I scratched my ear as Defiant finished a sentence. A moment later, I heard what he had said in English, translated to Japanese. "Kongo, Fubuki, what you did to Lung was, frankly, amazing. There are other parahumans that can fight him when he's weaker, but not many." He paused. "Dragon also explained that between the two of you, you ate nearly a thousand kilos of food in a period of eight hours. While your abilities would certainly allow for you to eventually find a way to earn an income to pay for your food, at least, the PRT will happily cover your needs if you agree to work with us."
The little ear insert itched like mad. Dragon had provided me with the tiny device that translated languages. It was smaller than the last joint of my smallest finger, and fitted in my left ear like an earplug. Kongo spoke English, and didn't need one. Of course, she and I both wanted to know how it worked. It almost seemed like magic that something so small could do so much. Dragon kindly pointed out to us that our knowledge of electronics was insufficient to even begin understanding the technologies in the device, and it wasn't even what humans called tinker tech. She did indicate that electronics technology wasn't restricted, and we could go to school to learn about it if we stayed in this dimension for a long time.
I wish Dragon had been able to stay.
I started to speak, but Kongo raised a finger and gave me a serious look. I nodded back and relaxed back into my chair to listen.
Kongo nodded to me. "Thank you, Fubuki. I suspect you were about to say what I want to say, but I am the one who has already fought here, once."
She was senior to me, even if she normally let me talk when serious things were being discussed.
After she saw me lean back, Kongo turned to Defiant. "Dragon also said there aren't any Abyssals on this world. That all conflict is between humans. Shipgirls will not fight humans by choice. If pressed, we will fight, as you saw when Lung refused to leave us alone. I can even imagine scenarios where I might kill humans, if a greater number of humans are being threatened, or if we encounter humans that are clearly insane, and a threat."
Defiant's face showed obvious dissatisfaction. "We have noncombat roles, if those are the only roles you are willing to fill while we try to help you get home. You certainly have the strength and durability to be extremely useful for tearing down damaged buildings and earth moving, and there's a lot of that work to be done." He sighed. "I understand if you have seen enough of war, and prefer peace. You certainly aren't alone in that."
Kongo's face lost all expression, and her voice went toneless. "You do not understand. War is perfectly acceptable. Fubuki and I are shipgirls. Warship shipgirls. There is no place we feel more at home than a battle at sea, and I know of no warship shipgirl that does not look forward to battle against Abyssals."
Defiant's face softened slightly. "But not against humans."
Leaning forward abruptly enough that she made Defiant jerk back a bit, Kongo replied. "Exactly. As a ship, I killed many enemies of my crew, both during shore bombardments and naval ship-to-ship action. I also remember 1200 of my crew dying onboard when one of my forward magazines exploded shortly before I sank." She tapped the table between herself and Defiant. "As a shipgirl, I fight to preserve human life." There was a brief pause, and when she continued speaking, her voice was lower, rough with emotion. "Many shipgirls believe that we are being given an opportunity to balance the scales, to redeem ourselves for the misery and destruction we helped humans visit on one another."
I put my left hand on Kongo's right arm, not in restraint, but to offer comfort. No shipgirl liked to talk about her sinking or the humans we killed in our first incarnations, but this conversation was too important to avoid.
It was clear that we were being offered a place, at least temporarily, but we needed to make sure that what they thought they would get from us matched what we were willing to give. Anything else would be a bad faith arrangement, and we needed help to get back home.
Kongo's left hand settled gently on my right, with a careful squeeze. We looked at each other sadly, both of us remembering the deaths we had been responsible for.
After a few seconds, I gently asked. "The past is the past, Kongo. Do you want me to continue from here?"
"That might be for the best, Fubuki." She nodded at Defiant. "I hope I didn't worry you."
The man was silent for several seconds as he thought, tracing his fingers absently into the holes Kongo had poked into the table with her fingernails. "Stainless steel table, a quarter inch thick." He looked at her right hand, which was stretched out in front of her. "And you poked holes through it without even chipping a nail." He stared at her. "It was intentional?"
"It was. Just to make a point. About how easily I can hurt people." Kongo met Defiant's gaze until he looked away.
"Good. I thought it was." He took a deep breath. "You aren't the only ones who feel that way. I'll introduce you to Riley in a few days, perhaps, if you decide to stay with us, and after we get some testing done to determine what you can do."
I nodded, and Defiant's gaze turned to me directly. Dragon was entirely mechanical, and was very interesting. Defiant appeared to be mostly human, but part machine. His mixture of man and machine bothered me to no small degree. But this conversation needed to happen.
"I doubt that you have facilities to properly test Kongo and me." I responded, doubtfully.
"We might surprise you. There are many very powerful capes in the world."
"We aren't capes, Defiant." I paused, considering. "We will not utilize munitions until we determine that you are able to replace them." I nodded at Kongo. "Her main guns fire 356mm rounds, and we need real, full-sized munitions in our possession to reload. Dragon said human industrial capacity was damaged severely by Scion, and tooling up for creating significant numbers of rounds will surely be very time consuming and expensive."
Defiant's mouth twitched in a bit of a smile. "You underestimate what Dragon and I might do to meet your needs, but we can start with simple strength and endurance tests if you like?"
I looked at Kongo and she gave me a sly grin. "We'll to the same thing we did with the Mako's hoist, Fubuki. If you can be tested on their equipment, then I'll allow them to test me." She tilted her head and glanced at Defiant with a serious face. "I will watch the testing. This is not negotiable."
He nodded, accepting the condition. "I would prefer that, Kongo. We don't have equipment built yet that will allow us to transport Fubuki if she grows too weary to move."
This is funny, the way they just don't quite understand.
Kongo and I looked at each other and grinned. Human misconceptions of shipgirls were fairly good humor fodder when we went out into the world of humans on our world. On this world, it was hilarious so far. I was fully topped off on fuel. I doubted that these tests were going to take more than several days, which is how long my fuel would last, even if I ran my boilers at maximum power output.
Defiant was looking back and forth at us. "OK, what did I just step in? I know I said something that you two found funny."
I reassured him with a friendly smile. "Just a misconception. You are misattributing human characteristics to shipgirls. I might get mentally tired of whatever you want me to do, but I will not grow physically weary unless the testing extends to several days without food. I have plenty of fuel."
Defiant's features went still, briefly, then he smiled. "Understood. Do you sleep?"
"We can, but we can go without for much longer than humans, if needed." I answered.
"The testing will not be in a dangerous environment, will it?" Kongo asked.
Good question. We still don't have a real repair facility. I looked at Defiant and raised an eyebrow. I'd seen a human on Television make the expression, and I practiced it, because it was so perfect to express a question or doubt, without words.
Defiant looked at me, and I swore he started to smile, but then he shook his head. "The testing area is a large gymnasium with lots of specialized training equipment. It's used for regular training exercises for a lot of capes, most of them are nowhere near as durable as you are." He nodded at Kongo. "Unlike you, I haven't seen anything about Fubuki's performance yet, so we'll start off slow. Humans are a bit more fragile than you two are, most of us, so we know to warm up."
I smiled at Kongo when she looked at me. "I'll be fine, Kongo, but I'll be happy to have you there. I'm actually looking forward to it. Most of the exercises on land at the base were just for endurance, not strength. For obvious reasons."
Defiant looked at me quizzically. "I'm not following you."
I shrugged. "We didn't have any way to really test our power accurately on land. Everything breaks too easily."
He looked back and forth at the two of us. "Am I going to regret asking to test you two ladies?"
Kongo shook her head. "Fubuki is a very careful, very responsible shipgirl, Defiant. She won't break your toys."
I looked at Kongo and raised one eyebrow.
She laughed at me. "You are. Both things." She waggled a finger at me. "No self-doubt allowed. I, Kongo, declare it to be true that you are careful and responsible."
Defiant was looking back and forth at the two of us, again, expressionless. "Do you have any idea how strong you are, Fubuki?"
"Sure. My yard specs are fifty thousand horsepower. I'm not sure how my gearing translates into arm and body strength."
"I... see." He paused. "Yes, I will ask that you be careful with most of the equipment."
I gave him a very serious, short bow. "I will be very careful, Defiant. I have no desire to cause damage to your training and testing equipment."
The two of us followed Defiant down several flights of stairs to the bottom of the stairwell, and then we walked into a long hallway, with lots of doors to either side. Defiant showed us the side rooms, they were medical facilities. Not operating rooms, but examination rooms, with lots of electronic equipment that I couldn't name.
As we approached the double doors at the end of the hallway, I could hear lots of clicking and clacking, people talking in encouraging tones, and some sounds that were more growls and groans of extreme effort as opposed to actual words.
Defiant pushed open the doors, and there was lots of white, chrome, and mirrors.
"It's so beautiful." I whispered.
Defiant looked at me and smiled.
I wonder if he built any of this equipment? Dragon said he was a tinker.
Every machine gleamed like the finest chrome, black materials covered the parts of machines which appeared to be where one might put one's body. The floor was white, and looked like marble, but I could see that the tiles were too close together to be grouted, so it couldn't be real marble. The mirrors on every wall allowed me to see myself from every angle, and gave the room an appearance of being huge.
Not. Breaking. Anything. It's too beautiful.
Over in the corner, two large, muscular human men wearing masks, sweaty T-shirts, and shorts were working next to each other. One was laying on a metallic raised platform, and repeatedly lifting what looked to be a train axle, with several thin train wheels on either side.
The other man was standing close, and helping the first man lift the axle. Something didn't look right. The man on his back was straining hard, and the one standing seemed tense, but was not straining. The standing man was a really poor partner if they were supposed to be sharing the load. After a few more steps following Defiant, I noticed something else about the standing man.
He's only holding his hands under it, he's not helping to lift.
"It's called spotting, Fubuki. One person stands ready to keep the other from being injured by falling weight. It's one of the things that people are required to do here when working with what we call free weights."
"That makes a great deal of sense." Kongo commented.
Even something like that train axle could kill a human, even after a short fall. I remembered several accidents where my human crew had been severely injured loading torpedoes, two had died. The two men in the room were far bigger than any of my crew had ever been, but that train axle with extra wheels was probably much heavier than any of my torpedoes.
With a near-scream of effort, the man on his back managed to lift the weight another few inches to the sound of the standing man's encouragement. "You've got this rep, Wildcat. No problem. Push it. Push." Another almost-scream from the man laying down, and the weight moved up again, but started to sag back down.
Kongo and I stared at the spectacle of the man screaming. It made me a little uncomfortable. He was clearly in some pain. I knew about screams of pain. The only thing keeping the sound from being unbearable was the tones of defiance and effort that could also be heard. This man wasn't a victim, he was pushing himself to his limits and wasn't willing to give up.
Defiant stopped, silent, watching us watch the two men. Finally, after about fifteen more seconds of yelling and screaming in effort, with much encouragement from the standing man, the man called 'Wildcat' managed to straighten both arms under the axle. The standing man plucked the weight out of Wildcat's hands and set it down at his own feet.
Wildcat's arms fell to his sides and thumped against the floor like noodles when the weight was removed from them. He hooked his feet under a bar at the end of the bench and levered his torso into a sitting position without using his arms at all. "What was the count, Oak?
"Two hundred six good reps, eight that weren't full extension. That was a good set."
"My arms are going to fall off. I think that's the end for today. Give me a few minutes and I'll be able to spot for you."
Kongo started clapping, and both men looked up, looking between the two of us and Defiant.
I started clapping too, it had clearly been a victory for the man exercising. An excellent effort.
Defiant didn't clap, but he did speak. "You've come a long way in a month, Wildcat. Are you starting to peak yet?"
Wildcat shrugged, and frowned a little. "I'm having a hard time consistently breaking twenty-two hundred kilos, two hundred reps. I managed it three days ago, and today, but not yesterday."
"You're still young." Oak countered. "Biology does odd things to young bodies."
Wildcat and Oak were both staring at Kongo.
I hope they have the common sense and decency to stop staring at her soon, or she's going to take offense. A little staring is a compliment. A lot of staring is rude.
Defiant spoke again. "I need you off the floor for a little while guys. Go hit the showers - you stink. Wouldn't want to offend the young ladies."
I wouldn't mind if they stared at me, briefly, before they go. Even shipgirls like to be pretty.
"Yes, sir. Will you need us out of the facility, or just inactive for a while?" The one named Oak asked.
With a chuckle, Defiant responded. "After you don't stink, you can come back and watch the testing."
As they walked away towards the opposite side of the gymn from where we entered, they didn't look at me at all. I grumbled to myself and looked down at my chest when I thought Kongo and Defiant weren't looking. Then I realized that we were surrounded by mirrors.
I caught Kongo looking at me sideways in the mirror with a little smile and my face must have turned bright red.
Defiant was either being very polite, since we didn't know each other, or hadn't noticed. I had a feeling he was being polite.
After a delay of about a second, Defiant walked over to one of the largest machines in the facility, and beckoned for us to follow him. "This is the machine that we test high rated brutes on. I don't think you can break it." He looked back and forth between the two of us as he said it.
Looking up and to my right, I saw Kongo's eyes narrow as she looked at the machine. Before she could get too far with what I knew was going through her head, I tapped her arm. "I know what you're thinking." I paused, briefly to make sure she processed it. "Remember, we're guests."
Kongo started to blush a little in embarrassment, and bowed slightly to Defiant. "See? Careful and responsible. Fubuki is the best destroyer escort!"
There was more back-and-forth looking from Defiant. "You two certainly do talk like people who've fought together."
We both nodded to him. I wasn't sure how many times we'd fought Abyssals as part of the same task group or squadron.
"Well, as for the testing machine here, I would appreciate it if you would stop putting force against the machine if you hear a siren. The siren indicates that the force applied reached its maximum safe rating." He paused. "There are no moving parts on the machine."
That didn't make any sense. "Wait. What? How do you-"
Defiant gently interrupted me. "Electronics, Fubuki. Strain gauges detect tiny deformations in the metal and calculate force. High rated brutes are too strong to allow them to use moving weights except in very controlled circumstances. If they drop something, it can kill or maim others weaker than them."
There were several more minutes of discussion about rules and how to use the machine correctly, and then Defiant asked a couple questions to make sure I actually remembered what I had been told.
I stepped onto the chrome and black machine, putting my feet on the foot-shaped marks, and my hands on the hand-shaped marks. Defiant started making adjustments on the machine to lower the front so my hands were at shoulder level, and then adjusted the position of the foot rests so I would be pushing with my body at around forty-five degrees, knees and elbows bent.
"OK, Fubuki, whenever you're ready, start pushing. Please start pushing slowly, and keep using more strength until you are pushing as hard as you can, or you hear the siren warning."
"I'm ready now, Defiant." I nodded to him, and started to push, carefully, slowly increasing the force I applied.
In the wall mirrors, I saw the two muscular humans emerge from where they had gone for their showers. They were both wearing what I'd learned were called 'jeans' and 't-shirts'.
They were also still wearing their masks. Masks were apparently very important to most 'cape' humans in this world.
Both men were staring at me, clearly curious, so I smiled at them.
The smaller one smiled at me, and the two of them talked to one another, but I couldn't hear what they said. They both laughed but kept watching me.
The machine spoke, like Defiant said it would. Every ten seconds, it would announce my estimated potential power output, averaged over the last ten seconds.
"One point three megawatts."
Both men stopped laughing and started staring.
That's not the kind of staring that I wanted.
I stopped looking at the men, and started pushing harder.
"Four point six megawatts."
I heard the voice of the one called Wildcat complain. "You've got to be kidding me. There's no way she's even five feet tall, and if she weighs more than seventy-five pounds, I'd be amazed."
Haha. More amazed than you think, I bet.
I ramped up a little more, pushing harder, being careful to keep both hands and both feet firmly planted so they didn't slip or jerk.
"Eleven point nine megawatts."
The machine seemed to be holding up fairly well.
"Seventeen point one megawatts."
There was a whistle from one of the two watching men. "Damn, will you look at that? Oak, she doesn't even seem to be pushing herself yet."
He had spoken loudly enough to hear easily, so I responded. "I'm not. I promised not to break the equipment, so I'm being careful."
Both men stared at me, wordlessly.
Defiant walked between the men and me, then turned away from me towards the men. "You can stay and watch, but please be quieter. You know better than to distract anyone in the gym." Then he turned to face me. "Please concentrate on the test, Fubuki. When you're done, you can talk?"
It was a justified rebuke. I nodded. Then I started carefully pushing harder and harder.
"Twenty-three point four megawatts."
I was pushing fairly hard, but there was plenty of power left.
"Thirty-one point nine megawatts."
It was much harder now, but I wasn't quite peaking.
"Thirty-six point five megawatts."
I was pushing as hard as I could, but my target was at least thirty-seven megawatts. I started adjusting my elbows, hips, shoulders, and knees, changing angles, trying to increase my power output with better leverage.
"Thirty-six point eight megawatts."
Thirty-seven megawatts, Fubuki. Anything less is unaccepable.
I forced myself to push a little harder.
The machine was taunting me. "Thirty-six point nine megawatts."
I lowered myself just a little more and tried to press even harder against the machine. I was sweating heavily, and my breath was coming in gasps. The room felt hot.
"Thirty-six point five megawatts."
What? No. More. Not less. Unacceptable.
I started taking huge, rapid breaths of air, and was dripping sweat. I pushed even harder.
"Thirty-two point one megawatts."
I heard Defiant's voice." You peaked, Fubuki, that was excellent. Slowly reduce force and rest. You can try again shortly, if you want."
Trying again means I failed the first time. No.
I shook my head. "Need thirty-seven megawatts."
Lowering myself a little more, I pushed again, quickly ramping up the force I was applying.
"Thirty-five point five megawatts."
Not enough. I forced myself to breathe faster, deeper, I needed more air.
"Thirty-six point three megawatts."
I put every bit of my concentration into the effort. I was going to beat the machine.
Suddenly, I felt the ground shake slightly through the machine and male voices sounded concerned, confused, worried. It sounded important, but I couldn't understand it. They sounded worried, so I stopped, to try to figure out what was happening.
Then the tunnel vision started.
I managed to stagger off the machine before lowering myself to my hands and knees. Once I managed that, without cratering the floor, I carefully lowered myself further to a prone position before rolling onto my back.
The tunnel vision got worse. I was breathing even faster.
What is happening? I don't understand?
I slowly turned my head. Trying to move my head quickly made the tunnel vision worse.
Is that Kongo, laying on the ground? Kongo? On the ground? And Defiant?
Was this all a dream?
The tunnel vision collapsed like a soap bubble and I fell into darkness.
One hour later
"No more indoor exercises for you two." Defiant was standing, looking down at me.
I shook my head, which proved it was possible for it to hurt even worse. Then I looked up at him. "Sorry, why am I laying on the ground?"
Suddenly, I realized that my legs and skirt were in a far from modest position, and quickly pushed my skirt down while pulling my legs together from where they had been splayed immodestly far apart.
How did I get into that position? I glared up at Defiant.
"I need an explanation for this, Defiant." I stared up at him. "One minute I'm doing the tests on your machine, and the next, I'm lying on the floor?"
I heard Kongo groan and then speak with anger in her voice. "Yes. An explanation. My head hurts. I remember collapsing and not being able to stay awake. I haven't had a headache like this since I took an armor-piercing bomb to my left ear."
Defiant looked nervously at Kongo, and quickly said "Oxygen deprivation."
"What?" Kongo and I asked at the same time.
"Your metabolism. As strange as your abilities are, your strength is driven by some sort of chemical metabolism, unlike most brute-type capes who receive power through their shards. I should have realized that when it became clear that human food was required to fuel you, but I was interested in other things."
My head felt awful. I pushed myself to my knees. "I'm still not getting it, Defiant. Use words I'll understand."
"Fubuki, you are a fifty-thousand horsepower metabolic engine."
"I knew that. And?"
"The training room is a closed room."
"I follow that too. And?"
Defiant shrugged. "You used up most of the oxygen in the room and knocked us all out. We humans recovered first as the air conditioning system replenished the air in the room, because we're less dense."