Oh Captain! My Captain!

Our fearful trip is done...

Commanding a vessel is one of the most stressful positions I can think of, for both military and civilian craft. My job as The Archivist of Safeharbor comes with a weight, a heavy burden holding me down with every passing day. Every day I fail to find something new is a day someone could die from not having it. I try not to think on it, and it's easy to get away from that dark place. A captain doesn't have this luxury.   Captains are constantly reminded of their responsibilities. They can have dozens, maybe even hundreds of people relying on them to make the best decision. A crew relies on their captain to keep them alive, to remain steadfast in the face of danger, and to console them should they need to accept an inevitable fate. Captains pick their crew from scratch. They know they are not only selecting based on skill but also on psychological synergy. They will be spending quite a bit of time together, after all.   A good captain will know the name of everyone on their crew, and will never forget those who die under their command. Some even go out of their way to develop lasting connections with those who serve under them. Every death hurts, like losing a dear friend, and just imagine what it's like to lose a captain. The next captain has the impossible task of filling their shoes. Oftentimes, the crew moves on, leaving the new captain to construct their crew from scratch, and so the cycle continues.

Great expectations

Becoming a captain is no small feat. Becoming a successful one is even more so. Even aboard military vessels, a ship can often organize itself into what could easily be considered a community. This community has its own sense of government, regardless of outside sources. A captain is the head of this government, the chief of the tribe. Their officers are trusted advisors, better skilled and equipped with the knowledge needed to advise their leader properly.   Every member of the crew is a cog in a machine, and how well oiled that machine is will be a critical factor in the success of any voyage. Out in the void, there are not many rules for what can and can't happen on a vessel. The captain can execute anyone without consequence. Those paranoid enough, or who have reason to suspect mutiny, often do exactly that. A crew must be unified to succeed. This is a fine line to walk, as unjust actions can easily unify the crew in mutiny, instead of solidifying faith in their captain.   The captain can often appear older than they truly are. The older they look compared to their age is often a testament to the challenges they faced. Miranda Thrace, the hero of The First War, the cool-headed admiral who only recently turned 47, developed graying hair in her early thirties. The lines on her face are like scars, a map of her world. Every landmark signifies a decision that weighs down on her very soul. Such is the consequence of greatness.

Respect and mutiny

A captain must always watch for problems among their crew. The void does things to us, makes us question everything we are. It shows us our insignificance. And offers a choice: rise above it, or succumb to the vista of an endless black sea. Madness isn't particularly common, but spacers have their quirks, eccentric would be an appropriate term.   Mutiny is exceedingly rare. It's an ever present fear to realize you are always one hull breach away from death. Any lack of harmony, or god forbid, a violent uprising, would prove catastrophic. Mutiny has never happened on a human vessel, thus far. Many stories exist among other species of captains violating the trust of their crew, performing acts of cruelty, or making a decision so obviously wrong that the crew felt there was little choice than to remove them from power.   A captain is forced to earn, maintain, and enforce the respect of their crew. This task is easier said than done, but some have found their methods. Invicta, of The Origin Exiles may be our enemy, but everyone aboard her vessel has a voice, even prisoners. She allows them to speak their mind freely so their problems can be addressed, as opposed to allowing hushed whispers in dark corners to make matters worse.

Becoming The Captain

The title of captain is not easy to obtain. It's the sole rank of Safeharbor's navy that can't be bestowed by higher military authorities. Historically, higher ranks for humanity were gained through dedication, merit, and time in service. Commanding a ship requires experience, merit, and dedication, but it also requires a special something only another captain would know to look for.   When you're promoted to captain, the one granting the title believes you to be someone who exemplifies the culture on the ship. Every ship has a different ship culture, and sufficient rapport must be built with the crew, your superiors, and the ship itself to justify the promotion. In other words, your captain has faith in your ability to clean up the mess of their retirement, whether by death, or by choice.   While it usually leads to a large turn over in the crew, the captain has to love their ship. They must be invested in the ship. Without this, they wouldn't care as much as they should. A captain's word is final, and is rarely questioned. The only thing one should worry about is if the captain dies before being able to relinquish command. There can be disagreements regarding their successor and it doesn't always end well.

"Oh Captain! My Captain!"

While replacing a captain is never easy, and often ends in rebuilding a crew from the ground up, there is a special command we use in our vessels. It's our own way of replicating The Safe Harbor protocols, though it's merely a voice recognition system obeying the command.   A captain can relinquish command to anyone aboard a vessel, and after giving the order, the new captain will end their predecessor's command with the phrase, "Oh captain! My Captain!" This grants the title, and powers of that title, to the new captain. It's a time honored tradition on earth vessels. Old earth ships feature the same function in the form of a Safe Harbor Protocol, and was likely used in a ceremony aboard earth vessels.   This tradition can be extremely powerful when used correctly. An example is Captain Ward of The S.V.N Alexander, who died during The Battle of Sepia-7. Kinetic rounds punctured the vessel and tore through the CIC, hitting the captain in the chest. He immediately reached up and activated a ship wide broadcast...
"This is Captain Richard Luther Ward." He said, sliding down the metal side of the communications panel. He heard his voice echoing off the metal walls throughout the ship. He always hated the sound of his voice. Strange what you think about in your final moments. "I sustained an injury from enemy fire penetrating into the CIC. I won't be there to celebrate with you when this is all over. My XO will be assuming command. I pass my title, and the powers of my title, to Commanding Officer Daniel Lee Gage. My final act as captain..." Ward stopped, pulling the mic away from his face as he cried out in pain.
He continued only when he managed to compose himself, "My final command is for you to treat him with the same respect, diligence, and kindness you've shown me. It's been an honor to serve with you all."
He heard frantic steps and turned to see Gage running down the halls and into the CIC. His face showed traces of tears hastily wiped away so they wouldn't show. Ward smiled and handed the mic over.
Gage shook his head, his face shifting between shock, sorrow, and violent rage. He reluctantly took the mic. "This-" he began, but stopped as his voice wavered and cracked. He cleared his throat, "This is Commanding Officer Daniel Lee Gage, and I accept the title of captain and all powers of the title." Gage watched the screen on the bloodstained console. The words "Awaiting Command Phrase" appeared, and he looked his captain in the eye.
Ward nodded, his life fading away, "Say it."
Gage took a deep breath, mustered the strength to speak the words, and the pain shattered all composure as he finished the broadcast, "Oh, captain. My captain."

Cover image: by Pixabay- parallel vision


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17 Dec, 2020 00:22

This article, man. The way you've filled it with emotion, that final bit of prose at the end, I'm just in awe. I really enjoy the accent put on the responsibility that comes wit the position. The mention of Invicta as a good captain also got a smile out of me, I really look forward to reading more about her.

Author of Arda Almayed - check out my SummerCamp articles here!
Sage Dylonishere123
R. Dylon Elder
17 Dec, 2020 03:10

I'm glad you liked it! This one was surprisingly fun to write and I'm glad the emotion sa shows through. Thanks so much

Jacob Billings
17 Dec, 2020 02:02

Holy cow. Attempting to develop close relationships with hundreds of people all the while suffering from each death sounds incredibly emotionally exhausting. To lose a captain would be equally as terrible for the crew as they would be pretty much losing everyone else on the crew as the crew might be disbanded.   I love identity you put into the first section on the right. It has a lot of character to it as well as does well to, in a way, create an alien setting in which all laws humans base government upon can be altered at the slightest hint of a breeze.   I love the deathly fear of mutiny you project within the article. There's this whole idea of such extreme danger in the void that even the enemy of humanity gives voice to those she keeps prisoner instead of commanding with absolute power.   That ending quote is interesting. There are a few things that were slightly confusing to me. Firstly, why did he cry out in pain. I mean, yes he's in pain from the whole dying thing, but that should be a constant pain. In which case, he would only experience pain on the level in which he has to vocalize it if he moved. So that doesn't make sense and pain doesn't really convey emotional turmoil so I'm a bit lost there. The second thing is the speed at which the new captain reaches the... whatever you called it. Unless it's a pretty small vessel, that seemed pretty fast as you'd expect him to be kind of in shock and not get into motion until he hears his name. Those were really my only problems with the article as a whole, as the entire thing was pretty interesting. I will say, though, the title is amusing as this is a rank article and you've instead based it upon a tradition.

Sage Dylonishere123
R. Dylon Elder
17 Dec, 2020 02:09

Well the article is about a rank, but I thought naming it after the tradition of power exchange cause I imagine it would catch more people's eyes. That's a phrase that will get some attention XD CIC is combat information center and I'll clear up some confusion. My thought was that the moment the XO heard the captain was dying. He'd already be running. I'll fix it! I'm glad you enjoyed it my friend.

17 Dec, 2020 02:09

Flashback to Dead Poets Society...   Is XO in the quote a typo or some odd way of abbreviating Commanding Officer?   Also, if kinetic rounds hit the captain in the chest, from outside the ship, wouldn't everyone in the room have more pressing concerns? Not to mention very little breath to spare for dialogue...

Sage Dylonishere123
R. Dylon Elder
17 Dec, 2020 02:19

Oooo so XO is like first mate. It stands for executive officer and I really gotta fix that. It's a navy thing.     As far as the round, not Necessarily. A round that punctures the hull and hits someone who can still talk afterwards has to be small. Theres a common misconception that one hull breach will just rip the ship in the two. But in reality. It wouldn't. Imagine a pressurized pipe full of water. Shoot it with a gun. The whole pipe doesnt catastrophically tear apart, the water just shoots put of the hole. Same thing in space. All one has to do is patch the little hole. I'll add this to the story though as it is important.

17 Dec, 2020 20:35

Ah man, that prose at the end choked me up. Really well done.   I love that this is a rank that requires so much emotional investment. I can just imagine how much of an investment the crew would get in the captain as a result. I also like the note about Invicta.

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
Sage Dylonishere123
R. Dylon Elder
17 Dec, 2020 20:56

Thanks so much!

18 Dec, 2020 16:44

Im crying. Seriously, that last section. You write with such power and emotion. To make an informative article feel like a story unfolding is such a skill and you use it wonderfully. The detail, the realism, it all pulls together to create something wonderful. Just, Wow.

You should check out the The 5 Shudake, if you want of course.
Sage Dylonishere123
R. Dylon Elder
18 Dec, 2020 18:48

Thanks so much! Oof I don't even know what to say. I'm glad it was so impactful. This setting has alot of emotion in it. I'm glad it shines through! Thanks so much and I'll be spotting you back for these lovely comments soon!

18 Dec, 2020 23:30

Holy heck this really makes you feel how heavy that position is.

19 Dec, 2020 01:51

Ah, yes. Some people understand, others require an explanation. Thank you for capturing one of the most beloved tropes of science fiction so beautifully. I love this!

Author of the Wyrd West Chronicles and the Toy Soldier Saga. Mother of Bunnies, Eater of Pickles, Friend of Nerds, First of her Name.
Sage Dylonishere123
R. Dylon Elder
19 Dec, 2020 02:30

Thank you so much, sable! I felt like it might have been a little basic, but I'm glad it's well received. Thanks so much for the kind words!

Sage Rynn19
Wendy Vlemings (Rynn19)
22 Dec, 2020 05:27

Beautiful article, but that last part ... that really got to me.

Author of Ealdwyll, a fantasy world full of mystery.
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