A\N: This story is based mostly on the Season 1 anime, but for the characterization of Tanya I lean heavily on jacobk and his most excellent A Young Woman's Political Record.
Disclaimer: I do not own Youjo Senki
Further note: This story's discussion thread is on SpaceBattles Forum's Creative Writing section.
Brest Military Port, Francois Republic, July 10, 1925
This is not going to work.
Long, unwilling experience with combat had forced me to become a keen judge of the flow of battle. Thus, even as the first shots were fired, the commander within me had already judged our attack to be a failure.
The reason was simple. There were too few of us. The manned V-1 rockets, which had been the fastest way for the 203rd Imperial Mage Battalion to reach Brest, had numbered only nine.
Nine aerial mages, up against what at first glance would be most of an army corps loaded aboard transport ships, with accompanying naval escorts. And let's not forget that the Republic had aerial mages of their own. Fortunately, they seemed to have been out on patrol to keep prying eyes away from the Francois army's evacuation. Our V-1s had blown past them completely, carrying us to the heart of the port city.
Thanks to this good fortune, it meant the nine mages of the 203rd Imperial Mage Battalion had all of five minutes to defeat an entire army and navy before the best part of a hundred aerial mages landed on our heads.
Well, perhaps not defeat. Even before embarking on this raid, I'd entertained the possibility of being impossibly outnumbered. The plan, such as it had been, was to cause enough damage to the port facilities to delay the evacuation until the rest of the 203rd could arrive to back us up.
Now that I could see the port for myself, I knew that plan was out the window. The Francois had completed their loading, and the first ships were already headed out the harbor. There was absolutely no way we could delay them for the hour or so it would take for the rest of the 203rd to get here, not with the Francois mages breathing down our necks.
Not even with the power of the Type 95?
I bit my lip to silence the siren song of promised power, and clenched the hand that was unconsciously reaching for the accursed computational jewel sitting in my pocket. Now was not the time to lose my head. The rational side of me knew that this was the worst possible time for using the Type 95. Even with all its power, I could at best inflict perhaps 25% casualties on the armada below me. In the meantime, the enemy mages would have caught up and killed all my comrades through sheer numbers, leaving me to fight alone against multiple companies. And it would be a fight - the Type 95 did not allow thoughts of fear or retreat. Mad with power, I would throw myself into the teeth of the enemy until I died or they did, and this time the odds were not on my side. Yes, such an insane action could very well buy the time needed for reinforcements to arrive, but I would still be dead.
Is that it, then? Do I order the retreat? At least they can't censure me too badly. It was within my authority to launch this raid, and now I have proof I was correct to do so. If anything, they should court-martial the incompetents in theater command for not backing me up when I asked for it!
That thought felt nice. To go back and see the humiliation of that fool of a general who had ignored my warnings and actually ordered me to stay put when he knew I had independent command! Alas, this too was a fantasy of a different sort. No matter how right I had been, the fact remained that I had completely blown off the instructions of a higher-ranking officer, as well as ignoring the message from HQ warning me not to jeopardize the armistice. While I was legally in the clear, having kept to within the letter of my orders and international law, my previous corporate experience assured me there were many ways my superiors could make my life uncomfortable without actually bringing me up on charges. Just for starters, I could kiss goodbye any hope for future promotion.
No, only by presenting HQ with a sterling success could I hope to save my military career. Far more importantly, only by ending the war, here and now, could I hope to escape the clutches of the execrable Being X. Him, and his tool of corruption, the Elenium Type 95.
When the so called deity had first 'blessed' the Type 95 jewel, I had been furious at how he had tricked me into praying to him. Later, over the Rhine front, I had grown somewhat reconciled to my situation. I had started looking upon the insincere prayers I mumbled to activate the Type 95 as being no different to all the baseless flattery I had lavished on my superiors in my past life. Sometimes, I told myself, you just have to say things you don't mean in order to get ahead in life.
It was only later that I recognized those thoughts as the rationalizations of an addict. And make no mistake, it was an addiction. The clarity, the fearlessness, the euphoria, all that power. I only started becoming aware of how far I was gone after the training of the 203rd. During that training I'd leaned heavily on the Type 95 to keep all the trainees alive (I may have gone a bit overboard with the difficulty), with the result that I had only fragmentary memories of the entire experience. I was vaguely aware that I'd acted during that period as some kind of frothing fanatic, praising god while raining fire and brimstone down on the hapless trainees.
When I finally came out of my fugue and took stock, I found I could no longer deny the deleterious effect the Type 95 was having on my mind. When the Type 97 was issued to the 203rd, I'd immediately tried to turn in the Type 95 and use the new orb instead. Unfortunately, I found myself stymied by orders of from above telling me that Type 95 was too powerful a weapon to remove from the front lines, and so I was to keep hold of it. Luckily, I was able to snag a Type 97 for myself. I told myself, it didn't matter if the Type 95 was still with me, I would just ignore it and use the Type 97 and everything would be fine.
Have you ever imagined how successful a recovering cocaine addict would be if he was told to carry in his pocket a bag full of his favorite drug? It was a most humbling experience to realize I was no different. I could maintain control for days, even months. Then something would happen, some enemy mage would prove more dangerous than usual, some battle would be a bit harder than expected, and before I knew it, I would have a hand in my pocket and a prayer on my lips.
That was why I was here. This was my last, best chance of freeing myself from the devil's bargain I had been forced into. If the Francois army was allowed to escape, this war would last for years. Even if the Empire won in the end, would there be anything left of my mind? True, I didn't feel any different from the person I had been before. But all lunatics believe they are sane.
No, if I wanted to guarantee my sanity, not to mention my career, I had to find some way to stop this evacuation. The only question was how? The biggest explosion I could channel through the Type 95 wouldn't be enough against the large number of massive steel hulls below us. I could damage them badly, but warships are designed to be very hard to sink. And I would have to do it while surviving the wall of flak and machine gun fire the Francois were putting into the air. All in five - no, make that four minutes now.
My hand was gripping hard around the Type 95 now. The urge to use it was strong, but it would be of no use. After all, the only time I'd seen the Type 95 come close to doing the kind of damage I needed right now, was back during that fateful test when that lunatic Schugel had taken out... all... the... safeties...
I could feel the smile growing on my face. What a wonderful, awful idea. It most likely won't work. It could definitely get me killed. But one way or another, I would finally be rid of the divine curse poisoning my mind. The thought was so liberating I couldn't help but laugh. Even the concerned expression my adjutant Visha was giving me couldn't lessen my mirth.
"All 203rd members, retreat to height of 5000 meters and brace for impact. I'm making a solo run."
"What? Major, you can't! Let us help you!"
That would be Visha. Good, loyal Visha, but I didn't have time for her now. "Lieutenant Serebryakov, you have your orders! Now go!"
Not knowing or caring if she obeyed, I angled myself down and dove into the teeth of enemy fire. At the same time, I started pouring every bit of magic I could spare into the Type 95. Immediately, I felt it, the supreme joy of being blessed by God. Now I need but express my faith in him, and his divine guidance would allow me to wield his might against the enemies of the Fatherland. I opened my mouth - and bit down on my tongue.
That was close. If I allowed myself to pray it would stabilize the jewel and I would be carried off in a rush of battle-lust. I had to enact my plan now, while I still had control. My maneuvering had brought me to about 1200 meters above sea-level, right above the fleet. Good enough. Steeling my will, I dove deep into the non-Euclidean world of the Type 95's inner workings.
I honestly didn't understand what I saw. But long experience of the lesser Type 97 had given me enough insight to locate what few safeties Schugel had left in the device - and then hit them with a metaphysical sledgehammer.
The effect was immediate - the rate of magic buildup in the Type 95 increased tenfold. Only a tiny bit of that magic was coming from me, and even that much was enough to shut down all my active spells and send me into free fall. This was it. Now all I had to do was drop the unstable jewel, spin up my Type 97, and get myself clear.
I couldn't drop it. I couldn't drop it. Even as the air around me was torn by Francois AA fire, even as the magic in the orb built up far past the point of no return, my right hand maintained a death grip on the accursed device. There was no choice. Only the grace of God could save me now. If I threw myself on His divine mercy - NO! NOT YET, YOU BASTARD! I'M NOT DONE YET!
Yanking out my combat knife with my left hand, I stabbed the blade deep between the metacarpals of my index and middle finger. The Type 95 popped out in a spray of blood.
Immediately I spun up the Type 97 to arrest my fall and put up a shield against enemy fire. Below me, I could feel the magic in the Type 95 pulsing faster and faster, like a spinning top about to topple over.
After a few seconds to open up space, I decided to give matters a little nudge. My right hand was still playing host to my knife, so I dragged my gun around with my left. I'd never practiced shooting with my left hand alone, so I cheated with a quick homing spell on the bullet. One shot fired, then I poured every bit of power I could into vertical acceleration.
I'd opened the gap up to a little over a kilometer when the bullet hit. I knew the exact moment, because both my eyes and magical senses were blinded by the second sun that was born beneath my feet.
I clawed towards the sky as the brightness beneath me grew. As the air around me started turning pale, I curled up in a ball and started layering as much shielding and reinforcements over myself as I could. Then the blast wave caught up with me, and all was thunder and light.
Within the heart of the storm, I saw the face of the being that called itself god. In a thunderous voice filled with feigned sadness and genuine anger it admonished me for rejecting the offered path to salvation. With petulance most petty it informed me that even without its interference, my own actions would bring about my downfall. With solicitude that sickened me with its insincerity, it informed me how it had no choice but to leave me to suffer the consequences of my misdeeds, how the true believers in this world would leave me no place to hide from my sins.
It never gave me a chance to speak, which in hindsight might have been for the best. Then the presence was gone, and I was adrift in an ocean of fury and sound.
When I woke up, the world felt muted, my head felt fuzzy, and I could barely see. I also felt like I was being carried helplessly in a strong pair of arms. That bastard Being X, did he reincarnate me again?!
Focusing furiously, I finally managed to clear my head enough to see my surroundings, and breathe a sigh of relief. I was being carried by Visha, the wind whipping around us as we flew through the afternoon sky. Whatever consequences Being X had promised, it seemed I was alive still. Behind me I could sense the fading magic from the cataclysmic demise of the Type 95. Now that I could consider things clearly, I realized the magical detonation might be detectable all the way to Londinium. I wonder, would there be some sort of fallout from all the free magic in the air, like radiation from a nuclear blast? I'm sure the scientists would have fun answering that. Hopefully no one got magical cancer.
An explosion nearby jolted me to alertness. It seemed we were still not quite clear - the first of the Francois aerial mages had gotten within range.
Feeling healthy enough to fly on my own, I started moving to get out, but Visha immediately tightened her grip on me. "Major! You're all right!"
"Yes I am Lieutenant. Now let me go, please, I can fly on my own."
"Ah, actually, you badly overclocked your orb, it almost burned you. I don't think it's usable. Don't worry though, those enemy mages will never catch up to us!"
Reaching up with my hand (knife gone and crudely bandaged, I noted), I felt for my Type 97 only to find a dull pain and singed clothing. Having no other choice, I spent several very uncomfortable minutes trying to relax in Visha's arms as my fellow mages flew all over the sky playing keep-away from the Francois patrols.
Visha was right in a sense that the Francois mages had no real chance of intercepting us. The Type 97 gave us an advantage of over 100 kilometers per hour in top speed and over a thousand meters in maximum ceiling. Our shields were also strong enough to weather the few shots that were on target, and Visha was careful to keep her maneuvering gentle. No, my real source of discomfort was the fact that, for the first time in four years, I was not at home in the sky. Even though I'd only had access to a flight orb for a relatively short amount of time, I'd gotten used to thinking of the sky as safety. Now, I had to once more rely on someone else to carry me through the air, and I didn't like it one bit.
It took a little under half an hour before the most persistent Francois mages gave up the pursuit. Another ten minutes later, the rest of the 203rd showed up to give us an honor guard back to Empire territory. Now that things were less fraught, I asked Visha, "By the way, how much of the Francois fleet did we get? Did we manage to stop the evacuation?"
Visha suddenly grew pale and looked away, "Yeah... I guess you could say that?"
Now, what's with that reaction? Ah, I get it, I guess some of the Francois ships still managed to limp out of the port. And because they were so busy rescuing me, my subordinates were in no position to pursue. I guess Visha didn't want to upset me by telling me that. Well, it couldn't be helped. I was certain the explosion should have damaged or sunk at least some of the Francois army. Hopefully, that would be enough for my bosses to go easy on me. Oh, Visha was saying something.
"Major, that explosion, what was that?"
I considered my answer. There was an opportunity here. "Visha, you're aware that the Elenium Type 95 was a unique and extremely powerful computational jewel, correct?"
"Well, what the military doesn't like to talk about, is that no one really knows how it works."
"It's true. During testing the damn thing was so unstable it killed multiple test pilots. Then one day, for no apparent reason, it starts to work. No one has any good explanation why, but the military saw a powerful weapon and they told me to use it even if they can't explain it." It was true as well. The rational Empire military would never accept 'divine intervention' as an answer, so the Type 95 got filed under 'lucky accident'.
"You're joking. They made you use it without knowing how it works?"
"I guess they were desperate. But now you know why I always preferred to use the Type 97. Still, there's no denying how powerful it was, so when I started that attack run I decided to pour every bit of magic I could into it. But, well, I guess it was too much because the whole thing destabilized. You saw the results."
This explanation was bullshit. Logically speaking, the Type 95 could output more power than I could put in it, so there's no way I could overload it. But it was the kind of bullshit no one could disprove, because no one still had a good explanation for how the thing worked. As for why I was coming up with this story in the first place, well, my career was already on thin ice. If it got out I deliberately sabotaged an irreplaceable piece of military equipment? Much better if everyone believed that the inexplicable Type 95 had just as inexplicably decided to give up the ghost. If I hyped up how much power I'd been pouring into it, it would only make it more believable to people who were familiar with the dangers of overloading computation orbs.
Now that it seemed I was going to live, I needed to take steps to insulate myself from every possible consequence of my actions. Being X's threats were not to be taken lightly.
Judging by Visha's expression, she believed me completely. Excellent. She would undoubtedly spread it around, so by the time any official inquiry started, the dangers of the Type 95 would be set in stone.
It was very late in the afternoon when our battalion returned to base. While I was not exactly expecting a hero's welcome, I was somewhat concerned to see a squad of Military Police, accompanied by a company of aerial mages. 205th Battalion, if I was not mistaken, my old battalion before I went off to War College. I think I recognized the company commander, he used to be one of my fellow lieutenants.
Concerned as I was, it was obvious the MP Officer was downright nervous. Not surprising, even with the 203rd's recent casualties, we outnumbered the aerial mages supporting him 3 to 1. Still, credit to him, he barely hesitated before declaring, "Major Degurechaff, there is suspicion that you are guilty of insubordination, disobeying orders, and possibly other charges. I am under instructions to detain you and the lead officers of the 203rd Mage Battalion until the investigation is complete. I apologize for the inconvenience, but ask that you cooperate with this investigation."
Everyone grew tense. I could almost taste the magic in the air as computation jewels started powering up on both sides. I quickly stepped forward, both hands raised. "But certainly, Captain. However there is one problem - Imperial military law is very clear that the actions of a soldier are the responsibility of the senior officer on the field. I am the senior officer of the 203rd. Any actions my junior officers might have taken would have been under my orders. At least I believe so. Grantz!"
"Yes ma'am?" Grantz snapped immediately to attention.
"You were in charge of mustering the main body of the 203rd and moving to support the advance squad. During this, did you take any actions that fell outside the remit of my instructions?"
"No ma'am! I followed your orders to the letter!"
I smiled to myself. It seemed Grantz had come a long way since Arenne - he now understood the correct way of assigning responsibility for actions while in the army. Turning back to the MP Captain I said, "There you have it Captain. All my officers were following orders from me. Imperial law clearly absolves them of any responsibility. Arrest me if you must, but I insist that you leave them out of this."
The Captain chewed over this for a moment, but the decision was an easy one. Arrest the primary accused without fuss, or risk angering the most dangerous aerial mages in the Empire. "Very well," he agreed, "But I insist that your company and platoon commanders not leave the base until the investigation is concluded."
"But of course."
"Ma'am!" Visha suddenly broke in. "You can't just let them take you like this! You're a hero! You stopped an entire Francois army from escaping!"
Judging by the surprise on the MP Captain's face, it was clear the events at Brest had yet to reach here. He was probably acting on complaints from Western Command. This only made me more confident that I would be able to skate out of the charges, but only if no one did anything foolish.
"Lieutenant!" I barked, causing Visha to freeze at attention. "The good Captain is simply following orders. We must not make things difficult for him." Turning to the Captain, I gave him my friendliest smile. "After all, you and I both know everything I did was within the bounds of the law. As long as this investigation is conducted in a fair and professional manner, the truth will come out, and it will set me free. Isn't that right, Captain?"
"As you say Major. Since you're cooperating, I hope I won't have to cuff you?"
"Of course not. Lead on, Captain. Weiss, you are in acting command. Get in touch with General Zettour and let him know everything."
As I was escorted away from my battalion, I tried to soothe the nervousness in my heart. That bit of drama back there should have scored me some points with my subordinates while giving up nothing of substance - under Imperial law, they really were free of responsibility for following my orders. In the same vein, cooperating with the Military Police was the best choice because, legally speaking, I was in the clear. The armistice had yet to go into effect, and my battalion was an independent command so I could act as I chose - cooperating with theater command was a courtesy, not a necessity. The real source of trouble would be those senior officers that my actions had embarrassed. There were many who would have egg on their faces once news about the attempted Francois evacuation broke. They might very well be tempted to put me through some kind of kangaroo court so as to remove the source of embarrassment from sight.
That's where the 203rd came in. By keeping all my officers free and clear, I had several ranking and dangerous men and women who would be motivated to make sure I got a fair trial, and who could act as unimpeachable witnesses to my actions. Even better, once they got in touch with HQ, its possible General Zettour himself might move to make sure things were conducted in an above-board manner. And once the truth came out, I'm sure my brashness would be forgiven. Yes, I was confident that soon enough, I would once more be a law-abiding soldier in good standing.