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The Gray Tiger
Part 1 <> Part 2 <> Part 3 <> Writing the Story of "The Gray Tiger"
Writing the story
of “The Gray Tiger”
A true Marine always puts honor above all, even if they have different opinions on what exactly is or is not honorable. My idea is to have a sub-unit of Marines which exists to perform the dishonorable tasks. Since the 40K universe merges religion with honor, dishonor would be presumably be related to damnation. Imagine a team of Marines loosely attached to the Tigers, for instance, which are not referred to in any written documents. Imagine that it is ritually despised, and referred to only as “the Damned.”Thom’s idea intrigued me but I stowed it away as I worked on other projects. Months went by, until I received some free i-Kore miniatures as part of a promotion for the VOID game. I particularly liked the Tactical Androsynths (see below); they looked like Games Workshop’s Space Marines, and yet—not. They seemed a bit more sinister-looking, but not monstrous, like Chaos Marines.
I soon realized that the i-Kore figures, these “not-quite Space Marines,” would be perfect to use as Thom’s “Gray Tigers.”
Refining the Concept
And yet, the idea of disgraced (but not evil) Fighting Tigers appealed to me. Drawing on the little bit I know about Hinduism, I decided a long time ago that the Tigers have hundreds of sacred vows they uphold. These vows range from the very general (to protect the weak, to preserve ancient Vedic traditions, to always learn more and promote the spread of knowledge) to the very specific (to never harm or eat frogs, cows, tigers, or any other sacred animal).
Undoubtedly, there had to be Tigers that failed to uphold or (less likely) deliberately broke a sacred vow. Minor infractions—failure to say one’s daily prayers; insubordination; pride, gluttony, or idleness—would warrant additional instruction from the Tigers of Varuna (Fighting Tiger Chaplains), acts of penance, or both. Major infractions—massacring civilians, negligence that resulted in the death of another Fighting Tiger, harming of sacred animals—would result in expulsion from the Chapter.
The “untouchables” were segregated from the rest of society, forced to live outside villages and towns and forbidden access to temples, most schools, and water wells used by members of higher castes. They were not allowed to touch members of other castes (hence the name) and even, in some cases, were not allowed to be seen, forced to stay indoors during the day and only come out at night.
Mahatma Gandhi called the “untouchables” harijan, (“The Children of God”) and championed their emancipation. In 1949, the “untouchable” caste was abolished in India and it became illegal to discriminate against former members. Of course, it’s far easier to legislate against prejudice than it is to actually eliminate it, but in the 50+ years since, Indian society has become more accepting.
I took the concept of the harijan and adopted it to my story. The Gray Tiger Sudra Patel is forced to live alone and may never communicate with another human. But just as the real harijan were not “evil,” neither is Sudra.
Incidentally, at no point in the story do I ever say what it was Sudra did to be expelled from the Tigers. My initial concept was that Sudra had had some kind of romantic involvement (possibly unrequited) with a Vedic village woman, but that idea raised a bunch of questions (Can Marines feel love? Can they have any kind of physical relationship?) that would only sidetrack the story. Rather than take a gamble on alternate reasons that might suspend reader disbelief (“They kicked him out of the Tigers for eating a hamburger?”), I opted to leave Sudra’s dismissal to the readers’ imagination. Why Sudra is a Gray Tiger is not really so important as what he does to redeem himself.
While plot drives the story, it is only one element. Setting has been very important in my writings for many years now, and one of the things I wanted to do with this story was make one part of Veda seem very real to the reader. I elected to keep all the action on Veda—which presented a problem. Previously, I’ve described Veda as a peaceful planet under the protection of the Fighting Tigers. Unless I wanted to introduce an enormous Chaos or Tyranid fleet bent on Veda’s destruction, there seemed little opportunity for Sudra to redeem himself.
My first idea was for Commissar Acosta to be the “bad guy” of the story. At this stage, Acosta was going to be an extremely powerful and dangerous person with considerable influence within the Imperium. Acosta would come to Veda while most of the Tigers were away, not approve of what he saw, and threaten to tell his superiors in the Administratum about all the “rules” the Tigers were breaking. Sudra’s task would be to stop Acosta before he “ratted” on the Tigers.
An okay premise, I suppose, but assassinating Acosta didn’t sound particularly heroic—in fact, it sounded exactly like something Thom’s “dishonorable Marines” would do. After writing the section introducing Acosta, I knew I wanted to keep him, but I didn’t want him as the enemy Sudra would have to face.
Bring on the Drowboys
Villains need some angle to make them interesting. Generic bad guys doing generic bad guy things simply bore audiences. To combat this, you can try two things. First, you can make what the villain does really reprehensible; given today’s moral standards, this approach is hard to effectively pull off. Even if you do, you risk offending many of your readers, who may turn from your story in disgust.
Or you can invest in the character of the villain. For instance, your villain can be:
In addition to their weird physical appearance and bad attitudes, I wanted to make the Ozone Scorpions even more different from any other Dark Eldar. Mutated by bizarre radiations, the Scorpions absorb life-energy through touch. Eklavdrah plucks a leaf from a bush and the leaf withers in her bare hand. Later, she licks Acosta and the skin where her tongue touches him dies. Jheste literally sucks the life out of a captured Guardsman. In the story, I don’t dwell too much on this aspect of the Scorpions, but I think it’s a neat touch (pun intended, thank you).
Incidentally, I had to rein in myself with the scenes where the Scorps torture the Guardsmen. My first inclination was to describe some really twisted, S&M type stuff, particularly between Eklavdrah and Acosta, but I backed off that (the Jungle has a fair amount of younger visitors, you know) and merely alluded to what the Dark Eldar were doing. As with Sudra’s dismissal from the Fighting Tigers, sometimes leaving things to the reader’s imagination is better.
I downplayed (but alluded) to Acosta’s connections to the “higher-ups” within the Imperium because I wanted him to be dangerous to the Tigers (and their way of life), but not overtly so. Instead of being a power-crazed General MacArthur, he became more of a bully. For example, when Daksha Ram refuses to allow him to hunt cattle, he retaliates by cutting rations and rest periods for the recruits under his command.
His sneaking out of the fortress to go hunt tigers further reflects his antagonistic relationship with Daksha Ram as well as his lack of power over the situation: he wants to get back at Daksha Ram but really can’t do much of anything until he leaves Veda. Acosta’s unsuccessful hunt brings together Sudra and the Scorpions, and propels the story towards its climax.
Commissar Acosta, though a real jerk, has his good points. For one thing, he’s tenacious: the Dark Eldar remark several times about how just about any other human would be dead with all he’s suffered. Not to mention that despite what they do to him, he tells them very little. And, as a true Imperial warrior, he tries to fight back, even when gravely wounded.
The other characters
Clumsy, damned clumsy. I replaced references to Talwar Chakram with Daksha Ram, so he plays a larger role in the story and appears throughout it. Not only does he interact with Acosta, but he is the Chaplain who, years before, cast out Sudra.
I like Fletcher, Acosta’s aide-de-camp. He would seem to be your typical lackey, but I hope he came across as having more character than that. In my original concept, with Acosta as the “bad guy,” Fletcher was going to be the “good guy” who would take over the Imperial Guard regiment and run it well and humanely once Sudra killed Acosta.
In the final version, Fletcher tries to get Acosta to back down from confronting Daksha Ram, and he is the one who notices the tigers coming to the lake. I tried to add some depth and humanity to him by expressing some of his wonder at Veda’s wildlife; hopefully that came through. My inspiration for him was Admiral Piett from The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi: not a bad guy, but forced to work for one.
The Scouts onboard the ship bound for Auros IX are the stereotypical, cocky “young punks” you find in most war movies (including Aliens, one of my favorite movies and a huge 40K influence). They’re the guys with no real experience who nevertheless think they can come in and kick ass. Kazi, the one who dares to speak to Sudra, is the best warrior of them all—and thus, the cockiest. The inspiration for Kazi was not a person, but a miniature: in a recent game, my Scout with the autocannon did a lot of damage to the Orks I was fighting that day.
Sudra Patel: Tiger of Rudra
I start letting on that Sudra isn’t a Gray Tiger anymore when the Scout Sergeant speaks to him and asks his forgiveness; with his reply of “I would be failing my sacred duty if I did not accept your apology,” Sudra shows that he has changed. Just to make sure the reader gets it, I mention that he is wearing yellow and brown armor and is off to meet his old comrades.
I got a lot of positive responses
to the story and I think it’s one of my better ones. It certainly was much
easier to write than my last one, Reconciliation,
though like all of my fiction, it took
several months to do. I tend to write in spurts, starting a story, letting
it sit for a few weeks, returning to it, letting it sit again. I revise
as I go, and when I think it’s ready I let my friend Pat read it and give
me a fresh perspective. I hope you enjoyed “The Gray
Tiger” and I hope this look at how I wrote it was useful
(or at least interesting) to you.
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© Copyright Kenton
Kilgore May 2001
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