Shoulder The BurdenMature

Carter went up to the main deck once the boys had all gone down for breakfast. He sat at the commander's console at the back of the deck. Sitting there, he had a view of the three defensive turret positions; one dorsal and the other two on the flanks. He could also see the feet of anyone sitting in the main turret and straining his vision, he was able to peer down the conduit to the cockpit. The other men, who were referred to as the ‘guys in back' or Gibs, would run ammo to the guns during combat, or suit up and wait in vacuum in the airlock as a boarding party. Will was second in command and would lead any excursions while Sergeant Carter would stay onboard and command the overall mission from his position at the commanders console. This was how it was supposed to happen, but the Dogs got their name for doing things not necessarily the ‘wrong' way but the ‘other' way.

Sergeant Carter knew he could take advantage of the sophisticated computer aboard the gunboat to command it remotely through his combat armor while the entire crew disembarked as the assault force. This would allow him a measure of flexibility and resources that were unheard of with standard operating procedures. He could command the ship to fire at enemies that were ensconced, or breach sections of the ship they had boarded from the outside. The downside was that the computer, however complex, could not anticipate the battle space like a trained crew. Remote access also cut down how much information he could receive in relation to the larger picture of the battlefield.

Often in war, great risks reap great rewards, Carter had no qualms about risking some situational awareness for manpower on the ground. However, the only time he ever used this tactic was now the reason they were just about to be moved half way across the quadrant. The problem that was overlooked was that the ship did not question commands, it simply gave information in relation to commands as dry data. Carter and his crew needed extraction from a boarded ship. Although the computer stated the dimensions, Carter had no time to concern himself with numbers. He ordered the ship to move in and it did. The result was the near total destruction of the gunboat. In the end, they got home safe and that's all that really mattered. That and the promise that the crew would keep tight lips about how exactly the mission unfolded.

Sitting at his console, he thought about how it would have gone if he hadn't ordered the entire crew to assault. It was clear in his mind that they would probably not be alive if he had stuck to standard operating procedures. The manpower was needed on the ground, and without the human element, the gunboat was able to manoeuvre at peak performance. It didn't have to worry about incapacitating crew members on sharp evasive manoeuvres. Although its firepower was limited since no one was onboard to reload, clear jams or remedy cannon failures. Luckily none occurred. In hindsight, it was a purely spontaneous decision. There were many factors that had not been thought through. Luck had been a factor in their survival, as it had been many times before.

"Deep in thought there Sarge?" Will asked.

Carter was pulled from his reverie and started innocuously tapping the screens before him. "Just brushing up on this console, it's a bit different than the last boat."

"You sure? You look like something's bothering you."

Carter sat back in the chair, there was a moment of silence. "It's nothing."

"Alright, if it's nothing, it's nothing." Will said.

 "We've had so many close calls."

Will sat down and listened.

"I never do this. Not once in my career did I let myself dwell on ‘what if's' or wonder when our luck would run out. But it's getting to that point Will. We've been too lucky, maybe it's a blessing in disguise that we're being sent to this quiet place. We've been pushed so hard in the past ten months that I don't know how long the guys would last if we kept going at the same pace, or how long our luck would last. There were moments on Koharr where I thought for sure we'd never leave that place alive. I thought that I had lived my most terrifying moments in that place, until we had to hold that derelict. None of us got out of there without carrying a few ghosts with us."

Will nodded. "You can't live a month and a half with two thousand corpses floating around you without losing a small part of your humanity."

"And look at how many times we almost lost a guy in that death trap."

"Yeah, there were a lot of close calls."

Carter shook his head. "How long until one of them is too close? I just can't shake the thought. After that last boarding party... we barely made it out of there."

"Like you said, this is a blessing in disguise. We'll have a good long break, build back our karma, and then head back into the breach."

"To be honest with you Will, I've had it with this war. I'm about ready to just get up and leave. I have a hard time remembering what Tracy looks like if I don't look at a fucking picture, and they're all faded half to shit."

"At least you've still got someone waiting for you."

"Yeah, sorry, I didn't mean to bring it up."

"Don't worry about it boss, it's ancient history."

"Well, let's get that garbage sweep done and get everyone dressed and ready to go."

Will got up, "I'll get to it right away." he said, moving toward the ladder.

"Hey Will."

"Send it."


Will smiled. "Anytime." he said before disappearing below deck.

The End

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