Chapter 10: Two Sides One Struggle
It was a peaceful night.
The passionate songs of the night animals living on the island were her friends, had been so since long time she was assigned here, and the gentle brush of dry night air on her hair was her reminder of a duty long to go but knew she'd accustomed to.
Kinu watched the full moon hanging overhead with dull interest, grateful that another night would be spent without her drenching under a rain. The Light Cruiser wandered in the darkness seemingly aimlessly, one hand carrying a lantern that was her only source of illumination aside from the soft silver glow from the moon, while her other hand rested on the hilt of her sword absently.
It had been like that since a long time ago, another night patrol she had to spend alone in solitude. While she wouldn't say she was complaining since it offered her a moment of silence she longed amidst the hustle and bustle in her base, especially after the arrival of their Commander, she certainly would prefer a daytime patrol instead. Oh no, it wasn't ghost nor demon she was afraid of alright, after all the latter was her nickname, but it was easier to see her surrounding when the sun was up rather than the moon, it would be easier for her to spot anyone dumb enough to try and infiltrate the base.
The white haired girl paused her mulling when she realized how wrong it was. She was given this job so nobody would have to, besides it wasn't just her who had night duty so that was rather selfish of her. There was also a reason why their Commander kept the assignments as permanent rather than a rotating shift, her Commander believed by doing so they would be used to their environment, how to see under the darkness and which shade must be paid more attention.
Kinu had to agree to that, but she kept her silence mostly because that meant she had more time to train during the day.
A cool breeze washed over her and she instinctively tightened the cloak around her body, shivering lightly, as the trees and bushes around her danced in response to the invisible force, swaying back and forth in a gentle rhythm. She looked at her surroundings, watching the leaves and branches playing tricks with her mind, some shapes resembled grotesque forms of what could be described as monsters, while the others took the shape of shadows hiding in the shade.
She dismissed them with a shake of her head, another normal occurance she had seen for countless times, another attempt Mother Nature had to tease her.
Her boots threaded on a low slope, going smoothly thanks to their owner's nimble body. The new path was a tad bit muddy, thanks to the rain happening a few days ago, and some of the dirt was stuck on her once polished footwear, while the prints left become more palpable as her foot sank deeper than previously.
She exhaled deeply, an annoyed pout began to form up on her always neutral face as she lowered the lantern more to shine on the road better. Kinu looked around, noticing a large stone under the tree on her left, before making her way towards it.
"Sorry about this..." The Light Cruiser muttered as she began to wipe the bottom of her boots on the stone's grey surface, blemishing it with dirt.
"Yeah, me too"
A voice suddenly replied from behind her, startling her out of her stupor. Kinu turned around, one hand going for her sword while the other moved to illuminate the shadow behind her. However, before she could even finish turning a pair of strong arms suddenly found their way around her neck and head, a hand was covering her mouth preventing her from screaming.
Panicked, Kinu desperately clawed at the arms strangling her but they were too strong for her to break free, and in the midst of her struggle she didn't realize she was no longer standing on the ground until she tried to kick her legs and found nothing below them, nothing except thin air. Her body grew heavier and heavier while her lungs began to burn due to the lack of oxygen, and it's only a matter of time before her mind began to suffer from it too.
Her golden eyes slowly lost its light as her consciousness faded, and her once frantic struggling slowly died out with it before finally she went limp.
The last thing she saw before she passed out was a pair of red orbs staring at her, filled with ruthless conviction and calculating coldness. A single thought surfaced, until it too was drowned in a hazy darkness.
The lantern on her hand fell to the ground, its flame flickered before dying out completely with a pathetic hiss, and finally light surrendered to darkness.
Enterprise gingerly released the girl she was holding, letting her slide down to the ground below before dragging her somewhere into the forest foliage. She put a finger on the girl's neck, feeling the faint pulse of her vein before carrying on when she was sure nobody would find her there.
She grabbed the Assault Rifle attached on her back and leveled it forward, her feet continue traversing the terrain as she scanned her surroundings with utmost attention. The Optical Head Mounted Display in the form of glasses she wore fed her with information coming from her metal form in the sky above, concealed in the cloud. They shouldn't be having that large of a function reach but they somehow did, she found out the glasses the Troops usually used had the same HUD system when she was in full rigging, in substitute for her built-in MJOLNIR Visor while in half rigging setting.
She linked a FLIR camera to her OHMD and put the display on the right corner of her HUD for navigation reference while relying on night vision for direct contact. On the top left of her HUD was the ammo counter for her weapons, currently displaying the MA5 on her hands since the electronic display on it might give away her concealment Enterprise decided to turn off the built-in Electronic Combat Assistance Module.
The Heavy Carrier glanced at the now complete map, noting the blue dot that was her position and the distant cluster of lights that was her destination up North.
"A benevolent approach" A voice echoed around her and she snapped at the general direction it came from, gun hoisted and finger on the trigger. From the shadow, a figure emerged, seemingly gliding along the soft breeze and approaching her.
Her finger twitched but she held back, knowing full well physical attack wouldn't work against this thing. She knew since she had tried, once when she felt the annoyance inside her was too much and decided it was the time for her fist to take action, though once she chose the latter she met nothing but air and bewildered exasperation. It actually made her wonder about her own sanity.
"Could you not do that?" Enterprise hissed, glaring at Code G whose hand now rested on the top of her Assault Rifle. There was no weight in her contact, but Enterprise knew she wanted her to lower the barrel in a placating manner.
She did just that, fully aware shooting her wouldn't give any effect, at least not the one she desired.
"Did I startle you?"
The Heavy Carrier scoffed. "As if"
Though, Enterprise had to admit, it was not entirely true. This woman, or at least the thing that resembled a woman, did not have any presence at all, physical wise anyway. She often appeared out of nowhere in her vicinity, seemingly out of the blue from behind her or any places that were out of her constant watch, sending her combat instinct into an overdrive where her body would react before her mind could.
It was dangerous, hence why she was annoyed most of the time when Code G was present. There was no telling when Enterprise's instinct would win and send a volley of bullets to the places she didn't want to.
"You asked me not to kill any of these people" Enterprise continued, once again resuming her pace.
"For they are innocent"
"How would I know?"
Code G materialized from behind a tree in front of her, right on the NAV point she set up. "The Dream Teller knows" She said simply before her form dissolved, a moment later a hand suddenly settled on Enterprise's shoulder. She couldn't feel her touch, but it made her shiver nonetheless. "You must make haste and meet her, Servant of The Fosters, for you need to learn the truth of this world"
Enterprise followed Code G's outstretched hand, her index finger pointing at the location of the naval base. "You keep saying that but you never specify what it actually is. What truth?"
Her ghostly fingers caressed her cheek and Enterprise fought the urge to grab and rip them, knowing the futility in such action. "One that is closer than you think"
And with that she was gone, leaving Enterprise alone in the darkness. The Heavy Carrier sighed, looking around her to make sure Code G was not playing tricks with her again, although it's most definite she would appear again at one point.
"Freaky piece of..."
Code G didn't say her purpose nagging Enterprise, other than her constant bugging wherever she went she didn't do much. It felt like the entity had some sort of twisted infatuation towards her, judging from her sometimes excessive and disturbing physical contacts which were anything but physical since she couldn't really touch her, at least not in this realm.
She showed a great interest on her, often appearing but with a word, standing somewhere near her just to stare. It annoyed Enterprise out especially when all Code G had was this blank and almost distant expression whenever she observed her from the sideline. For Enterprise who was not used to foreign presence it was aggravating.
"You are a wonder for me..."
Was all she once said to her, oddly enough her passive expression became a tad bit softer when she said that.
Enterprise just couldn't wrap her head around it, what she meant by that, and anything she asked was met with riddles or silence. Code G was the first entity that gave her a headache and if she could, Enterprise would have punched her in the face. She didn't have time nor the patience for games.
The half kilometer march was spent uneventfully, she met some patrolling Ship-girls here and there but Enterprise chose to lay low and wait until they left on their own. She was too close to the base now if she tried to knock any of them out it's most probable someone would notice, a notion she'd rather not be happening.
Though, her journey was anything but smooth.
Enterprise met her first obstacle when she was about to enter the base parimeter, a tall fence jutting up way over her head with barbed wires on top as an additional security measure. The trees around were also cut, there were at least 5 meters distance between the fence and the treeline to ensure nobody would jump from them and infiltrate the base.
Except they didn't know Enterprise wouldn't do that.
She prowled under a bush that was closest to the fence, hands parallel in the gaps of the interwoven metal wires, before she pulled them apart with little to no effort. They screeched rather audibly but she had made sure there was no patrol near her.
Once Enterprise went through the newly made hole it was an entirely new challenge she had to face. The base didn't have any tree for her to hide or bush for her to lie, the ground was paved and the lights were on, illuminating every possible hiding spot. She looked around, noticing the contrast difference between Azur Lane's base and Sakura Empire's.
It could be due to age, Enterprise remembered Hornet telling her that their base was fairly new, that's why the buildings looked rather pristine. Enterprise also noticed, on the West of Azur Lane's base was a civilian trade hub complete with a harbour and small town, though oddly enough there was no sign of human presence. She didn't ask about it because she found no reason to question something of low significance, the town seemed like it was still under construction anyway.
This base, however, was different, and a lot at that. The architecture was similar to the old Japanese traditional building with tiled roofs and wooden frames, while the foundation was suspended above ground with concrete blocks. Enterprise looked around her surroundings, she could use the last to her advantage but she would rather not be sneaking around on her belly since she would be vulnerable to attack. Though the roofs seemed like a more feasible option since the buildings were connected one to another.
Enterprise had been pondering her options when she spotted something on the corners of her eyes that caught her attention, and almost instantly a scowl formed up on her usually passive face.
"Figured you would be here" The ravenette began offhandedly as she approached the figure standing under a Sakura tree, gun still levelled.
Code G didn't say anything at first, staring at Enterprise in a long unblinking silence while the Heavy Carrier merely gave her a fraction of her attention, the rest was put to keep herself on alert to her surroundings. "I do not recommend your method"
"I see many presence" Enterprise replied flatly, briefly looking at the live feed image from her metal form and the various heat signatures around the base. "You have better option?"
Enterprise's eyebrows shot up, this time Code G had all of her attention. That was the first time she actually said something useful this whole time and not just some irritating riddles.
"Inside" She simply said as she pointed at a certain building, and Enterprise was forced to take back her earlier sentiment that she might be useful.
"I detect a lot of bio-signatures inside" Enterprise responded, masking her discontent with a scowl. "Are you that desperate to get me caught?"
"I do not wish such thing"
"Hard to believe when you threatened me to come here"
Code G stopped on her track, well whatever counted as track in mid air, before turning around to face Enterprise, her tattered black cloak waving aggressively despite the absence of a necessary force required for such movement.
"It was hardly a threat"
"You told me a catastrophe will befall the humans in this world if I keep ignoring your squabbling, you expect me to ignore such threat?"
"Your love will be the cause of your downfall" Code G uttered. "Were you not aware of that?"
"I've been made aware since a while"
"Yet you would still rush in despite it?"
Enterprise glared at Code G, this time her sharp look was different compared to her previously annoyed ones. This time she was serious. "Mankind... is always in a state of constant threat, doesn't matter if it was external or internal but humanity will always find something trying to snuff her from existence. I do not take chances, no matter how small, and I refuse to let this one slide" Her glasses depolarized, revealing a pair of menacing maroon orbs. "If this is revealed to be a trap then I won't hesitate turning this base upside down with a MAC strike, I've had enough of your stupid games"
"I'm afraid your concern is outside of my capability"
The ravenette scoffed as she began to turn the door knob of the building Code G pointed her, gun barrel protruding from the small crack before she pushed the door open fully. Part of her wonder why she agreed to this whole idea, everything about this screamed trouble and trap to her. "Which one?" She asked in a whisper, scanning the dimly lit hallway to ensure she was on the clear before pushing in.
Code G didn't say anything in return and the fact she didn't show up on her scan whatsoever forced Enterprise to glance back. It was not as much of a surprise for her anymore whenever she found her vanishing into thin air, it was more vexing if anything.
Enterprise suppressed an urge to sigh, instead she held her gun closer as she ventured through the hallways, head on the swivel and eyes focusing between the small map on her HUD and her surroundings. She PING-ed her bio detector once to ensure the positions of each building occupants, careful not to make too much noise when she travelled too close to a room. The sensor lacked the ability to determine an exact level so Enterprise was left to rely on her OHMD's less powerful motion detector in closer range.
A commotion from the room on her right stopped Enterprise dead on her track. She froze up as the noise got clearer and clearer until it morphed into a comprehensible chatter, two people were talking in a hushed Japanese her headgear automatically translated.
It was just an idle chat between two friends, apparently.
Silently, Enterprise continued her pace.
The Command Center was nothing like what she expected.
Enterprise had seen her target building from the sky but it was so different from seeing it up close from the ground where her perspective was equal to what she saw. Just like this base, it looked rather old unlike Azur Lane's more modern architecture style, there was no sturdy concrete nor well arranged glasses and windows. Instead, the main foundation was supported by wooden columns and planks, reaching up to the third floor or so. It didn't look any less pleasing for the eyes but it certainly didn't look sturdier especially considering your enemy was a bunch of literal walking warships.
Although, what Enterprise found most interesting was the fact it was connected to another set of dormitories, which was also her destination. Enterprise supposed, this particular side was reserved for the most important individuals, just like Azur Lane's 'inner circle', as Hornet called it before.
She began her infiltration swiftly and efficiently, repeatedly pinging the building and making sure she hadn't gotten found out once she was inside. The internal structure was also befitting to the outside, with instead of a concrete wall there was a series of see-through paper glued to skeletal bamboo sticks and wood, a Tatami wall she remembered it was called.
Thankfully, it was dark at where she was, particularly the long hallway so she didn't have to worry about being seen from inside the adjacent chambers lining on her sides. Still, she kept an eye close to her motion sensors all the while also listening to the sound that wasn't her steady breathing, after all there's no such thing as being too cautious when in enemy territory.
"In this chamber" Code G suddenly announced, once again sending Enterprise's combat mode to an overdrive as she snapped her gun towards her position on her right. The Heavy Carrier glared at the elusive entity, a normal response to Code G's presence at this point, before she turned to the room Code G showed her.
Enterprise exhaled softly to ease her instinct, before reaching at the sliding door and slid it open, one hand holding the MA5 while the other pushed it aside.
The soft glow of the moon greeted her, basking her body in a silver light, once a sliver of faint ray reflecting on her red orbs until it turned into a full portion as she stepped inside, not enough to illuminate her face but certainly brighter than the pitch darkness of the night. Her eyes focused on a figure lying in the center of the room, deep in slumber with her back facing Enterprise, her tails seemed to absorb the moonlight with the way they glowed, similiar to her perky extra pair of ears and blue locks which obscured half of her face.
The ravenette paused for a split second, her mind processing all sort of information she acquired just in the brief time she had been there, the wonders and the surprises, before deciding they could wait. She didn't have the time to question why there's an apparent nine tailed human-fox hybrid on this planet, or why she was a KANSEN, sleeping so soundly with seemingly little to no care for the world.
"It is because her world is not this"
Enterprise's head tilted ever so slightly when Code G appeared from behind her and walked towards the sleeping woman before she knelt down to caress her head, her fingers went past her physical body yet it didn't stop her.
"The physical realm is not of her importance, certainly not"
She was hesitant, but Code G was speaking in her head so Enterprise tried to communicate with her thoughts and responded.
This is Shinano?
"Indeed she is the Dream Teller. She whom travelled between worlds and eras and witnessed all that transpired in those worlds"
How does she do that? Is it like astral projection or something?
"I do not know"
Enterprise frowned. "She's an HVT, I'm taking her with me"
"I know of your methods and I find it best if you do not"
Enterprise turned on her heels when a voice bellowed from behind her, gun ready to face the threat. However, much to her surprise the moment she finished turning a metallic glint suddenly sliced through the air and knocked her gun off her hands to the floor behind her. She suppressed a curse as she stepped back, armored hands brought up in a guarding stance.
Fast and strong
Enterprise thought to herself as the newcomer walked into the light, revealing silver hair and blue eyes. Though, Enterprise's attention was mostly drawn on her enlarged version of Katana.
"Intruder! Surrender now and I shall consider a merciful end!"
Enterprise pulled her Combat Knife out and charged forward, her feet carried her faster than what her opponent could anticipate. She twirled her knife into a reverse grip before thrusting her fist onto the woman's neck, aiming to decapitate her but the woman reacted in the last second and parried her attack.
Their weapons met in a resonating clank, sparks flew off when metal met metal. Enterprise had to admit this woman was strong, but her strength was not sufficient to match a Heavy Carrier's.
Enterprise pushed on, channeling her plasma into her Combat Knife and turning it to a literal hot knife. She watched the woman's eyes widened in shock as her blade began to melt, angry red molten metal dripping down its length before finally it broke into two with a thunderous crack amidst the silence of the night.
Heart pounding in her chest, she saw the world move in a familiar slowness as her battle instinct took over. Everything around her began to look clearer and clearer and she took every single detail with utmost precision in mere milliseconds.
She saw the broken section of the blade flew off past her side, spinning in suspended movement in the air, reflecting the daintly glow of the moon and her red orbs on its shattered surface before it left her line of vision to somewhere behind her. The woman before her seemed to freeze, eyes wide and face contorted in a silent gasp as she stared at her now borderline useless sword.
Enterprise then inhaled, her breathing was the only sound aside from her heartbeat, before plunging her Combat Knife forward once again. This time her strike connected, but it missed her actual mark. Instead of lodging in her opponent's shoulder like she intended, the hot blade grazed through the woman's baggy Yukata and cut her right arm open, steam almost instantly billowed from the fabric and the all too familiar stench of burnt flesh assaulted her nostrils.
"A-Agh?!" She couldn't even properly scream as her body went through a shock from the sudden heat, injured arm went slack as her previously stunned visage turned into a silent anguish. Plasma wound was not pretty, and Enterprise pretty much lived with it in her previous life, she knew and understood the pain her opponent was suffering as her very nerves melted and burnt to a crisp, muscle spasming and blood boiling in her veins.
Perhaps it was a mercy, perhaps it was merely her battle instinct, but whichever it was didn't matter for the Heavy Carrier, all she knew and cared was that she had to exfil quickly from the AO.
Enterprise spun on her heel in the fraction of second her opponent registered her wound, legs tensing up as she turned around, one supporting her weight while the other folded on her front. With all the strength of her half-rigging configuration she then sent a spinning back kick at the woman's stomach, feeling something squished under the force before she was sent flying across the rooms onto the outside world. The thin paper walls didn't have the chance in stopping the sheer force her kick carried.
The destroyed blade fell with a thud, while its separated tip stabbed itself on the floor merely a few inches from Shinano's now sitting form. She was staring at her with wide eyes, speechless, barely registering the unintended hazard she just missed on the floor.
Enterprise stared back, bending down to pick up her opponent's abandoned sword, before she walked towards Shinano. The fox-woman blinked as if in daze, watching her armored fingers tightening around the blade before with one little squeeze of unfathomable strength it shattered completely into hundreds of small metal powder.
The sound of metal being grinded to dust startled Shinano from her bewildered state, scooting away from Enterprise almost immediately until her back hit the screen doors leading outside. The Heavy Carrier picked up her fallen gun and put it on her back where the magnetic clamps were at, storing her Combat Knife back to its place, before closing the distance between her and the terrified Supercarrier.
"N-no...!" Shinano whimpered when Enterprise grabbed her by her dress and threw her onto her armored shoulder, unheeding her breathless cry of agony as the sudden action knocked the wind out of her. Enterprise then glanced back, to the holes punching straight in the walls and the figure lying on its end, before she unceremoniously ripped the fragile paper door off and sprinted away, a NAV point appearing on her HUD.
"Call for fire, one gun in effect, one round, target identifier soft and mild surface structure. Prep, MAC 50% power output, ready fire once extraction is carried out"
An alarm blared in the distance, growing louder with each passing seconds until it drowned the peaceful silence of the night, lights lit up all over the buildings around her as their occupants scrambled up from their rest. Enterprise could see shadows moving in the treeline as patrolling units ran back and chased her, shouts and screams erupted when someone found her opponent's unconscious form.
She reached the border of the base, once again her path was obstructed by a fence but this time she didn't use a delicate approach, instead opting to rip the metal wires with her bare hand along with the metal pole buried deep into the ground which acted as a supporting column, one hand wrapped tightly around Shinano's own.
"W-wait!" Shinano stuttered, wincing and hissing whenever her unprotected soles scraped against pebbles and exposed roots alike as they began to run once again. She never had the chance to match her large strides, practically dragged across the forest by the hand.
Enterprise stopped, not because of Shinano's plea but because of the lone contact on her motion sensor a few meters ahead of her. Her metal form was currently breaking the atmosphere in preparation for the strike, since protocol dictated firing MAC in atmosphere was strongly advised against thanks to the fact air friction would cause collateral damage to the surrounding area, though part of her really didn't care about the side effects considering she was in the middle of the ocean, away from any civilization to actually pose a possible and unwanted hazard.
She raised her gun and prepared to fire when the unknown contact suddenly spoke up.
"Visitor from the stars" The voice was of female, undoubtedly at first but then confirmed when the figure stepped out of the treeline. "Or, may I call you Enterprise?"
Enterprise's finger curled around the trigger. "You're human"
The figure raised the unlit lantern she carried, fumbling with her pockets until she found what she was looking for. A match lit up in the darkness with a sizzle, held close to the lantern before the fire ignited it, steadily building up a source of illumination. Enterprise watched the whole ordeal in a tense silence, her finger never leaving the trigger of her Assault Rifle.
The Heavy Carrier could see in the dark just fine, but the lantern provided her a better view of the woman. She was somewhat short, barely standing on her chest level, with long black hair and sharp brown eyes that were filled with neutral kindness. White naval uniform hugged her figure, similiar to those worn by the old Japanese Admiralty, with what appeared to be a blue cherry blossom seal on her right breast emblazoned with golden patterns which reached up to her collar and right shoulder.
On her hips was a dagger, holstered in its red scabbard, tied around her in a long black fabric. Enterprise's eyes automatically drawn to it, recognizing a weapon when she saw one, and a threat concealed under friendly visage.
"Indeed I am, the one and only on this island to be precise. Although, I'd rather not discriminate between a KANSEN and human" She said earning Enterprise's attention back, the edges of her mouth curved upwards in a friendly smile Enterprise outright ignored. "You don't talk much, do you?"
Her reply came after she aimed the gun to her face. "Move or I will shoot"
"Uh-huh, not before you release my girl"
"I'm not negotiating"
"I know, but I also know you will do as I say once you listen"
Shinano struggled some more, she tried to move but much to her bafflement instead of away she hugged Enterprise closer on her side. "Please, wait!" Enterprise's head turned towards the fox woman as she desperately tried to get her attention. "I know you, I've seen you! The Lost Spirit told me of you!"
"One that shares the same face and fate as you! A lost soul heedless to the world!"
"Code G" It wasn't a question, it was a statement. There was only one entity sharing the same facial feature if she excluded the other Enterprise and it was Code G, she doubted CV-6 had some sort of contact with Shinano whatsoever. Though, part of her wondered what Shinano meant by fate.
Shinano nodded, those fox ears of hers flicking up and down along with the gesture. "She has many names but few knows of her real name" Well, Enterprise knew, it was nothing special. She would call her a Piece of Work if she had to. "She told me that a great change is coming, and a pioneer from the Heaven will be the one to guide us"
"I'm nobody" The Heavy Carrier simply said.
"Yet she sees you as an important piece, there is a great significance-"
"I am nobody's piece but my people" Enterprise growled to the woman as figures emerged from the treeline, Ship-girls with various classes and weapons she identified as threats encircled her. Enterprise glanced at the red pulsating letter of her MAC readiness on her HUD, silently formulating a strike plan. "I will not serve anyone else"
One of those girls gingerly went to the woman she met earlier, whispering something that visibly made her frown. Enterprise kept her glare towards her, waiting for the inevitable attack order.
"At least, give us a chance to talk" The woman said once she finished replying the whisper with her own whisper. "You put one of my upper echelons in intensive care, don't you think we deserve at least 10 minutes of talk?"
Shinano suddenly jerked to face the woman, her face morphed into a horrified shock. "Sister Musashi...? But... that was just one strike she received..."
Her musing unnerved the Ship-girls surrounding Enterprise, some merely grimaced while many couldn't even hide their terrified expression. They gasped and moved closer to each other almost instinctively, not unlike a pact of small animals when facing a big predator.
"Pespetrous!" Enterprise's eyes shifted towards a new figure coming from behind the woman, the crowd separating to let her pass. The way they bowed their head in respect didn't lost in Enterprise's keen eyes. "One strike? Such insult to the indomitable Yamatos is unforgivable"
Oh, great... More idiots.
Before anyone else could respond, however, a hand suddenly sailed through the air and hit the newcomer on the back of her head with a resonating slap. Nobody uttered a word when she crouched down rubbing her sore head, even Enterprise couldn't help but to feel baffled.
"How many times did I tell you to not pick up a fight with something you feel adequately big?"
"What was that for?!"
"Reprimanding, what else?!" The earlier woman raised her hand again, the same hand that slapped her head, making her cowered back with an audible shriek. "You are the Central Fleet's flagship, Yamato, act your part!"
The crouching woman, now identified as Yamato, huffed. Enterprise watched the two bantered back and forth, seemingly forgetting the gun pointed towards their faces. She took a deeper look at Yamato, paying more attention now that it was revealed she was a significant character in this whole shenanigans and the first thing that came to mind was... traditional.
Her appearance was rich with the Japanese cultural symbols, in fact now that she thought about it the Sakura Empire's Ship-girls were unique in their own way. Their complexion was heavily influenced by the country's traditional dress style and their combat style relied heavily on elongated melee weapons such as swords. Enterprise thought the difference was mostly due to age, but it was clear they'd rather keep traditions over functions.
It was stupid.
Although, what captured her attention the most was those human-animal hybrids. She only encountered one in Azur Lane base but here almost all of them had animal traits. She would rather not think on how it felt to have 4 ears at once.
"Your 10 minutes is almost up" Enterprise cut in flatly, pulling Shinano closer who was visibly relaxing during the lax moments. The Supercarrier pursed her lips thanks to the harsh reminder.
"Oh, it has begun?" Oddly enough, she didn't sound too bothered by it, in fact her carefree attitude seemed out of place, definitely unfitting for someone standing before a barrel of a gun capable of tearing limbs and guts alike. "Well, alright then. All of you disperse and RTB, Yamato and Azuma stay here"
A new Ship-girl Enterprise presumed as Azuma stepped forward and stood beside her, unlike Yamato who carried a similar size sword Musashi did, she appeared unarmed, not even her rigging was present. Enterprise knew she was either too stupid or too good to be coming unarmed yet she couldn't determine which it was. Ancient they might be but she wouldn't start being an idiot and assume nobody could hurt her in this world.
No reason to be at ease, then.
"How about an introduction first? I'm Commander Alicia Takahashi, the acting commanding officer of the Sakura Empire Unorthodox Central Fleet, you may call me Commander or Alice, or anything you see fit, really"
"That is not how you assert your authoritative status, Shikikan" Yamato said with a sigh, closing her eyes in obvious exasperation before she glared towards Enterprise. "I'm Yamato and she's Azuma, though it's obvious at this point so why don't we just cut the chase and start talking business?"
"Commander, my sister is currently being held at gunpoint so if you don't mind please take this situation more seriously"
"I can see that, geez, that's why I'm trying to ease the tension, idiot"
"Wait, you're doing this on purpose?"
"Duh, she would have shot me full of lead otherwise"
The woman- Alicia -froze upon hearing Enterprise's cold reminder. She grabbed a handful of her hair, exhaled deeply and stared Enterprise directly in the eyes, her enthusiasm gone entirely and was replaced with an unforgiving grimness. "I know who you are, we've heard of your stories and we've seen your struggles in your previous life. Your final battle above Reach, particularly, is a costly one"
This time, it was Enterprise's turn to freeze. "How did you know?"
"Shinano over there..." The Heavy Carrier looked down at Shinano, meeting her crystal blue eyes, eyes which were filled with sadness fitting those who had seen a world burnt into molten slag and sympathy Enterprise knew was meant for her. "... She has a special ability no other KANSEN has. She's gifted with a pair of unobstructed eyes and thanks to it she can see into the dreamworld to experience it, however she cannot intervene nor change anything, only to watch helplessly whatever is happening in that world"
"I saw the terror reigning supreme over your worlds, I saw the endless darkness overwhelmed the stars, I felt the pain and the suffering of your people. All while I slept, with my body bound from my mind" The fox woman said, her tone befitting of a somber melody, punctuated with a shudder each time she uttered a word. With a smaller tone, she then added "How did you do that? Continuing on despite all you have gone through? Despite all the blood and the slaughters and... and..."
Shinano began to shake, her body tremble in response to her uncontrollable sobbing. Enterprise silently watched one trail of tear rolling down her cheek, and then followed by a steady stream she desperately tried to wipe with her Kimono. How did she manage? she didn't. There was not enough killings to numb one's heart, never be, instead she used that hatred in her chest to push on forward, the desire for revenge acting as a fuel for her aching heart, telling her that until she blow the last of her enemy to smithereens then she would never stop even in death itself.
They were looking at her with pity now, something she certainly didn't need. "How much did you see?" Enterprise queried, her voice never losing its cold flatness. She didn't care what happened to her, she wanted to know how many of her people made it out of Reach, how many UNSC warships successfully evacuated to participate in Earth's defense, humanity's last stand. There were so many questions swirling in her head but she had priorities, namely mankind's survival, and talking about her or her peers' deaths wouldn't help since she couldn't do anything about it anymore.
"Enough of it, at least until your untimely demise"
"Not enough but definitely more than needed" She lowered her gun, still not letting her finger off the trigger or releasing Shinano either. "Depending on your answer you might or might not survive in the next 5 minutes so answer wisely. What are your objectives?"
The three of them shared a glance, Enterprise didn't miss the slight hesitation in Azuma's eyes when they exchanged the silent gesture. When the Commander answered, however, her tone was solid without any hint of uncertainty.
"We're planning a military Coup"
Cleveland squinted her eyes in disbelief. "I said, what the hell is up with you today?"
Hornet blinked, her fingers stopped playing with her utensils. She opened her mouth, closed it when no words came out, and opened it again. "What?"
She could feel Cleveland's incredulous glare drilling her face. "You're off, absentminded. Something's bothering you"
It wasn't a question but more to a statement. Hornet was taken aback and she merely laughed nervously in return since she didn't know how to respond. "Ah... yeah... haha..."
The blonde Carrier bit her lips. "It's just... You remember what I told you 3 days ago? about what the other Enterprise said regarding Wisdom Cube?"
"Uh-huh, I thought we've passed that bridge"
"We have... I just feel like thinking over it sometimes"
Cleveland sighed audibly, the metal chair under her creaking loudly in the empty space as she pulled it forward to lean on the table. They were currently having their breakfast, if a bowl of cereal and an apple in the afternoon could be called that, in the base cafeteria, alone since the breakfast serving time had long past its due. Not a single soul could be seen, even the kitchenette where Nevada and Oklahoma often worked at was empty since the aforementioned Ship-girls were out conducting security detail for the recently arrived Constitution.
The Union Navy most modern Aircraft Carrier was moored at the pier along with her escorts, a mixture between KANSENs and steel-hulls from the proud Pacific 7th Fleet. Sailors and Marines alike were busy unloading supplies intended for the base with the help of some base personnel, specifically the Ship-girls.
It was a well established fact that the base was rather unorthodox, there was no human managing it except the Commander, more or less making it an all Ship-girl base. It had been like that since the base founding as a part of Azur Lane's sociopath policy determining the capability of a KANSEN's social behavior to ensure they could work independently without an order from humans. They wanted to see them grow as a character, and in an extent, a human that wasn't blindly following orders.
"It is not healthy, you know..." Cleveland whispered softly, kindly, grabbing Hornet's hand in a comforting manner. She frowned slightly when she noticed how cold her fingers were. "We all know we are not human, I mean we're born from metal not flesh so it's obvious" Cleveland tried to smile but it crumbled down pathetically and she gave up after the third attempt. "Thing is, it does not matter. We live the way a human does, we eat the same food and we bleed the same blood, what's the color of our blood again?"
The Carrier paused, her fingers inadvertently curled around Cleveland's when the smaller blonde began to run her thumb in a circle. "Red"
"Yes and does it have oil mixed in it or not?"
"No, we'd die otherwise"
"See? It's simple" Cleveland picked an unused spoon, spun it around on her palm and used its handle to poke her other hand. "It's soft, just like human flesh born from a mother's womb. You see any difference?"
Hornet shook her head. "I've long accepted the fact we're not human but hearing and seeing are two different things. I thought I was ready when it was confirmed we're nothing but machines in the end but I was not"
"Machines don't feel, Hornet, and we certainly do. That's why emotions and feelings are precious gifts for many of us"
"... how did you do it?" Hornet retreated back, arms crossed and shoulders hunched together as she leant on her chair.
"Managing, tolerating the fact"
"Well, for starters I don't let it bother me. Thinking about it wouldn't change anything, my life will still stay the same either way so it really does not matter anyway. I did think of it for a while until my Bonsai needed watering"
"... are you for real?"
The smaller blonde shrugged nonchalantly, scooping another spoonful of cereal into her mouth. It had long gone cold but Cleveland didn't care, she was late for breakfast thanks to Denver forgetting where she put the bathroom key, leaving Cleveland hungry and naked with Montpelier while the youngest sister looked around. Cleveland was still wondering who the hell locked their own bathroom while someone was taking a shower until she realized Denver loved doing pranks.
On one hand, she really wanted to pull Denver's ear until it turned beet red, on the other hand she couldn't help but feel happy that at least Denver was fine now. If she had the energy to do her mischievous acts then she was alright.
Though, if only Columbia didn't bust the showerhead I wouldn't have needed to borrow a bathroom.
"I have my priorities"
"Your priorities are a bunch of undersized trees?"
"Like I said, priorities"
Hornet stared at her incredulously but when it was apparent Cleveland wouldn't say anything in return she decided to continue digging through her breakfast, mellowing its now slightly stale nature amidst bites with her own imagination. She needed the nutrients, or whatever value a cereal offered, since she spent her last few days in but the lowest of appetite, too much focused on doing base work in the days and overthinking stuff in the nights resulting in Hornet barely eating anything sufficient.
Her sister made a point to remind her to eat, but Hornet could see the slight reticence in Enterprise's action. It was probably due to her own habit of eating nothing but MREs so she probably felt like a hypocrite for telling her that, though Hornet certainly would like to say the same to her older sister.
It didn't stop Vestal from sending her a concerned albeit indignant glare from time to time though, Hornet swore the Repair Vessel knew everything going on around her even when she was not there. Or she was just accustomed to the three Yorktowns she could see the slightest of distress?
Yeah, right, she probably is. Can't hide something from Vestal's avid eyes.
"Ma'ams?" Both the blondes looked to the source of the gravelly voice, noticing a man in his BDU standing rigidly a few meters from their table, one of the Marines attached to Constitution battlegroup it seemed. "Commander Allenforth requires your present in his office"
"Huh... The both of us?" Cleveland asked in which he nodded.
"Yes, Ma'am, the rest of the necessary parties have assembled"
Hornet frowned, silently tidying her utensils. The Commander wanted them? "What could it possibly be..." She mumbled, taking her and Cleveland's surprisingly empty bowl back to the kitchenette, someone needed to wash them later.
Hornet returned to see Cleveland pushing herself off her chair with noticeable effort, wincing slightly when her wound contradicted with her movement. It was not as bad as it used to be, her IV had been pulled out and the limp on her leg had subsided, but it was obvious she was still hurting. Hornet was about to help her when Cleveland brought her palm up and stopped her.
"I'm fine, no need to keep supporting every of my steps"
"... I'm here if you need me"
"I know, and I appreciate it"
They wordlessly followed the Marine.
"The situation is... more complicated, than what you know. I truly feel it better if we talk about this directly"
David stared at the blue hologram displaying Enterprise's upper body part, projected from the datapad she specifically left for his utilization. He didn't fail to notice the slight agitation in the Heavy Carrier's posture, restlessness that was born from urgency lacing in her tone.
Behind his back he could feel his father's eyes carefully set on him.
"Is this her, Dave?" He asked, cutting in.
The Commander nodded, stepping aside to let the Admiral stand in front of the display. Enterprise on the other side seemed to notice his rank and straightened up.
"Sir! UNSC Enterprise CV-600, Epoch-class Heavy Carrier!"
She didn't salute, David realized Enterprise never gave them the gesture first, the only time they exchanged a salute was when she was about to conduct the rescue operation for Hornet's team. He wouldn't start questioning the reason behind it for he saw no significant cause to do so but to say he didn't think about it would be a lie. The woman was an epitome of discipline, courage and strength, an embodiment of her people's traits, assuming military protocols were still the same 500 years to come then she definitely knew the action.
She definitely had other reasons.
"You weren't joking when you said another Enterprise" He continued, seemingly ignoring her. David didn't say anything in return, knowing full well it was a rhetorical musing. "Though, UNSC?"
"My apologies, Admiral, but the explanation has to wait" Enterprise replied, returning her attention to David. "I'm sending Condors out to pick you up, Commander, you may bring whoever you wish to bring but if it's possible please include the Cleveland sisters and Vestal, specifically"
"What do they have to do so you ask me to bring them?"
Before Enterprise could reply, the doors of his office suddenly swung open, revealing Prince of Wales and Warspite followed by the plenty of Ship-girls he requested earlier. David didn't know, he previously asked their presence to testify to the Admiral regarding the other Enterprise since they were the ones who actually first saw her and knew her better in whatever little time she spent on the base.
It was also because of the fact the Heavy Carrier vanished away in the middle of the night without as much as a word a few days ago, and he hadn't heard from her since then until now when she suddenly contacted him. She, however, kept her promise about delivering the repair materials, a flight of Pelicans dropped off a whole bunch of Titanium plates just the day after she left and Vestal had been assorting and applying it. She was also delighted to learn they were actually easy to weld with the existing metal, making her work far easier than what she initially thought.
They also did a little testing with the metal and the results were... fascinating, to say the least, he wasn't sure what's the correct word to describe it but satisfactory was definitely too down washed.
50mm of it can actually shatter Cleveland's 152mm AP rounds fired in 0 degree inclination, talk about endurance.
"Commander, Admiral, sirs!" The Battleship stood in attention, followed by Warspite. The girls behind them stopped and after a brief pause they mimicked her action and stood in an orderly row.
Hornet, Enterprise, Cleveland, Montpelier, Denver, Belfast, Sheffield and Vestal who seemed a bit too disheveled than normal, all went quiet as the Marines escorting them earlier exited the room just as silently after the Admiral dismissed them.
"At ease" David said after the double doors were closed behind them with a resonating click. "Now, I'm afraid we don't have time for pleasantries so... Belfast, Sheffield, Warspite, Wales... Meet Admiral Michael Allenforth, the current head of the Eagle Union Pacific Fleet and one of the acting chiefs of Azur Lane"
"A pleasure to meet you, Admiral" Prince of Wales and Warspite bowed while the maids kneeled down respectfully, lifting their dress in a formal greeting. "In all honesty, I didn't expect our Commander to be the son of the Seven Ships Raider"
"Your Commander earned his place not because of me, I taught him to bite but I don't freely dangle the meat for him"
"Certainly, I mean no disrespect by that. He has been performing splendidly beyond expectancy and I figured you would like to hear that"
"I heard it plenty" The Admiral responded simply before turning to face David. "Carry on"
"Right. So, Enterprise...?"
The ravenette nodded, clasping her hands behind her back. "I picked up Helena's group a few days ago, they were ambushed by a flotilla of Sirens when they were out to assist two foreign vessels in distress"
Cleveland visibly tensed up, her jaw clenching up as she held whatever question dancing on the tip of her tongue. David saw this from the corners of his eyes and asked in her stead. "Any injury?"
"Minimum at best if you exclude the already wounded. Helena and Phoenix suffered minor damage and injury but Columbia was specifically targeted by the Siren. I assume they decided to hit the most helpless one first of the three, biting off the bleeding hand"
Cleveland couldn't hold herself any longer and before she knew it she already blurted the question out. "Is my sister alright?"
Enterprise's eyes met hers through the blue holographic display. "See it for yourself"
Her image went static for a second before it changed to what appeared to be a large open space, surrounded by metal walls and constructs none of them recognize. The camera was turning around until it met its intended direction, blurring out at first but it panned out immediately to reveal Columbia's metal form.
It was suspended in some sort of docking platform but instead of the normal metal or concrete suspensions a series of cables were connected to it from all over the places, effectively keeping it upright.
"I'm patching her as best as I can but her human form is well out of my capability, that's why I need a medical personnel" Enterprise elaborated as her image appeared once again.
"That's why you request Vestal" David rephrased in which she nodded. "How many of these... Condors did you send?"
"I sent 3 out with 6 Broadsword escorts, 2 of the Broadswords are currently en-route from your Northwest. They're just done assisting a flight of Union F-14s and Hawkeye in engaging Siren aircraft, should have been regrouping in a few minutes"
"And you? What's your current position?"
"I'm currently about to go into orbit, I'll be above your base shortly"
"Where have you been, anyway?" Hornet suddenly asked, addressing the elephant that had been in the room for days. The Commander was left baffled and worried when she vanished seemingly into the blue, while the rest of them couldn't help but wonder what she was doing out there. Not a small amount of them thought she might have been wreaking havoc the past few days in some distant Siren facilities, either.
"Off the coast of Sakura Empire's territory and the Pacific"
Okay nobody expected that.
"You're... not instigating a one-man war, right?"
"Just almost" Enterprise admitted offhandedly, nobody could determine whether she ignored their horrified expression or she simply wasn't aware how much her remark affected the Ship-girls. "Admiral, I would be on my station over the cloud surface. I'd like to discuss about the security details of your visit and the patrolling Union aircraft, we'll be heading off to the space afterward but I don't want to risk transporting you or the Commander in a Condor, hence I'll pick you up into my steel form"
The space, last time the Ship-girls went there they didn't have the time nor the luxury to sightsee, it's doubtful they'd get a lot of free time but they'd make the most out of it, after all it was the final frontier they had just started to probe. It was also a safe haven from the Siren and their relentless attacks, seeing how they didn't have the capability to shoot down a satellite yet.
Although, it wasn't enough reason for the Heavy Carrier to ask them, considering she herself was the most powerful warship out there.
One can't be too careful, I guess. Hornet thought distractedly, keeping an ear but definitely not an attention to the Admiral and the Commander as they discussed the aforementioned plan. She started to get interested when Enterprise said something about flying a flight of joint fighter escorts, though.
"You may bring a squad of Marines to accompany you, Admiral, but firearm will be limited to sidearms only, any other personnel you see fit to join you are welcome as long there is enough room in the Condors"
The Admiral didn't say anything in return as a steady humming sound filled the air, a moment later a message popped up right beside Enterprise's display, showing the position of the incoming dropships. The sound was accompanied by a more high-pitched screaming, one of a turbofan engine and the other was something none of them could figure out yet knew they had heard before. It sounded low and steady, a constant humming and rumble of an advanced engineering, the sound of Deuterium engines.
Hornet couldn't keep her curiosity down and decided to peered out an open window, squinting her green eyes to search the sources of the noises. Somewhere in the sky a glint caught her attention, recognizing it as a glare from an aircraft canopy she then focused towards it.
That broad design... must be an F-14.
One of the most modern aircraft in Union's possession, a successor of the lumbering F-4s. The Tomcats were considered as one of the best aircraft in the world whether in terms of specifications or design, compared to the Phantoms they were like heaven and earth, so different there was a phrase used by the naval aviators.
If you want to kill take the Phantom, but if it's a slaughter you seek then take the Tomcat.
The swing-wing design was revolutionary especially for dog-fight, it allowed the pilot to take more aggressive maneuvers without having them stalling to their death during an engagement. Speed was everything in air combat, when you bleed it too much then death was guaranteed, every second was precious and every movement must be planned beforehand. Previously, the F-4s could barely hold against Siren aircraft, their fast yet blocky nature literally made them a flying brick, shooting but no turning. More than 70% of the nuggets died because they didn't understand when fighting in a Phantom then speed was your life and the throttle was your lucky charm, keep them both steady and you might just make it through.
But when Tomcats entered service a few years ago, pilot death toll had been decreasing each year and the material losses were also noticeably decreasing. It could be because of the fact the F-14s could dance circles around a Siren aircraft and play turkey with it.
The aircraft banked away high into the cloud and disappeared, unaware with Hornet's silent musing. A moment later, however, a flight of what could only be described as alien aircraft descended from the sky, maneuvering with abnormal agility and grace even the largest three of the nine.
Silver glint not from the canopy for they were made of a special non-reflective glass, red for the Broadswords while the Condors had golden canopies. The Broadswords dispersed, blue contrails of afterburners following their wake while the Condors came to a VTOL mode, their ventral exhausts came to life and burned fiercely as the wings began to shift, engines compensating for their weights.
The blue glows died down to a steady gold as they landed, before finally the engines whine down. With a hiss, the Condors then decompressed, opening their cargo bays in unison.
Some curious Sailors and Marines approached the three dropships, but nobody's dare to actually come anywhere close, didn't mean Hornet couldn't see the awe in their gesture as they looked at the Condors. One of the Marines even whistled rather audibly as he and his friends focused on the Condor's weapon pylons, seeing them loaded with sleek looking missile pods.
"You mentioned rescue conduct, who exactly Helena and her team rescued?" Enterprise, her Enterprise asked. Hornet blinked and tore her awestruck gaze to face her sister.
"They claimed to be a vessel from Dragon Empery, Helena told me they're a part of Azur Lane?"
"The Land of Gods. They're closely tied with us, often helping in securing the Pacific along with the USEAF. Invaluable assets and allies"
"United South East Archipelago Front"
"... The Association of South East Asian Nations" Her counterpart muttered, earning herself a collection of confused expressions. "This is one of the agendas I want to address, the difference between this Earth and mine, and how similiar both are. Commander, Admiral, our worlds are connected and deeper than what meets the eyes, there is a greater force than you or me partaking in it. We might be threading in the edge of impending destruction"
There it was, that underlying urgency in Enterprise's tone that reminded David she was in ill ease, a prospect abnormal coming from the Heavy Carrier, a symbol of power itself concerned with something was not a good sign. "We will be heading out now to meet you"
"I appreciate it, sir. I'll meet you topside"
Both Carriers stopped in their tracks, the supply boxes stacked close to their chests wobbled slightly due to the sudden change of momentum. The eldest one frowned and turned on her heels, careful not to drop the delicate materials, while the youngest merely shrugged and decided to put hers down.
"Wisconsin, could you not yell so suddenly when you're only twenty feet away?" Essex reprimanded, she was about to cross her arms to emphasize her point when she remembered they were occupied so instead she shifted her weight slightly, face morphing to a scowl.
"Save your breath she wouldn't listen" Intrepid mumbled, picking another stack of boxes and moving it near the one she put down earlier near a waiting car. "Especially when she was that excited"
"Shut up and listen!" Wisconsin took a deep breath, her shoulder length blue hair fluttered slightly as a shit eating grin began to form up on her face. She didn't say anything more though, and both sisters knew what she wanted from them.
"Ah, hell, beat me. What is it?"
That was what she wanted for sure, her blue eyes sparkling along her excitement. "We're going up to space!"
Essex and Intrepid shared a glance, the former then passed the boxes she was carrying to the latter- much to Intrepid's chagrin- before putting both her hands on Wisconsin's trembling shoulders. "Girl... girl... I know life's been hard, it's been months since you saw your sisters I know. But... we're still here, alright? So if there's a problem then feel free to come to us, we'll work it out somehow"
"What the fuck are you taking me? A kid?!"
"Nuh-huh, just a foul mouthed, reckless ball-to-the-wall fool" Intrepid interjected from the back.
"What was that?! You want me to kick your ass again?!"
"I'll have you know it was a one time victory, I kicked your sorry ass 20 times over across the Pacific before you could even hit me in return, remember?"
"Why you little-!"
"I'm telling Iowa if you keep saying bad stuff" Essex said before Wisconsin could finish her sentence, Intrepid who just finished her job leaned on a crate and smirked victoriously towards Wisconsin, earning a heated glare from the Battleship. "I know you miss them but your tour is almost done, you're going to meet them in the end"
"That's rich, coming from someone with 19 sisters"
"How did you keep forgetting?"
Essex sighed, crossing her arms now they were free. "When was the last time you heard from one of them?"
"I called Missouri a few days ago but Iowa and New Jersey... fuck, I can't even remember, hard to when they're on the other side of the damn planet" The Iowas were an invaluable asset, in an age where Aircraft Carriers made up a battlegroup, Battleships were considered as the best firepower augmenters especially for close quarter battle and escort. When the Carriers hit over the horizon, the Battleships were purposed to take out anything sort of friendly from attacking them. They never became obsolete, seeing how Siren encounters often happened literally with them popping out of the blue. "Wait no, I'm not here to lament on my dog shit predicament. Listen, I'm not shitting any of you when I said we're going to space!"
"Hell no! Apparently, the rumour was true all along! We've got a big ass spaceship hovering high above the clouds, the Admiral specifically asked us to escort him and the Commander!"
"Woah, slow down" Intrepid interrupted, jumping forward to stand beside her sister. "NAVCOM said it's just a baseless rumour"
Wisconsin smirked, puffing her already ample chest in the knowledge of knowing more than Intrepid did. "Well, the crackheads also said the Sakura Empire wouldn't dare retreating from Azur Lane, see where they are now. Point is, it's confirmed, and we're going up there"
Essex didn't say anything in return as she searched the overly excited Battleship's face. "Who else's going?"
"You, me, your sister, Balti and Brem are going too and Independence is on her way to ask Cooper is she coming or not, Biloxi and St. Louis I have no idea"
"So, basically everyone?"
"Yep!" Wisconsin affirmed, grinning. "Your beloved senior Enterprise and the gang too"
"... We're going, Intrepid"
"Huh? but the supplies-!"
"They can wait, someone's going to pick them up later anyway. Beside, the Admiral asks us"
"You're just looking for an excuse to bail and see Enterprise!"
"Alright, boys, break it up, come make way for the Admiral"
One of the escorting Marines gestured with his hand, parting a way for the group towards the Condors, a Marine Sergeant who looked rather unhappy with the whole ordeal. Nobody blamed him, though, when he was told he was up for an escort duty he knew things wouldn't be quiet for him or his boys, he had hoped for a day of nothing but once again the Corps convinced him no peace for a worn off Marine, ever.
"Hey, Sarge! going somewhere?" One of the Marines making up the crowd asked him, he couldn't help but scoff in return. Bastard had the time to screw around, it seemed.
"Hell if I know"
"You left your rifle, Sarge!"
He sighed, when he was told he couldn't bring his rifle he had taken one long drag of his cigarette, knowing shit was fucked up already. He had thought it couldn't get worse until he heard his assignment was to escort the Admiral into an honest to God spaceship high over the clouds.
The last part actually made him take two long drags and 15 seconds pause.
Either the high ups were high as fuck or he was in really deep shit, but now he saw the three otherworldly aircraft he knew it was the latter.
"Can't bring her with me, gotta rely on this baby over here" He grunted out, patting his sidearm. "Hey, Dee! Go check the inside of this thing and see if there's a bomb or some shit, don't want the Navy cursing my dead ass if it suddenly blow up along with the Admiral"
"I don't know, Sarge, there's nothing sort of a bomb over here. I mean there's an unknown shit, more unknown shit, glowing unknown shit, and two small unknown shit over the ceiling" The Private said after he finished his inspection of the Condor's interior. "Oh, scratch the last those are lamps"
"The Condors are cleared of any harmful contraption, Marines, I can assure you as much"
"Holy shit, Sarge! It talks!"
He rolled his eyes, stepping inside the 'Condor', he now learned the name. "Whom am I speaking with?"
"You will meet me soon so how about we introduce each other then? Seems like everyone is here now, anyway"
He shrugged, so she could see the Admiral coming. He was pretty sure it was a female he spoke with. "Anything you see fit"
The crowd parted away when the group made their appearance, the Admiral in the middle with the Commander on his side and a familiar face he often saw on the other. They were flanked by a collection of 'top class' KANSENs, as how he liked to describe the crucial members of the special warfare group.
"Admiral, Commander" He greeted after a brief salute, stepping down the ramp. "And Rear Admiral Snow, didn't know you're coming, sir"
"Mister Taylor from the engineering couldn't make it, too busy fixing a blown off pipe" The Commanding officer of the Constitution said in return. "So I came alone"
"You're planning to bring the chief engineering, sir?"
"He said he wanted to see everything she has to offer"
"Well, a damn shame then"
"Sergeant Major Dayton, are we good to go?" Admiral Allenforth asked him, the man's no nonsense attitude at full effect. He knew him, hard to not when his achievements during the preliminary Siren War basically made him a legend.
"Aye, sir. A lady told me it's clear and one of my boys has checked it"
"I don't know, sir, a pretty little guardian angel perhaps"
"Or a devil in disguise" They proceeded to board the Condor, some of the Ship-girls went to the other 2, leaving 4 on the one they were on. He recognized them as Essex, Baltimore, Enterprise and a Royal Navy ship Prince of Wales, who then sat quietly across them.
Except Essex, she was trying her best to be but the way she repeatedly glanced at Enterprise was anything but subtle.
The voice suddenly spoke again. "I committed too many sins to be an angel, Sergeant Major, yet I'm not evil enough as to waste lives and be a devil"
He felt the aircraft hummed when he finished figuring out how to do the harness and putting it on. "But you would still sacrifice lives?"
"Only if it's necessary, for the greater good"
He patted his pocket, feeling the all too familiar pack of cigarettes, his sweet babies he could rely on when his problems couldn't be solved with shooting or a good dosage of explosions.
"Trying to justify yourself?"
"Trying to tell the truth of our struggle"
"This is the Airborne Early Warning System callsign SkyEye, all stations be advised the Admiral's flight is on a go, I repeat the Admiral's flight is airborne. Warwolf squadron is assigned as the escort, all other aircraft hold a parimeter around the base"
The radio in his cockpit buzzed to life as Warwolf One toggled the channel. "This is Warwolf Leader, copy that, cruising back for an escort mission. Interrogative, where is our destination, over?"
"The Admiral is heading out for a diplomatic meeting high above the cloud, details are shady we're operating in minimum intel but there's a report he's heading into a spaceship"
"A spaceship?!" His wingman, Warwolf 2 'Raven' yelled in surprise. "Are you for real?!"
"Like I said, details are shady. Proceed to the base, Warwolves"
"This is some bullshit"
Warwolf One glanced through his rearview mirror towards his RIO, the man sounded disgruntled but he wouldn't blame him for it. "Sam, you okay?"
He sighed, depolarizing his visor. "I'm not. After all those FUBAR? I'm telling you, man, King looked super pissed when we came back full of holes it almost like he's about to strangle me to death this morning. I mean, it's been 3 days for fuck's sake"
"The man's a hard on when it comes to his job"
"You tell me about it"
The aircraft chief mechanic was less than amused when they returned after a night patrol with a plane full of holes and less parts than when they went, it didn't help either that he watched them bounce off the flight deck and destroy their landing gear during their landing. Oh no he was very livid alright.
Though it wasn't misplaced, he had seen so many good men died so it's only natural for him to act like that. Some rumours were cycling aboard Constitution that he was a former Army man that decided to join the Navy seeking revenge for his fallen brothers who lost their lives in the early Siren War, nobody knew how but he succeeded in acquiring a position as chief mechanic of Constitution in the end. The man was a hardcore son of a gun he was actually surprised he didn't take an aircraft and bring the fight to the Siren himself.
"This is One, Warwolves stay tight and keep an eye around"
His wingmen gave a series of affirmations as he pushed the throttle forward, feeling the Tomcat shuddered when it broke the sound barrier. Soon the island came into view, a land of intermixed green, brown and white amidst an endless expense of blue.
"Picking up three faint Radar signatures on our twelve o'clock high"
"Must be the Admiral's flight. Alright, we're pulling up close to them, Two. Three and Four keep a formation on the left while we cover the right"
"Roger that, Captain"
"Remember, boys, we're heading into the unknown"
He banked right along with his wingman while the other two went left, the white contrails of their engines separating into two highways that flanked the Condors.
"Look at them... How did something so big have so little RCS signature?"
"I don't know... maybe they're semi stealth?"
"What, like the rumoured Blackbirds?"
"The Blackbirds aren't just rumours, some have been used for recon missions deep in Middle Earth" He paused as he glanced towards the side of the three otherworldy aircraft, their blocky design was certainly odd yet he knew they were made to last. They certainly looked sturdier than anything they ever produced. "Before satellites we had those"
"Have you seen any, Ray?"
"Just one during an escort mission, the Stratotanker hardly could keep up even when the Blackbird was at the slowest speed"
"Well, I heard-"
"Warwolf Squadron, massive Radar signature detected at 020 relative your position, beware the object is descending in rapid speed to the cloud level"
"Roger that, SkyEye" He replied before toggling back to his RIO. "Keep an eye on that I don't want us crashing on her"
The Tomcat shuddered when they broke the cloud cover, water droplets splashing on the canopy and trickling down as they sped forward, on his right something emerged from the clouds seemingly out of the blue.
"What the hell?!"
"I'm not detecting anything on the Radar!"
"Captain, we've got unknowns on our left. Silver, blocky and armed to the teeth enough to decimate a whole airbase!"
"The hell is SkyEye doing?! These guys could've blown us off the sky!"
"SkyEye! We've got contacts surrounding us!"
"Standby, Warwolf One... IDs confirmed, they're a part of the escorts. Friendlies"
One of the unknowns rocked its wings in a universal gesture to gain one's attention before his radio bursted with static.
"Union aircraft, Union aircraft, this is Neptune Leader hailing on open channel, how copy?" The voice was of male but there's something strange about it, he couldn't really put his fingers around it though.
"Uh... This is Warwolf One callsign 'Bishop', solid copy, whom am I speaking with?"
"This is Neptune One of the UNSC Enterprise 3rd Fighter Wing" As he said this, two more of the unknown aircraft joined in the formation. "You are in immediate path of Enterprise's deorbiting, please egress to two-eight-five and raise your altitude by three-thousand feet, maintain five-hundred meters distance from the ship when you are aligned, over"
"Neptune One... We're on an escort mission, what about our objectives?"
"We will handle the rest from here out, Warwolf One"
He frowned under his oxygen mask, eyes never leaving the unknown fighters surrounding the Admiral's, and by an extent, his flight. They looked ugly as hell, bulky design on the topside that even he knew wouldn't work well with aerodynamics, but there they were flying on their sides. The wings, though, he was familiar with the design, something called forward-swept wing that by all accounts were hard to apply.
There was a couple of experiments with forward-swept wing designs, mainly conducted by the Iron Blood aviation company Messerschmitt, and some rumours were also spreading in the Air Force that DARPA was proposing a fighter with such design based upon what little technology they captured from the Siren. Reverse engineered, not reapplied like what the Crimson Axis tried to do, yet it still made him uneasy. Though, thankfully it was an arbitrary agreement at this point to not reuse anything originating from a Siren in concern of contamination or espionage so all he heard was that they just take the base design, nothing more.
Still, there's hardly a merit in such design so far so it baffled him why the people this spaceship served under use it on their aircraft.
Maybe... there's something we are yet to uncover?
That was the most plausible reason he could think of, he didn't know the details but even though they looked ugly, they sure looked sturdy and capable and that's what matter the most in the military, any military. If he had to guess, the difference between his and theirs were far greater than his supposedly advanced fighter jet and the Old War piston aircraft. There was no telling what sort of weapon they carried but he could see a pod hanging on each of the wings and three missiles that looked too big to be anti-air.
He'd rather not find out unless they were aimed towards the Siren.
"Roger that, Neptune One. Alright Warwolves, we are breaking off"
"What's happening?" Rear Admiral Snow asked nobody in particular when his flyboys suddenly flew away, he had been watching them the entire time through the transport's porthole when some strange looking fighters unmistakably that of the spaceship's origin joined in the formation.
"Nothing to be alarmed off, sir" The voice... It must be the one the Staff Sergeant meant. It echoed in the Condor's surprisingly spacious interior, bouncing off empty metal walls alike drowning the steady humming of the engines.
He looked to his right, towards the two Allenforths who looked oddly calm despite the situation. One sporting an aged complexion, white hair under a naval cap that was slowly yet steadily grew over the once dominating black, wrinkles on the places where stress of mind often took spot and finally the battle scar on his neck running down his naval service uniform. This was the renowned Union Admiral who once singlehandedly raided a Siren facility off the East Coast with nothing but 7 battered Cruisers and Destroyers, steel-hulls not KANSEN since there was none of them yet back then, and successfully held back the entire front for them to evacuate the Eastern seaside cities. The reports were fascinating, to say the least, in order to deceive the Siren he used a captured Siren vessel as a decoy, spearheading the formation as to confuse enemy Radar, they literally walked towards their front door and the Siren opened it for them to enter.
It was a daring strategy and was only used once, after that the Siren upped their sensory to prevent similiar action from being taken against them. But it was all they needed, one time victory that granted them a few weeks worth of time before they dropped the bombs.
The other was a person of younger visage, regulation short hair hidden beneath a similiar looking but definitely different naval cap, face marred with surprisingly equal amount of stress marks albeit less noticeable compared to the elder Allenforth. He was a person brimming with untold potentials and, above all, motivations, climbing through ranks in the Union Navy until he reached his current position with dedications and gallantry many not possessed. The drive that drove the two Allenforths was clear, it was a matter many took for granted yet few knew the real value.
He knew what happened to the two unfortunate Allenforths, the pain and suffering they had gone through a long time ago. It was nothing special in this world since many suffered the same fate, but they made it extraordinary.
"Sir" The girl on his far left suddenly called him. "May I ask you something?"
The blue haired Carrier nodded, her fingerless gloves gripped tightly around her harness. She looked nervous, or cautious, he really couldn't tell. "What use are we when we can't even bring our weapon and rigging? Aren't we supposed to be a security team?"
Ah... So that's what it was.
"I personally doubt we will need your force, besides this is a diplomatic mission and the other party requests us so. We have to honor her wish to show our sincere intentions"
"Still, sir, we're heading into the unknown. I think it'd have been wise to bring our rigging along"
The Admiral agreed, he really did, but he couldn't adhere to his comfort in exchange for a possible powerful ally. "That is true, if something does go wrong then you'll be our first and final line of defense. But as I said, it's a distant scenario"
"I read the reports, Admiral. She's capable of singlehandedly destroying a whole fleet of Siren ships with a single missile salvo, all done in mere seconds" Essex added matter-of-factly. "I don't think I can offer you the needed protection if the worst happen"
"That's enough, Essex" Enterprise chimed in, shifting on her seat with a heavy frown on her usually passive face. "I- we- are certain force will not be needed, any form of it"
The leadship didn't miss the way Enterprise corrected herself. "Why are you so sure?" She shot back with a tone an octave shy from angry disbelief. "The usual you would agree"
"The usual me wouldn't know what she's capable of" Enterprise replied flatly, turning her head to face her junior. "You haven't seen what I saw so behave yourself"
"Is she that strong?"
The silver haired Carrier fell silent, one of her hands subconsciously went to her chest, lithe fingers trembling as they wrapped around her pristine white dress., The gesture wasn't lost on Essex neither was the odd expression on her senior's face. "She shares the same name with me... But her struggle..." Enterprise trailed off, her purple eyes focusing somewhere past the metal floor below. Essex waited for her to finish but when she dropped her hand back down to her lap, she knew it would never come.
Essex frown deepened.
Enterprise was... Well, she wasn't sure how to put it but she was some sort of a role model for Essex. She looked up to her greatly with no little amount of admiration, everyone knew her and her greatness, her achievements and her seemingly unconditional dedication for her country. She was a steadfast girl and amongst Eagle Union Carriers she was considered as the perfect Carrier, not in a sense of technological level nor design since there were more better Carriers in that department, but rather in terms of personality and spirit.
The courageous conduct she displayed, the strong aura surrounding her, gave people hope in the darkest of time. Essex got the honor of being her junior, or at least that's what their relationships were according to her, and the privilege of learning directly from her since she was reborn. Enterprise never specified why she offered her the deal but Essex felt like it was driven by the fact she and her sisters were practically inseparable during the Old War, being the sole surviving Aircraft Carrier in the Pacific and all that.
"You have 20 living sisters, Essex, their lives are the burdens you must carry and it is your duty to keep them on your and your shoulders only, never let your younger sisters be the one carrying them"
"We're not a bunch of metals anymore, we bleed, we cripple, we die. There's no fixing a destroyed hand or broken spine and the blood we spill in the battlefield cannot be exchanged with industrial oil"
The Eagle Union Carriers had these strange quasi-sisterly relationships in their rank, though not all of them it was present mostly between the late Carriers, and it was also what drove them to care for each other. The Yorktowns and the Essexes for example always held a close relation that was indirectly caused by the fact the Essex-class was designed based on the Yorktown-class, the Navy basically put everything good from the Yorktown-class and made them better in the Essexes, thus they were practically their descendants.
Perhaps it was due to that fact many of the Essexes thought of the Yorktowns as a senior figure and they held an accountable respect for them, and perhaps it was also one of the reasons Enterprise cared for Essex so greatly, because she felt obliged to teach her distant sisters how to survive the raging currents. Essex also remembered, amongst many things Enterprise told her was how important it was to keep a tab on her sisters above everything, even herself, since they were her only true family.
Though, after what happened to Yorktown her senior barely mentioned anything about it anymore. It seemed like it became a sore subject for her and a part of her wondered if it might be because she felt ashamed of herself, that despite everything she told Essex she still failed her own sister.
Essex had to admit, it was difficult. There were plenty of instances where her sisters almost died and she swore a fraction of her soul always left her whenever one of her sisters went to sortie in a distant place away from her supervision, fearing she would never return. She also had lost count how many times she ran into the hospital to check her injured sisters, or how many nights she spent in restless silence thinking of the what ifs, of what would happen in the future and how it would affect her and her sisters.
She took Enterprise's lessons to heart for sure and no matter what the silver haired Carrier thought of herself, she was being a hypocrite and all that, she would always feel grateful for everything she had done for her. Enterprise was a subject of her admiration, and even though Essex never admitted it, she was also one of the reasons she was still standing to this day. Otherwise, Essex wasn't even sure she could go by the days with how stressed her life was.
It was almost like a tradition at this point, since the Union Navy had the tendency to build plenty of ships from a single class in the late years of the Old War while they limited it to only a handful before it, for the preceding class to mentor them.
And Enterprise took it as her responsibility.
So it was sufficient to say Essex knew her senior, probably better than most Ship-girls did in fact, and it bothered her how she acted so timid the whole time. Enterprise would never openly show any form of weakness when on duty, she'd try to be the always reliable Carrier and a symbol of strength, full of confidence and unfaltering resolve. But here, she became so docile it actually made Essex wonder if she was still the same person she met a few months ago.
"What happened to you...?" Essex muttered to the empty air, her words never having the chance to reach someone, drowned in the steady humming of the Condor's engine.
"Essex" Rear Admiral Snow called out to her before Essex could pester Enterprise for more answer, she leant forward as far as she could with the straps around her body to meet his surprisingly disapproving gaze. "I need you to lay off in this meeting"
She grimaced in response, never liking the idea of getting reprimanded by a superior office. She was aware she was wrong, though. "Yes, sir, my apologies"
"What Admiral Snow wanted to say" David began, turning his head to face her, a friendly smile adorning his face. "We have mutual trust with our collaborator you don't need to consider this escort mission as an 'escort' mission. You're merely accompanying us as a form of good will and introduction, there's a chance you'll work with her in the future so it'll be better if you know each other"
The blue haired Carrier nodded slowly, sinking back to her seat after muttering a "Yes, sir" in return. She shot the Commander a subtle, scrutinizing glance, barely able to hide her frown from her senior when their gazes accidentally met.
She knew the man, though saying knew would be a far stretch since she only met him a couple of times before. He was... interesting, to put it simply, unlike most COs he was rather easy going with his subordinates and he didn't particularly mind being buddy-buddy with them. Essex knew this personally since the first time they met was at a bar back in the Union after she was invited by New Jersey to join what the Battleship dubbed as 'late night drinking blizzard until we go dull mad' that involved a copious amount of alcohol and incoherent gibberish.
She wasn't fond of the memory- Essex would never forget the horrendous morning that followed, she could still feel the head splitting migraine courtesy of a hungover to this day whenever the subject of alcohol and drink were brought upon a sentence- but Essex remembered meeting him there and Hornet introducing the two. It was foggy, nestled deep amongst many embarrassing things she went through that night that might or might not have something to do with New Jersey which resulted with a dumpster catching fire and local police calling the MPs on them, but Essex would never forget meeting the man. Especially when he showed such unheeding hatred towards the Siren.
It terrified her at first, the unadulterated gleam of hatred in those warm brown eyes she thought would never bear witness. Scary how a human could hide such strong negative emotions under a reassuring pretense of normalness.
Though, it was a given apparently, after what he had gone through. She had heard of the stories.
Essex leaned back on her seat, closing her eyes and sighed deeply, letting herself relax a bit amidst the Condor's constant shaking. It strangely gave her a sense of comfort, feeling the aircraft lurch and turn to adjust its heading, and the engines were not as loud as a piston driven ones. At one point, however, she had no choice but to open her eyes again when a voice announced.
"This is Enterprise, be advised I'm descending down the planet's orbit. Estimated Time of Arrival; 1 minute 27 seconds"
The blue haired Carrier tensed up, turning her body to look outside the porthole. The cotton white clouds were no longer on their level, instead a dark blue expanse stretched before her, seemingly never ending as far as her eyes could see. Essex was in awe, she had never been this high before, at least not personally. She had rode an aircraft but it was not anywhere as high.
Vaguely, she could hear Prince of Wales muttering something from her position.
"There she is..."
Something flew across the vast sky, turning and banking in an impossible speed and grace as it headed towards their position. At one point, the Condors had come to a circle pattern, turning around in a determined and cohesive flight path until the unknown object descended exactly on its middle, blocking the sun and its rays.
Essex gasped when she finally got to see the incoming object, eyes wide and jaw slack. The sky, once seemingly never ending, was now blocked by a grey metal wall, stretching far beyond what she could see through the porthole. One moment, one precious moment was all it took for the spaceship to occupy the space before them. Had Essex and everyone onboard the Condor been outside, they would've heard the air explode when it broke the sound barrier, they would have seen the clouds beneath them swirl and dissipate from the momentum the spaceship carried.
It came in such a speed, and stopped almost immediately too, seemingly ignoring the force behind it. Anything moving at that speed would have turned into a pancake if stopped so suddenly, the structural integrity would be compromised with countless irreparable cracks marring its internal body. For a ship, it would be equal to having their keel cracked.
Belfast knew that one personally. She struck a mine during the Old War and had her keel broken, even to this day after her reincarnation as a KANSEN she sometimes had difficulty with certain movements from waist below. The headmaid also spent a good portion of her time in rehabilitation following her revival, despite the repair she received in her previous life it seemed her injury couldn't really go away. It was a given, actually, considering that particular blow was a crippling one in a sense of organic too.
The Light Cruiser was not the only. A lot of Ship-girls awoken with various forms of wounds, whether physical or mental. Essex's sister Intrepid had a minor phobia towards airstrike, something Essex personally realized when doing mission with her. It was subtle but Essex would never miss the agitation in Intrepid's eyes when enemy aircraft soared above them, the way her eyes narrow and hands twitch as if looking for something to grab on, a byproduct from her old service. The signs were different than the normal reactions her friends had when faced against similiar situation.
Although, it didn't compare with Franklin.
Her fourth sister suffered a massive PTSD. Amongst the Essexes, Franklin was the one to suffer the most damage during the Old War. While it didn't really sink her, the casualties were so great it was considered as the most crippling blow an Essex ever received. Essex didn't discriminate between her 20 sisters but she admitted she paid extra attention to Franklin than any others, speaking more gently and more patiently when dealing with her.
The Navy cleared her for duty, though, at the request of Franklin herself. Saying something along the line that 'she doesn't want to sit around collecting dust while her sisters fight for their lives out there'. What she didn't know was that Essex specifically requested the top brass to keep her in the Home Fleet, permanently assigned to safeguard Eagle Union coasts, it was her personal request for the Union, a one time reward in exchange for decades of service or even her life.
Oblivious as she was, Franklin believed her sisters were doing the same thing as she was, patrolling and merely escorting. While the truth all Essex minus her and the 4 steel-hulls often went around the globe, attacking and infiltrating Mirror Sea despite the risk of getting trapped in a world of spatial anomaly for eternity. Essex didn't have the heart to tell her the whole truth, that every time they visited her could have been the final time.
In a way, Essex supposed she was not all that different from her senior. She had a wounded sister back home she wanted to protect at all cost. Maybe that's the reason she felt a relationship with Enterprise.
The Condor swerved as it came closer to the giant construct, Essex who had her face practically glued to its porthole felt her stomach churn at the sight before her. They flew right next to one of its slanted surfaces, giving a full view of its assortment of weapons, before her eyes were drawn towards the giant guns on its bow.
They were massive, the guns themselves were easily as wide as Essex's own steel form, bigger even. Essex couldn't help but wonder how big their shell was, and the implication of it hitting something its size. The thought of her stern being blown to pieces with a single shot didn't bid well with Essex.
She felt the floor jerked and shifted, a telltale of dissipating momentum as the Condor slowed down above the construct. Prince of Wales and Enterprise shared a subtle glance, the former spoke up to the empty air. "This was not where we embarked before"
Something rose up on its top, a metal platform coming from below the deck as railings extended around the area. On it was two familiar faces, a blue haired girl and, much to Essex bewilderment, a woman with so similiar complexion with her senior Enterprise.
"How...?" Essex shot her senior a glance, then back towards the woman below as the Condors began to touch down, and back to her senior. She opened her mouth, confused as to what to say, before deciding it's better to use the most logical and normal reaction for such situation.
"What the fuck"
Helena quietly followed the woman before her, hands clasped together and fingers interlocked to each other. She was nervous, despite all the time she spent on... on Enterprise's steel form she was yet to feel at ease. The elevator brought them up and far, where exactly she didn't know, the woman before her merely told her she needed her company without any other word.
For the past few days she had been onboard Enterprise. The spaceship picked them up at one point when they were under attack, undoubtedly she had been watching her and the team the whole time. Enterprise didn't talk much with them after the rescue, just some few words of warning as to where she could and couldn't go when onboard, the restricted areas she should never get close to, all business. She did visit them in her medical bay every once in a while but after making sure none of them was hurting- at least not in the same level as before- she would quietly leave again, the only person she extensively talk with was Columbia and that 'extensive' also meant 'not as scarcely as with the others' and most of the time the conversation was about her repair.
Helena was not used to merry talk like her sister Phoenix but even Columbia who was known to be cheerful and easy going couldn't really strike a conversation with Enterprise that didn't consist of five words or less reply. The Light Cruiser gave up after her tenth attempt of starting a small talk, whilst Phoenix didn't even have the energy to tolerate Enterprise's rigid and cold attitude.
She tried to talk it out with Phoenix but her sister replied with assurance; she didn't hate nor dislike Enterprise but she couldn't stand a regal Ship-girl, made her uneasy or something along the line.
The Dragon Empery girls, though...
Well, hysterical was the best way to describe their reaction when they learned of their circumstances. Helena couldn't really blame them, either.
The elevator moved up, passing levels after levels. Helena watched what she assumed as deck designation appeared on the wall as they moved and disappeared a mere few seconds later below. D45... D46... D47... Until the double digits turned to triple. It was when they hit 240 that something changed.
The platform was large, easily tens of meters from side to side, and the pit it's built in couldn't even be called a pit anymore, tunnel perhaps with how equally big it was. Along this tunnel, layers upon layers of bulkheads covered the way, acting as protection against possible hull breach and make-shift floors. They opened every time the platform got close, revealing more and more levels until the last they were on.
This one was noticeably thicker and they opened by sliding the whole metal plating off the way instead of parting in the middle, and once it was fully opened what greeted Helena was a sight of endless dark blue. She watched in silent fascination as sunlight flooded inside, overwhelming the artificial lights with its powerful ray, and then after days of breathing cycled air she got to feel fresh and natural air from the outside.
She relished on the feeling, the cool gust and the fullness she failed to appreciate normally. Enterprise's life support mechanism was by no mean not sophisticated, she had her own water and air filters which were paramount in space, and Helena got to use them for a while. It was just the air felt off, heavier and colder, or even stale in some areas, making it harder to take a full, filling, breath. The woman in question seemed unfazed by it, no doubt a courtesy of her own experience breathing that sort of reused air. Helena didn't have the courage to bring it up to Enterprise but Columbia, after Helena pointed it out to her instead, asked Enterprise about it. The Heavy Carrier merely shrugged and said the air will not affect them and they should bear with the discomfort.
That was not the reason why Helena and her friends asked but they didn't want to ask more in concern of her misinterpreting their question.
Maybe we should clarify...
Helena pushed the thought aside, the platform had finally come to a stop, revealing a clear blue sky. She squinted when the light was too much for her eyes, blinking a few times until they adjusted to the brightness.
Now outside, Helena could finally understand how big Enterprise actually was. It was different from seeing from an aircraft, or below deck, her length was more clearer to perceive, stretching far ahead. Not even her base was this long, heck most military base was not two and half kilometers long.
The metal deck below her... Helena tried not to think it was the only thing that kept her from falling off. It was easy and difficult at the same time, easy because Enterprise's metal form was too big it gave an illusion of solid ground and difficult since the said ground was surrounded by the sky. Yet another thing she didn't notice when she was below deck.
A gentle breeze washed over her, caressing Helena's blue locks and they fluttered on her side. She sighed when the Condors touched down, putting her hands and nervousness aside, mentally preparing herself to greet the arriving party. The first person to exit the dropship was not who she expected though.
Wisconsin shot out from the rightmost Condor, her sparkling eyes roaming everywhere. Helena couldn't help but to stare at the Battleship dumbly, even when she seemed ready to run off somewhere.
Correction, she did run off. Towards Enterprise's giant Coilguns while flailing her hands around.
"Hornet! Hornet! Look at those guns! They're biiiigggggg" She laughed to herself, not unlike a kid when she saw her favourite toy.
Hornet emerged seconds later, tentatively walking out before giving Enterprise an apologetic look and turning to the Battleship. "Hey... Wisconsin..."
Drown in her own excitement, Wisconsin didn't hear Hornet's call. It was until a blur of blue and grey, with an uncharacteristic display of athletic ability, grabbed her in a headlock did Wisconsin realize she had run off too far.
"Behave, you dumbass! We're on a mission!" Intrepid yelled, practically dragging Wisconsin by the neck back to the group.
"Gah! Let me go, asshole! I want to see if I can have those for myself!"
"You can't! They're larger than your width!"
Wisconsin's retort came in a series of profanities Helena's too embarrassed to describe.
"Commander, Admirals" The woman in front of her said. Blinking, Helena realized the middlemost Condor had decompressed and opened its ramp, revealing three familiar faces.
Almost instantly Helena tensed up, feet closed and head held level.
Admiral Allenforth stepped out first, followed by the Commander and Rear Admiral Snow. They gave a look around before Admiral Allenforth addressed Enterprise directly.
"Permission to come aboard?"
"Granted, sir. Welcome aboard" The Heavy Carrier replied almost instantly, offering a hand to the Admiral who took it.
"Thank you for all the help you've provided us, I read the reports"
"No problem, sir, just doing what's necessary" Enterprise then turned towards the Commander and Admiral Snow before her eyes skipped over the rest of the party. Helena, despite her position, still noticed the brief pause when Enterprise's eyes lingered on the accompanying Marines. "Now, if you don't mind please follow me"
Helena saluted when the Admirals walked past her, offering a quiet greeting to the Commander.
"You're doing alright?" He asked in which Helena hummed in affirmation.
"Yes, Commander. I've been mostly repaired and my injuries have healed"
He smiled, patting her shoulder before carrying on to follow the Heavy Carrier. Wisconsin and Intrepid went next, the former grumbled something under her breath that suspiciously sounded like a series of cursing directed to Intrepid, while the latter glared in return. Helena saw a bunch of Ship-girls that weren't a part of their base walked by, familiar faces she knew, and much to her surprise her own sister in the mix.
St. Louis seemed to notice her noticing and she grinned widely before charging right at Helena and enveloped her in a hug.
"Helenaaaaaaaa!" She drawled between giggle, spinning the smaller Cruiser in her arms around.
"A-ah?! Louie! P-put me down!"
For once, her sister obliged, setting her down but not letting her go. Instead, the arms around her felt tightening up. "Ohhhhh Helena I missed you so much!" St. Louis cooed, all but rubbing her face on Helena's blue hair, earning an embarrassed squeak from Helena. "You smell nice, surprisingly"
"I-I got to w-wash..." Vaguely, Helena could see Cooper and the Cleveland sisters staring at her from the corner of her eyes. Cleveland grinned and wiggled her eyebrows when their eyes met, inadvertently forcing Helena to bury her burning face on her sister's chest.
The platform began to descend back as the three Condors took off, taking the whole group with it inside Enterprise's metal form. Cleveland tore her gaze away from both Brooklyn sisters when Biloxi stepped to her side.
"Cleveland" She greeted, nodding at Montpelier and Denver respectfully. "I would have asked how are you but it's obvious enough you're not doing great"
The blonde chuckled, shifting her weight from one foot to another. "Yeah, a lot happened. I got blasted by a laser, ate tons of lead, took in water, my arm was almost sliced off and a sword nearly cut one of my lungs. Oh yeah I almost died from blood loss, too"
"I see..." Biloxi said thoughtfully, crossing her arms. "So... the usual?"
"The usual" Cleveland finished with a nod. "What about you?"
"Nothing much, really. We raided a Siren refueling facility a few weeks ago in the Pacific and that was it"
"Well, that's good" The blonde said with a smile. "How's everyone?" Cleveland continued after a short pause.
"We're doing good"
Biloxi's answer might be short but knowing her it meant what it meant, the girl didn't like wasting her precious time on petty stuff and when she said it she meant it. She's always a straight to the point type of girl, which Cleveland found appreciable in serious talk. Though, not so when it wasn't a serious one.
Biloxi was one of the enhanced Cleveland-class Light Cruisers, they were different when compared to the early ships but not to a degree where they became subclass. Cleveland was still Biloxi's eldest sister, they might not be close like the rest of CruDiv 12 but she still held a high respect for Cleveland. After all, the blonde was their leader, only now they went their separate ways they barely got to meet each other but previously they worked quite intensively together.
"You've got yourself in a big mess" Biloxi began, gesturing at everywhere around her. "I mean you have the knack for troubles but a spaceship?" She shook her head as if in disbelief before stepping closer to whisper on Cleveland's ear.
"What's the meaning of this, Cleveland? I get it she has the same name with Enterprise but same facial features too? Don't you think something is amiss?"
Cleveland frowned, shooting a glance towards the spaceship before addressing her sister. "If there's someone who's on edge it was her. She has no reason to hurt us and if she wanted to she had plenty of chances, besides it wouldn't take her much to obliterate us to begin with"
"So that's your guarantee? She didn't hurt any of us yet despite having the chance? Cleve, that way of thinking is wrong"
"I know... I know" The blonde bit her lip, running a hand on her golden mane. "She... is not a bad person. Harsh and cold maybe but... her intentions are for the best of humanity"
"She saved us" Denver added, openly staring at Enterprise's back. "At least that's enough reason to trust her"
Biloxi mulled over the thought before shrugging. "Well, I trust your judgement. It saved my ass a few times in the past and I won't start questioning it now" She said somewhat matter-of-factly, frowning at the resurfacing long lost and unpleasant memories where she almost died. "So, anyway, Columbia?"
The trio Clevelands visibly flinched. Montpelier looked away to stare at the grey wall, Denver decided staring at Wisconsin's head was wise while Cleveland smiled nervously at Biloxi.
"Um, we... kinda get separated. I tried to save her but it seemed it didn't work like I intended" Cleveland muttered something under her breath Biloxi didn't catch before her voice return. "But she's here, onboard, and from what I've seen the repair of her steel form is going smoothly"
"I see... wait, repair? here?"
"Trust me, I am as surprised as you are" Cleveland sighed, turning her head to a certain Heavy Carrier who was standing next to the Admirals and Commander. They were talking amongst themselves but Cleveland didn't miss the subtle side glance Enterprise gave Essex, probably because the blue haired Aircraft Carrier had been staring at her since their arrival nonstop with an indiscernible expression akin to confusion and disbelief.
Well, yeah, perhaps she could give Essex some slack this time. The girl was dumbfounded and it was the most normal reaction one could give in such situation. To Essex's credits, she kept her mouth shut, though Cleveland wasn't sure whether it was caused by sheer discipline or shock.
Almost all of the Ship-girls had their own way of expressing their curiosity and astonishment. Baltimore and Bremerton were openly looking around despite all they could see was grey metal wall, Hornet seemed like she was ready to burst out and bombard the Heavy Carrier with questions while her sister merely stared at her counterpart from the sideway, Wisconsin was no better with Intrepid being the sole reason she hadn't tackle Enterprise and demanded something unfitting for her.
The Royal Navy girls were more... managing. Belfast and Prince of Wales looked a bit uneasy and the anxious glare they directed to the passing floor numbers could kill with how potent it was. Warspite looked oddly relaxed, though, compared to her two friends, chatting with Vestal about her repair who looked equally unperturbed. The Repair Ship had one cool head between her shoulders, always trusting everyone around her even in the face of immediate danger, she believed her friends would keep her safe and Cleveland was sure she considered the Heavy Carrier as one even if it was one-sided. There was also this feeling that if something did happen to compromise their fragile alliance Enterprise's last priority would be Vestal so she was safe, relatively speaking.
There were also Cooper, her distant sister Independence, Sheffield and Edinburgh. Cleveland had to do a double take when she saw Independence leaning on Cooper, her legs visibly shaking.
"What happened to Independence?" She asked Biloxi who glanced at the Light Carrier before responding.
"Ah, probably nerves. She hates big objects"
"You didn't know? She started to hate anything bigger than her after that one time an oil rig almost crushed her. Poor girl got her deck burned from splattered oil, it was a good thing there's no parking aircraft or else..." Biloxi shook her head, no need to say what could have happened.
"When was that?"
"A few years back. We were ordered to help evacuate an off-coast oil well, one of the major sites in the East Coast after the Siren hit it. You must have heard the news"
"I think..." Cleveland mused out loud. It was not really that uncommon for the Siren to target oil rigs, more often than not resulting in total destruction, and what Biloxi said was just one of many cases. Nevertheless, Cleveland was fairly certain she had heard of it. "So she is afraid of big objects now? What was it called again? Mega what?"
"Megalophobia" Montpelier muttered, barely hard enough for Cleveland to hear it.
"Ah, yes that. She has Megalophobia now?"
"Not quite but yeah. Though, her sheer size is enough to make people uneasy" Biloxi gestured towards Enterprise with her head before shaking it. "So, anyway, it's good to see you still kicking"
David wasn't sure which one was more shocking. The fact Enterprise had her own tram system built inside her or the fact they were in space, orbiting high over the atmosphere with full display of the planet they lived on.
The blue ball of dirt and sea rotated lazily as they stared in total silence, eyes drawn to the beautiful sight before them. None of them would have thought they would be enjoying this view in their lifetime, there were barely over a handful of people ever going to space and none of those people were them.
Nobody uttered a word, too mesmerized to even move from the observation window. David barely registered Enterprise -not his Enterprise- joining him on his side.
"Beautiful, isn't she? It might be not my Earth but there's hardly a difference" She paused, a small smile appearing on her face David saw the reflection of. "She is everything I fight for, everything I stand for, and many others of my people who sacrificed not just their lives but often the future of their children and grandchildren. All to ensure her safety"
"It's your home..." David breathed out, turning his head with significant effort to stare at Enterprise.
"Earth is not just home, many of us weren't even born there, even I wasn't constructed there yet all of us if you were to ask where we are from we'd hail we come from Earth, the old worn out Mother Earth" Enterprise responded somewhat flatly, as if it was a common sense which it might be for her. "This sight actually makes me uneasy"
The last part was more to a musing than an actual response.
She didn't answer right away, her maroon orbs focusing towards the planet before her. "The Earth I know is not this defenseless, it was the most fortified planet of the entire UNSC 800 colonies, rivalled only by our fortress worlds. Traffic was busy it's difficult to traverse, and the orbit was littered with ODP grids here and there. A ship of my size being this close to orbit is unusual, hardly happen unless an emergency"
The Commander didn't understand half of what she said but one thing caught his attention above all. 800 colonies, worlds spanned across the galaxy under UNSC territory. How big was their Navy to cover those scales?
The Heavy Carrier's face morphed to a passive serenity, turning on her heels without as much as a word. She had discarded her combat gear and uniform, instead a long sleeve olive drab uniform hugged her form, slightly gleaming under the light above thanks to the unknown material it was made of.
A silver UNSC seal rested on the right arm, displayed proudly above a red arm band. The band itself was decorated with her ship motto, going around the green fabric in curvy white strings of words, imprinted in it. On her left arm, a blue patch resided, displaying an Epoch-class on its middle with the all too familiar UN background. The only difference was a single burning red star above it, similiar in color with her eyes.
The blocky letter of her name was attached below it in a golden trimmed circle.
On her head was a green naval cap, again a UNSC seal was adorning its front but instead of silver it had a golden hue on its shield and ribbon. It looked like an officer uniform, if David had to guess, and the collection of various medals on her chest made it more likely to be one.
His eyes flashed on Enterprise's thigh where a handgun was strapped, he had left his in his office since he felt no immediate need to bring it but now he started to regret the decision. Not like it could help him if things went down the drain but he'd certainly find comfort if he had one right now.
"Follow me, please" Enterprise announced, gesturing with her hand to the corridor ahead. Almost immediately they snapped aware, one by one abandoning their stupor and following the Heavy Carrier. David lingered for a second longer, counting his girls as they passed his position. There was an off bit chance someone could get lost with how enormous Enterprise was but it felt like he was fooling himself by thinking that.
Enterprise would know, it probably was his nerves. Seeing everyone safe and accounted for made him calmer, somewhat.
Once again they travelled through many corridors and elevators to reach what Enterprise dubbed as 'Conference Room'. She filled in some information as they walked, her amount of mess halls, troop quarters, laboratories, armories and medical bays.
None of them were sort of 4, heck David was stunned when she said she had 20 medical bays, working and proper capable of operations without human involvement thanks to the heavy usage of automaton.
"It's not unusual for the capital ship to have more than ten medical bays, we are the main force during an invasion and that includes casualty effort. To be able to take ten times of our crew is pivotal" Was what she said.
"And Columbia is treated in one of these?" Hornet asked from behind her sister, green eyes glued on the Heavy Carrier's back.
The Cleveland sisters including Biloxi and Vestal had gone to one of her medical bays, guided by Helena, to check on Columbia and the Dragon Empery girls. Biloxi for her part decided to join in after finding Cleveland's stories to be more interesting for her.
Enterprise stopped suddenly before turning around to face them. "We're here" She announced, hand gesturing to a room on her side. It wasn't that different from the others, except the bulkhead protecting it was colored with a slightly more vibrant white and blue compared to the dull grey or eye catching yellow and black stripes of industrial warning, it also looked sturdier somewhat.
Without any other word she then stepped into it, the bulkhead sliding up in response to her approach. David shared a glance with his father whose calm demeanor was not shared between his girls, even Admiral Snow looked a bit nervous.
The Commander swallowed, fixing his naval cap before following Enterprise inside, his action seemed to inspire the rest of the group and soon they filled in.
It's then everything went chaotic.
"YOU!" Essex yelled, all but launching herself forward along with her sister to the front of the Admirals and Commander. "What are you doing here?!"
Intrepid flexed her fingers, readying herself for a fight to come while the rest of the Ship-girls bunched up to shield their leaders. Both Carriers glared heatedly at the three figures before them, one was sitting behind a large well crafted wooden desk while the rest stood behind the said figure. Their glares, however, were mostly aimed towards the rightmost figure.
"Fancy meeting you here, Essex, Intrepid" She said, crossing her arms over her chest. "Sorry to spoil you but I'm not here to fight"
"What's the meaning of this?" David asked calmly, eyes never leaving the sitting figure whilst the question itself was aimed for a certain Heavy Carrier.
The ravenette stared at the two opposing groups for a second, silently scrutinizing them, before a single word left her throat.
David tore his gaze away to look at Enterprise, but much to his surprise she wasn't addressing him.
The figure stood up and smoothened her white uniform, she met their gazes and after a short pause bowed her body forward, the two flanking her followed suit, faces morphing to a neutral expression despite the hostility one of them exhibited before.
"Greetings. I am Commander Alicia Takahashi of the Sakura Empire, I'm here to humbly ask for your assistance" She straightened up, eyes meeting David's own. The Commander felt something twist in his stomach, finding a familiarity in those brown eyes, the same resolve yet more intense fierceness than what he often saw on an entirely different person.
"The Sakura Empire's representative—"
"Hello, nice to meet you—"
"For the Southern Fleet—"
"I just finished Officer School so I don't have many experience—"
"I'm Reiko Takahashi, I'll be your partner—"
"Is announced dead this morning"
"Please take a good care of me"
"Please save my people from impending destruction"
What is going on lol where are we heading to with this story? Do I have any idea? of course! Do you have any idea? you better be not!
Or it'll flop.
So anyway... There's no easy way to say this since I genuinely feel bad for breaking that promise. I always value my readers and by doing that I feel like I have failed you guys but... things happened. I will not say my laziness didn't get the better of me but it was partially because of those things I didn't feel like uploading anything. I kept on writing, though, just didn't feel like updating.
I will try to not make promises from now on, instead I will try to do my best with what I have. Again, I apologize for breaking that promise.
So, since this is a double upload then any questions I will answer in the next chapter. See you guys out.
Peace out, guys.