Just when you think Friday will never arrive, there it is!
Cover reveal for the book is coming March 1st – I’ll put the clues to date in this post to see if you can get an idea of what it will look like!
Don’t forget, today is the Virtual Book Club at 3pm EST/1pm MST – if you haven’t signed up, you can click the button below to learn more. There’s going to be reading, fun, games, and a chance for prizes! I can’t tell you more, because SPOILERS!
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Let’s see. First chapter was Cass and Kendra talking about what’s going on. Second chapter was the Artemis perspective. Now, let’s see what’s happening with the Direwolves, Double Dip, and Shooting Star. C3, B1, V4 – rolling!
“How the hell are we supposed to do this?”
“Well, Ash, I’d say we’re going to have to do it the way I did when I was the only qualified IP on the Direwolves: long hours and lots of coffee.”
The look Lieutenant Ashlyn Bontrager, current XO of the Nymeria Squadron of Direwolves, and just-announced Commander (Designate) of the soon-to-be-formed Red Squadron shot her friend and commander, Senior Lieutenant Daniela Garcia, was exasperated.
“We’ve been doing coffee and long hours since we got the fourth division,” she complained.
“And we’re going to be doing it while you work Red Squadron up,” Daniela shot back, filling up her own cup. They were aboard Njord, in the squadron’s office, and one rule was the coffee was never allowed to run out or get stale. “More?”
“Half. Where do I even start?”
“Since you get to take your division with you, I’d start by naming your XO. That’ll give you someone to be your eyes and ears and back you up.”
“Any suggestions, Danni?”
“Oh, no, Ash, you’re not getting me to make your decisions for you. Remember, not only do I have to break in a new XO, but I’m going to get to break in twelve of the new pilots while you deal with six.”
“Fair enough, I guess,” admitted Ashlyn.
The Federation was committed to expanding their defensive capabilities, a task made more urgent by the temporary disabling of the TFS Endeavour. Between the twin pressures of creating a navy from scratch and defending the Federation from an already-established force, small boat doctrines were still evolving and doing so quickly. Where the original plan hadn’t called for any armed sublight vehicles at all, the onset of the Solarian Union threat had led to a rapid rethinking. As a result the Wolf-class Multipurpose Orbital Vehicle had been redesigned. These sturdy small craft, thirty meters long, powered by a fusion generator and capable of accelerating at 200g, had proved their worth in the first battle. Using their ridiculously short-ranged phased particle emitters, they had totally destroyed four Artemesian ships: two Apollo-class cruisers and two Gemini-class frigates. Unfortunately, their limitations were also demonstrated in the same battle, as the Copernicus-class battleship Brahe had wiped out ten of the original twelve Wolves in under a minute.
That forced a reevaluation by a heartbroken Kendra, who felt each death keenly. A new ship was designed with, as always, significant input from the Admiral, and the first pilot was the only Wolf crew who was fully cross-rated on both coxswain and engineer: Daniela. It took her weeks, but she eventually mastered the Direwolves’ unique control system. Where the Wolves had a coxswain to pilot and an engineer to run the mechanicals, the Direwolves were single-seat fighters. Even with her advantages she couldn’t manage to fly anywhere near the limits of the fighter’s abilities. In the end an Epsilon-class AI had been added to basically do the engineer’s role.
Which all led to the current expansion.
Last year there was a single Direwolf, then a half-dozen, then eighteen, and now they were going to double the total again in a single swoop. Ash been part of the second expansion and had gotten her initial promotion by flying rings around the rest of her cohort. That’s when the job got tough, because there was more to being an XO than just flying.
“I guess I have the easy part,” she said. “I mean, you’re going from twelve to twenty-four; I just have to train six.”
“Up to standard,” added Daniela. “Don’t forget that. Up to standard.”
“Up to standard, aye, Ma’am,” she said with a smile. “As if you’d ever let me forget.”
“Nope,” Daniela agreed. “And someday, when I’m out of the cockpit and doing the Admiralty thing, and you’re CAG, you’re going to thank me.”
“Well, I expect that I’ll take a swing at it first.”
“You expect me to command the attack group?”
“Like I said, I’m going to do it first. Now, who do you think should be your XO? If it helps, I’ll tell you who mine is.”
“Okay, so maybe that was a little obvious.” Zero, Itzeel Arriaga, was the commander of the squadron’s third division and the natural successor to Ashlyn.
“You think? Seriously though, I have maybe three possibles out of the division I’m starting with: Locksmith, Wingbat, and Frak Me.”
“I can see Locksmith and Wingbat, but Frak Me?”
“Nic’s really worked his ass off getting all of the details down. I don’t have anyone who’s better on the official stuff, the procedures, the checklists. Yeah, he’s had to learn radio discipline, but his handle’s helped.”
Ensign Nic Furtado had earned his nickname through an inadvertent radio call; when Ashlyn had ordered him to redo part of the exercise, a particularly tedious task, he’d replied first with the proper, ‘Aye, Ma’am’.” Then followed through with the ‘Frak me’ that had become his moniker.
“Okay, I can see that. An XO needs to know their shit better than the people under them.”
“Which is a strike against Wingbat. But Danni, she’s better than me once you get her out into the black. If you tell her that, I’ll deny it, of course.”
“Of course. The problem is she hardly ever does things in the right order.”
“Which is the other problem.” It was a tradition in the squadron that the CO got to choose the handles for the new pilots, at least insofar as the still-young squadron had traditions. Daniela had noted Ensign Awilda Prignano’s skills in the fighters from the beginning, her ability to put her ship through the most ridiculous maneuvers without seeming thought, and had decided on the handle ‘Batwing’. Unfortunately, that was before Prignano had executed her mission orders exactly backward, resulting in the handle being swapped to the slightly less complementary ‘Wingbat’.
“And Locksmith? She’s neither as good a stick as Wingbat or as on top of the procedures as Frak Me.”
“That’s true. But she’s not bad, and if she doesn’t always dot the I’s and cross the T’s she’s at least on the right page.”
“So? What else is there that would make her a good XO?”
“Everyone in the squadron loves her. I mean, you know that Rubberneck wouldn’t save his own grandmother without orders, and Chewbacca would rather rip your arms off than speak to you. That doesn’t apply to Locksmith. Somehow she’s gotten everyone on her side. If she had an ounce of deviousness in her she’d never have to pull a duty shift that didn’t involve flying. As it is, I don’t think she’s bought a beer for herself in two months. That sort of loyalty can’t be taught.”
Ensign Lexie Marsh had gotten her handle the old-fashioned way: she’d earned it. After returning from a flight early in her training, while still at the Academy that the Federation ran with HLC to turn recruits into pilots quickly, her canopy had refused to open. She didn’t know that it was a programmed ‘glitch’, designed to test the new pilots’ ability to think clearly in a stressful, but non-emergency, situation. Other candidates had mixed reactions: some panicked, pounding the optical sapphire with fists; some radioed for help; one had gone so far as to arm the ejection mechanism before the trainers had stepped in. Marsh had simply examined her situation, pulled out the small emergency tool kit, and calmly picked the restraining bolts that had held the canopy in place.
“I think I can guess your choice.”
“Locksmith’s the only logical one,” agreed Ashlyn.
“Then go tell her. And tell her that she’s going to get another stripe to back up her authority.” All of Ashlyn’s pilots were Ensign Junior Grade, the lowest officer rank in Starfleet, even though they were always called ‘Ensign’.
“Aye, Ma’am.” Ashlyn stood to leave, then said, “Do you know yet where we’re going to be assigned?”
“Flashdance told me that Red Squadron will be assigned to Endeavour, Nymeria to Njord.” Senior Lieutenant Shannon ‘Flashdance’ Fowler was the senior Wolf pilot and the de facto commander of all the mobile forces in Starfleet. She was also Daniela’s best friend and a frequent source of information.
“Yeah, well, until they get that big bird unbent, you’re going to be pulling patrols, same as us.”