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Hero of the Republic

Hero of the Republic

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Hero of the Republic

ratings:
4.5/5 (5 ratings)
Length:
669 pages
11 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Sep 8, 2016
ISBN:
9781370267293
Format:
Book

Description

The Brevic Republic and the Hollaran Commonwealth became bitter adversaries after each won its independence from the Solarian Federation more than a century ago. Now heroism and revenge intertwine as the rival human fleets go to war...

Sabrina Twist had a distinguished career in the Brevic Navy before taking a position of power in the Ministry of Public Relations and Information. She expected Caden, her only remaining son, to live up to her legacy when he joined the military at the start of the Brevic-Hollaran War.

But when the outcome of the war is... unsatisfactory... Adira Fane, the Minister of Intelligence, launches a multi-year shadow operation to restore the Republic’s honor. Maneuvering the General Council into funding a secret expedition, Fane keeps the true nature of her plan to her inner circle. The Hollarans stumbled on a devastating alien race in their quest to flank the Republic during the war, and Fane means to use that discovery to secure a final victory. Sabrina Twist sees one last opportunity for Caden to advance their family name by joining Fane's fleet.

This is Book 1 of The Parasite Initiative, a standalone series set in the same galaxy as the five books in the This Corner of the Universe military space opera.

Publisher:
Released:
Sep 8, 2016
ISBN:
9781370267293
Format:
Book

About the author

Britt Ringel has been a windsurfing instructor, Air Force captain, attorney, and teacher, but his passion is building galaxies and the characters who inhabit them. When not writing, or reading, he enjoys military documentaries, building model ships, and spoiling his golden retriever, Jengo.


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Hero of the Republic - Britt Ringel

PART I

The Brevic Republic

Chapter 1

Murky tendrils of red light brushed the darkened horizon. Piercing the gloom, an officer trainee’s singsong voice shouted, Ree-cover!

Three hundred eighty-nine fellow officer trainees sprang from the ground to stand at attention. In unison, they screamed, O-T-S! The thundering cry echoed off the buildings in the quad a hundred meters away.

Standing among the collection of men and women, OT Caden Twist distinctly heard a trainee somewhere to his right shout the letters in a clownish though sedated voice. The recurrent, mild rebellion in the darkness of predawn never failed to amuse him. Twist and his group stood at attention but the upperclassmen monitoring the large formation did so with a malaise typical during morning physical training. The exercise fields of the Naval Officer Training School, located on New London, were among the few places a lowerclassman could focus more on fitness than strict adherence to military discipline. The lush planet, christened after its namesake star, was the heart of a major military center inside the Brevic Republic.

Pushups! bellowed the fitness leader. Ready!

Twist dropped to the ground with his class. The tiny stones working their way into his palms were an aggravation he knew would quickly transform into real pain. The leader began to scream out a rhythmic four-count that would qualify as a single pushup. Twist recalled the intense program’s first weeks and the agony of the stones embedding themselves into his hands. He had learned quickly to subtly sweep aside the larger rocks while assuming the initial pushup position.

The count grew and Twist’s muscles began to ache. He only concerned himself with the final number of each four-count, willing the number thirty to arrive faster. Oriented toward the brightening horizon, a rich crimson spread over the flat, gentle line in the distance, evidence of New London’s small, sub-dwarf star preceding her larger sister, a G6V main sequence star that breathed life into the core Brevic system.

Ree-cover!

Twist pushed himself off the ground a final time with substantial effort. O-T-S! he shouted with the proper combination of volume, intensity and motivation. To his right, the mysterious comic mocked the absurdity of the situation again. How did I get myself into this, Twist asked himself as he stared toward the cerise horizon.

It was a question he had asked dozens of times before, the most poignant on his second night at the OTS facility. That black night, a new low in a life blessed with few of them, Twist had hand-drawn a calendar laying out the entire OTS program. Some would have seen sketching the crude calendar as a colossal waste of precious time at the start of a concentrated program that would offer scant little of it. The process had taken half an hour but given Twist much needed perspective. The representation made OTS seem accomplishable. Since Training Day 2, each night before grabbing his bathrobe from the closet, Twist marked out the day most recently completed. It was a cathartic ritual that offered him a meager, daily victory.

The calendar waited for him, sheltered in the small room he shared with OT Vix Kirkpatrick. Today there were nearly as many days with an X through them than without. Twist heard the order to form up into flights as a smile spread across his face. In less than a week, the reviled upper class would graduate and his class would elevate to that coveted status.

Diss-missed!

The massive formation disintegrated but dozens of smaller ones began to take its place. Three-Twelve! OT Roy Bell shouted while raising a hand to signal the members of Twist’s flight.

Twist walked, always with a sense of urgency, toward his gathering flight and lined up in the right column behind OT Marie Conrad. She was busily redoing her ponytail while waiting for the rest. The formation would consist of two columns of ten with a twenty-first OT in the lead carrying a guidon or military standard used to identify each flight. The final person in the flight would position himself at the rear and give the marching orders, or drive the flight to its destination. This morning’s destination was home.

Forward, Harch! OT Bell ordered and Flight 3-12 launched itself down the paved walkway toward Duprees Quad, the lengthy, narrow field of grass set between four enormous dormitories that housed the eight hundred officer trainees and casual students.

That seemingly large number of officer trainees would soon explode further, Twist knew. With the flames of war ignited by the Hollaran Commonwealth inside the Anesidora star system, the Brevic Navy was opening the spigot to the OTS admissions process. Presently, only an upper and lower class occupied the facility. Soon, however, New London’s OTS program would swell to four separate classes. Twist took pride in knowing that his class, Class 95-05, qualified by strict admissions standards. The bar would be lowered going forward to accommodate the rising need for naval officers to serve in the nascent conflict.

Less pleasing was the realization that his fledgling leadership training would be immediately tested in a shooting war. I didn’t sign up for this, Twist thought bitterly as his flight reached the covered shelter leading into his dorm. When I applied to OTS, we were at peace with the Commonwealth. The formation came to a halt and Bell ordered the left column out from the flight. Still at attention, Twist resisted the urge to shake his head as his musings continued. At least my folks are proud. He took great solace in that knowledge. Mother is positively gushing… I just hope the media doesn’t make a big deal at my graduation. Bell released the right column and Twist followed his line, single-file, into the dorm. If I graduate...

After reaching the stairwell, he jogged up the steps to the second floor, rounded a corner and moved quickly down the narrow hallway. Ahead of him, Kirkpatrick pushed open the door to their small room and entered at a breakneck pace.

It took only a few seconds for Twist to catch up but Kirkpatrick was already peeling away his sweat-soaked orange t-shirt and shorts. Arriving by transport eight weeks ago, Twist had witnessed dozens of bright orange-clad personnel marching their way toward destinations unknown. At the time, he had thought to himself, "Oh, those must be the safety guys." That illusion was dispelled almost immediately when a half hour later, he was slotted into the third squadron of the wing of students. Squadron 3, known as the Tigers, owned the color orange, a hue that Twist had grown too familiar with over the last weeks.

Vix, Twist called out as he kicked off his shoes, did you leave it unsecured?

Of course not, Kirkpatrick answered while entering a small bathroom shared with the adjoining dorm room.

I told you, Twist teased with a smile. He kneeled at his small locker inside the room’s closet and pressed his thumb to the biometric reader. A green light flashed in conjunction with the soft click of the door unlocking. Twist grabbed his datapad and closed the door. Next time I tell you your locker is locked, you ought to believe me, he proclaimed loudly to his roommate.

Kirkpatrick’s reply came over the sound of running water. But then we wouldn’t have the excitement of not knowing if I’d been gigged.

Last week, Flight 3-12’s training officer, Lieutenant Boslet, had pulled a surprise inspection of quarters while the OTs were conducting morning exercises. To Kirkpatrick’s abject horror, he had left his locker unsecure and incurred Boslet’s wrath. The pain directed downward at the young officer trainee came in the form of demerits, revocation of certain liberties such as leaving his dorm for the weekend and worst of all, the singularly focused animosity of the upper class. Since enduring the trauma, at least once a day, Kirkpatrick’s normally casual demeanor was supplanted by the terror-induced frenzy of Did I leave my locker open?

Twist confirmed that the materials he would need for the day were on his datapad and then inspected the room. Desktops were lint-free with items squared on their surfaces. Uniforms hung precisely seven centimeters apart in the closet. The room’s tiny sink was completely clean and dry; the mirror above it was immaculate. The check had become second nature and constituted half of an entire procedure that would be completed by Kirkpatrick while Twist showered. Twist studied each bed with a critical eye but found only minimal tightening of the heavy, top sheets was needed. Making their beds to inspection standards was a painstaking process that was mercifully required only once a week. The other six nights, Twist and Kirkpatrick slept on top of their beds and used their bathrobes as blankets. It was a sly compromise worth the extra minute needed to fix the bed each morning. Truly high-speed OTs slept on the floor.

A dripping Kirkpatrick emerged from the bathroom while calling out, Done. The announcement triggered a frantic OT from the adjacent room, ready to take his turn in the shower.

Kirkpatrick used his heel to close the door behind him and began toweling off. Why the hell don’t they just install a sonic shower?

Twist began stripping off his clothes. He tossed each discarded article on the floor underneath his hanging laundry bag in the closet. That’d be too fast and easy. They want us to have to scramble under pressure. They want us to have to adapt, he explained for at least the tenth time.

Twist fished out his one towel from the laundry bag and wrapped it around his waist. He quickly collected the exercise clothes from the floor and gently pushed aside the clean clothes inside the laundry bag to reach the very bottom where the truly dirty clothes belonged. Each OT had a small, faux-wood dresser in the room but only one set of immaculately laundered and folded clothes resided within. Those were the inspection clothes that were for display purposes only. Twist’s socks and undergarments for daily wear were safely ensconced inside his laundry bag near its top, safe from the prying eyes of any upperclassman or training officer who might decide that his socks were not smiling or his underwear not perfectly folded.

Done! called out a voice from the bathroom.

Twist charged toward the bathroom door as Kirkpatrick began donning his uniform. Outside, in the hallway, the bellowing voice of OT Troy Pagnosky cautioned, Eight minutes, Three-Twelve!

What’re we doing today? Kirkpatrick asked through the bathroom door.

You really have to ask? Twist shouted back.

For the morning, Kirkpatrick clarified. Everyone knows what’s happening this afternoon.

We’re starting Republic Principles and History, Twist answered as he stepped into the freezing shower. He spent barely a minute under the chilling water before rushing out without turning it off. Done! he screamed, followed by, Dale, make sure you dry the floor off.

Once back inside his room, he toweled off and then dropped to his hands and knees to dry the water on the floor. Finished, he crossed the room and pulled out the day’s lineup of socks, white t-shirt and underwear. He quickly put them on and began the more deliberate process of dressing into one of his cleaned and pressed uniforms from the closet.

Principles and history, Kirkpatrick muttered to himself before looking at Twist with a grin. So, do you think anyone will figure it out? he harried.

Twist frowned at the question. See, I knew you were aware of what we were doing this morning, he scolded while stepping into his dark blue pants. After a beat, he warned, Nobody better get any help figuring it out.

Kirkpatrick stood in the center of the room, waiting for his friend. I don’t understand why you’re so touchy about it. I’d be screaming it from the rooftop if she was my mother.

I’m proud of her but I don’t want any special treatment because of her, Vix. I don’t want people to know because when they find out, I’ll never live up to the expectations… I’m just a normal guy.

Twist finished tying his shoes and took three steps forward to stand in front of Kirkpatrick. His eyes started at his roommate’s neckline and slowly, critically swept downward. Every crease was examined, every seam scrutinized for a stray thread or piece of lint. Kirkpatrick turned around and Twist continued the scrutiny. You’re good.

The OTs switched positions. Nice butt, Kirkpatrick joked.

Idiot.

Chapter 2

The duo had an extra two minutes to straighten their room further before Pagnosky issued the call to form up. Outside once again, the murky, crimson light from New London Minor had been usurped by the system’s primary star.

Although every member of Flight 3-12 had experience driving from location to location, today OT Pagnosky commanded the flight. Even though he was just another officer trainee in a facility filled with them, his natural charisma had thrust Pagnosky into de-facto leadership of the flight early in the program. Likewise, his formidable ability to command had not gone unnoticed by the upperclassmen or the training officers. In four days, when the upper class graduated and Twist’s class ascended to fill that role, OT Pagnosky would be promoted to the officer trainee rank of OT Captain.

Of course, officer trainee ranks were meaningless outside of the four square kilometer facility that was used to turn prior enlisted and civilians into officer-grade material. Inside the compound however, OT ranks carried real weight. OT captains oversaw each of the three squadrons while OT commanders and lieutenant commanders brought life to each captain’s will. Further down the chain, OT lieutenants and junior grade lieutenants supervised the flights of the upper and lower classes while lowly OT ensigns had no extra duties and focused solely on graduating from the demanding program.

Troy Pagnosky had demonstrated enough leadership to be slated into one of just three OT captain positions. Furthermore, he accomplished the feat entirely without self-promotion. Twist had taken an immediate liking to the man who possessed the rare ability to take any task seriously enough to excel at but lightly enough to make accomplishing it fun.

Troy deserves that spot more than anyone else, Twist thought while marching with his flight down the wide walkway toward the main OTS academic building. And, it sure will be nice to have a flight member that high up in the OT rank structure. Twist knew that Pagnosky would never abuse the authority bestowed to him by the four, thick gold braids on his upcoming epaulettes but he also knew that Pagnosky would look after his flight.

It will be nice to have an actual rank, Twist thought with anticipation. Even if it’s only an OT rank… and even if mine is only going to be OT lieutenant, junior grade. Unlike Pagnosky, Twist had not set the OTS program on fire. Although he had scored high in the academic tests and his physical conditioning was above average, by his own design he purposely made no effort to stand out like many of his other classmates.

The relish of obtaining an OT rank and becoming an upperclassman was diminished by the thought of just how junior his slated rank would be and how it might look to his mother. His older brother, Logan, had achieved the rank of Cadet Captain when he had gone through the four-year Naval Academy on Bree. Twist’s eyes began to burn at the memory closing in on him.

Instead of succumbing to the past, Twist concentrated on the jody his flight was singing. The military cadence offered a rare opportunity for creative expression while keeping the flight marching in proper time. This morning’s jody was gleefully informing Squadron 3’s real commander, Commander Hailey, that her Tigers were on their way to school.

* * *

The standard morning uniform inspection went smoothly for Flight 3-12. This far into training, each OT had learned the expectations and how to wear a uniform properly. By the time Lieutenant Boslet released the OTs to their seats, Twist’s stomach had tied itself into knots. The apprehension was not from the recent inspection but for what was to come.

Boslet confidently strode to the front of the small classroom to retrieve his datapad resting on the lectern. After checking its chronometer, he tapped orders into the small, thin device. Behind him, a large wall screen blinked away from window mode. The screen’s image, formerly displaying the quad next to the McGarner Building of Higher Military Instruction, winked to reveal a blue screen and a 223-second countdown.

There was light conversation in the classroom, although Twist waited in a fretful silence. Unable to focus on any particular discussion, he instead concentrated on controlling his breathing. He wanted to shrink behind his desk. She had yet to appear and already his cheeks were flushing with heat.

All discussion stopped when the countdown struck zero. The blue screen faded and an attractive woman appeared. She was dressed in an exquisitely tailored Straxide business suit that proudly displayed the Republic flag on its collar. Blonde hair reached her shoulders and was styled to perfection. Although she did not need makeup to appear striking, masterfully applied cosmetics enhanced her natural beauty. She was a woman past her youth but the years had done little to diminish her splendor and, in fact, nobly sculpted her face to a form of magnificence that a younger woman might envy.

A muted, mischievous whistle sounded behind Twist followed by chuckles from not only the other OTs but also Boslet himself. After several seconds though, Boslet gave the class one of his looks, notifying the students that enough was enough.

The catcall had made Twist blush fiercely as his stomach threatened to pirouette inside him. He tried to exhale slowly to ease the discomfort. Relax, Caden. Twist isn’t a totally uncommon name.

The woman on the wall screen commanded the attention of everyone in the room through appearance and reputation alone. The succor of her voice completed the spell cast moments ago and Flight 3-12’s classroom, along with every other lower class classroom in the building, became enraptured by the woman known as The Voice of the Republic.

The brilliance of her smile matched New London’s primary star. Greetings, cadets and officer trainees. My name is Sabrina Twist.

Caden felt an involuntary jolt course through his body as his mother used their surname. He fought the urge to look around to see if anyone had noticed his reaction. Ahead of him, the well-rehearsed introduction continued.

It is my privilege to introduce the next standard of behavior to you: Republic Principles and History. Over the next week, your training officer will instruct you not only about our treasured past but how fragile and unique our way of life remains to this day. The woman’s intense eyes perfectly matched the single blue stripe running down the left side of her suit jacket. Called Republic Blue throughout Brevic systems, the coincidence was yet additional evidence that Sabrina Twist was born to be one of the Republic’s greatest publicists. The smile between her words so captivated that it was difficult for even her own flesh and blood to determine where a Republic smile began and a genuine one ended. The lilting soprano of the woman’s voice continued its hypnotic sway.

With great foresight, our founders recognized that we must break free from the corruption and stagnation that has gripped the Solarian Federation for over a century. Our ancestors fought and died to break away from the venality of the Federation, to offer their children the promise of freedom through the birth of our Republic. Our liberty was secured with their blood and only through our continued dedication to government and our unswerving devotion to our ideals will this Republic remain strong. While callous and morally bankrupt entities like the corporate star systems or the evil empire of the Hollaran Commonwealth may scoff at our antiquated ideals, we cherish and honor the ways of our ancestors.

The camera perspective of Sabrina Twist changed subtly. What started as a face-level shot moved nearly imperceptibly downward. The delicate change of view gave the impression of a paragon preaching to her congregation.

Service before self, integrity to the Republic and excellence in all we do. These are the principles that each Brevic officer must demonstrate with their every breath.

A slight sigh escaped the woman’s painted lips. Her look softened considerably and cobalt eyes shimmered.

"Today, we are at war, facing a threat greater than any our precious Republic has ever known. The Hollaran Commonwealth has exposed its wicked heart to all with its bloody attack on our peacekeeping forces in the Anesidora star system. Over twenty-thousand Brevic lives were lost in that bitter contest but from the ashes of Anesidora arose a firestorm of righteous anger welling up from our people."

The tender emotions from the onscreen angel swept away with her next words as her jawline hardened with fierce determination.

And so, common Brevics, men and women like you, have answered our government’s call to rise up and fight the tide of evil that washes in from the Commonwealth. This war will be costly but every Brevic citizen knows that you will place their needs above your own. The General Council understands the depth of the oath you have sworn and governs comfortably in the knowledge that you will safeguard our Republic as our ancestors did before us.

The flawless smile reappeared. You are the Republic’s best hope for peace. The fate of your worlds, your families, depends on your actions in the face of Hollaran aggression and as we sail from victory to victory, the spectrum of humanity will watch in wonder as Brevic superiority wins the day.

The electricity in the air was palpable to everyone inside the classroom. Even Caden, who had grown up around such inspiration, felt gooseflesh break out over his arms. The screen faded to blue but Lieutenant Boslet remained seated for a brief time, unwilling or unsure how to follow such an act.

Orphaned and homeless in her early teens, Sabrina Twist had enlisted in the navy at the age of sixteen. Her tenacity and single-mindedness even then nearly ended her career before it began. During Basic Training, young Twist had constantly pushed her Technical Instructors, following every order with precision and demanding more and more challenges until she was leaving her fellow recruits far behind. Extremely unpopular in training, Twist’s ambition only engendered further conflict in the regular navy. While high-level non-commissioned officers raved of her competency and enthusiasm, immediate supervisors and peers detested the hypercompetitive woman who refused to take a backseat to anyone.

After only three years in the navy, she obtained a degree in Public Relations during her off-duty time. Her supervising petty officer insisted she apply for Officer Training School, not only because he believed she would excel but also because he could conveniently relieve himself of the annoying spaceman who was always pushing for more.

Sabrina Twist cleared the hurdles OTS offered with the same meticulous obsession she had practiced her entire life. Further, she obtained an advanced degree in Public Guidance during her first years as an ensign sitting behind a sensor panel in Astrogation. The graduate degree was necessary for career advancement but also birthed in Twist a deep love for the finer arts of shaping public opinion. Her youth had taught her that there were certain problems that hard work and determination could not solve and as she climbed the ranks, she deftly avoided such obstacles.

Nine years and a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Control later, Lieutenant Commander Twist was the first officer of a command cruiser and awaiting the chance to pounce on a starship captaincy. During that interminably long wait, she authored numerous articles that were published in both military and civilian journals. One such article, entitled Influencing the Obvious, gained the attention of the Minister of Public Relations and Information himself. Just six months into her first command, Sabrina Twist retired with the rank of navy captain.

The decision to step away from the navy was a difficult one for her but the challenges offered by the ministry were too tempting for someone so goal-oriented. Twist’s singular obsession in the navy had been starship command, a dream already obtained. Minister Nelson now tantalized her with the challenge of leading an entire people. True, she would not be making the decisions of actual governance but she would present those judgments to every man, woman and child inside the Brevic Republic. Many of those decisions were difficult ones. Many demanded sacrifice. Sabrina Twist, so appropriately named, could inspire the public into not only accepting the government’s will but contorting the mandates into something they would embrace it.

Twist knew but one direction: up. Now The Voice of the Republic had come to embody the Republic itself: strength, beauty, resolve and assurance. That embodiment was carefully sculpted with mixtures of truth and mendacity. It had been painstakingly molded by a combination of jingoism and authority. Her voice was both nurturing mother and velvet-gloved taskmaster to a republic that often required a maximum effort from its people.

The rewards of such a position were many but for Twist, the true reward was the next, ever-increasing challenge. If completing the task required a little misdirection, a modicum of prestidigitation, then she made such a sacrifice for the greater good. Every chipped piece of integrity, each slice of virtue hewn from her soul was selflessly offered upon the altar of the Republic’s needs.

* * *

The opening chapters of the week’s new standard of behavior filled the remainder of Caden Twist’s morning. The appropriately named standards of behavior, or SOBs, were the collections of lessons taught to all budding officers whether over the course of four years, as in the case of the Naval Academy, or hyper-condensed into sixteen weeks for OTS. Twist followed Boslet’s lecture throughout the morning, adding personal notes on his datapad. There were practical bits of knowledge for principles and history but most of the SOB promised to be a lesson in rote memorization. This pleased Twist, as it played to a strength.

Now marching at the lead of the formation with Flight 3-12’s guidon, Twist took comfort that, as of yet, no one else had connected the rather linear dots leading to his surname. He had been dreading this standard of behavior, knowing that his mother always introduced the lesson with a patriotic speech. Kirkpatrick asked Twist on Training Day 3 if he were related to the famous Captain Sabrina Twist (retired), now Assistant Secretary to the Republic’s Minister of Public Relations and Information. Twist feared that it was a question of when, not if, the rest of his flight would realize they were marching with such a famous legacy.

OT Pagnosky shouted the preparatory command for the flight to turn right and Twist instinctively prepared for the step, pivot and half-step sequence. He had been very sincere earlier in the morning when he told Kirkpatrick how proud he was of his mother. After all, how could a son not be proud of a mother who started with nothing yet reached such heights?

Pagnosky shouted the second half of the command and the flight turned in orderly fashion. Once facing the new direction, 3-12’s driver bellowed Forward, Harch from the rear of the flight.

Twist immediately increased the half-steps taken after the turn into normal strides. He tightened his grasp around the flight’s guidon, leveraging it against his wrist and forearm. The dread that his identity might be exposed began to fade. I can just lay low and graduate, he thought with a deep relief. No unrealistic expectations, nobody sucking up to me to curry favor. I can just be me. Well, the new me.

The old Caden Twist never wanted to be a military man. He had left that demanding, often brutal, lifestyle to a brother who excelled at such things. As the younger child, Caden became used to the expectant looks cast his direction given the impressive accomplishments of his mother and older brother. However, he had never grown used to the inevitable disappointment from those same expectant eyes when his own inadequacies became clear. Compared to Logan, Caden was a lesser athlete, a lesser academic and worst of all, a lesser leader. He still felt shame as he thought of all the times that professors, friends and colleagues expected him to be able to save whatever situation they were in, be it a few points down in a game of slamball or a pop quiz in the classroom. When compared to his legendary brother, he inevitably let his peers and teachers down.

The OTS dining facility came into view and Twist’s stomach tightened. I’m just not good under pressure, he admitted to himself. This fact was glaringly obvious to him even if his family refused to believe it. Sure, give me some time to prepare and I can manage things with the best of them but I just can’t come through in the clutch. Directly after his general schooling, Caden had worked for his father as a general contractor for Twist Construction and he longed for his old, comfortable life. The myriad of details, the ocean of never-ending logistics that brought other workers to tears were merely interesting and complex problems in coordination and systemization for Caden. The job had offered him a deep satisfaction and contentment. It was the first time in his life that he felt proud of himself, even if his mother might have indifferently lamented the waste of her younger son’s talents. Fortunately for Caden, Logan Twist garnered all the success his mother had required of her offspring.

The Twist family way of life seemed in homeostasis until Sabrina Twist’s legacy was torn from her. Caden could still remember the day his mother informed him, via a standata message, that his brother was dead. Logan Twist had fallen victim to an accident in his quarters aboard the heavy cruiser, Warhammer. Three days later, Sabrina informed Caden in person that the entire family would have to sacrifice to fill the fissure Logan’s death created. After much discussion, Caden applied to Officer Training School the next day. Before Logan’s remains had been returned to Thalassa, Caden had gained acceptance into OTS, impossibly fast if not for the influence of his mother. Less than two weeks later, Caden had shipped out to New London in the afternoon, after burying his only sibling that morning. He chose to believe that the timing, arranged by his mother, was just her way of helping him focus on the challenges ahead.

Twist’s reflections were cut short as the flight neared the mess hall. He felt familiar apprehension take hold over him with each step. As the flight’s standard-bearer, it would be his responsibility to report to the chow director waiting at the facility’s doors. The upperclassman held the responsibility to direct the numerous flights into the hall in an orderly fashion. Each flight had a specific time window to report to the director to ensure a steady stream of OTs rather than one, big flood.

Missing a dining window would be reported up the OT chain of command and would be bad news for the entire flight. Botching the reporting procedure only held dire consequences for the standard-bearer.

Flight, Halt! Pagnosky ordered as Flight 3-12 came to rest in one of the painted parking zones outside the facility. Several military training leaders, or MTLs, cruised the area like sharks swimming among the flights, watching… waiting. Two more minutes, Caden, Pagnosky informed.

Flight 3-12 had arrived early, resulting in a minor delay before Twist could report to the chow director. Reporting in early was as grievous a crime as being late. Twist let the guidon come to a gentle rest on the quickcrete.

Good morning, Chow Director, Twist mentally rehearsed. The time is—Oh! Be sure to look at your watch before you step off toward the director. The time is ‘X’. Flight Three-twelve requests permission to enter the dining facility. Whoops, be sure to salute first and then report in.

Twist had only reported to a chow director once before, very early into training when upperclassmen were titans wielding the power of lightning and very interested in using that power at the slightest malfeasance from the pathetic, unworthy lower class. He had stumbled over the reporting statement and taken an appropriate number of demerits, resulting in an excruciating weekend of remedial military training.

You can do this, Caden. This time will be different. The pressure began to build.

It’s time, Pagnosky announced. OT Twist, report Flight Three-twelve’s arrival to the dining director.

Chapter 3

Twist lifted the guidon off the ground and marched away from his flight. He carefully gauged the distance and direction to the chow director and meticulously timed his final, ninety-degree turn to line up perfectly with his objective. As he marched the final meters to the doorway, he belatedly realized he forgot to check his watch for the current time. Just estimate it, Caden. Adapt, overcome.

After coming to a stop, he moved his left hand sharply to bring the first joint of his forefinger to touch the staff of the guidon. His fingers and thumb were extended and joined, palm down, wrist straight and forearm horizontal to the ground. The chow director returned the guidon bearer’s salute with a proper Brevic salute, prompting Twist’s reporting statement.

Good morning, Chow Director! he greeted loudly and enthusiastically. The time is… Our window started at twelve-twelve and flight dining windows are three minutes long. So, pick a time between twelve-twelve and twelve-fifteen. We were early so don’t pick twelve-fifteen. Figure it took me less than a minute to reach the director but don’t say twelve-twelve in case his chronometer is a touch early. That leaves twelve-thirteen or fourteen.

What time is it, OT? screamed an MTL who had seemingly materialized behind him. The thunderous voice caused Twist to flinch, setting off a chain reaction that allowed the guidon to slip off his shoulder and slightly behind his body.

Dammit, OT, are you trying to hit me with that standard? the non-commissioned officer bellowed.

The NCO’s voice was so loud, so grating, Twist was unsure of the gender of its owner. Looking back and breaking his position of attention would be catastrophic. No, sir! he squawked as he grappled with the stray guidon, still trying to regain his composure.

Twist felt the standard savagely ripped from him by a second MTL. The sharks were finished circling and coming to feast.

Does that First Hat look like a male to you? screamed a third MTL into Twist’s left ear.

You just gonna let me steal this guidon from you, OT?

The questions mercifully had the same answer. Had each demanded a different response, more pain would have ensued. No, sir! responded a trembling Twist. The time is…

Thirteen or fourteen? Wait, after all this, I need to go with a later time now…

What damned time is it? the trio of MTLs shouted in near unison.

Twist froze.

The initial MTL circled around him. She pecked her head as she screamed, using the brim of her hat to punctuate her words onto Twist’s forehead. Damn it! How are you going to lead me in a war if you can’t even read a watch? she spat while savagely thrusting a hand toward a twenty-meter square pit of sand. Grinder! She glanced upward to steal a look at the guidon now carried by the second MTL. Flight Three-Twelve, Grinder!

Twist broke out at a dead run for the pit. Dashing into the soft, deep sand, he stood in the middle at attention as his flight mates rapidly filled in around him.

The first MTL, her immaculate uniform distinguishable from the other MTLs only by the black belt she wore around her waist, approached the edge of the pit. Twist knew that the fine grains of sand in The Grinder which clung to any surface like powdered sugar would not be a barrier to an MTL. He had heard of one that entered the Grinder and performed one hundred burpee exercises in half the time of the flight being instructed early in the training cycle. After completing the exercises, while the flight was still struggling with burpee fifty-nine, the sand-covered MTL had casually walked into the dining hall. Before the flight had completed its quota of pain, the same MTL astonishingly emerged from the facility wearing a spotless uniform. The tale of this miracle cemented the mystique of every Military Training Leader’s omnipotence.

Pushup position! screamed the First Hat from the pit’s perimeter.

Twist dropped into the sand. Shirt and trousers joined his formerly shined shoes in befoulment.

I want twelve sets of twelve. Can you guess what time it was now, OT? Begin!

The entire flight pushed themselves away from the sand to begin the steady rhythm of exercises that would supplant their lunch. Each officer trainee would still receive their quota of three glasses of water, regulations forbade an OT from missing them, but the dream of spaghetti and meatballs had disappeared like a mirage in the desert.

* * *

Thirty minutes later, Twist entered a classroom with his head down. I’m sorry, everyone, he mumbled for the fifth time.

Pagnosky walked by and placed a grimy hand on Twist’s shoulder. Don’t worry about it, Caden. At least we’ll stand out this afternoon. He gestured to his sandy, sweat-saturated blue uniform.

Every member of Flight 3-12 was in similar disarray. The remedial training had lasted twenty minutes and the MTLs had combined enough pushups alternated with leg lifts to ensure both the front and back of each OT’s uniform was equally trashed. The time spent in the Grinder meant the flight could not risk marching to the dorm to change uniforms or they would be late for afternoon classes.

He’s coming, Conrad alerted while ducking into the room.

Twist and his flight mates quickly lined up near the door and braced for impact.

Room, Tench-Hut! Conrad commanded as Lieutenant Boslet strode confidently into the room. He appeared to be wearing a slight grin. The full lieutenant casually walked past Pagnosky, who boomed, Flight Three-twelve is ready for inspection, sir!

Boslet ignored the man and continued toward the front of the classroom. As you all know, at thirteen-thirty we’re supposed to make our way to the main auditorium for the official announcements of each of your designators. The naval officer glanced down as the muscles in his jaw tightened to prevent a smile. Does anyone know what time it is now?

Twist felt a torrent of heat rush to his face. Sir, OT Twist reports to make a statement. The mandate of making reporting statements in the classroom had long since been relaxed but Twist knew when the wind had shifted to stricter protocols.

Report.

Sir, the time is twelve-fifty-six.

The corner of Boslet’s mouth finally curled upward. I trust that you will be able to duplicate that process the next time you are at the chow hall, OT.

Yes, sir! Twist barked enthusiastically while realizing that of course the MTLs would have warned Boslet that they were returning a thoroughly gigged flight to him. His eyes cast downward. I’m, I’m sorry, sir.

Boslet nodded and grinned a little wider. Then I think we can skip this afternoon’s SOB regarding principles and history and take a detour to your dorm on our way to the main auditorium.

* * *

The trip to exchange uniforms had taken a mere fourteen minutes. Pagnosky had marched them across the campus at double time, both ways, and the entire flight had long ago become masters at changing uniforms quickly.

Twist sat with the combined 95-05 OTS class in his assigned seat inside the largest auditorium at the training facility. They were familiar with the spacious room, attending roughly a third of their lectures here rather than as individual flights in the smaller classrooms. Already warm, the hall would only get hotter with nearly six hundred bodies in attendance. The auditorium was one of the few places where OTs were allowed to rise from their seats without permission and stand at the back of the room in order to prevent themselves from falling asleep.

There was little chance of that now, however. With the class just days from becoming upperclassmen, this afternoon held one of the most anticipated events for every lower class. On the stage, the three squadron commanders stood stoically, including Twist’s Commander Hailey. The group commander, Commander Marks, spoke to the class.

Your training has been excellent and I’ve been impressed thus far with how each of you has responded. He glanced to his right, at nearly two-hundred officer trainees sitting to one side of the room. I’ve been especially impressed with our concurrents. He offered a congratulatory nod toward the separated group. Although you started with over twice your number, those of you remaining have proven yourselves and truly earned this afternoon. Not only have you demonstrated excellence with your normal OT studies but you’ve also adapted well to the added pressure of aviation training. You are just the second class in Republic history to accomplish such a formidable task, yet it will be the least of what the Republic will expect from you. Marks walked with a measured pace to the very front of the stage. Without further ado, Class Ninety-five, Oh-five, I present to you, your naval designations.

The entire auditorium erupted into cheers. Over the next hour, each officer trainee would learn precisely what their professional job would be inside the navy. A four-number label awarded to each OT would designate the job they would fulfill. Coveted 1 positions of sensor, operations and weapons officers were the dream of nearly every trainee while less glamorous 2 and 3 positions in logistics and support constituted the bulk of the Brevic navy. The numbers for more peculiar designations, including those in intelligence and special warfare, were so far beyond most OTs that their codes were rarely committed to memory.

The wall screen projected a single name at a time in alphabetical order. To the right of that name, the assigned naval designator appeared. A voice echoed the list over the auditorium’s speakers. Commendation, ranging from polite applause for a trainee allocated to support functions to wild adulation for a trainee’s assignment to weapons, sounded with each proclamation. Scattered among the usual naval designations were many that Twist did not recognize. The most common yet unfamiliar designators, 1310 and 1320, were obviously aviator-related. Each time the disembodied voice announced a name attached to those numbers, the concurrents burst into frenzied cheers. Several candidates even stood and slapped hands to congratulate their friends for reaching the midpoint in the program. The exaltation of the concurrent trainees was unmatched by the regular OTs.

It’s understandable, thought Twist, utterly devoid of envy. Those OTs are trying to survive not only Officer Training but Flight Training as well and if they succeed and graduate, they get the dubious honor of being some of the Republic’s first space aviators. Unlike many in Twist’s flight, he held no appetite for such a treacherous position.

The cadence of names cycled through the alphabet. The declaration of Vix Kirkpatrick’s 1211 designation signified Operations and drew thunderous applause while Pagnosky’s atypical designation of 1131 drew inquisitive looks from the people around him. Special Warfare, he explained matter-of-factly.

Twist waited nearly fifty minutes for his name and number. When they appeared, the accompanying voice announced, Twist, Caden. Three, One, Oh, One. A round of light applause scattered through the hall, terminating quickly at the announcement of the next OT on the list.

Kirkpatrick, seated next to Twist, grimaced faintly. Aww, man. Hey, don’t sweat it, Caden. Logistics is an important function. He forced a smile while adding in a consoling tone, Hey, we’ll be counting on you to resupply us after every battle. That job is every bit as critical as Operations.

Twist struggled to remain impassive. He nodded as if convincing himself before replying. I know. We can’t all be glory hounds like you. Someone’s got to run the navy while you’re out trying to make a name for yourself.

Kirkpatrick smiled wider, turned away from Twist and applauded enthusiastically at the announcement of a future navigator.

Twist relaxed his struggle to keep from smiling. I got it! Waves of relief were still washing over him. I can’t believe I got my first choice! He brought a hand to his cheek, ostensibly to scratch an itch but to help conceal his growing grin. I can do this, he told himself confidently. I know I can. I’m going to be the best logistician the Republic has ever seen!

Kirkpatrick leaned toward his friend and asked, Hey, is your mom going to be okay with it?

The question immediately grounded Twist’s soaring mood. She would not. The only question was how poorly would she take the news.

Chapter 4

Flight 3-12 was back from dinner. The local time was approaching 20:00 and another rigorous training day had been completed. As New London’s brighter star chased its little brother below the horizon, Twist sat back in his desk chair and reviewed the newly recorded message he would send to his mother. It was a bare-bones missive, simply stating he had been slotted into Logistics and, after graduation, would be traveling back to Thalassa for his technical training.

Back home, he thought dreamily. He looked forward to seeing his father during those six weeks of training in his new field. Perhaps even his mother would take time away from Bree and visit their home while Twist was in-system attending the Core Logistics Training School. Once again, he basked in the knowledge that he would be entering his chosen field. Such moments of joy were few in OTS and Twist knew that his self-indulgence needed to end quickly if he were to memorize the next day’s SOB. It was difficult to focus, however, and instead he fantasized about the complex logistical problems he would be tasked with solving in a wartime environment.

Caden.

Twist jumped slightly and looked away from his desktop toward the calling voice. OT Roy Bell was standing in the little room’s doorway. Like all of the squadron’s members, Bell wore the orange physical training uniform of sweatpants and t-shirt. It was a simple act of preparation that saved half a minute each morning when rising from bed and filing into formation within the few moments allotted to the OTs each dawn.

We’re studying in the common room tonight, Bell said while pointing down the hall.

Twist snatched his datapad and followed Bell from his room. They walked down the narrow hallway, past the rooms of the other 3-12 trainees and away from the portion of the dormitory that felt like home.

Bell took the upcoming corner leading to the common room at the usual OT pace—urgently. He nearly collided with an upperclassman who was, inexplicably, standing in the middle of the hall. Twist had enough time to slam himself against the wall and come to attention. Bell, still recovering from the near collision, did not.

OT! thundered the upperclassman, similarly garbed in orange, why aren’t you at the position of attention? The young man took a step to come within a meter of Bell. Do you not know who I am? he screamed.

Kind of hard to know your name when you’re just wearing a t-shirt, Twist thought in bitter sympathy for his friend. However, Twist had seen this upperclassman correcting the lower class with a peculiar glee on numerous occasions. When I’m in his position, I’ll make sure I correct the mistakes of lowerclassmen but I will never degrade myself with simple hazing.

The upperclassman fiercely gestured toward the wall. Get on the bike, both of you!

Twist felt his heart sink. He was hoping to be spared from punishment but, as was often the case, guilt by association seemed to rule the dorms. He broke his position of attention to place his datapad on the deck. He then pressed his back against the wall while coming to a sitting position, except without the chair. He immediately felt the stress in his thighs. It would only get worse. Both OTs raised their arms ninety degrees from their bodies, as if hanging onto the bars of a gravcycle.

Accelerate! commanded the upperclassman.

Vroom, Vroom! Twist and Bell said in unison as they flexed their right wrists.

It was humiliating but that was partially the point. The rest of the correction was building as heat in not only their thighs but also their shoulders and arms.

The upperclassman stood silently for nearly two minutes before ordering once again, Accelerate!

Vroom, vroom.

Faster!

VROOM! VROOM! they shouted.

The agony increased over time. Entering the sixth minute of their endurance contest, Twist’s legs were on fire. Sweat began to drip down the sides of his face but he was determined to remain stoic. In contrast, he could hear muted grunts from Bell, struggling to

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