** POV Fubuki **
"Kongo, I think it worked. Well, she didn't run away."
I watched as Wrench pushed her bicycle towards the gathering of our surviving crewmen. Hachiro had been a young actor before the war, and was in great demand for kabuki on base during the war. After the war, he had gone back into acting, playing tragic roles and tortured souls for decades, because he couldn't do anything else. His skills had clearly served him well in the talk with Wrench.
"Hachiro was the right choice. Well, nearly the only choice." Kongo commented.
I pulled harder on the cable. We needed to get the hulk up to at least a few knots, so it would beach itself properly at high tide. The crews would come and start chopping it up for scrap at low tide.
"They are so old, Kongo. Frail." I shook my head. "It's hard to remember them as they were, and see them now, as they are."
Kongo looked past me at the shore, towards our crews, and then back forward. "Old and frail. They are that." She leaned a little bit more forward, and I heard the massive towing cables sing under strain as she pulled harder. "Proud. Bent, but not broken. Survivors."
I looked towards shore again. "It's so hard to not cry when I think about it, Kongo. They can't live more than another few years. Your Hachiro is one of the youngest, and he's ninety-one."
"At least we got to meet them, Fubuki." Kongo whispered, in a rough voice.
We both threw ourselves at the cables, even harder.
** POV Wrench **
I leaned my bicycle against a tent pole and stood, watching the old men. Missing limbs, oxygen bottles. Hearing aids. Pacemakers. Wheelchairs that made my power twitch and try to demand that I improve them. Several of the old men were sporting eye patches, like a gaggle of ancient pirates.
All of the oldest-looking ones wore baseball caps with a picture of a ship on it, in two different styles. I smiled a little, as I recognized that the images on the hats were of a battleship and a destroyer. It didn't take much brainpower to figure out who those silhouettes were supposed to represent.
Most of the old men with Kongo and Fubuki baseball caps watched me as I watched them. The ones that didn't, appeared to be blind. They weren't rude about it. They didn't stare, but they were clearly watching me. There were quite a few very old women present too, wives or daughters, probably. They watched me as well, looking back and forth between the oldest men and me. There wasn't any anger there, or jealousy that I could see, some worry, but not fear.
They don't like me makin' their men remember, I guess.
Walking around all the older men and women were younger men and women, even some girls and boys. Talking to each other, and the eldest men, fetching food and drinks, picking up dropped items, helping the elders move from place to place.
Children. Grand children. Great grand children. There were even a few toddlers and infants wandering around.
Everyone was speaking Japanese to each other. Everyone was dressed in clean, neat clothing. I looked down at myself. Torn, grease-stained clothing that I'd literally pulled out of a trash can and mended. I didn't stink too bad, I knew. I washed regularly in shelters, but I certainly didn't fit in here with these crisp, clean people.
You don't fit in anywhere, Sherrell. This is a mistake.
A powerfully-built middle-aged man with a bit of a gut walked up to me slowly, speaking in good English. "My grandfather would like you to join him, Miss." He pointed towards the man who had given me the tanto.
I looked down at my bike. It would still be in my sight if I sat in the empty seat. The saddlebags were locked.
I looked back at the old man. He crooked his finger at me, and smiled slightly. I nodded and followed the man that had been sent to fetch me, who I guessed was his grandson.
I felt the eyes on me, still not staring, but watching and then darting away, time after time. Not all hostile. Weird. Some of the youngest were giving me disapproving looks. There were a few sharp whispers from the elders, directed at some of the youngest who were looking at me in a disapproving way. Even though I didn't understand the language, I recognized the tone. The young people being spoken to sharply turned their eyes down and bowed slightly to their elders.
Not everyone wants me here.
As I approached, the old man spoke. "I did not introduce myself before, because my name didn't matter." He said, in English, as I approached. "Now it does. My name is Hachiro. I am one of Kongo's twenty-two surviving crew."
Everyone went silent as I sat. I huddled in the chair, starting to want to be anywhere else but here. They were all staring at me now, and I was fairly certain that most of them spoke English.
Girl, this is worse than crashing a wedding. These men have known each other seventy years. You got nobody here. They don't know you, you don't know them. Sure, they pitied you when they heard about you, like lots of other people. Now they want you to go away. Their families don't want a poorly-dressed dirty woman crashing the party.
I started to stand. A bony hand touched my arm, lightly, and I looked down at it.
"Wrench, two weeks ago, you might have saved Fubuki. We've been told that the way our girls are now, very few humans can repair them. You are the only human that the cape woman called Dragon knows, who actually understands how they work well enough to help them quickly and confidently."
He took a breath. "We always knew that our ships were alive, and cared about us, wanted to get us home safe. Now, it's more than a superstition. They are really our ships. They were watching us, and remember everything. There is no doubt."
Is this just them tryin' to get a good mechanic?
Can I be mad if that what they want?
"I..." I sat back heavily in the seat.
"They needed me. She needed me." I whispered.
There was a lot of nodding from the eldest men and women, and muttering that sounded approving.
"Right now, you are worried that we are judging you, because of your appearance. You are a stranger. Dirty, greasy, your hair is a mess, and all of us are clean and well-dressed. Am I right?"
I shrank back into my chair, and nodded, a tiny nod.
"Our wives warned us that you would be concerned about this. They wanted us to arrange for a small tent that we could let you clean up in, make yourself pretty, and give you new clothes. Someone else told us that you wouldn't accept that."
Probably Tattletale, meddling little bitch. And she was right, probably.
"So we decided on something else."
"I don't want nothing for what I did, Hachiro."
"We don't want to pay you, Wrench. You don't have to keep what we give you, consider it a loan that we're willing to let you keep, if you want. We just want you to feel a little more comfortable."
I looked at him suspiciously, and he laughed. "Really, Wrench." His laughter melted into deadly seriousness, and his eyes locked with mine. "We know about unwanted help."
There was a muttering of old male voices in affirmation.
I knew they knew English.
A tiny young woman in a sailor's top and a miniskirt combination that looked like a schoolgirl's outfit walked through the crowd towards me, carrying a duffel bag.
Fubuki. How did she get here so fast from the breaker beach?
Dummy, she can move at nearly forty-five miles an hour on water.
A few feet behind her, I saw Kongo, standing still, smiling a little.
And Kongo can get up to almost thirty-five miles per hour.
Fubuki stopped about three feet from me, and bowed briefly. "Kongo and both of our crews said I should be the one to give this to you. As Hachiro said, this is just something for today. You may leave it if you wish, when you leave." She held out the duffel bag.
I looked at the bag, doubtfully. Fubuki could lift a main battle tank with one hand. "How heavy is it?" My power was telling me that the bag was canvas, so it wasn't an obscene weight, but it could easily weigh more than me.
Fubuki smiled a little. "Only a couple kilos. You can lift it without effort. Promise."
I reached out and took the duffel, and moved it to my lap.
Hachiro sat back in his chair with a little smile, and Fubuki stood in front of me, slowly dry-washing her hands at her waist, with a slightly worried look on her face. She was so cute-looking, it was hard to remember that she wasn't human.
Sherrell, if you gonna leave, now's a good time, before you open this. You know they think it's gonna to be somethin' you like. They got Tattletale and Oracle, and Dragon on their side, working to...
Try to help me.
Not gonna hurt their feelings. I saved Fubuki from a nasty potential boom, even if she didn't tell 'em why she needed help. They mean well. I'll leave whatever it is when I can get away. Not gonne to insult them by running away now.
I poked at the bag a little. It was not solid. "Can it break?"
Fubuki shook her head. "No."
What is it? Probably some clothes. I tried to cheat with my power, shaking the bag and poking it with my fingers some more. My power told me that whatever was inside was made of heavy cloth, but that was it.
As I poked and prodded at the bag and shook it next to my ear, there were some chuckles. When I realized what I probably looked like, I know I blushed.
Like a little kid at Christmas on those sappy shows they play every year.
Embarrassed slightly, I brought the bag from my right ear down into my lap, unzipped it, and pulled out a single, large, heavy piece of cloth. As I lifted the cloth into the air, it unfolded into a navy blue one-piece heavy cotton work suit.
It wasn't formal wear, but it was clean.
I can wear this.
"Thank you." I whispered before I stood up and quickly stepped into the work suit, which fit me loosely, but correctly, over my other clothing.
"I've talked with quite a few American Navy veterans. They called suits like that 'poopie suits'." Hachiro commented with a smile. "We didn't have such a colorful name for them, but anyone who's ever done repair work knows how right that name is."
I laughed a little, and the men around me laughed too. Most of the women frowned, clearly not approving of the name of the suit.
Why haven't I heard that term before? Is he kidding me?
Hachiro paused. "We used them to keep dirt off of us, mostly, but they can hide dirt too. There's a bandanna and some cleanup wipes in the pockets too, for your face, hands, and hair. Our wives and daughters insisted you would want them, even if you didn't want fancy clothes."
"They were right." I chuckled as I dug through all the pockets, searching for the promised items and finding them after a few seconds.
There was some good-natured chattering around me as I used the wipes on my hands and face. Even in Japanese, I could tell the women were telling the men that they had been right, and the men were apologizing for doubting the women.
After cleaning up my hands and face, I quickly tied the black bandanna around my head to cover my hair.
Fubuki hadn't moved from where she was standing in front of me. I looked at her leg, which was still bandaged. My power gave me vague information about her body's condition. The rig was still there, somehow, in a way that I couldn't fully quantify. My power told me the rig was still slightly damaged, which wasn't a surprise, since I could see that her leg was still injured.
Then I saw her shake, for no apparent reason, and my power couldn't explain the shuddering. When I looked at her face I realized that she was crying, silently, staring at me, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Not human, my ass.
I felt myself start to tear up, sympathetically.
Aw crap. Cute little girls crying. Damn you, Tattletale.
"What's wrong, Fubuki?" I leaned forward and wiped a tear off her cheek.
"They hurt you so bad, Wrench." She whispered.
My mind froze, memories replayed in my mind's eye I watched again through binoculars from a hilltop far away.
I hadn't been able to not watch the S9 wandering through Merchant territory, killing off my family. One of my garage helpers, Skelly, trying pitifully to drive one of my crappy old trucks, barely able to make it move. I had been too far away to see the gore, but close enough to recognize death.
Skidmark. Such an asshole. We weren't married, but he was mine, I was his. He wouldn't leave. The S9 could kill anyone. Siberian alone had beaten the shit out of Alexandria, and killed Hero. Skidmark still wouldn't run. He'd claimed some shitty concrete, dirt, and old warehouses and made them more important to him than his life, more important than our lives. Machismo was more important than us. But we were a thing. I abandoned him to die.
I left them all to die.
I felt arms slowly, gently fold themselves around my shoulders. I had fallen forward off my chair to my knees. Fubuki had moved up a little, and was lightly hugging me, smelling faintly of jasmine, oranges, diesel, and gunpowder. When I moved against her, suddenly, to hug her harder, she didn't even budge, it was like pushing against a mountain. A mountain that was shuddering like I was.
"How long will it hurt like this!" I wailed.
A man's voice whispered next to me, barely audible. Hachiro. "The pain never goes away, young one." His voice was rough, like stones grating together. I shivered at the intensity, the pain. "All you can do is try to find something bigger than the pain. For me, it was my family and sharing my pain with others on stage. For others it was a cause. Some of us turned to building things and dedicating them to the dead. Some devoted themselves to various gods. Every survivor has their own path. If you don't find something bigger than the pain, the pain will end you."
Bigger than the pain? How?
I raised my head and looked around. Dozens of people were looking at Fubuki and me. They weren't laughing; they weren't angry. The old men were nodding. Most of them were looking sad, even crying. I had helped one of their shipgirls, and they were doing everything they could to help me. The old men knew where I was, the wives and oldest children remembered where the old men had been decades ago. The youngest ones knew the stories.
It suddenly hit me: Most of these men are still alive because they helped each other.
I whispered to them all. "What can I do? What can be bigger than the pain?"
My power, repressed for so long, took that moment to erupt into my mind abruptly, sweeping aside my efforts to repress it like a tsunami. Ideas for vehicles that could mine and refine raw materials. Vehicles working at my direction to create even larger vehicles that could move vast amounts of dirt and stone.
What? What does it-
When I realized what my power was offering. I stopped resisting it.
** POV Fubuki **
I gently lowered Wrench's body to the ground. She'd gone unconscious after she declared something unbelievable that had silenced all of us. Three young men and a middle-aged woman, each with medical bags, were the first to recover, heading my way quickly.
Everyone had heard what Wrench had said before she went unconscious. There was a low mutter of hopeful disbelief, not disparagement. This world had people with vast powers, many of them even put shipgirls to shame.
What Wrench had said was insane, but so many things were insane in this world. We all knew what she was, what she had been. Even Kongo and I knew that tinkers were some of the most powerful capes, if they were given the materials they needed.
Kongo stepped up to me and offered me a hand, which I accepted and used to pull myself to my feet.
The fastest medical responder to arrive, a young man, dropped to his knees next to Wrench with a small medical bag. He checked her eyes, breathing, and pulse quickly, and then slowed down, not looking very worried.
"She is only unconscious, and should wake soon." There was a collective sigh of relief from the crowd. The young man turned Wrench's head to the side, and elevated her feet by putting them on his medical bag. He then sat in the seat she had been sitting in, and watched her, talking in low tones with the other medical responders.
"Can she do it?" I heard, over and over, questions directed at everyone. Even Kongo asked me.
I announced, loud enough for all to hear. "I will ask Dragon." I activated my radio and sent a message to one of Dragon's relays.
A few seconds later, I had the answer, and spoke it softly, with awe. "Yes, Dragon thinks it is possible. Not certain, but possible."
We all stared silently at the woman who had just declared she would rebuild the islands of Kyushu and Newfoundland.