"Twenty minutes before the launch. All crew standby for direct contact."
Lester Cooldaras stood on the center of the bridge. Combat was about to start, and their plans were about to come to fruition. It was time to let the commander give the orders that would win the war. But before those orders, some detailed briefings on the attack formations should prove useful in the battle. He turned to his left, and found the commander's chair empty. A quick glance around the bridge confirmed Tact's absence.
An unpleasant feeling started sinking in the pits of his stomach. Here they were, disorganized and leaderless, in front of a Val-Fasc fleet bristling with more warships than they could count. The fact that Tact purposely stood on his blind side to get away did little to amuse him.
The hangar was crawling with engineers giving last minute tweaks and fixes to the Emblem Frames. Within minutes, Tact Meyers found himself lost in the crowd of people rushing around him. A couple of engineers gave him odd looks; too busy to bother asking why the hell was he down in the hangar instead of being on the bridge, where he should be, giving orders. He did want to get back to the bridge as fast as possible, but there was something that he had to do before the first missile was fired. The large piles of scattered equipment were not helping at all; time was running out.
In desperation, Tact strained his eyes for any hint of the Emblem Frames, particularly the red ship that everybody else called the Kung-Fu Fighter. Luck must have been on his side on this particular day; its iron claws were undergoing some sort of maintenance check. A familiar redhead stood nearby, monitoring the process. Someone was talking to her, but he couldn't see too well. A few steps forward revealed that it was Ranpha. The two pilots were clearly worried, Ranpha even more so. Gone was the reckless enthusiasm she always had.
They were a mere five feet away, but Tact was found himself unable to take a step closer. He ran all the way here, hoping to be able to say something, a rousing speech perhaps... or at least make them smile. Now that he was right in front all the laser rifles and warheads, he felt weak.
Dozens of questions plagued his mind; questions that never bothered him before. Suddenly all their previous victories seemed so painfully small. Could they rely on him? They got this far in no small part to his commands, but did he have what it takes to protect the empire? To command them to victory and safety? To make sure that they could all survive to see the peace they all fought so hard for?
The questions piled up until a blank darkness strangled Tact's mind. One last thought pushed itself out.
Was he enough to make her happy?
It brought him back to his senses. Gradually, the distinct buzz of chrono string engines drowned out the darkness in his mind. Tact knew that he had to move. It was now or never.
It felt like an eternity, waiting for the right moment. A sudden buzz signaled that there were seven minutes left before the launch. With a deep breath, Tact steadied himself and made his way towards the two pilots.
Forte saw him first. She smiled and walked away quickly. Ranpha opened her mouth as if she had something to say, but no words came out.
For a moment, her eyes seemed distant, as if focused on something that only she could see. Tact looked into her eyes. He wanted to bridge the intangible distance that separated the both of them, even as they stood inches apart.
He reached out to grab her hand. She gasped in surprise, but stayed still. Her cheeks were starting to take on a reddish hue; Tact felt his face grow warm as well. For all her strength, Ranpha looked surprisingly delicate. But then she shook her head and all her embarrassment turned into anger.
"T-tact, you idiot! What are you doing here! The enemies are-"
Tact shut her up with a kiss... which worked surprisingly well. No roundhouse kicks or surprise chokeholds ensued.
"I believe in you."
Then he ran back to the bridge with the biggest smile plastered on his face. They were going to win.
Not because the enemies were at a disadvantage. Not because the Chrono Break Cannon was on the Elsior. Not because the entire Transbaal Navy was ready to back them up.
They were going to win because he had to see her smile again.
And Tact believed that she felt the same way he did.