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Zuihou LN - Auspicious Seas, Phoenix Sky, vol. 1 Complete

Jul 23rd, 2017
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  1. Zuihou LN - Auspicious Seas, Phoenix Sky
  2. From http://bbs.ngacn.cc/read.php?tid=8272826&rand=709
  3.  
  4. Prologue: You and I
  5.  
  6. The evening sun submerged gently into the horizon.
  7. As always, I made my way to the Destroyer's aft deck to watch the sea and sky, dyed alike with the crimson of sunset.
  8. Thud thud thud; the sound of light footsteps reached my ears.
  9. "You're here again. Is the sea that pretty?"
  10. "Yo, so it's you..."
  11. This fellow, clad in stark navy white, is a colleague from my graduating year, Iwahashira.
  12. The kind of lighthearted fellow who'll start singing with just a bit of alcohol.
  13. His personality is like his name - a stone pillar, neither easily bent nor easily broken, ready to openly retort to teachers and peers alike. Being in the same class, I often found myself running penalty laps with him as collateral damage. Having thus been provided the training of a marathon runner, this Iwahashira and I proceeded to shatter quite a few long distance speed records at the Naval Academy.
  14. He walked alongside me, leaning on the railings as he looked into the sunset.
  15. "Mhm...Well, the view is actually pretty good, but don't you get bored doing this every day?"
  16. "It's not like I'll be able to see it once we're back landside."
  17. "Ahaha, I quite like shore leave! Whoo-hoo~ Love ya, red lanterns~"
  18. "You haven't even drank yet, so don't you start with your singing. The Lieutenant Commander's going to beat you again."
  19. The so-called Red Lanterns, of course, indicate the small Izakayabars found landside. Izakaya are indicated by red lanterns hung at the entrance.
  20. To be quite honest, they're a little too noisy inside for me.
  21. Iwahashira broke into laughter; "Aren't you being a little too uptight? Those things won't show up in waters so close to the homeland. Of course, it's not like I've run into any in the outlying waters either."
  22. "I really want to see them..."
  23. "Don't be silly, you know what happens to the fleets and crews that end up engaging them, right? A lot of people have died already."
  24. "I know, that's why I want to see our 'enemy's face."
  25. "I think you'll be fine with photos."
  26. "...I'm not going to refute that."
  27. Humanity's "enemy;" on a certain day, they had emerged from the deeps, indiscriminately attacking both ships and planes. Their goals remain unclear, and negotiations have proved impossible. Since their appearance, they have proved both undetectable to the newest radars and invulnerable to the most modern armaments. Since then, all major shipping lanes on the seas and above them have been cut, and quite a few cities have also ceased to exist.
  28.  
  29. ——Our world is currently facing a massacre.
  30.  
  31. Iwahashira vindictively pounded the railing.
  32. "But you know, we can't just give in like this. Y'know, I heard from a drinking buddy over in R&D...hey, lean in a bit...apparently, the higher-ups are running trials on some secret weapon."
  33. "Tch tch tch, looks like our nation's deepest secrets have already been infiltrated by Izakaya spy rings."
  34. "Bahahaha!"
  35. Given, this isn't something funny.
  36. Sighing, I felt perturbed.
  37. Iwahashira, that secret weapon you're talking about...does it work on those things?"
  38. "Eh, according to the guys at R&D, they've managed to sink one or two of 'em."
  39. "Really!"
  40. If they had truly found a way to fight back, it would be a great boon for all humanity.
  41.  
  42. And then, with a rumble, the ship reared.
  43.  
  44. It must have impacted something in the front.
  45.  
  46. ——Did they get beached? No, that couldn't be right; there should be no sandbars or formations in these waters.
  47. I look around.
  48. From my position on the aft deck, I can see that the two destroyer escorts starboard are now positioned in diamond position behind the capital ships.
  49. A deafening blast next to one of these ships threw up a pillar of foam and mist, taller than the ship itself.
  50. "Iwahashira! Look!"
  51. "Oh geez! Did it get hit?!"
  52. He stared with wide eyes, tightly clutching the railing.
  53. The waves intensified, a giant one rocking the hull back and forth.
  54. ——It's here.
  55. That is the "Enemy."
  56. Sirens on the intercom——all hands, prepare for combat.
  57. We would need to hurry over.
  58. Just as we began to dash for the bridge, Iwahashira calls out: "Oy, behind you!"
  59. "Hm?"
  60. And as I turned my head around, a giant——thing——nearly the size of a warship floated onto the surface.
  61. It looked like a giant female human.
  62. But its height surely exceeded a hundred meters, and giant turrets rested upon its shoulders. In each hand was some kind of structure nearly as tall as itself, bristling with guns and turrets that looked like they belonged on a battleship. The details and components are closer and more detailed than anything seen in the photos——we're far too close.
  63. That surface couldn't be made of iron or concrete or anything organic——it was tough and yet motile, beautiful when wet.
  64. Based on previous data, this would be the Battleship Ru-class, considered one of the enemy flagships.
  65. In the face of this terrifying specter, I was immobilized.
  66. "Ugh...."
  67. "Get down!"
  68. Yanking me from my trance onto the deck, that would be Iwahashira.
  69. Almost immediately after, the aft turret on our Destroyer opened fire with its single gun and a roar of defiance.
  70. Though the cannon is pretty small as far as naval guns go, the roar is enough to echo through the stern. If I had been standing at the railings, there was a chance I would have been blasted into the sea.
  71. Iwahashira and I lie sprawled on the deck as we waited for the smoke to clear.
  72. We were covered in soot.
  73. "Sorry about that, Iwahashira."
  74. "As long as you're alright."
  75. At this range, there should be some kind of damage even if it's not all that effective.
  76. I look behind me.
  77. But the sight that awaited me was unbelievable.
  78. Firing at this range, there should be no doubt that the shell hit!
  79. And yet Battleship Ru-class was unharmed.
  80. "No way..."
  81. How can we fight such an enemy? We are like ants, against an enemy far greater in strength than stature.
  82. Iwahashira shouted.
  83. "That bastard, is she shooting at us?!"
  84. This time around, the enemy vessel erupted in gun blasts.
  85. The sound hit before the shells did——it was only when the gun blast had penetrated the body that the bridge of our destroyer was sent flying.
  86. The unsociable captain, our strict superior, and our cheerful seniors/senpai, everyone——
  87. "Everyone..."
  88. Another sharp blast tore away the rear turret. A moment later, a shard of mangled steal fell, leaving tendrils of flame and smoke in its wake. In spite of crew's best efforts, the fire seemed to be intensifying. Terrible howls and anguished moans filled the air.
  89. The destroyer had taken a mortal wound. The fire was creeping towards the barbettes——and, underneath, the ammunition storage.
  90. And we on the deck had run out of cover.
  91. Could we be saved if we jumped into the sea? Though the ship was now pitching such that standing was near-impossible, it should still be possible to roll off the railings.
  92. But, our comrades were still fighting desperately against the fires.
  93. ——How could I just flee like this?!
  94. "Ahhh, that's right!"
  95. I ran for the rear barbette.
  96. "Oy! Do you think you can put out that fire? Or do you have a death wish?!"
  97. "Iwahashira, you running?"
  98. "W-what'chu talkin' about, you?! Me, run away alone? I'd die from shame!"
  99. He, too, stood up, following my lead——
  100. The third volley hit.
  101. The target must have been the destroyer's stern——in other words, the coup de grace.
  102. Iwahashira was caught in that flash.
  103. We were sent flying by the impact.
  104. "Iwa-iwahashira?!"
  105. I'm going to die here, huh——I prepared for that possibility as a new shockwave racked my body.
  106. I felt a sharp impact to my head.
  107. Was it a second, or was it a moment...? Either way, I tumbled into senselessness.
  108. When my eyes opened again, I lay on the deck, my up to my waist in water. It must have been the cold that woke me up.
  109. The destroyer was now tilted as a shocking angle--the entirety of the stern was now under the waves, and yet the ship clung stubborly onto the surface.
  110. Even so, it was clearly and slowly sinking; but it looks like the ship's design had saved me from a death by drowning.
  111. That's some good luck.
  112. The third volley had blown away the remnants of the turret entirely. Thanks to this, the fires around the ammunition storage were quenched——or, perhaps, the storage had already become submerged before the fire had reached.
  113. "Ahh, where's Iwahashira?!"
  114. I look all around me.
  115. It appeared that he shared the same good luck that I did——like me, Iwahashira was also half-submerged, collapsed on the deck. I let out a sigh of relief.
  116. He seemed to have been knocked unconscious as well. But I'm fine——surely he would be as well.
  117. Carefully moving to avoid slipping on the wet deck, I inched closer to him.
  118. "Oy! Get up! Iwahashira! If you're a real stone pillar...eh?"
  119. Blood.
  120. A lot of blood.
  121. I grabbed Iwahashira's bleeding shoulder and shook, shouted, called his name.
  122. But not once did those closed eyes open.
  123. Cold, like the sea.
  124. That face that had always been laughing, was now transfixed in an expression of pain.
  125. Motionless.
  126. "W-why?! Why you?! Iwahashira——"
  127.  
  128. The sound of water being displaced reached my ears.
  129. I clutched ice-cold Iwahashira and glared at it.
  130. That bastard that was now closing in on the sinking destroyer.
  131. With its huge body.
  132. Reflecting the glow of sunset, it gave off a metallic feeling, even as it moved with the dexterity of a sea creature.
  133. I forced my parched throat to spit out the "Enemy"s name.
  134.  
  135. "The Abyssal Ship"
  136.  
  137. That is the existence that is slowly exterminating humanity.
  138. The gunfire from the support ships...was gone.
  139. What's going on?
  140. Were they holding their fire to avoid hitting the crippled, sinking destroyer? Even so, it was far too quiet.
  141. Could it be, that our fleet was wiped out?
  142. I felt as if I had swallowed a stone.
  143. There must be others who survived like I did. But, if there are no functional ships remaining, we're out of luck.
  144. "Sorry, Iwahashira...it looks like there's no way I'll be able to bring you back to shore..."
  145. A few drops of blood fell onto his face.
  146. My blood.
  147. It must be because I was hit in the head. It's leaking from behind my ears.
  148. My vision is blurring.
  149. The Battleship Ru-class is now heading towards this destroyer, the guns on its arms all trained in this direction.
  150. We're about to sink anyway, and yet it comes to deliver the deathblow...does it hate humanity so...?
  151.  
  152. I prepared for death.
  153.  
  154. But it was in that moment that a tinny sound reached my ears.
  155. The sound of a fan, strong enough to shake the air.
  156. "What is that?"
  157. While it wasn't a common sound, it wasn't alien to me.
  158. An electric fan? That would be my first thought, but that wasn't it——is this a prop plane? The sound came from above.
  159. I looked up once more.
  160. From the Destroyer's Engine room billowed a cloud of smoke. But, silhouetted in that shadow was something headed this way.
  161. It was a prop plane!
  162. I had seen data about that in the academy.
  163. "But, why...that's a...Type 99 Dive Bomber?"
  164. This bomber, with its water-drop landing landing gear, was an anachronism in this day and age.
  165. The Type 99 Dive Bomber dove from above my head, dropping the bomb clutched to its belly.
  166. The dark tube of metal plunged at the enemy Ru-class.
  167. As expected, an explosion that shook the destroyer once more.
  168. Clutching Iwahashira in my right hand, I covered my face with the left.
  169. ——Were the higher ups now using this kind of thing?
  170. But, against creatures which were proof against the newest weapons...
  171. The air shook once more.
  172. That a howl from the creature.
  173. That was the first time I heard it, an Abyssal's scream.
  174. "UEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH——"
  175. "D-did it actually work?!"
  176. Immobilized by my shock, I could only stare blankly at the scene.
  177. That enemy, which had taken a point blank shot from the modern products of man's ingenuity and lived, was now retreating, clutching a wound on its face.
  178. Is it, is it retreating?
  179. Could it be, that that explosion from the Type 99...had caused those wounds?
  180.  
  181. I began to truly question whether I was dreaming.
  182. That "enemy" we had taken to be immortal had just been wounded by an obsolete, anachronistic prop plane's attack. Who would believe that?
  183. As if to fuel my doubts, the shrill voice of a young girl spoke out over this messed-up, hopeless sea.
  184. And, that voice spoke as if in song, as if it were singing some kind of happy tune.
  185.  
  186. "Those Type 99 Bombers, their feet sure are cute."
  187.  
  188. ——Am I dreaming? Is this some kind of hallucination?
  189. That's a young girl.
  190. Dressed in white robes, with a red Hakama, she was dressed like some kind of priestess.
  191. Long grey hair bound with a red-and-white cloth, blown by the wind in her wake.
  192. In her hands was an ancient sort of bow, with an arrow topped with a decoration like a prop plane.
  193. What is that?
  194. Could it be, that she has something to do with that type 99 Dive Bomber?
  195. Moreover, that girl was standing on the water's surface. No boat or equipment was visible——she was deadass straight up standing on water.
  196. That's no normal girl.
  197. Maybe that impact to my head knocked a few screws loose.
  198. But either way, I could not tear my eyes away from her.
  199. She drew her bow as she let fly with her arrow——
  200. A burst of dazzling light.
  201. With that, the arrow transformed into several Type 99 Dive Bombers, their Kinsei air-cooled engines roaring as they raced for the skies.
  202. Lost in the sight, I could only exclaim,
  203. "...so beautiful."
  204. "Ehhhh?!"
  205. Did she hear my voice? With an expression of shock, the young girl hurried over with an expression of shock.
  206. In the distance, the dive bombers rushed in, attacking the other Abyssals. Several enemies, smaller by far than the Ru-class, let out shrieks of anguish and explosions as they began to sink.
  207. Sinking?! Music to my ears.
  208. For reasons I myself could not understand, I unconsciously reached out with my hand. Even so, I knew that no matter how hard I tried, I would not be able to cross that gap.
  209. "You...what is your..."
  210. "Eh?! U-um! Head! You're bleeding?!"
  211. "Name..."
  212. My senses faded away.
  213. It might be relief from seeing the enemy destroyed; alternately, it could just be that I've lost too much blood.
  214. As my vision faded, I felt myself hurtling into the darkness.
  215. Why did I bother asking her name? Asking that mystery of a girl.
  216. To be able to destroy all those Abyssals, that girl must have been far stronger than I. But to have such a cute face——how shocking, how unbelievable.
  217.  
  218. Ah, Iwahashira...if this isn't just some elaborate illusion, maybe I'll be able to get you back on shore after all.
  219. Sorry, you're going to have to wait a while in the afterlife.
  220. There's still a bit of something I need to do on this side.
  221.  
  222.  
  223.  
  224. Chapter 1 - Admiral's Appointment
  225.  
  226. So it turns out my wounds were quite a bit more serious than I imagined. It was a miracle that I even survived. The surgery left me with a certain numbness that would require some physical therapy.
  227. But we are at war, and all men must do their part.
  228. ——Would this residual numbness qualify me for a medical discharge? No, given how undermanned we already are, it's just as likely that I'd just get sent to the front lines again.
  229. The sinking of the abyssal warships by that mysterious young girl in that engagement was not published, and I heard no rumors about the matter. Publicly, we were simply the victims of a one-sided slaughter that ended with the loss of all fleet elements.
  230. Was that the secret weapon? That would be the logical inference. I certainly couldn't think of anything else that could defeat the Abyssals.
  231. If that's the case, then high command must be hiding her existence for some reason.
  232. At this time, I also noted that there was no mention of the girl who walked on water.
  233.  
  234. A certain afternoon in early spring——
  235. I strode towards a certain building, counting the budding cherry blossoms as I passed.
  236. Here it is——a red brick building.
  237. This is my organization's headquarters——that is, the location of my unit's upper echelon are based here. I've wanted to tour it once or twice in the past...though the odds of finding my way inside its halls by chance were essentially impossible.
  238.  
  239. For a low-level officer like myself, the only brass that would be handing me orders would be a Lieutenant Commander, or maybe a Commander.
  240. Currently, in the military hierarchy, a Marshal sits at the top, followed by Admiral, Vice-Admiral, and then the Rear Admiral. Going further down, we have Captains, Commanders, Lieutenant Commanders and other COs.
  241. Me? As of now I'm a Sub-lieutenant.
  242. Fresh graduates of the academy start out as Ensigns. If you want to move up...
  243. ——Well, the priority is to defend the homeland and defeat the enemy.
  244. But, currently our weapons are completely ineffective against the Abyssals; I saw that with my own eyes, far too close for comfort.
  245. Given that fact, what use is a rank?
  246. Status can kiss my ass.
  247. I just want a weapon that can defeat the enemy.
  248. If I just live on aimlessly like this without sinking a single enemy, Iwahashira over in the afterlife will be pissed. If I had the strength that little girl showed at that time...
  249. As long as I have that power, they can send me up north or down south, throw me on the front lines and I'd take them all down!
  250. There was never a day where I was not thinking that.
  251. Of course, there must be a reason such a young girl had to deployed onto the battlefield.
  252. I continued down the long hallway, brushing shoulders with military men far more advanced in both age and rank. Of course, this meant I would have to salute and step aside.
  253. Having reached the given room, I stopped and knocked loudly.
  254. Following military protocol, I reported my unit, name and rank.
  255. "Enter."
  256. That didn't sound like a Lieutenant Commander or a Commander.
  257. "Pardon my intrusion!"
  258. I pushed open that dense wooden door and walked in, saluting as I went.
  259. An older man with ashen-colored hair awaited inside, his skin etched with age. His gaze, however, was sharp; sharper than that of any superior who had laid eyes upon me.
  260. I remember seeing that face somewhere - from one of the recordings at the academy, possibly.
  261. Could it be?
  262. I gulped involuntarily.
  263. Is that the Marshal Admiral?!
  264. I sure as hell have never run into him in the hallways; after all, this is the commander in charge of every one of the naval districts in the nation.
  265. The epaulets on his shoulders glittered, the golden eagle and cherry blossoms attesting to his rank as Marshal.
  266. On the Marshal Admiral's desk, something appeared to be moving.
  267. It seemed about as large as half an apple, but the white cloth that covered it precluded any attempt to identify it.
  268. ——A recording device, maybe?
  269. Next up, the Marshal Admiral turned his gaze upon me.
  270. "Your wounds, are they alright?"
  271. "No problem sir!"
  272. "Mm...I have already received and looked over your academic record at Etajima. ...Quite impressive, I must say, you top the ranks, whether in theory or in practical application. Set a new long distance sprinting record too, huh?"
  273. "I am most grateful! That was thanks to my instructors' training!"
  274. Etajima hosts one of the naval academies. Since I was neither interested in women nor drinking, I had quite a bit more time to learn and study than the average person.
  275. In response to my textbook response, the Commander laughed wryly.
  276. "Well then, ensign, I have some new orders for you."
  277. "Yessir!"
  278. "Firstly, in light of your survival of the last operation, you are hereby promoted to Lieutenant. Congratulations."
  279. "My deepest thanks!"
  280. I can't believe it, I got promoted.
  281. I am getting an feeling so complicated.
  282. As if he had seen through my thoughts, the Marshal Admiral remarked,
  283. "Displeased?"
  284. "N-No! Not at all!"
  285. "You and I are the only ones in this room, be a little more honest."
  286. "......My apologies. Well then, pardon my rudeness...but, rather than a promotion, I'd rather have a weapon."
  287. "Ohh? As in a weapon that can destroy the Abyssals?"
  288. "?!"
  289. I couldn't stop myself from leaning forwards.
  290. ——As expected, that little girl is the secret weapon?!
  291. As if to change the topic, he continued:
  292. "Of course, we'd all want that kind of thing if we had it...if we had it."
  293. "Do we have it?!"
  294. "How naive, Lieutenant. How could we have it? If we had that kind of power, would this war still be intensifying?"
  295. "B-but, is there really something like that?"
  296. I swallowed the rest of the words that threatened to escape my lips——I was just repeating the question.
  297. The Marshal Admiral looked straight at me, into me.
  298. "Why do you feel that there is?"
  299. "I cannot say!"
  300. If he can't say it, then I certainly can't either.
  301. It's a secret weapon, after all, humanity's hope. I still don't know why it's being hidden, and who it's being hidden from.
  302. "...you sure are a serious one. A little boring, given, but we need boring men like you at a time like this."
  303. With a nod, the Marshal Admiral extended his hand towards the desk——and then tore off the the white table cloth
  304. On the desk, was an unbelievable creature.
  305. Small, small enough to fit in the palm of a hand. Not only that, it bore the appearance of a human.
  306. Wearing a white hat over brick red twin-tails, it was probably a girl, dressed like a female student. In her hands was what looked like a cat, and on her face was a grin.
  307. "Ahem."
  308. "...Eh? T-this is..."
  309. Seeing my hesitation, the Marshal Admiral leaned over.
  310. There was a grin on his face.
  311. "Ohhohh, you can see it?"
  312. "S-see it? That little person?"
  313. "Really, really...to think that there would be a military man who could see the 'fairy'..."
  314. "Fairy?"
  315. "Yep, that's right."
  316. That's a fairy?
  317. Once again, I cast my eyes upon her, standing in that birdcage. I don't know why, but she immediately raised the cat in her hands, covering her eyes.
  318. "..."
  319. Is there some kind of significance to that movement?
  320. "Marshal Admiral, what is going on...could I ask you explain this to me?"
  321. His gaze at this point could pierce iron.
  322. "Explain? Of course I can. But if and once I do, you won't be able to turn back anymore. You will be taking on a certain mission. Is that alright?"
  323. If the Marshal Admiral was saying that, there really would be no way to turn back. What kind of mission would this be?
  324. I felt as if I was about to step into alien territory——alien territory from which I might never be able to leave.
  325. I swallowed unconsciously.
  326. I banished the vision of family, friends and countless problems from my mind, leaving behind a single, pressing question.
  327. So I asked it.
  328. "...Marshal Admiral, Sir, this mission...is it to defeat the Abyssals?"
  329.  
  330. "That depends on you."
  331.  
  332. I clenched my fist.
  333. "I accept! Please tell me!"
  334. And thus I bet my life upon this duty. Is there anything else worth regretting? None.
  335. On that day, on that lonely sea, I had made a vow to colleagues and friends since departed:
  336. I will definitely defeat the Abyssals.
  337.  
  338. Two hours later——
  339.  
  340. A mere two hours after my promotion to Lieutenant, I was further promoted to Lieutenant Commander. The Marshal Admiral had explained that this was necessary to execute the mission. Thereafter, without any time for preparation, I boarded a small car and proceeded to a certain destination.
  341.  
  342. "We are not authorized to proceed any further than this point!"
  343. With that, the car that had bore me thus far turned away.
  344. A single gate for trucks and tanks and a smaller gate for smaller vehicles interrupted the five-meter high wall, adorned with "Entry Forbidden" signs.
  345. Having saluted and presented the Marshal's letter of introduction to the soldiers in the checkpoint booth, I was promptly let in through the entry gate.
  346. Beyond the enclosure was a small snaking path.
  347. I checked my watch.
  348. It was only 1 pm.
  349. With a whole hour until our planned 2 pm meeting time, there was no need to rush.
  350. Two tall earthen embankments flanked each side of the road, giving off the appearance of a valley. Cherry Blossoms were planted on top of the embankment——it seemed like it was the Cherry Blossom viewing season.
  351. The wind picked up.
  352. Carried by the wind, the cherry blossoms fell, helping to mask the smell of the sea that came with proximity. Further along the road, a tall red brick building could be seen.
  353.  
  354. "...So this is my Naval District, huh."
  355.  
  356. The mission given to me by the Marshal Admiral were thus: "Take up duties at a certain Naval District not yet revealed to the public, command the specially-powered individuals within, strengthen your combat abilities, and defeat the Abyssal ships."
  357. In any other situation, these would be very confusing circumstances.
  358. Having abruptly been promoted two ranks, I am currently a brand new field officer who has just been sent to a Naval District to serve as an Admiral——a fleet commander, no less.
  359. The burden of the youth sure is heavy.
  360. Moreover, I've been asked to "defeat the Abyssals." You know, the ones who up until now have yet to have been recorded as unsinkable. The ones we still don't know how to sink.
  361. ——Can I really do it?
  362. While I can guess that those "Individuals with special powers" will likely be like that girl from that time, I'm still not 100% sure whether that was a dream or a hallucination.
  363. The silhouette, drawing her bow in the evening sun——the image flashed across my mind.
  364. The lingering sound of propellers, too...
  365. "Hm? T-that's not right!"
  366. I definitely heard it! Just like that time! The sound of propellers!
  367. I began to run.
  368. Having left the cherry blossom path and climbed upon the embankment, all I could see is a patch of forest. There was a waist-level fence, also adorned with "entry forbidden" signs. But fuck the police, I unhesitatingly crossed the fence with a single bound.
  369. I passed through the woods, running as fast as I could.
  370. The sounds were getting closer.
  371. Will I be able to see that girl in front of me again?
  372. I've come to an open clearing.
  373. On the red dirt, lay a white wooden board.
  374. "What is that?"
  375. On closer inspection, there were three concentric circles drawn upon the board, the center one dabbed in red paint.
  376. ——A target?
  377. The sound of prop planes was closing in.
  378. Ah! By the time I realized, the Type 99 Dive Bombers were already above me, dropping their black bombs.
  379. "Oh shi——!"
  380. ——This is a practice field!
  381. Naturally, I was sent flying by the explosion.
  382. In the distance, I heard someone let out a sharp "Ahhhhhhh——" of horror.
  383.  
  384. Well, I fucked up. If I die like this, there's no way Iwahashira is going to forgive me. Actually, he might just die a second time from laughter.
  385.  
  386. Hm, it kind of feels as if I'm laying on something soft.
  387. Light, smooth, warm, with just enough springiness.
  388. Even the pillow they give to the higher-ups isn't this nice.
  389. Without thinking, I reached out.
  390. My fingers touch some kind of fabric. It feels really nice.
  391. Right nearby——
  392. Came a young girl's scream.
  393. "Aaah?! C-could you not touch that?"
  394. Hearing the unexpected sound, I snapped to wakefulness, as if I had been kicked.
  395. "?!"
  396. All I see is a vast blue sky.
  397. Oh, also the girl peering at me with a bright red face. From really, really close.
  398. "Ah...you're awake?"
  399. "Ah?"
  400. "Whew, that's good. I got really scared when I saw someone on the target."
  401. At this moment, I am lying down with my face to the sky, next to a young girl.
  402. I also finally realize that the soft feeling under my head——
  403. Is a young girl's legs.
  404. That is, a young girl's lap.
  405. Once I realized this, I felt as if I was about to fall unconscious again. No matter how you look at this, this is far too embarrassing. My feet and ears feel hot.
  406. I immediately stand up.
  407. "S-sorry!"
  408. "Ahh?! Are you alright?!"
  409. "I'm fine, of course."
  410. To be honest, I was hit with a wave of nausea as I rose up...but, as a military man, how could I fall asleep in a girl's lap?
  411. More importantly, isn't this person...that person I saw walking on water on that day?
  412. I had never forgotten that posture, that priestess' uniform, and those red-and-white arrows.
  413. I sat back down on the grass in front of her.
  414. "You're...that girl from that time...right?"
  415. "Eh? Have we met?"
  416. It seems like she doesn't remember.
  417. But that's not too surprising. My face was covered in soot and blood back then - I probably wouldn't have recognized myself either. Not to mention I'm also currently covered in dirt.
  418. That kind of thing aside, I have more important things to ask.
  419. "If you don't mind me asking...have you sunk Abyssals before?"
  420. "Eh? Ah, yeah..."
  421. In the face of my sudden inquiries, her expression had turned to one of confusion.
  422. Nevertheless, she had answered without hesitation.
  423. ——She had once sank the enemy that had effortlessly crushed the world's best navies and finest weapons. It was no dream, no hallucination.
  424. Without a doubt, this girl before me is one of those "specially skilled individuals!"
  425. I was tempted to hug her right and there.
  426. This girl is humanity's hope!
  427. The hope that can save the world!
  428. Overwhelmed, I felt tears in my eyes. Seeing this, the girl looked concerned.
  429. "If I may...is there somewhere that still hurts? Well, we don't have a normal doctor, but do you want to get checked out at Akashi-san's?"
  430. "No, no...I'm fine. It's just...it's true...you can sink those things."
  431. "Mm...if I can hit them, yeah..."
  432. She scratched her head with a hint of embarrassment.
  433. These movements seemed no different from that of your average teenage girl.
  434. Unbelievable.
  435. Without excess pride or excess humility, she answered naturally, as if showing a cute dish she had cooked.
  436. If I hadn't personally witnessed it, I would not have believed her if she said she could "sink" those things.
  437. Why and how did she get such great power? This girl, what——
  438. "Ah, that's right, could I ask you for your name?"
  439. "Ah, you're right, I haven't introduced myself."
  440. "Ah, I haven't either. Sorry, I should have been the one to start to begin with. I am the person who has been appointed to be this naval district's admiral."
  441. "Ehhh?! You're the new admiral?!"
  442. "Yep. That's also to say that there's still a lot I don't know. So I'd be very happy if you could tell me about them."
  443. "Of course!"
  444. She bobbed her head up and down eagerly.
  445. Next up, with a hand on her chest, she introduced herself:
  446.  
  447. "My name is Zuihou! I might just be a light carrier, but with enough training I can show you I can show you deeds deserving of standard carriers!"
  448.  
  449. ——Light Carrier?
  450. My wonder caused me to speak aloud.
  451. "Uh...so your name is Zuihou, right? And in Light Carrier you mean..."
  452. "That is, an aircraft carrier smaller than the standard fleet carriers. My armor is thinner and I carry fewer planes, but I sure am faster." (Translator's note: this is untrue. The fastest of the Light Carriers are Zuihou Class, RJ and the Chitose-class. These clock in at roughly 28 knots, nearly 29 in the case of the Chitose-class, making them only as fast as Kaga, the slowest of the standard carriers. Akagi, the oldest of the standard carriers, could go 31.5 knots and the Shoukaku-class, the fastest, went 34.5 and anecdotally could go even faster. Don't crush Zuihou's dreams, though.)
  453. "Ah, no, I know what a light aircraft carrier is..."
  454. They're made of metal, and ships, and generally very very big, so the planes could lift off. You'd need nearly 100m of deck runway for that.
  455. What's in front of me is a petite little girl.
  456. And yet, this girl named Zuihou is giving me a "If you knew what a Light Carrier was, then what's the issue?" quizzical kind of look, head askew.
  457. It doesn't seem like we've reached a verbal understanding.
  458. "...No matter how you look at it, aren't you just a girl? So, why are you a light carrier?"
  459. "Eh? I'm a shipgirl."
  460. "Ship...girl? What's that?"
  461. Zuihou's eyebrows furrowed.
  462. "Umm...Admiral, are you this naval district's Admiral?"
  463. "That's the order I got from the Marshal."
  464. "This Naval District was constructed in order to make use of shipgirls."
  465. "First up, what's a shipgirl?"
  466. "Ah...to start——"
  467. And with that, Zuihou explained to me the existence of shipgirls.
  468. To sum it all up, the idea was that they're "existences that superficially resemble humans but aren't strictly human that equip warship-style equipment and possess the strength to fight the Abyssals."
  469. Zuihou looked into the distance as she dutifully continued:
  470. "To be quite honest, I don't completely understand either...I just 'know' this...when I came to, I was standing all alone on the ocean...the one who found me was Akagi-san. She said 'Let's fight together' as she reached out to me."
  471. "I see, so you have no family?"
  472. "Shouhou's my sister?"
  473. Thinking back——Akagi and Shouhou, weren't those the names of some fairly old warships?
  474. "When I first heard it from the Marshal, I didn't quite believe it...but looking at you now, you all really are..."
  475. Wait, hold up, she herself said that "she doesn't quite understand;" maybe it's best not to pursue this any further. Rather than puzzling out originals, it's more important to assess their true strength.
  476. Ah, speaking of which——Zuihou clapped her hands together, inquiring:
  477. "Admiral, why were you on the practice field targets to begin with?"
  478. "That was my fault. Earlier when I was heading to the Naval District, I heard the sound of Type 99 Dive Bombers so I wanted to come see them."
  479. I lowered my head.
  480. But Zuihou probably wouldn't understand based on that explanation. How important the power to defeat the Abyssals was to me, how badly I needed it..."
  481. From what she had previously said, it seems as if she didn't see her power as anything special...
  482. But, why are Zuihou's eyes nearly sparkling?
  483. "Could it be?! Does the Admiral like Type 99 Dive Bombers too?"
  484. "Hm? Ahh...yeah, I guess."
  485. If they can defeat the Abyssals, I don't care if it's a prop plane or a goddamn parachute, I'll like it.
  486. Zuihou's face flushed with excitement.
  487. "It must be the feet, their feet are so cute!"
  488. "The Type 99's fixed landing gear, huh...it's an interesting module. Though it sure is inconvenient when it comes to stowage."
  489. "The new model planes are so cool too! I really want to try mounting the Suisei, the Tenzan, that kind of thing. Although I haven't even seen them yet."
  490. "Do you like planes because you're a light carrier?"
  491. "Of course, all carriers like planes. But...why doesn't anyone want to discuss the cuteness of fixed landing gear...?"
  492. ——I see, so they differ in personality.
  493. Although admiring the exterior of warplanes is pretty interesting too.
  494. "Oh dear, I got carried away talking; I'd better go."
  495. "Admiral, are you going somewhere?"
  496. "I should get to the Command Center before 2pm——hm? Eh?"
  497. I looked once more at my watch.
  498. When I had gotten up from the lap pillow, I had seen the time: 1 pm.
  499. At that time, I had thought that I had awoken soon after the explosion.
  500. On my anchor-engraved timepiece's 6 o'clock position was a small circle, the seconds hand.
  501. It wasn't moving.
  502. "It's broken?! Zui-zuihou! How long have I been sleeping?!"
  503. "A-an hour, roughly! It's 1512 right now!"
  504. Without even consulting a clock, she rattled off the time.
  505. As a warship, she probably knows. I haven't seen a ship without a clock.
  506. ——Should I be thinking about this now?! It's 3:12 pm!
  507. "Doesn't that mean I'm late?!"
  508. I broke into a run.
  509. Zuihou, too, stood up.
  510. "I-I'll come too! It's because the Admiral got caught up in my practice that you got knocked out!"
  511. "No, you did nothing wrong. Getting bombed or getting late, I am responsible."
  512. "But..."
  513. "Don't look at me like that, I'm used to people blowing up on me. I'll just say the sun was too nice so I overslept. If I don't get fired, we'll be able to meet again."
  514. Zuihou looks shocked. To tears, at this point.
  515. "F-fired? Is the Admiral leaving?!"
  516. "Ah...no, I was joking. I probably won't be punished that harshly."
  517. Probably, I muttered mentally.
  518. In the military, being late is "a mistake that could cost your comrades their lives"——it's normal to be demoted on that basis.
  519. Zuihou continued to look at me with a worried face.
  520. "Really?"
  521. "I promise to you, I will definitely command you in battle. Let's defeat the Abyssals...and protect this world."
  522. "Yes!"
  523. Wiping away her tears, she extended her right pinky.
  524. "What...?"
  525. "It's a promise, okay?"
  526. "Ahh...I'm kind of rushed, so I'm not going to sing the pinky promise song, okay?"
  527. (note: http://www.1nichi1kai.com/2007/10/10/yubikiri-genman-making-promises-even-if-you-are-not-a-yakuza/)
  528. I linked my pinky with Zuihou's. Speaking of which, her pinky's real small and soft and warm.
  529. It was this hand that drew the bow that devastated the Abyssals.
  530. She happily hummed,
  531. "Pin~ky~swear!"
  532. (Note: literally "Pull~hook~hook, indicating the way you do a pinky swear)
  533. Raising my forsworn right hand, I ran for the woods.
  534. Through the woods, down the embankment, along the cherry blossom road to the red brick house.
  535.  
  536. The Naval District's grounds are quite vast.
  537. There are weapon's storage and maintenance fields, large-scale barracks, mess halls and bath halls; hell, it's got a hospital, barbershop and a grocery store. It's essentially a small town.
  538. There's also an awful lot of empty space.
  539. Of course, it's not all just open space; most of it serves as practice grounds, and they also serve as a firebreak in case of an enemy attack, slowing the progress of fires between buildings.
  540. Moreover, even if the structures are gone, war can continue as long as there are weapons to use and men to use them. At that time, it's important to have enough space for a temporary base.
  541. What you can take from all that is that there is a hell of a lot of space separating the Practice Field where Zuihou was, and the red brick building I was running to.
  542. Compound this with the fact that I had no idea where the Command Center was, it being my first time.
  543. And so, by the time I arrived at the Command Center——it was 3:39 pm.
  544. Awaiting at the office was not a secretary, but a girl known as the "Secretary Ship."
  545. She introduced herself as Standard Carrier Kaga.
  546.  
  547. I found myself transfixed by a stare that seemed to look through me, down to my thoughts.
  548. "Are you the Admiral?"
  549. "Y-yes."
  550. Normally, the Admiral is supposed to be ranked above the secretary ship.
  551. But at this point, I'm already late; there's no point in trying to act dignified. Not to mention that her gaze would match the Marshal in sharpness.
  552. Her black hair was tied in a ponytail on her right side, and she wore a white Archery uniform with muneate and a blue hakama.
  553. Around her waist was tied a solid apron, decorated with red and white stripes reminiscent of a flight deck.
  554. But if there's one thing that defines her, it's that pressure. Even the worst instructor at the academy couldn't compare. A new recruit would have fainted just from her glare.
  555. Although she's clearly younger than me...
  556. She bears the stately air of a veteran.
  557. Kaga spoke coldly:
  558. "Has it occurred to you that your arrival is a little late?"
  559. "Uhh...I-I'm really sorry."
  560. "Do you have any sort of explanation? It's fine if you don't."
  561. "B, well..."
  562. In the face of this foreboding girl, I found that I did not have the fortitude to say "the sun was so nice that I overslept."
  563. I could only sigh:
  564. "It is my failure, I will not make an excuse."
  565. "Is that so."
  566. "You may punish me as you like, but there is something I must do in this naval district. Therefore, I ask that you do not fire me, no matter what."
  567. Kaga barely responded.
  568. ——Is there nothing she wants to say?
  569. That just added to my panic.
  570. Finally, she passed over a dossier.
  571. As an officer, I had learned at the academy that I ought to go through all available information before I ask for any clarification. I skimmed through the contents of the dossier.
  572. "A summary of the shipgirls here...?"
  573. Each bore a photo, the ship name, class and various ability scores.
  574. If I hadn't gotten an explanation from Zuihou, I wouldn't have been able to understand any of it.
  575. On the front was written the four large words, "Gallery of the Shipgirls." Although I'm not quite sure whether it was proper to refer to a list of girl's attributes as a "gallery," it would have been fine as long as they were seen as warships.
  576. It's because they're all young girls that it's a little off-putting.
  577. ——Even that Kaga in front of me.
  578. While she has a certain sort of pressure, she still definitely counts as a beauty, with all the proper features devoid of makeup and a body that her archery uniform could not entirely hide.
  579. No male would keep walking if they passed her on the street. It's going to be pretty hard to see her as a warship.
  580. As if in response to my enthrallment, Kaga looked into my eyes and asked,
  581. "Is there something on my face?"
  582. "Ah? Ah, no, uhh...this gallery is rather specific; it even has personality and relationship information written."
  583. "That's because all the info-gathering and writing was done by Aoba."
  584. "Ahhh, it does indeed say that here as well. To think there'd be someone who likes this kind of thing. But sometimes she writes some things I don't quite understand.
  585. "Such as?"
  586. "Well, here regarding Kitakami, she writes that she sees Ooi as a 'Sworn Friend,' and yet she writes that Ooi sees Kitakami as 'Dearest;' why did the terms change?"
  587. "...yes...why indeed?"
  588. The Kaga who had been coldly regarding me was now avoiding my gaze.
  589. Is it that hard to explain? Ah, whatever, I'm sure I'll understand when I see them.
  590. There was one more thing that caught my eye.
  591. "...Kaga-san, you have sank an abyssal as well, right?"
  592. "My combat performance has been listed."
  593. At least the Admiral and Secretary Ship have a topic to talk about.
  594. I start flipping through the data she had given me.
  595. "I see...mmm...you've already accumulated quite a lot of accolades, impressive."
  596. "...they're all good kids."
  597. "They?"
  598. She pointed to the arrows strapped on her back.
  599. That is to say, "They" were the arrows.
  600. In that moment, her expression had melted from her ice-cold stare to a warm smile befitting of a normal girl.
  601. I continued to look through the battle records.
  602. ——Oy, aren't these some impressive reports?
  603. Against the enemies humanity had come to see as unbeatable, these girls had accomplished many real results.
  604. "This is amazing."
  605. "...the gallery is not complete. It appears that there are still shipgirls we have yet to discover."
  606. "I see. And if we can find these comrades, we can 'strengthen our might', correct?"
  607. "It's not just searching, we can also build them...ah, regarding construction, could I give you a longer explanation in a bit?"
  608. "I'll leave it to you, I want to understand you all as soon as possible."
  609. Thinking of questions now would only impact my info absorption. Trying to learn a bit of this and a bit of that will just end with you not learning anything at all. Learning topic by topic is the most effective.
  610. Kaga nodded.
  611. "I see, rather than expanding our might, you're more interested in the shipgirls we already have."
  612. "Ahh, yes."
  613. "Although I had already prepared a briefing for this purpose."
  614. She sighed.
  615. It looked like my lateness had prevented this from occurring. I could only meekly admit my guilt.
  616. "I'm extremely sorry."
  617. "Although you previously asked about your punishment...well, that is up to the Admiral to set up rules and punishments. I have not been ordered to do anything, so I will simply follow my orders, and I will not ask for any sort of remuneration."
  618. I see.
  619. Having been given all this power all of a sudden, I'm not quite sure what to do.
  620. "It's up to me...to determine rules?"
  621. "Even so, this may have an effect on the younger shipgirls. Although I will not report this to the superiors, please be mindful of this in the future."
  622. "I am extremely grateful."
  623. "It's fine."
  624. "But what you just said "the younger shipgirls," I'm a little confused."
  625. "...what do you mean?"
  626. "From what I can see, Kaga-san is quite young as well. If you were a human, you could be a student."
  627. To my surprise, she suddenly flushed red.
  628. "This is the first time someone has said that to me."
  629. "Is that so? It seemed like my predecessor was a person of few words. Or rather, someone who was very sensitive about girls' feelings. When I was still learning, I was not very good at communicating with the other gender, so I apologize if I have offended you."
  630. "The last Admiral was indeed a taciturn, considerate person."
  631. "Is that so..."
  632. "But, when you say you're not very good at communicating with the other gender, what do you mean by that?"
  633. "Hm?"
  634. "The previous Admiral was a female."
  635. What? My predecessor was a female admiral?! It's not unheard of, given, but they are rather rare.
  636. Then again, they are called shipgirls; it only makes sense that promoting a female to the position of Admiral would be more effective."
  637. "My predecessor, she...what happened?"
  638. Well...Kaga lowered her heard.
  639. "That is not your concern."
  640. How cold.
  641. Is it something she can't say, or something she doesn't want to say?
  642. "Did she explain to the other shipgirls?"
  643. "No."
  644. A prompt, terse response. It seems she got along very well with the shipgirls before.
  645. In terms of winning hearts and minds, this is worth looking into.
  646. There's no need to imitate my predecessor, but I can at least learn through her successes and learn from her mistakes.
  647. "Well then, in this naval district, what were the regulations regarding lateness?"
  648. "Are you still worried about that? How serious."
  649. "Ahaha, that's what the Marshal told me as well...although I certainly didn't intend to be unkind."
  650. I am just very aware that things can get hairy if I slack off here.
  651. Like right now.
  652. If I let my own lateness be overlooked, how could I be able to deal with subordinates who break regulations with a straight face? Such a lax fleet can't defeat the abyssals.
  653. Kaga cast her eyes outside the window.
  654. The harbor was visible through the red-curtained windows.
  655. "Laps around the Naval District."
  656. "Really, just like the academy, huh. But do the Shipgirls do it too? Aren't they warships?"
  657. While Shipgirls can sail on the high seas, they're no different from normal humans on the ground. This is the case no matter how much firepower or raw strength they have when they put on their rigging."
  658. "I see, so they're not well suited for walking...well then, I will take the same punishment."
  659. Kaga shuddered.
  660. "That's impossible."
  661. "Not trying to brag or anything, but I'm fucking dope at penalty laps. They call me the Usain Bolt of running."
  662. "...that's not something you could brag about, but this isn't about whether you're dope or not. According to current regulations, a minute's lateness means one lap around the naval district."
  663. "What?!"
  664. Thinking back, I should have arrived at 2 in the afternoon, and I arrived at 3:39.
  665. So I have to run 99 laps?!
  666. As if she were reading out a death sentence, Kaga grimly explained,
  667. "The inner circle around the Naval District is roughly 1,891 meters."
  668. "Uwah?!"
  669. "While your courage is commendable, it's best that you listen to the entire explanation before you agree. If someone is far too late, the previous Admiral would have her clean the docks instead."
  670. I see.
  671. But to take the easy way out from the start would be bad for fleet discipline.
  672. Plus, running 99 2-km laps isn't technically impossible...
  673. "Ah, so it's not an ironclad rule, but the most difficult but doable punishment, as necessary. I should learn from her."
  674. "I agree."
  675. "Of course, this is when the shipgirls violate regulations."
  676. "...What is it that you want to do?"
  677. "I want to run. No need for excuses."
  678. Kaga's eyes widened.
  679. "To embrace something so stupid...why are you forcing yourself to do this? Is this a soldier's honor? Or a man's pride?"
  680. "A fleet only strengthens through discipline, and it is for this that we have harsh punishments. As the rulemaker I must therefore abide by my punishment as a rulebreaker."
  681. "Pretty words, but nothing more."
  682. "Even so, I'm going to run. I didn't come here to be an Admiral; I came here to kill Abyssals."
  683.  
  684. I had ran in the hospital, but that was largely for physical therapy.
  685. I haven't done this level of running in a long time.
  686. Kaga stood at the side of the Naval District main gate, helping me keep count. It wasn't her idea, but it was for the sake of discipline.
  687. Although I kind of feel like I went a little too far...
  688. This is the only way to make them accept me as an admiral.
  689. Of course, I could also use my rank and force my subordinates, but that is a coward's way out.
  690. Right now I am the one who has done wrong, and so I must do this.
  691. I ran through hallways wide enough to accommodate a car.
  692. My boots echoed against the floor.
  693. It'd be nice if I had running shoes, but my direct transfer from GHQ meant that my personal belongings would not be brought over from my lodging until later.
  694. About five minutes or so later, the first lap was complete. Kaga looked a little surprised.
  695. "That was fast."
  696. "I told you I was fucking dope"
  697. "...1."
  698. She took out a notebook.
  699. The girl chosen by the previous Admiral as the representative is quite capable.
  700. ——Would it be better for the fleet if I just had her be the Admiral?
  701. Historically, the greatest asset on the field of battle has not been new commanders, but the veteran field officer whose experience and expertise provide them a much stronger grasp of the situation on the ground.
  702. Right now, what I can do is to learn everything about these shipgirls and gain their trust.
  703. There's no time to think about this kind of thing..
  704. Better keep running.
  705. I occasionally raised my hand to glance at my watch. Stuck as it had been at 1 pm, my inability to control my pace was a little inconvenient.
  706. Yet my body felt unexpectedly nimble; is it because I've recovered enough of my strength?
  707. In the grass by the road——
  708. A little girl's face peered out.
  709. Both of them bore chestnut-colored hair with round faces. One peered at me with a confident grin, the other peeked with a much more bashful look.
  710. The first one pointed at me with a shout.
  711. "Look! Just like I said! I told you there was a new Commander!"
  712. "Hawawa! It really is a Commander!"
  713. Behind them came a silver-haired girl with a somewhat different air. Eyes partly concealed by semi-translucent silver hair stared in this direction.
  714. "...so this is...the new Commander?"
  715. A clear voice that contrasted with her appearance.
  716. These shipgirls should be, uh, Destroyers. I didn't think they'd be this young.
  717. I slowed my pace.
  718. "Ah, you guys should be...the 6th Destroyer Division."
  719. The silver-haired girl nodded.
  720. "...Hibiki...because of my past deeds, I've been called the Undying Phoenix."
  721. "I'm Ikazuchi! Not Kaminari! Let's get along from now on!"
  722. "Hawawa...I'm Inazuma, nanodesu...p-pleased to meet you..."
  723. "Speaking of which, why are you running in the hallways, Admiral?"
  724. Ikazuchi immediately followed up Inazuma's introduction with a question.
  725. I slowed down further as they followed along. While this marathon had essentially become a walk, it would be even ruder to simply ignore them and run off.
  726. Us four slowly proceeded through the hallway.
  727. "Well...see, I'm late, so now I have to do penalty laps."
  728. "Ehhh?! But you're the Commander nanodesu!?"
  729. "It's because I'm the Commander that I have to do it."
  730. It's a little embarrassing to confess my crime to these children.
  731. Ikazuchi slapped my back cheerfully.
  732. "It's fine, it's fine! I'm sure it'll be alright! I'm here for you, after all!"
  733. "Eh, ehh..."
  734. What sort of bravery drives her to say such words without substantiation?
  735. Inazuma, meanwhile, spoke as if she had just been shocked.
  736. "Um, Ikazuchi...please don't bother the Commander."
  737. Next to me, Hibiki spoke without a drop of emotion:
  738. "To be running penalty laps right after arriving; Commander, are you alright?"
  739. "It can't be helped, rules are rules."
  740. "...So that people trust you, huh? That's not bad."
  741. "Ah, thanks..."
  742. Though she might act a little distant, she's a good girl.
  743. Ah, Ikazuchi looks like she just remembered a question.
  744. "Penalty laps...how many do you have to do?"
  745. "I'm down to 98 now. Well, I'm off, I'll see you in a bit."
  746. I left the three behind as Vtech kicked in.
  747. They halted, gaping with open mouth.
  748. "I-it's fine! You have me after all, don't you?!"
  749. "Hawawa, what a shock nanodesu."
  750. "...no matter how you look at it, that's way too much."
  751. It looks like this is crazy, even to shipgirls.
  752.  
  753. ——The new Admiral's been given penalty laps, 99 around the Naval District.
  754.  
  755. The Rumor spread through the Naval District in a flash.
  756. By the time the 10th lap was done, there were shipgirls everywhere, not just the main gate.
  757. Shipgirls watching from afar, shipgirls cheering me on, even those that chatted as they ran along.
  758. But not matter how you look at it, I don't have time to have a long chat with anyone. So I just said a few sentences and then said goodbye.
  759. By the 20th lap——
  760. A rather eyecatching golden-haired girl saw and waved at me.
  761. She held a water-colored towel in one hand and a cup in another.
  762. "Admiral, nice work! Do you want some water?"
  763. The one who spoke in such honey-sweet voice was the Heavy Cruiser Atago.
  764. With each wave of her hand——
  765. Her chest shook as well.
  766. It looks like her uniform is a little tight.
  767. As expected of the Heavy Cruisers. They carried a certain...girth that destroyers and light carriers couldn't compare with.
  768. How should I say this...
  769.  
  770. Like the peach in the story of Momotaro, floating in the river.
  771.  
  772. ——What am I thinking?
  773. It seemed like that had been too great a shock to me and my life of abstinence thus far.
  774. I vigorously shook my head, banishing such remaining thoughts from my mind.
  775. I slowed my footsteps to take a sip. There was still a long distance ahead; if I didn't rehydrate, I might actually just die in the hall.
  776. She offered the cup.
  777. "I'm Atago. Will the Admiral remember?"
  778. "Mm, of course I will."
  779. "Ohoho, would you like to take a break?"
  780. "I'm sorry, but I cannot."
  781. "You've already ran so much, surely you are tired."
  782. "Well, it is a penalty."
  783. Atago helped wipe my sweat with her towel.
  784. A little hard, a little soft, this towel sure feels odd.
  785. Ara? She started laughing.
  786. "Ara——this isn't a towel~"
  787. "What?"
  788. "I couldn't find my favorite one, and the towel vendor's all out of towels~"
  789. "In front of my eyes are two hemispheres, big enough for a head.
  790. This isn't a towel, but a certain kind of bodywear——
  791. I was shocked into speechlessness.
  792. Atago explained, her face bright read.
  793. "Panpakapan! This is my chest's inner wall! Because my shoulders get sore when they get too heavy."
  794. "Ah, er, ahhh——"
  795. ——Panpakapan my ass! Do you know shame?! Is it okay because you're a shipgirl?!
  796. Although I had just wiped off my sweat, I could feel cold sweat bead all over my body.
  797. It seemed like strength had left my legs as well, leaving a reeling sort of feeling.
  798. Atago's face took on a worried look.
  799. "Admiral, you really should rest after all...you look really tired, you know?"
  800. "It's fine it's fine it's fine! I, I'm still fine! Thanks for the water!"
  801. If I rest here, I won't be able to finish the run; what's waiting would just be the exhaustion of my remaining vigor.
  802. Ruefully rejecting the allure, I broke back into a run.
  803.  
  804. Sunset.
  805. Covered in the afterglow and accompanied by the encouraging shouts of the Destroyers at the corner, I once more rounded towards the front door.
  806. I haven't even reached half yet.
  807. My body, however, has long since reached its limits.
  808. I feel as if I could keel over at any point.
  809. At the front door, even more shipgirls will be waiting with greater cheers.
  810. ...Or should have been.
  811. Right now, it seemed as if time itself had been frozen; of the ten plus shipgirls, not a single voice rang out.
  812. As I closed in, I realized who Kaga was speaking with.
  813. "Eh? Zuihou?!"
  814. I ran over and slowed to a stop.
  815. My knees were moving on their own.
  816. That strict Kaga was currently in a confrontation with Zuihou, the very image of gentleness. I was immediately intrigued.
  817. "Oy, what's going on?"
  818. Zuihou turned. To my surprise, her expression was quite unpleasant.
  819. "U-umm...I heard from everyone else, that the Admiral has to do penalty laps...I think that's unfair!"
  820. "Mm...a little, maybe, but I can't just immediately join and ignore the rules."
  821. "But!"
  822. Kaga raised her hand, as if to hold back her words.
  823. "The decision to run penalty laps was made by the Admiral himself."
  824. "I-in that case, I'm going to run too!"
  825. Zuihou clenched her fist.
  826. Kaga's expression changed to bewilderment.
  827. The shipgirls around them are now also trying to listen in.
  828. Clasping her camera in hand as if it were a main gun, Aoba leaned over.
  829. "Ah, um! Aoba has a question! Why would Zuihou-san say something like that? Could it be, that you and Admiral have that kind of relationship?!"
  830. Now that things have went this far, it'd probably be way too hard to try to hide this.
  831. Zuihou nodded.
  832. "Admiral's lateness, it's my fault..."
  833. Zuihou leaned closer.
  834. "Shocking Truth! New Commander! Happen, what? More details, please!"
  835. "U-um...well, Admiral, he, with me...slept..."
  836. "You've slept with the Commander?! Ao-ao-ao-ao-ao-ao-ba didn't mishear, did she?!"
  837. Uwaaaahhh, the surrounding shipgirls are listening hard, each throwing their own speculation into the mix. This might get bad.
  838. I desperately moved to salvage the situation.
  839. "H-hold on! Aren't you all a little mistaken?!"
  840. The shipgirl's gazes were starting to look scarier.
  841. It can't be helped.
  842. I guess I'll have to explain my lateness.
  843. Hearing the Type 99 Dive Bomber and forgetting my original goal...well, they might not understand, but...
  844.  
  845. I started with how the Abyssals stole away the life of me best mate, how Zuihou had appeared when all hope was lost, and how those Type 99 Dive Bombers saved my life. I then told them how I was promoted by the Marshal to Admiralty after a short convalescence. How I had heard the sound of dive bomber engines as I came to the naval district, and how I had ran after that sound like a man bewitched.
  846. As I explained wow I had entered the exercise field, how I was knocked unconscious by Zuihou's training flight, I felt a bit of shame.
  847.  
  848. "——That is to say, it's all my fault."
  849. The surrounding shipgirls stared at me wordlessly.
  850. What's going on?
  851. I'm starting to get the feeling that something I said may have touched a nerve.
  852. But Aoba, eyes long since blazing with manly tears, cried as she pressed her mike at me.
  853. "So that's what happened! Commander! Your sworn friend, lost to such a tragic fate...whether it's scouting, shooting or torps, please leave everything to Aoba!"
  854. The surrounding shipgirls all instantly began to speak in the wake of Aoba's speech.
  855. "Go get 'em, Kuma!" "Admiral! I'll do my best!" "Leave it to me! I'll be easily greater than world-class!" "Don't worry, just leave it to me!"
  856. (note: Kuma, Probably Fubuki, I don't know who the third person is and probably Tone, since 咱 is an unusual pronoun for oneself.)
  857. It seems like their will to fight has intensified.
  858. ——Thank god.
  859. They may not be humans——but it's exactly because of this fact that I must find out what a life is worth to them.
  860. But it seems like they already see us as equals in their hearts, to be able to shed tears over somebody they've never met and demonstrate their resolve.
  861. That is the most important.
  862. "I'm really thankful, everybody."
  863. I looked towards Zuihou. Like the others, her eyes were also full of tears.
  864. "A-admiral...so that happened...s-sorry, I don't remember at all..."
  865. "Don't worry about it, my face was full of soot at that point and my head was bleeding; I don't think my brother would have recognized me."
  866. "B-but...I let that Battleship Ru-Class escape...if only I had more planes..."
  867. "Don't be silly, that fellow's hard to deal with even among Abyssals, I am well aware of that."
  868. ——Huh, so it's still alive.
  869. That Ru-class Battleship...
  870. The bastard that killed Iwahashira...
  871. I grasped my trembling left hand.
  872. While it is good to be filled with fighting spirit, pushing your grudges onto your subordinates is despicable.
  873. "In order to protect this world, I am more committed than any other person to defeat the Abyssals..."
  874. "I understand, Admiral...please allow me to help you."
  875. It makes me very happy that she understood and accepted my viewpoint. In order to command this fleet, I will need to earn their
  876. "Thank you, Zuihou."
  877. "But...you're going to keep running after all?"
  878. "Ah, of course. I stand by my word. Resolve is meaningless if the words it breeds are not backed by action."
  879. Although even I think that this is going a little too far...
  880. But in order to maintain discipline in the fleet, this is necessary; if I try to worm my way out, I'll be setting a precedent of making exceptions.
  881. Zuihou looks like she really wants to say something, but ultimately bit her lip. Perhaps she understood my thoughts.
  882. "...I understand. Then...Admiral, I will prepare for the next operation and return to my position."
  883. "Mm, do your best."
  884. To cheer her on, I put my hand on her tiny tiny shoulders. She, in turn, grasped it with her own hands.
  885. "But...don't overdo it."
  886. Her face looked a little red, perhaps it was due to the evening light? I gazed at her as I wondered.
  887.  
  888. With a thump, Zuihou was pushed aside.
  889.  
  890. The culprit is Atago.
  891. Pushing onto Zuihou, she closed in.
  892. "Really now...didn't we agree not to monopolize? Admiral, I won't be resting tonight; I'll be here cheering you on!"
  893. "Ah? Oh, uh...that's...thanks."
  894. "If you're tired, it's okay to let me spoil you a little, okay?"
  895. She spread out her arms, revealing her fuckhuge chest.
  896. ——No, no!
  897. I might be too tired, because out of nowhere I feel like I just want to fall ontoppa those.
  898. I hurriedly avert my gaze.
  899. Shoved to the side, Zuihou pursed her lips. Seeing her own chest, she sighed.
  900. The glares of the shipgirls around me. It hurts.
  901. ——At this rate, I might lose the trust and respect of my shipgirls faster than my predecessor.
  902. Though I've recovered my stamina a little, thanks to being able to stand here.
  903. "Well then, everyone. Our official meeting will have to wait for another day."
  904. I once more broke into step.
  905. As I passed Kaga, she ticked a lap as if nothing had happened. How cold.
  906. Moving on——
  907. Out of nowhere, a searchlight illuminated me.
  908. "Leave the illumination to me! I'll do my job! But the night sure is nice~the night is the best~"
  909. I don't think I saw this fellow in the day...
  910. But due to the glare, I can't quite see her.
  911. "Uh...could I ask for your name?"
  912. "Sendai has arrived! Leave the night battle to me!"
  913. ——So this is a night battle?
  914. So she is the light cruiser Sendai.
  915. The destroyers that had cheering me on the whole time——that is, Ikazuchi and company, were now sleeping on the grass.
  916. Lifting them onto her shoulders, Tenryuu hoisted them back to their rooms, grumbling all the way. Her appearance and tone may be a little fearsome, but she seems like the caring type.
  917. At this point of over-exhaustion, I'm not a marathon runner anymore. I'm a soldier on a forced march.
  918. I'm just forcing my legs forwards.
  919. My boots are waterlogged with sweat.
  920. The soles have probably started to peel long ago.
  921. The route that had only taken five minutes at the beginning is now taking 20 minutes or so.
  922. I crash into a wall.
  923. ——hol' up?
  924. Why would there be a wall in the hallway? How odd. Sendai was clearly illuminating the road ahead, I shouldn't have gone the wrong way.
  925. Ah, hold on, that's not right.
  926. I finally noticed.
  927. It's not the wall, it's the floor. That is, I've collapsed.
  928. "Ah shit..."
  929. "Admiral——?!"
  930. Atago bustled over to my side.
  931. "Really, that's enough! You're going to die in the halls at this rate!"
  932. "What are you saying...it's not time to rest yet...blargghhhurgh"
  933. My throat hurts.
  934. But if I'm hurtin', I must be livin'. Though all four limbs ache, they still move.
  935. I prop myself up.
  936. The other shipgirls had caught up as well.
  937. Everyone was speaking concerned words, with others forcefully demanding that I rest.
  938. In order to get them to relax, I laughed, saying,
  939. "I'm really fine...this amount won't kill a man."
  940. Nevermind dying here——in that moment, in some godforsaken corner of this good earth, there is probably a soldier sacrificing his life for a cause that cannot be won. I can't just let myself rest like this; I cannot let my self know this weakness.
  941. "Admiral! You really have to rest!"
  942. If I take those gentle hands, I'll lose. I can't do that.
  943. And another person now appeared under the searchlight's glare.
  944. "...Zuihou?"
  945. "Admiral, this is...I asked Mamiya-san to make this..."
  946. "Ma...miya? Is?"
  947. "Resupply Ship Mamiya. She usually makes ice cream, but this time it's a drink. I'm sure it'll help revive you."
  948. "Is that so...well, thanks."
  949. "Since the Admiral will keep running, no matter what I say...so in that case, what I can do is just this..."
  950. Taking the canteen, I take a sip.
  951. I'm filled with a burning and yet a mellow feeling, accompanied by a sweet and bitter flavor. It's pretty nasty, but I can feel sensation returning to my body.
  952. I accidentally choked up a gulp.
  953. But I can feel again.
  954. "Bleeaurgh, whew...thanks, Zuihou. But you're a little mistaken."
  955. "Eh?"
  956. "What you can do isn't just this. The way I see it, you have boundless ability, the same with the others. And making that ability truly boundless is my job."
  957. Zuihou and the other shipgirls looked a little breathless, as if shocked.
  958. Raising my hand to them, I started up once more.
  959. Run, run.....
  960. Run, ru...
  961. ——How many laps has it even been?
  962. While Kaga has been helping me to count, my senses have long since become too addled to understand.
  963. I force out another step.
  964. Running even slower than before in the naval district, clothed in night.
  965. As I round another corner after so many corners...
  966. I hear a sound.
  967. "Ara. Ara ara, you're finally up to the last lap? Hmhm, you're pretty capable, aren't'cha?"
  968. A young woman with two sharp pieces of rigging extending from her head like goat horns is looking at me with an appraising gaze. Her shoulder and midriff are bare, it's a bit much. This is the battleship Mutsu.
  969. And her words immediately yanked my thoughts back from oblivion.
  970. ——The last lap?!
  971. In this red brick building, all the lights are on.
  972. From the buildings.
  973. From the main gate.
  974. From behind me.
  975. I can hear people calling to me, everyone telling me to do my best.
  976. Just a little longer and it'll be dawn——
  977. I finally reach the front door.
  978. Kaga catches me as my knees finally liquefy.
  979. Caught up in a gentle grasp.
  980. "...99, you're finally done. If you want to sleep, please return to your own room."
  981. "Yep, sounds good, yeah..."
  982. "Was there really a need to go this far? Please refrain from this sort of thing in the future."
  983. "Got it, yup, gotcha..."
  984. Kaga is strict, after all.
  985. But, this incomparably strict girl spoke; gently, softly:
  986.  
  987. "...Good work, Admiral."
  988.  
  989.  
  990.  
  991.  
  992. Chapter 2 - Battleships and Carriers
  993.  
  994. Tendrils of warm sunshine sporadically reached through the curtains.
  995. Did I...fall asleep...?
  996. I awake on a futon, placed in a corner of the Command center. It might be an everyday bargain bin item, but my sleep quality deteriorates while spending long periods at sea; after returning to the dearly missed shore, this kind of cheap product feels like a luxurious bed.
  997. As is the case of course now.
  998. Surrounded by this wonderful warmth, I don't want to get out of bed.
  999. Even so, I don't have time to sleep. I spent all of yesterday doing penalty laps, so I had best settle into my job as an Admiral as soon as possible.
  1000. I lift myself up.
  1001. My body immediately and painfully proclaimed that it was on a general strike.
  1002. "Aaaaahh..."
  1003. The sudden spikes of pain were enough to force a gasp out of me.
  1004. Additionally, I felt a crushing weight the moment I tried to rise.
  1005. ——Are my arms spent?
  1006. Didn't feel like it. It felt more like something was holding the futon down.
  1007. I raised my head and looked.
  1008. On the other side of the Futon——
  1009. A young girl was lying there.
  1010. That head full of silver hair and the white-and-crimson hachimaki both stood out. Though she had removed her rigging, she was still clad in her white priestess' uniform.
  1011. No matter how you look at it, Zuihou was sleeping in my futon!
  1012. "?!"
  1013. Even my heartbeat seemed to have frozen.
  1014. Plus, her collar lay half open——you could almost see a forbidden place. White skin, shiny collarbone, and those tiny hills...
  1015. ——what should I do?
  1016. Cold sweat gathered on my neck.
  1017. There are no courses in the academy about how to deal with a disheveled girl in your bed.
  1018. Should I pretend I didn't notice and sneak out? But won't she get an embarrassing impression when she wakes up?
  1019. In that case, should I find a surreptitious way to fix that up?
  1020. Fix HER clothes?!
  1021. This isn't a joke! Touching a girl's clothes! Touching an unwed girl like this would be the act of an underhanded man!
  1022. But, since it's for her own good...
  1023. It must be done.
  1024. "Well then, pardon me..."
  1025. I reach out for Zuihou's chest
  1026.  
  1027. "What are you doing to her hangars?"
  1028.  
  1029. "Uwah?!"
  1030. A voice cold as ice struck me. I recoiled as if burnt.
  1031. Looking to the source of the sound——
  1032. The Commander's Room door were open; standing in the center was Kaga, glaring at me with a practically arctic glare.
  1033. "...I hope you have an explanation."
  1034. "Ah...no, it's...well, her clothes were messed up..."
  1035. "Because rape?"
  1036. "This is a misunderstanding!"
  1037. "Either way, could you get out from under that Futon?"
  1038. "Yes..."
  1039. "Also, please do not get too close to the shipgirls."
  1040. To be treated as someone suspicious so quickly...well, I suppose it can't be helped.
  1041. I climbed out of the Futon with a sigh.
  1042. I'm still hurting all over.
  1043. "Oww..."
  1044. "It seems that you are still alive?"
  1045. "Yes...unbearably..."
  1046. Kaga looked at me in the same way a doctor would regard a patient at a madhouse.
  1047. "After you finished running, your breathing and sweating stopped, your body temperature dropped and your lips turned purple. We all thought you died."
  1048. "Eh? Me?"
  1049. "You don't remember? Mm, well, you did lose consciousness, so that's to be expected."
  1050. She sighed as well.
  1051. To think I had run a lap at death's door.
  1052. I guess I went a little too far after all.
  1053. According to Kaga, a great number of shipgirls had crowded into the Command Room such that it was impossible for me to rest.
  1054. In the end, only Zuihou stayed behind to watch over me.
  1055. "Atago and Ikazuchi wanted to stay too, but they got rejected."
  1056. "It would have been a problem if they stayed...but why did Zuihou stay?
  1057. "She won at rock paper scissors."
  1058. "Ah? Huh?"
  1059. "That child's luck is quite good. Luck is very important on the battlefield."
  1060. Kaga's gaze lay on Zuihou's sleeping face, her expression like that of an older sister watching over a younger sister.
  1061. I, too, looked at that cute face.
  1062. "I remember...the 'Zui' in Zuihou stands for good fortune. When there is a good omen, it's called 'Zuichou.'"
  1063. "Is that so."
  1064. "And Kaga-san's 'ga' means a gift, a blessing. That is a good name as well."
  1065. "I-is that so."
  1066. "Are you alright?"
  1067. Kaga's face was flushed red, and her hand covered her mouth.
  1068. "You're saying this kind of thing again."
  1069. "Hm? Could it be that you're embarrassed?"
  1070. "I'm not embarrassed, merely confused. Please stop with this kind of teasing and tend to the shipgirls' and naval district's needs. You will only be a bother if you remain a piece of blank paper in regards to affairs here."
  1071. She got angry.
  1072. "Y-yes," I stammered promptly.
  1073.  
  1074. "First order of business is the shipgirl meeting party...but before that, isn't it better to take a bath?"
  1075. "Ah, yeah..."
  1076. I took a whiff of my sleeve.
  1077. It smelled of sweat.
  1078. As I had no other clothes, I had run yesterday in this uniform; after sleeping in it as well, it had become fairly dirty.
  1079. Kaga pointed towards a cardboard box in the corner.
  1080. "Earlier this morning, someone from GHQ brought over the Admiral's personal belongings."
  1081. "Ah, that's great."
  1082. I open it to confirm; indeed, there are my spare uniforms. I can wear them, at any rate.
  1083. "Also, here."
  1084. What she passed over over a resupply form. Along with laundry, towels and other dailies, there was also a list of resources.
  1085. "Mm...there's fuel...gunpowder? Steel? Bauxite? Do you need such crude materials?"
  1086. "It's easier to consume it that way."
  1087. "Ah, could it be that these resources are here too?"
  1088. I looked back to that unbelievable existence the Marshal had shown me.
  1089. In response to my inquiry, Kaga thought for a moment.
  1090. "To not even know this...that's right, I heard humans do not construct or maintain the shipgirls' riggings."
  1091. "What? Then who works in the supply corps?"
  1092. "I'll give you a tour of the factory later."
  1093. Kaga glanced out the window. Following her stare, it must be that building facing the sea. Is that the factory?
  1094. It's all a mystery to me.
  1095. "Well then, thank you. I will be heading to the baths."
  1096. "Please do, some shipgirls are quite easily triggered."
  1097. I head to the bathhouse.
  1098. The bathhouse is not in the same building as the command room. Following Kaga's directions, I went down the hallway, downstairs and then across another hallway.
  1099. Although I ran into other shipgirls on the way, there was not a single soldier like myself.
  1100. ——Are there only shipgirls in this naval district? I thought this naval district would be a gathering of elites, but I haven't even seen maintenance crews.
  1101. I'm in front of the bathhouse.
  1102. On the wall are three wooden signs, listed one to three.
  1103. There's also a notice:
  1104. "If you're docking, please take a sign."
  1105. Right below it is a line that says, "Please return the sign once you're done."
  1106. This was probably to avoid situations where somebody went into an occupied dock.
  1107. "Mm...if this is for Shipgirl usage, it'd be a problem if someone came in while I was inside."
  1108. Although it would be odd for somebody to be bathing in the middle of the day, it's better to be safe than sorry. May as well take all the signs so nobody comes in.
  1109. It's not like I want to hog the bath, it' just that I don't want to run into someone of the opposite gender in the bath.
  1110. "This would probably be a problem if there were women in the military."
  1111. In the military, shower times were very strictly regimented in groups - if you missed your turn you'd have to wait for the next one. But since everyone was male, there weren't that many problems when it came with dressing and undressing.
  1112. I opened the wooden door.
  1113.  
  1114. A female with waist-length hair is removing her clothes.
  1115.  
  1116. Long dark hair; reddish eyes; tightly drawn muscle; slender limbs and a healthy skin tone; from head to toe, her skin was smooth and flawless.
  1117. With that curvy body, she could have been a western sculpture.
  1118. Two spikes stuck out like a goat's horns, something I recognized to belong to a battleship——Nagato?!
  1119. And she is currently staring, wide-eyed, in my direction.
  1120. "Wha..."
  1121. I seem to have forgotten how to move.
  1122. "Ah, uh..."
  1123. "Y-you are?!"
  1124. "Eh, uh...no, I...err..."
  1125. My mind's drawing a blank. I got nothing.
  1126. I'm a sub-lieutenant...no, currently I'm a Lieutenant-Commander. Nono, now isn't the time to be reporting my rank...
  1127. My head is spinning.
  1128. Ah, that's a 4th sign in Nagato's hand. Alright, so there's four of them. I miscalculated.
  1129. Nagato's gaze sharpened as she glared at me, rooted dumbly on the spot.
  1130. "I'm asking who are you?"
  1131. "Ah, oh...I'm, uh...Admiral."
  1132. "What? Is that so, so you were the Admiral Mutsu was talking about..."
  1133. It seems she understood.
  1134. I removed my hat.
  1135. "My deepest apologies. I thought that there wouldn't be anyone in here in the middle of the day."
  1136. "I just got back to port. But, Admmiral, could we discuss this in a bit?"
  1137. "Ah, ahahahah...yeah."
  1138. "Mm."
  1139. She placed her gloves into the clothes basket with an expression of displeasure.
  1140. That's only to be expected; you'd have to take off your clothes to bathe, and that wasn't going to be possible with me there.
  1141.  
  1142. Speaking of which, thank god she only took off her gloves. Things would be a lot worse if she had taken it all off.
  1143.  
  1144. Her now-gloveless arm, too, was tightly-knit muscle; quite beautiful.
  1145. If I don't watch up I might be entranced.
  1146. Wiping away my cold sweat, I left the changing room.
  1147. I'll have to wait outside, I suppose - there's no way we can go in together.
  1148. It turns out I had to wait three hours for Nagato to come out.
  1149. I spent all that time reading the data Kaga gave me.
  1150.  
  1151. Afternoon, 1 pm——
  1152. I've finally managed to assemble all the shipgirls and greet them.
  1153. Kaga remains the secretary ship.
  1154. Although some shipgirls were out on expedition, those that remained still outnumbered the average graduating class at the academy.
  1155. It seems like I met a lot of them yesterday, though.
  1156. Among them, of course, was Zuihou.
  1157. Atago, as well, waved affectionately.
  1158. Next to her, heavy cruiser Ashigara was giving me the "screw the greetings, just let me sortie!" look of a hungering wolf.
  1159. And so my instatement meet-and-greet finally ended...or it should have.
  1160. Yet Aoba has her mike pointed at me again.
  1161. "Commander! What do you plan to do with this fleet? Please give us a word or two!"
  1162. "Mm? Ahh...umm...maintain discipline, strengthen training, so that we will become soldiers defending the nation..."
  1163. "Please be more specific?"
  1164. "According to our combat records...this fleet's carrier strength is rather weak, so I plan to strengthen this aspect first."
  1165. Murmurs and whispers as shipgirls began to speak among themselves.
  1166. Perhaps what I said is a surprise to them.
  1167.  
  1168. "Admiral, I cannot pretend I didn't hear that!"
  1169.  
  1170. The first to stand and speak is Nagato.
  1171. Her hands were at her waist and her chest thrust out - she gave off an air of courage just through standing.
  1172. I turn to address her:
  1173. "Does something dissatisfy you?"
  1174. "Might is firepower! Armor! Is not the ability to stand against the enemy battleships of utmost importance?"
  1175. "You are right, artillery firepower is important. But so are carriers and their planes."
  1176. "Can those planes penetrate abyssal armor? Large-caliber guns are the only true arbitrators between success and failure!"
  1177. "T-that's not true! Carrier planes can also carry the b-battlefield...probably..."
  1178. To everyone's surprise, the one who responded was none other than Zuihou.
  1179. Her attempt to defend the carriers wilted under Nagato's gaze, her voice slowly tapering off.
  1180. Nagato shrugged.
  1181. "I have no intent of looking down on planes. But if it comes to maintaining equipment, the first priority should go to main guns. This amount of firepower is insufficient to defeat the enemies in those waters. Mass producing large-caliber guns should be our first priority!"
  1182. "Uu..."
  1183. Zuihou seemed to have succumbed to Nagato's forcefulness.
  1184. This, too, cannot be helped. Zuihou was a shipgirl, but in front of Nagato and her distinctly military demeanor, Zuihou was just a regular girl.
  1185. Of course, Nagato has no ill intent.
  1186. She truly believed that main guns were the best weapon, a view cultivated after the countless battles that led up to this moment.
  1187. I straightened my hat.
  1188. "Mm...but, from battle records..."
  1189. "The Admiral has not yet observed shipgirls in battle, right?"
  1190. "...Yes."
  1191. Given, I had seen Zuihou that time in combat, but to say I had "observed" it was pushing it a little.
  1192. With a hmph, Nagato grinned confidently.
  1193. "Then witness it with your own eyes. That way, I can change your mind."
  1194. "Could you be planning to bring me to battle?"
  1195. "No, that's impossible. We don't have any means to let humans board. Moreover, I just want you to see a glimpse; moreover, the Abyssals are no pushovers. As such, witness an exercise between shipgirls!"
  1196. "Oh?"
  1197. Normal warships would also engage in fleet exercises. What would shipgirl exercises look like? I found myself truly interested.
  1198. "For the battleship faction, Mutsu and I are sufficient...but I don't think that's enough to make a fleet."
  1199. Nagato's eyes swept over the shipgirls.
  1200. With an "I'll go——" sort of look, Atago raised her hand.
  1201. "I'll do it too! I, too, want the Admiral to see my true strength~"
  1202. "Even if it's a fleet exercise, you can leave the guns and torps to me! The battlefield calls me! Victory calls me!"
  1203. It's Ashigara.
  1204. As heavy cruisers, they indeed stood second only to the battleships in firepower.
  1205. Nagato nodded.
  1206. "Excellent. Well then, who will stand for the Carrier faction? I understand we have only four, but we'll take on as many as you've got."
  1207. Zuihou was the first to stand.
  1208. "I-I will go! I may be a light carrier, but if I give it my all, I can do my part as well!"
  1209. On the topic of carriers, Kaga is a standard carrier; logically, she should be more powerful than a light carrier.
  1210. "Will you go as well?"
  1211. "If the Admiral commands it."
  1212. "I suppose it's better to let them decide among themselves this time."
  1213. A girl with a Kansai accent reported herself as Ryuujou, a light carrier just like Zuihou.
  1214. "Ara? Looks like y'all are gonna need my help."
  1215. Moreover, the sister Zuihou had mentioned, Shouhou, also stood up. Although her class and dress were the same, Shouhou had a more...adult air. Perhaps there's some age difference between the two sisters.
  1216. But just three ships isn't enough——
  1217. At this time, a dark-haired young woman with a red archery uniform and a gentle expression stood up. She carried herself with the same dignity as Kaga did.
  1218. "Aircraft Carrier, Akagi. If we're forming a carrier task force, you can leave it to me."
  1219. According to the records, she was the first aircraft carrier in the fleet.
  1220. She had experienced countless battles and was deeply trusted by the others.
  1221. She gave off a calm and mature air.
  1222. Nagato smiled confidently.
  1223. "Is this fine? I have no intention of hearing excuses."
  1224. "I had no plans to excuse myself from the start. This is an exercise, no? Daily training is indispensable."
  1225. Zuihou looked very pleased as she exclaimed,
  1226. "Thank you so much for joining us, Akagi-san!"
  1227. "Compared to thanks...the most important thing is to trust in your own training and the carrier planes you take pride in. Don't worry, we will definitely win."
  1228. "Yes!"
  1229. I murmured to Kaga out of the corner of my mouth.
  1230. "Akagi's quite respected."
  1231. "Of course. After all, it's Akagi."
  1232. "Mm."
  1233. It looks like Kaga is also someone who deeply respects Akagi.
  1234. And so, the exercise became a showdown between Nagato's Battleship faction and Akagi's Carrier faction.
  1235. Kaga, however, spoke with a note of unease.
  1236. "But...with these teams, it's a little worrying."
  1237. At that time, I did not understand the significance of Kaga's words.
  1238. Until I saw them at dinner——that is, the time when they resupplied...well, but that's a story for later.
  1239.  
  1240. And so, my welcome meeting was interrupted, and I found myself heading with Kaga to the command room.
  1241. She spread out a sea map onto the table.
  1242. "I propose that the exercise be held here."
  1243. The words "Naval District Waters" denoted the area.
  1244. While a few minor islands stood out, the currents were quite peaceful, and enemy appearance rates were also low; you could say that there were relatively safe waters.
  1245. "That sounds good. But shipgirls cannot carry human passengers, right? So how am I to watch the exercise?"
  1246. "Well then, please use this as a time to familiarize yourself with how to command your fleet."
  1247. "Hm?"
  1248. "There is a communications array in the Command Room that allows you to establish communications with fleets at sea and understand their disposition."
  1249. In front of me was a fairly old fashioned, boxy display monitor, along with a microphone and speaker.
  1250. "I can communicate with the shipgirls with this?!"
  1251. "Indeed."
  1252. "How convenient."
  1253. "I say communicate, but there are a lot of limitations as well. From here we can only communicate relatively short and simple orders. Based on the condition of the ships that deployed, please decide whether to continue advancing or to retreat."
  1254. "Just advance and retreat...? Ah, whatever. Without a good understanding of the battle situation, a Commander isn't going to be giving clear and coherent orders from across the ocean."
  1255. "Indeed."
  1256. "If only I could be on the front line...if I had a power such as yours..."
  1257. I voiced the wish that couldn't be granted.
  1258. Kaga cast her gaze downwards.
  1259. "...Please select a shipgirl you trust to lead the fleet to be flagship, and we will do all we can to meet your expectations."
  1260. "Ah...you're right, thanks."
  1261. Pre-battle preparations and analysis was my role.
  1262. The communication array's display flickered to life, broadcasting all kinds of letters and numbers.
  1263. Not unlike shipboard radar.
  1264. Kaga explained to me how to interpret the readout.
  1265. "This indicates an approximate numerical assessment of the shipgirl's condition, this is the remaining fuel and ammunition..."
  1266. "Mm...."
  1267. "While carriers have relatively low consumption in terms of ammunition, they must be resupplied with bauxite when they lose planes. Especially when the enemy claims air superiority."
  1268. "Ahh, this was brought up in the supplementary data."
  1269. Carriers needed to expend bauxite to recover their carrier planes. Since shipgirls aren't quite the same as actual ships, it's a little pointless to use common knowledge.
  1270. It seems like I have a lot to catch up to after all.
  1271. The bauxite needed for resupply is roughly proportional to the number of planes lost.
  1272. If air superiority is lost, most of the carrier complement will follow.
  1273. "Give Zuihou the Saiun."
  1274. The so-called Saiun was a scout plane made especially for carriers.
  1275. Although its name resembled that of the scout plane used in that past war, this was a plane specialized for shipgirl use.
  1276. Kaga seemed to have her doubts regarding my orders.
  1277. "If it's the Saiun, isn't it better to give to Akagi?"
  1278. "Let's specialize Akagi for attack."
  1279. "...very well, I will transmit the order."
  1280. The only planes currently available for action are the type 99 Dive Bomber and the Type 97 Torpedo Bomber.
  1281. Given, this naval district does have carrier planes such as the Suisei and Tenzan.
  1282. According to the data, the carrier of these planes happens to be Kaga.
  1283. But just the thought of the pride with which Kaga said "they're all good children" suggested that I would not be able to take them so flippantly.
  1284. Morale is also important.
  1285. I ordered Zuihou to carry the scout plane, while Akagi, Ryuujou and Shouhou were crammed with Type 97 Torpedo Bombers.
  1286. "The rest is up to you."
  1287. "Admiral, what is the reason for primarily using torpedo bombers?"
  1288. "From past war records, torpedo bombers bring better results if air superiority is guaranteed."
  1289. "Is that so?"
  1290. "Is that an issue?"
  1291. "Torpedo Planes bring bigger results, but they are also more easily shot down. Resource consumption will be heavy."
  1292. "How much, roughly?"
  1293. "There are many issues that affect a battle, no two are the same. As such, field experience is very important."
  1294. That is to say, she didn't put much weight on the battle records?
  1295. Since I disagree, I suppose I'll have to run this on my own. Kaga is the secretary ship, after all and she's certainly not an Admiral.
  1296. "Well then, let's try out this rare exercise."
  1297. "Understood."
  1298. In this exercise, the Battleship team would carry no fighters, so air supremacy would doubtlessly go to the Carrier Faction.
  1299. Even so, the situation doesn't favor the carriers.
  1300. The Battleship Faction's Mutsu and Nagato were veterans, and did not do anything to alter their loadout.
  1301. All they carried were main guns, a secondary gun and a radar.
  1302. Having finished equipping themselves according to my orders, they finally sallied forth.
  1303.  
  1304. I observed the battle from my boxy monitor.
  1305. Kaga stood by me, eyes similarly fixed on the monitor, a hint of unease on her face.
  1306. Although I feel that the situation would be better if I had let her take part in the carrier faction...
  1307. She had a strong sense of responsibility regarding her position as secretary ship.
  1308. The two fleets were slowly closing in on each other.
  1309. "It's almost time?"
  1310. "...indeed."
  1311. Kaga nodded slightly.
  1312.  
  1313. A Saiun buzzed over the endless sea.
  1314.  
  1315. It's a scout plane specialized for reconnaissance, built to be faster and longer-ranged than fighters.
  1316. Thanks to the perfect weather, it was not long until they had seen the Battleship Team.
  1317. Zuihou reported the news:
  1318. "Enemy fleet detected! Two Battleships! Two Heavy Cruisers!"
  1319. She had also received some more specific information, such as their distance, position and bearing. With this, it would be possible to figure out their path.
  1320. They passed over the water as if ice skating.
  1321. There were no ships under their feet, after all.
  1322. What an unbelievable sight; but for a shipgirl, this was just obvious.
  1323. Ryuujou reported to the report with unusual giddiness.
  1324. "Fantastic! They haven't even seen us! It's a jackpot for us, ain't it!"
  1325. Akagi, too, smiled with satisfaction.
  1326. "We can't be overconfident; let's give it our all. ...on the other hand, this looks to be a sure win!"
  1327.  
  1328. Listening to their conversation, I raised an eyebrow.
  1329. "Hey, isn't this kind of overconfident? Didn't she just say 'don't be overconfident'?"
  1330. "...This is Akagi's strong point."
  1331. "Eh? Really?"
  1332. "Yes."
  1333. Kaga responded without hesitation.
  1334. She didn't seem like somebody easily swayed by others, so perhaps it really is Akagi's strong point. It seems like I still need to learn more about the shipgirls.
  1335. Kaga continued, her expression as calm as ever.
  1336. "That relaxed feeling is Akagi's charisma."
  1337. "Isn't it bad to be relaxed?"
  1338. Kaga is a person too. Rather, she's also a shipgirl...her judgement of Akagi shouldn't be accepted without question.
  1339. On the communication screen, Akagi announced,
  1340. "First attack wave, lift off!"
  1341. She stood on the sea, bow drawn.
  1342. And let fly.
  1343. With a burst of light, they transmuted into propeller planes.
  1344. No matter how many times I see it, it's a little unbelievable.
  1345. Following Akagi's order, the other shipgirls hurriedly launched their own Type 97s.
  1346. "Ah?!"
  1347. A sharp cry from Shouhou.
  1348. One of the arrows she had loosed was losing speed; it was plunging towards the sea by the time it had transmuted.
  1349. My grip tightened in front of the monitor.
  1350. ——Don't fall!
  1351. I can offer nothing but my prayers.
  1352. That Type 97 reared towards the sky, tugging its torpedo cargo along. Leaving the waves behind, it caught up to the rest of the formation. It seems it had managed to escape.
  1353. Shouhou breathed a sigh of relief.
  1354. "Whew..."
  1355. Having confirmed onscreen that the plane had escaped danger, I, too, let out a sigh.
  1356. "Whew..."
  1357. "Admiral, you're a little too uptight about all sorts of things."
  1358. Kaga voiced her thoughts from next to me.
  1359. As cold as always, huh.
  1360. But when that Type 97 had curved towards the sea, she, too had looked worried. She might be cold, but she can be warm too.
  1361. "...Admiral, is there something on my face?"
  1362. "Uh, ah, no."
  1363. I turned my gaze to the monitor once more.
  1364. Of the carrier team, Ryuujou was the only one not to use the bow and arrow, but another odd way.
  1365. She unreeled the scroll she carried to the wind, gently touching the rows of Ofuda neatly arranged like a carrier group across the scroll.
  1366. "All carrier planes! It's time to work, y'all! Work!"
  1367. A blue flame ignited at her fingertip,
  1368. with the words "Edict" floating in front.
  1369. As if possessed, the Ofuda transformed into Type 97s, their engines coming to life before lifting off the scroll deck.
  1370. I had never seen something like this before——these were the so-called shikigami. I had always thought them myths.
  1371. ——Then again, it's not like I'm used to arrows turning into planes in everyday life either.
  1372. It looks like they each have their own ways to fight.
  1373. Taking the initiative, the carrier team sent out their carrier planes.
  1374.  
  1375. On the Battleship Team's side——
  1376. in reality, they had long since detected Akagi and company.
  1377. While they were quite a bit slower than the Saiun,
  1378. Nagato's Type 33 Surface Fire Control Radar——the only such piece of equipment of this power in the Naval District——could detect distant enemies from a great distance.
  1379. In these seas, with few islands to interfere, it could be employed at its maximum potential.
  1380. "Excellent, enemy detected! All elements of the fleet, follow me, Nagato!"
  1381. "It's my turn, huh. Very well then, witness it! ...Hm, #3 Turret, is there a problem?"
  1382. Mutsu was paying quite a bit of attention to the area around her stern. It seemed that was the location of the #3 turret.
  1383. Nagato's brow furrowed.
  1384. "Are you alright? Mutsu?"
  1385. "Ara, ara ara; are you worried about me?"
  1386. Mutsu regarded her with a playful gaze that could be felt even through the monitor.
  1387. Even if it's two girls, it's embarrassing; Nagato coughed, blushing as she continued.
  1388. "P-paying attention to the escort ship, that's the flagship's duty."
  1389. "Ohoho...Th~ank Y~ou. It's fine, don't worry."
  1390. "That's good."
  1391. Nagato ordered the fleet forwards at full speed once more.
  1392. The waves beneath their feet intensified.
  1393. The four turrets she carried surely must weigh a lot - her feet, half-submerged, left large waves in their wake.
  1394. And what magnificent waves they were.
  1395. Mutsu, Atago and Ashigara hurriedly followed.
  1396. Nagato altered their course slightly. Under ideal conditions, they would be able to make visual contact with the carrier team.
  1397.  
  1398. The image on the monitor became a sea map.
  1399. The symbols indicating the two fleets were closing in on each other.
  1400. The attack wave sent by Akagi and company towards Nagato and company now began their attack.
  1401. "This is the vital moment?"
  1402. I asked Kaga.
  1403. "Indeed...for carriers, the opening attack is very important."
  1404. Once they entered shelling range, the need to evade enemy fire would badly hinder plane launch. Without an early launch, the carrier team would be unable to win.
  1405. From the speaker, Nagato's voice boomed out.
  1406. "Enemy planes detected!"
  1407. Countless dark dots emerged from the clouds.
  1408. They closed in.
  1409. Nagato raised her hand.
  1410. "All ships, evasive action!"
  1411. Each of the four ships put a foot forwards, leaving curved furrows in their wake.
  1412. In this way it would be difficult for the enemy planes to accurately predict their paths.
  1413. Though they each seemed to strike out on random movements, there were no collisions or course corrections; they must have been fairly well trained to begin with.
  1414. Whether it's shipgirls or regular ships, the basics of evasion were the same.
  1415. Those were to remain unpredictable;
  1416. Not to run into each other;
  1417. And not to break off from the fleet.
  1418. From the air, their paths were quite beautiful in their own way, wide curves and arcs that overlapped, all ultimately moving in the same direction. Like flowing Satin.
  1419. I suddenly noticed something.
  1420. The image on the screen had been taken from quite a high altitude. An altitude that not even the carrier planes should be able to reach.
  1421. "Kaga-san, who takes these pictures?"
  1422. "...nobody's seen the cameraman."
  1423. "Not even you?"
  1424. "The ones that created this communication array weren't human; these recordings, too, use as-of-yet-unknown technology. Does it bother you?"
  1425. "It does...but, I suppose I'll leave it to the experts. I just need to learn how to use it so I can set up a doctrine with which to defeat the enemy."
  1426. "Agreed."
  1427.  
  1428. The Type 97 Bombers descended through the clouds.
  1429. These bombers used torpedoes, the torpedoes each carried attached to their bellies.
  1430. Earlier, Zuihou had used Type 99 Bombers against the Ru-class, a dive bomber that dropped its ammunition from above.
  1431. Those armed with torpedoes were torpedo bombers.
  1432. Those armed with bombs were dive bombers.
  1433. While both were Carrier Bombers, this was a fairly good distinction.
  1434. Dive bombs limited the window with which enemy ships could react and minimizes the vulnerability of their users.
  1435. Moreover, dive bombs were much less complex than torpedoes, allowing a much more lightweight construction.
  1436. Lighter construction meant higher mobility, providing dive bombers with an evasion that torpedo bombers couldn't match.
  1437. But this time they would be using the Type 97 Torpedo Bomber.
  1438. Why use torpedo bombers at all then, with their lower evasion and the larger response window they afforded the enemy?
  1439. Because the parts of the warship below the waterline and armor belt——that is, the underwater portions, were much more vulnerable.
  1440. Moreover, warships were designed to come under fire; protected by their armored decks, warships were unlikely to be sunk by dive bombers.
  1441. On the other hand, a hole under the waterline meant sinking. Even if the flooding could controlled, the ship would be slowed, becoming even more vulnerable to succeeding attacks.
  1442. Although abyssal ships had some differences with normal warships, the principles under which they operated were the same - that was what I had read from the battle records.
  1443. And, of course, the same applied to shipgirls.
  1444. Would those torpedoes flying underwater have any effect on shipgirls, skating on the surface? It is a little unbelievable.
  1445. The type 97s began their descent, hugging the water as they made their approach.
  1446. This, too, is warship theory——AA guns were designed to shoot down bombers high in the air.
  1447. Abyssal guns were similarly built.
  1448. In order to counter this, squadrons would often fly as far below the minimum angle of the enemy guns as possible to make it harder to shoot down.
  1449. As such they would have to go in at nearly sea level, even if it meant incurring the risk of hitting the surface.
  1450. If it were a real battle, they would also be braving bullets.
  1451. As this was an exercise, these were just practice bullets.
  1452. Stricken planes were plastered with colored dye and subsequently left the battle space.
  1453. "All allied units! Break through the enemy fleet!"
  1454.  
  1455. The wireless transmission probably came from the Type 97s. Occasionally, I caught a glimpse of something on the low-resolution monitor——well, now's not the time to worry about that.
  1456. The leading Type 97s soared, hugging the waves as they closed in on the shipgirls of the Battleship team.
  1457. The other flights followed.
  1458. While the shells were practice shells, they still carried a similar level of intensity.
  1459. The image of these pilots soaring through that barrage of shells was enough for me, a mere spectator, to feel shock.
  1460. Many of the planes turned away without launching, having been judged to have been shot down.
  1461. But there were many other bombers that had managed to avoid the AA fire.
  1462. Each briefly rose, dropping their torps.
  1463. Each torpedo, in turns, leaped into the water like divers leaping into the ocean.
  1464. The remaining torpedo bombers also launched.
  1465. But the launch height was insufficient.
  1466. The torpedoes that impacted before achieving the required angle bounced off the water, like a skipped stone.
  1467. Although there were weapons that used this kind of theory, torpedoes were not one of them; unfortunately, the Type 97's torpedoes were not so strong.
  1468. Some lost their propellers, and some shattered their shells; there were others that, having skipped as many as three times on the surface, crumpled and sank uselessly into the sea.
  1469. While they had at length entered the water, they were way too damaged to function as planned.
  1470. The only ones that shot at high speed under the surface were those that had been successfully deployed.
  1471. Though the shipgirls on the water were going quite quickly themselves, the torpedoes closed in at a much faster rate.
  1472.  
  1473. "Aohhhhhhh
  1474. Mutsu had just managed to dodge a torpedo——the one crying out was Ashigara, behind her.
  1475. She had evaded three torpedos, but there was one more underfoot.
  1476. An explosion, the moment her toes nudged the torpedo.
  1477. Normally, there would be a rather large plume of water...but this is an exercise, and all that happened was the sound.
  1478. But Ashigara had impacted with the torpedo while already sailing at high speeds, and she found herself off balance.
  1479. "Uohh!"
  1480. Her face slammed sharply into the water.
  1481. That looked like that hurt.
  1482. Mutsu, having successfully avoided the torps, smiled ruefully.
  1483. "Ara, ara ara."
  1484. "Uuuu...don't ara ara me!"
  1485. Ashigara stumbled up, holding her nose; it seemed that she had not received any significant wounds.
  1486. Either way, the torpedo had hit.
  1487. For a heavy cruiser to be sunk by a single torpedo would be a rather rare occurrence.
  1488. Exercise damage and condition was usually decided by dice as the battle continued. Normally, at least...
  1489. But it seemed as if the die had already been cast, somewhere out there.
  1490.  
  1491. "Ashigara, engine room flooding."
  1492.  
  1493. The announcement rang out.
  1494. Once the engine room was flooded, the ship would not be able to move unless the water were pumped out——that is to say, she would need to leave the battle.
  1495. Ashigara's normally mature, grinning face was now replaced with wide-eyed anger.
  1496. "Ehhhh?! Why?! I just bumped it with my foot, how does that lead to engine flooding! I demand a reroll!"
  1497. But it seems as if her objection had not been accepted.
  1498. Well, rules were rules, and she slowed down.
  1499. "Repairing! I'm repairing! So let me! Let me keep fighting! I haven't even opened fire yet! Not even once! Victory is calling me! Victory is calling meeeeeeeeee!!"
  1500. With a roar of gunfire, Ashigara opened fire with her main gun.
  1501. She opened fire in the end.
  1502. Of course, she had no target.
  1503. Seeing this, Kaga frowned.
  1504. "...it may be a practice shell, but it's still a waste."
  1505. As she spoke, I could imagine Ashigara being lectured as soon as she returned to port.
  1506. At any rate, Ashigara detached from the fleet due to (simulated) heavy damage.
  1507. Apart from this, Mutsu had also received slight damage, whereas Atago had been struck in one of her turrets, limiting a portion of her firepower. Of course, this was just a judgement, and nobody was damaged.
  1508. It seems as if Nagato was not hit...perhaps I should say "As expected of Nagato."
  1509.  
  1510. I crossed my arms in front of the screen.
  1511. "Hmm..."
  1512. "What is it?"
  1513. "One standard carrier and there light carriers attacked with virtually their entire attack compliment, and all they got for it was a single heavy cruiser——isn't that kind of little?"
  1514. "Is it?"
  1515. "This is my first time seeing a fight between shipgirls...carrier plane quality was important after all, huh?"
  1516. "...Plane quality and ability can be improved with training."
  1517. "So they need to work hard, then."
  1518. I doffed my cap, clenching it in my hand.
  1519. The white officer's cap immediately deformed. Just a bit of adjustment, and it returned to its previous condition.
  1520. "The opening torpedo strike doesn't seem too effective, based on our recent equipment..."
  1521. "...Yes."
  1522.  
  1523. The Carrier team was now in range of the battleship team, well before the second wave of bombers could hit.
  1524.  
  1525. Nagato roared out her orders.
  1526. "All main guns, fire——!"
  1527. She threw a punch into the air with the vigor of one trying to crack the very skies.
  1528. The turrets behind her bellowed with a ear-splitting roar as it belched out a searing plume of flame that dyed the surface red, leaving black smoke in its wake.
  1529. A high-powered shell burst forth from each of the double 41cm guns.
  1530. They may be practice shells made with special materials, but the effects of the gun blast were the same.
  1531. That vigor that could split the heavens; they could truly be called the stars of the naval battlefield.
  1532.  
  1533. At that moment, Akagi and company were hurriedly preparing the next wave.
  1534. They were well aware of their proximity to the battleships. However, carrier planes could not launch when moving at full speed. In order to more efficiently prepare the planes, the ship needed to be relatively still.
  1535. Furthermore, they needed to me mindful of wind direction, for the landing carrier planes' sakes.
  1536. Although I remembered seeing that carrier shipgirls would retrieve their returning planes in hand as arrows...
  1537. It turns out that it's not quite so simple.
  1538. Should the landing fail, accidents could happen, sometimes even damaging the carrier itself; it's a task that requires a certain meticulousness.
  1539. The shells impacted the surface,
  1540. sending fountains of water into the air.
  1541. Startled by the sudden waves, the light carriers let out cries of distress. Having collected the returning arrows, Akagi called out to the others around her.
  1542. "Don't panic! At this time our priority is getting as many planes into the air as possible!"
  1543. "Y-yes!"
  1544. Zuihou nodded.
  1545. A second salvo.
  1546. There were no explosions. In their stead was the sound of a fruit cracking.
  1547. "Ahhhh?!"
  1548. Shouhou's upper half had been hit and splashed with dye.
  1549. This was a yellow dye that couldn't be removed by seawater. It was for this reason that red was not used, as the area of a ship under the waterline was usually painted red.
  1550. ——Normal warships would be painted red to prevent rust. The red on the shipgirls probably follows the same logic?
  1551. A lot of ships wore red on their boots and waist.
  1552. Shouhou's shoulders drooped listlessly.
  1553. "Uuu...I'm hit..."
  1554. "Shouhou, Heavy Damage."
  1555. It seems like she had been taken a direct hit from a 41cm shell and gone straight to heavy damage.
  1556. When she had been launching, she wore a uniform that revealed her left shoulder and brazenly exposed the chest, protected only by a sarashi. And now, the point of impact was vividly shown via a fast-reddening welt on her skin.
  1557. Seeing the mark on her chest, Shouhou flushed with shame.
  1558. "...To have to break off this quickly, it's frustrating."
  1559. Seeing her, Zuihou and Ryuujou exchanged glances before simultaneously regarding their own chests.
  1560. "Aren't we from the same class...?" Zuihou muttered under her breath.
  1561. "...What in tarnation? This kinda' treatment...this is plain unjust, innit? Aren't we all light carriers?"
  1562. Ryuujou clapped together her own chest.
  1563. They sure are taking it easy...or not. Nagato and Mutsu's long-range shelling sent up plumes of seawater once more.
  1564. Though the carrier team was still launching their carriers to match, the difference between the two teams could be seen at a glance.
  1565. The Battleship Team fired with practiced experience.
  1566. In contrast, the Carrier Group's planes needed to launch and then brave the barrage of anti-aircraft fire before dropping their bombs or torpedo.
  1567. Each step needed was another chance for the enemy.
  1568. The Carrier team could not even break off; compared to them, Atago went much faster. Even if they lost Battleships Nagato and Mutsu, the Heavy Cruiser could still catch up.
  1569. The bells were clearly tolling.
  1570. It didn't help that the two sides continued to close in; at this point, even Atago was in firing range.
  1571. The barrage was intensifying.
  1572. Akagi was stricken too. Judged to have taken "Heavy Flight Deck Damage," she, too, had lost her combat ability.
  1573. "Heavy Damage, huh...uu...everyone, the rest is up to you!"
  1574. "Aww shucks! They sure hit hard!!"
  1575. Ryuujou also broke off, stricken.
  1576. Visually, it was clear from the amount of dye that covered her that she would be unable to continue fighting.
  1577. And now it would simply be a matter of time until the remaining carrier was run to ground.
  1578. Nagato and company had Zuihou completely surrounded.
  1579. There would not even be time to launch a carrier plane.
  1580. Nagato smiled confidently.
  1581. "Don't you look down on the Big Seven's true power!"
  1582. That was a hint to surrender.
  1583. But Zuihou had not given up the fight.
  1584. She drew taut the bowstring.
  1585. Nagato watched.
  1586. "Is this alright? At this distance, the only thing your planes could do is to ram us and damage the plane. Of course, you might be able to hurt us some as well."
  1587. If planes or comrades were wounded, it would not longer be a fleet exercise.
  1588. In the end, Zuihou did not loose her arrow.
  1589. Even so, she did not surrender. She looked around, clearly and desperately searching for a fighting chance.
  1590. Nagato closed in.
  1591. "You won't surrender, huh...they may be practice rounds, but they'll still hurt, you know?"
  1592. She raised her fist.
  1593. Zuihou held her stance as if immobilized.
  1594.  
  1595. "That's enough."
  1596.  
  1597. Speaking through the communication array, I gave the order to end the exercise.
  1598. Onscreen, Nagato retracted her fist.
  1599. Zuihou's shoulder also slumped powerlessly.
  1600. Mutsu and Atago high-fived, celebrating their victory.
  1601. The entirety of the carrier team looked crestfallen. Especially Zuihou, whose eyes looked a little red.
  1602. ——It may not have been a real battle, but even a practice defeat stung, huh.
  1603. Nagato put her hands on her hips, head up and chest out.
  1604. Her expression was clearly visible onscreen.
  1605. "Hmph! How about it! A battle is about firepower! It's about Armor! Have you reevaluated your thoughts?"
  1606. I had a hell of a lot of thoughts, but this communication array didn't let me say an awful lot. For now, all I could transmit was the order to advance or retreat.
  1607. Kaga spoke: "...return to port."
  1608. "Acknowledged!"
  1609. It was a simple, short order, but the other side acknowledged the order with the nod and reciprocation of somebody experienced in using the communications array.
  1610. Nagato returned triumphantly. Close behind them, Mutsu and Atago looked proud as well.
  1611. Only Ashigara's face bore dissatisfaction.
  1612. On the side of the Carrier team, everyone looked somber.
  1613. Zuihou was crying:
  1614. "...Admiral, he...it must have been hard to say that Carriers are important too..."
  1615. Ryuujou put a hand no her shoulder, as if to comfort her:
  1616. "Ah'm sure it was...but don't be cryin' now! Cryin' means ya lose. If we can't take it, we'll jes' keep trainin'."
  1617. Akagi looked to the light carriers with a gentle smile.
  1618. "Haaaah~it's been so long, I'm starving," she remarked out of left field.
  1619. "I feel like I could eat just about anything."
  1620. Nagato pointed straight at AKagi.
  1621. "Is that so? Well then, next up will be a battle of stomachs!"
  1622. "Hmph...I won't back down here. I bet with the dignity of the 1st Carrier Division!"
  1623. Akagi smile with a confidence that could match Nagato's grin.
  1624.  
  1625. On the other side of the screen, I sighed.
  1626. "As expected of Nagato and Akagi.
  1627. Kaga turned:
  1628. "What is it?"
  1629. "The feeling between the Battleship team and Carrier team was complicated after that exercise...they must have said that to break the tension. They certainly are a match for each other on the dinner table."
  1630. Kaga looked once more to the screen at Akagi.
  1631. "...I see, you can look at it that way as well."
  1632. The screen switched to an exercise record.
  1633. Each shipgirl's accomplishments were listed.
  1634. The various statistics reported would have to be recorded and compared with previous combat records.
  1635. Kaga wrote down each of the listed reports.
  1636. "...The Admiral previously suggested that Carrier use be further explored...but given these experiences, will you be focus on battleship and heavy cruiser-dominated fleets?"
  1637. Just from the victor and loser, that would make sense. Firepower and armor clearly decided this battle.
  1638. But I shook my head.
  1639. "While this is my first time seeing shipgirls fight, i feel that the battleships and heavy cruisers are already well up to par. What this fleet is lacking after all is carrier power. The problem is hinged on the planes."
  1640. "...perhaps the enemy was simply too strong."
  1641. Kaga's face registered a downcast, complicated expression.
  1642. The possibility that the enemy was too strong existed.
  1643. After all, our "enemy" from the beginning, the Abyssal ships, had proved invulnerable to all the world's navies. All that could be done was to let them fire as they will and wait for them to leave.
  1644. "But let's not consider that possibility for now."
  1645. "Why?"
  1646. "Our duty is to simply fight, give it our all, and win. If the battle turns out to be unwinnable, we will simply have to take the defeat and use its lessons in the next battle."
  1647. Most unfortunately, the only people who would be able to make use of the lessons of defeat were those that weren't on the battlefield.
  1648. Warfare isn't an exercise or contest; defeat came with consequences.
  1649. No matter how strong the enemy before us could be, our duty is simply to do everything we can to obtain victory.
  1650. "...even if it could lead to shipgirls sinking?" Kaga muttered.
  1651. "...."
  1652. I had long since prepared myself for death.
  1653. Because I am a soldier.
  1654. But what about them?"
  1655. "Kaga, what do you think?"
  1656. "We live for battle. As long as it is to defeat the Abyssals, we will not hesitate to step forwards, even if it means giving up our lives...but, even so, we hate pointless sacrifice. Nobody wants to die, or to seek death without reason."
  1657.  
  1658. That's obvious.
  1659. They are not simply warships given form are.
  1660. They are not soldiers, who see death as glory.
  1661. The desire to live——that is the obvious truth, left unspoken.
  1662. If a Warship could speak, perhaps it would have said the same things Kaga had said...
  1663. As if to change the mood, she looked towards the window.
  1664. "...in a bit, the Exercise fleets will return...please have a tour of the factories before dinnertime."
  1665. I hesitated. At this time, should I not greet them at the harbor?
  1666. If I were to greet them, I would have to congratulate Nagato and the Victors in front of Zuihou and the losers.
  1667. There was no need to hurt them emotionally any further.
  1668. It would be best to speak with Nagato and Zuihou separately in person.
  1669. Kaga had probably figured this out already.
  1670.  
  1671. ——This was my first time in a command role. Given my inexperience, it was imperative that I learned to pay attention to hearts and minds.
  1672. Kaga waited for me soundlessly.
  1673. I straightened my cap again and stood up from the leather chair.
  1674. "Understood. Please lead the way."
  1675. With that, I left the command room.
  1676. I left a sign with the words "Factory" on the door.
  1677. Nagato and Zuihou might come to make their report.
  1678. Or perhaps somebody would come with urgent news; either way, it'd be necessary to make preparations.
  1679. I left from a door facing the harbor.
  1680. In front of me was the endless ocean.
  1681.  
  1682.  
  1683.  
  1684.  
  1685. Part 3 - Doing One's Duty
  1686.  
  1687. Outside the Commander's Room——
  1688. The first thing that came into view was the seemingly endless ocean.
  1689. A single breath is enough ti fill you with the briny taste of the sea. The sound of lapping waves flowed past the ears.
  1690. "Mm~as expected, it's better on the high seas after all..."
  1691. "You've been on land this whole time?"
  1692. Following close behind, Kaga spoke out.
  1693. She held down her hair as it fluttered in the wind.
  1694. That expression was far too beautiful - one could stare at it forever.
  1695. But staring too long would maker her angry again. Better to look back at the sea.
  1696. "I've been idling too long landside, since I was convalescing until recently."
  1697. "...If something goes wrong, you'll go right back there again."
  1698. "Ah...yeah..."
  1699. She's talking about the whole penalty laps business. In retrospect, I, too feel that I went a little too far.
  1700. Either way, I attempted to change the topic.
  1701. "So that's the factory?"
  1702. I pointed in the direction of a giant gantry crane, and the red brick structure directly below it.
  1703. "Indeed...please follow me."
  1704. With that, she stepped in front of me and thus led me to the factory.
  1705. As we got close, it became obvious that it was a huge building after all.
  1706. Normally, it would be normal for a shipyard or factory to be huge...
  1707. I looked to Kaga.
  1708. ——does building a shipgirl's rigging require this much space?
  1709. "Is something wrong?"
  1710. "Ah, nothing, is it here?"
  1711. I pushed open the big heavy door to enter the factory.
  1712. The factory——
  1713. was a dimly lit place.
  1714. Only a single thread of light reached through the window.
  1715. From the boxes placed in the dark corners scurried innumerable little creatures, darting in and out of sight.
  1716. I gulped.
  1717. "Oy, what are those?! Is something there?!"
  1718. "...It'd be more alarming if they weren't in the factories."
  1719. Now that she mentioned it, shipgirl rigging isn't man-made.
  1720. All over the place were wooden boxes and metal drums full of supplies. The path between them was virtually a maze. Kaga hurried me past these resources, towards a curtained off area emblazoned with the sign "development."
  1721. Even deeper——
  1722. A standing sign.
  1723. On it was the figure of a fellow in a yellow safety hat, a hammer in hand. It's wearing a skirt——a female, probably.
  1724. Kaga spoke:
  1725. "Admiral, equipment is developed here."
  1726. "When you say equipment, you mean the weapons used by the shipgirls, right?"
  1727. "Precisely."
  1728. I could feel countless eyes upon me, gazing from the shadows cast by the boxes and barrels.
  1729. "Are the engineers not here?"
  1730. Additionally, I had seen no tools either.
  1731. While the weapons used by shipgirls aren't particularly large, manufacturing them should require some advanced tools.
  1732. Kaga was looking here and there with me as well.
  1733. "I've never met anybody like that."
  1734. "Then who is it that makes it, and how?"
  1735. The gazes leveled at me appeared to increase
  1736. "...well, must you insist on finding out, no matter what?"
  1737. I turned my gaze to my feet.
  1738. To be honest I was still quite interested; but if it was that difficult to explain, perhaps it was simply something I was not meant to know.
  1739. I sighed.
  1740. "A long, long time ago..." I murmured.
  1741. "Ah?"
  1742. "In order to repay those who had rescued her from a trap, the Crane took human form, weaving the most beautiful brocades for them. But nobody had seen how she had done it."
  1743. "Hm?"
  1744. "In the end, those she had owed gave in to their curiosity and spied on the sneaking process. Her true form revealed, the crane disappeared without a trace, never to be found." (note: referring to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsuru_no_Ongaeshi)
  1745. "A folk story?"
  1746. Looking at Kaga's expression, I was surprised to realize that she did not understand.
  1747. It seems that these shipgirls had never heard that tale.
  1748. I would have to explain the sudden story after all.
  1749. "Hm...either way, there are some things that should not be examined too closely."
  1750. Kaga nodded.
  1751. She continued her explanations.
  1752. "If we leave supplies and development materials here, equipment is built."
  1753. "Development materials?"
  1754. "Just like this."
  1755. Kaga reached into the fold in her robes, removing what seems to be a gear before handing it to me.
  1756. It sure looks just like a normal gear.
  1757. On closer inspection, however, this texture and feeling isn't that of metal, but the crumbly texture of hardtack.
  1758. "This, is this a cracker?"
  1759. "It seems like these are manufactured directly by headquarters. I don't know any details either."
  1760. If they came from headquarters, they definitely weren't the products of the Naval District.
  1761. "...we receive these when we complete tasks and missions assigned by GHQ."
  1762. "So these are valuables, then."
  1763. A resource supplied specifically to units with real achievements: it sure sounds like something worth looking forwards to.
  1764. Kaga pointed at the gear in my hand and remarked,
  1765. "Shipgirls on expeditions have found them too, but these are rare circumstances...whatever the case, these are absolute necessities for development and construction."
  1766. "By construction, you mean?"
  1767. "To put it simply, we are increasing the number of shipgirls. I will give a more detailed explanation in a moment."
  1768. She probably means manufacturing the shipgirls' riggings, I surmised.
  1769. Then, struck by a thought, I looked to Kaga.
  1770. "Hold on for a second...could they make a rigging that I could use?"
  1771. "Is the Admiral a shipgirl?"
  1772. "...Ehhh, it's impossible after all, huh."
  1773. While it was exactly as I expected, it was still disappointing.
  1774. At any rate, resources and these gear-like development materials were integral in the development and construction process, this much I understood.
  1775. "Does the factory have any set days off?"
  1776. "...What? As far as I remember, you can set down the required components, and they'll immediately get to work."
  1777. "That's amazing! These are true engineers!"
  1778. "But, they kind of work based on their whims. There's really no clear range of how much time or resource is needed to obtain the desired equipment."
  1779. The hell? These aren't engineers, these are artists!
  1780. "E-even if you keep begging them?"
  1781. "...Feel free to try."
  1782. My predecessor must have tried as well, and realized that she would have to abide by these engineers' whims and fancies.
  1783. "Well then, what if I were to request higher-capability bombers?"
  1784. "That kind of specific request doesn't fly. Just give them some bauxite and a plane of some sort comes out."
  1785. Isn't this way too whimsical?
  1786. What a headache.
  1787. It looks like upgrading equipment isn't going to be easy.
  1788. But if this is the only source of shipgirl equipment, I'll have to dance to their jig.
  1789. "I understand. Well then, please."
  1790. I handed a piece of those gear-like, cracker-like development materials to Kaga.
  1791. "...It is difficult to tell whether you will get what you want. Is this really alright?"
  1792. "Mm, it's fine."
  1793. Kaga opened a box and asked:
  1794. "What about the resources?"
  1795. I thumbed through the data I had brought over from the Command Room.
  1796. The Naval District's bauxite stockpiles weren't large.
  1797. But roughly 300 units could still be spared.
  1798. From my predecessor's records, it appears that she had focused on main guns. Her attempts to develop planes were far too few to provide any clear recipes. Guess I'm on my own.
  1799. Skimming over the records, I listed the resource investment to Kaga.
  1800. "Let's start with 30 units of fuel, 30 units of munitions, 30 units of steel and 100 units of bauxite; is that acceptable?"
  1801. "Very well."
  1802. Kaga removed the resources and put them on the table.
  1803. Her hands had scarcely left the table when a curtain embroidered with the words "Developing" fell, covering the surface as if it were a tiny stage.
  1804. Crunch, crunch: the sounds that came across the curtains sounded like munching.
  1805. "Are those actually crackers?!"
  1806. "...Who knows?"
  1807. Speaking of which, aren't there Western Legends involving the dedication and breaking of bread as parts of rituals and agreements?
  1808. Movement, on the other side of the curtain.
  1809. Clang, clang, the sounds of metal on metal; glug glug, a flowing sounds; and the sound of explosions.
  1810. ——What the hell is going on back there?
  1811. I felt a sudden urge to grab the curtain and pull it open.
  1812. But I had to fight it, at least for now.
  1813. There are many things on this good earth that we are better not knowing about. I just want equipment, a plane that can defeat the high-performance torpedo bombers of the Abyssal airfleet.
  1814. With a clatter, the curtains swung up.
  1815. Lying there was——a Type 99 Dive Bomber.
  1816.  
  1817. "Wow! Amazing! They really made it!"
  1818. That was some real Harry Potter shit.
  1819. But, if I could, I wanted something higher-spec.
  1820. Either way, I'll try again.
  1821. This time I used 30(Fuel)-60(Steel)-30(Ammo)-100(Bauxite) and produced a type 97 torpedo bomber.
  1822. While the manufacturing process is a mystery, it seems from the end product that the planes don't use all that much steel.
  1823. Thinking about it, most of a plane's fuselage is made from bauxite.
  1824. Bauxite consists of metals lighter and not as dense as iron.
  1825. Only the engine and guns really need high-tensile materials like steel.
  1826. Fuel, of course, is a necessity for airplanes, and it sounded like some fire was involved in the production process. It's best not to decrease that.
  1827. With these insights, I provided a new measure to Kaga once more.
  1828. "This time, try 30-60-10-110."
  1829. "...Understood...however, please control yourself."
  1830. "Ah, uh...yes."
  1831. Kaga removed the supplies once more.
  1832. The curtain fell once more.
  1833. And the result was——a plane I had only seen in the data.
  1834. "C-could it be...that's a Suisei!"
  1835. In this naval district there was only one of these planes.
  1836. In the face of my joy, Kaga could only show confusion.
  1837. "Didn't you want Torpedo bombers?"
  1838. "Ah...yeah, I want those as well, but any high-spec plane is a good thing."
  1839. "That is true."
  1840. "And it's all thanks to Kaga-san, thank you."
  1841. Her expression clearly said "there's nothing worth being so happy about."
  1842. "...This is the Admiral's work. The previous Admiral never committed such large quantities of resources into development; most of the resources went into maintaining and resupplying the shipgirls."
  1843. "Ah, is that so. Resupplies and repairs need quite a lot of resources too, huh."
  1844. "Due to our low success rate with our objectives, we're often low on development materials."
  1845. Speaking of which, I just used three of those. And it looks like they were valuable.
  1846. While it's great that I got the Suisei, were my actions a little imprudent? No...to be able to receive a high-spec plane from so few attempts——this should be considered great luck.
  1847. And, looking at Kaga's expression, she was satisfied as well.
  1848.  
  1849. The factory doors opened wide.
  1850. "Admiral, are you in there?"
  1851. A high-pitched voice echoed through.
  1852. Zuihou ran in, breathless.
  1853. "Oy!"
  1854. As soon as I raised my hand, she ran over.
  1855. "I'm extremely sorry! I'm late!"
  1856. "Ah, you're finally here."
  1857. "Well, there was a note."
  1858. "Ah."
  1859. I had originally wanted to meet with them separately. Impressive of Zuihou, to understand my intentions.
  1860. She spoke up timidly:
  1861. "W-well then...what punishment will I be receiving?"
  1862. "What are you talking about?"
  1863. "Didn't you call me over on account of losing the exerci..."
  1864. "Not at all!"
  1865. Nevermind, she hadn't understood my intentions.
  1866. Zuihou's shoulders sagged.
  1867. "Admiral...in that exercise...I lost...to be finally able to look forwards to the carriers...you must be disappointed..."
  1868. "I'm not?"
  1869. "Eh? But..."
  1870. "To be honest, I had kind of realized early on that carriers alone can't win a battle."
  1871. "What?! Does the Admiral have no faith in us?!"
  1872. Zuihou's eyes widened.
  1873. It looks like the emotional impact was significant.
  1874. Okay, I worded that poorly.
  1875. "Sorry, that's not what I meant...fleets aren't composed entirely of battleships or carriers; they must work together to succeed."
  1876. "...But...if we have strong ships, aren't they stronger if we group them together?"
  1877. "So a fleet consisting of the strongest shipgirls is the strongest fleet?"
  1878. Taken on its own, that statement would normally make sense.
  1879. But basing fleet operations solely on this paradigm would remove the need for me to be present altogether.
  1880. No matter how skilled shipgirls are in combat, they aren't commanding officers. It is because of this that the position of Admiral exists.
  1881. "I promise you that you all will have the chance to distinguish yourselves. After all, you guys are a necessity in this fleet as well."
  1882. "Y-yes..."
  1883. Zuihou's expression still looked crestfallen. It looks like words alone wouldn't reassure her. It can't be helped, she would have her chance to shine one day.
  1884. But I had to do something about this heavy atmosphere.
  1885. I don't want Zuihou to keep showing that depressed expression——hm, that's odd.
  1886. Do I have any kind of special feelings towards her?
  1887. Nah, how would I...I just want my subordinate to cheer up. This is only to be expected of a superior.
  1888. I looked for a change of topic.
  1889. "Mm...speaking of which, apparently Zuihou's luck is quite good?"
  1890. "Eh? Is that so?"
  1891. Zuihou's eyes widened. While I had heard it from Kaga, it seems like she herself had not noticed.
  1892. "I just happened to be developing carrier planes; does Zuihou want to try it out"
  1893. "Eh?! Me?! But isn't that the Secretary Ship's..."
  1894. "Ehh...is it not alright? Kaga-san?"
  1895. I was just about to ask whether all shipgirls could do development anyway. Plus, in order to cheer her up, doing something a little new is...
  1896. There was not a shred of emotion of Kaga's face.
  1897. She spoke:
  1898. "...Do you mean to change the secretary ship?"
  1899. "Ah? Nonono, not at all! I just wanted to let Zuihou try it out now. If the secretary ship has to be changed for that, I won't push it."
  1900. Zuihou's a good girl, but that's not a sufficient reason to change the secretary ship. I'm aware of that.
  1901. Kaga silently ruminated. At long last, she nodded slightly.
  1902. "...Is that so...if you're just trying it out, it should be fine."
  1903. "Good, excellent! Kaga-san has agreed too, so try it out!"
  1904. "Understood!"
  1905. Though Zuihou looked a little nervous, her eyes clearly gleamed.
  1906. "Mhmhm...to be honest, I've been wanting to try this out for a long time now."
  1907. Either way, her mood seems to have brightened. That, alone, is enough.
  1908. I told Zuihou about the needed resources, and she moved them onto the table.
  1909. We waited for baited breath for the development to finish.
  1910. The plane was complete.
  1911. A new plane type, yet unseen!
  1912. I involuntarily shouted its name:
  1913. "A Tenzan!"
  1914. A torpedo bomber superior to the Type 97. For me, this is a necessity.
  1915. Zuihou stared, wide-eyed.
  1916. "Uwaaaahhh?! I-Is this really good?!"
  1917. "It's great! It's amazing! Zuihou! Great work!"
  1918. "Mhmhm~that's great, I helped out."
  1919. Looking at her smiling expression, it seemed as if she really was this straightforwards.
  1920. Kaga sighed. "It's this kind of thing that makes her the lucky ship, huh...well, whatever. Our high-performance airfleet has increased; it's a good thing."
  1921. It appeared that Zuihou's first-attempt success in developing the Tenzan had taken her by surprise as well.
  1922. I nodded.
  1923. "Mm, yes. It's a good thing."
  1924. "This is first time seeing a Tenzan," Zuihou exclaimed excitedly. "Oh yes, what should we do with this? Put it in storage? Or bring it to Akagi-san?"
  1925. "...Mm...well, since it's so hard to get, I'll let you hold onto it."
  1926. "Eh?! Really?! Ah, you mean you're letting me hold onto it for now?"
  1927. "No, I'm going to let you use it. We can make one for Akagi soon enough. I'll be counting on you from here on out."
  1928. "Y-yes! I'll definitely be able to help!"
  1929. Zuihou was positively glowing.
  1930.  
  1931. Next up, Kaga explained to me the "Construction" process.
  1932. It was nearly dinner, so the explanation was short and concise:
  1933. To put it simply, resources and development material goes in, shipgirl comes out.
  1934. The more resources you invest, the higher the likelihood that a strong shipgirl comes out. In the end, however, the shipgirl that comes out, like the "development" process, is completely based on luck.
  1935. For me, one point in particular caught my attention.
  1936. "So you're saying that they're not making the rigging, but the entire shipgirl?"
  1937. "...Yes."
  1938. Without their rigging, shipgirls looked identical to humans, so this was a little bit shocking.
  1939. I looked to Kaga and Zuihou.
  1940. "You guys...are you really not humans?"
  1941. "..."
  1942. Kaga said nothing.
  1943. Zuihou tilted her head to one side.
  1944. "Hm...how is it? Maybe it's a little different here or there...but I haven't really confirmed it."
  1945. "I see."
  1946. "If the Admiral believes that he 'must find out no matter what,' does he want to confirm it? If it's just looking..."
  1947. "I-if it's just looking?"
  1948. "If it's just looking...although it's a little embarrassing..."
  1949. ——What is she talking about? What am I supposed to be looking at?
  1950. Kaga glanced over.
  1951.  
  1952. "...Rejected."
  1953. Zuihou raised her palms, face red.
  1954. "O-of course I mean that if the Admiral says that 'I must investigate the differences between shipgirls in humans no matter what,' then we cannot disobey orders, you know?!"
  1955. Kaga sighed.
  1956. "Although shipgirls are born to take orders...there is a point at which one has gone too far in all things."
  1957. I frantically shook my head and stammered:
  1958. "A-ah no, of course I wouldn't give that kind of order! Regardless of how closely you resemble humans or where you differ, I will continue to command you as shipgirls! That's obvious!"
  1959. Kaga nodded.
  1960. Zuihou smiled a somewhat lonely smile.
  1961. "Ah...yeah. I'm a shipgirl, after all...not a human..."
  1962. ——What?
  1963. She's clearly correct...but then what is this feeling?
  1964. Then again, I can't quite phrase my concerns in a concrete form. I'll just keep it in mind.
  1965. Either way, let's try to build a shipgirl.
  1966. From the records, it appears that my predecessor often attempted a combination of 30 units of fuel, 30 units of ammunition, 30 units of steel and 30 units of bauxite in her constructions.
  1967. "What does this combination of resources indicate?"
  1968. "...It appears that this was surmised to be a recipe that yielded high-performance destroyers."
  1969. "Ah, I see...well then, let's try this out. Shall I leave it to you, Kaga?"
  1970. "Mm, let us try it out."
  1971. Kaga nodded
  1972. as she deposited the resources on the construction table.
  1973. Unlike development, construction looked as if it would take some time to elapse.
  1974. "...Good, it seems like this one will take quite some time."
  1975. "Do we have to keep staring at it?"
  1976. "That is unnecessary."
  1977. In that case, it would be a waste of time to dally here.
  1978. We decided to leave the factory for now.
  1979.  
  1980. It was already suppertime, and Zuihou left for the shipgirls' mess hall.
  1981. My meal was in the Command Office.
  1982. The Admiral dining in the mess hall with his subordinates would only make them unnecessarily nervous.
  1983. Moreover, the higher up's meals were rather luxurious; I would be self-conscious if I ate at the same table with my subordinates anyway.
  1984. Separate dining accommodations for the superior and subordinate was both natural and logical.
  1985. Even if it was just me and secretary ship Kaga.
  1986.  
  1987. There appeared to be somebody in the command office when I returned.
  1988. "Hm...you are the supply officer...no? If I recall correctly, you should be..."
  1989. Peering from behind a pair of glasses, this dark-haired, knowledgeable young woman was the light cruiser Ooyodo.
  1990. "Thank you for your work, Admiral."
  1991. "Did something happen?"
  1992. She wore a rather odd sailor uniform. Though it was modeled after the uniforms used in countless girl's schools, it had clearly once been a navy uniform.
  1993. The back flap of a sailor uniform collar can be raised from the back to help receive sound (note: that doesn't even sound remotely plausible.)
  1994. It was a modification that made it easier to hear orders on a warship.
  1995. As to how this naval uniform became the hallmark of girl's schools——well, the truth is that the queen of a certain nation (Note: Queen Victoria) had quite adored the design. Her son the prince went cruising, and so it entered into the realm of children's clothes. From there it caught on among women as well.
  1996. My country adopted the uniform for girl's schools because they were popular at the time.
  1997. ——As such, this uniform isn't a school uniform, but a true military uniform. Probably.
  1998. I still don't really get it though.
  1999. Hell, why are there holes at her waist that show her skin?
  2000. It's really distracting. Then again, she is a shipgirl, so she must have some kind of special reason.
  2001. Ooyodo spoke.
  2002. "GHQ has new orders for you, Admiral."
  2003. "Ah? Was it wired over?"
  2004. "No. I can communicate directly with GHQ."
  2005. "That's damn impressive,"
  2006. I exclaimed as I glanced at Ooyodo.
  2007. Ooyodo proudly puffed up her chest.
  2008. "I am one of the new model specially-designed flagship light cruisers, after all. Leave fleet Commands and Operations to me."
  2009. "How reliable...but, putting together operations...isn't that the secretary ship's job?"
  2010. "Of course, I would do my utmost as secretary ship as well!"
  2011. A brilliant smile floated onto Ooyodo's face.
  2012. In return, Kaga responded with an antarctic frostiness:
  2013.  
  2014. "I will not back down here."
  2015.  
  2016. Kaga glared with eyes that had seen many a battle. Ooyodo's smile, however, remained as cheerful as before.
  2017. "Hmhm...the one who decides that is the Admiral."
  2018. She smiled a gentle smile that filled one with reassurance. Even under such overwhelming pressure, she could still smile like this——indeed, she had managed to turn the tables and put pressure on her opponent.
  2019. Kaga looked over to me.
  2020. "...that is true...the decision on the secretary ship is decided by the Admiral."
  2021. "Mmm...isn't that true, Admiral?"
  2022. "Eh?! While I now know that Ooyodo can help in assembling operations, I have no reason to be dissatisfied with Kaga's performance and no intention of switching. And I most certainly have no intentions of deciding who is better."
  2023. Would she be angry or hurt? Neither, it transpired——though she seemed to have been taken by surprise, her smile never faded.
  2024. "Well, I understand. But if you wish to find me, I will always be here, whenever you need me. I will be waiting."
  2025. "Ah, ahh..."
  2026. "Well then, shall I read out the new orders from GHQ?"
  2027. Speaking of which, that was why we were here in the first place.
  2028.  
  2029. The operation would be called "The Operation Ah-go Decisive Battle."
  2030. Destroy the powerful enemy mobile task force located at the Okinoshima islands!
  2031. Ooyodo recited:
  2032. "In ten days, the fleet will be embarking on a large-scale transport operation. While we have attempted this operation three times in the past, our convoys have always been intercepted and assaulted by the Abyssals en route, leading to grievous losses among both the transports and their escorts and the subsequent failure of the operation. A more roundabout route has been considered, but such a route would provide more opportunities for interception by the Abyssals and greater consumption of fuel supplies, further complicating the situation.
  2033. Failure of this operation could lead to significant shortages in daily necessities among the populace."
  2034.  
  2035.  
  2036. I nodded as the recitation ended.
  2037. "I see, so it's an overseas convoy."
  2038. "Indeed. There are a great many supplies and materials that cannot be locally sourced...examples include fuel and rubber, as well as many pharmaceuticals and medical supplies."
  2039. Many modern drugs and pharmaceuticals must be produced overseas, and are needed by large subsections of the populace.
  2040. Fuel is also important; while the weather is warming up, the northern municipalities will still need to stay warm. Local trade and industry are also highly dependent on fuel.
  2041. Our nation is heavily dependent on overseas imports, and the only way to move such resources in bulk is over the sea.
  2042. The success or failure of this operation could affect the lives of countless individuals.
  2043. "I am completely aware of the significance of this operation. I have no further questions or concerns."
  2044. "Well then, I shall send out the confirmation receipt."
  2045. "In ten days, huh..."
  2046. Performing the remaining formalities, Ooyodo turned towards the door.
  2047. At the door, she turned around once more to show her usual smile.
  2048. "Should the Admiral require it, I shall stand at the front as the fleet's flagship. After all, I am the new model light cruiser built for that purpose."
  2049. And with those last words, she left the office.
  2050.  
  2051. "Hm...a very...energetic individual. Kind of like Ashigara."
  2052. While it's great that fighting spirits are high, it's also important to limit the sortieing shipgirls in the interest of conserving resources. How troublesome.
  2053. Kaga sighed:
  2054. "Rather than energetic...it's more like..."
  2055. "Like?"
  2056. "A feeling of responsibility...or perhaps regret?"
  2057. Did something happen in the past?
  2058. But on the topic of Ooyodo, Kaga said not a single word more.
  2059.  
  2060. Kaga presented me with a dossier regarding the Okinoshima Waters, the target of the Operation Ah-Go decisive battle.
  2061. "...These are Okinoshima Island Waters."
  2062. "Hm? Kaga, aren't you looking kind of pale?"
  2063. "...Yes...these orders...the previous Admiral had received them as well."
  2064. "Ahh, the convoys will have to pass through here if they want to reach the southwest. These really are important waters."
  2065. "...The fleet was forced to retreat midway...leading to the failure of the operation."
  2066. Kaga looked somber.
  2067. I raised my eyebrows.
  2068. "A retreat?"
  2069. "The previous Admiral used battleships as the core of the fleet. Unfortunately, one of the shipgirls was heavily damaged en route. Even though the enemy main fleet was before our eyes...she decided to retreat."
  2070. "Is that so...so the scale of the enemy deployment is that large as well...meaning that the enemy can also grasp how vital those bits of rock and sand are. Do we have the records on that operation?"
  2071. "Here."
  2072. Kaga passed over the dossier.
  2073. These were the previous Admiral's Operational Records.
  2074. I skimmed over the document.
  2075. "Is that so..."
  2076. With Battlewagons as the core, this fleet prioritized arms and armor above all else.
  2077. The fleet consisted of Nagato, Mutsu, Atago, Ashigara, Haguro and Ooyodo.
  2078. A thought occurred to me.
  2079. "Hey, why don't we deploy all of the shipgirls at once? I know it'll be annoying to resupply afterwards, but..."
  2080. But given that this was a large-scale transport operation, it seemed worth it to pull out all the stops.
  2081. "...If the fleet deploys with more than six ships, it becomes easier for the abyssal scouts to detect us and locate us...we would come under heavy enemy air attack well before reaching the target area."
  2082. "That's not good."
  2083. "Moreover, the flagship is already expected to command two fleets, a total of twelve shipgirls. Any more and she wouldn't be able to keep track of them all."
  2084. So I could still deploy two fleets as a combined fleet, huh.
  2085. But then again, if we ran into an air raid...
  2086. Well, our current anti-air capabilities aren't exactly inspiring confidence just yet.
  2087. "Hm...based on our current supply stockpiles, a single six-ship fleet is more suitable. After all, the island the Abyssals use as an anchorage is quite close."
  2088. If the island mobilizes its entire air contingent, we'd be hard-pressed to hold them off even if I sortied the naval district's entire carrier wing.
  2089. Plus that could bring up the specter of fighting those giant invincible carriers in a head to head battle.
  2090. In order to evade Abyssal detection, it'd be better to stick with a six-man fleet.
  2091.  
  2092. I flipped through the data once more.
  2093. The achievements of Nagato and the others were all listed.
  2094. Enemy patrol encountered, defeated.
  2095. Next, an enemy surface fleet encountered, confirmed to be led by a battleship Ru-class, also defeated...
  2096. ——Battleship Ru-class?!
  2097. My mind raced back to that moment, that battle where I had lost my closest friend.
  2098. That bastard is there too?!
  2099. No...recent reports have confirmed that there are multiples of abyssals such as the Ru-class battleships; it shouldn't be that particular one.
  2100. I took a deep breath.
  2101. Kaga poured a cup of tea.
  2102. "Are you alright?"
  2103. "Mm..."
  2104. I'm a little calmer now, having drank a few mouthfuls of the hot tea.
  2105. In that past sortie——they had run into an enemy Mobile Carrier Task Force and engaged a flagship Wo-class. In this battle, Ooyodo was heavily damaged.
  2106. Didn't they get defeated by a carrier?"
  2107. "They did."
  2108. "Then why does Nagato put so little weight on our carriers' views?"
  2109. "The enemy carrier was quite unique, particularly in regards to its aircraft...these aircraft could lift off and operate at night."
  2110. "Mm..."
  2111. Looking at the data, I confirmed that the enemy did indeed employ special aircraft.
  2112. By just altering their equipment, their aircraft could freely alternate between operating as a fighter, torpedo bomber or dive bomber——a dream fuselage.
  2113. Moreover, our side's airplanes can't operate at night; the enemy has no such worries.
  2114. "Are there any precise records on the enemy planes' specs?"
  2115. Kaga shook her head.
  2116. The Battle Records relied almost entirely on the shipgirls' testimony. The only other source of information would be any observations that could be gleaned from the observation module, provided the Admiral could write them down.
  2117. It'd be great if we had the afterbattle records of our fighters.
  2118. "Why did the previous Admiral prevent the carriers from deploying?"
  2119. "Because their firepower and armor are both subpar."
  2120. "But couldn't they protect our side from the enemy planes?
  2121. "Who knows? Compared to our planes, aren't the enemy planes superior in performance?"
  2122. "What about using some of those high-spec planes we just developed?"
  2123. "...We haven't tried it."
  2124. "While I understand that experience can only be gained through real battle, we do have ten days. Can't we try deploying a few times first?"
  2125. If we need more datapoints, we're going to have to sortie.
  2126. Kaga's pained expression conveyed her thoughts.
  2127. "...that would be rather difficult. Once we deploy to the Abyssal waters, we will be engaged in a series of battles. Compared to exercises, resource consumption on sortie is rather...well, Nagato and Mutsu consume quite a bit of resources. Moreover, repairs can take some time once a ship is heavily damaged."
  2128. "Ah...is that so..."
  2129. "That's written in the records."
  2130. I looked down at the beginning of the dossier.
  2131. Sure enough, quite a few retreats were recorded.
  2132. The magnitude of resource consumption was not lost even on me, a newcomer to the naval district.
  2133. Add on repair time, and there'd be barely any time for a second sortie.
  2134. Afterwards the convoys would have to force their way through abyssal-held waters...
  2135. The escorts could fight as hard as they could, but the end result would be the same...
  2136. It wasn't very hard for me to visualize that hellish scenario. I wiped the sweat off my brow.
  2137. "...The fleet was practically in arm's reach of the enemy main fleet...and yet my predecessor chose to retreat."
  2138. "That was the order she gave."
  2139. If the shipgirls retreated, the transport operation would fail.
  2140. "Theoretically, if the fleet were to advance while a shipgirl was heavily damaged, what would happen?"
  2141. "While I cannot be absolutely sure..."
  2142. "Just a guess will suffice."
  2143. Her response didn't require that much thought. It seems as if she had contemplated what would happen had they advanced many times before.
  2144. "Nagato and company may have been able to destroy the enemy main fleet and force the Abyssals out of Okinoshima."
  2145. "If it had occurred, the previous transport operation would have succeeded."
  2146. "Indeed. This course of action isn't wrong. No, it would have been the correct choice..."
  2147. There were words in between the lines.
  2148. It wouldn't have been the incorrect choice, but it'd be hard to say that it was the right choice.
  2149. ——Does this decision to retreat have anything to do with the previous Admiral's current absence?
  2150. "...Let me just confirm again: you said that my predecessor had no problems with the shipgirls, correct?"
  2151. She nodded unhesitatingly.
  2152. "Yes."
  2153. "And she had never done anything like punishing herself."
  2154. "Yes. She was a rather proper and upstanding individual who made few mistakes."
  2155. "And yet she is not here. Is there a position more important than the Admiral in charge of the Shipgirls? There can't be, this is Humanity's last defense."
  2156. "...Perhaps that is true."
  2157. "She abandoned such an important responsibility, and then refused to even take the time to search for me or another successor...all this gives off a feeling that she didn't want to see the same thing happen again."
  2158. "...Perhaps that is what GHQ thinks."
  2159. "In other words, the Admiral's 'failure' was not in her relations with the shipgirls or her daily conduct. That leaves only her combat results."
  2160. Kaga sighed, deeply.
  2161. A sigh of confirmation.
  2162. After a short silence, she nodded and spoke softly:
  2163. "It is as you surmised...she ignored orders, and prioritized the safe return of her shipgirls above all."
  2164. "And this was why she was dismissed?"
  2165. "...The truth of it all is unknown...but that is what I believe."
  2166. "The operation failed so that her shipgirls would return to port..."
  2167. "We, too, can understand the importance of this operation. I'm sure she was equally aware, and made her preparations."
  2168. "...Preparations?"
  2169. "Her luggage had been packed by the time the transfer order was given."
  2170. It appears that she had also been aware what retreat would mean.
  2171. Even so, she had chosen to retreat.
  2172. Protecting the heavily damaged Ooyodo as she returned to port.
  2173. "Let's say the fleet advanced, and the Abyssals were defeated. What would happen to the heavily-damaged shipgirl?"
  2174. "Damaged shipgirls can no longer operate at normal levels of performance...should they continue to battle, it may become difficult to conduct evasive maneuvers."
  2175. Wouldn't they just be targets then?
  2176. Kaga's teeth were clenched as she forced out each syllable.
  2177. "Ooyodo would definitely have been sunk under abyssal fire."
  2178. "She'd be sunk...huh..."
  2179. The air felt heavy. It was as if the entire room had sank to the ocean bottom.
  2180. Breathing was euqally difficult.
  2181. I adjusted my uniform collar. Not that it would change anything...
  2182. What Ooyodo had said in the Command Office floated into my mind.
  2183.  
  2184. "Should the Admiral require it, I shall stand at the front as the fleet's flagship. After all, I am the new model light cruiser built for that purpose."
  2185.  
  2186. She was not seeking to be the flagship, or the secretary ship.
  2187. She was attempting to atone for the failure to advance.
  2188. How does she see the previous Admiral's decision not to advance right now? Because she was heavily damaged, the fleet retreated; because the fleet retreated, the Abyssals were not defeated; because the Abyssals were not defeated, the transport fleet was annihilated; because the transport fleet was annihilated, the operation failed and great amounts of men and materiel were lost.
  2189. Moreover, the previous Admiral was sacked.
  2190. "So that's how it is...responsibility and regret, huh?"
  2191. Kaga wouldn't be able to say it.
  2192. Ooyodo's thoughts were hers and hers alone.
  2193. "What would the Admiral do?"
  2194. "Mmm..."
  2195. When a shipgirl is heavily damaged; when retreat would lead to the loss of thousands of lives and the loss of your rank; when the enemy main fleet is right before your eyes ——
  2196.  
  2197. "Would the Admiral choose to 'Advance', or to 'Retreat'?"
  2198.  
  2199. I don't have an answer.
  2200.  
  2201.  
  2202.  
  2203. Part 4 - The Operation Ah-Go Decisive Battle
  2204.  
  2205. Three days later——
  2206. I assembled everyone once more to the operations planning room after lunch and announced the commencement of Decisive Fleet Operation Ah-Go.
  2207. Only a few murmurs and whispers squeaked through the crowd.
  2208. After all, this was business the previous Admiral had been unable to finish; they were aware that the order would doubtlessly come down once more.
  2209. Nagato stepped forwards.
  2210. "I will be sortieing, of course?"
  2211. "Indeed...however, we will not sortie immediately. We will be spending time to prepare; the combat phase will begin one week from now."
  2212. "Oh? We won't sortie right away?"
  2213. "Based on our current resource stockpile, it would be difficult to mount multiple sorties. As such we will amass what preparations we can before launching an all-out offensive."
  2214. "Hmph...a clean, decisive campaign, huh? I don't dislike those either."
  2215. Mutsu spoke up airily.
  2216. "Ara, does that also mean that I will also be featured?"
  2217. It was only natural to think that my predecessor's sortie fleet would also be deploying this time. Ooyodo also stood at the front;
  2218. Atago and Ashigara also seemed resolved to make this operation a success.
  2219. The only one left was the black-haired girl with the short hair-cut——Haguro hid in the back, seemingly devoid of any fighting spirit. Based on Aoba's notes, Haguro was a shy and withdrawn person.
  2220. ——As expected, I had chosen the right people.
  2221. Choosing the vanguard for the first time was an incredibly important task.
  2222. These would be the shipgirls I would be relying for my first assignment.
  2223. If I failed, it would also be my final assignment.
  2224. And so, with that, I recited the ships I had chosen over three days and three nights of deliberations.
  2225. "Flagship, Battleship Nagato."
  2226. "Mm, excellent!"
  2227. Nagato balled her fist.
  2228. "Next up, Battleship Mutsu!"
  2229. "It's my turn, huh. Alright, leave it to me!"
  2230. Mutsu stepped forwards. She put a hand on her waist in a flirtatious pose, as if to display her curvaceous body.
  2231. Even in such a serious setting, I could not stop myself from blushing.
  2232. I never thought that my inability to deal with women would have ever been an obstacle to my role as Admiral.
  2233. Coughing twice, I resumed my recitation:
  2234. "Heavy Cruisers, Atago, Ashigara."
  2235. "Pan paka-pan~ Admiral, I'll give it my all!"
  2236. "It's sortie time! The battle beckons me! Victory calls for me!"
  2237. Until now, everyone appeared to have seen these assignments as the natural result.
  2238. I looked towards Ooyodo, clearly anticipating the call to arms.
  2239. "Sorry...this time around, there will be some personnel changes."
  2240. "Eh?"
  2241. "I am fully aware of Ooyodo's determination and dedication. However, based on past records and my evaluation, I have decided to sortie other shipgirls."
  2242. Ooyodo bit her lip.
  2243. But even that was for a moment. A moment later she had resumed her normal smile, as if she had never done anything different.
  2244. "If the Admiral believes that this will increase our odds, then please do as you will. Do not mind me."
  2245. "Thank you. This was a decision that was reached after much contemplation and deliberation. I also wish to defeat the Abyssals stationed at Okinoshima, and avenge my predecessor's regrets. Yours, as well."
  2246. Until now, Ooyodo had been smiling; at this moment, they turned a little misty.
  2247. "...Yes...I believe you, Admiral."
  2248. The Shipgirls started to chatter among themselves. The only light cruiser, Ooyodo, had just been replaced. Would other Heavy Cruisers be called up? There was nobody else among the heavy cruisers as experienced as Ashigara and Atago. No matter how much more powerful they were than light cruisers, they wouldn't get far without the experience to match.
  2249. It wouldn't do to sortie Destroyers either.
  2250. So who would be called up?
  2251. These thoughts issued unceasing from the crowd.
  2252. So I spoke the name of the next ship to sortie.
  2253. "Standard Aircraft Carrier, Akagi."
  2254. "My deepest gratitude. Please leave it to me."
  2255. Akagi stepped forwards.
  2256. Nagato and company turned with shock.
  2257. "An Aircraft Carrier, of all things?"
  2258. Those doubts merited an explanation, after all.
  2259. "Yes. For a fleet, the Aircraft Carrier plays an incredibly important role."
  2260. "I understand the value of an aircraft carrier as well; the previous Admiral had also attempted to use them. But the enemy carrier was simply far too strong; with our Naval District's airfleet, isn't this an exercise in futility?"
  2261. "The training and experience of our carriers is not lacking; what has prevented them from reaching their full potential..."
  2262. ...Is because the previous Admiral had deployed them incorrectly, I wanted to say.
  2263. Saying that out loud, however, would probably be a bad idea.
  2264. It is both undignified and impolite to disparage someone who isn't here. I'd have to put it another way.
  2265. "...The point being, I am trying to determine the best possible strategy."
  2266. "Mm...well, if that is how the Admiral feels, then so be it. No matter: I'll just devastate the Abyssals!"
  2267. With Nagato accepting this point, the assembled shipgirls' attentions turned to the next issue.
  2268. Who would be the last member of the fleet?
  2269. Most eyes were turned upon Secretary Ship Kaga.
  2270. This Naval District's strongest Standard Carrier, equipped with the most elite air groups.
  2271. But the ship I had in mind was different.
  2272.  
  2273. "The sixth member is...Light Aircraft Carrier, Zuihou.
  2274.  
  2275. "Ehhhh——?!"
  2276. The source of that screech was none other than Zuihou herself.
  2277. She clearly had not been expecting this; she stood at the edge of the group.
  2278. Next to her, Zuihou and Shouhou also expressed their shock.
  2279. The murmur of shock among the shipgirls was far greater than I imagined.
  2280. Nagato did not hold back when she finally spoke.
  2281. "Admiral, what do you mean by this? Zuihou? This girl's a light carrier!"
  2282. "...Ah...yes, she is..however, in terms of detection ability and evasion..."
  2283. "Her armor and durability are both subpar!"
  2284. "That is true...but this is the best combination of ships for defeating the Abyssals stationed at the target I could come up with."
  2285. "Don't joke with me! If you're going to choose an aircraft carrier, at least choose Kaga!"
  2286. "I have something I wish Kaga-san to do."
  2287. "Enough of that! What is a mere Light Carrier expected to contribute on those seas?!"
  2288. Nagato's shouts made her anger clear.
  2289. The sudden and unwitting target Zuihou looked around in confusion.
  2290. "Ah...um..."
  2291. But the other shipgirls also watched with doubt.
  2292. ——Would she be able to do her part?
  2293. "Of course. Based on analysis of past records..."
  2294. "I lived and fought in those records, Admiral; I've been in nearly every battle and skirmish written in there! What we need in battle is firepower and armor!"
  2295. "I do not disagree, but a fleet must fulfill other purposes. Among the carriers of this Naval District, Zuihou is second only to Akagi in practical combat experience. I believe she will be able to adapt and succeed at Okinoshima."
  2296. This was an argument I had formed after significant thought. There was no better fleet composition.
  2297. I had not expected such resistance, and so I had not prepared enough material with which to convince them.
  2298. I would have to plead guilty to any accusations of naïveté leveled against me.
  2299. It's easy to explain a mathematics problem, just describe how you reached the answer. But whether the end result matches up is another story.
  2300. How should I explain my reasoning here?
  2301. Perhaps it was my consternation that deepened Nagato's doubts, for the words she said moments later were shocking.
  2302.  
  2303. "Could it be that the Admiral is biased towards Zuihou?"
  2304.  
  2305. "What did you just say?"
  2306. "I had heard that you had met each other before you came to the Naval District; apparently your relationship was quite good."
  2307. "Indeed; before I became the Admiral, I once saw Zuihou in battle. When I came to the Naval District, I also spoke with her. However, this has nothing to do with my selection for the sortie fleet."
  2308. "Really?"
  2309. "Do you believe I would be so biased? This is a matter that will determine the success or failure of the operation?"
  2310. "Do you have proof that there is no emotional conflict of interest in your decision"
  2311. "Hm? If you want proof..."
  2312. The room was in chaos.
  2313. Zuihou turned, shoulders trembling, and spoke.
  2314. "U-um!"
  2315. The room plunged into silence at her voice. All eyes turned to her.
  2316. But Zuihou did not continue.
  2317. With the unnerving gazes of everyone around her transfixed upon her, she could not open her mouth to speak.
  2318. Tears welled up in her eyes.
  2319. "...I, I...can't do it!"
  2320. She turned away and ran from the operations planning room.
  2321. I didn't expect this.
  2322. "Zuihou!"
  2323. ——Should I follow?
  2324. Hold on. If I did that, I would not be able to answer to the other shipgirls. That WOULD be bias.
  2325. The unease among the shipgirls continued to crescendo.
  2326. A thousand different thoughts surfaced with no result.
  2327. At this rate, nevermind the Okinoshima Operation; this whole Naval District could be in a crisis!
  2328.  
  2329. Bam!
  2330. The Air cracked.
  2331.  
  2332. Instant silence.
  2333. That was Kaga clapping.
  2334. Her gaze swept over the assembled shipgirls, sharp enough to cut. Not a shipgirl dared breathe.
  2335. The tension was accompanied by silence.
  2336. Looking over each of them, Kaga spoke, her voice harsh:
  2337. "...Do you all have a problem with the Admiral's decision? Well then...go on, tell me. Do you have another way to take the Okinoshima Island Waters? Or do you want the same result as last time?"
  2338. The other shipgirls said nothing.
  2339. It looks like they didn't have much to say. Plus, nobody wanted to repeat what happened last time.
  2340. Nobody would want to experience that twice. The Abyssals undefeated, the transport operation destroyed, the Admiral relieved of duty due to a failure to complete the operation.
  2341. Nagato clearly could not accept this arrangement, but she, too, suggested no alternative.
  2342. Even with a focus on firepower and armor, the result would be the same as before. And of course, the consequences would be as before...
  2343. I straightened my cap.
  2344. "This is not bias, but a composition required for victory. I have no intention to go out of my way to prove this. If you will not believe me no matter what, then I cannot force you."
  2345. "Mm..."
  2346. Nagato had a ponderous expression.
  2347. I shrugged.
  2348. "Even so, even if you do not believe in me, I will still believe in you."
  2349. "Hm?"
  2350. "If it is Nagato, I believe that she will bring victory, regardless of the composition..."
  2351. "Hm?!"
  2352. Nagato's expression lit up.
  2353. Her eyes blazed.
  2354. I just figured I'd try——maybe she'd accept it? But isn't this a little to simple...well, whatever, I'll take it.
  2355. Nagato raised her fist.
  2356.  
  2357. "Of course! As long as I am here, it doesn't matter what composition we have! Leave the enemy battleships to me!"
  2358.  
  2359. Nagato is a good person too.
  2360.  
  2361. Zuihou's room——
  2362. According to Inazuma and Ikazuchi, this was where they had followed her to after they fled.
  2363. Although I tried to knock, I had gotten no response.
  2364. If I knocked too hard, it'd seem like I were threatening her.
  2365. But I can't just leave either. Zuihou is necessary for this operation.
  2366. I opened the door.
  2367.  
  2368. The first thing I saw as I entered——
  2369. Christ, that's a lot of planes.
  2370. Of course, they weren't real planes, just well-made plastic models. They were all placed on glass shelves that ran the length of one of the walls.
  2371. Speaking of which, Zuihou loves planes.
  2372. Piles of model boxes filled the room.
  2373. And, on a desk surrounded by boxes, Zuihou was putting together a model, her back to me.
  2374. She seemed fully focused. She didn't even seem to have noticed me coming in.
  2375. She seemed to be mumbling something as she worked.
  2376. Let me try to listen a bit——
  2377. "In the end, I still ended up running away...but, I'm just not strong like Nagato-san...sigh...even if you're not strong, your legs sure are cute...these legs..."
  2378. She was putting together a Type 99 Bomber as she spoke. The room was already full of Type 99 models.
  2379. Okay, I really shouldn't just stand here like this.
  2380. I coughed politely.
  2381. "Ahem."
  2382. Zuihou nearly jumped before turning.
  2383. "A-admiral?"
  2384. Those eyes looked at me like a child scared of an angry parent.
  2385. I sat down next to the door, so our positions would be a little more equal.
  2386. "Sorry, I came in on my own."
  2387. "Ahh, ahh....s-sorry!"
  2388. "Zuihou, regarding the composition this time...Nagato has agreed to it. The only thing left is how you feel about it."
  2389. She gaped in shock.
  2390. "Nagato? No, but, I lost in the exercise earlier too...does the Admiral really think that I can do my part on the battlefield?"
  2391. Looks like she doesn't have much self-confidence, so she thought that I was biased towards her.
  2392. This might take a while——saying that, I spread out my datasheets.
  2393. "These are records from previous battles."
  2394. "Yes...so...?"
  2395. "Look at these numbers. These are the conditions in which hits were scored..."
  2396. I slowly broke down how to read the information, and how I used information to derive other statistics on a shipgirl's abilities——information not written in the records.
  2397. To each question and doubt, I provided a detailed answer.
  2398. Like an instructor in the academy and a new student. I might not know how to make small talk with others, but Academia is my fucking jam.
  2399. As each of her concerns were swept aside, Zuihou's expression also began to change: as the hours passed, her unease slowly began to give way to acceptance.
  2400. "...So that's how that is."
  2401. "Of course, these are just theories, but I believe it's worth testing."
  2402. "The reason Admiral chose me...I think I understand a little now."
  2403. That's great.
  2404. It looks like the analytical explanation was pretty much done.
  2405. And yet her expression still looked a little downcast.
  2406. "Is there something else troubling you?"
  2407. With hesitation, she finally spoke with a quiet voice.
  2408. "...I...earlier, I ran away...when the Admiral called upon me, even though I'm a shipgirl...even though I always said light carriers would be able to do their part...can I really be trusted by the Admiral——"
  2409. "You can."
  2410. I put a hand on her shoulder.
  2411. She still isn't sufficiently confident in herself. That's why she tried harder than anyone to train, just like what she was doing on the day I came to the Naval District.
  2412. "Based on this data, I am confident you will be able to show your achievements. The same holds for your erstwhile efforts...please, believe me, who believes in you!"
  2413. "Admiral..."
  2414. Zuihou's eyes looked moist once more.
  2415. I took off my hat and lowered my head.
  2416. "Regarding the meeting earlier...it was wrong for me to publicly announce this without consulting you first. It was because there are no records of you ever running away from an abyssal ship. Unless we should go over the records again?"
  2417. "Eh? N-no need! I got it!"
  2418. Zuihou raised her hands.
  2419. "Well then can you do it?"
  2420. After a short moment of contemplation, she nodded.
  2421. "I understand. I shall believe in myself. Admiral, please believe in me as well; please believe that we light carriers, too, can achieve."
  2422. "Of course."
  2423. "No matter what time? No matter how dangerous it is, please believe in me until the end, okay?"
  2424. "I promise to you. No matter what time, what place, I shall always believe in Zuihou——in exchange, you must promise to return, alive, to the Naval District."
  2425. "Mm, I will definitely return. I promise."
  2426. "Thanks. In order to ensure that you destroy the Abyssals and return peacefully, I, too, will also do all I can."
  2427. "I'll be in your care, Admiral!"
  2428. Zuihou beamed before lowering her head——and then sighed deeply as she raised her head.
  2429. "Sigh..."
  2430. "Ah, sorry...I guess after suddenly springing all that on you, you're tired?"
  2431. "Ah? No...I just feel a little wistful...ahaha."
  2432. "Wistful?"
  2433. "Mm...A-although it's kind of rude to everyone else...but to be honest, when everyone thought you were biased towards me, I felt just a little happy. As if the Admiral might be seeing me as a girl...ahhhhhhh, it's too embarassing after all! All of that, pretend you didn't hear it!"
  2434. "I-is that so..."
  2435. Of course I couldn't see Zuihou just as a shipgirl...
  2436. Thinking about it, I suddenly felt a bit of shock.
  2437. ——What the hell am I thinking about?
  2438. Zuihou is a shipgirl.
  2439. And I'm the Admiral.
  2440. From her point of view, I'm her superior.
  2441. From her place, her superior's orders are absolute. They could even be orders to die.
  2442. In this kind of relationship, I'm having feelings towards the shipgirls...not to mention, isn't this literally an emotional conflict of interest? An abuse of one's position?
  2443. But then Zuihou was wondering whether I was seeing her as a girl.
  2444. She wants to be treated like a normal girl.
  2445. Are all shipgirls like this? Or has only Zuihou changed in this fashion? I don't know. But, I'll need to pay attention to her feelings from here on out.
  2446. ——After all, I can definitely feel Zuihou's appeal.
  2447. I have to be careful not to say anything coercive, and respond to her feelings with her emotions in mind.
  2448. This is going to be tough.
  2449. "...Zuihou has a lot of appeal too."
  2450. "You mean in terms of abilities? Thank you for your praise."
  2451. "No, that's...I was saying as a girl...when I first saw you, I thought you were beautiful...when I say that, are you happy?"
  2452. "Eh? Ehhhh?!"
  2453. "I don't know how to evaluate a girl's appeal, so I'm not sure how much value my words hold...but it would be impossible to say that yo uare devoid of a female's appeal——that is what I wanted to say."
  2454. "Ueeehhhhhhh..."
  2455. It's a roundabout way to say it. But this way I can validate and affirm her appeal without factoring in my personal feelings.
  2456. Zuihou's ears had turned a deep shade of beetroot.
  2457. "A-appeal?"
  2458. "Ah? Mm...yeah, that's how I would put it."
  2459. "C-cute?"
  2460. "Yes. When you smile, it's especially cute."
  2461. "Ehhehe....cuter than a Type 99's Feet?"
  2462. "Can we really compare those? Although I'm not too sure, but based on how humans evaluate others, I think that you have appeal."
  2463. "T-this is no good, Admiral...we're Admiral and Shipgirl, you and I."
  2464. "...Mm...I am very aware."
  2465. Of course it's forbidden. Shipgirls are humanity's hope, the only way to hold back the Abyssals.
  2466. I felt emotions I had never felt before at the bottom of my heart.
  2467. Zuihou murmured to herself.
  2468. "...Ahhhhhh....I'm not registered, is it okay to marry? Hold on, people and shipgirls, can they even conceive children?"
  2469. ——Hm? Did I just hear marriage?
  2470. No way, how could that be.
  2471. It seems like I'm not nearly as steady as I thought I was, if I don't pay attention.
  2472. "Zuihou, regarding everything from here on out."
  2473. "Y-yes....here on out, we....eh! When were you thinking about this? From here on out....ah, no, there isn't anything!"
  2474. "Well, I figured we'd better make a few, so I wanted to know whether you'd help."
  2475. "Uohhh....t-this quickly...we're going to make...?"
  2476. Zuihou looked away.
  2477. Her reaction isn't quite what I thought it'd be.
  2478. "Are you alright? I know you'll be busy training before sortieing, but I was hoping you'd be make time every night to do it."
  2479. "H-hold on...still, my heart still isn't prepared..."
  2480. "Zuihou can do it."
  2481. "D-do it?!"
  2482. "Haven't you made a Tenzan before?"
  2483. "...Eh?"
  2484. "For this operation, we require more high-performance carrier planes. I'll be counting on you for that."
  2485. "...Ah...mmm..."
  2486. For whatever reason, she is completely red.
  2487. I did my best to consider her feelings. As expected, though, understanding the female psyche is too difficult. I still have a long way to go.
  2488.  
  2489. Ten days after High Command's order——
  2490. Today is the sortie day.
  2491.  
  2492. "And so, we shall hereby execute the Decisive Fleet Battle, Operation Ah-go!
  2493.  
  2494. Before the words were finished, the six shipgirls in front of me saluted and set off from their docks. The other shipgirls waved them along.
  2495. That was several hours ago.
  2496. It was now the appointed time for the attack.
  2497. I sat alone in the Commander's Office, watching their situation.
  2498. Secretary Ship Kaga had just gone off to attend to other business.
  2499. On the screen I could see Nagato, Mutsu, Atago, Ashigara, Akagi and Zuihou's silhouettes.
  2500. Crashing through the waves, they soared across the water surface.
  2501.  
  2502. Not long after breaking through into the Okinoshima Island Waters——
  2503. Having dispatched reconnaissance planes, Zuihou called;"Nagato-san, scouts have detected a small enemy fleet!"
  2504. "Very good! All ships, prepare for shelling!"
  2505. The shipgirls swiftly went to battle stations.
  2506. Detecting an enemy fleet is a matter of prediction accuracy, the skill of the scout plane, and...well, sheer luck. While I always believed that Zuihou had sufficient quantities of each, this was still an impressive start.
  2507. I nodded in front of the monitor.
  2508. Engage the enemy from an advantageous angle, and then brawl it up at close range.
  2509. In order to seize the initiative, Akagi and Zuihou launched their bomber groups.
  2510. From the movement of the enemy fleet, they still haven't detected us. Based on past information, this isn't exactly an unbeatable enemy either.
  2511. But the tension did not dissipate.
  2512. After all, these creatures could take naval guns at short range as they demolished humanity. I had personally witnessed that.
  2513. Just remembering that moment doused me in cold sweat.
  2514. ——Can we really defeat the Abyssals?
  2515. The enemy fleet consisted of a Ri-class Heavy Cruiser, an elite Chi-class Torpedo Cruiser, a To-class Light Cruiser and two Ha-class destroyers.
  2516. No heavy ships; this was just a patrol fleet.
  2517. Akagi spoke up.
  2518. "It's just a picket fleet. This, at least, won't be some uphill fight."
  2519. As she said, our target is the fleet deep in the core of these waters.
  2520. Having seen the incoming bombers, the enemy vessels opened up with their anti-air guns.
  2521. But compared to Nagato and company's anti-air barrage at the exercise, this was nothing.
  2522. The bombers easily closed in and launched their torpedos.
  2523. Pillars of foam shot into the sky.
  2524. An inhuman, unearthly cry of anguish.
  2525. The previously soft and pliable, one of the abyssal's bodies ossified, as if transmuted into stone——and then fell apart.
  2526. ——Sunk!
  2527. The first time I had sank one of the "enemy"
  2528. The Abyssal formation was breaking up.
  2529. Right as they entered the shipgirl's firing range.
  2530. Nagato called:
  2531.  
  2532. "All main guns, fire——!"
  2533.  
  2534. Ear-numbing blasts rippled across the surface.
  2535. I felt the resonance even across the screen.
  2536. The massive plume of Nagato's salvo obscured all around her, illuminating her surroundings a deep scarlet. The smoke that followed also covered the screen.
  2537. A mere moment later...
  2538. The enemy vessels were once more bracketed by massive plumes of water.
  2539. Followed by explosions.
  2540. Shot on target!
  2541. I was clapping with joy inside. This is too amazing. For a conventional warships, hitting in the same general area of the enemy is already impressive. A little further and it'd be considered unsatisfactory.
  2542. To score a direct hit on the first salvo——that is proof of many battles fought and learned from.
  2543. In terms of range, Battleships Nagato and Mutsu had the advantage.
  2544. Indeed, the enemy was not yet even able to return fire.
  2545. Mutsu fired a final salvo before the enemy could respond.
  2546. The enemy fleet sank, billowing black smoke.
  2547. The scout planes circling above them confirmed the situation.
  2548. "Uhh...enemy fleet's destruction is confirmed! No enemies in the vicinity," Zuihou reported.
  2549. "Very good!"
  2550. Nagato nodded.
  2551. In front of the monitor, I also clenched my fist.
  2552. ——We won!
  2553. We destroyed an abyssal fleet!
  2554. Although the enemy was simply a small picket fleet, this was still my first time defeating the enemy. I trembled with joy. I wanted to shout.
  2555. Just to be sure, I'd better confirm the shipgirl's damage situation. Of course, since there was almost no counterattack, I could say that no damage was sustained. We simply expended some planes and ammunition.
  2556. From the speakers, Nagato's voice spoke out.
  2557. "Admiral, have you confirmed the situation? Save the praise for later, the battle has just started. Oh also, I should ask, should we 'Advance' or 'Retreat'?"
  2558. I smiled wryly.
  2559.  
  2560. If this system was capable of transmitting more information, I'd have praised them all over.
  2561. But all I can say now is a single phrase.
  2562. "Advance, of course."
  2563. Nagato nodded, her expression saying this was the obvious choice.
  2564. "Very good. All ships, follow closely!"
  2565. They continued to advanced towards the core of the Okinoshima island waters.
  2566.  
  2567. The image on the screen switched to a map.
  2568. I looked a little closer.
  2569. They were deviating from the intended path.
  2570. "Hm....we've deviated...?"
  2571. Kaga had told me about the route.
  2572.  
  2573. That was several days ago.
  2574. "Compass? Like the magnetic tool for determining location?"
  2575. "...Normally, yes."
  2576. "Is there something different about this one?
  2577. "When we go deep into Abyssal territory, normal compasses begin to malfunction."
  2578. "Is that so..."
  2579. Since these were enemies invulnerable to conventional weapons, there simply wasn't any reason to go deep into abyssal-controlled waters, so I had never heard of this variation in routes before.
  2580. On the high seas, it was practically impossible to sail consistently in the right direction without knowing one's own bearing and direction.
  2581. From her robes, Kaga took out a gold-rimmed compass, about the size of a pocketwatch.
  2582. "This is a compass designed for the shipgirls...without this, it'd be practically impossible to encounter the Abyssal core fleets."
  2583. "Is that so? That's amazing."
  2584. "...Unfortunately, it is not capable of altogether avoiding all interference. Whether it points the right way is often due purely on lucky...are you a lucky one?"
  2585. "Well, I don't like games of chance...I suppose we have no choice."
  2586. "...by the way, the way it's used is by spinning the compass."
  2587. "Spinning it?! Why do we have to spin it?!"
  2588. Kaga tipped her head to the side. It looks like she doesn't know either, but this apparently is the right way to use it.
  2589.  
  2590. The compass in Nagato's hand was spinning wildly.
  2591. The compass gradually slowed each revolution——
  2592. and pointed to the east.
  2593. And thus they deviated from the planned route.
  2594. And we had just managed to get so far without any damage.
  2595. ——Well, either way, they're still heading towards the core.
  2596. After becoming an Admiral, I can still do nothing but pray to the heavens. I smiled bitterly to myself.
  2597. The Zui in Zuihou stands for good luck. I'm banking on that.
  2598.  
  2599. Having begun to suspect that they had gone off course, the shipgirls began to show their unease.
  2600. At this time, Zuihou called out
  2601. "Enemy fleet detected!"
  2602. "They're here, then! No matter how many, I won't show them any mercy!"
  2603. Nagato bellowed loudly.
  2604. As if to caution her not to get carried away, Akagi stepped forwards and spoke up.
  2605. "Enemy composition?"
  2606. "Yes, confirming."
  2607. Zuihou began to relay the scouts' report.
  2608. "The...enemy's composition is two Ri-class heavy cruisers, one elite To-class torpedo cruiser, two elite Ha-class destroyers...and flagship Ru-class Battleship!"
  2609. ——Ru-class battleship?
  2610. Her words shook me.
  2611. Is it that bastard?!
  2612. The screen flipped to the enemy fleet.
  2613. That was the giant abyssal ship I had seen under that setting sun.
  2614. And yet, it looked a little different from the Ru of my memories. Although the body shape and build were largely alike, the size of the guns and the appearance of her head was different from THAT one.
  2615. "...it's some other one, huh."
  2616. That's right, there are a lot of Ru-class Battleships around. The destroyer I was on at the time was not sunk in the Okinoshima waters either.
  2617. So it was highly likely that this was another version.
  2618. But while this made sense in my head, I could not completely control my fervor.
  2619. Slap! I slapped myself across the face.
  2620. ——Calm the fuck down!
  2621. On-screen, Akagi and Zuihou had already launched their attack squadrons. Escorting the primary bombers was an escort of Type 21 Zeroes.
  2622. The arrows they fired into the sky split in a blaze of light, transforming into planes shooting for the clouds.
  2623. The enemy did not have carriers, so they must be to secure air superiority.
  2624. Not long after, the first wave had already taken out a torpedo cruiser and a destroyer each.
  2625. ——To deplete the enemy's strength before engaging in shelling. This is proving really effective!
  2626. Though it's a little early to make it doctrine, it does seem like including carriers is a good idea.
  2627. Moreover, planes can do more than scout and launch opening strikes.
  2628. The enemy fleet was drawing close.
  2629. "All guns, open fire!"
  2630. Under Nagato's orders, gunfire once more dyed the surface red as shells split the skies.
  2631. The enemy Ru-class also returned fire.
  2632. Neither side scored a hit, both sides' shots landing near hteir targets.
  2633. This is normal. If the first shot doesn't hit, one must make adjustments and then fire a second, third salvo, however many required to secure a hit. Whoever hits first wins.
  2634. At long distances, it is necessary to verify the deviance.
  2635. It's another story if there is a plane around; planes can accurately determine and gauge the deviance of each shot from the target from a different angle.
  2636. Zuihou called out:
  2637. "Deviation Reports have arrived!"
  2638. With that, she reported the deviations detected by the aircraft.
  2639. Nagato nodded.
  2640. "Very good. Correcting firing solution and firing!"
  2641. Corrected, the second salvo's shells homed in and then drilled their way into Battleship Ru-class' body.
  2642. ——she detonated, in a massive picturesque explosion.
  2643. Someone had probably scored a direct hit on the enemy turret and set off the ammunition. The explosion lit up the entire sky.
  2644. Nagato raised her fist.
  2645. "Excellent!"
  2646. This level of accuracy——it's only possible to do it through careful artillery observation.
  2647. Perhaps the decisive factor between defeat and victory is firepower and armor.
  2648. But with planes present, it's possible to use them to their full potential.
  2649. Quantitatively, records indicate that spotter-assisted shelling is 150% more powerful than standard shelling.
  2650. Next up——
  2651. While the enemy scored a few light hits, this was still a decisive defeat of the enemy fleet, thanks to the timely and early destruction of the enemy flagship.
  2652. I signaled once more to advance.
  2653. The fleet engaged an elite torpedo squadron
  2654. and destroyed it.
  2655. The third battle was won with little damage incurred.
  2656.  
  2657. Crossing her arms, Nagato sighed.
  2658. "Mm....Last time most of the fleet was heavily damaged by the time we got this far, so we had to retreat. This time, we're all intact. This time, let's kill 'em all!"
  2659. "Ohoho...to have escaped engagement with the enemy carrier, our luck is good today."
  2660. Atago laughed with a voice like honey.
  2661. Akagi smiled as well.
  2662. "Indeed. But this is not simply luck. To be able to get this far safely, is it not because we carriers pulled our weight?"
  2663. As she said, the Carriers had a significant effect.
  2664. Nagato pouted.
  2665. "Mm...I admit that the planes were useful. Even so, the battlefield is still dependent on firepower and armor. This has not changed!"
  2666. What a stubborn fellow.
  2667. Listening to her, I began to laugh.
  2668. Onscrene, the other shipgirls also began to smile. Their expressions seemed to indicate that this plan was a success.
  2669. Flagship Nagato once more inquired over the communicator:
  2670. "It's about time we move on——Admiral, shall we advance? Or should we retreat?"
  2671. "We will advance, of course."
  2672. "Excellent! First Fleet, Advance!"
  2673. They advanced once more. The fleet in front of us must be the main fleet.
  2674.  
  2675. The golden compass pointed towards the Northeast.
  2676.  
  2677. The skies were dyed crimson.
  2678. The shipgirls advanced, the setting sun behind them as they advanced in the direction of the compass.
  2679. Moving tightly and unerringly in formation, they were like a flock of seabirds; for a few seconds, their beauty could make you forget that they were flying to a battlefield.
  2680. Zuihou let off a reconnaissance plane——the Saiun soared into the clouds, borne on its air-cooled twin-row 18-cylinder Homare engine.
  2681. Without a need for a coolant, the Homare Engine did not hide the tinny sound of machinery in movement. 。
  2682. Like tiny, rythmic explosions, and a low hum...
  2683. The Saiun detected an enemy from between the clouds.
  2684.  
  2685. "Enemy Fleet detected!"
  2686.  
  2687. Zuihou's eyes widened as she listened to the report.
  2688. "Eh? How could that be?!"
  2689. "What is it?"
  2690. In response to Akagi's concerned inquiry, Zuihou spoke, white-faced.
  2691. "Enemy Fleet detected. Composition is...One flagship-type Ru-class Battleship, Three Ru-class Elite type battleships; Two Ni-class elite destroyers...the enemy has four main line battleships!
  2692. "What did you say?"
  2693. Even Nagato's expression was drawn.
  2694. One Ru-class is already tough enough; now four of them appeared on the screen.
  2695. I gulped.
  2696. ——Could we win? I never thought the enemy fleet would be so powerful.
  2697. Zuihou continued to report.
  2698. "Enemy fleet has altered its formation! We've been detected!"
  2699. "Hmph...the enemy's radars aren't bad either. Well then, this is the decisive battle! All ships! Prepare to enter shelling!"
  2700. Following Nagato's orders, the fleet scrambled into battle stations.
  2701. At the same time, those are FOUR Abyssal battleships.
  2702. From my memory, there are no records of any fleet engaging an enemy like this and surviving to report it. Of course, I am also very aware that shipgirls are not the same as conventional ships. Even so, I felt a deep unease.
  2703. Even so, they do not show a shred of fear.
  2704. Even though Atago and Zuihou's faces are tense and drawn...
  2705. In contrast, Ashigara seemed to be in a joyous frenzy at meeting an enemy this powerful.
  2706. "Heh, ahaha....this is the best! I can feel my blood boiling! A powerful enemy closing in! This is the battlefield!"
  2707. "Hmph, the decisive battle, huh. I can feel my chest getting a little hot."
  2708. Nagato clenched her fist.
  2709. As if to respond to her, Mutsu stood next to her.
  2710. "Ara, ara ara. Four Ru-classes? Ara ara, I guess we get to pick whichever we want, then."
  2711. She seems really reliable.
  2712. Akagi reached for her quiver and nocked her arrows.
  2713. "All squadrons, ready to go? First wave, launch!"
  2714. She let fly.
  2715. The Aircraft Carriers' battle began.
  2716. Zuihou, too, let fly.
  2717. "Let's decide this battle outside of shelling range!"
  2718. Each of the arrows split into carrier planes as they turned towards the enemy ships.
  2719. The scout Saiun and the Type 21 Zero air superiority fighters were loaded onto Zuihou.
  2720. Akagi, on the other hand, was filled to the brim with bombers.
  2721. For this battle, Zuihou had assembled over 70 Tenzans.
  2722. This was air power on a completely different level compared to what had been deployed in the exercise.
  2723. The enemy had no carrier.
  2724. Air Supremacy was a foregone conclusion.
  2725. Akagi and Zuihou's attack squadrons bolted towards the enemy fleet.
  2726. And the results——
  2727. Both destroyers sunk, and one Ru-class significantly damaged!
  2728. "Yes!"
  2729. I couldn't help speaking. This was an excellent opening strike.
  2730. The two fleets were closing in.
  2731. Led by Nagato, the shipgirl charged towards the enemy fleet.
  2732. Turning around, the enemy fleet turned in the same direction.
  2733. The two fleets were now lined up in two parallel lines.
  2734. This is a parallel engagement.
  2735. Nagato raised her fist.
  2736. The other side opened up without waiting.
  2737. "Mn?!"
  2738. Pillars of water loudly obscured vision.
  2739. Splashing around where they stood.
  2740. If there were one significant difference between shipgirls and warships, it was in displacement. They were merely-human sized; they lacked the thousand-ton displacements of warships.
  2741. And so, when under fire, they were battered around by waves.
  2742. The waves rocked so violently that I worried whether they would simply fall.
  2743. However, Nagato's salvo put both the waves and my worries to rest.
  2744. "Haaahh——!!"
  2745. The ear-rending salvo sent waterspouts around the enemy fleet.
  2746. This was a brawl.
  2747. The scout planes relayed their observation reports to Nagato.
  2748. "Ara, ara ara," Mutsu shouted, "it's really a shooting gallery...hahh!"
  2749. A direct hit!
  2750. But the enemy was also a solid ship-of-the line; certainly not a ship that would go down from one hit, at any rate.
  2751. Winking, Atago stretched out her hand.
  2752. "Main guns, fire——!"
  2753. Ashigara, on the other hand, waved her fists, as if she wanted to punch the enemy directly.
  2754. "Fire! Fire! Fire——!"
  2755. Truly cruel as a starving wolf.
  2756. The two Heavy Cruiser's gunfire raked the Ru-class already crippled from the air attack. With a giant explosion, she sank.
  2757. Ashigara struck a victory pose.
  2758. "Sweet! My ten main guns aren't for decoration!"
  2759. But the enemy fleet was not taking this lying down.
  2760. The Ru-class' 16-inch triple guns belched out gouts of flame, their shells finding Atago.
  2761. She let out a piercing wail.
  2762. Her rigging was damaged, and her uniform——no, her armor, was shattered.
  2763. "Really——! Wasn't that a little too much?!"
  2764. Atago broke into a pained expression.
  2765. The screen was filled with the color of her skin. My heart began to wander. Although this really isn't the time for this...
  2766. ——I just didn't think being hit would be like that.
  2767. Thankfully, it doesn't look like she's particularly hurt. She won't sink at any rate.
  2768. Atago stuck out her tongue.
  2769. "Sorry about that, Admiral...I didn't think I'd get done in like that~"
  2770. The other shipgirls' damage was also mounting as well.
  2771. Mutsu took a direct hit.
  2772. One of her shoulder straps burst, and she pressed her hand there.
  2773. "Mm, hmhm...not too bad, huh? To damage my clothes."
  2774. Though her words suggested this wasn't much, her voice shook from suppressed pain.
  2775. I gazed at the screen
  2776. ——How painful.
  2777. While the battle remained even, the accumulated fatigue from the battles leading up to the core fleet was beginning to make a difference.
  2778. Something had to be done to change the situation. Yet there was no way to transmit sound; I felt anxiety gnawing at me.
  2779.  
  2780. And it was in this moment that Zuihou stepped out onto the waves, in front of the fleet.
  2781.  
  2782. Nagato gaped.
  2783. "You, what are you doing?! A carrier at the front, aren't you just making yourself a target?!"
  2784. Zuihou responded, her expression serious.
  2785. "My aircraft complement has already completely launched, so I'm just going to be a shield from here on out!"
  2786. I gaped too in shock.
  2787. That's way too dangerous! Light Carriers aren't armored enough to act as shields!
  2788. Akagi, too, was also in shock.
  2789. "No! If you sink, where will your planes return to?"
  2790. "I'll leave the rest to you then, Akagi-san."
  2791. The plane losses had added up over time.
  2792. She had probably figured out already that once the battle was over, Akagi would be sufficient to retrieve the remaining aircraft.
  2793. So she had decided to do this.
  2794. Nagato was left speechless.
  2795. "That stubborn girl...don't let Zuihou be sunk! All ships, open fire!"
  2796. Another fusillade roared out.
  2797. Mutsu, Atago and Ashigara were all attacking with everything they had as well.
  2798. Gunfire roared without interruption, and the water pillars followed.
  2799. As expected, the Abyssals focused fire on Zuihou.
  2800. And, because of that, Nagato and company could focus fully on firing.
  2801. The sizzling bellow of the dual 41cm and that fatigue-erasing spirit gradually turned the tide.
  2802. Next——
  2803. Nagato raised a fist.
  2804. "Enemy ship, sunk!"
  2805. "Nicely done!"
  2806. Even though I knew they couldn't hear me, I still let out a sound.
  2807. Nagato had just finished one of the Ru-classes.
  2808. In this battle, the opening air strike had already taken down both destroyers, and Ashigara had sunk one of the battleships.
  2809. Now all that remained were the two Ru-classes.
  2810. ——We can win this! Keep winnig!
  2811. But it was in this moment that a shell from one of the Ru-classes connected with Zuihou.
  2812. "Ahhhh——!"
  2813. SHe cried out in pain.
  2814. The blast sent her physically flying, onto the water surface. Her bow snapped, scattering pieces onto the water surface.
  2815. I searched frantically for where she fell.
  2816. I called out her name.
  2817. Slamming the desk, staring at the flickering monitor.
  2818. That white priestess' uniform——her armor had clearly been damaged, and she was clearly immobilized.
  2819. I couldn't believe my eyes.
  2820. "Oy...it can't be..."
  2821. But, lying on the water's surface——she finally began to twitch
  2822. before getting up once more.
  2823. "I-I got done in...but still...for Admiral, who believes in me...."
  2824. ——Heavy damage.
  2825. Thankfully it wasn't a sinking. I let out a long-held breath of relief.
  2826. But if the battle were to continue, her odds of sinking would be high.
  2827. Akagi signaled me on the monitor.
  2828. "Admiral, shall we retreat?"
  2829. Retreat?
  2830. I gritted my teeth.
  2831. It was hard to make this call.
  2832. And there was nobody who I could discuss this with.
  2833. The only person in this office right now is me.
  2834. But to begin with, this is something that is up to me to decide.
  2835. ——what should I do?
  2836. The previous Admiral jeopardized her duties in favor of her shipgirls. What should I do? Bear the risk and continue the assault? Wouldn't that be just sending subordinates to die to protect my job?
  2837. But, if I retreat, the operation will have failed.
  2838. Thousands, possibly tens of thousands, will die directly or indirectly because of this.
  2839. Nagato and Ashigara stood in front of Zuihou, shielding them. They and the enemy were closing in. It'd be a brawl soon enoguh.
  2840. Akagi reached out to support Zuihou.
  2841. "Are you alright? Keep holding on."
  2842. "Mm...Admiral...continue the operation...this time, we'll definitely beat them..."
  2843.  
  2844. ——Should we pursue? Or should we retreat?
  2845.  
  2846. I don't want to lose Zuihou.
  2847. But, is it correct to put her safety first? It's not what she wants, at any rate.
  2848. But, isn't it a superior officer's job to prevent a subordinate from killing themselves for the sake of victory?
  2849. Is that really so? Aren't I just running away? Isn't it a Commander's role to restrain himself when his subordinate wagers her life?
  2850. Akagi shook her head.
  2851. "Zuihou, calm down...continuing this operation is incredibly dangerous."
  2852. "Uu....Akagi-san...I'm fine..."
  2853. "But!"
  2854. "Please believe in me..."
  2855. Those words suddenly brought me back...
  2856.  
  2857. "No matter what time? No matter how dangerous it is, please believe in us until the end, okay?"
  2858. "I promise to you. No matter what time, what place, I shall always believe in Zuihou——in exchange, you must promise to return, alive, to the Naval District."
  2859. "Mm, I will definitely return. I promise."
  2860.  
  2861. ——That's right, Zuihou. And here I am hesitating...I'm sorry.
  2862. At the end of it, didn't we promise?
  2863. No matter what time, I will believe in you, and you will definitely return to the Naval District.
  2864. I won't hesitate anymore.
  2865.  
  2866. "All ships, pursue! Swear to claim victory by dawn!"
  2867. Zuihou nodded.
  2868. "...Acknowledged!"
  2869. Though there was pain there, what was most obvious on her face was happiness.
  2870. Nagato and Ashigara shouted, "leave it to me!"
  2871. ——Zuihou, don't sink.
  2872. Or I'll never forgive myself for making this call.
  2873. I am an Admiral. She is a shipgirl. And, at this time, she is putting her body on the line for victory's sakes.
  2874. My back is soaked in cold sweat.
  2875.  
  2876. Nagato led the charge against the enemy fleet.
  2877. "UoooOoOHhHHHHHHH!!"
  2878. At this range, where hit rates are much higher, this kind of move is incredibly dangerous.
  2879. An enemy shell grazed across her face.
  2880. She raised her fist.
  2881. "With this strike, I'll finish you! All guns, fire——!"
  2882. On the sunset-tinged water surface, the gunfire blazed, illuminating all with its dazzling light.
  2883. Nagato's salvo sank one of the Ru-classes.
  2884. ——Excellent!
  2885. But there was still one left.
  2886. And a blast from her gun dug into Nagato's side.
  2887. "Uu...."
  2888. Nagato's armor shattered.
  2889. But it looks like it was simply medium damage.
  2890. "Tch...a capable one...but Nagato's armor isn't just for show! And aiming for me was your greatest mistake!"
  2891. On the other side, Ashigara cocked the 20.3cm dual turrets on her wrist at the Ru-class, its guns trained Nagato.
  2892. "This is victory! With I, Ashigara here, it's a certainty!"
  2893. At point blank-range, multiple shells lacerated the Abyssal ship's chest.
  2894. And the last ship of the enemy core fleet was sunk!
  2895.  
  2896. I jumped up from my chair, pumping my fist into the air.
  2897.  
  2898. The operation was over.
  2899. Almost everyone had suffered medium or heavy damage, but all ships had survived and destroyed the Abyssal core fleet.
  2900. The MVP as Nagato, but Ashigara had also demonstrated exemplary conduct.
  2901. My expectation that the prematurely damaged Atago would be depressed were thankfully betrayed as she displayed her usual cheerfulness. It sure would be nice to have that kind of personality.
  2902. Akagi, too, sighed in relief.
  2903. "Whew...let's retrieve those carrier planes."
  2904. It was because she was such an experienced standard carrier that she understood how close that last battle had been.
  2905. Two tears ran down Zuihou's face.
  2906. Those were tears of joy, probably.
  2907. "Uuu....thank goodness...thank goodness..."
  2908. "Yep. But don't ever do anything crazy like that ever again....eh?"
  2909. Akagi's face twisted.
  2910. The returning Tenzan had a new report.
  2911.  
  2912. "We have | detected | an enemy vessel."
  2913.  
  2914. The gradually relaxing mood suddenly froze solid.
  2915. I immediately turned the monitor around; the enemy was already close.
  2916. It was too late.
  2917. A Saiun shot out to get a detailed report.
  2918. The enemy fleet consists of——three heavy cruisers, two destroyers. And, apart from that, there was a Ru-class battleship. But not just a normal ru-class battleship.
  2919. Akagi reported:
  2920. "Enemy flagship! Battleship Ru, Flagship Kai-type!"
  2921. The words flashed across the screen.
  2922. ——That's?!
  2923. There were still scars on the left side of her face.
  2924. A cyan glow that blazed from her left eye.
  2925. Just her appearance was enough to fill one with hopelessness.
  2926. ——I remember this bastard.
  2927. That's right, this was the Abyssal from that time!
  2928. My body felt like it was boiling in horror.
  2929. Iwahashira's killer.
  2930. I raised my voice:
  2931. "All ships——!"
  2932. Yet my voice trailed off.
  2933. Seeing them on the screen returned me to reality.
  2934. Zuihou was heavily damaged. Nagato, Mutsu, Atago were medium damaged. Ashigara and Akagi weren't unharmed either. This fleet was hurting."
  2935. "...No, I can't lose my composure."
  2936. I took a deep breath.
  2937. I checked the time on the wall——no problem, it'll be in time.
  2938.  
  2939. "All ships, retreat!"
  2940.  
  2941. Due to the limited window of communication, this was all that got across.
  2942. Zuihou felt a stab of unease.
  2943. "B-but...if we retreat now, won't we be pursued..."
  2944. Nagato clenched her fist.
  2945. "Being shot at from behind isn't my cup of tea...but if this is the Admiral's order, we must follow. ALl ships, retreat! hurry up! I shall serve as rear guard."
  2946. She turned.
  2947. Zuihou couldn't even get up to speed.
  2948. "Just leave me here, please!"
  2949. Nagato shook her head.
  2950. "No! The Admiral's order is that 'All ships are to retreat'! That includes you!"
  2951. "Yeah, how could we just leave you behind?"
  2952. Akagi grabbed Zuihou's hand. As dire as the situation was, though, there was simply no way she could accelerate. The enemy was closing in.
  2953. Finally, Battleship Ru-class had a firing solution.
  2954. Countless shells fell around them.
  2955. For the enemy, this was also fire at extreme range; their fire was unlikely to be particularly accurate.
  2956. But if they just kept on taking fire like this, something would hit, eventually.
  2957. Nagato bit her lip.
  2958. "Damn it...at this rate..."
  2959. Zuihou suddenly pulled out of Akagi's grasp.
  2960. "Sorry!"
  2961. "Eh?!"
  2962. Leaving behind the shocked Akagi, Zuihou broke way from the fleet and lagged behind in the distance.
  2963. And now the Abyssals were closing in.
  2964. Zuihou's eyes filled with tears.
  2965. "Admiral...for believing me....I'm really happy...but, sorry...I don't think I'll be able to come back."
  2966. The abyssal's turrets trained on Zuihou.
  2967.  
  2968. ——The sound of propellers filled the air.
  2969.  
  2970. The girls on the sea turned to the skies with hope.
  2971. From the clouds, planes; many of them, almost blanketing the sky.
  2972. They weren't Akagi's planes, and they certainly weren't Zuihous.
  2973. From the communications system came a young woman's voice.
  2974.  
  2975. "...Leave the rest to me...it's nothing difficult, no need to worry."
  2976. It was Kaga's voice.
  2977. And not just her.
  2978. "Ah'm here too! Y'all can leave it to me!"
  2979. "Enemy fleet detected! Bombers, prepare to attack!"
  2980. Ryuujou and Shouhou were there as well
  2981. Their air groups fell upon the enemy unceasingly.
  2982. At the same time, a very fast Ooyodo moving at incredible high speed hurried to Zuihou's side.
  2983. "Please grab on to me. We're going to get you home, okay?"
  2984. "Ah...ahh...."
  2985. With that, she pulled up the disbelieving Zuihou.
  2986. Kaga, Ryuujou and Shouhou's bombers began their attack runs.
  2987. The opening phase sank the enemy's heavy cruiser and one destroyer. Even Battleship Ru Kai took a hit.
  2988. From Ru-class' open mouth issued a low, guttural noise. Whether it was simply the sound of whatever infernal machinery drove them, or it was the Abyssal's language, nobody knew.
  2989. But, to me, it sounded like a curse, full of rage and sorrow.
  2990. And so the Abyssals began to retreat.
  2991. "...Admiral, shall we pursue?"
  2992. Kaga's inquiry aroused in me a twitch of hope, a wrathful hope yearning for revenge.
  2993. But there could be other abyssal fleets in wait. If Kaga and company pursued and Zuihou's fleet were to be attacked, they wouldn't be able to hold on.
  2994. "...All ships, return to port."
  2995. They had won.
  2996.  
  2997. Nagato's first fleet and Kaga's support fleet signaled their responses simultaneously.
  2998. "Understood!"
  2999. The sun had already sunk entirely under the horizon; unused to night battle, the carrier planes had also returned.
  3000. Nagato smiled a smile that stretched from ear to ear.
  3001. "Mm, those planes are pretty strong after all! Really useful! I should start mounting some in the future too!"
  3002. The shipgirls had already started to laugh before the echoes died.
  3003. It was almost time to welcome them home.
  3004.  
  3005.  
  3006.  
  3007. Epilogue: Nightwind
  3008.  
  3009. The night of the day after——
  3010. Now that the sortie team had recovered from their fatigue, it was time for the celebratory banquet.
  3011. The person who suggested the banquet was Junyou.
  3012. While she, too, was a well-built light carrier with an impressive hangar capacity, her passion for banquets far exceeded her enthusiasm for training.
  3013. She might be a bit of a problem student in the fleet, but in this kind of situation she ca definitely pull her weight.
  3014. Junyou held a wine cup in one hand and a box of snacks in the other.
  3015. "Ahhh~a drink after an operation is the best! Oh ho, why are there two Admirals~ Yahaaa!"
  3016. "You weren't even in the operation. Weren't you originally slated to be in the support fleet?"
  3017. "Heehee...well, Hiyou and I, we're a little slow."
  3018. "Really, you...eh, whatever..."
  3019. "Eh? You're going already? Isn't this a feast for you, Admiral?"
  3020. "It's a feast for the shipgirls...I need a breath of fresh air."
  3021. Junyou responded to my raised hand with a "come again~" kind of phrase, like something an Izakaya's barkeep might say.
  3022. And so I went outside——
  3023. Towards the harbor.
  3024. The sea at night seemed to be covered by a layer of blackness. Only the moon's reflection floated along the waves.
  3025. "Hm?"
  3026. I can hear someone whistling.
  3027. ——This is...this was a pretty popular song three years ago, wasn't it?
  3028. I walked closer to take a look. A girl in priestess' garb was leaning on one of those mushroom-like bollards.
  3029. "...Yo, is that you, Zuihou?"
  3030. "Hm? Eh? Admiral? What is it?"
  3031. "I'm not too good with alcohol, so I figured I'd ditch the banquet. I'd ruin the party for everyone if they let me drink too much."
  3032. "Ahaha."
  3033. "But what about you? You're this banquet's protagonist; what are you doing here?"
  3034. "I thought the Admiral was the protagonist."
  3035. "Don't be modest, everyone agrees that we wouldn't have been able to go on without you. It's not because you're a little hung up about Nagato getting MVP, right?"
  3036. "Ehehe...how could I be?"
  3037. Zuihou waved her hand.
  3038. Her face is all red.
  3039. Although the younger shipgirls got Mamiya's juice instead of wine, this girl looks like she's drunk. Is this okay?
  3040. "Speaking of which, I haven't rewarded you, have I?"
  3041. "Eh?"
  3042. "Well, shipgirls aren't like soldiers, it's not like I can promote you. The reward scrip can only be used in the Naval District as well. All the necessities are supplied too, so this is kind of tough."
  3043. "N-no need! Rewards or anything like that!"
  3044. "Mm...the only thing I can get is stuff I can wrangle up myself, so I figured it'd be a bit difficult to find something for you. But since I've been worried about preparations this whole time, I couldn't come up with anything. Sorry."
  3045. "Seriously! I don't need it!"
  3046. "If a violation of protocol deserves punishment, exemplary achievement should similarly merit rewards. This is how discipline is strengthened."
  3047. "Is that right...mm, but I still can't think of anything in particular I might want..."
  3048. Ah! It looks like she's got something.
  3049. "Did you think of something?"
  3050. "U-um...is anything okay?"
  3051. "Anything I can do."
  3052. "Then...k, ki..."
  3053. "Kit? Like a model Kit?" (note: this is not what it says in the translation, but I need something that rhymes with Kiss in english.)
  3054. "Ki....mm, Admiral, could you close your eyes? Oh, before that, sit down first."
  3055. "Mm, sure, I can do that."
  3056. I sit on the bollard Zuihou vacated, and close my eyes tight.
  3057. In front of me is just darkness. Can't see shit.
  3058. I can feel her closing in.
  3059. "Hm?"
  3060. "Could you, could you not move around?"
  3061. "Oh?"
  3062. "Don't move around, okay? And don't open your eyes."
  3063. "Mm..."
  3064. I can hear her, she's very close. Almost right next to each other. I can hear the sand under her feet, and movement next to my ear.
  3065. ——W-what's going on?
  3066. No, what is she doing?
  3067. Well but I did say I wouldn't, so I can't open my eyes.
  3068. I can feel myself tensing up.
  3069.  
  3070. But even though I can feel her breathing just inches away from me...nothing happens.
  3071. "Uooohhhhhh....I can't do it after all?!"
  3072. "W-what are you doing? Zuihou?"
  3073. I can't stop myself from opening my eyes.
  3074. Her face is almost right in front of my face. In the moonlight, I can clearly see her bright red ears.
  3075. She scrambles backwards in a panic.
  3076. "Ahhh....Awawa!"
  3077. "Oy, oy! You're going to fall in! Look out!"
  3078. "Ah! I-it's fine! I'm a shipgirl!"
  3079. Even if it's the sea at night, it's still not a problem for a shipgirl.
  3080. Zuihou puts her index finger on her lip, and exhales.
  3081. "Whew..."
  3082. Those are some beautiful, pale lips.
  3083. "Oy oy, Zuihou? Just now, were you about to do something? What kind of thing...is...that...is it..."
  3084. Her head shakes back and forth.
  3085. "Nothing! Nothing at all!"
  3086. "Eh, whatever. After all, you didn't do anything in the end...but, what was it that you wanted to do?"
  3087. "B-because! When you said reward, wouldn't be it be a ki...ki....ahhh, I can't say it! Admiral, you're a pervert!"
  3088. "Wha-?!"
  3089. And with that, Zuihou turns tail and flees.
  3090. "I-I'm tired! I'm going to sleep!"
  3091. She might be a shipgirl but she sure runs fast, I think to myself as I watch her bolt for the dorms.
  3092.  
  3093. Leaving just me.
  3094. Removing my hat, I scratch my head and watch the ocean under the night sky.
  3095. "...what happened?"
  3096. I don't know from when they came, but footsteps are closing in.
  3097. I turn.
  3098. "Eh? Kaga-san?"
  3099. "..."
  3100. She says nothing. It's a little scary.
  3101. "W-what is it?"
  3102. "High Command does not hope to see the Admiral and his Shipgirls in...special relationships. Please do not overindulge in personal feelings."
  3103. "C-could it be, that you saw it too?"
  3104. "...What did the Admiral want to do?"
  3105. "Do what? Th-she's a shipgirl. Shipgirls are humanity's future and last hope, their salvation. They're not existences I can have personal feelings for."
  3106. I speak without a shred of hesitation.
  3107. Kaga nods.
  3108. "...It looks like you are well aware of this point."
  3109. "Of course."
  3110. "...since you understand, please make sure to heed my warning."
  3111. "Eh? Warning?"
  3112. Did she give me some kind of warning before?
  3113. Sighing, Kaga speaks once more.
  3114. "Earlier, I mentioned that it is unwise to get too close to the shipgirls, right? Many of these children are not yet mature...a male, especially one such as you, can easily confuse them."
  3115. I think back to her past warning.
  3116. ——I thought she was saying that because she thought I was a creeper!
  3117. So that's what she meant.
  3118. I only just noticed: just as I don't know how to deal with females, the shipgirls do not know how to get along with males.
  3119. To think I only just realized now...
  3120. How should I deal with the feelings Zuihou holds about me?
  3121.  
  3122. "Kaga-san..."
  3123. "...what is it?"
  3124. "When you say stuff like that, it's hard for me to understand."
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