Two

Captain Yamanami Saburo looked around the bridge of his new command, still worried about her.

It felt like yesterday when the now-16-year-old pitched the concept of a new type of ship and its unique compliment of certain craft of different uses to the Admiral herself almost a year ago, and after hours of talking, presentation and negotiation in a conference room, going through all the different blueprints of various classes as well as ones for multiple designs of the special crafts, the boy got the enthusiastic approval from the head of the NPF. While all his blueprints he had in possession were entrusted to the faction's top engineers and analyzed, he had successfully pushed that the Yorktown-class should have the privilege of being refined and actually built first over the preceding Lexington-class design, with further reasoning allowing the then-not-yet-captain to suggest the craft designs that he would like to have improved and used first on at least two of the three new ships, but for that the final decisions were not what he thought would be optimal. In fairness, this was all under probation; only if they turn out successful will the more advanced designs of ships and crafts be improved and finally built.

After that meeting, Saburo signed up as a cadet and went for the Command path provided for him, soon being whisked away to a floating naval academy, which happened to be where the first few batches of operators for the craft he had recently pitched would be trained at. There, he met a certain orange-haired girl which was going to be one of those new "operators", and for the next months both Aki and him had become close friends, going through thick and thin together. The two inseparable pair were soon noticed by everyone around, including the higher-ups who were observing everyone in that academy. Hell, they even attended the classes and the practices of one another, learning from each other during their free time. Aki was unofficially just as capable as Saburo when it comes to commanding a ship, and Saburo was just as unofficially capable of operating one of the new crafts decently as Aki can.

Ah, Aki, he smiled, relaxing as he thought back to minutes earlier, having heard familiar shouts while in the middle of his thoughts earlier on. Heading out to the starboard wing of his bridge, he noticed the unmistakable orangehead waving at him with surprise, not expecting her to be assigned to the Hornet as well. When he got the letter for his equally-surprising assignment two weeks ago and Aki hadn't, he thought that it was the last time he'll ever see his friend for months. Until just minutes ago, of course.

Seems like her letter came late.

Seeing a few men enter while his XO, the only one of his crew at the bridge currently, minded her own business on her tablet, the new captain remembered why he was worried, and his brows furrowed again.

Executive Officer Kubota Aomi, glancing around as the technicians sent by the builders did their inspections on the bridge, noticed that her captain had things in his mind.

"What's wrong?" she asked, putting her tablet down.

"It's Hornet, Aomi," he replied. "Her builders' trials are pushed back to after she's commissioned and are compressed with our own sea trails. Her boilers and turbines aren't broken in yet, we don't know if she'll work fine when she's pushed, all her weapons have never fired a single shot before, everything's untested. What if there's an issue and we have to head back for repairs?"

"Relax, Captain," the XO comforted the young man, putting a hand on his shoulder. "We'll be fine. The fleet put in its best for the Yorktowns, this will be a shakedown that we'll definitely pass. Sea trials after commissioning is a common occurrence throughout the world as well, and for us we've received no problems so far."

Saburo sighed and nodded. "You're right, I'm worrying way too much. Thanks."

"Anything," Aomi smiled, the black-haired girl with a ponytail returning back to her work. "Oh, and I've just received word that the last of the crew has arrived on the last ferry. As we both already know in advance, hearing Aki shouting at you," she grinned.

"Haha, yeah," Saburo laughed. "I wasn't expecting the wing she's in to be sent to the Hornet as well."

"Well, it makes sense," the executive officer commented, "Hornet's the first of her type to be ready. Still, you two just can't get away from each other, huh."

"Aye," the captain nodded as he let a technician walk behind him. "We're always together, whether we intentionally make it that way or get pulled together by coincidence."

"But you picking me was no coincidence, right?" she smiled

"Not at all. Let's see."

He picked up his own tablet and selected Aomi's name from the roster. "Kubota Aomi, we went to the same academy, you're the only one in school undertaking two specializations at the same time. Your academic results are average, but when it came to practice sessions you scored exceptionally well. Your specializations and practice marks are why I chose you as my XO-"

"- because you value actual work over tests, and you also want a second-in-command that not only knows how to command, but also understand those crafts and their pilots firsthand," Aomi finished, having heard the explanation countless times.

"Yep, glad you're familiar with that," Saburo grinned, putting his tablet down. "A little tangent, though, why are we still referring to them as 'crafts'?"

The XO scratched her cheek in thought. "I've got no idea. You're right, why are we still referring to them like this?"

"Well, maybe so that we won't directly reveal their true nature to a hypothetical audience who probably have prior knowledge of what they are, thus preventing them from being immediately robbed of their remaining enthusiasm for said hypothetical big reveal?"

Aomi blinked in confusion. "What?"

"Oh, it's nothing," the captain waved off, chuckling. "You know I like spouting shit like that from time to time."

"No, I mean, I understand what you're saying, it's just that if we're part of a 'story' being observed by a hypothetical audience I think they'd have already figured everything out by now thanks to all the red flags around," the XO smirked. "If they've got the prior knowledge, surely they know what type of ship Hornet is already."

Don't you?

"True, true," Saburo chuckled. "But minus our made-up hypothetical-4th-wall-breaking bullshit, it's probably because we're used to referring to them with the mere term 'crafts' outside of the academy. We're supposed to keep this classified until a few more days later, after all."

"Yeah, I suppose you're right," the ponytailed girl nodded before tensing up a bit. "Back on topic, though, I've wanted to ask you this for a while but…"

She took a deep breath. "No offense or anything, but you could've picked Aki before me."

The captain looked up. "Oh, so that's what's been bothering you these days?"

The XO hesitated before nodding, suddenly feeling meek. "She's unofficially just as good as commanding a ship, after all…"

Saburo smiled, realizing that this was the reason Aomi had been rather reluctant to run into the orangehead. "No, you're not my second choice. Rather, you're my first. Hell, Aki told me never to pick her for anything on the bridge right from Day 1."

"Huh?" the XO looked up in surprise. "Really?"

"Aki may enjoy being on a bridge giving orders from time to time, but that doesn't mean she likes being on the bridge all the time," the captain explained. "She established that she's not the type to love commanding a ship to me early on in our academy days. Hell, I remember exactly what she said. 'I don't want to be a captain, and if you become one don't you dare pick me as your XO!'"

Captain Yamanami smiled to himself, turning to look out of a window, up into the skies. "So, the bridge isn't her place. She'll only be her energetic, carefree self in the sky. Plus, she satisfies her command cravings by being the leader of her own squadron, so it's all good."

"I see…" Aomi nodded, no longer feeling like a spare wheel. "I thought you'd…"

"Hey, look," Saburo turned around and put a hand on the girl's shoulder, now his turn to comfort his XO, "you're supposed to be here; you're not filling up for somebody else. You know me, I won't put someone in a higher rank over the other just because said someone's closer to me. I don't roll that way."

The captain licked his lips and looked away for a moment. "Well, of course I'd try to pick people I'm friends with if given the choice, you included, but I never let relationships be the decisive factor in my judgement. Goddamn, do I sound like a hypocrite now? Jesus Christ, I'm not good at this am I?"

Aoki giggled, the familiar behavior of Saburo pleasing to her. "You're fine, I completely understand what you mean. Glad that I cleared things up, then, that's a good load off my chest."

"Glad you feel better. Hey, are you guys done here?" he called out to the technicians in the bridge.

One of them gave a thumbs-up, and they all proceeded to leave the bridge.

"Oh, that's nice. A few more things and we'll be ready, so let's get to it," the captain continued.

The XO nodded in agreement, returning to her duties.

Around the same time, after clearing the boarding checks, getting onto the Hornet and spending a good amount of time finding their way around the new ship, bumping into members of the crew as well as builders' technicians along the way, Aki and Kiyoko finally found the mess hall.

And right at that time, lunch was in progress, and something black being served attracted the orangehead's full attention.

"Ohmygod, spaghetti al nero di seppia!" she exclaimed in pure excitement, grinning widely. "They're serving it today! Oh boy, I'mma go get myself some!"

She dashed off immediately after, leaving Kiyoko behind.

Well, the covert Blue Mermaid thought with a chuckle, I'll go look for seats.

A few minutes later, Kiyoko, having found seats and waited for the orange-haired girl to return, watched in amusement as Aki was in the process of slurping down an entire tray of black Italian noodles. "Is it that good?"

"Shure ish!" the orangehead nodded, her mouth full of pasta and her lips and chin stained with squid ink. "Thish ish zee shih!"

The orange-haired girl swallowed her mouthful and offered a full fork. "Wanna try some? I swear it's better than the aglio olio they're serving there too."

Kiyoko looked at the black pasta in front of her. "Doesn't look really enticing, does it?"

"Never judge a book by its cover," Aki grinned. "I thought the same too until I actually tried some."

Raising an eyebrow, the covert girl took the fork and gingerly tried a little strand… before her eyes widened and she proceeded to down the entire fork. "Holy hell!"

"Told you!" Aki beamed proudly. "It's squid ink spaghetti. You can go grab some, aren't ya starving?"

"Ah, right," Kiyoko replied, remembering her growling stomach. "I'll be right back."

While the covert Blue Mermaid looked at the various dishes while waiting in line, there was a little commotion back on board the Harekaze. The crew, which had all been provided connection to the stream, was abuzz, most of them assuming that pirates ate barely-edible meals like slop or hardtack. But here is the Hornet, with various delicious dishes being served to her crew, and the Harekaze crew was surprised with this new information.

And back in the mess hall, a certain Head Chef was especially engrossed in the footage.

"Look at that…" Mikan muttered as she watched Kiyoko get her tray before requesting the black pasta, which was promptly dumped onto it. "Everything else is simple, like the potato salad, mashed carrots and that vegetable soup there. But they look delicious!"

"An army marches on its stomach, after all," Akeno commented, just eating her lunch at the moment. "I wasn't expecting food like that on a pirate ship, I thought they'd have gruel and similar stuff."

"Maybe this is for a special occasion?" Homare asked.

"Well, Aki did identify spaghetti al nero di seppia right away, so it's definitely not her first time eating that," the head cook pointed out as Miss Kiyoko headed back to her seat.

"I wonder if we can have food like theirs," Akane wondered out loud. "It's been some time and we've been on the same layout for days."

The captain of the Harekaze looked down, somewhat slightly sullenly, on her plate of curry rice, realizing how many days it had been with the same meals. "It's been a while, huh."

Something sparked in Mikan's eyes. "Alright, that's it! Captain, do we have internet service out here?"

"Huh?" Akeno sat up, surprised. "Yeah, we have now. Why?"

"Can I alter our meal plans? Let's have something different for dinner, even if just for dinner!"

"Oh? Uh, hmm…"

She looked back at her plate of curry rice again and looked back up at the head cook, easily coming to a decision. "Yes, please!"

"Alright!" the head chef replied energetically, inspired as she grabbed the mess hall's intercom mic. "Everyone! That pirate vessel may bigger than our Harekaze, but we're not losing out to them at food! Tonight, dinner will be Italian!"

The crew of the destroyer all cheered in response.

A few minutes later, as Kiyoko was halfway into her tray, Aki finished up hers. "Boy, that hit the spot! Wait till they serve their burgers! We call them Blue Castles because they're literally White Castle sliders, we just bought the patties in bulk, stock them on our ships and the cooks prepare them in mostly the same way as White Castle would before serving them as our own."

"Oh, really?" an amused Miss Yamada grinned as she took another bite. "Really extending out to corporate piracy, are we?"

"Heh, perhaps," the orangehead grinned. "But the NPF isn't a corporation, plus we're using those meat for ourselves. I guess the fleet's technically just a massive customer."

Just then, Aki seemed to have spotted someone in the crowd. "Oh, it's him! Oi! Sabu! Here!"

Hearing someone shout at him, Captain Yamanami turned his head to the source.

Oh, it's her!

Grinning, he walked towards the orange-haired girl and sat down next to her, his tray also holding the black pasta. "Letter came late?"

"Letter came a week late!" Aki grinned and the both of them hugged.

Kiyoko watched the pair, smiling. She was not expecting the captain to be this young, and the Hornet being his first command, too.

"So great to see you again! I thought you'd be posted to the Enterprise!"

"We really are the inseparable pair, eh?" the orangehead laughed as they broke out of the hug. "How's your new command, Sabu?"

"Pretty okay so far," was the happy reply from the captain. "But you know she hasn't even started her builders' trials yet, Aki. Still sorta worried."

"Just like you to worry about the details," she grinned. "She'll be fine!"

"Aye, she probably will! Hey, who's this?" the captain asked, noticing the covert Blue Mermaid.

Kiyoko quietly gulped, nervous that the captain may discover her cover.

"Oh, this is Kiyoko! She's sent by the admiral to come 'document' the ship, so says her," Aki explained.

"Huh." Saburo replied calmly before frowning, looking straight at Miss Yamada's face. "... What's that on your face?" he asked, pointing at her eyewear.

"Oh, new gadget, camera and mic on a spectacles frame!" the covert Blue Mermaid quickly said, easing back into her cover story. "Yeah, it's like those flopped smartglasses, but this is just a cam and mic."

"Oh, I see," the captain nodded. "But how do I know you're not lying?"

"Oh, I've got papers," she answered, reaching out and showing her papers to the captain.

Of course, the captain read it carefully.

Deep inside, the covert Blue Mermaid felt like her heart could burst open at any time.

"Huh. Seems legit," Saburo nodded as he returned the documents back to Kiyoko. "Well, welcome on board the Hornet. How's the food so far?"

"Oh, it's great!" Kiyoko beamed. "I wasn't expecting this!"

"First time trying the black pasta?"

"Yep!"

"Aye, that's natural," the captain smiled as he took a fork of his spaghetti al nero di seppia. "You'll be glad to know that this will be served every Thursday, so you don't need to take it like a sacred treat. Unlike Aki here, of course," he grinned.

"Really?!" the orange-head perked up, ecstatic. "You're not pulling my leg, are you?!"

"Nope! I got to basically choose the menu, and when it came to the pasta section I picked the NPF special for Thursdays," Saburo grinned. "I love this as much as you do, so it's something you'll have regularly."

"Aw, yes! Hahaha!"

"We've got more pasta and Japanese curry rice in our menu compared to other ships, too," he pointed out. "Of course, that's got to do with the nature of our special 'craft operators'."

"Oh? Yeah, makes sense," Aki nodded. "We need more carbs, after all."

"Yep, plus the curry rice isn't the standard curry rice we have back in the academy. Guess what, it's a Hornet special, omu-curry rice developed by the cook herself!" he replied eagerly.

"Oh, interesting!"

"Oh, hold on," Saburo suddenly remembered. "Hey, Kiyoko, if you're here discreetly and nobody else knows you're here, you don't have your quarters."

Miss Yamada blinked, realizing the issue. "Oh."

"Don't worry bout it. Aki, do you mind sharing your quarters with her?"

"Oh, sure!" the orangehead nodded. "Does my room have more than one bed, though?"

"Nope, but I think there's a hammock stored somewhere in the wardrobe," the captain replied. "The fleet has one packed away in each quarters of every ship, just like they've briefed us back in the academy."

"Ooh, nice. Well, I'll bring Kiyoko to my quarters later, once we're done with lunch."

Miss Yamada smiled. "Thanks for the arrangement, Captain!"

"Oh, no problem at all," the captain smiled back. "After you settle in with Aki, you should come to the bridge, Miss…"

"Miss Yamada."

"Ah, alright, Miss Yamada," Saburo noted. "But yeah, come to the bridge, we're leaving Base 10 in about, hm, an hour and half," he said, checking his phone. "Aki too, of course, but do you want to sleep instead?"

"Oh, I'll sleep after!" the orangehead grinned. "I feel refreshed already! Food did the trick."

"Gotcha," the captain nodded, taking another mouthful of his pasta, his lips just as black as the lips of the two girls. "I'll see you both on the bridge later, then. Oh, by the way, you seem a bit too quiet, Miss Yamada."

"E-eh?" Kiyoko blinked, surprised.

"I mean, I just met you, but you don't talk much," Captain Yamanami noted.

"You think so?"

"At least for now, ye. Don't feel shy opening up to us, we're all basically family on board."

"Ah…" the covert Blue Mermaid nodded, remembering the same your-crew-is-your-family stuff that was taught back at her maritime high school. Suddenly the Hornet felt a lot more familiar to her. "Sure thing, Cap'n!" she smiled.

"That's good!" Saburo nodded, pleased, and the conversation continued for a while.


"There!" Aki beamed proudly as she finished tying up her end of the hammock to the metal bar mounted on her side of the wall, hopping off the chair she was standing on.

"Yeah, this is straight!" Kiyoko nodded as the orangehead stood beside her to see where the covert Blue Mermaid would be sleeping in for herself.

"The room's sorta a bit more crowded, but there's just enough space for both of us," Kiyoko commented

"Aye!" the orangehead grinned. "We'll share the desk and chair meanwhile, of course"

"Yep. Whoever came up with this hammock idea's a genius, and there's one hammock in each quarters, right?"

"Ye. The fleet came up with the idea for hammocks just in case we run out of quarters, you know, like if we have more crew than rooms, rescue people from a sinking ship or something, or perhaps we're just ferrying a large amount of people around. They selected hammocks over folding beds because it's much easier to store, much easier to bring around and easier to hang around as long as it's somewhere suitable," Aki explained.

"Aye, that makes sense."

Meanwhile on the Harekaze, there were a few immediate calls from various people for hammocks to be brought on board.

"Oh, and hey, we need to fasten this to the floor," the orangehead remembered, bringing up an adjustable white strap. On one end was a suction cup with a pressure lever, and on the other end was a snap hook. "Of course, it's to prevent you from slamming into the wall in rough seas.

"Ah, neat!" Kiyoko smiled. "I'll put it on myself."

"Sure!"

Taking the strap, the covert Blue Mermaid lengthened it out before putting the suction cup on the floor, pressing down and locking the lever in place. Hooking the hook onto the provided ring on the hammock, she slowly shortened the strap until it was barely loose.

"Alright, done," she said, satisfied, as she stood up. "Time to go to the bridge?"

The orangehead checked her phone in response. "Yep, we should go. About half an hour more till we leave."

"I hope we won't get lost again..." Kiyoko muttered as the both of them exited the quarters.

"Me too," Aki agreed as she shut and locked the door. "But still, we're early, we can't possibly be lost for 30 minutes, can we? I mean, we aren't that bad."

Miss Yamada chuckled as the both of them walked down the corridor. "Of course not, we'll definitely find our way. Besides, we can ask around if we do get lost."

"Yeah, that's true."

"This is your first assignment too?!" a passing girl replied in surprise to another girl as they passed both Aki and Kiyoko.

"Yeah, it is!" was the reply. "Weird, everyone I've met so far are fresh graduates!"

"Yeah! And from what I got after asking around everyone's exam marks are borderline passes!"

The orangehead and the covert Blue Mermaid slowed down and stopped, listening even more closely at the conversation they were eavesdropping on.

"Really? How much did you get?"

"52."

"51! Is there anyone on board that got even a B?"

"Don't think so. But why pick us? Over an A-crew?"

"Beats me. But hey, either way we're here and not on a destroyer, so lucky us!"

"Interesting," Aki pondered as the two other girls walked out of view, continuing their conversation. "I think I know why he did this," she added, smiling to herself

"Did what?" Kiyoko asked curiously.

"Pick a fresh, barely-'passed' crew," was the reply from the orangehead. "I didn't mention this, but the higher-ups of the fleet only allocate the 'operators' and service crews of those 'crafts', while everyone else is handpicked by Saburo himself."

"Eh, really?"

"Yeah, and he had free range over his choices from what I heard," Aki continued as the both of them continued walking. "Anyway, I'm pretty sure I know why he chose this crew; I'm his best friend, after all!"

"What do you think?"

"Well, the answer's simple; the crew's-"

The orangehead, not looking at where she was going, accidentally walked into a girl, who fell down on her butt.

"Oh, crap! I'm sorry!" Aki quickly apologized, quickly bending down. "I'll help you up! Are you okay?"

"Y-yes, I'm fine, t-thank you…" was the meek reply as the girl was helped up. "O-oh, it's you! But i-it's my fault, not yours…"

The timid girl, slightly shorter than Aki, her brown hair tied up in two medium ponytails, quickly bowed down in apology. She wears a simple grey cotton jacket, with pockets on both sides of her jacket's belly area, separated by the zipper, and a short black skirt.

"I-it's my fault, I wasn't looking!" Aki quickly responded, not noticing that the girl she just met seemed to have already identified her. "Don't apologize for something you didn't do!"

"O-oh, okay! I'm sorry for apologizing!" was the scared reply, the girl genuinely shivering as she bowed down again.

"N-no, that's not- you're not at fault here!" the orangehead replied anxiously before stopping, calming herself down.

Getting an idea, Aki hugged the nervous girl, who initially squeaked and jumped up, gently stroking her back, comforting the anxious girl. "Hey, it's alright," she said soothingly. "It's my fault, don't worry about it."

Slowly, the twintailed girl calmed down and returned the hug herself. "T-thank you, I'm just timid like this, i-is all."

On the Harekaze, an amused few crew members on the bridge turned their heads to look at the helmsman, reminded by the girl of the destroyer's timid chief navigator. Rin, obviously noticing that, began to sweatdrop. "W-what is it...?"

"The next time Rin freaks out, shall we all hug her to make her feel better?" Kouko smiled.

"E-ehh, I don't think-"

"It's alright, Rin-chan!" Mei shouted elatedly, pulling the poor helmsman into a tight hug.

"E-ehh?!"

"You can let go of me, I feel better already…" the timid girl on the Hornet quietly said.

"Oh, no problem," the orangehead replied, releasing her grasp on the now-calm girl. "You look sorta familiar, actually…"

"I w-wasn't expecting that hug, Miss Nakajima. Nobody r-really did that to me before…"

Aki and Kiyoko were surprised. "Oh, you know my name too?" the orangehead gasped. "We have met before, I take it?"

"N-not directly, I was just from the same academy as you, in one of the Command classes. Also, I just know everyone on board this ship anyway, I read all of your profiles," the girl replied, now smiling sweetly. "I'm Moriai Kazumi, secretary of the NPF Hornet."

"Oh, I think I know you," Aki realized. "You're the one from the other Command class that's always hiding behind everyone else!"

"Y-yes…" was the sheepish reply. "I-I'm not the bold type…"

"Heh, no wonder I found you familiar. But you don't recognize Kiyoko here, right?"

Kazumi looked at the covert Blue Mermaid. "Nope. Who are you? What's… that?" she asked, pointing at the older girl's face.

The covert Blue Mermaid wondered how many times people had asked her that very same question about her "eyewear", but it was obviously under understandable circumstances. "They're for recording, like those flopped smartglasses except that this is just a camera and mic that I can't control. For the Admiral, I'm sent here to document this new ship."

"Oh?" the timid girl pondered curiously. "Well, I guess that makes sense. Welcome onboard, Miss Yamada."

"Thanks," Kiyoko bowed politely. "Oh, yeah, we've been invited to the bridge by the Captain. Can you lead us the way, please?"

"O-oh, sure thing!" Kazumi nodded, having already warmed up to the two girls she just met, or technically one girl she just met and one she vaguely knew for quite a while already. "Here, follow me."

The orangehead and the "Admiral's documenter", led by the secretary of the Hornet herself, resumed their walk.

"S-so, is there anything you two want to ask me about?" Kazumi asked as they turned a corner and approached a flight of stairs.

"Oh, actually yeah," Aki replied as they reached the steps, the timid girl going ahead first while Kiyoko followed behind, and the orangehead going up last. "I heard something 'bout the crew being barely-passed freshies from some girls, is that true? I mean, you're a freshie too, and you've got the crew list."

"Oh, so you guys a-actually caught that," Miss Moriai replied, stumbling a bit with her words. "Not counting you, your type of crew and the others related to you guys, everyone's selected by the Captain himself, and yeah, everyone's fresh graduates on board and their written test marks aren't actually as well, including me. But fresh graduates and mediocre marks' half the story, y-you see, because the captain uses a different criteria of selection than standard. B-but, Miss Nakajima can easily guess what it is, right?"

"Yep!"

"Do tell," was the kind offer as they stepped away from the stairs and walked down another corridor.

Aki grinned, knowing the answer. "He selects his people based on how they actually perform in practice, right?"

"Correct!" Miss Moriai nodded. "T-the crew may have barely passed their written tests, which is what standard procedure counts, but he picked us after personally looking at recordings of how we do stuff in our training exercises, you see. What does Captain Yamanami like to say whenever you both watch those exercises go on, Miss Nakajima?"

"Easy! 'If I'm captain of my own ship, I won't give a damn about your test marks beyond passing, but I sure as hell will care about how you actually do stuff!'" the orangehead grinned, thinking about that memory. "Wait… you've been watching us as well, haven't you?"

"I-I didn't mean it!" the secretary frantically waved her hands. "I-it's just that it's not hard noticing the both of you back then, and I j-just happened to catch on one day. I wasn't spying on you both!"

"Chill, chill, I'm not suspecting you for anything!" Aki quickly replied. "It's just... odd that you noticed us too."

"W-well, I'm meek but I also pay attention to my surroundings," was the calmed reply as the trio began to climb more stairs again. "But yes, Captain Yamanami picks his crew that way, and that's why we're not on destroyers or cruisers now. He probably wants us to grow together as a crew, too, so I'm glad I got this opportunity."

"Interesting selection choice," Mashiro commented back on the Harekaze, as her mother thought the same thing back in Yokosuka.

"Our crew's somewhat the same too, right?" Mike grinned. "We aren't the top rung, but we're a fine crew and can do our stuff well! Isn't that right?"

Nods and comments of agreement came from everyone else on the bridge.

A while later, somewhat out of breath, the three girls finally entered the bridge of the Hornet on that odd, offset superstructure.

"Oh, hello there, Miss Moirai," Saburo greeted. "And hey, you two are here too!"

"H-hello, Captain," the secretary meeky greeted. "Moirai Kazumi, reporting for duty, sir!" she continued, saluting.

"At ease, Miss Moirai. No need to be this tense."

"Y-yes, sir." she relaxed

"Hello there too, Kazumi," Aomi greeted. "Kubota Aomi, I'm the XO here. Oh, there's Aki and that girl sent by the Admiral," the XO noted. "... What's that on your face?"

"It's a camera on a spectacles frame, doesn't do anything except record video and audio feed," Miss Yamada explained yet again.

"Like those flopped smartglasses, minus the 'smart'," Aki grinned, noticing the annoyance on the covert Blue Mermaid's face. "Everyone's been asking her that the whole day."

"Understandable," Captain Yamanami smiled. "The crew's curious about them, so I hope you wouldn't mind."

"Oh, sure, I'll try not to be tired of it," Kiyoko nodded, sighing. "I should get used to this…" she muttered.

"Here you go," Aomi said to Kazumi, passing a tablet over to her. "This is yours now. I've settled everything before you came, so don't worry about everything prior and concentrate on what happens from now on. It's your time to do your job, Secretary."

"Y-yes ma'am," was the meek reply. "I won't disappoint you."

The XO nodded. "Do your best. Meanwhile, we've got three more people to wait-"

"I'm here!" a voice interrupted as a girl, sporting medium, blonde hair, jogged into the bridge, wearing a standard black t-shirt with blue shorts, sneakers and a white pantyhose.

"Nice, make that two," Aomi corrected herself.

"Gunnery Officer Utsumi Akako, reporting for duty, sir!" the newcomer saluted, a wide grin on her face. "Thank you for selecting me as your gunnery officer, captain!"

"At ease," Saburo smiled. "No need to be too formal around here, just be yourself. I'm not strict unless the situation calls for it."

"Oh, aye, that makes it much better!" the blonde girl replied happily, easing down. "Captain, I know it's sudden, but may I ask a potentially personal question?"

"Oh? Sure, go ahead."

"Aye! I've read the provided list of crew members I have, and I've noticed that you the only guy on the ship. The academy I'm from didn't have any boys, but why aren't there any other guys on board?"

"Ahh, I knew that'd be asked eventually," the captain smiled, scratching his chin. "Well, short answer, that's out of my control. Full explanation, you've mentioned that there's no boys in your academy; it's the same everywhere in the fleet, and that's because the NPF's recruitment sector genuinely couldn't find more than a few males to recruit; I'm the only exception for my academy too, for example. Something to do with boys generally not being interested in a life at sea, no doubt thanks to the massive global influence of the Blue Mermaids."

This was the first time the Blue Mermaids were mentioned by anyone from the NPF. Curious about the captain's opinion and wanting to prod further, Kiyoko decided to speak up. "Influence of the Blue Mermaids?"

"Aye, influence of the Blue Mermaids," Saburo nodded, a slightly annoyed look on his face at the mention of the peacekeeping organization. "I mean, to be fair, I just don't understand the logic behind the organization's foundations. Like they said in their brochure, 'women began manning warships to safeguard floating cities and sea lanes without giving the impression of war in doing so'. But how does that 'impression of war' work? I mean, what sort of difference is there? It's still a goddamn warship sailing around."

"Yeah, he's been puzzling over that for a long, long time," Aki grinned as Kiyoko raised an eyebrow, finding the captain's question… surprisingly valid, all things considered. "He's mostly ruffled about the effect of boys thinking that warships are 'girly', except submarines."

"Yeah, goddammit, what's wrong with guys on a surface ship?" the captain agreed fervently. He opened his mouth, about to continue, but decided to shut it and finish off the topic. "So, yeah, I can only find girls to select as part of my crew."

"And not because you may be a massive pervert that wants to be surrounded by girls, Sabu?" the orangehead teased, a sly smile on her face.

"You wish," Saburo teased back, booping his best friend's nose. "Still," he blushed slightly, "I'm lying if I said I've never been, hm, conscious about only girls all around me. I've definitely gotten used to it over all these months, though."

"Oh? You sure 'bout that?" both Aki and Aomi asked together teasingly, looking at the captain in a certain hinting way.

"O-oi, yes I have!" was the embarrassed, quick reply. "Don't gang up on me!"

"Fine, fine," the orangehead and XO relented, Kiyoko, Kazumi and Akako grinning behind.

"Oh, yeah," the blonde said, "who are you guys?"

"Kubota Aomi, XO."

"I'm Nakajima Aki, leader of one of the assigned squadrons of those 'crafts' you were briefly told about when you were initially assigned. Still classified info, wait for a few days!"

"M-Moriai Kazumi here, Ship's Secretary."

"Yamada Kiyoko, I'm not part of the crew. I'm just under Admiral's orders to document this ship, so here I am."

"Ooh, nice!" was the reply from the blonde girl. "What's that thing on your face?"

Kiyoko sighed as the orangehead stifled a chuckle. "A camera and mic on a spectacles frame. Like those flopped smartglasses, but this can only record video and audio."

"Ooh, I see," was the cheerful reply. "Well, it's a pleasure to meet you all!"

"Likewise." "Yeah!" "A-aye!" "Mmh!"

"And two more to go," Captain Yamanami commented, "our navigational officer and, uh, 'classified' operations officer."

He checked his phone. "Oh hey, just a while more. I hope they turn up soon."

"Hello," a quiet voice called out as the two remaining bridge crew members turned up together. One of them had long, brown hair, which was whom the "Hello" came from, while the other had medium brown hair of a similar color, both of them in their casuals. While both wore t-shirts of different colors and had white sneakers of different brands, the long-haired girl wore loose jeans while the other wore shorts.

And no, they do not look like sisters.

"Hi!" the medium-haired girl called out. "Saito Naomi, Fli- uh, 'Special Craft' Operations Officer, reporting for duty!"

"And I'm Sazama Mari, Navigational Officer," the long-haired girl followed. "Pleased to meet you all!"

"Welcome aboard," Saburo nodded. "I'm your captain, Yamanami Saburo."

"Kubota Aomi here, XO."

"I-I'm Moriai Kazumi, secretary…"

"Utsumi Akako! Gunnery Officer!"

"Nakajima Aki here! I'm the leader of a squadron of those special craft!"

"I'm Yamada Kiyoko, I'm sent by the Admiral to document this ship. And this thing, this that I'm wearing," the covert Blue Mermaid quickly continued, pointing at her face, "is a spectacles frame that has a camera and mic mounted on it."

"Sorta like those flopped smartglasses, minus the 'smart'," Aki finished, grinning.

"Yes!"

"Ooh, nice!" Naomi replied. "Nice to meet you all, too! I hope we'll get along!"

"We will!" Saburo, Aki, and Akako replied together as Aomi and Kazumi nodded instead.

"Good to meet you all," Mari smiled. "I'll do my best!"

"Glad to hear," the captain smiled before checking his phone. "And almost time for departure."

"Oh, really? Thank god we found our way, then," Naomi sighed in relief.

"Don't worry, Kiyoko and I got lost as well," Aki grinned. "If it weren't for Kazumi we'd still be finding our way!"

"M-mmh…" the secretary nodded.

"Captain, it's time," Aomi reported, looking down at her watch.

"Alright then, let's get to work," Saburo noted, turning to face the girls. "Before that, though, I just wanna say this; some of you know me from the same academy we were from, some of you are fresh faces, but no matter what it is, let's get along well, not just as the crew of the Hornet, but also as friends. Is that fine?"

Various nods and calls of agreement were given in response.

The captain smiled. "Good. Well, ladies, that's all from me. Get to your stations and prepare for departure."

"Aye, sir!"

And with that, everyone quickly walked over to their respective stations. Well, everyone except Aki and Kiyoko, who stood back to watch everything.

"Yeah, you two just stay there and watch," Saburo nodded before turning to his secretary. "Kazumi, is everyone present? Are the various stations on standby?"

The secretary checked her tablet. "All personnel are present. Waiting for status response from stations."

A few seconds passed. "Green light from all stations, they're on standby and are prepared for departure, s-sir."

"Good. Inform the base via spoken radio that we'll be leaving shortly, tell them to prepare and stand by."

"Roger," she nodded, grabbing the radio mic. "U-um, Hornet to Outpost Base 10, we are prepared for departure. P-please prepare for our departure and stand by, over."

"Outpost Base 10 to Hornet, request has been received loud and clear. You are cleared for departure, timing at your discretion, over."

"Understood, over a-and out."

"Bridge to engine room, how's things down there?" the XO spoke loudly down a speaking tube.

"All good!" a female voice replied. "We're all ready to go!"

"Good! Stand by for departure!"

Musing for a moment, Saburo strolled over to the ship's intercom mic. "Alright, I think I should do a little address to the crew before we set off. Everyone's new and all, I hope I can ease any anxiety they have with an address."

"That can work, Captain," Aomi nodded. "You're the CO, after all."

"Aye," the captain nodded as he picked the mic up. "Well, here goes."

He took a deep breath and turned it on. "Attention please, this is the captain speaking. Well, first of all, I would like to welcome all of you on board the Hornet. I hope you all are happy on board so far, and I hope we can all get along with each other, both as a crew and as friends off our duties."

He paused for a moment, somewhat anxious and out of ideas, before realizing that he had more to talk about. "I am aware that to all of you this vessel is your first assignment, and that might come as a surprise to most of you, especially since you guys may have heard that you've been handpicked by me, the CO. Well, yes, you guys are selected by me as the crew of the Hornet, except the 'operators' and service crews of the 'special craft' we're carrying on board now, that is; I've got zero control over that, but they're freshies as well. Let me get this straight; this is not a mistake, you all are supposed to be here. That explanation's also tied to why you guys are selected despite not getting exceptional marks in your tests, especially due to the revolutionary nature of this vessel."

He paused to take a breath. "Yeah, I could've picked a stellar crew instead, all with straight As on their papers, all having memorized everything inside the same textbooks we've studied. And that's not something I like, you see; the way I selected you guys," he smiled, looking at everyone in his bridge, "I spent all the time I needed watching those videos of you guys in those practical training sessions. Yes, the ones that the academies don't grade. Because I value practical expertise over something written down in some book," he continued, getting much less nervous. "I watched every single one of you, going through those recordings over and over again, and the reason why you are here is simply because I've determined that you guys, despite your written test marks, are the most skilled among the bunch in terms of actually being able to do a job on board a ship. Actually crewing any given vessel is very much different from memorizing naval theories in the textbooks, much different than blindly following the 'instructions' written inside a guide, and absolutely more relevant than whatever the correct answer is for Paper A, Section C, Question 24!"

Even from the bridge, chuckles can be heard coming from below decks at the mention of the notoriously difficult and pointless question in one of the graduation examination papers. The captain, grinning like an idiot himself, waited for the laughter from his bridge to die down as a control before continuing with his address. "Yeah, well, I left that question blank as well. No point trying to answer it. But back to the point, you guys are selected to be the crew of the Hornet, and you are the first choices. Never think of yourself anything less than that. You know what, my marks aren't stellar as well, I got a 68. I'm just as surprised to be assigned as a captain, on board the Hornet to add on, too! But that's done; I've been assigned here, I've gotten this command fair and square, I'll command the Hornet the best that I can. And I hope you all will carry out your duties as well as possible, too. I'm not perfect, you're not perfect, we will make mistakes in future, and we'll make them together, we'll learn from them together, and most importantly, we will grow as a crew together. Sounds like a plan, doesn't it?"

Despite the captain not speaking to them face-to-face, his words got through to everyone on board.

"He's sorta down-to-earth, isn't he?" a girl commented to her friend beside her. "I guess we weren't picked randomly after all."

"Yeah," was the reply. "I sorta feel better now, actually. Who knew the captain saw something in us?"

"Well, we've gotta show him that what he saw is true, yeah?" she smiled.

"For sure."

Back on the bridge, Saburo decided that he had something more to say. "Well, now that's out of the way, you guys know that you're on board a special ship. NPF Hornet, registry number CV-8, third ship of the Yorktown-class but the first to be completed and commissioned. 25 thousand and 900 metric tons at full load, 251.38 meters long, waterline beam of 25.37 meters, overall beam of 35 meters, and a maximum draft of 8.5 meters. She's untested, but we will change that soon enough. Last I checked the Enterprise will be ready soon, and not long after that Yorktown herself will be in service, but until then Hornet's the only operational example of a revolutionary new type of vessel, one that has never been seen before in this world, with a naval power that had been completely untapped into. This power will be revealed a few days from now, but until then, the nature and details of this are considered classified information. Above everything else, however, this is our ship, our companion, our home, and I expect all of you to treat her well. Only then will she be willing to bring us all through thick and thin."

He checked his phone. "Well, it's time for me to end this address and for us to depart. For the rest of today, Hornet will go through sea trials, and only after that will she be properly ready for duty. Again, I hope that we will all get along together, both as the crew of the Hornet and as friends off-duty. That is all."

Shutting the mic off, Saburo placed it back in its original spot. "Well, that's done. How was it?"

"It's decent," Aomi replied and the rest nodded.

"So that's the 'Captain's Charisma' everyone talks about," Aki teased. "You've got it in you, Sabu!"

"Eheh, thanks," he blushed slightly. "Anyway, yeah, let's get going. Kazumi, inform the tugs to get ready."

"Aye sir," was the meek reply as the secretary picked up the radio mic and altered the frequency to the one used for tugs. "Hornet t-to tugs, please prepare and stand by for further instructions, over."

A few seconds passed. No response.

"Hornet to tugs?"

Still no response.

"Uh, h-hello…?" she uttered meekly as everyone in the bridge watched the radio.

The captain frowned. "Wait, hold on a sec…" he muttered as he briskly walked out of the bridge, onto the starboard bridge wing.

The moment he looked down and saw only the blue ocean next to the Hornet on the starboard side, he knew what the problem was. "You've got to be kidding me!" he yelled, staring down at where the tugs were supposed to be. "I thought I asked for tugs!"

"What, they aren't there?!" the XO shouted back incredulously.

"Nope! Nada!" Saburo hollered in reply before stepping back into the bridge.

He went back to his normal volume. "Miss Moirai, can you ask the base where our tug assistance is?"

"A-aye!" the secretary squeaked out as she switched the radio's frequency. "Hornet to Outpost Base 10, where is the tug assistance we asked for, over?"

Two seconds passed. "Outpost Base 10 to Hornet, you asked for tugs, over?"

The captain and his XO facepalmed, both of them clearly knowing that they did request for tug assistance.

"Yes we did…" Saburo muttered. "But tell them that we don't need them anymore."

"R-roger. Hornet to O-Outpost Base 10, we did, but the captain said they're no longer necessary, over."

"Outpost Base 10 to Hornet, acknowledged, we apologize for any inconvenience caused. We wish you a pleasant journey, over."

"Hornet to Outpost Base 10, acknowledged and thank you, over and out."

"Well, we'll bring ourselves out then," Saburo nodded, touching his Captain's hat. "Prepare to set sail. Retract all moorings."

"Aye sir," the secretary nodded, sending out the order via her tablet.

"Stand by all engines," was the next order given by the captain.

"Stand by all engines, aye!" Mari acknowledged as she and Aomi rang the telegraphs before putting all four to "STAND BY ENGINES".

Everyone waited for the reports from the mooring stations.

"Mooring stations reporting, all moorings have been retracted!" Miss Moriai reported.

Captain Yamanami nodded, taking the time to look around his bridge.

Then, he stared out of the bridge, at the vast, inviting Pacific waters ahead, seemingly at the horizon in particular.

From the side, Aki could tell that the captain was seeing beyond that; he was seeing about the future that lies ahead, in the vast oceans of the planet. He was thinking about, as he said back in the academy with a passionate speech to the orangehead one evening as they looked at the sunset over the Pacific Ocean, "the calling of adventure out from the Seven Seas towards us, where adventure runs rampant and waits for us every day".

Aki knew that Saburo had been waiting for the day adventure begins.

Well, that day has arrived, and both the Captain and the orangehead were extremely glad they'll share it together.

Adventure was calling out to the Hornet.

Returning to reality, the captain adjusted and straightened his Captain's hat. "It's time, Hornet," he muttered quietly to himself and his ship. "Let's go."

He smiled, looked up and gave the order. "Rudder straight. All engines one third ahead."

"All one third ahead, aye!"

The telegraphs rang, and the order was passed down to the engine room.

A few seconds later, underneath his feet, Saburo could feel the four steam turbines of his vessel rumble to life, each of these powerplants capable of 40 thousand shaft horsepower at maximum. To him, it was a sensation that no simulation and training can prepare anyone for; the "heartbeat" of an actual ship.

Another few seconds later, as the propellers began to rotate, the Hornet slowly but surely began to inch forward, gradually accelerating at a slow rate typical of vessels her size. This hull of welded metal had come alive, steaming under her own power for the very first time.

It took a while, but the ship was now about three quarters her length away from the berth she was docked at minutes ago. Of course, her slow speed was the result of necessary caution being rightfully exercised; obviously, it's typically not a good idea for a ship this huge to leave a berth at full ahead.

Captain Saburo stood on the port wing of the bridge, watching the cranes and admin building slowly move further and further away. Of course, he was not sightseeing; he was gauging when higher speeds would be safely available to the Hornet.

And as the ship reached roughly five-sixths of clearance, he decided it was time, turning around on his heel and returning to the bridge, obviously in a good mood.

"Hm, let's not push her yet. All engines, two-third ahead."

"All engines two-third ahead, aye!"

And with that, the turbines spun harder, and a short while later the Hornet had just left Outpost Base 10, still accelerating as she headed out into the open Pacific.

And as the Hornet gracefully slid ahead, the Blue Mermaids watched closely, unaware of the true nature of the vessel that they had just watched unleashed into the open sea.


A little over an hour after the Hornet had left Outpost Base 10, the new vessel, just as scheduled, rendezvoused with the cruiser Dauntless to proceed with her sea trials. Coming over from the Atlanta-class light cruiser were a group of engineers, all the very best the NPF has to offer, all involved in the development of the Yorktown-class and all there to evaluate the seafaring performance of the vessel when stretched to the limits.

From the starboard bridge wing, Kiyoko looked at the Dauntless as the Hornet awaited the arrival of the boat carrying the engineers.

Atlanta-class, huh…

"Ah, an Atlanta!" Aki commented cheerfully, stepping out to look at the light cruiser. "Workhorse of the NPF! We've got about fifty of them!"

"Woah, really?" Kiyoko turned to the orangehead, amazed. "That many?"

"Yep! Fast, agile, decent firepower, reliable and easy plus cheap to maintain; they're perfect for daily stuff like patrols and light escort. We use them for pretty much anything as long as the job doesn't require anything heavier, of course!" Aki grinned.

"I see," Kiyoko smiled, understanding why the fleet had such fondness over the class. She had briefly served on board one of them as part of a short transfer program back in high school: USS San Diego, CL-53.

Those were fun times, she recalled fondly. Plus, everyone's so friendly!

"There were only eight Atlantas built by the US, too; those are the 'originals', you might say," Aki continued. "But for us the Atlanta design fits our light cruiser bill perfectly, and sure, the Americans moved on to the Clevelands, but we've outbuilt their Atlantas by a massive margin!" she grinned proudly.

Kiyoko giggled. "Contesting with the US now, eh?"

"Just a small achievement~! Anyway, just to be clear, ours are actual Atlantas; as with all the other ship classes we have, back then our spies obtained the full sets of blueprints for the Atlanta and sent it back to us. Also, we didn't cut corners in terms of build quality, so ours are just as good as the 'originals'! Just because we're technically pirates doesn't mean we've got rustbuckets!" the orangehead huffed with pride.

"Aye, I can see that!" the covert Blue Mermaid grinned.

"Oh, by the way, Sabu had suggested a software update to the systems of the Atlanta class in particular back then," Aki pointed out. "It's pretty important, too."

"Oh, really? Why?"

The girl grinned. "Classified."

"Oh, come on!"

A short while later, the boat arrived and the engineers finally boarded the Hornet. And another little while later, once they were in position and ready, the Yorktown-class vessel's sea trials officially began, starting off with the speed trials.

With all her engines set to flank, the ship plowed through the calm Pacific sea, accelerating over the next few minutes as the Dauntless followed closely behind.

The speed to achieve was 32.5 knots, the designed top speed of the Yorktown-class.

"30 knots," Mari reported, despite everyone already intently watching the speedometer.

"So far so good," the Captain nodded.

As time passed, the Hornet crept up and beyond 31 knots, and soon the 32 knot threshold was reached. Deep in the bowels of the ship, the four turbines were running hard, all of them pushed to the limits.

Slowly, the speed of the new vessel crept up, and finally, 32.6 knots was achieved.

"There we go," Miss Kubota commented cooly. "32.6 knots. We're performing just as expected."

"Steady as she goes, Miss Sazama," Saburo said, still watching. "We're not done yet."

"Aye, Cap."

"What do you mean?" Aki asked, curious. "We hit the max designed limit, didn't we?"

"We did. However, that doesn't mean it's the exact limit of the ship," the Captain explained, smiling to himself as 33.7 knots was achieved. "See, told ya she's got more!"

"Oh!" the orangehead replied in surprise. "So not the exact outputs, eh?"

"Just watch, guys. I call a bet, we'll break 33 knots."

"33 knots?" Miss Moriai raised her eyebrows. "C-can we really go that far beyond…?"

Captain Yamanami, almost knowingly, just grinned as 32.8 knots was attained.

Some seconds later, the Hornet edged to 32.9 knots. And sure enough, to the surprise of the girls, the Hornet hit 33 knots.

"I win!" the Captain chuckled.

As everyone continued to watch, the Yorktown-class vessel plowed through the calm Pacific waters, her speed still increasing.

33.1.

33.2.

33.3.

33.4.

"She's still going at it!" Naomi commented in awe as Hornet clocked 33.5 knots.

Everyone waited in anticipation.

Seconds passed.

And finally…

"A full knot faster! I don't believe it!" Miss Sazama shouted in excitement. "Go Hornet!"

"Steady as she goes, steady as she goes," Saburo grinned. "Just a bit more…"

And over the next few minutes, the Hornet continued to speed up, the Dauntless behind slowly falling back, having only a top speed of 33.5 knots. Finally, the speedometer rested on 33.8 knots, displaying the maximum speed the new NPF vessel can reach.

Logged into the laptops of the technicians and announced to the bridge, the vessel reached specifically 33.85 knots, a whole 1.25 knots faster than designed. Her four turbines, designed to produce 120,000 hp in total, clocked up to 120,500.

Granted, everyone on the bridge was extremely proud. Someone, although pleased, seemed like he knew this was going to be the outcome.

But the trails weren't over.

"Alright," the Captain decided, "we gotta U-turn. Hard-a-starboard, give us a perfect 180!"

"Hard-a-starboard, aye!" the navigational officer acknowledged, immediately spinning the wheel starboard.

Kiyoko blinked, confused.

"Captain, may I ask you something?" she asked.

"Oh? By all means, go ahead," was the reply from the Captain.

"You gave the order 'hard-a-starboard', but why is she turning right?" the covert Blue Mermaid asked, a certain other ship in her mind.

Saburo blinked. "Well, what do you mean? Starboard is right."

"Yeah, I know that, but…" Miss Yamada went on before giggling. "God, I sound like an amateur, don't I? What I mean is, if you give the order 'hard-a-starboard, isn't the helmsman supposed to turn the ship port?"

"Huh?" Miss Sazama looked back before the wheel abruptly stopped turning starboard, reaching its limit just as the rudder of the Hornet itself began to actually turn. "Oh, helm's hard over!"

"Acknowledged," Saburo nodded and smiled, realizing what Kiyoko was talking about. "Let me guess, Titanic?"

The covert Blue Mermaid grinned sheepishly. "Yes."

The Captain chuckled knowingly, the ship starting to roll towards her port side as she began to turn starboard. "Understandable, it's not something to be ashamed of. Well, it's actually simple; back then, ships were transitioning from sail to steam, and with that came the differences between tiller orders and rudder orders as well. You know what a tiller is, right? That long stick directly attached to the rudder."

"Oh, yeah, I know what that is," Miss Yamada nodded before coming to a realization, the Hornet continuing to roll. "Ohhh, I see now. The Titanic was using tiller orders, then?"

"That's right," Saburo nodded as everyone balanced themselves against the increasing roll of the ship. "Rudder orders weren't the definite system until the international standards were sent in the 1930s."

"I see. Why this long, though?" the covert Blue Mermaid asked curiously. "Wouldn't it make sense to change it to rudder orders once wheels became the majority?"

"Well, couple reasons. For one, it's tradition," the Captain explained as the Hornet continued to pull hard to the right. "Seems like she's turning fine," he briefly diverted the subject. "Anyway, the second reason's that it's consistent. No matter what ship you're on, as long as you've got a rudder there's always a tiller, so although it may seem confusing and contradictory to some today, it'll actually make perfect sense."

"I see," Miss Yamada nodded. "Yep, that clears it up, thanks! How do you know this, though?"

"I just read about it some time back," Saburo smiled.

As time passed, Hornet cleared the turn and was soon speeding down in the opposite direction she came from, the Dauntless still chasing behind her.

Over the course of the rest of the late afternoon, the new vessel repeatedly stopped, started, ran around in circles and crash stopped as her trials continued. In each test, the Hornet came out just as intended, to the relief and joy of everyone on board.

Finally, with the evening sun shining down over the Pacific, the trails were concluded. Soon enough, the technicians were all headed back to the Dauntless, full of all the data they needed from the NPF's newest ship. These will be evaluated, and any flaws found would be slated for patching up once the ship returns to port and had access to a drydock, either for maintenance, repairs or even a potential refit.

Captain Yamanami stared out at the evening sea, standing at the front of his bridge, waiting for the Dauntless to be ready.

It was beautiful. Simple, but mesmerizing.

Deciding that this was a view to be remembered, Saburo took his phone out and took a picture. He smiled, satisfied with how it turned out, and with a sudden idea, set it as his wallpaper.

"Captain, m-message from the Dauntless," Kazumi reported meekly behind him as he put his phone back in his pocket. "They've received all technical personnel and are ready to leave. A-also, they've wished us the best of luck on our voyage."

The captain turned around. "Very well. That was polite of her. Return the compliment."

"Aye, sir."

And so, with the Hornet having sent her own well-wishes to the cruiser, the Dauntless started up. As the crew of the new NPF vessel watched, their escort turned around and steamed away, back into deeper NPF waters.

"Well, it's time we got underway ourselves," Saburo commented, stepping away from the windows. "It's getting late, after all."

"Yes Sir!"

"What now?" Kiyoko asked the Captain as everyone took up their posts.

"Well, we've got a bit more before we get our assignments; one of our trails isn't done."

"Oh? What is it?"

"Classified."

"... Oh," was the tired, dejected reply. "I should've known."

Saburo chuckled. "Relax, it's only for a while more. We're going to be headed off to another area in NPF territory, it's a one-and-a-half day trip. Helm, you do know where we're going, right?"

"Yes," Mari nodded. "It's in the digital brief, right?"

"Yep. And you'd get to see Aki in action, too!"

"Right on!" the orangehead grinned. "So, just hold on for less than two days and you'll find out soon enough!"

"Well, when you put it that way, of course!" the covert Blue Mermaid nodded happily. "I'd wait till then, then!"

"That's good," Captain Yamanami smiled as he patted her on the shoulder.

He straightened his hat with both hands. "Alright girls, let's get a move on. Helm, set a course for our next location, all engines two-thirds ahead."

And with that, the Hornet steamed off, headed away into the distance.


Saburo entered his quarters, obviously tired.

It had been a few hours since the conclusion of the Hornet's sea trials, and his shift has just ended. And what an exciting first day as Captain of a ship that was.

This day has been really pleasant.

Smiling to himself, he set his hat down on his desk and sat down, turning his laptop on. This is his encrypted terminal for any direct orders given to him by HQ, on top of being able to privately communicate with other captains from other ships via here. Of course, the latter was also possible with his phone, but hey, that was only because he linked it to his laptop.

As the computer started up, the Captain was expecting only some mail from HQ, probably congratulating him for his ship's first day or his first day. If only his senior was already in the Captains' community chat, but alas, her ship isn't ready yet. Just a little more waiting for that.

He was right; HQ did send a couple of mail to him.

However, one stood out among the others.

It was a Priority One message; as the highest priority classification, this demands his immediate, full attention.

"Odd," he muttered to himself as he clicked it. "What's the emergency?"

Reading through it, Saburo realized why this was a Priority One.

The issue could be easily summarized in one, simple sentence from the message itself.

"YOU MAY HAVE A SPY ON BOARD."