Operation Tact Throbbing Heart

Chaper 2: Throbbing heart sandwiches

Disclaimer: Galaxy Angels, Tact Mayers, Vanilla H, the Elle Ciel and related characters, machines and locations are property of Broccoli and are used without permission.

Something was in the air. He couldn't put his finger on it, but his instincts all warned him something was about to happen. And if there was one thing Tact Mayers had learnt in his years at the Transbaal military academy, it was you should trust your instincts. He sighed and stared at the imposing tower of paperwork that faced him. Lester had made it clear that he could not avoid doing paperwork forever and practically marched him back into his room, declaring he did not want to see Tact's face until his work was done.

The blue-haired slacker got up and walked to the door. "Just a quick walk around the ship," he said to himself. "Then I'll get back to work." He paused to check himself in the mirror beside the door. He was not a vain person by nature, but that didn't mean he didn't like to look his best. After all, you never knew when you might run into a cute girl.

As always, his uniform was perfectly pressed (he'd done it himself, he noted with pride), his cloak properly attached and the metallic plates on his shoulders in position. His blue-black hair was somewhat messy, but then again he'd long since given up on trying to actually do anything with it. He ruefully admitted he was far from the most attractive male on the ship (Lester always was the more popular of the two), but it was still an okay face.

The door slid open and he stepped outside. "Going somewhere, Commander Mayers?" Tact jumped and turned around. Standing at either side of the door were a couple of crewmen Tact recognised as being members of the Anti-Commander Mayers Disruption Unit who tried to keep him away from Vanilla. As far as he knew, they disbanded following Vanilla's confession, but...

"I'm just going for a walk," he said, rubbing the back of his head with a goofy grin. "I'll be back in a bit."

"Oh," one of the crewmen said, smiling a-not-quite-sincere smile at him. "We'll come with you, then."

"That's not necessary," Tact tried to insist. "I won't be long."

The crewmen took position beside him. "To be safe, we'll come along anyway."

Tact opened his mouth to reply, but then the other added, "Vice-Commander Cooldaras wanted us to make sure you're safe, just in case the enemy tried to sneak another probe aboard."

'In other words, he wants to make sure I come back,' Tact thought ruefully. He knew for a fact that security had been heavily improved since the incident during the Eonia coup d'etat when a probe had managed to get aboard and impersonate him. He still considered himself lucky that he hadn't been killed by the bloodthirsty crew when they heard he'd not only peeped on Ranpha in the shower, but attacked Mint and Prince Shiva as well. Of course, it'd been the probe who'd done it all, but they didn't know that.

"On...second thought, I've got a lot to do," Tact sighed at last. "I'll go on patrol later." Drooping his shoulders, he walked back into his room. He could almost imagine the triumphant smirks on the two men's faces. The so-called Hero of Transbaal sighed yet again as he slumped into his chair. "Give me a break..." Obviously, despite being disbanded the Anti-Commander Mayers Disruption Unit still bore him a grudge. He knew that they all thought he wasn't good enough for their beloved idol Vanilla, but still, he thought they'd accepted that she wanted to be around him.

The door slid open suddenly, making him snap to attention and begin stamping the various papers. "Oh, you're working hard." The voice of his best friend and vice-commander Lester Cooldaras wafted over to him. The tall, silver-haired man walked towards him, his long military-style coat rustling as he moved.

"Ye-yeah. No need to worry..." Tact paused and looked up, rubbing the back of his head and laughing stupidly. The laugh died on his lips when he saw the massive pile of papers the silver-haired man brought along. "What...!"

Lester kept his poker face up as he dumped the pile on his old friend's desk. "Next you'll need to go through these damage reports, and then we've got the casualty reports."

Tact stared in disbelief. It seemed as though he now had a little fort of papers covering the surface of his desk. "B-but...!"

Lester's monocole/goggle glinted dangerously. "These need to be done by our next report to General Luft, so no slacking until they're done."

Overcome by the threatening pressure his friend was emanating, all the supposed captain of the ship could do was bow his head and nod listlessly. He could tell Lester was enjoying every minute of this. Considering how little work he actually did (outside of battle), Tact supposed he could humour his first officer, just this once.

"Right, right..." he said, waving his hand. "I'll get it done, don't worry."

Lester crossed his arms, his expression deadpan. "I wonder."

Tact looked up again, a look of feigned hurt on his face. "Lester, don't you trust me?"

Lester's expression never wavered. "Not at all. I know you better than anyone else." He turned around and walked out the door, letting it slide shut behind him.

The only sound in the room was Tact's sobbing as tears streamed down his face. "He didn't have to be so blunt..." While twin streams of tears continued down his face, he got back to stamping the assorted reports.

--------

"Heh, sounds like Commander Mayer's being kept busy," one of the crewmen outside Tact's door said to his partner.

The other crewman chuckled. "Yeah. It's tough being the commander." He stretched and added, "Well, it comes with the territory, right?"

"Still mad at him, huh?" He could still remember how his friend had been the unfortunate recipient of one of Tact's little strategic masterstrokes. Even though he'd outsmarted a number of their enemies, sometimes people still forgot Tact was a master strategist. Even if he did act like a goofball most of the time.

"N-not at all!" The crewman's eyes blazed with fire. "Because of him, I was able to taste Vanilla-san's cooking!" He could still remember the way he'd interrupted Tact and Vanilla when they were alone in the medical room, feigning illness. His undoing, however, had been taunting Tact with a snide, "Too bad, Commander Mayers." Tact left soon after, but on his way out helpfully suggested Vanilla give him a huge dose of her health soup. Granted, Vanilla's health soup was very nutritious, but because of all the ingredients its taste left much to be desired. His taste buds were out of whack for days.

"Really! I'm jealous!"

Obsession could be quite scary sometimes.

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"Hey, Vanilla, are you sure you want to go through with this?" Ranpha cupped her chin in her hand and stared at her friend and teammate.

In response, Vanilla nodded. She took a deep breath and spoke, "Ranpha-san. Please begin."

Ranpha sighed and shrugged, shaking her head. "Well, if you're sure." A grin spread accross her face. "Heheheh...I've been wanting to do this for awhile..." As she began laughing her somewhat unnerving "Ohohohohohoho" laugh, Vanilla again felt that strange sensation that told her to run.

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Tact never wanted to see another scrap of paper again. He knew it could've been worse (for example, he could've had to, horror of horrors, actually read the reports he was stamping), but the thought didn't do much to alleviate the tedium. Instead, his thoughts began to drift, even as his hands continued to stamp.

He'd come a long way since his days as commander of the Crieom border patrol fleet. From his command of a Barmell-class cruiser and a couple of Spard-class destroyers, he'd become captain of the most advanced ship in the Imperial fleet and led his own fleet into battle against Eonia's forces alongside his old teacher Luft.

More importantly, he'd gotten to know five (now six, he corrected himself) special girls and one very special girl in particular. During the incident with the probe, when a murderous Ranpha accused him of peeping at her in the shower, Vanilla had been the one to insist that while Tact was a slacker, a layabout, unreliable, lazy and a skirt-chaser, he would not sink so low as to peep on a woman in the shower. Tact was still not sure if she was defending him or condemning him at the time. Vanilla's belief was vindicated when the probe's existance was uncovered, courtesy of a well-placed punch by Ranpha. Alas, she also punched him, just to make sure he was the real deal.

Tact put down the stamp and looked at a picture up on the wall. One was of the greeting picnic they'd all had together. The five Angels, Tact himself, Almo, Koko and a number of the crew were all smiling at the camera. Another was a picture someone had taken of him and Vanilla at the dance on the Fargo colony in the Roum system. They weren't facing the camera, the picture had been taken while the two were on the dance floor.

The one that drew his attention now, however, was the one of Vanilla sitting on the grass of the space park, surrounded by her space rabbits and her nanomachine pet. Tact sighed. Vanilla kept her emotions hidden in order to better control the nanomachines she used to heal. But Tact's first taste of the sweet, sensitive girl came when one of her beloved space rabbits, Oogie Oogie died. At the time, Vanilla desperately tried to save the little animal, healing it over and over again while driving herself to exhaustion. Tact finally stopped her, reasoning that all she was doing was prolonging its suffering. Old age could not be cured, no matter how powerful the technology. While he'd expected some reaction, he didn't expect Vanilla to cling to him, crying. Tact knew some medical officers during his days in the academy, and they tended to fall into two camps: those who were so used to death it didn't phase them, and those who took every death as a personal failure.

Vanilla was definitely of the latter. Tact learned that many years ago, she was unable to save the life of one of the sisters who'd raised her despite her seemingly miraculous healing powers. While many of the other nuns did not blame her, the little girl was still haunted by what she saw as her fault. Her suppression of emotion likely stemmed from that time as well. It had taken time, but eventually Tact and the others managed to give Vanilla the strength and support she needed to accept she could not save everything and everyone no matter how hard she tried or wanted to, that sometimes it was necessary to let go.

That brought up some of Tact's own unpleasant memories. He looked up to a picture on his bedside table. It was of a group of cadets, sitting together for a class photo. Tact's expression became sad as he looked over the faces, picking out himself and Lester easily enough. After graduation, he'd risen to the rank of Colonel, Lester at his side. Somehow he'd found himself put in charge of the Crieom border patrol fleet, while most of the others were assigned to various colony defense fleets or the prestigious First Fleet over Transbaal proper.

Most died during the coup d'etat. He was never really close to most of them, Lester was probably his one true friend, but he knew them and the thought that so many of those smiling, hopeful faces were gone caused him to make a mental note to visit the shrine on Transbaal dedicated to the lost and offer prayers for them.

Shaking his head to clear himself of depressing thoughts, he went back to the stamping. "What I wouldn't give for some sort of distraction..."

--------

The two crewmen were bored. Certainly, it was highly amusing to practically make Commander Mayers a prisoner aboard what was supposed to be his ship, but after standing by his door for hours on end, the amusement had faded. Hearing footsteps coming, they quickly straightened like good military men. When Vanilla turned the corner, they brightened. "Ah, good afternoon, Vanilla-san!" they chorused.

Vanilla paused in mid-step and bowed to them. "Good afternoon," she said. "Is Tact-san here?"

"Er..." the two men glanced at each other. "He's in, but..."

"He looked busy."

Vanilla's face fell, and the crewmen realised she was carrying a tray with something under a lid. "Oh." She moved as if to turn around and walk back the way she came, but before she could...

"I think...maybe he could use a break," one of the two said. He looked over to his comrade.

The other man nodded reluctantly. "Yeah, I think so too."

Vanilla paused while she considered this information. "..." Without another word, she walked past the two guards and rang the doorbell. A weary "Yes?"answered the ring. "Tact-san, it's Vanilla."

"Oh, Vanilla? Come on in." As the door slid open and the young girl soundlessly entered, the two men were left gnashing their teeth in impotent fury at the injustice of the universe. To think that their Vanilla-chan was in the clutches of that skirt-chasing slacker Commander Tact Mayers!

--------

Tact set aside another set of papers as Vanilla came into his (rather sizable) personal quarters. He was making good progress in stamping the reports, but was grateful for something to break the tedium. "Ya, Vanilla," he said by way of greeting, smiling at her.

"Good afternoon, Tact-san," Vanilla replied, her face maintaining its usual neutral expression.

"So, what can I do for you?" Tact rose to his feet, stretching to get the assorted kinks out of his system.

Vanilla shook her head. "Nothing. I just made some tea and sandwiches. Would you like some, Tact-san?"

"Thanks, Vanilla. I could use the rest." Tact walked over to the sitting area while Vanilla set the tray she carried down on a table.

The girl flipped some of her long green hair over her shoulder, then poured him a cup of tea before uncovering the sandwiches. "I heard that Tact-san is busy, so I made these sandwiches with ingredients to give energy."

Tact accepted the tea and took a whiff. "Ah, Vanilla's famous herbal tea. I never get tired of the aroma."

"Thank you very much," Vanilla replied as she offered Tact a sandwich. She tugged on some of her hair that had fallen over her shoulder while Tact took a bite of the offered sandwich.

"!" Tact sat up, surprising the Angel. "Good!" he exclaimed after he swallowed. "This is really good!" As the 21-year old slacker wolfed the sandwiches down in earnest, Vanilla watched silently, one hand playing with her loose strands of hair. Once he'd finished with the sandwiches, he sat back and sipped the tea, enjoying the flavour.

"How is it?" Vanilla asked, finally stopping from playing with her hair.

Tact shut his eyes, a dreamy expression on his face. "The flavour of the sandwiches really goes well with the tea," he said. He slowly opened his eyes and let them rest on Vanilla. "Thanks, Vanilla."

Vanilla flushed slightly at his tender gaze. "No...it's nothing." She calmed herself and began packing everything back onto the tray. "Then, I will return to my room."

Tact nodded. "Do you want me to help with that?"

"It's not a problem," came the reply as Vanilla walked to the door. "Please excuse me."

Once the door slid shut, Tact leaned back again, smiling. It always brightened his day to talk to Vanilla. He couldn't help but feel that she seemed somewhat disappointed somehow. And something seemed wrong with her hair, the way she kept tugging or brushing, like there was something stuck in it or...

Tact sat up, his eyes wide. "Or she wanted someone to notice it!" Clutching at his hair and messing it up even more, he cursed his slow-wits. Sure, he could pinpoint weaknesses in enemy formations easily. Noticing little things like a girl's new haircut? That was not taught in the academy. He leapt to his feet, determined to let Vanilla know he'd noticed she'd done something different. It took him a little while, but at least he'd noticed.

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The two crewmen were still discussing Vanilla's assorted good points when Tact appeared. "Let Lester know I'm done with the reports," he said before striding down the corridor with a look of such determination that they could do nothing but nod.

"Did...something look different about Commander Mayers?" one asked.

"Yeah. Almost as different as Vanilla-chan's new haircut."

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"'Vanilla! I just wanted to say I just realised you did something with your hair!' No, makes me sound like I don't pay attention." Tact was rehearsing what to say while he headed for Vanilla's room in the residential area of the ship. "'Vanilla! I'm sorry I didn't notice right away, but your hair looked really good just now!' No, that makes it sound like her hair doesn't look good the rest of the time."

By now, he was just passing by Ranpha's room when he heard voices. While normally he would've ignored them (what people did in their rooms was none of his business, after all), he thought he heard his voice mentioned. After a quick glance to make sure no one was around, he put his ear to the door.

"So he didn't notice?" Ranpha was asking. The silence that followed made Tact wonder if she was talking to herself.

"I did as Ranpha-san said," a voice replied softly at last.

'Vanilla?' Tact raised an eyebrow. Part of him wanted to leave now, but then Ranpha spoke again.

"I knew it. He's too thick to notice subtle things like a woman's hair. We'll have to bring out the big guns!"

Tact was beginning to worry. 'Big guns?'

"When we're done, he won't be able to get you out of his head!" Ranpha's declaration was followed by a thump, as if she'd struck at a table. "Operation Tact Throbbing Heart, start!"

'Operation T-Tact Throbbing Heart!'

"Come on, Vanilla," Ranpha continued. "You say it too!"

"M-me?" Tact could almost imagine the blush now covering her face. "O-operation T-Tact Thro...throbbing Heart. Start..."

"Right! That's the spirit!" Ranpha certainly seemed fired up.

Meanwhile, Tact was backing away from the door and down the corridor. Operation Tact Throbbing Heart? Big guns? What was all this about? Suddenly, Tact felt a powerful, terrifying killing intent approach from behind. "Ta-ku-to..." At the sound of the low, growling voice, the blue-haired Transbaal officer felt chills go down his spine even as he turned.

"Le-Lester?"

Sure enough, it was his friend and subordinate standing behind him, his eyepiece seeming to glow with rage. "What," he asked in a frighteningly calm voice, "are you supposed to be doing?"

Tact waved his hands as if to ward off blows. "I-I finished all the approvals you told me to! They're all stamped!"

Lester smiled a terrible smile. "Yes, you stamped them all..." Then, he reached out and grabbed Tact before he could flee. "BUT YOU STAMPED MOST OF THEM ON THE WRONG SIDE!" He began shaking his supposed superior. "Now, we are going to sit in your room and go through them all again!"

Tact audibly gulped. "All?"

Lester's smile could've frozen suns. "All."

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Vanilla's head snapped up, causing Ranpha to look at her. "What's wrong, Vanilla?"

In response, Vanilla looked puzzled. "I thought..." she tilted her head as if trying to make sense of it. "I thought I heard Tact-san crying."

Author's notes: In the Japanese game, Tact is pronounced Ta-ku-to, which is probably why Takuto is the name used in the translated manga.