Neutral Ground

Neutral Ground by Cora BuhlertTwo old soldiers share a coffee and fight for their lives

The Republic of United Planets and the Empire of Worlds have been at war for eighty-eight years now. But nonetheless, Colonel Brian Mayhew, deputy commander of the Republican Special Commando Forces, meets with his Imperial counterpart General Roderick Crawford to discuss an incident that’s a problem for both of them. For two of their elite soldiers fell in love and ran away with each other, an embarrassment to the Republic and the Empire both.

However, this secret meeting is not as secret as the two men think. And so Mayhew and Crawford are soon fighting for their lives side by side…

This is a novelette of 9500 words or approximately 32 print pages in the In Love and War series by Hugo finalist Cora Buhlert, but may be read as a standalone.

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More information:

  • This is a story of 9500 words or approx. 33 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.
  • Neutral Ground was written during the 2020 July short story challenge. The idea was to write a short story per day in July 2020.
  • It’s occasionally mentioned in the series that Colonel Brian Mayhew, deputy commander of the Republican Special Commando Forces, has contact in the Imperial Forces. So I eventually came up with the idea to show Mayhew meeting with one of those contacts, his Imperial counterpart General Roderick Crawford. Mayhew and Crawford actually get along really well, even though they’re theoretically enemies. Amazingly, neither of them even thinks that there is anything at all strange about this.
  • The first draft of this story was basically just Mayhew and Crawford talking over tea, coffee and pastries. However, that was a little dull, so I followed Raymond Chandler‘s (who actually sold a story to John W. Campbell’s Unknown once) time-honoured advice and sent in a man with a gun or rather a blaster.
  • This man with a gun is an assassin who works for the gangster Rick Santerna with whom Mayhew has a long-running blood feud. The origin of the feud is briefly mentioned in Evacuation Order, while the conflict comes to a head in Honourable Enemies.
  • Food plays an important role in the In Love and War series and Neutral Ground is no exception here – Mayhew and Crawford meet in a café after all. And as in Graveyard Shift, I decided to have Mayhew plot over coffee and pastries once again.
  • This time around, Mayhew and Crawford are enjoying Linzer cookies, which turn out to be popular in both the Republic and the Empire to no one’s surprise. There are a lot of recipes for Linzer cookies floating around the web. This one comes pretty close to the version you’ll find in Germany and Austria, though traditionally, Linzer cookies are made with black currant jam rather than raspberry jam.
  • The galaxy-famous snow mousse gateaux is an actual pastry. I’m not sure if it’s truly galaxy-famous, but it is a specialty of my hometown Bremen named “Schneemustorte”. It’s a gateaux of whipped cream flavoured either with lemon, strawberry or raspberry that is placed in the freezer after baking and served chilled. There are a few recipes floating around the web for snow mousse gateaux, but none of them are quite right. There are two recipes in the Author’s Note, borrowed from my stack of cookbooks.
  • The planet Stecker II is named after Café Stecker in Bremen, which is famous for its “Schneemustorte”. Stecker is one of those traditional cafés that can still be found in many German towns and has been operating since 1908. I already tuckerised the name of another favourite café of mine, Café Burrichter in Vechta, which became the name of the planet that’s home to the best pastries in the Republic – at least according to Brian Mayhew – in the series. So I decided to tuckerise Café Stecker, too.
  • The cover is once again stock art by the talented Thai artist Tithi Luadthong a.k.a. Grandfailure.
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