Character Preview

Author’s Note: In the course of writing the book, I found some of the characters had interesting backstories which were helping to define them. This is the story of my female protagonist’s name – where she got it, how she chose. You’ll find distinct clues to her personality in this short introspective. It takes place two years before the novel’s opening.

… Basilica of the North Wind, Kedu Air Academy, eleventh year of the forty-fourth cycle

Her choice was coming. Only three plebes left, and then she would be forced to decide. This wasn’t some inconsequential event where she could pick on a whim, as she was often accused of doing. It was even more important than a championship match where an ill-advised gut reaction to discard the team’s carefully planned strategy would be excused when they won, like hers had been a couple weeks ago. No, this decision would affect the two people she loved most in the world. Quite simply, Vespa was terrified of the repercussions of getting it wrong.

Just ahead, a male cadet she recognized from Introduction to Spatial Mechanics stepped forward onto the dais, preparing to make his pronouncement. The process wasn’t that complicated: you walked forward and the cleric asked for your name – your newly chosen life name. Everyone, of course, had a first name. Prior to entering the Academy they used their heritage names, a hyphenated form of the surnames of both parents. Then as Academy plebes they became simply numbers, drawn randomly so everyone was equal. In theory, this gave each one of them time to become something of their own choosing, to step beyond the great shadow cast by family trees and to consider who they truly wanted to be.

Her classmate spoke his first name, followed without hesitation by his surname, then stepped off the dais with his head held proudly. Down to two plebes…

Glancing over her shoulder, Vespa spotted her mother. Dressed in the customary extravagant attire of the Cultural Minister, Utara Fireheart wasn’t hard to find. Spiraling up above the seated assembly like a shrine to Fayti, her headdress reflected the traditions of the Rotorans; an appropriate choice, given that Kedu Air Academy had been carved into the side of the Rotorn Mountains. The robes she couldn’t really see, but Vespa knew they would be equally ornate and culturally conscious. In her first days as a plebe, she had hoped for the anonymity of being nothing more than a number, a face among the crowd, rather than the daughter of one of the highest ranking ministers on Prime. Life, as it turned out, was rarely what you wanted it to be.

Vespa eased forward, yet another step and another plebe closer. As she did, her gaze drifted from her beautiful, serene mother to the tempered vigor of her father. He wasn’t good at this – sitting still, being quiet, observing. He much preferred running the show, calling the shots, yet he always managed to tap into some of Utara’s measured composure when it mattered. Unassuming and far from the typical commanding presence, that was how Vespa remembered her father’s demeanor in their last conversation not more than an hour ago. He had pulled Vespa aside and told her nothing about today would change who she was, or how he felt about her. He had said Vespa would know what to do.

Her father made it sound so simple, and apparently it was supposed to be. Vespa’s older brother hadn’t flinched when he had declared his life name a few years back. He had done what had been expected; he’d stepped onto this very same dais and in a firm, confident voice taken the name Fireheart. A name recognizable worldwide from their mother’s unwavering public service. A name that would open a thousand doors.

Despite his beliefs and his wealth, her father had found a way to earn quite of bit of public acclaim in his own right. He was the only man on Prime with seven global championships to his name, and the technologies developed by his companies had molded him into a powerful complement to his wife’s political influence over their three-decade marriage. Even though many of the bureaucrats viewed his venturist leanings as a blight on Primean ideals, his success had ensured that his name was spoken reverently among the masses.

Finally faced with that enormous step up onto the stage, Vespa felt unworthy of either name. She did not have the benefit of her father’s persuasive charm or rakish good looks, nor her mother’s sharp intellect and astute savoir-faire. She was just a girl who had made a lot of mistakes in her life so far.

Somehow her lips found a way to move despite the analytical paralysis, breath left her lungs, and words formed.

“I am Vespa Wynde.”


Wynde and Fireheart Family