Until now I’ve been rather slow with introducing you to characters. Abel Carter showed up in the first proper chapter and Valeria appeared a couple of chapters later. Now I’ve dropped another three on you — Calla Heffer, Charlie Sterling, and Virgus Ricimer, as well as a more detailed setting than “some desert city.” Why all of these characters at once?
One of the common ways of organizing groups of characters in fiction is the Five-Man Band. The archetypical set up looks like this: Leader, Lancer, Big Guy, Smart Guy, and the Chick. It’s a fairly reliable structure with some nice character stereotypes that go along with each role, but the real fun comes in playing with the reader’s expectations.
At first glance, it may be easy for you as the reader to place the five characters in this scene into their archetypical roles. Alex is of course the Leader, Valeria is the Lancer (Alex’s right hand, a bit of a foil, and backs him up no matter what), Charlie is the Big Guy (straightforward & argumentative), and Calla is the Smart Gal. And then we run into a snag: where’s the Chick? The Chick, according to TV Tropes, is the heart of the team, the glue that holds them together and mediates their tensions. The Chick doesn’t necessarily have to be female, though the character often is. In this case, however, Ricimer fills the last slot in the team, but he’s almost an anti-Chick. He agitates tension, and seems all too willing to get into conflicts with the other characters. At the moment, I haven’t given you anything on his motivations (or really anything about the Consuls), but Ricimer in particular doesn’t seem like a team player. He’s more of the Sixth Ranger archetype, the late-coming outsider who presents a different, contrasting philosophy to the Leader.
This is a team with a crucial member missing. They’ve gone extra before they get their basics down. There will be consequences.
On a different note, I’ve been using “FLASH” to indicate Alex’s shifts, accompanied by bright light in the story. Hopefully you’ve realized by now that these are shifts in time. If you haven’t, it’s a sign that I need to go back and edit to make it more obvious. It may be a bit of a cliche to use a literary “lens flare” for this mechanic, but for me it fits with Alex’s established connection with electricity and lightning, which has classically been a symbol for radical change. More to come on this.