Anatomy of a Sequence, Part 1

October 5th, 2012

Troubleshooters contains what I modestly think is one of the best action sequences I’ve ever written, as well as one of my favorites. I’d like to take a couple of posts here to break it down for you so you can see how it works based upon the lessons in the Action! book.

Setup: Angel is a professional bounty hunter, raiding a competitor’s base of operations as revenge for an incident that happened earlier in the book. The setting is London in the mid 2050s, after the sea levels have risen to make much of the city resemble Venice, with waterways replacing roads.

Angel listens to the faint sound of conversation from the surface; she can’t make out any words, but hears at least three voices. Footsteps lead on and off the boat multiple times. Eventually the noises from overhead cease. She waits a full fifteen minutes before she dares to raise her head above the water.
The spacious dock has several boats moored along it, from the Bartletts’ speedboat to a couple of dinghies and a small cabin cruiser. A crane on rails lurks overhead like a fat yellow spider waiting to pounce on unsuspecting prey. The air smells of ozone and lubricants. Angel sees a machine and maintenance shop at one end of the dock and a stack of crates at the other. An office sits off to the side, and she can overhear faint conversation from it. The dock itself is sealed from the exterior waterways by a reinforced steel door which Angel is certain requires a code to open. That presents a problem for a quick getaway. She’s got some pretty good explosives with her, but it would take all of them to make a dent in that monster, and she still might not be able to get out afterward. She looks around for other options, and sees a small round window high on one wall. It’s dirty, but shows daylight from beyond. It’ll have to do.
She attaches a bomb the size of a small cookie to the hull of the Bartletts’ boat, and slaves the detonator to a switch worn on her wrist. Sure, it’s petty, but she’s not doing this job for anyone but herself.
There are bound to be cameras in the dock, maybe even monitored by a Turing. If a private citizen like Whitecastle has his own pet A.I., it stands to reason others in his social circles will too, so Angel stays low in the water for the most part. She fixes charges to two other boats, including the cabin cruiser, which runs on hydrogen and should make a very satisfying BOOM. Of her remaining charges, two go on the ends of the boardwalk, which she hopes to make collapse. The rest she intends to put on the support pillars for the ceiling. She figures if she does enough damage, Coopersmith might either fire the Bartletts outright or else pull them off the TISbottle hunt to seek out the perpetrator of the attack instead. If Angel is careful enough, they’ll spend an inordinate amount of time and effort to track her down, if they can even identify her.
She still can’t see any cameras, but they could be almost microscopic in size, so she’s just going to have to trust to a little luck. She lifts herself out of the water in the shadow of the crane, and then heads along the wall. She places her remaining charges on the way toward the stack of crates. She can hide the EMP bomb amid them.
The device weighs about ten pounds, and is about the size of a one-liter bottle. It’s uncomplicated; SWAT guys are notorious for their impatience with fussy equipment, and Angel approves of that practice. There is a selector switch for manual or timed detonation. She picks Manual and clips the small detonator button to her wrist band. After switching off the safety device and arming it, she slides the activated weapon between two crates.
“Freeze, asshole!” yells a feminine voice. Angel lifts her hands but dumps all her combat chemicals into her system. She’d hoped she wouldn’t have to fight her way out. “Turn around.”
It’s Gwynnie Bartlett, and she’s got a hand cannon leveled at Angel.
“You!” she hisses in recognition.
“Me,” replies Angel. “How’s the shoulder, Gwynnie?”
Gwynnie’s eyes narrow. She mutters something, and Angel knows she’s calling for backup. “Don’t believe we been prop’ly introduced, luv. What’s yer name?”
“Nobody special. Just a working girl like yourself.”
[This begins the “Dock Gunfight” Engagement.] A door slams open and three armed security guards rush into the dock, followed by Gladys Bartlett. Gwynnie glances in their direction for a fraction of a second, and Angel throws herself to one side. [Stunt 1]
Gwynnie fires. The deafening shot blows apart the crate that Angel had stood on half a heartbeat ago. Angel rolls, digs her hands into the thigh pouches of the wetsuit, finds her guns, and comes up shooting. [Stunt 2]
The Bartletts and guards scatter for cover as Angel ducks behind the crates. A guard pops up, his gun held in a sideways grip which means he’s seen too many classic vids. He shoots once and hollers as the kick breaks his wrist. Angel puts a bullet into him and he falls with an agonized yell from a superficial wound. [Stunt 3]
“Where’d you find these morons, Gwynnie?” Angel calls. “Chumps ’R’ Us?”
Gwynnie stays under cover. Angel knows she’s waiting for a shot of opportunity.
“Oy,” calls Gladys from somewhere to Angel’s left. “Ye’re a bit far from Down Under, ain’t ye?”
Angel sees motion out of the corner of her eye and jumps over a crate as the guard who’d been sneaking up on her cuts loose with his gun on full auto. Angel slips and slides over more crates as bullets chew them apart. She hits the cement floor of the dock and rolls. [Stunt 4] She stays flat, where the guard wouldn’t expect to see her, places her gun flat on the floor, and squeezes off several rounds. [Stunt 5] The bullets skip like stones on the floor to smash into the man’s feet and ankles. He screams and falls. Angel ducks back under cover as Gwynnie cuts loose with that hand cannon again. Splinters rain down upon her. Some of those heavy shells pass right through crates to hit distant walls and come close to Angel in their passing.
Still, she can’t let the Bartletts think they’re winning. “Score’s two to nothing and I’m ahead. What’re the chances I pop one of you ladies next?”
“I’d play the odds we’ll take this match, luv,” calls Gwynnie. “I owe ye for my latest scar.”
“Ye can’t hide in them crates forever.” Gladys sounds like she’s moving to flank Angel.
“I don’t have to last forever,” says Angel. “I only have to outlast you.”
A whine of machinery makes her look up. The crane’s heavy hook races across the dock toward her. It’ll smash through the crates and Angel too if she doesn’t get out of the way. She knows Gladys and Gwynnie await their chance to take her down as soon as she’s exposed. Then a crazy idea pops into her drug-enhanced mind and she runs with it.
With just a second to act, she jams one gun back into a thigh pouch. When the hook crashes into the crates, she jumps up and stretches her hand out to grab the braided steel cable in passing. The momentum nearly jerks her arm from its socket but she yanks herself up to a precarious perch on the hook. In the space of a heartbeat she fires three shots: one at Gladys, who ducks and rolls; one at Gwynnie, who twists behind a pillar; and the last at the guard inside the crane control booth. [Stunt 6]
He doesn’t duck.
The bullet enters his forehead and his brains exit the back of his skull. He slumps down with his hand still at rest on the crane control. Angel nearly loses her grip on the thick, oily cable as the crane accelerates on its rails and heads for the far wall with that tiny round window. She twists around the cable and spins like a pole dancer to keep Gladys and Gwynnie from getting a good shot at her. [Stunt 7]
The crane crashes into the blocks at the end of its rails with an impact hard enough to shake the entire building. The hook swings upward in an arc. Angel empties her clip against the window. It stars with each bullet. She lets go of the cable and jumps from the hook as hard as she can, fists extended like battering rams. [Stunt 8]
She crashes through the window in a glissando of shards. Shock runs all the way up her arms into her shoulders and she wonders how many bones she just broke but can’t feel because of the combat chemicals. Her pistol splashes into a waterway, but Angel tucks and rolls onto a small plaza. People gape at her dramatic exit from the building and one woman shrieks in fear. [Stunt 9]
Angel bounces to her feet, triggers the detonator switch for all the charges except the EMP bomb, and runs. [This ends the “Dock Gunfight” Engagement. Tomorrow: The “Foot Chase” Engagement!]

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