A/N: For those of you who may not know, I'm expecting my first child later this year. As a result I am no longer writing as much as I used to and updates will continue to be few and far between. I apologize for the delay and I will make an announcement if, for whatever reason, I feel I can no longer continue this story in any way. Thank you all for your patience.

"Thorson-shikikan, Thorson-shikikan, look! I'll be able to slay even more of your enemies this way!" Akagi told him, positively elated as she turned her back to him, stuck out her rear, and fanned out three large, fluffy tails for his review. With Panama in sight, he'd ordered all Sakura hulls converted to cube form and packed aboard various allied ships. Loathe to allow Akagi out of his sight in such a setting, that meant taking her and her sister aboard the South Dakota as they approached the docks, provided their clearance, and secured expedited passage thanks to direct orders from Admiral Nimitz. Kaga, who was on the bow with him, South Dakota, Shiranui, and Kasumi, cleared her throat quietly and demonstrated that she too possessed three of her previous eight tails; though she managed to do so without sexually provocative behavior.

"Training hard?" he asked neutrally. She leaned towards him and whispered.

"I was dreaming about mochi and then woke up with it."

"That's great to hear, Akagi," the commander raised his voice, earning a radiant smile in return. "While we finalize Massachusetts' transfer, feel free to go ashore with Hiryuu as escort. I expect to hear nothing but good things."

"Happily! Thank you, my dear Shikikan~" Akagi simpered before walking off with a prideful expression on her face. Thorson glanced back to the woman's sister.

"I'll be sure those orders are conveyed directly to Hiryuu and remind her that full force is authorized at her discretion."

"Wise," Kaga said shortly as South Dakota and Kasumi talked in hushed tones about meeting another 'spirit sister'. Thorson could only assume it had to do with Massachusetts' dossier, which had listed her as lacking in motivation and insubordinate.

"Might I ask what mochi is? Is it related to your tails in any way?" Andrew asked Kaga. She cracked the rarest of smiles and shook her head.

"It's nothing more than a sweet treat, made from rice flour and filled with red bean paste," she explained as the two of them shared a moment of subtle humor at the fact that Akagi had likely done nothing of note to earn her tails. "But perhaps the gods answered my prayers after all, and it was simply a coincidence."

"I never took you for a sweet tooth," Thorson continued the conversation. "You and Soryuu should feel free to go ashore as well. I'm sure the others will."

"I'm not," Kaga rebutted him, walking to the side of the ship as her kimono and short hair fluttered in the tropical breeze. "I miss my home and wonder if I will ever lay eyes on it again, is all. With your permission, I accept the offer to go ashore. I will ask your favorite twins if they will accompany me with their pets. I would prefer being seen in the company of Union uniforms."

"Prudent," Thorson agreed wholeheartedly. "I hope the four of you can get along."

"We have the same enemy, Thorson-shikikan," Kaga reminded him quietly. "And none of them have attempted to kill me."

"I'll take it," he replied with relief. "Have a good time. I doubt we'll be this relaxed for a long while once we hit the other side of the Atlantic."

"You intend to stay aboard?" Kaga asked, wondering to herself why she was even bothering with conversation. They looked out across the water at a portion of the destroyer escort to the starboard side, including Eldridge.

"No, but I have my own orders to take care of while we're here. By the time that's done and the crossing is complete I think it will be time to go. That and I can't walk on water," he reminded her. Kaga hummed.

"I see."

"You must be Massachusetts, hull number BB-59?" Thorson asked, approaching a tall, dark skinned woman wearing nothing more than futuristic footwear that reminded him of PT gear, lower leg straps, and a leather jacket. Upon turning to face him he noted shorts and a top akin to a bikini but not much else. He made a noise in his throat as he looked her over once, taking note of the white, ritualistic paint on her body and the red on her forehead. "Yeah, you must be. I'm Commander Andrew Thorson. You've been assigned to my command as of now."

"Is that right?" the woman replied with disinterested, red eyes, looking at him curiously as he held out a shard of a wisdom cube to her. A small cluster of bright, opalescent feathers fluttered near her right ear in the breeze. "South Dakota is with you, I see."

"And several others I believe you already know or will get along with well. We're on a short time table," he informed her as they stood on a seawall overlooking the port where her hull was moored. Massachusetts nodded and took the shard from him, not putting up any sort of fight or argument. A muted gasp of discomfort followed as she manifested her rigging for the first time, an impressive command tower and gun platforms on either side that served to shield her flanks and retaliate with anchor and chain. "Well, if you're half as aggressive as Tennessee is I'd hate to go in against you in a boarding action."

The native woman perked up at his words as she tested out the new 'limbs' and fired a shell out into the open water. "This would explain a few things. You really are different from the others. I will fall into formation once your final ships have made it through."

Thorson extended his hand to her and she took it, shaking briefly with a firm grip. "I appreciate it, Massachusetts. Once we've charted course later in the day I'll send for you to come aboard the South Dakota for introductions and to fill you in on the mission. Focus on learning to convert your hull to wisdom cube form for now. All of your human crew has been reassigned. The ship is yours."

"Commander?" Massachusetts spoke as he turned his back to her, intending to return to Laffey who had taken him ashore with her. It was far easier than docking a battleship.

"Is there something wrong?" he wondered, finding the woman in deep contemplation.

"They say you keep the company of negros and injun. Is that true?"

"You should add Sakura to the list so long as we're indulging in the gossip of enlisted with too much time and not enough to do," Thorson chuckled. "Yeah, the rumors are probably all true… well mostly. I don't know the full extent of them. Maybe one day when I'm not fighting anymore I'll have the luxury of caring about my cook's skin color again."

She offered him a thin smile. "I see. That's good."

"Nice to meet you. I like your clothes," Indianapolis told Massachusetts as Thorson introduced the newest addition to the fleet to the rest of the Atlantic force. The white-haired battleship had been surprised to find Sakura among his number, especially once Shiranui and the others restored their hulls, but she accepted it without complaint.

"Thank you. It's a shame Alabama is deployed further north. I didn't know there were cruisers out there like us."

"Yeah, there are a few of us turns out, and the Commander's a bit of a collector," Minneapolis added with a cheeky smile, cradling her head under her arm. "So what's the plan then? Water feels different on this side of the continent."

Massachusetts deployed her rigging and pointed it at four shadows who had leapt to the South Dakota with barely a sound. Thorson held his hand up to stay her fire as the First and Second Carrier Divisions of the Sakura Empire stepped into the nearest pool of light on deck.

"We have a proposal if you'd like to hear it, Shikikan-sama~" Akagi told them, smiling keenly at the new Union ship. "Ara, you've found another beauty. You might make a woman jealous at this rate, Shikikan-sama."

"I don't like her," Massachusetts stated bluntly. "You here to talk or cause trouble?"

"We are here to talk," Kaga clarified, clearly frustrated with her sister's constant antics. "Just tell him what you overheard, nee-san."

That statement piqued Thorson's curiosity as Akagi procured a fan from the ether and hid her lips behind it. Unlike Kaga, she seemed to always have her tails on display. "I promise I wasn't doing anything wrong, Shikikan-sama. I just couldn't help but follow them. Wouldn't you do the same if you heard about the song of a sad, beautiful Siren?"

"Anyone else's patience wearing thin?" Tennessee wondered, arms across her buxom chest. "Get to the point, fox."

"You might want to do that, Akagi-sama," Hiryuu advised with a laugh. "Her hull hits like a truck."

"I think we'd all appreciate a straightforward explanation," Thorson interrupted, praying silently that such verbal sparring would be the worst of his worries until combat focused his fleet on a common enemy. "If you would?"

"Montevideo, Uruguay," Soryuu spoke up. "Your Union sailors have loose lips, Shikikan."

"I'm not sure the rules apply to rumors," Thorson said in defense of his fellows. "So am I understanding this right, that there are rumors of Siren activity in Uruguay?"

"I'm not sure I'd go that far, Shikikan," Hiryuu said. "The way those sailors described it is more like a mythical being. A beautiful, mournful half beast half woman, inhabiting the old wreck of the Admiral Graf Spee."

"I remember hearing about that one actually, but this was almost three years ago mind you," Tennessee said thoughtfully. "The Royals were hunting down a fast battleship that was preying on Atlantic shipping lanes. Commander?"

The combined Union and Sakura groups watched in confusion as Thorson ran off without explanation, trailing him until they found him poring over old, yellowed documents under a single light bulb in the captain's cabin of the ship. Looks were exchanged but no one wanted to step forward and interrupt. Rarely had any of them seen him behave in such a manner. Fortunately, explanation was soon forthcoming. "I knew I recognized that name, Graf Spee," he said sadly. Walking up to his fleet, he handed them a single black and white photograph.

"How barbaric," Soryuu scoffed haughtily as Tennessee's brows furrowed with anger.

"Those fuckers tortured her, a cute little thing like that? Commander-"

"I know. I know," Thorson assured her, looking at Akagi with a stern face. "You did well. How fast can you move?"

The kitsune held her cheeks in her hands, looking at him like a rare steak. "I will move as fast as you need me to, Shikikan-sama~"

"Can you not be creepy as hell every damn time you talk to the Commander?" Minneapolis requested. "Or do I need to beat you again."

"I would like to see you try, insolent-"

"Enough!" Thorson roared. "Akagi, you are here only because Amagi directly requested you be given an opportunity to redeem yourself for the crime of royally fucking up half of the globe. We are here to defeat the Sirens, not fight each other. If Graf Spee somehow survived Ironblood experimentation and the Royal Navy then we need to find her before Operation Torch begins. That's not a lot of time. All non-destroyer kansen will convert their hulls into cubes and board the destroyers. Akagi, you will do the same if you cannot keep up."

With Hiryuu, Soryuu, and Kaga watching intently, Akagi bowed low to Thorson. She gave him plenty of time to inspect her cleavage if he so chose before accepting his orders. "I will do what I must, for you, Shikikan-sama~"

South Dakota made her thoughts known the moment the Sakura delegation departed. "I don't like her, Commander."

"I know it's not an ideal arrangement, but it was a condition of securing the cooperation of the Sakura kansen, and she is undeniably powerful."

"Just make sure you keep her on a tight leash, otherwise it'll be your funeral, sir. I'll see you aboard the Laffey, perhaps," Tennessee stated before bringing her heels together in a salute and departing. Thorson just sighed and shook his head in her wake, looking down at the picture of Graf Spee. It was the fear in her eyes that clawed at him more than anything.

"Do you think this is the right call?" he asked those who remained. Kasumi offered her opinion at last as Foo circled her slowly.

"Your intuition has not led you astray yet, Shikikan. Foo and I believe you should follow it."

"Do you have room for one more then? I will not be sprinting anywhere that far away," South Dakota asked her. Kasumi smiled serenely.

"I have room for all of my sisters."

"You look well this morning, Mein Kommandant. Coffee?" Zed offered Thorson as she joined him on her bridge in the wee hours of dawn several days after their departure from Panama. "Another calm day of sailing, I hope?"

"Thanks Zed, yes I hope so. Either way, I've taken a liking to surface sailing over submarines. Honestly, I'd be happy to bear with foul weather so long as Akagi and Kaga remain where they are."

The two of them looked off to the right, where Akagi and Kaga sailed in the middle of the formation, which otherwise consisted only of destroyers. Akashi had, understandably, moved herself and her bulin crews in with Ayanami upon being told that they intended to keep destroyer pace all the way to Montevideo if possible. Even Ark Royal and Hiryuu, unique entities that they were, opted to stow their hulls for the journey. Ark had insisted that a smaller fleet would attract less attention, not to mention provide the enemy less opportunity to observe them, but Hiryuu was more than happy to admit that she and Soryuu were looking forward to watching Akagi and Kaga try to one up another.

"Their speed is certainly impressive," Zed admitted. "But I wonder how long they can maintain it."

"Given how much energy they had to fight us and each other over the last few months I wouldn't worry so much," Thorson assured her. "Should have thought of it earlier, setting them up to compete with each other. Thanks for hosting me by the way. Laffey's hull is a bit crowded."

Zed blushed lightly. "I-if you would like to… again-"

"That's more up to you, Zed. Don't feel pressured one way or another. Your pajamas are very cute though," he told her, having seen her walking to her cabin at night once or twice in short shorts, and a top in dark blue with red trim that didn't quite cover her midriff.

"It's not as girly as Javelin's," she replied shyly. Thorson just smiled as he sipped his coffee.

"It suits you though, which is what's important. If the four of you want to have a sleepover I can always hold down the fort here one night. You might want to take the chance while you can. We're going to end up in the South American shipping lanes eventually, but I doubt too many ships head straight from Panama to Uruguay.

"Well, I suppose I can monitor my sonar from a short distance away," Zed reasoned, pondering the idea. "If you insist, Kommandant."

Thorson nodded as he prepared himself mentally for another day at sea, constantly on alert for an interruption from the endless carpet of blue. "I wouldn't put it that strongly but like I said, you should take the chance now while you have it. No telling when we'll have another opportunity like this."

Z23 hummed at his words and pursed her lips gently to blow excess heat and steam from her beverage. "I radioed them all and we'll be aboard Javelin's hull tonight. Thank you, Kommandant."

"Don't mention it," he said, transitioning to business that he'd been meaning to address for some time. "Did you know Graf Spee well, Zed?"

The blonde haired woman looked up at him. She was often seen with a serious or contemplative look on her face, but he'd rarely seen her sad or distressed since her arrival at their Pacific base. That somber expression had returned as she recalled the past. "She was a tender soul, but they took advantage of her because of it. After what they did to her and all of us, the experiments, I was happy to hear that she'd died. I never imagined she might still live after all this time. Her sister, Deutschland, was one of the ones who led the uprising against the old Kriegsmarine. The Sirens may have helped her, but her sister…"

"It's alright, I think I get the picture," Thorson replied, resting a comforting hand on her back, between her shoulders. "I make no promises, but if we can help her we will."

Zed steeled herself and nodded quickly. "Yes, yes you are right, Kommandant. I am proof of that."

"Well, Zero? You brought me to this world and now you interrupt me in my work? Do I need to remind you that I'm running almost all of the Ironblood Empire directly in this timeline?" the Empress said impatiently, arms crossed as she looked up at the living computer known only as Observer Zero. She clicked her tongue as the girl rubbed her eyes and looked down at her, a stuffed slug-like animal in her hold. "Damn jellyfish."

"He is going to her," the young Siren said quietly in a sleepy voice. The Empress observed her fingernails.

"And? I have a tracker team tailing them, and Observer is on her way back from the Pacific. The humans and leftovers can play around there until we finish our fun. He's chosen his lot. Have you finished reincarnating Tester yet? Maybe make her gamma iteration a bit less idiotic and self important?"

"She will go to him," Zero said in her same, tired monotone. Empress fired a shot from her rigging, which bounced off of the jellyfish-like apparatus above Zero's head.

"Did you honestly call me here just to tell me he's going to gather up a cast-off, a failure of an experiment?!" she vented. "You brought me to this timeline to do a job. Either help me do it or stay out of my way. I have an uppity bitch and a nihilistic psychopath locked up in the North Sea just begging for some chessboard class simulations. Get me another Tester unit and don't summon me again until you have one, Zero. Or do I need to remind you that at least two singularities are running about this world outside of our control?"

Zero closed her eyes and turned over in her bed before looking down at her again, unfazed by Empress' temper and antics. "Soon."

The commander of the Siren forces scoffed and turned on her heels, heading for the mirror sea just outside that did nothing but contain Zero in a safe place from which to observe the timeline she'd been assigned to. "Good. I always hated traveling via singularity."

"Well, have you located her?" Thorson demanded as his fleet approached Montevideo Bay and its namesake capital. The nation of Uruguay was technically neutral in the war, but that didn't stop him from sending out air patrols and his destroyers sniffing for mines or other unwanted subaquatic surprises. He encouraged his remaining units to remain on standby, not wanting to cause a diplomatic incident by steaming too many ships right up to the doorstep of a neutral nation.

"Yes, though she's impossible to miss," Kaga reported. She looked haggard and worn down, but both she and Akagi were sporting four tails as a result of the marathon sprint from Panama. "There is a small island just off the coast from the capital city. In its shallows rests a single wreck, definitely of Ironblood make. It's too small to be a true battleship, but I'm not sure I'd call it a cruiser either."

"Then that's our mark. Please tell your sister that you both have my thanks. This was not an easy trip for you. You'll be relieved of duty once we leave," he assured her. She bowed very slightly to him.

"We should speak before we depart, Andrew Thorson. Our unaccosted arrival here was no accident," the kitsune insisted. He furrowed his brow in concern.

"Very well. We will. I need to speak with Zed now."

"Indeed. I hope you can work whatever magic you possess on her. We could use a defector with a strong will to live," Kaga gave her impression of the situation before hopping over the side of the bow and into the water, returning to her own hull. Z23 materialized behind him almost immediately thereafter.

"Mein Kommandant…"

"Do you think we should bring the others along?" Thorson asked her. Nerves and stress were plain as day all over her face. He understood.

"N-no, I don't think so," Z23 surprised him. "It would make me feel better, but I think we should speak to her alone, Ironblood to Ironblood."

The commander stepped forward and placed a hand on her shoulder. "I'll be there with you, and I've been practicing." A weaker version of a kansen's barrier surrounded them for a second or two before fading away. She smiled in surprise, sharing her approval via the mental link as opposed to voicing it directly.

"Shall we go see if we can rescue my sister in arms?" she wondered as he held his binoculars to his eyes. He could just barely see a bright shock of short, white hair and a scarf in the colors of the Ironblood empire.

"Yes… but what exactly are we rescuing her from?"

"Hello there. I'm sorry, but I don't have anything for you," Graf Spee murmured, looking at the brave seagull that had landed on her hand. The mechanical monstrosities were the product of old experiments, attempts to more completely integrate kansen with their hulls and rigging. Even after the coup, when her sister and others engaged in gleeful slaughter of those who'd wronged them, the Sirens were no better. "When I die you can feel free to eat me, if it will help you. Oh…"

The bird let out a loud call and took to the skies, spooked by two individuals walking over rock, sand, and the abandoned rubble of an old fortress to the skeleton of her hull, slowly rusting in the sun and surf. In the early days a handful of intrepid young men had arrived looking to loot and scavenge her wreck. The stories of a deadly and beautiful siren had spread shortly thereafter, beginning her almost three years of solitude. The man approaching her seemed to have no such compunctions, but that was not what held her interest. "Spee? Is that really you?!"

"Z23…" she said warily, looking at the woman's rigging and the uniform of the man next to her. "Who is this Aryan beside you? He wears the colors of our sworn enemies."

"That's not-" Zed began to protest, but Thorson rested a hand between her shoulders.

"It's alright," he told her before raising his voice. "You've been here for almost three years. You intend for me to believe you're still fighting that old war? Zed is here with me because she and I both fight the Sirens. I'm sure you noticed the Zeroes overhead already? Those are mine too."

The petite woman stood, and suddenly they were facing down cannons, torpedo tubes, and something that he had never seen before, rigging that could bite back. The hull of her rigging was almost alive, shark-like maws adding to the threat of her mechanical tail and grafted talons. "I won't simply die because you wish it, Union Kommandant."

"You're wrong, Spee! We want you to come with us! He can help you," Zed exclaimed, activating her own rigging just in case. Spee shook her head.

"I will remain here, alone, as I always have been," the pocket battleship insisted, pointing her guns directly at the Union Commander as he approached her. He had a pistol in one hand but it remained pointed at the ground. It was his other hand that held her attention, a picture between his fingers, extended to her.

"I know what they did to you, and I know that they're dead. Their masters aren't, however. And I need all the help I can get. I refuse to believe you chose to live this long for no reason. I've seen kansen give up and die."

Though he could not see her mouth through her scarf, Thorson gathered plenty from the woman's ice blue eyes as he moved forward step by step. It was hubristic, to say the least, but if he could survive Tennessee at point blank range he didn't fear the kansen before him, even with her claws and tail. She did not move from her position atop her ruined hull, looking down at him as he held out the picture. "Why?"

"I already told you," Thorson replied, repeating himself. "I was told to kill sirens, so I will. Rumors said you were one of them, but I'm glad to see that's not true."

"So you would have me fight my own comrades, maybe even my own sister, in your name?" she wondered, looking down at him.

"As part of my fleet, yes. No lone wolf stuff. They're welcome to join too if they're tired of serving abusive masters," Thorson clarified, smiling slightly as she stood and hopped down just before him, a drop that would have likely shattered his legs. "Zed?"

"It's nothing, I just think she should make her own decision, like I did," the destroyer elaborated, having held back from the discussion. Graf Spee reached out with her hand and Thorson gave her the photograph, remarking at how gently she treated it even with her prosthetics.

"Did they give you those too?" he wondered as her eyes clouded with tears. She shook her head.

"No, I took them willingly, to right this and so many other wrongs. I never held my sister again, but what's done is done," Spee related, lost in her memories, hardly looking at either of them. "I want to believe you, but I do not."

"Then maybe this will help," Thorson offered anew, procuring a single wisdom shard from his uniform pocket. "I have one of these myself, bit of a long story."

The Ironblood kansen took the shard in her other hand, between two enormous, metal claws, and held it up to her eyes. It sparkled with a purity she'd never seen before. "Has it really been three years?"

"Closer to two and a half, but yes," Thorson confirmed. "It's early September, 1942. For what it's worth I plan to extend to your sisters the same offer I've made to countless Sakura over the last several months. Any who wish to fight the Sirens with me will be treated as allies."

"Think of what they did to us, Spee, our once glorious home!" Zed urged, hands clasped to her chest. "He found Ayanami and brought her back to us. I'm sure he can do the same for Deustchland."

Graf Spee looked between the two of them, photograph and shard held out before her, emblematic of past and future. The commander had still not raised his weapon at her. "What is your name, Union Commander?"

"Andrew Thorson."

"You would take something like me into your service?" she wondered sadly. He nodded.

"Women like you are exactly what I want in my fleet."

Spee's mechanical hands began to tremble and creak as she flipped the picture over, looking at the notations on the back. One of them was old, from the 1930's: 'subject 036'. The other was new, in a hand that had to be his, 'find her'.

Thorson took a step forward and accepted the picture back from her, tucking it away in his uniform and backing off again. "They never called me that… a woman."

Thorson looked at Zed, a regretful expression on his face. They were brought back to the present by the smell of blood on the salt wind and a pained grunt from Graf Spee. In one hand she held a deep red shard, ripped from her own body by the prosthetics given to her by Ironblood scientist and Siren alike. Breathing heavily, she reached behind her and replaced it. The very ground under their feet began to shudder as the wrecked hull behind her began to fall to pieces, collapsing onto the beach and into the ocean behind them. Simultaneously, the kansen herself was affected by the same process, falling to her knees as rivets popped and piece after piece of her rigging shattered to fall to the ground. Underneath her gauntlets, the slim arms and fingers of a young woman were revealed. It was a faint, blue glow that held his attention, however. Her shark-like tail had begun to fall away, revealing itself not to be a prosthetic, but armor. Thorson's eyes widened as Zed let out an audible gasp. "K-kommandant!"

"I see it," he assured her coldly as he knelt at Spee's side. The girl could barely keep her eyes open, but those eyes were looking right at him. "Maybe the rumors had a grain of truth to them after all."

"What do you mean Akashi is not allowed to take tissue samples, nyaa?!" the minty kitty protested as she, Thorson, and Zed looked down at the sleeping form of Graf Spee. A translucent, blue tail that Thorson figured had to be Siren in origin hung off the side of the cot, twitching every so often as its master dreamed. Kansen with animalistic traits were not unheard of, but according to Zed they were not a feature of Ironblood ships, nor did Spee's tail remind him of any terran animal.

"I mean exactly what I said, Akashi," Thorson replied, rubbing his face with one hand. "If she provides consent that's a different story. You're to keep her here for recovery and observation, nothing more. How's the resupply coming along?"

Akashi screwed up her face in concentration as she utilized her rigging's radio. "Akashi to chief bulin. Are you finished with your assinyments?"

After a moment of silence she gave her report, not missing an opportunity to take a shot at the First Carrier Division. "Just waiting on the stupid foxes, Shikikan. They sucked their supplies dry showing off, nyaa."

"You'll want to be careful where you say that, Akashi. They each got an extra tail from the effort," he told her. She shrugged, waving her sleeves about.

"Then you will spank them on their stupid fox behinds, nyaa! Akashi will not touch the new girl except to care for her. She is a pretty little thing."

"And she's been through a lot. I'm not sure I'd be sane after spending three years alone with nothing but the fish and gulls for company," Thorson admitted without shame. "I need to meet with the rest of the fleet to discuss our next step. Come find me or send a bulin if you need anything."

"Aye aye, Shikikan!" Akashi exclaimed, fashioning a salute as he departed. "Now then, let us see how she got her hair to be so red, nyaa."

Curt nods were exchanged as Kaga and Soryuu joined the majority of the Task Force aboard the recently 'reconstructed' Ark Royal. Eldridge jumped out of the Royal carrier's arms immediately and waddled over to Kaga, her arms raised. The fox shook her head, but complied when Eldridge didn't make a fuss over anything. They were all seated or standing in a small meeting room that Ark had fashioned in place of a first mate's cabin, complete with maps of the Atlantic on the walls and table before them. The light from a handful of bulbs was yellow and unfiltered. Thorson nodded to them both. "Your sister didn't want to join us, Kaga?"

"No, Shikikan Thorson. I believe that is for the best. No doubt she will insist that no matter where or when she is happy to fight and triumph," Kaga relayed. Pennsylvania cleared her throat.

"That sure sounds like her. So what do we do now, sir? You found the Ironblood?"

"I did and she was willing to take a shard in exchange for this one," he recalled, placing the loathsome Siren crystal on the table before them. It seemed to practically ooze with malicious intent. Yukikaze actively hissed at it, prompting Arizona to pet her ears. "This matches the sort of experience we had when Zed came to us, and unlike Laffey I strongly advise against attempting to take on its power for yourself."

"Laffey advises against it too, yes yes. The Sirens are stupid ladies but they go quiet and still eventually once you kill them over and over. Laffey would have been better off just eating another shard from the Commander, mhm," the little rabbit confirmed. In the back of his mind, Thorson made a mental note to test such a proposal with some of his longest serving and most powerful kansen who might be able to stomach an upgrade. Penny and Arizona came to the fore of his mind as he withdrew the shard and refocused their attention on the Atlantic map.

"Operation Torch is slated to begin in early November, meaning we have just about two months to rendezvous with Royal High Command and get into position. Kaga, you mentioned something you wished to speak with me about that was bothering you. Is it related to our journey down here?" he wondered. She nodded, her hands concealed each in the opposite sleeve of her kimono. For the briefest of moments he thought he was looking at Amagi.

"We were followed."

"The Sirens?" Thorson guessed. They'd barely seen anything on their trip down, save a handful of larger fishing vessels that gave them a wide berth. Kaga nodded.

"You're sure?" South Dakota questioned, the kitsune shook her head.

"No, I'm not. I never got a visual… just an uneasy feeling every time my aircraft strayed too far from the fleet, especially when traveling north."

"Are we making strategic decisions based on hunches now?" Tennessee demanded sarcastically, leaning back in her seat. Thorson made to reprimand her, but Kaga was quicker.

"You attempted to kill your commanding officer on a hunch, Union kansen. My aircraft are an extension of myself, my spirit. I know we were followed," Kaga insisted. Tennessee didn't hide her antipathy for the Sakura, but held her tongue when not even Penny came to her defense. Thorson shook his head in disappointment.

"So you believe the Sirens know what we're doing here," he followed up. Kaga hummed affirmatively.

"Not only that, they broke off their surveillance around the time we entered the bay. I believe it's safe to say the Sirens do not mind you taking the girl, Shikikan."

"This is not the first time the Sirens or their allies have cast off resources that Shikikan Thorson has been able to make use of," Kasumi opined wisely. "For now I believe we should concern ourselves with meeting Ark Royal's fellows. If they are anything like Kongou-san I think they will make for fine friends."

"No objections here," Pennsylvania agreed. "Would be good to see Warspite and Leander again, and that little bat girl."

"Then let's talk strategy," Thorson suggested. "We have five carriers, meaning that outside of Siren activity we would control the skies in the middle of the North Atlantic and all of the South. The question is whether we risk presenting that many targets to wolfpacks, even with our destroyer escort."

"And us?" Arizona asked curiously. He smiled at her.

"How quickly can you all be battle ready if we're attacked by a surface fleet?" he inquired. The soft-hearted woman placed a finger to her lips in thought.

"Only as long as it takes us to reach open water and deploy our hulls. Five minutes at most?" she figured. Tennessee and the others nodded in agreement, bolstering Thorson's mood.

"That's beyond impressive, you lot. In that case we can move as a carrier fleet and deploy the big guns only if need be."

"You should know that the Sirens possess weapons that can attack from beyond the horizon, Knight Commander," Ark Royal warned. "That being said, those were only deployed much later in the other wars. What worries me are the Ironblood submarines. If what you say about the girl is true, and based on Z23's experience, we should assume they are augmented with Siren technology."

"I see," the man replied, stroking his chin. The light in the room seemed to shift ever so slightly with the rolling of the ship in the water. "Your proposal? Can we still counter them?"

"Of course, Knight Commander. They still need to come to the surface, or close to it, to attack us. There are many options for airborne anti-submarine warfare that I can share with the others if they are willing to listen. They are primarily evolutions of technology the Union already possesses, shared and co-developed with the Royal Navy."

"I would appreciate the opportunity to learn," Soryuu offered, a proverbial olive branch across the table. Ark rested a hand on the hilt of her rifle and gave her a curt nod.

"Your Type 99's should suffice. Our surface ships will still be better at reconnaissance than us, but we will have the advantage when it comes to precision strikes," the Royal carrier summarized.

"I think we're in agreement then," Thorson concluded. "The battleships will station themselves throughout the destroyer fleets, deploying if we come under surface fleet attack or if we need to soak heavy torpedo damage. All of you should do your best to learn from the destroyers, especially Javelin. If you can use seaplanes and torpedoes, I have no doubt you're capable of learning to use sonar and depth charge launchers.

"Commander, hunt?" little Eldridge wondered from Kaga's arms as some sort of prototype technology materialized on the table in a wreath of blue electricity that seemed to accompany her everywhere she went. Ares seemed drawn to it, poking out from under Tennessee's hat before hopping onto the table and looking over the module with a contemplative 'juuuu'. The adults looked at one another with incredulity as the manjuu donned a pair of tiny headphones and looked at his owner.

"What the hell is the OSS up to?" Thorson muttered to himself as Tennessee collected her bird and the prototype sonar device.

"Your orders, sir?" she wondered as Kaga rocked Eldridge softly and whispered that the little one was full of surprises. He shrugged his shoulders as Eldridge responded to the praise by snuggling up to Kaga's bosom like a cat.

"Stranger things have happened. See if it actually works. There should be plenty to listen to so close to land. That goes for non-battleships too. Shiranui?"

"It'll be done, Shikikan. If it was made for the little manjuu I have plenty of willing participants aboard my hull. But we should go now. We idle here at our own peril," the ghost destroyer reminded them.

"Agreed. If there are no further questions, return to your hulls or stations and prepare to return north. We will look to resupply in Pensacola if possible before crossing the Atlantic. I want daily reports on our anti-submarine readiness, partially because there's not much else to do. Zed… stay with your comrade and notify me if anything changes."

The young destroyer joined the rest as they saluted him and fell out in groups of twos and threes. "Ja, mein Kommandant. It will be done."