Title: Last Names
Date: October 2011
Genre(s): Drama, Suspense, Action, Sci-Fi
Words: 16,800 (42 pages)
Beta Reader: Kristen Sharpe
Summary: A look at Felina Feral's position in the Enforcers and how her last name has and continues to affect her life.
I am a badass.
That first and final statement of the unofficial fighter pilot's creed filled Felina Feral's mind as she rounded another lap around Section Alpha of the elevated airstrip. At 800 feet long and 75 feet wide, it took just under four laps to reach a mile, though she had lost count after her eighth.
The cool morning breeze felt extra crisp as she rapidly inhaled and exhaled lungfuls of air. Sweat dripped off of her brow as she slowed to a walking pace, stopping at the edge of the runway. Bold KEEP CLEAR warnings lined the deck where she stood.
Felina wiped her brow with her forearm as she crouched, resting her arms on her knees as she took in the view. The streets of Megakat City were busy 75 stories below, with the morning rush hour traffic causing the daily gridlock on the nearby freeway. To the sides, office workers could be seen going about their business in the windows of skyscrapers.
She had no idea what it was any of them could be doing in their cubicles. The environment of the office was completely foreign to her, and the thought of being confined to a desk for eight hours a day didn't seem very appealing.
She stood up, her pulse no longer throbbing in her temples. Soon the morning shift would be finished with their regularly scheduled FOD walk, making sure there weren't any random pieces of debris that could get sucked into an intake and cause an engine to fail.
The FOD walk was the primary reason for the airstrip's downtime, and allowed Felina to use the airstrip everyday for 30 minutes as a running track. There were plenty of treadmills in the gym, and a full-size track available at the academy, but she preferred the unique perspective of running in the clouds among skyscrapers.
A loud hiss of steam came from underneath, as the airstrip rumbled slightly. The pneumatic catapult system, similar to those used on aircraft carriers, was critical for rapidly accelerating jets to reach take-off speed in such a short distance. A notched slider retracted along a recessed track nearby.
"All non-essential personnel clear the runway," the authoritative voice of the current shift's air boss said across a network of loudspeakers. "Especially you, lieutenant. My deck isn't your personal gym."
Felina frowned, gazing up at the command tower. She was tempted to throw him a particular gesture, but decided at the last second not to. Though she technically out-ranked the air boss, this was the airstrip. And on the airstrip, the air boss was god.
Discarding her sweaty tank top and track pants, Felina showered in the locker room and changed into her uniform. A utilitarian grey with black markings, it was more practical than fashionable. She sat on the bench in front of her locker as she laced her freshly shined boots.
There were rumors that someone was going to retire soon, and if they were true, Felina knew she'd be in the running for a promotion. For what position? It could be any number of them, though most of them would likely be lateral moves. She needed the sky, and would decline anything that took her away from that.
She stood up, grabbing her belt with holstered sidearm from her locker as she closed it behind her. She walked up to the row of sinks, looking at herself in the mirror as she looped the belt through her pants.
First looking left, then right, she made sure no one else was in the room. She smirked as she turned her back to the mirror slightly, peering over her shoulder.
"Okay…draw," she said to no one in particular as she spun to face her reflection, quick-drawing her sidearm and taking aim one-handed. Her reflection was aiming back at her.
"…Okay, looks like you win this time," she said as she spun the gun by the trigger guard on her index finger and re-holstered.
There were a lot of things Felina didn't like about the Enforcers lately, but guns and planes weren't two of them, and no other place had more of both.
She made her way to the locker room entrance, and was about to round the privacy wall when she heard two officers having a conversation just on the other side. Normally she wouldn't eavesdrop, but she heard her name being mentioned.
"…Feral's niece is a shoe-in for the position," one voice said. "I hate how this place runs on nepotism."
"There's no way they're replacing him with her. She's too crazy and…weird," another voice said.
"How else do you think she made lieutenant so fast?" the other said. "If they gave her that they'll give her the position in a heartbeat."
Felina's knuckles had turned white, her fists clenched as she bit her tongue. The voices were drowned out as others filled the outside corridor.
Someone walked into the locker room entrance, startled to see Felina looking visibly upset, standing against the wall.
"Oh, lieutenant, sir," she said. "Almost didn't see you there."
"Yeah, whatever," Felina replied tersely as she exited the locker room.
The natural high of the morning run had all but disappeared, as Felina scowled her way into the morning's debriefing. Before every shift, the commander of the air group, better known as the CAG, stood in front of a podium with the Enforcer logo prominently displayed and read off some notes for the day's planned missions. If there wasn't an emergency, the CAG would just tell everyone who their wingmen would be during routine patrols.
Her mood was palpable, as several other pilots tried to discreetly move away from her as she took a seat mid-row.
The debriefing room was cramped, and had a musty smell of age, despite the building itself being relatively new. The walls were lined with several plaques and shadowboxes, several with bronze placards with the names of honored pilots and other associated people. An occasional framed photo was also on display.
A name that appeared on several of them was Captain Theodore S. Ritz, the same man who was now approaching the podium. Felina crossed her arms and leaned backward, sliding forward in her seat slightly, pretending to ignore the glances from the other pilots.
Felina had a strong feeling that it was Gorman and Jones who had been talking about her, and both of them were sitting off to her side, whispering comments to each other. They quickly quieted down once Ritz began to speak.
"Alright, settle down," Ritz began as he rustled some papers in front of him. The room was silent. Ritz stood at about five feet and eleven inches, one inch shorter than Felina. He was in his mid-forties, in excellent physical shape, and his thick chevron mustache partially concealed his mouth as he spoke.
"I'm not going to waste your time with some self-aggrandizing speech where I reminisce about the good-old days, so I'll get right to it," Ritz said, his face somber and serious, more-so than usual. "As some of you have already guessed, I turned in my papers upstairs this morning. I'm retiring."
Felina's eyes opened wide, as the conversation she had overheard earlier came into a different context. Ritz is retiring? Then who's going to be the CAG?
"Now, I know a lot of you are eager to know who's going to be replacing me," Ritz said with a barely noticeable smile. Several pilots did little to conceal their interest, sitting on the edge of their seats. Felina was inadvertently doing the same.
"As you know, Captain Jackson was transferred out of the air group due to injuries sustained during a prior mission. That means one of you lucky first lieutenants is in the running," Ritz continued.
Several pilots groaned, audibly urging Ritz to stop with the suspense and say who it would be. Felina tensed, having forgotten about Jackson's transfer. Going from lieutenant to CAG would essentially be a double-promotion, something that she hadn't considered. The whole room was now looking at her.
"Alright, I'll stop dragging this on," Ritz said as he withdrew a white envelope and stepped out from behind the podium. He walked toward Felina. The white envelope with the Enforcer's logo was in clear view, no doubt containing orders and a promotion from the Commander himself.
And then the envelope passed her, as Ritz handed it to Gorman.
"Congratulations, Lt. Gorman," Ritz said. "You're the new CAG."
Gorman looked surprised, and didn't say anything for a moment. He quickly snapped out of his stunned silence and took the letter, standing up and saluting. The other pilots awkwardly clapped at first, but got their bearings.
Felina sat in stunned silence as the room filled with applause. Aside from being a complete jerk, he's a 2nd lieutenant, she thought. A rank lower than her own.
Ritz had continued the debriefing as though nothing was out of the ordinary. Even though his retirement was imminent he still did his job as normal. Once he finished and the other pilots stood to carry out their assignments Felina approached him.
Ritz looked as though he knew what was on her mind, and he spoke first.
"My office, lieutenant."
Felina frowned, tempted to make a scene so everyone could see.
"That wasn't a suggestion," Ritz said anew, his voice stern.
Felina held her tongue and followed behind Ritz as he exited the debriefing room and walked a short distance down the hallway, passing several windowed doors. Like most of Enforcer Headquarters, occasional artificial potted plants lined the way. Someone's idea of making the place seem less utilitarian. It didn't work.
Ritz paused as he reached a door with his name stenciled on the lower side of the window. He turned the knob and gestured for her to enter.
"Have a seat," he said, closing the door as Felina walked past.
Ritz's office, normally filled with various framed photos, an occasional engraved commendation and shelves of assorted paperwork was now mostly empty. Several boxes lined the far wall just under a modest window where the airstrip could be seen several stories below. An Enforcer jet, a unique variant of the F-86 Sabre, could be seen rocketing into the sky over the edge of the runway, its takeoff assisted by the pneumatic catapult that was now retracting back along the track. The walls vibrated slightly while the noise-proofing of the building kept the deafening roars of afterburners from interfering with everyone's business inside the building.
"The conversation I have in mind isn't one meant for sitting," she said as she crossed her arms. She leaned against the wall adjacent to the window, keeping her gaze focussed outside.
"Alight then, I'll just cut out the pleasantries. You're no CAG, lieutenant," Ritz said.
"And Gorman is?" Felina said. "He's a 2nd lieutenant-"
"1st lieutenant as of this morning, and captain by the end of the week," Gorman cut her off.
"What?" she exclaimed, stepping up from her position at the wall and walking up to him. "A double-promotion in a week? What for?"
"Because Jackson's finished, and the alternative wasn't one we were willing to consider," Ritz said.
"We?" Felina said, her eyes narrowing. She felt her blood boiling as the realization struck.
"Besides, I thought you'd be sympathetic," Ritz said as he turned away, taking a seat behind his now sparse desk.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Ritz picked up a white coffee mug with the letters CAG stenciled in black on it. After taking a sip, he replied.
"Gorman and the rapid promotion. Exceptions being made, not unlike you," Ritz said with a disapproving frown.
Felina slammed both of her fists down on the end of Ritz's desk, leaning across it to look him in the eyes. He was unfazed, and took another sip of coffee.
"Listen, sir, I'm getting sick and tired of getting disrespected by everyone just because of my last name, I worked hard to get to where I am, harder than a lot of other recruits, especially someone like Gorman."
"Ever think that maybe you've got it backwards?" Ritz said. "That just maybe your abilities aren't in question, but your attitude?"
Felina stood back, at a loss for words.
"Maybe it's not the fact that you made lieutenant that's got people upset with you," Ritz continued. "Maybe it's the fact that you're still a lieutenant."
She growled slightly under her breath as she turned away from Ritz and stormed out of his office, slamming the door hard. The glass broke into several shards that clattered on the carpet.
Ritz shook his head as he resumed packing up what few personal possessions he still had in his office.