The Elsior was repeatedly barraged for days on end, and all hands were on high alert. Well, as high an alert can get on board the Elsior in Chrono Drive.
After all, the Hero of the Tranbaal Empire was in charge of their ship. If there was anything the crew learned from all their near-death experiences, it was that Tact Meyers usually finds a way to save the day, with the occasional help of Lost Technology and a lot of luck.
Unfortunately for Tact, sub-commander and all around worrywart Lester Cooldaras has yet to put his faith in luck. The two of them have been watching over the bridge for hours on end, and the dark-haired commander was clearly bored.
Bored and a tad bit distracted.
The overhead video console, ordinarily used for communication and information purposes, was relegated to a giant game of Space Tetris.
The sub-commander was hunched over a collection of star system maps, examining each one as if it held the secret to winning the war. Tact walked over to have a look and quickly lost interest. He made another stab at starting a conversation. Strategy making usually came to a halt anyway, whenever he was in a mood to annoy his poor friend.
"What do you think of her?"
"The new recruit? Simply put, she's a better soldier than you."
A small smile formed on Tact's face.
"She's cute too."
At that, Lester clenched his fist slowly and but decided against it. The sight of a bloodied leader would probably lower morale, and lessen their already microscopic chances of winning the war. A glare would suffice, for now.
"Oi, show some shame. You're the commander of the Elsior, remember?"
Before any real violence could occur, the doors opened with a whir. Coco walked in and promptly saluted the silver-haired adjutant, while Almo gave him a cup of coffee.
"We're ready for our shift!" said the two operators with remarkable enthusiasm.
'Sometimes I forget who the commander really is...'
Tact sighed and shook his head. Earning the respect of his crew was an uphill battle for him; Lester, on the other hand, won them over in a heartbeat. The giant game of Tetris on the console display did little to help his case. He turned it off and replaced the display with some random piece of information. Another thirty minutes of silence passed by. Soft snores started coming from the commander's chair. This time the irate sub-commander's fist had its way and a loud thud resonated as it made contact with its sleeping target.
"Go get some coffee!... Actually, stay out of the bridge for a while. You're useless here, anyway."
"Thanks, Lester!" The previously lethargic commander made an energetic dash for the door.
"You don't have to look so happy about it..."
Everyone on the bridge looked on in stunned silence. Lester stared at the monstrous amounts of unread intel and sighed in resignation. After all, it was much easier to read about a thousand automated pirate fleets than bolster the morale of six unpredictable women who also happen to hold the fate of the empire in their hands.
Upon entry of the lounge, Tact was assaulted with the delectable scents of fresh pastries and hot tea... as well as the voices of the Angel Troupe. They were seated in the furthest corner of the cafe, yet their laughter managed to fill the room. Before Tact could notice, he found his feet moving in their direction.
"Hi! You all here for a snack?"
Vanilla nodded politely at him while the rest of the girls were arguing about something. They eventually quieted down when they noticed that Tact was standing awkwardly beside an empty chair. He wanted to take a seat but he noticed there were only six chairs, and Chitose was missing from the group. They stared at him in amusement as he lifted a chair from the next table and set it beside the empty chair. Milfuelle offered him a brightly colored menu and some tea.
"They're having a special sale on pies! We were planning to share it with Chitose, but she left early."
"Oh. I see..." A slight frown lingered on Tact's previously bright smile.
Normally, their perpetually hungry commander would have perked up at the mention of a dessert sale. Ranpha took one look at the empty chair and the gears in her mind started whirring. She cocked an eyebrow and smirked at the the sullen commander. Something interesting was afoot, and judging by his demeanor it had something to do with their new comrade. Gentle prodding was in order.
"What's this? You sound disappointed."
Genuine surprise was evident in Tact's eyes... As well as the slightest tinge of red around his cheeks. He laughed loudly and focused all his attention to the menu in front of him.
"N-no! I'm just tired. Yeah, just tired..."
Mint decided to play along as well. With a subtle smile, she stared at Tact intensely. The rabbit-ears on her head started moving frantically, as if they were tuned to a strong frequency emanating from his brain.
"My, my. No wonder you're tired... Such thoughts keeping you up at night."
"... What thoughts?"
He stood up, but it was too late. Forte put her arm on his shoulder and pushed him back down. Knowing her, there should be a revolver stashed somewhere within the reaches of her overcoat, loaded and ready for action. He decided to stay still.
"The new recruit caught your eye, Mr. Commander?"
A sudden flash of green made him wince. Something that felt very similar to furry handcuffs latched on his arm. Vanilla's nanomachine pet seemed very pleased with itself. Vanilla herself, however, was as stoic as ever.
"Your pulse rate is increasing and your face is flushed. Do you feel ill, Tact?"
With the Angels gathered around him like tigers on fresh meat, a sudden surge of outrage surged within Tact's addled mind. He was the Tact Meyers, the man who defeated the Black Moon, and he was damned if he couldn't stand up to a couple of girls. Cute girls. Who also happened to be ace pilots. Of Emblem Frames. He was damned alright.
"I just wanted to welcome her aboard the Elsior! That's all."
"Yeah. That and a personal tour to the commander's room?" A very amused Forte gave Tact a wry smile. Making their young commander uncomfortable was rather fun.
"What? No! It's not like that at all!"
Try as he did, there was no stopping the increasingly embarrassing insinuations being tacked on him. In desperation, he ordered the largest and most impressive pie on the menu, which silenced his assailants for a few minutes. Unfortunately, the pie took too long to arrive and hunger and boredom made them resume their teasing. His increasingly futile attempts to control the situation was made even more pitiful by Milfuelle having to defend him.
In the background, steady footsteps echoed on the lounge. It was an odd hour to be taking a break in, as most of the crew were relegated to maintaining the engines during Chrono Drive. They all turned to see who the newcomer was. Tact blanched.
His eyes were greeted with the steady salute of none other than Chitose Karasuma.
"Commander Meyers! Good morning, sir."
"C-Chitose? Ah! Hello there!"
At that exact moment, the pie arrived. It was a monster of a pie, with a chocolate filling and whipped cream and icing on top. More cake than pie, actually. Not that anybody cared. Dessert was dessert, and Tact was thrilled to have an excuse to talk to the raven-haired girl outside of the battlefield. But before he could speak, Milfuelle grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the empty chair.
"Come on, eat with us! The pie looks delicious." As if to prove it, the rose-haired girl took a huge bite of the pie and expressed her bliss with an ecstatic squeal. Chitose nodded politely and tried not to gawk at the sight of her cherished idol shoving icing into her piehole like there was no tomorrow.
A moment of awkward silence filled the room, and before anyone could say anything, Chitose decided to take her leave.
"Pardon me, Commander Meyers. I have to resume patrol."
"R-right. Keep up the good work Chitose."
With a curt nod, the new ensign and walked away quickly, as if she were rushing to get somewhere. As soon as she was out of sight, Tact took a humongous slice from the cake-pie and promptly began stuffing himself. Upon seeing that half of the pie was gone and the disillusioned commander showed no intentions of stopping, Ranpha decided to wrestle the fork out of his hand. In the struggle, he landed face first into the pie. The blonde shook her head and handed him some paper towels.
"You have it pretty bad, don't you?"
"...I give up."
His response triggered in them a sort of amused pity. Mint offered him some tea and chuckled softly. Their brave commander was surprisingly clueless in the art of courtship, despite being constantly surrounded by women.
"Why don't you just talk to her?"
"Believe me, I've tried. I'm running out of excuses just to see her."
The Troupe suddenly began whispering among themselves. Tact didn't like the look in their eyes. Perhaps it was just imagination, but Mint's cheerful smile seemed to be hiding something... After a moment of what seemed like a unanimous agreement, Milfuelle clapped her hands in excitement. Ranpha shushed her with a glare and gave Tact a strained smile.
"That reminds me, the exercise equipment broke down last week."
"What does that have to do with me?"
"Meet me at the exercise room before lunch tomorrow."
"Why? I don't-"
"You want to get to know her better, right?"
"Yeah... I guess."
"What's with that half-assed enthusiasm? If you're really interested then you'll do anything for love."
'Did she really just say that?'
Her brown eyes watched his face carefully, as if she were waiting for him to make a false move. Tact quickly realized that all her agreements were non-negotiable anyway.
"...Fine. I'll be there."
The communicator on Tact's uniform suddenly lit up with an irritating beep. He pushed it slowly, knowing that an equally irritated voice lay on the other line.
"You better get back here in three minutes."
"The bridge is at least ten minutes away!"
"Two minutes. Or I'll cuff you to your chair." Lester sounded deadly serious.
"I'll be there in one."
There were more pressing matters to attend to at the moment, but as Tact ran to the bridge his thoughts drifted to a certain raven-haired pilot. The way her deep green eyes always regarded him with a guarded respect baffled him.
'Anything for love, huh.'
Ranpha's suspicious deal suddenly seemed a lot more ominous.
Back on the bridge, Almo and Coco shared a quick snack and quietly observed sub-commander Cooldaras from a distance. The previous exchange between the two soldiers planted some images into Coco's vivid imagination, and she was eager to share her ideas with her friend.
"Hey, do you think they've done that before?"
"What do you mean?"
"The handcuff punishment... I'd give anything to see that."
"Eeeh? I think your definition of punishment is a little-" Almo blushed in indignation. Her Lester would never do anything like that.
The doors opened and in came Tact, all sweaty from running all the way from the lounge.
They both watched as Lester tackled Tact and proceeded to bind his arm to the commander's chair. A violent struggle ensued, but the silver-haired man managed to overpower Tact with his larger size. They were both panting hard by the end of the capture, and Tact's uniform was slightly unbuttoned. The girls' eyes widened to the size of dinner plates.
"...What was that?"
Lester shrugged and smiled darkly at Tact.
"Hm? We used to do this all the time in the academy."
"A-all the time!..."
At that, Almo broke. She crumpled to the ground in defeat and ran away screaming things that sounded like general misandry.
Coco giggled and took furtive pictures of the two soldiers. She knew a couple of people who would pay to get their hands on something like this. Also, who ever said that couldn't save some pictures for herself?