"Captain, reports from the duty watch" Mashiro held out the datapad in her hand for Akeno's examination.
"My eyes are too tired to read it, Shiro, let me know what is in them"
"Yes, Captain. Maron reports no big issues except a slight leak in one of the pipes for the turbines – not a replacement, but merely the bolts need tightening. Kaede reports that she will have the sonar recalibrated by the start of the morning watch. Navigation, Torpedo and Gunnery all report full readiness. Radar is reduced to commercial ranges as per your orders"
"And Supply and Budgeting?"
"I was saving the worst until the very end" Mashiro sighed. "They report that we're down to a week of food and fresh water at the very most. We were due to resupply two weeks ago, but with what has happened at home…" the girl shrugged. "Also, we're down to twenty per cent fuel"
"Can we get close to home on that?"
"I don't know exactly, but I wouldn't say so"
"Damn… No word from base?"
"Not from base, the other school ships, Blue Mermaids, the Navy or even the country as a whole. What is more disturbing is that we've not picked up any radio traffic at all in over a month"
"The last message we got was that a virus was spreading through the country and the surrounding area…" Akeno mused, "And then everything suddenly started to go quiet. Alright, I'll take another few minutes here before coming up. I want you to order a reduction in speed and find out where the nearest island is to our current position"
"Not every island has a fresh water source"
"No… But it's a risk we have to take" Akeno replied tiredly.
"Captain, when did you last sleep?" Mashiro asked with concern.
"Three… Maybe four days ago"
"As your Deputy Captain and friend, I advise you to get some rest" Mashiro smiled slightly. "We're going to be a few hours away from any island in the first place, so…"
"But what about the ship?"
"The ship will still be here when you wake up, Captain"
"That is about the only thing that is certain" Akeno said bitterly. "Alright, I'll try and get some more sleep. Find us that island and set a course at the best speed to give us the best fuel usage"
"Bridge to Captain" Kouko's voice came down from the voice pipe.
"Captain, we've got a surface contact about fifteen miles away directly in front of us. Macchi thinks it's a cruise liner of some sort and she's stationary"
"Is she answering the radio or morse signals?" Akeno exchanged a dark look with Mashiro.
"Right… Have the helm bring us to within three hundred meters of the ship and get Minami up to the Bridge. The Deputy Captain and I are on the way"
"Shiro, this could be an opportunity for us" Akeno said.
"Well, we stand off a bit and wait to see if anybody shows up on deck. If not, we launch a boarding party and see if there are survivors at all"
"And if not…?" Mashiro raised a questioning eyebrow.
"Then we take what fuel is left in its tanks, grab the tinned food and then send it to the bottom"
"Isn't that kind of grave robbing and stealing from the dead?"
"Yes, and under normal circumstances I would not be doing this. However, the main priority is to keep alive and moving. Once the radio is fully fixed, we will try to establish contact with home and see if there is a chain of command" and the pair left Akeno's cabin and went to the Bridge – stopping by the galley kitchen for a cup of tea to wake Akeno up fully.
"Report" Akeno ordered.
"Captain, we've searched the entire ship and all we can find are dead bodies all over the place. Mikran and the twins are going over the ship finding as much tinned food as possible as well as unopened bottles of water and juices" Mashiro reported over the suit's radio. Minami had insisted that the boarding party went over in the hazard suits normally used for chemical spills as it was the best protection they had.
"Bring the ship's logs over – both the paper and the electronic versions" Akeno said with concern. "Let Maron know she is okay to take whatever she wants from the cruise ship in the way of parts and stuff"
"Acknowledged" Mashiro replied. "I will let you know when we're ready to come back"
"Bridge out. Mei, prepare a salvo of two torpedoes – one from each of the launchers. Once we've got our boarding parties back, we're fire them off and send the liner to the deep"
"Aye" was the girl's simple reply. Normally, she'd be over the moon to fire torpedoes, but this was nothing to be excited about.
"I'm going below to speak to Minami" Akeno said. "Tama, you have the deck. If Mashiro calls again, tell her to bring over the ship's name plates and such"
"Understood" Tama nodded once before turning back to do some work with her equipment.
"Captain, we are 800 yards as ordered" Rin said in a formal tone.
"Very well" Akeno said and looked at the other vessel that was now a little bit away from them. After everything that could be saved was taken aboard the Harekaze, Akeno had ordered that all of the bodies were to be taken to the ship's two cargo holds and locked in. "Torpedo Officer, fire torpedoes 1 and 2"
"Aye… Fore and Aft launchers – fire" and two torpedoes sped out of the tubes and slammed into the hull. The sound was almost deafening on the Bridge as the cruise ship took on water and broke into two halves before slipping silently under the surface.
"Vessel has been sunk at 13:34" Mashiro said quietly.
"Noted… Please enter it into the log. Helm, all ahead one quarter and come right heading 270"
"All ahead one quarter… Come right to heading 270"
"Radio Room here… I have the radio fully working now"
"Can you hear anything?" asked Akeno.
"I hear no voice traffic, but there is some automated weather station stuff… No voice or data traffic on any military frequency"
"Listen out for anything… Let me know if you get any news of the Emperor and the Imperial Family – tell your relief the same thing" Akeno hesitated and flicked a switch to the intraship circuit. "Attention all hands, this is the Captain… Radio communications have just been fully restored, but we are getting nothing on any frequency from any vessel or person. I believe there is no functional government left at home, but that does not mean that Japan has fallen. So long as we continue to sail and exist, our country will never fall until the last of us are gone. My intentions are to sail to an island to the west of here and overhaul the ship. At the same time, teams will search for fresh water supplies which we will use to replenish our tanks" Akeno paused and took a moment to collect her thoughts. "I know you were expecting a short cruise as our first one together, but things have now changed… Some of us are friends and some of us are new to each other – but together we are one family! By working together, we will get through this and restore our government and our nation… Long Live The Emperor!"
"That was an inspirational speech" Mashiro noted as she and Akeno planned their next move.
"I sort of made it up as I went" the other girl admitted. "Anyway, Tsugme picked up a repeating message in one of the automated weather reports. She brought it directly to me, but I can't make any sense of it…" she handed the scrap of paper it was written on to Mashiro who frowned.
"'The light has dimmed' – I don't understand"
"Neither do I" Akeno said. "Now, about our next move… I think that we should return to base and see what state our school is in. Even if we can find no survivors, we'll be able to raid stores for needed items like fuel and extra parts"
"Agree. I just can't believe that nobody has tried getting in touch with us" Mashiro nodded. "I would, however, like to suggest a modification to the plan, Captain. I would suggest sending a scouting party first in the Skippers"
"Good idea… The Skippers go first followed by the sea boat – the Harekaze can follow in if there is enough room to move around"
"I'll prepare for it then"
"Not this time" Akeno said and then raised a hand as if to stop the resulting complaints. "I'm going because if it was any other ship, that Captain would want to know for themselves what had happened. Also, there are a few things on the other ships that require a Captain's authorisation key to open. I know I could give it to you, but I need to see what is going on for myself" then she became even more serious and looked at her second in command. "Deputy Captain, we might find bodies on this island… Ask each of the crew in person if they would volunteer for a burial party"
"Burial party…?" she was confused for a moment until she realised that Akeno wanted to take the time to give any dead they found a decent burial. "What sort of service should we hold?" Mashiro enquired. "I ask only because not all the crew are religious or follow the same beliefs"
"I don't know… To be honest with you, Shiro, I'm just guessing here – there was nothing like this in the manuals and books they gave me before I assumed command" Akeno looked at Mashiro with everything she was – a very scared and frightened young girl. With a moment's hesitation, she launched herself into Mashiro's arms and just broke down from all of the stress she was under. Mashiro awkwardly patted her on the back and called for Minami to come and give Akeno a sedative – nothing too strong, but just enough to give her a few hours of peaceful sleep.
Akeno was still asleep when they approached the island in the light of dawn.
"Lookout reporting – I spy three small ships drifting around the opening to a small channel" Macchi called from high above them. "They seem to be stationary and… And I can see bodies – suggest no survivors" she finished sadly.
"Launch the landing parties" Mashiro ordered. "Have them swing by and confirm that there is nobody alive on the boats though. Rin, what is the depth in the channel?"
"Five fathoms" came her slightly high pitched reply.
"Rin, I know that you can do this. Your skills have served us well so far in our voyage"
"Do you expect to find anybody alive?" asked Kouko.
"No" Mashiro shook her head, "But we have to try anyway. Anyway, you heard the Captain's orders – once we have finished here, we sail for home and to find out what has happened"
"This is Kaede… I'm using the sonar to search the surrounding area, but I can find nothing at all"
"Understood" Mashiro said absently.
"Deputy Captain, you do not understand. When I said I can not find anything, I mean that I am unable to find anything at all – sea life included"
"I should be picking up biological life in the sea such as schools of fish or whales of some kind – there is nothing"
"Could the virus have got to the sea as well?" asked Mei.
"I don't know, but somebody get Minami up here" Mashiro ordered.
"Shall I wake the Captain?"
"No… Let her rest some more"
"Tama to Harekaze… We have checked the boats – no survivors. We have now reached the harbour and there are no boats here, but plenty of bodies just laying where they dropped. They, um, look to have been here for a few days. No signs of life anywhere, but we will check the nearest building and report back"
"Acknowledged… Is the channel clear for us to come in?"
"Please ask them to check the hospital building first – I am running low on a lot of supplies" Minami spoke up from the port side of the Bridge. "I was already on my way up here" she explained.
"Tama, Minami says to check the hospital first for supplies that can be used – we're running low of things" Mashiro told her.
"If their analysing equipment is intact, then I could perform an examination on the blood of some of the bodies and autopsy the less decomposed ones" Minami was hesitant for a change. "At the very least, I can find out what this virus does and try to find a vaccine"
"Would you do it there or onboard?"
"Not on the ship" Minami replied tiredly, "It is better to do it on the island – that way the virus can not get onboard so easily"
"Makes sense" Mashiro said. "Be ready to start with what you need to do the minute we dock. Rin, dead slow ahead – take us in"
"I'd like some continuous sonar soundings" Rin said as she gently spun the wheel. "I'm sure this channel dips and soars at places"
"Don't you have the latest charts?"
"Not since we lost contact with home" she replied.
"Fair enough… Kaede, sound off if the channel gets to below two fathoms"
"Right…" Mashiro cast her eyes over everything and made a decision. "I am going to go and inform the Captain. Kouko, you have the deck"
"I have the deck"
"Captain, the ship is tied up alongside the pier, search parties are looking for supplies and the Doctor is ashore trying to get medical equipment working and examine bodies and blood" Mashiro reported formally to her commanding officer.
"You've done well… Better then I ever could"
"Captain, I have only done what you would have done. I have come, very quickly, to realise that there is much more to commanding a ship and crew then following orders and regulations"
"Then let us go together as friends" Akeno said and held out her hand which Mashiro took and the pair shook hands to acknowledge the new understanding. Before either of them could say another word, Akeno's cabin door burst open and Tsugme ran in and handed over a scrap of paper that had been torn roughly from a notepad.
"Captain… Message… From Command" she panted.
"What does it say?" Mashiro noted that Akeno had gone pale.
"How did you get this?"
"A week ago – I have only just been able to decode it"
"Okay… Thank you" Akeno said. "Go back and be ready to patch a general message around the ship and to those on shore"
"Aye, Aye" and Tsugme left, still panting heavily from her run.
"Captain? Akeno?" Mashiro was trying to get Akeno's attention.
"Deputy Captain, please enquire of the Chief Engineer about the possibility of maintaining maximum speed for the longest possible time" Akeno's words sounded hollow and Mashiro wondered what had happened to make the normally unflappable and unconventional girl seem robotic.
"When I took command of the Harekaze, there was a list of things in my cabin that were for my eyes only. It was part of an old custom, for the most part at least, but one of them concerned messages from the Imperial Navy to all Japanese vessels which would be sent in code. When it was decoded, the sentence would not make sense unless one knew what the decoded message was a secondary code for" and Akeno looked up at Mashiro with horrified and sad eyes. "Deputy Captain, please carry out your orders"
"Attention all hands, this is the Captain" Akeno stood on the Bridge wearing her hat – not a good sign for most of the crew watching her. "I have been given a message which, due to the fortunes of chaos, has only just been decoded and translated. A message was sent a week ago, embedded into an automated weather report and which came from the Imperial Japanese Navy Headquarters, Blue Mermaid command. This was such a secret message, that it required a second decode that was on paper given to Captains of all Japanese military vessels and I have just decoded it fully. I regret to inform you that, according to Command, the Imperial family is believed to have been wiped out by the virus that infects our homeland. No message has been received from any of the secure bunkers that were set up to house members, so it is believed all is lost. This is the final message that was sent out, and we have received no more messages since then – it is believed that the government has fallen" Akeno took a moment to compose herself. "As I said before, so long as we still sail, Japan has not fallen yet – so long as one of us remains alive, the sun will always rise. With that in mind, I am ordering all shore parties to return to the Harekaze at once and a course set to take us home. Whatever we find there will be our destiny… Captain out" she turned to see the varied looks on the faces of her friends and crewmates. "Deputy Captain, prepare the ship for sea. I am going to make an inspection of the ship. Miss Nosa, come with me"
# # # # #
Duties were carried out, for the most part, quietly with very little discussion when off duty. Kaede, Rin and Macchi had taken to staying together in a corner of the classroom and praying together, Maron and her staff checked and rechecked every part of the engines they could look at, Minami worked hard to find a cure or a vaccine and the rest of the crew just attended to their duties and stayed in their quarters and coped with the news in their own way. It was two and a half days of hard steaming, the engines glowing red hot in their effort, before the Harekaze returned to Yokasura and the crew got the first look of their homeland. Ships dotted around at anchor with no living beings aboard, not even birds flew in the sky and debris floated and bobbed along in the gentle breeze.
"Do we have a free channel?"
"As far as I can see" Macchi confirmed.
"Keep a sharp lookout"
"Rin, take us in nice and slowly"
"Nice and slowly" Rin confirmed.
"Have extra lookouts posted around the ship looking for signs of life" Akeno said. "Engine room, be ready to deploy fuelling parties"
"Acknowledged" came the curt reply
"Helm, bring us alongside the number 4 pier… Deck crew, prepare to cast lines ashore and tie off" Mashiro spoke quietly. The Deputy Captain was trying to make sense of all the death and destruction that she could see.
"Macchi here… I can see bodies on the dockside. I can also spot several large warships tied up"
"Can you identify them?" asked Akeno quietly.
"I can see the Hiel, Hamakaze and the Maikaze" came her saddened voice. "Akashi is also there"
"No sign of Musashi?"
"None that I can see"
"Maybe Captain China is running silently somewhere" Mashiro suggested.
"Do you really believe that, Shiro?" Akeno frowned at her.
"We have to have hope"
"Hope is about the only thing we have plenty of"
"And fuel…!" Maron piped up and Akeno smiled a little bit.
"THERE IS SOMEBODY SIGNALLING FROM THE DOCK" Macchi's shout made them all look out of the Bridge windows.
"Whereaway?" demanded Akeno.
"From the rope and cable store – off the port bow"
"Read it" the Captain ordered.
"Aye, Aye… 'Do not approach – I am immune but carry the virus' That's all"
"Ask who they are"
"Mashiro, get a Skipper ready for launch five seconds ago with the Doctor and a team now"
"On it" the girl turned around with a determination.
"Its Captain China…! Message is directed at the Captain"
"Ask that person how we first met" Akeno was shaking with so many emotions.
"You met at an open day for the orphans when Captain China's family picked you to live with them"
"Shiro, you have the deck"
"Captain, under the circumstances…"
"JUST DO IT" Akeno roared and Mashiro blinked in stunned shock as Akeno walked off.
"Did… Did she just yell at you?" Rin squeaked.
"I didn't think she could raise her voice like that" Mashiro whispered.
"Wouldn't you want to go and help your friend if you could?" Kouko asked quietly.
"They are friends?"
"Captain China's parents took our Captain in when she lost her parents after the ship they were on went down with the loss of dozens of lives"
"Oh god… Why do I have to be so uptight with rules?" Mashiro groaned. "Should I go and apologise?"
"I think if you went after her, she'd chuck you overboard"
"Its an even bet"
"I never thought I would see you again, Mike" Moeka said to Akeno as she coughed badly into a rag. Akeno had joined the shore party and discovered Moeka in a terrible way in the rope and cable store where she'd made herself a makeshift bed with some tinned food.
"The same, Moka" Akeno whispered. "What happened?"
"The Musashi was infected by a virus that turned the crew into rabid animals for a few hours before they started dying off. In a few of them, though, it made things worse and they tore and ate some of the others. I tried to call for help, but the virus had already taken hold back at home and everything was chaotic. Some people tried to get away, some tried to find a cure and some of them just turned on one another. I… I…"
"What did you do?" Akeno gently asked as Minami prepared a sedative.
"I blew up the Musashi" Moeka suddenly burst into tears at the anguished confession. "I managed to blow it up and escape"
"Did anybody else make it off with you?"
"My Deputy Captain did, but she was already infected by the virus. I buried her by Yamato Point so I could get her body later and give her a good burial"
"Captain, Deputy Captain here… We've got incoming! Macchi says she can see three large vans of some type heading this way – four minutes until they get here"
"Recall all of the shore parties, Shiro, hand out the small arms and prepare to repel borders – sound Action Stations" Akeno made the decision quickly. "Load the main guns and swing them out towards them. Have Macchi order them to leave their vans and come closer on foot or we will open fire upon them. Be ready to give us covering fire – we're coming back. Moeka, can you walk?"
"She's too weak" Minami said.
"Fine… Mikran, Kaede – you just became stretcher bearers" Akeno pointed. "Lets go"
# # # # #
Mashiro had taken her orders to the letter and nearly all of the crew were waiting to cover the arrival of Akeno, Moeka and the shore party. Once aboard, the ropes were simply cut and the Harekaze moved into the bay where she was better protected. There was an uneasy standoff as the Harekaze's crew stood at their battle stations with drawn weapons and ready to defend their ship if they needed to. None of them had ever fired a gun in real life, save for Kaede and Macchi, and they wondered if they could really fire on people and perhaps kill them. The vans with the unknowns had stopped and discharged a number of people bearing rifles, machine guns and mortars which were set up along the dockside.
"This is Commander Hiro of the Imperial Navy – your ship belongs to me now… Surrender it to my control and you will not be harmed" a tall black haired man called through a megaphone.
"He's no officer" Mashiro said as she looked at him through a pair of binoculars, "I heard my mother telling me that he had been kicked out for stealing"
"Maybe he got reinstated" Akeno said dubiously.
"I don't think so" Mashiro muttered, watching as Hiro talked to some others with him. There seemed to be some talking before an angry shout and a gesture – seconds later, they came under fire and they dove for cover. "He's actually fired at us" Mashiro was in disbelief.
"Warning shots?" asked Akeno before the Harekaze shuddered from near misses from the mortars.
"Tama, open fire with the main batteries. Kouko, get the girls inside"
"Yes, Captain" and the fore and aft guns roared out in an angry reply.
"I never wanted to hurt anybody" Akeno almost sobbed as she crouched down. "I swore only to fire and disable – not to kill"
"Captain" Mashiro spoke as kindly as she could, "What you have done is protect your ship and crew – nobody would think less of you for what you had to order" and she peaked over the edge of the railing and saw a mixture of people either dead, injured or taking cover. For a brief moment, Mashiro saw a flash of gold robe. "Cease fire all batteries!" she yelled. "Akeno" she used her Captain's first name, "I thought I saw one of the Imperial Family down there"
"What? Did you see who it was?"
"Damn" Akeno muttered. "Macchi, what sort of weapon do you have?"
"Use it to have a look at the large car – see if you can spot who is being held by that Hiro person"
"I can't see them, but I have a clean shot" she called quietly from above them.
"At the Imperial Family member?"
"No" Akeno rolled her eyes, "At Hiro" and she gestured at Mashiro and they crawled back into the Bridge. "Maron, you there?"
"Good, then listen in. We are going to do the following… When Macchi fires at Hiro, the Chief Engineer is going to put both engines to full power and we're going to smack into the dockside. When that happens, the Deputy Captain will take over here whilst I lead a raid ashore to rescue whoever it is being held hostage. At the same time, the Chief of Artillery will give covering fire with the close in weapons system. When we get aboard with the hostage, we will reverse engines, back away and then eliminate all remaining enemies" she looked around at the crew gathered on the Bridge and knew everybody else was listening in. "I know this is not what we trained for, but we have to do this in order to protect the law, human rights and the Imperial Family. None of us have wanted to take lives, we swore to protect life, but these people are the enemy now… We must protect what we can and start to rebuild. If none of you wish to take part in this, or do not wish to take a life, then you are relieved of duty" and there was silence before an electronic click was heard.
"Captain…" Mashiro gestured with her head as, one by one, the status indicators turned green to show they were behind Akeno all the way.
"Thank you… Macchi, prepare to fire. All hands, stand to your duty for country and the Emperor"
The rescue plan went off with almost no hitch – the only injuries being a few grazes from bullets fired by Hiro's men. As a safety precaution, Akeno had ordered the Harekaze out of the channel and to sit at its mouth until they decided on what to do next. Akeno was having her belongings put into boxes and stored and her cabin prepared for the Crown Prince who they'd rescued. Currently, he was down in the Sickbay getting treatment for the roughness he had got during his captivity. Minami was keeping him sedated until she could finish operating on him, but had put out a call for all of those with his blood type to report to Sickbay so she had enough for transfusions – these being handled by Mikran and the twins in their secondary role as nurses.
"How is Captain China?" asked Mashiro.
"Resting comfortably" Akeno replied as she paced around the Bridge. With both Moeka and the Crown Prince onboard, accommodations were a little tight for those onboard. As it was, the Crown Prince got Akeno's cabin, Moeka was going to bunk with Mashiro and Akeno had ordered a camping bed set up in the one remaining storage compartment. Mashiro had quickly offered her Captain her own bunk, but Akeno had told her she would be much happier where she was.
"I was thinking that we could try again and search for survivors" Mashiro went on.
"I was thinking the same, Shiro, but we'll tie up back in the school's port and send out radio messages. Minami thinks that she can detect the virus in just a few minutes, so we can check people very quickly"
"I doubt we could take that many people on here for too long"
"I'm hoping that if enough of the school's pupils remain nearby, Moeka could take command of one of the ships tied up here"
"Who would lead the fleet?" asked Mashiro with a frown. "After all, Captain China is classified as an actual officer"
"Who knows" Akeno shrugged. "Deputy Captain, pipe harbour stations… We're going back in. Bridge to Radio Room"
"Break radio silence on my order – try to make contact with anybody near us and inform them we may have a vaccine for the virus and to come here if possible" Akeno turned to Mashiro. "I am going to report to wh–"
"Captain, this is Minami speaking… The Emperor has awoken"
"The… Emperor…?" Rin whispered and everybody stopped what they were doing in shock and grief.
"I thought… I mean I had hoped that he would…" Akeno shook her head as she tried to get the concept of the Emperor's death through her mind.
"Captain…?" Mashiro gently squeezed her shoulder after a few minutes. "Akeno, the Harekaze awaits your command"
"Continue with what I said – I have to go and see the new Emperor"
"I am afraid that I do not know you" the new Emperor spoke softly.
"I am sorry, Your Imperial Majesty… I am Captain Akeno Misaki, Captain of the Harekaze of the Yokasura Girls Marine High School. We managed to rescue you from Hiro and his men and you are in my ship's sickbay"
"Captain, do not think me ungrateful, but… When will we get to the fleet?"
"I am sorry, Your Imperial Majesty, but there is no fleet – not any more" Akeno hesitated to tell her ruler everything, but she knew that he would have to know soon enough. "The only ships we know about are us and those ships tied up in our school's port. It is possible some elements of the Imperial Navy and the Blue Mermaids survived and are hiding and planning their next options because of people like Hiro"
"What about other countries?" asked the Emperor.
"Nothing heard from them either… We've even tried contacting the Americans, but they've not replied so we assume they are like us" Akeno shook her head. "Doesn't matter anyway"
"Because Japan has endured"
"I am not sure that my power extends to much beyond this ship"
"Doesn't matter, Your Imperial Majesty… So long as we sail, this ship is Japan. You are our Emperor… We await your command" and Akeno added a salute for good measure.
"I do not feel as if I can give orders right now, but I command you to proceed in the manner in which you see fit. You are to repair this ship and prepare it to defend this country" the Emperor said quietly.
"Aye, Aye, Sir" Akeno saluted again before bowing slightly and leaving the curtained off area. "How is he?" she asked Minami.
"Not good… I've done all I can here, but he needs a proper medical facility which we don't have onboard. I suspect that he has some form of internal bleeding which I need to stop, but only in a full hospital suite" the girl replied. Their Doctor looked exhausted from dealing with battle wounds, moderate operations and virus research – Akeno hoped there would be other Doctors to help Minami with the workload.
"What about medical facilities on the supply ships?" Akeno asked and Minami's eyes widened in surprise.
"Of course…! If I can check they are still secure, they should be free of the virus – I can use one of them to do the operation. Why did I not think of this?"
"Because you were too busy with your work" Akeno assured her. "We are heading back in now and are asking for anybody nearby to come join us. Once we get that help, you can rest as much as you need"
"I have work to do"
"You do that, and you will burn out… I order you to take a rest right now"
"Can you give me an order?"
"Want to test it?"
"No" Minami smiled for the first time in days. "How do you do it…? How do you put on a brave face for the rest of the crew?"
"I just guess what to do"
"And when those guesses run out?"
"Well…" Akeno smiled, "That will be an interesting day. You go and rest in your cabin and I will wait here until Mikran gets here to take over for a while – we'll be two or three hours getting back into harbour after all"
"Captain Misaki, to the Bridge please"
"Any chance you can tranq Shiro?" Akeno sighed as she picked up the nearest handset and punched a button. "This is the Captain – report"
"Captain, Radar is picking up a vessel at the extreme edge of range, but on a course to intercept us in two hours" Mashiro reported.
"Can you contact her by radio?"
"Not yet… Tsugme will try and raise her in a few minutes when the long range transmitter is warmed up"
"Have Macchi identify her the moment she is in range"
"Aye" Shiro replied and clicked off.
"I've had enough" Akeno said as she hung the phone back on its hook. "Doctor, I hereby resign and appoint Rin as the new Captain"
"I so witness" Minami smiled.
"Go and get out of here… I'll call Mikran or one of the twins to take over and just monitor" Akeno gently pushed the girl towards the hatch and out into the corridor beyond.
# # # # #
"Bridge, Macchi… I can see a Yamato Class vessel coming directly for us"
"Try and raise her on the signal lamp… Maybe they have a damaged radio" Mashiro argued.
"Maybe" Akeno said.
"Message coming through… They have no senior officers aboard and request help – they say they have not got the virus onboard"
"Not anymore" Rin squeaked.
"Indeed" Mashiro frowned at her before shrugging – the younger girl was right after all.
"Deputy Captain, bring the crew to Battlestations"
"Just in case… Just in case"
"Captain China, to the Bridge please"
"I want her to lead the boarding party and to take over the Yamato class. Look at it this way, Shiro, she trained and sailed on the Musashi, so everything will be at the same place"
"I didn't think of that" Mashiro admitted sheepishly. "You realise of course that, according to the rules, she would be in command?"
"Good – I can get some bloody rest" and the pair giggled together. Once Moeka had got to the Bridge, Akeno told her what was happening and what she could do to help. Moeka agreed quickly and joined a hastily formed boarding party that was launching in the Skippers. After a short time, the boarding party had reported that everything was as it had been reported, there were no senior officers in a fit condition, the Captain and Deputy Captain were dead and the Moeka had assumed command. "I better tell the Emperor"
"Because now we have at least two ships…"
"And?" Mashiro blinked.
"Well, now His Imperial Majesty has a fleet again"
"A fleet of two"
"It's a start"
It turned out the ship was the Yamato, first of her line. She took a few hours to dock because she was running on the single engine due to low amounts of fuel. Akeno had sent some of Maron's engine room crew over to start making checks of all systems and to see what could be repaired and what needed replacing. Over the following days, a few of the pupils from the school had made their way to them and taken up places on the Yamato to help fill her depleted numbers. Within a few weeks, more people came in which gave them enough people to man one of the supply vessels which would sail with the small two vessel fleet. Scouting parties had been sent to look around Tokyo, but the capital of the mighty Japan was a wasteland with debris and bodies everywhere. One group had made it to the Imperial Palace but found just more decomposing bodies – they recovered as much of the treasure as they could handle and then returned to the ship. The Emperor had been very upset and quiet about this for some days, but then said that the capital would remain in Tokyo for as long as he lived… However, he would stay at the Girls Marine High School for safety and security reasons protected by the few members of the Imperial Navy and Army that had managed to get to them. Over the next few months, a cure was found for the virus and the chemical makeup was transmitted over the radio to anybody that could pick it up and who had the means to produce it.
In the middle of the Atlantic, a US Navy ship heard the radio message…
"Thank you for coming" the Emperor said a few months later, "But this is not a happy gathering for I have been told terrible news"
"What is it, Your Majesty?" asked Moeka.
"As you know, this virus has spread throughout the world and caused terrible harm to all life. The American nation has torn itself to pieces and split into factions – one of these factions has taken upon itself to not just produce the cure, but to come here and take everything we have because they believe they and they alone should survive"
"What sort of ship are the Americans using?" Akeno asked quietly.
"A modern destroyer type, so far as we know…" a man in Imperial Japanese Navy uniform spoke from one side of the Emperor. "Unfortunately, none of our own ships are a match. The Yamato could take it on, but it is still having repairs done to its main turrets and will not be ready for six days – the Americans will get here in three"
"What about using some of the ships tied up as remote controlled firing points?" Moeka frowned.
"To do that would require weeks of work on each ship, Captain China, and that is working at a breakneck speed"
"I have ordered what is left of our naval forces to gather here, but might not be much… The American vessel can fire missiles from upwards of five hundred miles away" the Emperor continued.
"What about using a submarine?" Akeno suggested.
"We have none fit for sea, Captain Misaki" the naval officer said. "Our best hope is to pray that we can get the Yamato fit enough to be towed and use her as a floating battery. As His Imperial Majesty has said, all capable ships in range are coming here to make a stand… But we expect it to be too little"
"We shall go down fighting with honour" Moeka said loyally.
"I hope this is not the case and that the Americans see reason, but they are a strange people with no sense of honour and duty like we have" the Emperor said. "Please make every effort with your crews to make the supreme effort…"
"… and that was that" Akeno had gathered her crew together in the classroom. She spared a glance around the place and saw her much they had all grown in the past year – and she wasn't thinking of physical growth either.
"If the Panama Canel is still blocked unusable, the best way would be to sail around Canada and through the Bearing Straight" Rin said. People started talking for minutes, but Akeno was silent and mulled a plan over in her mind.
"Chief Navigator… How quickly could we get there if we steamed at full power?" she asked quietly.
"Under a day if we kept the speed up" came the instant reply.
"Maron, how are we for fuel?"
"Fully fuelled… Give me an hour to finish servicing the engines and we can go"
"Good… The Emperor has ordered that we stay here to defend the country, but I believe we could intercept the American ship and delay it long enough to give Moeka a chance with the Musashi. However, it means that none of us will come back alive… I will ask fo–" she couldn't finish as the entire crew rose to their feet.
"Captain, the crew await your orders" Mashiro drew herself to attention.
"We set sail in three hours" Akeno made her decision. "We will darken ship as much as possible, all crew will wear dark clothing if they have to go on deck. Maron, I need you to make the engines burn as cleanly as possible. Rin, you will have to navigate out of here using just a little over steerage way. Kouko, see what you can do about getting extra shells and torpedoes. Shiro, go round the crew before we sail and get the crew to leave wills and something for them to bury"
"Aye" came the multitude of replies.
"Captain, the anchor has been cast overboard" Mashiro said in the darkness to Akeno. To stop anybody seeing what they were about to do, every light on the Harekaze had been turned off – even the bridge displays had been covered over.
"Rin, standby. Maron, reverse port shaft for three knots. Slow ahead starboard shaft for two knots"
"Aye" came the quiet reply – Maron seemed to be taking no chances at all.
"Rin, hard to port"
"Hard to port" and it took the ship nearly five minutes to come right around.
"Maron, both engines to slow ahead for two knots"
"Both engines ahead slow for two knots" and slow, but surely, the Harekaze escaped to the open waters. They crept through the various channels and waterways until they got to the ocean beyond before, they swung north and headed out as fast the ship's engines could power them.
A hive of activity was going on as extra bits of metal were welded and bolted to various places around the ship so they could last a few vital seconds longer. In between this, though, Maron and her girls had managed to come up with small rockets they could fire which were bolted to the tops of the torpedo launchers – giving the veteran ship extra firepower. Soon, though, a thick fog came in and Akeno ordered the ship to slow down and for the detection crewmembers to keep a sharp look out for anything.
"Bridge, this is Kaede… I have something moving towards us at moderate speed – bearing 342"
"Can you tell what it is?" Akeno looked at Mashiro.
"Sounds like an American power plant"
"This is it then" Mashiro noted.
"Sounds like it… Rin, come left heading 342 – all engines ahead flank speed. Shiro, sound action stations"
"Action Station, Action Stations… All Hands, stand to your Battlestations!" Mashiro called out.
"Tsugme, send a message to the Americans ordering them to veer off and stay away from Japan. Do we have a firm radar lock on them?"
"I think so" Mashiro replied with a glance at Kouko who nodded.
"Then lock weapons onto them and then turn off the radar and sonar – turn all weapons slowly as if they were taking the same course and speed. Rin, adjust our heading so there is eight hundred yards between us" Akeno said.
"I get it" Mei piped up. "With nothing to pick up, the Americans can't see us until it is too late"
"That's the hope. Mei, set your torpedoes to arm the moment they are launched – be ready for a rapid reload of all tubes as well" and the girl nodded firmly.
"Tama, the moment you fire the rockets at the American ship, I want you to fire directly at the Bridge of the other ship – taking out their command ability will slow them down I hope"
"Aye" the girl said in her typically quiet voice.
"What do we do after our first pass?" asked Mashiro, peering into the fog as if she could spot the other vessel.
"Come round and fire until we run out of ammunition, defeat it or sink" Akeno said.
"Do we take survivors as prisoners?"
A few hours later, the fog had cleared and they and never encountered the American ship at all. Akeno was furious at the enemy slipping by and demanded answers. The best that could be decided upon was that the Americans had gone to their own full speed and then shut down their engines and drifted on their speed past the Harekaze before starting up again and moving off. The ship had swung round and started pounding back towards Japan, breaking radio silence and broadcasting a continuous warning about what was coming towards them along with their estimated position, course and speed. When they got no reply, the crew feared the worst and prepared themselves for utter devastation.
"Bridge, Macchi… I can see a bit of smoke ahead of us"
"Does it come from the American ship?" asked Kouko who held the deck.
"I can't say, but it's a lot of it…"
"Keep looking" Kouko said.
"Should we inform the Captain and the Deputy Captain?" Mei asked.
"It could be a diversion set by the Americans"
"We are close to home" argued Rin, "It could be a target on shore that has been fired upon"
"True…" Kouko tapped her finger on the compass in thought. "No need to wake them up" she decided after some serious thinking, "But do a Radar sweep of the area and see what you can find" and she turned to look at Mei as if to say something, but she decided against it. "Maintain course and speed" she told Rin.
"Aye" was the only response.
"I can see better what the smoke is coming from… It's the Radar station at Usagi Point" Macchi called from high above.
"Do we put in for a closer look?" asked Rin.
"No… Macchi, can you see any survivors?"
"Not at this range, but the place has been completely destroyed and is on fire"
"We have to make them go away or at least slow down" Kouko thought about the problem for a while. "Tsugme, send a message to our submarine forces and tell them to blockade the channel. After that, send a message to our Heavy Cruiser Squadron to be aware of friendly submarines in the area"
"We don't have those anymore"
"I know that and you know that – but do the Americans know that?"
"Sending a message"
"Ask for the location of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd destroyer fleets" Mei said.
"Oh, good thinking. Shall I send some acknowledging receipt of messages?"
"Yeah – maybe the deception will be just that good" Mei gave a little cheer.
"I can make people much more cheerful" Mikran added her own voice, "We've made curry"
"Excuse me" said Tama and ran off leaving several dazed people scatted on the floor from the Bridge all the way to the galley.
"For crying out loud… Medical team to the Bridge" Kouko called down to Sickbay with a sigh.
"What if we told Tama that the Americans had curry on their ship?" Macchi suggested with a chuckle, "They'd never see it coming"
"It's a thought" Kouko agreed, and she was surprised to realise that she'd started to think of ways to make it work.
"Bridge, I have a faint contact bearing dead ahead"
"Can you identify?" Kouko asked.
"Too far away, but it is heading towards Tokyo… Best guess is thirty to forty miles away"
"Maybe 35 knots… Like I said, it is too far away right now to be sure"
"They must have slowed down" said Rin, "The moment they heard our fake calls for help"
"What are they doing, though?" Mei questioned.
"Making a terminal error…" Kouko said firmly and with a touch of ice in her tone. "Bridge to Maron"
"Can you give us any more speed?"
"I'm already running at 120% of rated output"
"Chief Engineer, we think we have regained contact at the extreme edge of radar range – we need to get near the Americans to fire our weapons"
"If I shut off power to everything but lighting, detection systems and the weapons… I might be able to give us an extra 10%, but only for a few minutes"
"Those few minutes might mean everything" Kouko cut Maron off and switched the handset to an all ship circuit. "All hands, this is the Bridge… Action stations, Action stations… All hands, man your battle stations. Captain and Deputy Captain to the Bridge please!" and Kouko hit the alarm button for a few moments. "Always wanted to do that one. "Tsugme, send a message in plain language with the current time – inform the Emperor, we have found the Americans"
"And you say there has been no reply to any of our messages?" Akeno asked.
"Negative… I think they must be jamming everything"
"We must get a message through" Mashiro said.
"I… I might be able to help" Rin spoke up with a hesitant tone. "When I was at primary school, we found out about radios and stuff. In one lesson, we were told about the low frequencies used to communicate with submarines – I bet the Americans aren't jamming those"
"Tsugme, can you communicate on a frequency used by submarines to talk to base whilst underwater?" Akeno spun to the speaking tube.
"Retune your radio set and send a message out that way – give the position, course and speed of the enemy vessel and tell them we intend to attack"
"This is Kaede, I have detected an underwater explosion very near to the American ship – highly suggest it could be a torpedo attack"
"Could they have managed to get a submarine out in time?" Mashiro asked.
"Perhaps… Radar, has the American slowed down?" Akeno asked quickly.
"Yes… Their power plant has gone much quieter than it was before – I think they might have been hit near the engine room. I have heard an underwater explosion, though… I think the Americans sank the submarine, but they are maintaining a slow speed"
"Whoever that was, Captain, was a brave group" Mashiro said.
"And we must not let their death be in vein" Akeno replied. "Rin, steady as she goes – keep us at maximum speed until we must slow down. Tama, prepare to open fire"
"We're not in range"
"I know" Akeno sighed, "But be prepared to fire the second we get in maximum range – do not fire until I give the order"
"Range to target is twenty miles" Macchi called out from high above them.
"I can fire in eight more miles" Tama said.
"Engines are overheating and beginning to come apart" Maron said.
"Acknowledged… Keep them going for a few more moments" Akeno said calmly, "But be ready to throttle down to half speed"
"Fifteen miles… Fourteen miles… Thirteen miles… Twelve miles"
"Tama, open fire, Deputy Captain, hoist flags" Akeno picked up the handset and hit the switch to connect her with Tsugme. "Radio Room, this is the Bridge. Send a message in plain language and in the clear to Imperial Japanese Navy Headquarters, to the school and to the Government… Inform them we have engaged the enemy. Tama, fire the secondary weapons when we get in range"
"Use the anti air guns to target any incoming missiles" Akeno added.
"Captain, if it is possible to do so, should we launch a board party and try to take the American ship?" Mashiro asked quickly.
"Only if we're sure it would be safe – if not, we sink it"
"Captain, we've lost the fire control Radar" Kouko said.
"Damn… Have the crews switch to manual computations"
"They were also destroyed"
"Then we will have to get close enough so we don't miss" Akeno replied. "Rin, get us at an angle to the American ship where its easier to see for the guns"
"Yes, Ma'am" and the next order very hard for Akeno to do. "Radio Room, put out a general distress call to anybody that might be able to help – give our position, course and speed and inform them of our intentions to attack"
"Shiro, have the majority of the crew prepare to abandon ship" and all the talk stopped at that last sentence.
"You heard me – everybody but the Bridge crew, the Engineering staff and the weapon crews are to get off. If the worst comes to the worst, I don't want to lose people while we're evacuating the ship"
"Aye, Captain" Mashiro was beginning to have suspicions, but carried out the order anyway. "This is the Deputy Captain speaking – the following departments are to muster for preparation to abandon the vessel: Galley, Supply, Detection… This is an order from the Captain"
"Bridge, Sickbay" Minami spoke up, "Does that order apply to me too?" and Mashiro looked back to Akeno who shook her head.
"Acknowledged" and she simply hung up.
"Kouko, see to the evacuation. Deputy Captain, please enquire of the Chief Engineer of the placing of scuttling charges" Akeno said.
"Ay- Aye" that surprised Mashiro, but she went back to the bulkhead and called Maron directly who said she'd get on to it.
"Radio room – we've lost half the radio, but I have managed to get the radio to work in receive mode. Picked up messages to use indicating they have managed to get the Hiel to sortie and is coming out to help us"
"Thank you. Tama, Mei… How much ammunition have we got left?" Akeno asked, coming up with an idea in her mind.
"Twenty torpedoes" Mei said.
"Enough for an hour of firing at the this rate with the main batteries" Tama said, "Though its longer with the smaller weapons"
"Increase fire rate to the maximum possible – set the shells to fuse the moment they are launched and detonate the second they hit something"
"Captain…" Tama was hesitant, "Are you sure? If they get hit by anything when they are still close to us, they could damage the ship"
"That point, Tama, will soon be mute – carry out my orders" Akeno said as Kouko returned to the Bridge.
"Those ordered off have left" she said. "I've had the seaboat prepared for the rest of us" she added.
"Good" Akeno replied simply. "Tama, can you aim for the waterline and punch holes in?"
"Yes, but why?"
"Well, I was thinking that if your shells can make a hole in the hull at that spot, Mei's torpedoes can run in and cause greater damage"
"Not sure if that's possible" admitted Mei.
"Well" Mashiro remarked with a smile, "We're about to find out. Captain, I have a visual on the Hiel" she pointed out the window to where the Hiel was steaming hard and firing her main weapons.
"Charging full on at the Americans… That's brave" Kouko said quietly.
"But utterly useless" Mashiro replied. "Even with the damage we've given it, the American ship is still capable of firing far better weapons. All the Hiel is doing is giving the Americans another target"
"Yes, but its also making a distraction and buying us time" Akeno said.
"Time for what though?" Rin squeaked.
"For what we are about to do… Maron, all engines ahead flank – maximum possible speed… Damage acceptable" Akeno picked up the handset nearest to her and pressed the button that would allow her to be heard all over the ship. "Attention all hands, this is the Captain. Set your stations to automatic operation. Abandon ship, Abandon ship. Abandon ship without delay"
"Captain, are you planning on what I think you are?" Mashiro grabbed Akeno and spun her round by the shoulder.
"The Hiel is undermanned and is just another target for that American ship. Even combined, we still do not have enough weaponry to take it out"
"So long as the Harekaze can steer, she can fight. Do something for me?"
"Give me a good service" and Akeno turned to look at Tama and Mei. "Chief Torpedo Officer, Chief Artillery Officer, I am relieving the Deputy Captain of duty and placing her under arrest. Your orders are to take her into custody for however long it takes you to get her to the boat and away from the combat zone. Do you understand?"
"You can't do this…!" Mashiro struggled as she was grabbed by the pair and dragged her off the Bridge.
"When I took command, I swore to protect the lives of those under my command – that oath still holds true. By sacrificing my life, I save countless others" Akeno turned her back and looked out of the windows. "Carry on" she said and, one by one, the crew assembled by the sea boat, boarded, and lowered the thing into the water and hurried away.
With just Akeno at the Helm, the Harekaze stalked onwards towards the American ship with many parts of her on fire, settling in the water but still plodding relentlessly onwards with her guns blazing in anger. To those watching, from whatever their view point, it seemed like a mythical ship from ancient history. So long as the world existed, the tale of the Harekaze and her brave Captain would be told and retold. Pulling slightly ahead of the crippled ship, the vessel heeled right over, corrected the turn and then slammed right into the amidships area of the American destroyer – rising up and into the upper hull and making the now combined mass tilt hard over several times. There was silence before a groan as the Harekaze's back broke and, at that very same moment, Akeno triggered the scuttling charges which tore her and her command to shreds to the screams and yells of anguish from the Harekaze's crew, those on the Hiel and observers on shore. The rippling explosions wracked her from stem to stern and sent debris, flames and smoke hundreds of feet into the air before raining down like little bits of confetti. The American ship's ammunition stores and fuel tanks caught and completed the process – leaving nothing of the crew behind. With a last billowing roar, the explosions died down and what remained of the two warships slipped beneath the waves.
"Please… No…" Mashiro was openly weeping in the seaboat.
"She died doing what she did the best" Minami said. "The Captain always said that it was her duty to be like a father to the crew, even if a girl, and that she'd give up her life to save another if she had to. There will be time to grieve, Deputy Captain, but you have duties to perform"
"My duties ended with that ship"
"No" Minami said softly and shaking her head, "You have to look to the crew. Most of them are in shock and bearly managing to stay with it"
"You are managing alright"
"Yes" Minami said, looking to where the smoke was almost gone now, "But then again I saw death and destruction when I was six"
"Oh" Mashiro blinked and then pulled herself together. "Rin, take us towards the Skippers and lets go home"
The aftermath of the attack by the American ship was one of confusion and anger. In the end, it was decided that not every American was bad and that the ship was part of a rogue faction – not understanding about honour in the same way, perhaps, but most people accepted the Americans did not suddenly start attacking without a cause or reason. Over the following years, life slowly began to get to how it was before the virus and Japan became a strong nation again. Five years after the last stand by the Harekaze, the classmates all gathered to hear a proclamation by the Emperor and it was the first time that some had seen others for years. Whilst they had all become Blue mermaids, they had grown tired of the life and some quit to become advisors to the new government although Kaede had become an ambassador to the United Kingdom. Mashiro looked around the room and felt that her family had come back together.
"I am pleased to see you all here" the Emperor said, making everybody talk quietly. "It has been a long time since you gathered after the battle against the American ship and the selfless sacrifice of your Captain to save countless others both here and abroad. As you know, we have been designing a new class of ship – fast, strong and heavily armed but also capable of great acts of mercy. The first ship is ready for her trials and it will need a crew… I have asked you all together to be that crew"
"Some of us are no longer sailors" Mashiro respectfully said.
"Old habits die hard, or so I am told by some of my government… I ask you to crew the ship not just because of what happened that day, but also because you did what needed to be done no matter the risk and cost to yourselves. There is, however, a bigger motive, for asking you all together. As is traditional for a new class, the first ship is named after it. In this case, we have named it the Akeno Misaki class after your Captain and class leader"
Basically, I thought about what if the virus had mutated had such a vast rate that only a few immune people and those that had been at sea escaped... What would Akeno do? Would she sail around until she found somewhere for them to settle or would she decide to sail for home and try to rebuild?