From House of Hozz
Written on 1/26/09 by Ziggy
The invention of the Soul Cannon unnerved the Colossi. It also unnerved Eric, though this was less than impressive. Had he been borne six years earlier, he would have found himself doing scrub duty on the mining robots in an asteroid facility. Now, he was considering volunteering for siege duty.
"You don't have to, you know." Voultrax counciled him, "I started out as a scrub tech myself! A few years of experience, a few promotions, you might find yourself doing medical work, or even pre-market purifyer jobs. Point is you don't have to enlist just because you don't have an offer from Dynalance."
"But I've always dreamed of working for Dynalance!" Eric whined, "I mean, what else could I do? Sure, I could take a suds job, but I'd never be among 'the strong, the steady, the vigilant'! If I volunteer for Soul Cannon, I could really make a difference! Maybe the Colossi won't challenge the blockade. Then I'd get a full battery of career optimizations, maybe even end up in lance command!"
"Yes, but if a colossus bears on your position, what then?"
"Well, at least my sacrifice will be remembered." and he added to himself, "I'll be safe in the Father's arms by then."
"Remembered, yes..." mused Voultrax quietly, "Remembered, but for how long? Just, be smart about it Eric. Volunteer for orbitals, or even sweeps! You'll make a great cleanser some day, I don't want you to throw that away."
"Thanks Voul." Eric said, his eyes lowered.
"Now go get that homework done. I have things to do too you know!"
But Eric knew that he would never be a great cleanser. The years of his apprenticeship had not been encouraging, and although he had been training under Voultrax, a master cleanser, his progress had been slow. The "principles of cleansing" left him dazed. Excercises in restoring be-gunked power armor were enjoyable, but only to a point. Though his hard work showed promise, it was un-exceptional. The Soul Cannon's arrival had flooded the local markets with technicians from de-commissioned infantry, including cleansers with years of on-the-field experience.
And so Eric was faced with a clear choice. Eric Dostrov-07.03.01 could persue his un-exceptional career as a cleanser for a mining camp seven light-minutes from the nearest hub. Or, Eric the firstborn of Aarolgie, could step boldly into manhood, and sign away his life to defend the Periphery from the Colossi.
At least, it seemed clear at the time.
---Four Months Later---
...ALERT! ALL OPERATORS TO BATTLE STATIONS! ALERT ALL OPERATORS...
Eric's heart pounds in his throat. His breath is deep and fast. No time. No chance to think now. Soon the firing chamber will open. The bonds will recieve him. He finds himself running toward his own execution. Vauge shapes pass him. "Hurry!" they cry, "Go now!" His feet grow heavy, and he cant reach the chamber in time. Finally, he was able to stumble through the door, but the countdown was already beginning! "Please!" he tried to shout "Please I have to get in place!" but his mounth will not work. Now the room was getting dark. They were going to fire the Soul Cannon, only he was not in place, and he would die for nothing. The walls began to grow soft, fuzzy, even velvety. Hissing sounds surrounded him, and steel snakes coiled across his forearms. The Colossi had reached the cannon! Their minions had somehow infiltrated the firing chamber! Eric had to get free. He tries to struggle, only now he can not breathe. Must move! Must Breathe! Must Live!
"Gah!" Eric shouted, and sat up in bed. He held his breath for a moment or two longer. His eyes stared ahead, but unfocused. He took several careful breaths, sharply out, than a shuddering inhalation of the stale air. The steel rungs of his bunk had made cold impressions on his arms.
It had been 162 days since he had volunteered to join the Soul Cannon arm of Dynalance. His training was insultingly short. He knew training wouldn't help him. That knowledge didn't help either. When he was issued his uni-coveralls the thought once again rushed toward him that he might die in these clothes. The thought was pointless, he pushed it aside. Who cares what you're wearing when you die? Maybe your Mom, but his mother was proud of him. His whole family had attended his swearing in, and cheered as he performed his first salute. That had been months ago, and it still haunted him how the bold action had raked off the dross from his life. Eric found himself in a whirl of physical examinations, last minute testing, transport, and training.
He discovered the training consisted mostly of procedures he would be expected to perform when on watch at the Soul Cannon emplacement. Cleaning his bunk space, giving reports, saluting, standing attention. The more interesting classes you always saw on the advertisements were absent. No one wasted 3d battlefield visualization on cannon fodder. The one specialized course he did have was almost worse than no training at all. Heroic sacrifice was one thing. Walking into such sacrifice, playing it out day by day, and taking training as to how to properly execute that sacrifice if the occasion arose, was quite something else. The firing procedure was quite short, but said to be painful. No painkillers allowed, no drugs at all, it upset the proper balance required for the full munition yield. No girlfriends either. When on duty you are under full quarantine, along with the rest of the human ammunition for that shift. Shifts are two weeks long, one week off (still with very strict behavioral constraints).
The worst part (and the part that made it all worth it) was the constant camaraderie. He was placed with a new unit. They were all volunteers, all new recruits, they had all chosen this. There arose an atmosphere of sharp and shattered purpose. These were men of broken dreams, hard lives, pared and pruned to be able to accept this daring challenge to fate. Some were old, lives almost spent, willing to spend the last to defend old friends and grandchildren. Some were young, like Eric, willing to risk all to gain all. Some were merely bold, daring death, despising life, willing to crush the titans, or to impress their loved ones. The reasons became unimportant, they played cards together, swapped stories in the bunk room. Perhaps the Colossi would be cowed into submission. Perhaps not. To them it no longer mattered. Eric had joined the ranks of a brotherhood who defied death, and embraced it all the same. They joked about plans for after the war, about family and far away ventures, but somehow mortality was always present, especially when they slept. The nightmares woke many, and they talked about the nightmares too. Sometimes clustered in the common room, or quietly while brushing their teeth, the topic would come up. Every night, it seemed, there were moans or shouts in the bunks. The next morning a slap on the shoulder or a pat on the head would remind everyone of what everyone knew. Thruout the day they would lock eyes, and the fear and uncertainty would leap from soul to soul. "Did we choose aright?" "Will it be worth it?" More often it was merely, "How did we come to this?"
Eric pondered the question as he lay back shivering on his bunk. Of course it wouldn't be like his dream. In the case of a real firing event everyone would be seated in the ready room. There would be no running or shouting. Exertion and excitement also created fluctuations that were hard to account for, and adversely affected the yield. But it was hard to believe that, with his nightmare entangled with his memories. The terror of the events came not so much from the events themselves, as the sense of unreality and helplessness. Like the dream, the feelings slowly faded, leaving him spent and very alone in the darkness.
Blaze of light! Pure white like sustained lightning, a painful glare flooded the bunk room. Eric screwed his eyes shut for a moment, then cracked them open. A voice spoke over the intercom. It was calm, collected, almost hesitant. "Duty group eighty four gee... please turn out to the ready room."
For a moment Eric lay still in confusion. Another dream, more real than the first? No, the lights were too bright. He sat up in his bunk. Others were doing the same. Some had already leaped to the floor, and were heading for the hallway. His mind grasped reality, like the bright light a moment before. This is the hour! This is the day! Today we defeat the Colossi! His gaze swept around to the faces nearby. All friends, barely known, but known deep. Like newly discovered allies, their eyes spoke, and their voices too.
"Come! Let us go to battle!"
"Now we'll show them!"
"Are you ready Eric? Come die with us."
From all along the blockade, the Soul Cannon barrage began. Each shot like a lance of molten silver, a man laying down his life for his friends. The Colossi would be defeated, like bubbles in a hailstorm. As Eric climbed into the firing chamber, he was no longer afraid. He was going to be with his Father.
Feel free to put any analysis here.
I continuously felt the urge to move into an explanation as to the operation of the soul cannon, the siege of the inner worlds, the role of the Colossi, and the history of their struggle. Instead, I have tried to focus on the character of Eric as a person, the results of his choices, and how these events have affected his actions.
Okay, after finishing the story I'm not convinced I did a good job. The emotion behind the events is somehow to close to get a good look at. Honestly, I didn't spend the effort to look that closely at the emotions behind the story. This story, in one form or another, has been with me for several years. The nobility of self sacrifice, and the fear that must accompany it, are, perhaps, forever beyond my grasp. I hope I conveyed at least a little of that here. Ziggy
The first sentence needs to end at "Colossi." The next phrase is unnessisary, especially since you can imply it from the phrase in the second sentence.
- Edited, as suggested.Ziggy
Also 2 paragraphs after the nightmare, sentence 4 is ambiguous. I think I get it, but I had to read it 3 times.
- Made some changes, perhaps for the better.Ziggy
I unfortunately don't have criticism on the story itself. Oswald