Naming Ceremony From Devon’s Blade

CHAPTER 7

Call sign naming ceremonies go way, way back. They can get pretty out of hand if left unsupervised. I gathered the flight leads in my office and lectured them on what I would allow and what I would not. Drinking till drunk, encouraged. Becoming a belligerent drunk, discouraged. Group consensus in naming, encouraged. Inappropriate names, discouraged. Leaving the hooch to wander drunkenly across the base and disturbing the peace, discouraged. Keeping the party confined and not requiring security personnel to settle disputes, encouraged. I finished by holding them personally responsible for anything that happens during the festivities. If anyone winds up in the brig or hurt, they won’t be flying anytime soon and their personnel records will reflect. I felt like the biggest bitch of the universe, but I knew they understood where I was coming from.
There were three pilots in need of a call sign and they had begun their bribery period early in the week. Newbie pilots to a flying squadron typically didn’t keep their old call signs but instead would be given a new one by their leads or myself. Your call sign usually came from some incident, either good or bad that happened to you in your first several weeks with the squadron. Pilots wore their acquired call signs on their flight suits instead of their real names. Everyone called them by the call sign and never by their names. If you came with your prior call sign on your uniform, that was considered bad form and you would be ridiculed for it. Not many pilots made that mistake especially if they saw someone else in the unit do it. Nobody wants the humiliation.
You could petition to keep your former call sign, but most opted to get a new one, especially if their old one was bad. Bribes were the traditional way to keep your old call sign and to make sure you got a good new one. Usually bribes were in the form of alcohol or food that was rationed, like chocolate or anything that tasted better than what the chow hut served. Personally, I preferred booze. However, if the food item was interesting enough, I could be swayed by it.
So far I’d received plenty of beer offerings and at least one good whiskey bottle. This was most promising. The savvy pilot would purchase enough bribery materials to ship with him to a new base. Most forgot about it and wound up scrambling to make offers with what was at hand, already behind the curve.
Naming parties were the highlight of your social calendar no matter where you were serving. The more remote the assignment, the crazier they got. Considering where I was, I fully anticipated security police intervention, puking, broken furniture and probably a few unintended sexual encounters. It was pretty much expected, if not condoned. But if I didn’t spell out what I expected in terms of behavior, things would easily escalate past even these.
Pilots started filling the hootch shack a few hours after dark. It was another balmy night in paradise and few of them wore unmodified flight suits. Sweaty skin and alcohol was not a good mix, especially amongst horny young pilots. I wondered how many of them would be hooking up with people they might not have looked sideways at when sober.
The newbies all lined up at a table near the bar where they could be seen by everyone. Myself and the leads sat across from them with our bounty laid out before us on the table. There were plenty of pitchers of tap beer and a few wrapped food items. Sweetness even had a racy calendar filled with hunky soldiers. All the women had already examined it and determined the best months of the year. It would likely get passed around long after the year ended.
Choke got a nice bottle of cream liquor from Selene. He was pretty protective of it. The best I had was my whiskey bottle and a slab of fine dark chocolate. I’ve done better, but this was pretty good for the middle of nowhere.
The ceremony began with a few rounds of singing traditional fighter pilot songs. Some of them had some obscene sexual references. The bartenders struggled to keep the libations flowing as the singing slowly became more unintelligible. I took center stage and ordered the three FNG’s (Freaking, New, Guys) front and center.
Henry, Katya and Kelli reluctantly came forward and stood at attention. Henry was the youngest so we did him first.
“Okay, this court of naming is now in session and the judge will now hear potential names from the crowd for Lieutenant Shaun Henry,” I said, waving for suggestions.
“Angelic!”
“Lubber!”
“Babyface!” That one drew a round of good natured laughs for being an accurate description of Henry’s youthful face. I could see the look of abject horror on his face and laughed.
One of the women in back hollered, “Hank!”
I turned to face Henry and pretended to look him up and down. He hadn’t done anything particularly stupid since I had arrived. His flying was competent if a bit uninspired and he always had a good deal of enthusiasm for his missions. Failing to come up with anything derogatory, I decided to cut him some slack and went with Hank, a play on his name.
The crowd both cheered and booed as Hank bowed to me and tried not to grin. He was no doubt sweating this out, hoping he didn’t get an embarrassing name. Choke had some patches ready and hastily wrote Hank on one and handed it to me. I proceeded to show it off to the crowd and then slapped it onto his chest. “From hence forth until such time as he leaves our fine company, this pilot’s name is Hank.”
More cheering and a raising of drink in salute. I moved on to Kelli, an orange haired young woman with bright green eyes. The bridge of her nose was covered in freckles the rest of her face smooth and creamy.
“Do I have any suggestions for Lieutenant Ameil Kelli?”
A round of cat calls emanated from the male pilots followed by occasionally rude comments which I immediately called a halt to. There was the usual cries that I’m no fun and we’re not in the world out here. I let them slide.
“Firebird!”
“Flame!”
“Ranga!”
Someone said something that I didn’t catch and I asked him to repeat it. He stood up, wavered back and forth a bit and was steadied by his mates. “Firecrotch!” he blurted out.
After the snickers and laughs took over again, I shook my head and looked back at poor Kelli. Obviously she had the attentions of many of her male colleagues. Once again, I couldn’t find anything she had done particularly offensive. Her flying was a bit over zealous at times, often overshooting her targets or leading her shots. Nothing so bad as to warrant a name. I liked her attitude so far. She was ambitious and aggressive.
I turned around and shouted for calm before continuing. The crowd settled down.
“Lieutenant Kelli does indeed have red hair and to the uninitiated, that would seem to be her defining characteristic. I say she should stand up and own it. From this day forward until she parts our company, she shall be known as Flame.”
The crowd cheered and raised their glasses to the new call sign.
I took the patch from Choke, who had written the name in red and turned to face Kelli. She had fire in her green eyes as she waited for me to slap it on.
“Flame on!” I said, and slapped the patch into place. She stepped forward with a forced smile and took a bow. When she stepped back I could tell she was going to make the best of that name. Something told me she was going to own it like nobody’s business.
“Last, but by no means least, is Lieutenant Katya,” I said, turning to face the drunken crowd again.
“Let me have ‘em people.”
The names started pouring in with great enthusiasm. Katya was well liked by nearly all the pilots.
“Getter!”
“One Shot!”
“Splash!”
That one was extremely popular, and drew the largest applause. Naturally when you sink your bird and survive, it would demand such a name. I was just about to agree to Splash when Choke raised his hand. The crowd hushed as he slowly stood up.
“Katya has already been named by our illustrious blue enemy. I’ve heard their comm chatter and every time she enters a fray, the blueskins call her Karvuk. I had to have that translated. It means White Bitch.”
A few cheers of Karvuk erupted.
I nodded to Choke who sat down and picked up his pen to write on her blank patch. I repeated the name and got a thunderous applause in return. Turning to Katya I could see the shocked look on her face. Very few Alliance pilots earned a name from their enemy. It was a sign of respect and honor that opposing pilots had deemed her worthy enough of a derisive name.
“From this day forward, Lieutenant Katya is now known as Karvuk, the White Bitch. Congratulations!”
I took the patch from Choke and slapped it firmly in place on her flight suit. Karvuk took a bow and the crowd cheered three times, once per pilot.
I held up my hand to quiet the crowd before the music came back on and the party started in earnest.
“We have one last pilot to name. She didn’t make it to the ceremony. Lieutenant Lacy Petra, died defending the base on the day I arrived,” I said.
The crowd hushed out of respect for their fallen comrade.
“From this day forward, Lieutenant Petra will be known as Phoenix. The pilot who rose from the ashes.”
Drinks were raised in silence. Choke handed me the name tag and I handed it to the bartender to place on his wall next to the dozen or so other fallen pilots.
“Three cheers for Phoenix for her bravery under fire and her ultimate sacrifice for her fellow pilots.”
There were three cheers for Phoenix and then the crowd started chanting FNG slowly at first and then gradually it got louder and louder. The three new guys all started to fidget and each of them wore concerned looks as they watched a few veteran pilots come up on stage with necklaces made from local flowers and shells. A necklace was placed on each FNG while behind them, more props were set up for the initiation ceremony.
Hank, Flame and Karvuk were then lined up before a bowl of what looked like very large crustaceans. It was tradition for newly named pilots to have to eat something that normally would not be considered edible as part of their initiation. In this case, it was the indigenous mollusks found in the waters just offshore. They were the main staple for those giant sea birds I had seen earlier. Kellers had powerful beaks with which to open the giant shells. It took a skilled cook with a sharp knife to hack them open. In this case, three were spread out open before the FNGs.
Their hands were tied behind their backs and they were to suck the meat out of the mollusk and eat it before they were allowed to wash it down with a beer. Normally this would not be such a horrible task, especially if the mollusks were from Selene or just about any other Alliance planet with oceans. But the mollusks on Kew were huge and could not be chewed by human teeth alone. Rubbery and hard, they could only be swallowed whole and barely at that. It was quite the suitable chore to get one down.
Hank went first, slurping the meat of the mollusk into his mouth with ease he started to choke a bit realizing what he had gotten inside his mouth. Choke had explained that the mollusks were salty and bitter when uncooked and the juices inside them were equally as foul.
Hank’s first attempt was aborted and he spit out the giant slab of wet meat. The crowd booed and then egged him on for a second try. He spit out the excess juices and steeled himself to try again. On his second attempt he managed to swallow the meat whole. It looked like for a second or two he would hurl it back out and into the crowd, but instead he washed it down with a glass of beer fed to him by Choke. If you’re thinking this was how Choke got his callsign, forget it. I already asked and he said no.
Next up was Flame. She attacked the slippery meat with a vengeance not seen by anyone in attendance. She downed the huge glob of meat in one try and then smiled like the cat who ate the canary. The crowd went wild with lurid chants and cheers. Flame backed away and let the next victim have the spotlight.
Karvuk stared at the mollusk before her and wrinkled her nose at the horrible smell of it. There was no backing out of the challenge. Flame had set the bar high and now she must swallow or face a possible renaming ceremony. Karvuk glanced ruefully at me and then attacked the slippery meat. It took her two tries to get it in her mouth but she didn’t let it linger there for long. She pulled back her head and forced the slimy glob down her throat. The crowd withheld their cheers until she had swallowed and then they all erupted in jubilant praise for her valiant effort.
Choke jumped up on stage and held up his hands to quiet the crowd.
“Even though you are in command, you are still a Freaking New Girl, Commander,” he taunted as a lei was slipped over my neck and a new plate of mollusk was brought out for me. I shook my head and the crowd booed and jeered me into partaking in the ritual. Crap. I had to do it or risk losing the respect of my squadron.
They tied my hands back and positioned my face over the giant half shell. It smelled like seawater and urine. I almost puked all over it. I turned my head to inhale a bit of fresh air and then opened my mouth to suck in the slippery, rancid meat. As it passed over my tongue I realized it was not as foul as it smelled. It was very similar to any other raw crustacean. However, it was still an incredibly large hunk of rubber to swallow.
I looked around and saw all the FNG’s looking at me and cheering for me to swallow. Choke was sitting across from me a smug look on his face. That bastard. I tilted my head back and choked it down with a hard swallow. Somebody handed me a beer and I guzzled it down as fast as I could. The air was filled with cheering and song as I raised my empty glass.
Following the initiation ceremony the newly named pilots mixed back into the crowd and the celebration kicked into overdrive. Food arrived and a few hearty individuals dug in. I stayed away, preferring to open my chocolate to wash down the slimy taste of the mollusk. I shared some with Choke and Sweetness.
Later that night Choke, Karvuk and I found ourselves laying out on the sand bar that overlooked the beach. We were all looking up at the star filled alien sky and trying to name the stars. Choke was insistent that the brightest yellow star he could see was Selene’s sun, but both Karvuk and I argued that we were too far away for it to be that bright. I guessed it was a star in Votainion held space and Karvuk thought it was one of the nearby Alliance systems.
“I think you’re homesick Choke. That star’s just another empty system in the Outer Rim,” I said.
“Thanks for bursting my bubble Commander,” he said. Then he rolled over and looked at me all serious. His blue eyes were dark in the dim starlight.
“Say, what’s your callsign anyway?”
I shook my head and continued looking up at the flickering stars.
“Rocket One is too generic. It’s more of an honorific. What did you use before you were a squadron commander?” he asked.
“I used to lead a bunch or Rangers on Ocherva before I joined the Fleet. We called ourselves Devon’s Devils. I used Devil One for a long time.”
Choke raised a finger at me. “Hey, you were a Ranger?”
I smiled and looked over at Karvuk who was either resting her eyes or sleeping, I couldn’t tell which. “He’s not too bright, is he?”
She shrugged and said, “Nope. But he’s not bad in the sack.”
I looked back at Choke and he raised his brows at me all suggestive-like. I shook my head and pushed his face. He fell over on his back and laughed.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
Karvuk picked up her head and motioned to Choke. “His name is a reference to the size of his joystick. Everybody that’s tried it has choked on it.”
I looked back at Choke as he tried to stand up in the thick sand.
“Where you going buddy?” Karvuk asked.
“For a swim,” Choke said, unzipping his flight suit and stumbling for the shoreline.
I looked back at Karvuk she was watching him strip as he wobbled away.
“You better make sure he doesn’t drown,” I said.
She looked back at me and smiled as she got up and started pulling her sleeveless flight suit off. I watched them both stumble naked into the waves and then decided to leave them alone. I got up and plodded through the sand back to the hooch shack.
The pilots had mostly left and the bartender and a few kitchen staff were clearing out the broken plates and glass from a boisterous party. I thanked the bartender and the staff for their patience and started back to my shack. It was way past midnight and I was feeling drunker than I had been since joining the Fleet. My drinking had been curtailed in space to the point where it took far less alcohol for me to get smashed than it ever had before. That was probably for the best. The older I got the less inclined I was to get wasted like the younger pilots did.

A Sneak Peek at Devon’s Blade

21702169809_5ea0ca8b92_z  Pre-order it from Amazon now. Launch date is Halloween.

http://www.amazon.com/Devons-Blade-Ken-McConnell-ebook/dp/B015Y01CO8

 

The morning mission was not intended to be a revenge killing, but I knew that’s what was on everyone’s mind, especially Katya’s. I let her lead to test her ability to control herself. If she went solo trying to get the Red Ace, it would be her last flight. I was reasonably sure she would stick to the mission plan. I kept the mission simple and instructed everyone to keep their eyes open and look for any weakness they could find in the new enemy fighters.
As for tactics, I told them to fly like they do when they go against each other in training. Assume the new fighter handles similar to their own fighters only better. The new fighter appeared to have a tighter turn radius and was faster, they needed to compensate for that fact when they tangled with them.
I could see in their eyes that they were scared again. As much as everyone was out for blood, they also looked as if I were sending them off to slaughter. Any of them could close their canopies for the final time. I wanted to go with them but I couldn’t risk my own life and leave the unit leaderless.
My preflight speech was more of a pep rally than instructional. I needed to make sure they didn’t come apart up there at the first taste of combat. They had to maintain the fierceness that had made them so good these past few months. As I watched them gather their gear and head to the flight line, I wondered how many would come back. I hadn’t even considered that before now. Dammit.
Karvuk and Sweetness would be the leads, with Condor and Double as their wingmen. I hesitated to send up Sweetness again so soon, but she was our most experienced pilot against the new fighters. I felt they had a better chance with her along. She seemed up to the task and even eager to get back in the fray. That was a hopeful sign.
All the off duty pilots gathered in Ops to listen to the mission on the comms. I stayed in my office until they reached the enemy airbase, occupying myself with trying to figure out new tactics. Nothing was coming to me.
I checked my messages hoping for guidance from Fleet. There was only a message received notice, no official response. I contacted the base Comm Squadron and asked if there were any issues receiving messages from Fleet. They assured me that the communications lanes were open. Dammit.
A knock at my door was Hank.
“Ma’am, they’re almost to their target now.”
I nodded and got up to join everyone in the main room.
The fighter telemetry was displayed on the main viewer as blue icons representing the Alpha Flight. There were no red icons on the map, but that wasn’t unusual and was mainly due to our poor scanner data of the planet.
They buzzed the airbase low, searching for parked enemy aircraft and only found a dozen or so KiV-3’s parked in their revetments. A second pass brought ground to air fire from the base defenses and made their attack more difficult. Karvuk and Condor circled higher up, waiting to be pounced on by fighters on patrol. But they encountered nobody. After several passes and at least six fighters confirmed destroyed on the ground they formed up and headed for home.
“Control, Alpha Lead. No joy on the new fighters,” Katya’s voice sounded defeated.
“Copy, Alpha Lead.”
I went to the paper map that was pinned to another wall and ran my fingers over the island chain where they had just been. There were no other bases within reach to house the new fighters. Where the hell had they come from?
I opened up my sweep to a few more hundred klicks and found another, smaller atoll. The islands were uninhabited and barely above sea level. I moved to the main screen and pushed around menus until I opened the latest images we had of the atoll. There were about seven smaller islands and two larger ones. I zeroed in on the larger ones. One of them had what looked like a natural cave entrance that was large enough to store fighters.
I grabbed the mic. “Alpha Lead, this is Rocket One. Change course heading 270. I want you to do a pass on the Ring Atoll. Copy?”
There was a pause as she no doubt was searching her navicomputer for the coordinates.
“Alpha Lead, Rocket One. Wilco.”
Seconds later they were all on course for the atoll, climbing to combat altitude. Everyone sat on the edge of their seats or stood leaning into the comm system to listen. Minutes ticked by as we waited for Karvuk to report in what they saw. As the icons got closer to the atoll the comm lines crackled.
“Holy shit, we kicked the hornet’s nest!”
“Tally ho!” said Sweetness.
New icons emerged as the combat computer was updated with current telemetry from the Swifts. Three, then six and finally nine enemy fighters poured out of the cave from the main island. It seemingly took them mere seconds to gain altitude and meet Alpha Flight. Alpha were outnumbered and they had lost the element of surprise.
“Alpha Lead, break off and disengage. Copy?” I said into the mic.
A burst of static was the only reply. Followed by excited chatter from Condor, Double and Karvuk. It sounded like they were able to gang up on the first wave of fighters and were close to splashing one. Seconds ticked by again. An eternity.
Finally. “I got one! Splash one of those bastards,” Condor said.
A cheer broke out from the other pilots and was quickly quieted when more chatter crackled over the speaker.
“Double, break right and come up. I’ve got your six,” Karvuk said.
“Negative Lead, I’m losing pressure and speed.”
“Double pull up and stall it, I got him.”
One of the blue icons winked off, followed by another red icon. Nobody cheered that time.
“Sweetness, I can’t get around him. Where are you?” said Double.
“Other side, back at you.”
Another red icon winked off.
“This is Lead, break off. Repeat, disengage. We’re out numbered up here.”
“Copy Lead,” said Sweetness.
“On your wing Lead,” said Condor.
“Control this is Alpha Lead. State twenty to splash. Lost Double.”
“Alpha Lead, Control. Enemy status?”
“They are breaking off too. Looks like they’re heading back to the main base,” Karvuk said. You could hear the defeat in her voice, or was it disappointment?
I walked over to the status board and crossed off Double’s name. Then I went back to my room. The other pilots spoke in hushed tones about losing Double. I couldn’t face them right now.

Free Short Story Ebook

To celebrate the release of my first novella, Devon’s Blade, I’m offering a free short story. Ambush! is set on Kew and is the antithesis of Devon’s Blade in that we see life from the Votainion side. What it’s like to be a pilot flying the KiV-3 against the Alliance pilots. You can get your free ebook for Kindle (mobi) and epub with the links below. If you like the story, please take a moment to purchase Devon’s Blade because you’ll really enjoy that one.

Ambush_CoverSM

(epub) http://ken-mcconnell.com/wp-content/plugins/download-monitor/download.php?id=12

(mobi) http://ken-mcconnell.com/wp-content/plugins/download-monitor/download.php?id=13

21702169809_5ea0ca8b92_z

Pre-order the novella here. –> http://www.amazon.com/Devons-Blade-Ken-McConnell-ebook/dp/B015Y01CO8

This novella ebook is only available for Kindle for the first 90 days. I’ll be going wide with it after that.

Novella Pre-Release Coverage

I’ve been doing some pre-release advertising for my new novella, Devon’s Blade. Mostly this consists of using images of my starfighter models and posting them to Twitter and Google+. I’m trying hard not to be annoying and using the imagery to ignite interest in the story. It must be working in some small way because I’m averaging a sale a day in pre-orders. All of those orders will register as sales on 31 October 2015 when it goes live.

I did a post on Google+ where I encouraged folks to Photoshop my models into interesting images, but so far nobody has taken me up on that. Perhaps I need to focus on PS forums. Go where the artists are.

In the mean time, I’ll keep doing my own “Gimping” of the models because it amuses me to no end. Below are some of my latest creations. A link for the pre-order page is in the column on your right.

https://flic.kr/p/yz2gty

https://flic.kr/p/yz8d1Q

https://flic.kr/p/zxjddx

https://flic.kr/p/yC8CwW

 

My Next Novella

This week I’ve started writing my next novella, Devon’s Blade. This story is set between Starforgers and The Rising and deals with Devon Ardel’s efforts to turn around the fortunes of a fighter squadron on a remote planetary base. This is straight up military Sci-Fi with a tight, war-time plot and lots of combat action. If you like war movies about fighter pilots, this is your story to read.

I’m changing my writing process for this novella. Instead of using Plume Creator for my first draft, I’ll be using Google Docs. What this means is that I can now write anywhere I have internet connection and I’m not limited to using my writing laptop. This is generally an experiment for me, not a new direction. I still love using Plume and my Ubuntu computer but just wanted to try something different and use Chrombooks as much as possible. I figured this would be the right time to try this on a novella instead of a full blown novel. I expect this story to be between 40 and 50 thousand words.

I don’t have any special scripts to manipulate my documents, I’m just using whatever GDocs provides me. I have set up a folder structure on my GDrive (cloud drive provided by Google) and will use only Google tools to track word count and outline.

 

Above you can see Chapter 1 is being written here along with the Research tab open for Navy rank identification.

 

This is the start of the outline using a spreadsheet to track word and page counts. I’ve already added the story beats per Act as suggested by Larry Brooks in his seminal book, Story Engineering. Buy it, read it, learn it, live it. I’m outlining this novella about a chapter ahead of where I’m at because I know my story structure is already in place with the outline template.

 

This is my top level file structure for the novella on my GDrive.

 

This is my two page synopsis from which I based my outline.

I’m toying with the idea of letting the folks look at what I write as I write it. I can assign read only privileges to folks interested in watching my progress. This will only apply to the chapters folder and there is no guarantee that what I write will be readable. My first drafts tend to be horrible, just ask my editor. But for those willing to read along as I create, I’m more than willing to let you shoulder surf. If that sort of thing interests you, please send me an email requesting to do so. ken.mcconnell@gmail.com