So there we were in the Republic of Panama, living in downtown Panama City rather than on base. We were big science fiction fans, and there was only one importer of English language books in the country (Servicio Lewis) and they only got new books once a month, and their SF list was … small. So we started to write our own.
We were working on a story that eventually became The Price of the Stars. To show how new we were, we were at about 200 pages on this one and still referring to it as “The short story.”
As may be. We were coming to the end of the story, about to wrap it all up. We were in a pizza place in downtown Panama City, having a Hawaiian Pizza (and the pineapple in Panama was nice), when I said to Doyle, “I want to blow it up.” “What?” she said. “Open the story out, not shut it down.” And she said, “If you know how to do that….”
This here is where the shift happened. Everything before the line break is heading for a climax and the long-awaited THE END. Everything after the line break was me sending it in another direction, into a big book, and later a big series.
She [Beka Rosselin-Metadi] put Warhammer onto a new course for yet another jump point beyond and astern of the cruiser. Closer and closer she ran, until finally the huge vessel began to turn–but away from Warhammer, not toward her.
Beka frowned. What’s this?
Still frowning, she began the final tick-down for the run to jump. The cruiser finished its long, looping turn, and began accelerating again on a convergent course. The fighters continued to swarm on Warhammer’s ventral side, firing but doing no real damage at the longer range with their light weapons.
She checked the sensor readouts. Not only had Corisydron paralleled Warhammer’s course; the Space Force vessel had also matched speeds with the freighter. Good thing we’re inside the minimum range of his guns-and the fighters don’t dare shoot us for fear of hitting him.
But he’s so close, his field is interfering with my jump. I can’t jump with him so near, I can’t turn without colliding with the little guys–time to see who’s the fastest. She pushed the throttle lever forward again.
Suddenly, warning lights blazed on all over the panel. Alarms began hooting and beeping. Warhammer’s controls vibrated under her hands, and she could feel the whole frame of the spacecraft starting to buck and tremble around her. “Damn,” she said aloud, over the rising howl of the freighter’s oversized engines. “The bastard’s got a tractor beam on me.”
“He’s maneuvering again,” said the comptech at the tank terminal. “And he’s fast.”
Gil walked over to the watch officer. “Has he hit us?”
Gil took a deep breath. “All right,” he said to the watch officer. “I am ready to relieve you.”
The watch officer stared. “What do you mean? This is my watch!”
Gil met the other man’s incredulous gaze. The maneuvers in the main tank were shaping up as the nicest little space battle Command Control had seen in years-in the watch officer’s shoes, Gil wouldn’t have wanted to let go of it, either. So here I am, about to cycle a perfectly good career out the airlock. Life’s a bitch.
He pushed down the urge to leave the whole thing in the watch officer’s eager hands and asked, instead, “Commander, what’s your lineal number?”
“Seven eight seven two, zero zero two three,” replied the watch officer, in something close to a snarl.
“My number is seven eight seven two, zero zero one six. I’m senior to you, and I’m taking the watch.”
“Fine. Send a letter to the Board.” Gil raised his voice to carry into the farthest reaches of the space. “In Control, this is Commander Gil. I have the watch.”
The man he’d relieved snapped “Log that!” at the duty comptech. Gil ignored them both and walked over to the battle comm–Space Force’s highest-priority, highest-security communications system.
“Give me the comm.”
The petty officer gave him the handset. Gil keyed it and waited for the double beep of the crypto synchronizing.
“Corisydron, this is Space Force Control. Condition White, Weapons Tight. Break off at once, return to base. Acknowledge. Over.”
“Dropped synch, over,” a distorted, faraway voice replied.
Gil’s lips tightened. The CO of the Cory wasn’t any more eager to let go of this one than the watch officer here on Galcen had been. That “dropped synch” was a polite way of asking if the speaker on the other end still had all his synapses firing in order.
“This is Space Force Control,” he repeated. “Break off at once. Return to base. Acknowledge. Over.”
A long pause from the Cory, and then, “Will comply. Out.”
Up in the main battle tank, the blue triangle and the smaller blue pips peeled away from the unknown. The red dot sped on, holding a straight-line accelerating course, then flickered out.
That spot, that line break, is the jewel on which the entire plot turns.
The “comm” here is based on Navy HICOM, which does in fact double-beep when the crypto synchronizes. In this universe it’s a Faster Than Light communications system (and what happens when it goes down is central to the next book in the series, Starpilot’s Grave). Commander Gil is named for my friend Gil Lott, who had been one of my space-mates on USS Moinester (FF-1097). Corisydron had been, in the first draft, Coricidin, the cold and flu remedy (we took our fun where we could find it). Warhammer‘s layout, dimensions, and feel, are based on USS Hawkins (DD-873), my first berth as an officer.
The only change Doyle made in that bit after the line break above was expanding the proword “WILCO” to “Will comply.” (That’s what WILCO means. You never, never say “Roger Wilco” because the meaning of “Roger” (“I heard and understand”) is included in “Wilco.”) Only the commanding officer of a ship or aircraft can say “Wilco.”
If anyone would like to read a couple of Mageworlds short stories, we collected them in Two From the Mageworlds (cover by my son Brendan).