With November suddenly upon us, it’s time for me to get to work on Bella Lucky and the Monsters of Methone, but in previous posts I admitted I had some big holes to fill in the plot before I could get started, and even needed an additional character to serve as the humble but all-important “redshirt.” Let’s get him out of the way first, the poor, unfortunate . . .
Michael “Big Mike” Stenglitz (M)


DICE tactical officer

gregarious soldier

dies very soon


NO POV scenes

Personal qualities: Vitality, Excitement and Passion, Cheerfulness; lacks: Appreciation and Gratitude

Who are you?

I am one big bad motherfucker.

What do you want more than anything?

To bust some skulls for the cause, whatever that cause might be.

How far would you go to get it?

All the way out to the maximum operational range of my weapon.

Why is what you want so important?

They tell me it’s important to bust up drug cartels, I bust up drug cartels. If they told me to jack up the fucking Girl Scouts, the fucking Girl Scouts are getting jacked up. End of story.

How do you feel about the people in your life?

I love my husband, my parents, my dogs, and my fellow Marines. Most DICE constables should be fucking hanged, but this Bella chick’s not so bad.

How do you feel about yourself?

I fucking rule.

What groups do you belong to (and the top three)?

Most importantly: ex-Saturnian System Marine Corps (SSMC) Staff Sergeant, husband, dog person (owns three)

But also: betweener (born aboard a spacecraft between Jupiter and Saturn), color blind, country music fan, DICE tactical officer, gay, hunter, member of Bug Hunters Anonymous, military veteran, Saturnian, son, square dancer, uncle

What makes you unique?

paranoid about my feet, supreme self-confidence, funny and fun as hell

Unique Item:

a particularly big and versatile rifle that I still need to define

Physical Description:

massive: 6’7” tall, 300 lbs of pure muscle. Shaved head, big mustache, wears particularly heavy boots

Primary Sense:

sight—he’s an uncomplex kinda guy: “Do you smell that?” someone asks. “Nope,” he answers—and the monster eats his head.


Spoiler alert, but I want to set him up to seem like a major character¾he’ll be with Bella before she meets the rest of the team and goes along for the (God help me for using this term) “inciting incident.”

Speaking of that, one of the biggest holes in my rough, note card-constructed outline was a reason for all this to be happening. I decided before anything else that I wanted to write a space opera dungeon crawl so I roughed out my “dungeon party” and filled in a balance of monsters and traps and tricks, but then why is all this happening, and where do all these monsters come from?

Idea One was that this is an illegal genetics lab and these monsters are all man-made, but something rang hollow for me on that from the get-go. Why are they creating these monsters? To what end? I know I didn’t want this to be a “bio-weapons” program, so then, what?

Then I re-read the short story “Bella Lucky and the Titan of Tarvos” and found I’d slipped in an off-hand reference to “Europan crustaceans,” and this instantly solved my problem.

This meant that in my imagined future colonized solar system they have indeed discovered indigenous life in the oceans under the ice on Europa, a moon of Jupiter—and one of the solar system’s prime candidates for life, assuming there are the same kind of mineral-rich sub oceanic vents there that we find in the deep oceans here.

There appears to be a similar ice-covered ocean on the Saturnian moon Enceladus, so if there are crustaceans on Europa, why not “monsters” swimming around Enceladus? And there have been theories put forward that there could be life in the atmospheres of the gas giants¾the chemistry’s there, anyway¾so how about some monsters from Saturn itself? And then there’s partially-explored Titan, which has lakes and rivers¾of freezing liquid methane, but who’s counting? Since I’m in charge of the reality of my future solar system, I can decide there’s life on Titan. These would be less animals (birds of Saturn or fish of Enceladus) and would give me a chance to cook up some full-on cold-weather monsters¾something more exotic from a more exotic environment.

So now I have my premise:


Bllithe & Company is a pharmaceutical company from Callisto, which has only recently begun to move into Saturn space. They had a few big successes using organic compounds sourced from the seas under the ice of Europa. What no one outside the company, and very few inside it, know is that these “organic compounds” were extracted from the native crustaceans, even though it’s illegal to remove any native species from their environment. Essentially, all extraterrestrial life forms are considered endangered species.

In search of more exotic organics, or what they call “exanics,” Bllithe & Company has expanded into Saturn space and have begun buying illegally harvested animals from Enceladus (tentacled sea creatures similar to octopuses and squids), the atmosphere of Saturn (birds and “floaters”), and Titan (straight up “cold monsters”). They took over an abandoned weapons R&D facility on Methone, which they operate in secret with the help of certain paid-off allies in the Saturnian government and DICE.

Among other hopeful lines of inquiry, they’re very close to a treatment for Martian Orange addiction.

The lab itself is very carefully “air gapped” to maintain their internal security. All lab personnel are Jupitan. It’s officially called MethLabs, Inc., and is registered as an independent corporation founded on Titan, but that’s just a shell corporation, and when they check it will appear to have gone bankrupt three months before.

Dr. Niu has been offered a massively lucrative drug study for her cooperation in securing data from the lab and covering up Bllithe & Company’s involvement in animal testing.


I also sat down and put a little thought into some fun, dungeon-crawly trap rooms, which I’ve dropped in here using names that likely won’t be referenced in the text. I split up the monsters from the three sources, with more coming from Enceladus (just so I can get all tentacly¾and why not?), with a couple flyers from Saturn and the primitive sentient species from Titan.

Because I need to get started fast I put more thought into just the first couple chapters. I’ll fill in details, more worldbuilding, and so on as I go. So here I have my revised outline¾just enough to get started:


Chapter 1


Bella and Big Mike are on their way to Prometheus, where the DICE tactical unit training center is. Mike has agreed to help Bella learn to shoot. It’s clear they’re old friends. They get a call from DICE dispatch with a video distress call from a young man in the cockpit of a truck, scared out of his mind, begging for help, says something about not caring if he goes to jail… In the background is a loud banging, then a tearing noise and he screams as a tentacle wraps around him and pulls him back through the torn-open cockpit door. One last scream then the cockpit begins to fill with blood and water mixing in zero-G. Bella and Big Mike are closest to the truck’s location so they get the call.

* * *


At the truck, they go in and fight off MONSTER-1 (Enceladus/squid), a great tentacled beast from the oceans of Enceladus. They see the truck was on course for Methone, but the only thing on Methone is MethLabs, Inc. (Bella gets the historical reference, but Big Mike doesn’t) and records show the lab was abandoned when the company went bankrupt three months ago. Bella calls this in and is told to report to Prometheus where a team will be assembled to investigate MethLabs on Methone.


Chapter 2


On Prometheus, the team is assembled and Bella gets a quick read on everyone involved. Big Mike complains about lack of tactical support. It’s all fairly rushed and hasty as they get ready to leave. The truck is there, with the dead monster, and everyone but Dr. Niu is grossed out. Here it’s revealed that she was part of a team studying them in their natural habitat¾which is why she’s a part of the team. Everyone seems pretty on the ball.

* * *


They arrive Methone and enter the lab. It’s creepy, no one seems to be around, there’s sign of a fight, etc. Big Mike dies right away: “Do you smell that?” someone asks. “Nope,” he answers—and MONSTER-2 (Titan/cold) eats his head. Fight breaks out and Bella is injured by MONSTER-2 and has to rely on Dr. Niu.


Chapter 3


gathering data on all other characters

—secretly an internal affairs investigator:

Knows Jimmy is cartel, suspects Bella

interrupted by MONSTER-3 (Saturn/bird)

Stas notices personal information about scientists


Chapter 4


trapped by

TRAP/TRICK-1 (Impossible Fish)

has to rely on Hunter

Stas notices personal information about scientists


Chapter 5


alone, gathers data, deletes files, releases:

MONSTER-4 (Saturn/floater)


Chapter 6


saves the day by overcoming

TRAP/TRICK-2 (Passwords), in which Stas figures out passwords based on personal information about scientists he’s gathered along the way, retrieves all the lab’s data into his bigBRAIN.

Stas has doubts about Bella


Chapter 7


confronts Stas over data he’s downloaded into his bigBRAIN—but he’s not traitor/villain

loses trust of others


Chapter 8


tries to turn Stas & Hunter against Bella (fails)

TRAP/TRICK-3 (Centrifuge)

Bella separated from the rest


Chapter 9


has to fight

MONSTER-5 (Enceladus/squid)

all by herself


Chapter 10


tries to find place to secretly contact her bosses

discovered by Hunter


Chapter 11


has to figure out

TRAP/TRICK-4 (Cattle Chute)

all by herself


Chapter 12


has to fight

MONSTER-6 (Enceladus/squid)

all by herself—

finds her way back


Chapter 13


Discovers the truth about Dr. Niu

—tries to tell Bella

—leaves message, but interrupted by

TRAP/TRICK-5 (Power Core)

Dr. Niu leaves him to die

Bella shows up just too late


Chapter 14


moment of doubt and pain

TRAP/TRICK-5 (Power Core), continued

has to rely on Stas

fails to protect Hunter



Chapter 15


Lost, alone,

succeeds in contacting bosses

then surprised by

MONSTER-7 (Enceladus/squid)


Chapter 16


accidentally injures Stas

confronted with limits of luck

MONSTER-8 (Enceladus/squid)


Chapter 17


dénouement with his reflections on:


Dr. Niu





Chapter 18


moment of doubt and pain—


almost killed by

MONSTER-9 (Titan/cold)

but manages to communicate with them


Chapter 19


Dr. Niu takes sides with monster in big huge fight with

MONSTER-10 (Titan/cold sentient boss), which is the “queen” for MONSTER-9s


Chapter 20


confronts Dr. Niu

“kills” her


the end


Now, I start writing!



–Philip Athans


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. Niina says:

    I really like the character profiles you’ve created (the one here and the rest in your previous post). I didn’t read all the way through your chapter notes because I’m not a fan of spoilers but the premise sounds interesting and I’d want to give this a read if I ran into it in a store. Good luck writing it!

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