Three days out from intercept, Naret was sitting at her station on the bridge watching the seconds on her terminal’s clock tick away. Her four-hour watch was moments from being over.
“The time is now twenty-hundred hours,” the adjunct announced across the ship. “Team One is relieved. Team Two has sixth watch.” Within ten seconds, most of the stations had changed hands. Atara and Sesh lingered in the middle of the bridge’s upper area while a lieutenant commander took the captain’s chair. When Naret stood up, her station was immediately occupied by another lieutenant from Team Two.
“You coming, Cothlis?” the communications officer asked in a cheery tone from the other end of the bridge. Ethis waited on the conn officer at the lifts. Once together, they traveled to the nearest mess hall: a livelier option than eating in their quarters as most officers tended to do, and they both enjoyed the mild hubbub. After ordering food from the fabricators, the two sat at a table across from each other as they had started doing at least three times per week. Most of the people there were crewmembers from Team One sitting down for dinner. The crew from Team Two had already departed. Starmen from Team Three were relaxing, and a few were also having meals.
“I’ve always wondered,” Naret said between bites, “because of my older siblings: what is it like in the Republic Military?” Ethis smiled at the question.
“You never asked them yourself?”
“They were always away.”
Ethis nodded, took another bite, chewed, swallowed, and said, “Big.”
“Big?” Naret asked.
“And small,” Ethis continued. She was amused by her young friend’s resulting confused expression and took another bite.
“I don’t quite understand,” Naret said. Ethis giggled.
“The Republic fleet is massive,” Ethis said with some Republic pride swelling within her. “Novekk’s suits are large, but not as effective as ADI’s,” then she lowered her voice, saying, “but don’t let them know I told you that.” In her normal voice, she continued, “Republic ships are smaller; cramped; efficient. Also, women share everything with men; barracks, rec rooms, bathrooms.”
Naret’s gray Elestan face blushed, becoming warmer in color. “What happens if…?”
“If what?” Ethis grinned. “Those who can’t cope are given drugs or psychotherapy. Offenders get neutered, imprisoned, and sometimes executed. Republic prison is the worst by far, but that’s a topic for another time.”
“I guess that prevents most from doing anything they’d regret?”
“It does. Many actually grow accustomed to such close contact. You’d understand if you were raised in the Republic.”
“I see,” Naret said. “What about privacy?”
“Ha! The Republic doesn’t believe in privacy.” Naret nodded, but Ethis knew she was puzzled. Naret couldn’t imagine living somewhere without some modicum of privacy. “Those who can do nothing in secret have nothing to hide.
“Anyway,” Ethis continued, “you must know that in the Republic, every man and woman, upon reaching the age of twenty, must serve in the Military for four years?” Naret nodded again. “Because of this, people in the Republic enter the workforce or begin post-secondary education four years behind those in the Federation. Considering peoples’ lifespans, it’s inconsequential, but everyone in the Republic is given a taste of military discipline.”
“What made you decide to stay?” Naret asked.
“Of course,” Ethis explained, “service doesn’t end until your sixteen years of reserve duty are over, but I stayed because of the bonds I formed. During my initial four years, I met a man who I eventually went to the academy with. I actually fell in love with him; don’t really know if he loved me back. Romance is discouraged, of course, so we hid it from everyone and each other. Some time after the academy, we were given a special unit called Venosk Five-Oh-Nine; covert ops. I was the team’s information specialist.”
“What kind of information?”
“Communications information. Languages, transmission, Q-comms, sub-comms, EM-comms.”
“How did you end up in the Federation?” Naret asked. She had just finished her meal.
“Growing up so close to the Republic, you’ve probably heard of the Invisible Wars that happen in the Persean Rift.” Naret nodded. “Have you heard of the Alliance incursion at Kayutt?” The younger Elestan shook her head. “I assumed so. It resulted in the largest single fleet engagement in that conflict so far. Kayutt is a heavy-populated system toward the Republic side of the Rift. Venosk Five-Oh-Nine, as well as other special units, used it as a launching point for our own missions deeper into the Rift. It was for that reason that the Alliance wanted to capture it or wipe it out. As we returned from one of our missions, an Alliance attack force pursued us back to Kayutt Three. They destroyed the dockyards and defenses in orbit and landed armies to infiltrate and shut down our OBS network.”
“Orbital bombardment shields. We held our ground around one of the OBS stations for days before the Republic fleet arrived.”
“So you succeeded?”
“Yes,” Ethis said, “but everyone in Venosk Five-Oh-Nine perished, except for me.” Naret’s expression suddenly changed from engagement to sobriety.
“I’m sorry,” Naret said.
“You shouldn’t be. They’re all alive now,” Naret was opening her mouth to make an inquiry as Ethis continued, “as Revenants: resurrected heroes. The People gave them a second chance—a second life to live and sacrifice. After that, Venosk Five-Oh-Nine became the Revenant special unit Quietus of Hiracet.
“On that day, my dear friend from the academy, Rikter, was the last of them to die. After that, Republic Marines flew over in dropships, and the waves of Alliance stopped coming. Oh, how I wished I had died that day. Such dishonor was too great for me to bear, so I left Venosk, the Military, and the Republic behind. I haven’t seen Rikter or the others since.”
“Wow,” Naret said, blinking her eyes, “that’s sad.” She paused, then said, “In a way, you started a second life, too, by coming to the Federation.”
“I did,” Ethis said, “but enough of that. You wanted to know more about the Republic?”
“Sure, if you’re willing.”
“So, you’re a fan of ADI’s Accellus, right? Have you ever seen Novekk’s Type-M that the Republic uses?” Naret shook her head. “First of all, you can’t summon it at all like ours. There is a machine that you stand on that builds the suit around you when you need it….”