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Manning the Cannon

by Benjamin Cooper

Roberto gazes out the clear ball turret at the sleek black metallic exterior of the cannon. He sits squished inside the capsule of the cannon turret with much patience, waiting for his services to be needed.

He pats down his helmet to make sure it’s snug then brings the microphone close to his mouth. “Gun twenty-two to control. Any new orders, over?”

“Control to gun twenty-two, no new orders as of present. Keep this line clear. We will inform you of any new orders. Over.” The blatant response resonates from the speakers imbedded inside his helmet.

Roberto frowns as he goes back to studying the circular radar that stares back at him like a giant eye. Two hours left in his shift, and already the dullness of the job soaks into his thoughts, poisoning his concentration. Roberto has gone through arduous mental conditioning classes to avoid moments such as this.

A light tingle itches his arm under the protective armor the Space Legion requires him to wear. The cumbersome armor seems to have no other purpose but to aggravate him.

Unable to contain his boredom any longer, he fiddles with the controls of the cannon, aiming the laser at imaginary opponents to pass the time. With a sudden jerk of the controls the turret instantly rotates a full 360 degrees with a pneumatic hiss, and he tracks the nonexistent targets with the crossbar.

Roberto is only one of the many gunners on the flagship vessel in the fleet, the Peacemaker. No machine can do his job. Computers do not possess the most important of attributes: discretion. After the Saturn massacre incident, in which a civilian vessel was accidentally destroyed, the Space Legion had swiftly resolved that all weapons should be manually operated.

Since high school graduation, his every moment had been devoted to his job, to the Legion. Military academy followed by boot camp, then tactics and strategy training, then after a two-year stint on the Moon base he was finally accepted into a specialized school for gunners.

Crunched up tightly in a rotating compartment for hours on end gazing into the infinite blackness of space would seem like a job nobody would want. Constant vigilance is a strict component of the job description. No entertainment, no distractions. At a moment’s notice, he is to be ready to defend the Peacemaker from all enemies.

There is little to do to pass the time besides constantly recalibrating the targeting systems. Nevertheless, gunmen have to put up with a psychological hell they’ve been conditioned to endure. Roberto never gets claustrophobic, never loses his grip on reality. The Legion has trained him well.

Since the thirty turrets have to be manned around the clock, two gunners are assigned to each turret, and the pair rotate in eight-hour shifts. There is no escape from the stress, or lack thereof. Focus in such a sterile and mundane predicament without the aid of drugs or other stimuli is demanding. Most drugs had been banned decades ago during the Big Awakening.

The gunner position is well coveted because of the pay, not to mention the promotion. But with rewards comes risk. If one is found asleep at his post, or otherwise indisposed, he would not only be court-marshaled but could possibly face treason charges. Roberto decides to lower the temperature in the turret by one-half a degree. The cool air will awaken his senses, maybe even give him the pleasure of a chill.

A flashing red dot on the radar screen catches his attention. For several moments he stares at the bleep curiously as he calculates its distance from the Peacemaker. It seems to be unusually close, and it is definitely not one of the Peacemaker’s escort ships.

Seconds later more red dots blink to life on the screen. His heart immediately begins thudding. His body tenses up, his grip on the cannon’s controllers tightening. Breathing exercises calm him, bringing down his heart rate. Without steady hands, his aim would suffer.

“Control to all gunners, we have spotted numerous enemy bogies! Be ready to engage! Fire at will! Over.!” his commander’s shrill voice orders. The thrill of the news rushes through his veins. The excitement of battle, the moment he had trained for, is finally approaching!

Roberto eagerly peers through the canopy and into the black void attempting to spot the ships with his naked eye. He goes back to the radar screen, and observes a brief battle between the enemy bogies and the Peacemaker’s escort ships. As one after another of the red dots vanish from the radar he realizes his chance in battle will have to wait; the enemy has been neutralized. His excitement fades.

Suddenly, a red blip reappears. Luckily, one of the enemy ships had broken through the defensive line of escort defenders! It races towards the Peacemaker! At last, a taste of action after years of loyal service. His prayers for battle have been answered!

The agony of anticipation! Roberto’s palms are beginning to sweat under his gloves, and he grits his teeth. “Come on, you son of a bitch!” he mumbles under his breath repeatedly. Visual confirmation is verified after he glances up and pinpoints the rouge enemy as a tiny dot of light off in the distance.

Careful in every detail, he calibrates the computer’s targeting system, and flips off the canon’s safety switch. He clenches the firing joystick as he squints at the enemy craft that is looming closer. He can now make out the shape of the ship, and it is almost within firing range. The sun glistens off the ship’s metal hide as he takes aim.

Out of his peripheral vision, flashes of light dart through the void. Other gunners fire in futility at the intruder. The spacecraft is now in clear view, and launches several missiles from under its bowed wings. The missiles glide through the vacuum of space, and head towards the Peacemaker’s starboard side.

In response, the other gunners begin to concentrate their fire on the missiles, realizing if any of them get through the crossfire the Peacemaker could go up in flames. Roberto begins to eye the missiles as well when he realizes the ship is not pulling out of its attack run and is closing in fast.

“Gun twenty-two, destroy that target! All incoming missiles have been neutralized! Fire at will!” his commander’s voice beckons urgently.

“I’m on it, he’s all mine,” Roberto growls, aiming carefully. He fires with a ferocious battle cry and a rage of fury. Huge bolts of energy blast from the cannon but whiz past the ship, failing to connect.

His opponent fires back as best it can before beginning to pull up. In an amazing brilliance of light, the bogie is hit by the crossfire. Roberto grins in satisfaction, even if he hadn’t fired the kill shot. Half of the ship disappears in a spectacular explosion while the other half spins wildly out of control. The wrecked remains tumble directly for Roberto’s turret! He fires wildly in a frantic attempt to destroy wreckage before it collides with him.

Right before the impact Roberto realizes his death in battle will be monumental. There has not been anyone killed in action since the Big Awakening. What an honor, a final chapter to his illustrious career, to be killed in action. His family will be proud.

His eyes grow wide and a triumphant grin spreads across his face. Sparks flying, the twisted piece of metal finally smashes into his turret in an incredible collision of death and destruction. But the Peacemaker sustains minimal damage from the feeble attack and continues on its course.

Copyright © 2012 by Benjamin Cooper

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