YC120 Pod and Planet fiction contest - Childhood's Memory

I tried to climb a station container, using a pile of rigs as a makeshift stairs. With a little more than a meter to boast as my height, each one was challenging. As I was grabbing those unexpected climbing holds, I was wondering how they would fit in a ship, what would be their purpose. Finally I forsook my project in favour of a huge piece of cannon.

I started climbing the forty seven meters of the cannon. Trying not to look down, I was trying to remember my parent’s exhausted answers about their cargo : this cannon couldn’t be artillery since a much bigger one was a bit further down the hangar. Almost reaching the middle of the forty seven meters of the cannon, their words suddenly came back : it was an 800mm auto-cannon, a gun fitted to battleships. Realizing the sheer size of the piece, I stopped. I didn’t go up until the top.

Still thinking about it, I looked down on my family’s mammoth. More than one kilometer long, the vessel reached such a distance that I was having troubles seeing the end of it. I was struggling to grasp the whole picture, even more trying to get an understanding on how it could be piloted.

The huge instrument panel was a mystery to me : all those lights and colors, flashing in an unknown sequence. I knew my parents were mainly reacting to what the ship’s AI told them to do. A normal freight travel required little intervention on their part beyond the warp and dock commands.

But sitting on the cannon, I was also aware that a world existed beyond this simple way of travelling. A world where you had to take decisions and actually command all those parts in an instant. Already restraining my fear of this single cannon’s height, I couldn’t grasp this world.

While I was daydreaming, someone saw me and shouted me angrily to climb down. An anger borned of fear I miss a step and fall. The cargo had to be hauled into the mammoth’s hold and it was time to wish farewell to my parents.

A week later :

Someone is speaking to me. I don’t hear nor listen to what he says. I just look blankly at the fake window, reproducing a view of the outside of Rens’ station. Where I am, where is my family’s home but where my family will never be again.

My parent’s are dead, killed along the hundred strong crew of our mammoth I was looking at the other day and was so proud of.

Even if they didn’t talk a lot about it, I knew the past year hasn’t been good for them. For their last and final trip, they tried to haul more than they should have in a try to recover their losses.

A mammoth is not made to survive a fight. Even as a child, I know that. I scream at the officer about his uselessness, about why they didn’t come faster to help and save my parents.

I don’t care about the punishment the criminals received. No amount of punishment will bring back my parents. And this punishment only applied to the crew : the real criminals probably just discarded their loss and counted their gain in their new clone.

I think back to this fateful day where I saw them for the last time. A last look that I can’t keep myself from thinking of. But while lost in this memory, I also remember the auto-cannon I climbed to take a look at my parent’s hauler. What if instead of sitting useless in the hold, this instrument would have used against the robbers and assassins ?

A decade later :

My first assignment. On my shoulder is a military patch with five stars.

The training was gruesome and long. I don’t even remember it all : years of drilling, courses and simulations. But now, it is no more a simulation : I am for real in the command bridge. On my left, the captain gives her directives.

In the central window, the computer superposes the outside view with data and info on each ship. Several smaller windows also open as I push buttons in the dashboard, giving more precision about each ship, their weaponry and distance. As soon I get the feedback from the computer from my request, I give the information to the captain about the range of the blood raiders and our possible trajectories.

The captain ponders her options. Outside all is quiet. The pirate pirate patrols outside their drug production facility. Soon this chemical lab will be no more, its walls destroyed and its poisoned dispersed in the void of space. But for now, nothing happens yet : our enforcer ship is sill hidden from the fanatics’ view by our cover ops cloak.

The captain agrees to my suggestion and determine the course of action. A few words are still exchanged but already all the lights go red from the battle-station order. The captain’s choice amplified by the ship’s communication system orders the overheating of all weapon systems.

We drop the cloak and engage the logistic pirate ship. Lazy in their patrols, the other blood raiders’ ships try to burn the distance to us but they are too far. Their fellow criminal ship is already a wreck when they reach us. Realizing that they just lost their support, their Ashimmu class vessels try to regroup further but our warp scrambler prevent their microwarpdrive to function and deny them the speed they need.

Several numbers appear in the command bride window indicating that their energy neutralizers are at work against us in a last ditch attempt to incapacitate us. I monitor those numbers but have no worry. Our projectile turrets use no capacitor and we rely on ancillary repairers for dealing with the damage their energy weapons deal to our armor.

The captain gives order to the engineering crew to increase our speed. I keep an ear to this not to loose grasp of the situation but concentrate on our capacitor levels. Even with all the intel we had in advance to prepare this fight, we soon will face a dilemma about which modules we have to keep working and those which we have to give up. Refusing to let those criminals escape, I order the crew to schedule the consumption of the capacitor charges following my signals.

The capacitor runs dry and the warp scrambler shuts down. One of the pirates changed the timing of his attack to strike at a different time. I didn’t expect this : I overlooked this possibility, getting too confident and used to the rhythm of the enemies’ neutralizers. My failure, my burden to repair.

I tell the situation to the captain, thinking of a plan. The captain nods and already the sounds of the engines increase and overwhelm the voices of the engineering crew on comms. Our enforcer flies straight to the enemy : kilometers become hundreds of meters. I am propelled back to my seat, all the ship resonates with the collision sound but as the two hulls pull away from each other, I know it worked. The very ship which we lost tackle of, spirals out of its alignment.

We gained a few seconds but those seconds are enough : the crew activates another charge and it is enough to power our warp scrambler.

Already the enemy hull shows signs of breaking. Soon and only fragments of it remain in space. With this ship gone, we are free to concentrate on another ship while the incoming damage is reduced.

Soon all is quiet again. On the background of the outside view, nothing remain but a wreck of the drug facility.

A sense of achievement reaches everyone in the command bridge. The operation was a success and we don’t have to mourn any loss in our fleet.

On screen, the outside view disappears to let space to an Amarr noble. He thanks us for making Aridia safer. Thanks to our intervention, the various corporations which had to stop their activities will be able to renew their daily operations in this system.

On our way back to our staging headquarters, I nonetheless feel something sad inside me as we meet a fleet of capsuleers. By decision of the Concord assembly, our own main mother body, the very drugs we destroyed today will be made legal soon. The very noble from whom we received congratulations was probably aware of that. After all, each empire has its seat in the assembly decision making.

And I can’t turn a blind eye either to what he called daily activities. In my childhood, I heard enough tales from elder people to know what they are. And if I forgot, the wreckage of the Amarr ships victims of piracy would have reminded me : had I had the courage to look closer, I would have found tattoos similar to the one I have on the corpses of those expelled from the cargo hold during the ship’s death.

But while my mind drifts, reality and duty call me back. An aggression has been signalled in the nearby system of Avada. I bark my orders to the crew as the captain gives her own orders : it will only take us seconds to reach the system but those seconds will make the difference between the life and death of the attacked ship.

That’s what I signed up for.

An another decade later :

All around the ship, I see a myriad of symbols, data and images. Or the ships sees it. This line has been blurred for a long time and I no longer try to make the distinction. I am no longer a ghost in the machine, I became the machine itself.

As my mind reaches for a closer look at the surrounding ships so do the ship’s sensors. I sense the presence of the other Marshal class ship nearby.

We just arrived at the scene. The aggression has began only moments ago but already the victim is only a wreck. Too late, once again.

We quickly dispatch the aggressors without a second thought. The Jovian technology our ships are fitted with allows us to do so. Another day, another victim which hauled more than it should have. Like my parents.

The criminals no longer a presence, I run a scan on the grid and ask the computer to run a diagnostic on the victim’s wreck. With hope, I precisely require of it to look for escape pods or any pressurized compartment which would have survived the explosion with its passengers.

The feedback I receive is not the one I expect. This is a warship, not a industrial one. As I wonder about the meaning of it, more ships warp in the vicinity. The embedded computer detects several locking procedures being active.

I run the normal trajectory and grid analyse procedures but asks of the computer a complete run on the defeated aggressors’ ships. What I see is not the usual cheap pirate ships disregarding his own ship as he does of his victims’ lives : on the contrary, I see only another warship. Probably an illegal war between capsuleers which decided to settle their grudges outside Concord sanction.

My computer runs a scan of all ships around. Among the scanned Tempest class battleships I see holds full of slaves. I am used by the sight by now : policing Amarr and Khanid space makes it a legal but sad one. But slaves in a Minmatar ship, this is unusual.

I send all data to headquarters and receive its feedbacks : an actualized map of the battleships which replaces mine. Among the new information and data, Concord hierarchy included a list of authorized behaviours conceded to some ships in the area. Those ships are part of the same fleet as the ship whose aggression called us here.

Bypassing normal procedures, those ships are allowed to freely engage another list of ships. This is no formal war between capsuleers nor normal piracy but therefore a matter which pushed the Amarr empire to ask Concord for derogation in its own space.

As the feedback from headquarters completes the one I requested from my own ship, reality dawns on me. Those Minmatar ships are ships trying to break a blockade and sacrificing their own ships for it, knowing that our inevitable intervention will bring their doom if they survive the Amarr fleet fire.

The Amarr fleet is here to keep them from reaching Minmatar space and for this called on external forces, including capsuleers, integrating them temporarily inside their official navy. The intervention we have been called for became a sovereign act of the Amarr Empire, free to regulate its own space.

Among the fleeing Minmatar fleet, I see a smaller vessel. Even before my computer ship confirms it, I know its class and look.

As in my childhood memory, I see again a mammoth class. And again, I find myself sitting at the top of battleship sized guns.

Ignoring the other marshal’s captain shouts when I lock him and the entire Amarr fleet, I override all weaponry securities and protocols. And my mind orders my ship’s arsenal to fire.

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