It wasn't the smell that caused people to wonder what had happened in flat 416, nor the thousands of flies that seemed to live in and around the doors and windows, it was the sudden appearance of two hundred members of the God Squad.The inhabitants of Caesar Towers were used to smells that would kill the olfactory sense in the rest of humanity, at least those that mattered, and flies were a source of extra protein as far as they were concerned. But the sudden appearance of two hundred fully armed and armoured clergy of the Vatican Police Force Flying Squad was the most interesting thing to happen in the block for some years.In the almost narrow street of Via Tiber, the main street running through the Gutter District and built over the river Tiber one hundred years ago, four armoured cars braked suddenly, knocking over bins, tearing down washing lines and running over cats. It was the kind of driving they practised every week after watching the police driving instruction videos handed down from the files of Police Squad. The main tutor of these videos, Lieutenant Frank Drebin, had a statue in his honour in St Peter's (?) Square.After they'd trod on and shot the remaining cats that were too crippled or stupid to move out of their way, they broke down the main doors to Caesar Towers. As the doors weren't locked this wasn't hard, but they made sure the doors would give no further resistance by smashing them into pieces so small they could be put through a letter box: which they proceeded to do. The inhabitants of flats 103, 105 and 114 were thereby in receipt of some free firewood which they would later sell to the God Squad for their eco-friendly wood burning stoves.The police crashed and marched their way to the fourth floor, breaking down the morale of the remaining plaster on the stairwells by hitting it with their rifle butts. Squads were assigned to watch the vehicles, in case of theft, the stair well, in case of a riot, and the mobile doughnut van to keep their strength up.The five men of the lead squad ran down the corridor and came to a halt outside 416 then collapsed, clutching their throats due to the bad air.There were cries from the top stairwell squad calling for a med-team to evacuate their fallen comrades, who arrived in double quick time from their ambulance, parked next to the doughnut van.Equipped with gas masks, they dragged the semi-conscious officers away and took them downstairs for some emergency coffee and pastries to revive them, while the B squad put on their gas masks and raced down the hallway to take positions outside 416, while a similar situation was occurring through out the rest of the block and more officers were taken out for resuscitation.By this point in the operation all the doors of the flats were open and people were staring out to see what was going on. Those on the bottom three floors soon realised that the entertainment was on the fourth floor and drifted back inside. The people on the fourth floor thought all their Easter's had come at once and set up chairs in the hallway to enjoy the afternoon's entertainment.Before the police could enter the room, a fumigation team arrived to disinfect the area. The resulting insect deaths brought forth a black carpet in all the hallways which fed the locals for several days. Those on the fourth floor took advantage of the fumigation to get their laundry done and have a wash to boot.
It was my fourth attempt at the opening and, though it still needs editing and adapting, it works better than the others. So what other ideas did I have?
The first idea was to follow a prisoner released from jail on the moon until he met up with a previously released prisoner in Rome. After that, they would start their terrorist campaign. The next version had a body found in a brothel, and after that I started with a show trial on Earth being watched by Anne McLintock and God. None of those ideas really worked as an opening, though there is still time to change my mind.
But I'm happy with this idea as it gives a sense of the world I'm opening up to the reader, and a feel of the people who inhabit that world. A later part will also introduce one of the main characters...which came as a surprise as I hadn't planned for this person to exist.
I find the process of deciding the opening to be more difficult that the rest of the book. For 'A Stitch In Time', it took months before I was happy with the opening and it meant discarding about twelve pages of prose that had Alan Radford preparing for his death and then being kidnapped. He was in a car either in the lake district or in a town far away from home. Then he was at home spending his last day on Earth, before I had him sitting at his computer typing the last email he'd ever send.
Now I have the opening of the book decided, for now at least, the rest of the book should follow relatively easily.
What's your process for deciding the opening?
In the meantime, here are a few short comic bursts from Babylon 5.
With that, I bid you adieu and I'll see you on Friday.