Andrew Thorson had witnessed death at sea before, heard the final pleas of men pounding on bulkheads that would never be opened in time. Nothing had prepared him for this. The sound of the first explosion had spurred him on, down the final sets of concrete stairs to the docks where the Sakura Empire's naval air force was wreaking havoc on targets that were effectively sitting ducks. The ships and sailors of the Eagle Union fleet were returning fire, but for the number of battleships and other warships stationed there the effort was underpowered and uncoordinated. Unable to affect something on so grand a scale, Thorson did what he could and ran for building B-1. He had no intention to stay, but he figured that the salvaging of research or intelligence was the only thing he could do at the moment. That was until he saw her. A slim figure in a blue uniform with white trim and stockings rushed by on the docks before him. To call the spectacle out of place would have been an understatement, even without the Sakura attack. Her long black hair waved behind her and caught the light of the morning sun, reflecting hints of purple at the tips. Even amongst the chaos Thorson had to admit that she was beautiful. The unknown woman turned to her left and began running for the ramp to the USS Arizona, just across from building B-1. Thorson followed behind, the blood pounding in his ears as the shrieks of Sakura Zeros continued to fill the air around him.
The woman was about thirty yards in front of him when something deep inside the primal area of his mind bade him to halt, a warning. Looking up Thorson felt cold fear grip him, even as he was surrounded by the fires of war. "What in the blazes is that," he mouthed as he noticed an unknown silhouette amongst the Sakura planes. The ship of alien make was travelling at an incredible speed, zipping through the formations of aircraft above Pearl Harbor. As Thorson watched it made a turn that would shear a Corsair in half and hurtled toward the dock, its target more than clear as its gun carriage began to glow with malicious intent, the air around it crackling as it was ionized. "GET DOWN," Thorson yelled. It was futile. A massive ball of energy shot from the alien craft and struck building B-1 with tremendous force, vaporizing the structure and throwing Thorson to the ground. His eyes were wide with horror as the woman he'd been following was caught dead on by the explosion and thrown against the hull of the Arizona, her limp body falling unceremoniously into the sea. He staggered upright, his head ringing and his balance swimming as his brain tried frantically to re-establish order following the force of the blast. Without a second thought, the commander charged forward and threw himself into the sea.
The water proved no respite from combat as the sounds of far off explosions and detonations reverberated through the bay, thrumming against his ears as he struggled back to the surface, his uniform weighing him down as it quickly saturated. Adrenaline surged in his veins as Thorson began to swim, quickly reaching the unmoving figure that bobbed just above the surface, crimson blood staining the sea from several wounds on her back.
"Hang on, just hang on!" Thorson shouted, reaching her and cradling her to him, trying his best to keep her head above water. Her small, choking cough was pitiful against his ear. He swam on his back as best he could toward the nearest ladder, the sky above filled with planes, bullets, and flak. She's so frail. Why? Why is someone like her here? Why the hell was she running at the Arizona?! With all his might Thorson grabbed hold of the lowest rung of a rusted metal ladder and hauled them slowly out of the water and back into the chaos on the docks. Behind them the Arizona continued to burn, her AA guns all but silenced after relentless waves of dive bombers identified her as a priority target. The commander did his best to lay the woman gently against the dock, panicking as she failed to move. The only sign she was still alive was her fluttering eyes, unfocused and afraid. "Hang in there, focus on me. Listen to my voice and stay with me!" He yelled, checking her weak pulse and racking his brain for anything that he could do to help her. Another feeble cough left her lungs as he lightly moved his hands over her front, ripping open her uniform where a large, red blotch was spreading over her abdomen. The dark blue fabric gave way easily, revealing pale, unblemished skin stained with soot and a steady flow of blood. Thorson applied pressure to the wound and looked back at her face. It was contorted with pain and growing paler by the minute. "MEDIC!" He cried futilely. "What's your name? Stay with me!"
"Ari…zona," came the faint whisper. Thorson's heart slammed into his chest.
She's one of them. She's a shipgirl. Hawkins, you bastard! This…this isn't a weapon. She's dying!
"I, sis…ter. Please," the woman tried to speak again. He couldn't make sense of it. The blood wouldn't stop. His hands were drenched in crimson. Her face was pale as the moon. She was on death's door, just like her namesake burning in the harbor. He had never witnessed a woman dying before. He shook his head furiously.
"I don't…Arizona just hold on. MEDIC! I need a goddamn medic here!" He yelled, looking for aid and knowing no one would come. A cold touch drew his attention back to the dying shipgirl. Arizona had touched the hand covering her wound. There was barely any strength left.
"To be…touched. I…happy. It's dark," she said, her hand sliding off of his and resting on the dock. Thorson panicked, unbidden words coming to his mouth.
"Arizona, I order you not to die! Commander Andrew Thorson is ordering you not to die!" The only sign that Arizona heard him was her bright, green eyes. In her last moment they focused on him, saw him, and then they were dead. The commander yelled with frustration and agony as the body below him went completely limp, her pale skin beginning to char and flake away. "What the…what the hell is going on?! Arizona!" Before him the body of Arizona began to literally fade away, ashes blown into the ether by the wind of battle. In seconds it was over, the only remaining testament to her existence being two otherworldly cubes, resting where her brain and her heart had been. They were small enough to both fit into his fist, their shimmering exterior contrasting with a dark, swirling, purple mist within. Thorson gathered them in his hand as his eyes stung with unbidden tears and tried to recall what he'd seen just that morning. The picture he'd reviewed had a description written in pen that mentioned a color. "Blue," he whispered. "That ship, B-1, wisdom cubes, the Sirens…the Admiral!"
Thorson jumped to his feet and looked back up at the airstrip, his worst fears confirmed. At some point between the time he'd left and the death of Arizona, the office of the admiral had suffered a similar, targeted attack as building B-1. Smoke billowed from a gaping hole in the side of the structure as the commander began to run back the way he'd come, abandoning his duffel on the docks. The enemy was still coming strong and he staggered as a massive explosion sent fire and shrapnel into the sky. "The Shaw…fucking hell!" The commander regained his stance and carried on, unable to do anything to help the stricken ship. He felt his legs burn with exhaustion as he finally reached the door or the admiral's office, his uniform still dripping salt water onto the pavement below the metal stairs. He kicked the door open when the handle wouldn't budge, finding Admiral Hawkins pinned between a mountain of debris and his desk, a few stray cinders floating in the air around him.
"I was…wondering…" the Admiral began, coughing violently and spewing blood over the polished mahogany table.
"Admiral!" Thorson shouted, rushing to the desk and trying to lift the collapsed ceiling in vain. "Hold on Admiral. Damnit, not again!"
"I'm dead anyway, Commander," the Admiral whispered bluntly. "Status report."
"B-1 was destroyed completely by an alien ship. That binder-"
"Left, top." The Admiral managed before devolving into another coughing fit, his eyes catching Arizona's wisdom cubes where the commander had left them on the desk. He'd needed both hands to wrench the drawer open.
"Admiral, what do I-"
"How? Who's? Purple? No…"
"What? What are you-" Thorson began, falling silent as he realized what Hawkins was referring to. "She's gone, Admiral. Arizona perished in the attack. It was a Siren ship, I don't know what else it could be," he spat, feeling like a caged animal with nowhere to run. Before him the Admiral struggled mightily to compose himself, to deliver one final message in spite of his failing body.
"Key…my neck. Take it. The facility…Laffey. Crimson Axis working with…the Sirens. Stop…" The Admiral tried but no further words came as he craned his neck. The Commander spotted a thin chain hanging there and took hold, collecting the Admiral's tags.
"But sir, these are just normal dog tags. What am I…" Thorson trailed off as the Admiral's head collapsed onto his desk. Again he was alone with the dead. He took a moment to compose himself, but only a moment. He wished he was back on a submarine. "Very well, Admiral. Go to God and may you rest in peace. If the Lord sees fit to see me through this day," he promised, tenderly taking Arizona's wisdom cubes back into his hand. "I will do for them what you were never willing to, treat them like soldiers." Without another thought the Commander fled the smoldering tower.
"Now, where the hell are the destroyers docked?" Thorson wondered, collecting his bag where it had fallen long before, undisturbed and insignificant in the bedlam. He stood upright and looked around, trying to get his bearings in an environment he barely recognized anymore. The ranks of enemy planes seemed to be thinning, but that was small comfort given how much damage had already been done. Steel twisted and buckled, wooden decks burned, boilers exploded, men drowned and died. Making a decision, Thorson took off at a run for the last battleship that seemed to be adequately returning fire, the USS Pennsylvania. As he approached the gangway and hauled himself aboard with his free hand Thorson froze, the sight before him leaving him transfixed. "A Valkyrie?" The Commander forcefully recalled tales from his youth, his father's retelling of the mythologies of their home country. Valhalla, Ragnarok, Yggdrasil, the gods and goddesses of the Norse pantheon, and of course the legendary warrior women, the Valkyries. Thorson had grown up Christian but the tales had always fascinated him, as had his father's insistence that in times of war 'the truth' would make itself known. The figure standing tall before Thorson was of raven black hair, not blonde. Instead of gleaming armor she wore an immaculate, dark blue uniform and sheer stockings over her shapely legs that served no purpose other than to accentuate that she was a woman, and a beautiful one at that. It mattered not. She stood defiantly on the deck, her uniform ripped and scorched to reveal hints of a black bra and light, creamy skin. Thorson watched in awe as the anti-aircraft guns on deck seemed to respond to her will and travel with her gaze, tracking aircraft as they dove and maneuvered.
"Gah! Would you stop fighting me?! Fight them!" She yelled at the crew around her, though they paid her no heed, wrenching back control of various armaments as they saw fit.
"What the hell is all this? Is this how it's always been?" Thorson whispered, spurred back into motion as a sailor rushed by and shouldered him out of the way.
"Don't just stand there you idiot!" He called over his shoulder, manning an Oerlikon and taking aim at the latest Zero attempting to target the still healthy battleship. Bullets and flak riddled the aircraft's wings, sending it spiraling into the bay as its payload landed harmlessly in the water.
"Excuse me, where can I find the Laffey?" Thorson called out to another passing sailor, though he was similarly ignored. The Valkyrie glanced his way with a scowl, thin strands of hair hanging over her eyes, dislodged during the fighting.
"What the hell do you want with her, noobie?" She demanded.
"I have orders from the Admiral," Thorson said evenly.
"I didn't hear anything about that," she replied in an accusing tone, waving her arm and directing another hail of bullets and flak at a wing of enemy fighters.
"He's dead. The command center was targeted by alien aircraft along with facility B-1. Complete loss."
"Fuck. So you're probably all that's left of that misguided program? Laffey is three docks over. Get out of here. I need to kill these bastards and get to my sister, make sure that softie is doing alright."
Sister. Gazing at her uniform, her hair, Thorson finally made the connection through the haze of battle. Arizona said something about a sister. "I…I'm sorry."
"What the hell is that suppose to-" Pennsylvania demanded, stopping dead as she saw the faint purple glow in the commander's opening hand.
"I was there with her at the end. The Siren ship got her. There was…nothing I could do," he lamented.
"You. You! YOU BASTARDS!" Pennsylvania yelled, her eyes practically glowing with rage as she turned to the skies, hands balled into fists. "Come! Taste my 14 inch guns!" A shockwave pulsed through Thorson, leaving his body crackling as though ready to receive a lightning strike. All over the deck sailors began yelling to one another.
"I can't control my gun! What the hell is going on?"
"Get a hold of her! The secondary guns are moving!"
"The ammunition elevators are operational! Is she going to fire the main battery? In dock?!"
"I'm out of here man! I didn't sign up to be killed by my own ship!"
Pennsylvania just smiled as her own crew fled, baring her teeth as a serene battle trance came over her. It captivated Thorson to the point his legs refused to move, the engineer and scientist in him reigning supreme with curiosity. You were right, father. Valkyries are real.
"You'd best get out of here, Commander. If you don't find my sister a peaceful resting place wherever you and that somnolent destroyer are headed I'll track you down myself and kill you…once I've destroyed every Sakura carrier in existence! Oh, you want to play do you?" Pennsylvania looked to the skies as an enemy Zero took advantage of the momentary confusion aboard deck, releasing an AP bomb straight at her. "You're nothing!" She challenged, bringing her hands up and projecting a small shield around her and Thorson. Shimmering blue hexagons surrounded them as the bomb vaporized harmlessly on contact. The proud woman stood tall through the impact, breathing heavily as the shield dissolved. "I told you to get moving, Commander. I've never done something like that before and I don't think I can do it again. Let me kill them without having to worry about something like you." One look in her eyes had Thorson fleeing the deck along with the rest of the crew, though he was the only one who looked back as the USS Pennsylvania came alive, fueled by the fury of an avenging sister. "DIE!"
Thorson's world shook as every gun aboard the Pennsylvania fired at once in a massive barrage that blanketed the skies above Pearl Harbor, obliterating the final wave of attack aircraft. The commander sprinted along the docks, gears turning in his head. By all that's holy, remind me never to get on that ship's bad side. Can a ship have a bad side? Just what are these girls? Can they all fight like Pennsylvania? What the hell has the Eagle Union been doing these last ten years?! Before he knew it, Thorson found himself at the gangway for USS hull DD-459, Laffey. With a final burst of speed he scampered up the ramp, relieved to find the ship in practically pristine condition compared to her sisters throughout the harbor. That, however, was the only favorable thing he could see. There wasn't a soul in sight.
"Uh…hello?" He called, not seeing a single crew member anywhere. The eerie silence gnawed at him, allowed the spirits of the recently dead and dying encroach too closely. As he was about to turn and head back to the docks a creaking sound attracted his attention, a slim, small figure opening a cabin door and emerging from the belly of the ship onto the deck.
"Mmm…Miss Pennsylvania sure is loud. Laffey wanted to sleep until 0900." The white haired girl standing in front of Thorson couldn't have been more than five feet tall, not counting the fake bunny ears that nevertheless managed to twitch as she rubbed sleep from her eyes. The action shook her pink jacket, the cuffs similarly adorned with rabbit imagery, loose from one of her shoulders. There was no bra strap anywhere in sight against her white skin.
"Are you…Laffey," Thorson asked in the tone of a desperate man who was beyond questioning anything before his eyes.
"Hmm? Yes, I'm Laffey," the girl replied, cocking her head as her long pigtails swayed with the winds. "Who are you?"
"You have got to be kidding me."