Bullet Holes

Bullet Holes by Cora BuhlertOnce, Anjali Patel and Mikhail Grikov were soldiers on opposing sides of an intergalactic war. They met, fell in love and decided to go on the run together.

Now Anjali and Mikhail are trying to eke out a living on the independent worlds of the galactic rim, while attempting to stay under the radar of those pursuing them.

When a seemingly routine courier job turns out to be a trap, Anjali is hit by a so-called smart bullet, a Republican weapon that slowly and inevitably kills its victims. Mikhail is given a choice by his former commander Brian Mayhew: Surrender or watch the woman he loves die in excruciating pain.

It is a choice between two equally horrifying fates. But maybe, there is a third option…

Bonus story: Shipbound

Pilot Pietro Garibaldi is frustrated to be stuck aboard the freighter Freedom’s Horizon, holding the fort, while everybody else gets to enjoy themselves on the rim world of Varishka. What annoys him most is the suspicion that he wasn’t chosen to keep watch at random, but because he is considered unreliable, someone who cannot be trusted in port.

But when trouble comes calling, it becomes clear just why Pietro and his crewmate Sabrina Cho were exactly the right people to stay aboard the ship.

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Some background information:

  • This is a story of 6200 words or approx. 22 print pages in the In Love and War series, but may be read as a standalone. This story is a digital premiere and has never been published previously.
  • Bullet Holes was one of the stories I wrote during the 2016 July short story challenge. The idea was to write a short story per day in July 2016.
  • Like many stories in the July challenge, Bullet Holes was inspired by a piece of concept art, namely this one.
  • Another inspiration for this story was Alastair Reynolds’ novella Slow Bullets, which was nominated for the 2016 Hugo Award. The story starts off with a villain using a smart projectile to torture the protagonist. It goes off in a different direction after that, but I still liked the idea of the smart projectile, even though it’s not a new one, but has been around in science fiction for a while.
  • While I was drifting in and out of sleep on a hot July night, the Alastair Reynolds novella, which I’d just read for the Hugos, and the concept art I’d looked at for inspiration combined in my mind and Bullet Holes was born.
  • In Bullet Holes, we learn a bit more about the nano-agents cruising around in Mikhail’s and – via an emergency transfusion – Anjali’s bloodstream.
  • Bullet Holes features Brian Mayhew at his most villainous. And in fact, he was initially supposed to be purely an antagonist pursuing Mikhail and Anjali, though he turned into a more nuanced character somewhere along the way. The Brian Mayhew seen in Bullet Holes is probably closest to my original version of the character.
  • In his conversation with Mayhew, Mikhail briefly refers to the Unity incident as an a mission he was involved with for the Republic that was morally wrong. A more detailed account about the so-called “Unity incident” may be found in Graveyard Shift.
  • The briefly mentioned Accords of Logabirum are this universe’s version of the Geneva Convention. In the real world, Logabirum is a suburb of the East Friesian city of Leer, by the way. I chanced to drive through Leer, when I found myself in need of a name for yet another planet in the In Love and War universe, so I borrowed the rather cool sounding name I saw on a town sign.
  • Sladjana Dragovich is named for a teacher colleague of mine.
  • The bonus story Shipbound was one of the stories I wrote during the 2018 July short story challenge. The idea was to write a short story per day in July 2018.
  • The initial inspiration for Shipbound was one of Chuck Wendig’s writing prompts, where the task was to write about food. I’d made myself a quick pasta dish for lunch that day and so I started writing a story about Pietro Garibaldi, pilot of the Freedom’s Horizon, being frustrated about being stuck aboard the ship and making pasta for himself and Sabrina Cho. Eventually, I realised that this story takes place parallel to Bullet Holes and bundled both stories.
  • Pietro’s pasta is based on Pasta Raphael, a dish from The Silver Palate, a New York City based restaurant/deli whose founders also wrote a famous cookbook. I found the recipe online years ago and ever since then, it has been one of my go-to pasta dishes, because it’s quick to make and oh so tasty. The original recipe is here. I usually add green olives for an extra kick, as does Pietro. I also tend to pour some white wine to the sauce. Pietro doesn’t, because alcohol and piloting spaceships doesn’t mix.
  • The cover is stock art by Grandfailure.
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