Disclaimer: This fanfic is not mine. It has been copy and pasted with the permission of it's original author, who goes by the username "theJMPer" on Sufficient Velocity forum. Minimal Editing has been made to part titles. Kantai Collection is neither mine nor his either.
Chapter 1: In Which We Get Pie.
She'd been beautiful. As beautiful as however-fucking-many tons of steel and fire and slopped-on gray paint could be. Now she was just… a stain. A fucking… sucking chest wound bleeding inky-black fuel oil into the Delaware, a casket of metal scrap twisted into a display almost as macabre as the unholy… things that came from the abyss to gut her from the depths.
"Hey, Professor Crowning, right?" a voice sounded from somewhere over his shoulder, a smooth female contralto, with just a note of tender concern.
He ran a hand though his long, graying hair, taking a second to compose himself before… had to be one of his students. "Yeah, uh… if you're looking for an extension-"
"I'm not," the girl leaned around, her weight on one foot as she let herself fall sideways against the waterfront railing. She was… well, the kind of girl that makes American-lit professors wary to be alone with. Easily taller than him, even leaning on the railing, she had the thick-thighed legs of a cross-country runner. Legs that were… rather overly displayed in her very short running shorts. How she wasn't freezing in the brisk mid-autumn breeze was beyond him.
"Then, uh…" Crowning locked his eyes on hers. Or tried to, but her oversized aviator shades only showed his own haggered reflection. "What exactly are you doing?"
"Honestly, I dunno," the girl shrugged, her navy-blue puffer vest spreading around her… generous bust. If she caught his errant glare, she didn't show any signs of it. "Just started running and, well, I wanted to make sure you're okay."
Crowning turned back to the railing, staring at the charred corpse of the once-great museum ship New Jersey. "Attack hit you pretty hard?"
"You could say that," the girl spun the other way, resting her back against the railing as she stared at the city skyline. Her strawberry-blond braid cascading out of the navy-blue baseball cap she wore backwards.
"I was supposed to be there, you know," said Crowning, barely registering that he'd let the words slip out until the girl's steeply-canted eyebrow sneaked up her brow.
"On Jersey?" she asked, idly fiddling with the orange-foam headphones cradling her neck. "The hell's a Lit prof doing on a battleship?" a teasing smile graced her snow-white face.
Crowning nodded, tracing the wires of her headphones down to the… was that a walkman on her hip? He didn't risk looking longer to verify it. Not with hips like that in shorts like….that. "Navy's trying to summon her-well, at this point they'd take a freighter if they could get it. I think they were just throwing everything they could at the problem." He smiled in spite of himself, letting out a little self-conscious cough. "Saw Victory waving her sword at some… witches, I think who tried to mess with her tea leaves. I actually- the day of the attack, I was supposed to be trying something new."
The girl dipped her head, lazily waving one hand at him to get him to continue, the three watches around her wrist glinting in the afternoon sun.
"Wanted to bake her an apple pie. Figured… her spirit's an American, maybe that'd coax her out."
"Goddamn, I could go for some pie right now," said the girl, patting her belly with a frustrated grunt. "you sure it didn't work?"
"How could it?" Crowning scuffed his shoe against the concrete. "Car broke down on the way there… I just barely made it there to see her get shot."
"Torpedoed," said the girl, her voice suddenly curt and clipped.
"That was a torpedo," said the girl, pushing her vest aside and pulling up the hem of her shirt, exposing a mottled bruise on her muscled belly. "Right here."
Crowning's eyes went wide.
"Took you long enough," the girl smirked as she spun her hat around, letting Crowning read the proud golden embroidery above the bill. "USS New Jersey: BB-62."
"Jersey, yeah." the girl—or rather New fucking Jersey—offered a cocky grin. "Now where's my fucking pie?"
"This…" Jersey paused, wiping a few stray bits of juicy apple filling from the corner of her mouth, "This is amazing pie."
"I, uh, figured that much," said Crowning his hand sneaking back to his wallet as the battleship admired her reflection in the polished-clean pan. He'd taken her to the best pie restaurant he knew of. After all, the first (and so far only) ship spirit of the United States deserved a hero's welcome before the Navy delivered her to a life of wartime rations.
That was before she'd munched her way though half a dozen apple pies without even slowing down. He was starting to suspect she'd only stopped out of mercy. "I told you, it's the best in the state."
Jersey nodded, scrunching up her face to edge her aviators higher up on her nose.
"I'm actually surprised you liked it," said Crowning, hoping to capture Jersey's attention before her stomach wrested control. "I didn't-" he shrugged, waving his hand idly in the air as he searched for the right way to broach this.
"Didn't think… what?" Jersey slumped back in her chair, her arms splayed over the back, showing off the ridiculous number of watches around both wrists. "That I knew what pie was like?"
"Not in so many words, but… yes."
"You didn't- oh, right. I was your first," Jersey flashed a cheeky grin before pulling herself up from her lazy slouch. "Okay… what is a ship?"
Crowning steepled his fingers, waiting for her to continue before he realized the question wasn't just rhetorical. "Well…" he thought back to the handful of science classes he'd taken all those years ago, "It's a buoyant structure that-"
"Wrong!" Jersey slapped her palm on the table with a resounding thunk, a wicked grin spreading across her face at the shocked look from the remaining patrons of the restaurant. Those who hadn't already been surprised by her ravenous appetite.
"I- I'm sorry?"
"This…" Jersey made a box in the air with her hands, "this ain't a ship. That's a hull, maybe."
Crowning pursed his lips, he recalled something along these lines from Victory. But she never spent much time with the academics, and it was hard to separate truth from bravado with her anyway.
Jersey let out a noise somewhere between a sigh and a growl. "Okay… uh, a hull is like…" she grabbed at a pie tin, spinning it so it sat in the center of the table. "It could be a ship, but it isn't," said Jersey, brow furrowing in frustration. This was all so obvious to her, why wasn't he getting it!
"And… you need the crew to… make you live?" asked Crowning.
"Yeah! yeah, exactly!" Jersey slammed her fist on the table again, waving her free hand at Crowning's face with increasingly energetic gestures. "Like… the crew's actions, their conduct in the war… it makes the ship who she is."
"Like the body and the soul?"
"The hull is your body," said Crowning as he finally put the pieces together," but without your crew… you don't have a soul."
"No, no that's-" Jersey's face froze as the cogs in her mental computer ground to a halt. Crowning could almost see her mind backstep and recompute what she was saying. "Actually, yeah. Yeah, it's exactly like that."
Crowning smiled, glancing past her shimmering hair for a moment to check if that "Ship-spirit transport" the Navy had mentioned had arrived yet. "You're not used to having a body, are you?"
"Well… no," Jersey shrugged, "But also… yes?" She lazily waved her hand around in the air, drawing little spirals next to her head. "Everything's all hazy, you know?"
"How much do you-" Crowning paused, glancing past her again as a huge olive-greensomething rumbled to a stop in street outside. It was hard to tell from this distance, but it looked like somewhere between a semi-truck and a house. "Um… is that-"
"Our ride?" finished Jersey, clearly confused to see the mammoth vehicle apparently waiting for them outside.
As if on cue, a man in the choppy brown-green fatigues of a US Marine hopped out of the cab and straightened his cover. After a few seconds' deliberation, he made for the doors—moving just a little too deliberately for anyone who wasn't a little uneasy.
"Hey! Devil dog!" Jersey barked at the top of her lungs, sending Crowning recoiling back in his chair. "You our wheels?"
"Yes, ma'am!" snapped back the blond-haired Marine without a moment's pause. "Lance Corporal Jon Sherman"
Jersey sighed, pulling herself out of the chair and up to her shockingly full height. "No salute for an old battle-wagon?"
The Marine's hand quivered by his side, his face a sea of churning thoughts as he clearly tried to figure out what he should do with it. Crowning braced himself for the oncoming storm. He'd seen a good Marine ass-reaming when he was working on the museum ship.
"Ma'am, I-" Sherman was abruptly cut off as the battleship New Jersey, the newly returned spear of America's ship spirits, the last big-gun battleship to retire from active duty,pouncedon him.
She flung her sinewy arms around him, picking him up with ease as she let out a wordless—surprisingly girlish-squeal of delight. If Sherman made any reply, it was muffled into nothingness by the excessive battleship-girl-cleavage cradling his face. "Always loved my Marines!" said Jersey, giving him a good squeeze before setting him down again.
"Tha- thank you, ma'am," wheezed Sherman, struggling to get his breath back after the 'hug.'
Jersey's face instantly flipped from utter glee to borderline despair. "I… I didn't hurt you, did I?"
Sherman shook his head, wincing at the sudden motion. "No ma'am," he said, the tendons in his neck just a little tauter than usual.
Jersey pursed her lips, clicking the chunky soles of her running shoes together as she offered a perfect salute. Or what looked to Crowning like a perfect salute, she certainly had the poise. "Lance Corporal Sherman," she paused, chewing on the corner of her lip for a moment- "I don't have a rank, do I?"
"Fuck it," Jersey stiffened her back as she returned to full attention. "Battleship New Jersey, reporting for transport."
"Right this way, ma'am," said Sherman, waving her towards the hulking truck parked outside. "Sir, after you," he added, motioning for Crowning to follow in trail.
"This what they're using for jeeps now?" said Jersey, her hands going to her hips as she glanced from Sherman to the eight-wheeled tactical truck and the Spartan passenger cabin built up in the bed.
"No ma'am. This is a Mark 14 LVSR," said Sherman, hauling himself into the cab with a grunt.
Jersey raised one eyebrow over the rim of her mirrored aviators.
"Uh… a ten-ton truck, ma'am."
The battleship laughed, "A ten ton truck," she hopped onto the ladder leading up to the bed, "Do I look like-" she abruptly stopped as the suspension groaned under her weight. The shock absorbers let out a pathetic metal tink as they hit their stops.
Crowning spun on his heel, trying to hide his colossal grin. Sherman ducked further into the cab and erupted in a violent coughing fit.
"I hate all of you," scowled Jersey.
Save for the jostling every time the hulking truck slowed or accelerated, Jersey hadn't moved for a solid half-hour. Crowing was fairly sure she was asleep, but it was impossible to tell with her eyes hidden by those mirrored aviators. Then again, he couldn't shake the feeling that her eyes were following his every move.
"You know," he said, content to address the towering battleship when she was too tired to retaliate. "I was going to ask how much you remembered."
"Hmm?" one eyebrow creeping up over the rim of her glasses was the only motion the battleship girl made.
"At the restaurant," said Crowning, mentally steeling himself for whatever retaliation she might inflict. She had a good foot on him, and those bare legs rippled with muscle. If he really made her mad, there wouldn't be anything he could do but take it. "I wasn't asking how much you weighed."
For what felt like hours, the truck's bed was silent except for the weary rumble of an overstrained diesel engine. Then the front end of the truck exploded in the squeal of air brakes and the bellowed tirade of one thoroughly fed-up Marine.
Jersey's head pivoted towards the cab with such mechanical precision, Crowning swore he could hear the bearings glide in their raceways. "The hell, Marine?"
After a few minutes of frustrated growling at max frequency distinguished only by amplitude, Sherman finally forced out a coherent sentence. "Not my fucking fault the truck only makes fifteen fucking miles per hour."
Jersey rolled her eyes so hard Crowning could see it though her shades. "Yeah, we get it. I'm a fatass."
Sherman grumbled back something too quiet to be heard though the cab walls. Crowning just stared at the battleship girl, his mouth hanging half-open.
"You weren't offended?" said Crowning, throwing away all the well-laid plans he'd made for broaching the subject.
"The hell would I be?" said Jersey, smirking as she crossed her arms. "I'm fifty-eight thousand tons, and I still make thirty-three knots!"
"Have these?" Jersey glanced down at her chest, her mouth dropping open in one of the most painfully overacted displays of surprise Crowning had ever seen. "My god, clearly these override the fact that I'm… ya know… a fucking battleship."
"I.. see your point," said Crowning, hanging his head and trying very hard not to watch the newly-incarnated battleship prodding her chest. "Then why were you so quiet this whole trip?"
Jersey let her hands fall onto her lap, dipping her head so she could look though the top of her shades. "I was hungry."
Crowning's jaw dropped, his hand reflexively wandering to his wallet. "You ate two dozen apple pies."
"At full power, I burn fifty tons of fuel an hour."
His hand clenched tighter. "I… I'll count myself lucky then."
Jersey shrugged, a glint of a smile on her face. "But, uh… the answer's 'not much'."
"How much I remember," said Jersey, holding her hands out ahead of her, her fingertips touching in the general shape of a ship's prow. "From when I was a ship." She made little wave sounds, bending her arms to make her 'hull' rock in the imaginary seas. "It's just… feelings. Maybe a flash here and there. My crew doing their duties, shit like that."
"Nothing specific?" Asked Crowning, fumbling for the notepad in his jacket pocket. "Even… when you were summoned?"
Jersey shook her head, pursing her lips as she stared intently at her toes. "I'm sorry…"
Crowning set the notepad back down, tapping a loose rhythm against the paper with his pen.
"If I could help, I would," said the battleship, her voice so soft it was almost lost in the pathetic screeches of suspension springs. "I just… I knew I needed to be. That's- that's something, right?"