** 1st Place - New Eden Capsuleer's Writing Contest - YC 117 - Prose Category **
"Captain! Captain Starfall!"
Jennifer suppressed a cringe as a young, enthusiastic voice called after her as she made her way through the corridor in the Federal Navy assembly plant orbiting above Sortet V's first moon. Jennifer turned and gave a flat look at the tall, young Amarr pushing his way through the crowd towards her. Among the stylishly dressed Gallente comprising the majority of the station's occupants, he stood out like stalk of wheat waving in a sea of tulips.
"Domirus, Elijah Domirus, Junior Tac Officer on the Hard Rain
," the Amarr youth answered enthusiastically. "Captain Starfall, I just wanted to thank you for hiring me. This means so much to me and my parents. My parents made this scarf for you as a thank you." The baserliner held out a brightly colored, folded square of cloth.
Jennifer nodded stiffly and didn't look at the proffered cloth. "Your time working for me has been appreciated. You're fired. See Mr. Graff for your severance."
Jennifer turned on her heel and continued the way she had been walking before being interrupted. The crowd flowed around the Amarr youth, as heedless of his shock as they were of the delicate silk scarf that had slipped through his fingers to be trampled underfoot.
Jennifer gave an exasperated sigh as she looked up from the datapad she was reading. "Don't you knock?"
The tall, dark-haired Deteis standing in the door to her day office brandished a datapad. "Another one? That's two since we've redeployed here!"
"What if I was naked... what if I had company?" Jennifer allowed herself a small, private smile at the thought.
Stephen Graff glared down at his long-time friend like a parent chastising a recalcitrant child. "Do you realize how hard it is to find Amarr-qualified baseliner officers in the Federation?"
Jennifer sighed. "He broke the rules, Stephen. They all agree to them when they sign on. It's your job to make sure they do. You did, didn't you?" Jennifer countered, going on the offensive.
Stephen stared flatly at Jennifer. Jennifer returned his look with an accusatory glare.
"Jenna, the boy sends most of his pay back home to his parents. They have a better life because you hired their son. They just wanted to show you their appreciation."
Stephen sighed and tossed the datapad onto the desk before sinking into a chair. "It's what people do. They do things for each other; they form bonds. It's what normal people do." Despite the well-worn words of this debate, Stephen took no enjoyment in it.
"You know that's the problem. You know what happens."
"Jenna? Jenn!" Stephen pounded on the door to his friend's quarters. A friend no one had seen in several days, ever since she'd lost her frigate to a Guristas ambush.
Not hearing any response, he activated the code panel and entered a backdoor code. Fortunately the SWA student quarters were easily entered by anyone willing to be sociable and pay for a couple pints of the local brew for one of the many backdoor codes existing in the security system.
The door opened and Stephen could immediately hear crying from inside. Stephen hurried into the room not quite certain what to expect.
Stephen stopped and stared. Lined up on the wall of her desk were a half dozen pictures. Not just of her crew, but of Jenna's memories with her crew. Minado toasting the commissioning of the ship; his first, and last, commission. Kenaeda trying to steal a kiss from his captain; not out of any interest, but just to get a rise out of her. All good memories. Memories which, by all appearances, had returned from the dead to haunt her.
Jenna sat against the opposite wall, her knees drawn up to hide her face from the soulless gaze of the pictures. Periodic sobs racked her body.
Stephen picked up one of the crumpled pieces of paper littering the floor between Jenna and her desk. "Dear Kenaeda-Haani, I regret to inform you that your son is dead. Despite our friendship, I was unable to save him...."
"Oh, Jenna." Stephen moved to Jenna's side and placed a hand gently on her shoulder.
Jenna looked up, tears streaking her face. "I couldn't save them, Stephen. I just frozen. All I could think about was how my friends were going to die."
"You did the best you could," Stephen soothed and patted her shoulder.
Jenna beat his hand away. "No, I didn't. I froze! All I could think about was they were about to die. And no matter how horribly they died, I would live! If I had fought my ship like I'd been trained, the probably would've lived!"
Jenna looked at Stephen, and he saw in her eyes that she would remember the deaths of her friends as only a immortal capsuleer could: until the stars burned cold.
Stephen sighed. He knew better than to force the issue. He learned years ago that compassion for her crew was something his friend and employer couldn't afford.
"You want me to give him the standard severance package and letter of recommendation?"
Jennifer looked up, lost in a memory. "Mmm? What? Yes... No..." Jennifer stared at the small case that contained those few things precious to her. "Give him the standard package, and make sure his parents are taken care of."
Stephen grunted in surprise and smiled. "Yes, ma'am."
Jennifer picked up Stephen's datapad and threw it at him. "Stop that. Now, get out of here. I have things to do."
Stephen raised his hands in surrender and to catch his datapad, "I'm going. I'm going."
As Stephen left to go arrange for the severance of yet another baseliner, Stephen wondered, as he always did, if there was a better way that Jennifer could manage her compulsion to protect those close to her. He certainly didn't begrudge it of her. He'd certainly benefited from it more than once when faced by Guristas and Angels wanting to pointedly question their loyalties.
As the door closed behind Stephen, Jennifer opened the box of her memories and took out the pictures her friends, her crew, that had taught her an important lesson of being a capsuleer: the importance of distance.