Two weeks ago, I announced the start of a new series and also that there would be more stories coming soon.
So today, I’m happy to announce the second In Love and War story, a novelette called Graveyard Shift. Like Dreaming of the Stars, Graveyard Shift is a prequel of sorts, set approximately three years before the series proper.
I started writing the story that would eventually become Graveyard Shift during the 2016 July short story challenge, but set it aside, once I realised that the story was too big for the constraints of the challenge. Then, once July was over, I picked up the abandoned story and finished it.
As with many of the July challenge stories, Graveyard Shift also began with a piece of concept art, namely this rather cheerful image of a space station interior. So I spent a page or two describing the station and sending a character on a stroll through the concourse and then did something horrible to the station, the concourse and the character.
There is another inspiration for Graveyard Shift, namely my work as a translator. In the course of this work, I occasionally get what I privately call “It wasn’t my fault, honest” reports, blow-by-blow accounts of absurd, stupid and usually extremely expensive accidents. The intent of these reports is always to prove – sometimes even with lots of graphs and charts – that whatever unfortunate thing happened was totally not the fault of whoever commissioned the report. Those “It wasn’t my fault, honest” reports are more amusing than the usual stuff I get to translate, if only because so many of them are documents of truly stunning human incompetence. Luckily, so far none of these accidents killed anybody, though they cause a lot of property damage.
I always wanted to write an SF version of an “It wasn’t my fault, honest” report, a blow by blow account of human incompetence resulting in a huge accident. Since a lot of these accidents involve a ship crashing either into another ship or a stationary structure, I wanted my fictional incident to be similar, only involving a spaceship. And when I saw the image of the space station linked above, something clicked and Graveyard Shift was born.
Somewhere along the way, I decided that this story took place in the In Love and War universe, though it’s quite an unusual story for the series. For while the other In Love and War stories focus on Mikhail and Anjali, Graveyard Shift has six different POV characters, most of them new. Mikhail appears briefly during his time as a Republican operative, though he doesn’t get a POV. Anjali doesn’t show up at all, since Graveyard Shift is set entirely in the Republic.
Mikhail’s commander/mentor Brian Mayhew is one of the six POV characters and the only series regular. I’d initially intended Mayhew to be a fairly one-dimensional villain, who ruthlessly hunts Mikhail and Anjali (he has an Imperial counterpart as well). However, Mayhew steadfastly refused to cooperate and clearly did not want to be a villain. He also turned out to be rather conflicted about his job and his duty. I also realised that his connection to Mikhail goes a lot deeper than I’d initially assumed. This upset my plans for the series, though it also made Mayhew a more nuanced and interesting character. We will eventually see Mayhew in villain mode, but he’s a lot more than that.
Regarding the tribunal scene at the end, I gave a couple of friends the first half of the story to read and asked them who they thought was to blame for the accident. Though I didn’t tell them just what would happen to the parties found guilty, because I did not want their eventual fate to influence the decision. Coincidentally, all beta readers agreed that Commander Flynn and Lieutenant Kim should be held responsible, even though I initially hadn’t intended for Lieutenant Kim to be held responsible at all – but rereading the scene in question, I realised that she does goad Commander Flynn into taking that fatal trial flight. No one believed that Captain Woywood and Cadets Adeboye, Merrill and Watanabe should be held responsible. Opinions were divided on Cadet Giantano.
Just in case it wasn’t clear already, Graveyard Shift shows that the Republic of United Planets is a pretty awful place – and the Empire of Worlds isn’t any more pleasant, though a tad more competent.
Two days ago, I blogged about the 50th anniversary of the German science fiction series Raumpatrouille Orion, which was one of my big foundational SF influences. As a result, there are a lot of Orion references in the In Love and War series. It started when I needed a name for Mikhail’s lost homeplanet and decided to name it Jagellowsk, after the Orion‘s security officer Tamara Jagellowsk. Then it became something of a running gag that Republican worlds are named after Raumpatrouille Orion characters. There are a couple of other Orion references as well, six or seven altogther. Bonus points to anybody who manages to find them all.
However, the planet Burrichter, source of excellent cookies and pastries, is not a reference to Raumpatrouille Orion at all. Instead, I named it after one of my favourite bakeries, Café Burrichter in Vechta, one of whose specialties are Spekulatius cookies. You can see two photos of the real Café Burrichter here.
I included the coffee and pastries in the tribunal scene to give the characters something to do while discussing the case and also to show how blasé and desensitized Brian Mayhew, Roland Cox and Michelle Abasi are that they argue about whom to send to the firing squad, while having coffee and pastries.
Though I realised that all In Love and War stories to date have pretty extensive food scenes. And of course, Mikhail’s deprived childhood (chronicled in Dreaming of the Stars) have given him massive food issues, which also come to the fore in Graveyard Shift. But then, many of my stories include descriptions of food. I guess food is just something I like writing about and coincidentally also an aspect all too often ignored in science fiction.
So here’s a story of tragic disasters, rank incompetence and chilling ruthlessness:
While docked at the civilian space station Unity for repairs, the Republic of United Planets battlecruiser Great Endeavour undertakes a trial flight with an inexperienced bridge crew. Disaster strikes and the Great Endeavour crashes into Unity’s shopping concourse, killing more than three hundred people.
A tragic accident, but in times of war, the public is not willing to accept tragic accidents. And so the Republic’s government sends its best troubleshooter, Colonel Brian Mayhew of the Republican Special Commando Forces to initiate a cover-up.
Length: 14100 words
List price: 2.99 USD, EUR or 1.99 GBP
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