel ... he was able to survive (albeit with a lot of help!) the ordeal of being beaten almost to death, and come back fighting, though he did suffer some post-traumatic stress.

Part of the key to his survivability is the hot temper for which Kevin Jarrat is well known. But he is also physically very tough,as you would expect of any kid who grew up on Sheckley.

By contrast, Robert Jeremy Stone ... 'Jerry' to his family (which he hates), Stoney to his friends (which he prefers) is a lot more mellow and laid-back, though he gives the impression of just being a slower-burning fuse that might even lead to a bigger charge of explosives in the end! (Officially, the Service knows him as R.J. Stone. The computers know Jarrat as Kevin J., but the 'J' doesn't stand for anything. The machines simply stumble if there's no middle initial! Harry learns this from Jarrat when he's completing the treatment papers for Stoney in the unabridged version of DEATH'S HEAD.)

Stone was born in London on Earth, but he spent a lot of his youth on the east coast of Spain, where his family own a massive house in the hills above Barcelona. His passion was for flying, and when he was a kid he flew ultralite planes over the Spanish hills.

The Stone family has money. They were once obscenely rich. One of Stoney's ancestors was a building contractor who figured out how to 'winterize' existing houses in the Mediterranean region, fitting insulation, triple-glazing and solar powered heating, to counteract the effects of the 'sudden climate change' (who hasn't seen The Day After Tomorrow?! The scenario won't be as bad as that, but we know the Atlantic Ocean heat conveyor will stop, and when it does, Europe will begetting very cold.)

The Stone family fortune was built on quick-fix winterizing,and they banked about two billion dollars! Most of it was lost by the next generations, but when Stoney was in his teens the family was still very rich ...and they had young Jeremy's whole career planned out for him. He was going to be a leading scientist and then flow on into politics...

In fact, when he left college (Floyd Webber Polytechnic in Paris),Stoney enlisted in 'Tac.' (Tactical Response has replaced the police forces on Earth and across the colonies. Tac is something like a little brother of NARC; it's paramilitary, same as NARC, but definitely a few rungs higher up than any police force known on Earth today.)

The story of Stoney's enlistment in Tac is a whole tale in itself. During his college years he lost some friends to Angel and was motivated to go get revenge for them, by joining Tac ... this did NOT please his family! When he joined Tac,their plans were derailed.

But Stoney went ahead with his choice, though the cost of this was high. When the books begin, he has been estranged from his family, and also, though they have money, he doesn't benefit from this. Everything he has at the time of these stories, he has earned by himself.

The hunger for revenge has worn away with the 12 years of service in Tac and NARC, and now, like Jarrat, he's a thorough professional in a tough trade.

He went through the full Tac training and apparently did well. One of his instructors while still on Earth was Victor Healey Duggan, who would become Tac Colonel Vic Duggan, in command of Tactical in the city of Elysium, the Zeus colony. Duggan was always very impressed with the young Stone, and expected him to go far. He kept tabs on him, when Stone transferred from Tac to NARC, and it was not long before Jerry Stone was promoted to Captain.

Stoney has considerable piloting skills which go back to his teens, when he used to fly sail planes (gliders). He is described as tall and broad, built like an athlete (one imagines,six-three or four); his hair is dark, or almost black, and his eyes are an amazing shade of blue. His temper is not as quick as Jarrat's, which may only mean he reaches flashpoint slower!

He is equally as tough as Jarrat. While Jarrat was 'beaten to death' in a backstreet in the city of Chell in the first book, it was Stoney who had to survive a forced-addiction to the deadly designer drug, Angel.

In tandem, these two share command of the carrier Athena.

So, who's in command?!

It might be thought a little odd at first, that the carrier should have two captains ... but after a very little thought it starts to make tremendous sense. Only the captain has the rank to make life-and-death decisions that might affect a whole colony or a trillion-dollar spacecraft, and those decisions might have to be made on-the-fly, in the field or on the ship, at a moment's notice. The work these NARC agents perform is incredibly hazardous. On almost all 'away missions,' there are times when they almost don't come back alive; they can be out of touch with the carrier and still have to make pivotal decisions involving the future, and survival, of vast numbers of people and massive amounts of real estate.

It's often absolutely necessary to have the command rank officer in the field, buried in a deep-cover situation for weeks at a time ... but it's also vital to have a command rank officer on the ship. Solution: have a pair of command rankers (in this scenario, captains) who work as a team. (The concept is revolutionary and daring, but it's the logical answer to 'the Star Trek paradox:' in the original series they had Jim Kirk off the ship every episode, in unbelievable peril, often leaving command of the ship to junior officers ... in Next Generation, you had the captain's executive officer always telling Picard he's too valuable, too vital to the ship, to be allowed out on 'away missions,' yet in a lot of instances, a command rank officer was actually desperately needed in the field. The solution has got to be, have TWO command rankers who work in partnership. Two captains. But since the Trek universe is soundly based on contemporary military hierarchies (in fact, the Navy), Mel Keegan's elegant answer to the age-old problem isn't available to the screen-writers. NARC, however, is NOT the military, and it isn't based in 1960s hierarchical thinking. If you come forward to Stargate SG1 in 2003-2005, they have a unit comprised of a civilian scientist, plus two rankless alien mission specialists, and TWO COLONELS. Good golly, has somebody in Hollywood been reading Mel Keegan ... or do brilliant minds think alike?! I should think Gene Roddenberry would be spinning in his grave, but the solution is simple, elegant ... and works. On an OT note, if you're wide awake when you watch Firefly, you would swear Joss Whedon has read MK! And that's very cool indeed.

Jerry Stone was already aboard the carrier when Jarrat arrived to replace a captain who had been killed in the field. The Athena's other captain was terribly injured on the same assignment. Jarrat and Stone were a new partnership, just promoted and teamed up ...

And it didn't take long for the sparks to fly between them: it was instantaneous attraction, but the regulations of the Service forbade personal relationships between the ranking officers, for good reasons. As it's explained in the books, it would be perfectly possibly to have a billion-credit operation destroyed becauseone officer 'pushed the panic button' to save his comrade who was in jeopardy.It's important to note, though, that the Service doesn't have any problem whatsoever with a gay relationship. It's the context of any relationship that gives them the chill shivers!

NARC regulations aside, Jarrat and Stone were deeply attracted to each other at the get-go, and it was only a matter of time before something happened which ignited the explosive relationship between them.

The NARC universe is four centuries in our own future. On the many worlds which have been colonized by humans, every problem humans ever had seems to have gone out into space with us! We've taken our pollution, our overpopulation, our violence and partisan tendencies ... and our thirst for the extraordinary, even if it carries with it a certain danger.

Such as the suite of designer drugs available in the Twenty Fourth Century. Most of the drugs are made virtually harmless by the blocker shots, the 'come down' drugs which act like an instant-sobriety shot. In EQUINOX we see a young man who's taken something to help him get over the shock of a car blowing up on his driveway, killing his lover and almost killing him. The young man is able to come down quickly and easily using the blocker shot given to him by a Tactical officer who is his friend.

Therefore, most recreational drugs are street-legal in this century, even though some of them are well-known for rotting your brain. They're no worse than cigarettes in our century.

The one that is different is Angel ... it's highly addictive, there's no blocker for it ... in fact, it's utterly lethal.You use it once, and you're on a death sentence.

One way or another the Angel gets into a system, when the per capita usage of the drug is reported to have reached the 10% line, NARC involvement is automatic. A carrier is assigned to that colony, and a planet-sized investigation starts.

The investigation can end in all-out war, and while on the one hand NARC seems to be armed to the teeth like the Army,the Air Force, the SGC and Starfleet all rolled into one, on the other hand the Angel Syndicates are so well armed, at the end of EQUINOX, SCORPIO and APHELION it's touch-and-go whether NARC will be 'totally blown away.'

So what's NARC? It's an acronym that stands for Narcotics And Riot Control. They're paramilitary ... they run the biggest carriers in space, loaded with gunships and fighter planes, squads of really BIG dudes, the 'riot troops' who jump out of the gunships right into the middle of a streetwar where the bad guys are shooting the kind of ammo that knocks down buildings.

The carrier has a Starfleet crew that looks after running the ship ... the chief carrier pilot is Colonel Helen Archer, who lost her son to Angel ... but everything else in the operation is down to NARC.

Decisions are made on the fly, and the captains in the field are answerable to a command hierarchy that's strung out through the colonies all the way to Earth. But it takes so long to get a message out and back, most of the time, a NARC captain has to take the initiative himself, runs the risks, make the hard decisions, and put his neck on the block, to get something done fast. And if they moved any slower (ie., waited for orders from back at base!) the Angel syndicates would slip through their fingers like warm oil

This is where Jarrat and Stone come in. Hardware and software aside, NARC is about people. And Jarrat and Stone were provided with one of the best crews in the Service to back them up, including the Canadian engineer,Karl 'Bud' Budweisser, and the Chief Medical Officer, 'Kip' Reardon. (I asked Mel in a recent email, what 'Kip' is short for: It's Kipling. There was a scene in the original version of DEATH'S HEAD ... pre the butcher-job that got DH down to a length GMP could deal with ... where Reardon was backstoried, and you got to know some about his family, and where the name comes from).

The crew of the Athena also includes the glamor-boy pilot, Curt Gable and the carrier's XO, the Russian, Petrov.But my personal favorites from the 'supporting cast' are Gil Cronin and Joe Ramos, the two giant Marines-type troopers from the Raven units.

For more on the other crew members, Click here to Meet the Characters ...

However, top-notch crew or not, Jarrat and Stone were going to get into big trouble sooner or later and one way or another. They take it in turnsto do the deep-cover assignments ... off the ship, spending weeks in the field where their only contact with the ship is a secret transmitteror a public vidphone!

And it's dangerous. Extremely. So there was no surprise when the whole thing went bad one day. This is close to the start of DEATH'S HEAD. In fact, a lot of the first book is based on the opening segment when Jarrat is literally beaten to death in a backstreet in a super-city called Chell. Then he vanishes off the face of the planet, and Stoney (who's been hiding a burning passion forJarrat for a long time) hunts him down across half the world, while in the background an Angel-war is breaking out in Chell and other places.

The tracking-down of Jarrat is a great story in itself, but about the time Jarrat gets himself back onto an even keel and, like E.T.,finally calls home ... the Angel-war has exploded and it's Stoney who is in the *&@! up to his eyeballs.

In fact, Stone gets forcibly addicted to the super-drug, leaving Jarrat with a puzzle he can't solve by any legitimate means. Very soon, Jarrat is in the street, breaking every law you can imagine, and, as anyone who's read the book will tell you, the only way he can find to get Stoney's life back is to put his own life &#151 andhis own sanity &#151 on the line.

At that point, we'd already met the miracle-worker, a 'healer' called Harry Del.Harry is back in all the subsequent books. His story is hugely compelling.He works with Kip Reardon, but he's almost at war with NARC's Research & Development division ... and it all comes to flashpoint in APHELION.

In DEATH'S HEAD we saw Del do something weird and wonderful, with nothing to do with conventional medical skills and surgery, to save Jarrat's life. But when Jarrat flies Stone back to Del, to ask Harry to do the magic for him, he soon learns it's different.

There's a huge personal sacrifice to be made ... and out of this sacrifice comes the empathy that makes Jarrat and Stone as extraordinary as they are in EQUINOX and the other novels

They're empaths, not telepaths. There's a difference. Telepaths can read thoughts. Empaths can 'only' read feelings &#151 and Jarrat and Stone can read each other so clearly, one knows when the other itchesor sneezes or laughs.

On one side, you can easily surmise what thisbodes for their sex lives! On the other side, NARC's R&D people soon got hold of thereport on their empathy, and immediatelywanted to see if the empathy could be turned into weapon.

This is where the second book opens. At the start of EQUINOX, Stoneyand Jarrat are sweating their way through an exhaustive series oftests being run by NARC, to see exactly what the can do. Throughout theseries, Harry Del is fighting off R&D, while Jarrat and Stone endure a testprogram that comes to its own flashpoint in APHELION.

The empathy gets them into a lot of trouble ... it also saves theirlives ... and it makes possible jobs that would otherwise be totallyimpossible. Without the empathy, Jarrat and Stone are already crackagents, but with the empathy, they have abilities that blow the doorsoff their rivals.

PICTURE CREDITS: all artwork on this page is by Jade and used by permission. Featured images are slices of the 2008 edition NARC paperback covers

NOTE: at the time of this uploading (middle of 2008) my webpage is offline. I haven't been able to update it for a long time (too long) because Geocities wouldn't give me access (even though I'm 100% sure my password was right. Go figure.) I want to update the whole shebang before I put it up again. So right now, the only segment of my site that's online is right here. I'll post here when I get my own site back online. Sorry for the inconvenience, guys. -A.G.