“Ara, you seem to be using some fine tea leaves.”
“Glad you like it.”
Because Krishna didn’t have a proper guest reception area, us and Lieutenant Serena moved to the dining room instead. She was currently enjoying the tea Mimi brewed for her in an elegant manner.
The three of us sat opposite Lieutenant Serena in front of the dining table. I ended up in the middle of us three, and directly faced Lieutenant Serena. Mimi and Elma sandwiched me in between them.
“So, uh…… What’s brought you here, Lieutenant?”
She smiled sweetly at my question and placed the mug with the tea back on top of the table. Yep, the ship of us humble plebeians didn’t have any fancy stuff like teacups and saucers onboard.
“Fufu…… I came to invite you.”
I locked gazes with the still-smiling Lieutenant Serena as she declared her intentions. I bet both of our thoughts right now are completely in synch. Just how tenacious is this woman?
“I’m the type of woman who doesn’t let prey escape you know.”
Hiie…… Scary! Seeing her declare such a thing with a bright smile on her pretty face sent chills down my spine. Suddenly, both my arms were grabbed from the sides. I guess this is Elma and Mimi’s way of expressing their intent never to let me go… Only my right arm was experiencing a blissful feeling though. What about my left arm? Ah, mm, it’s not that hard, I guess?
“What a daring display.”
“Hey, this is rude to our guest, you two.”
After I called out to them, Mimi and Elma reluctantly let go of my arms. I actually would’ve liked to enjoy it a bit more, but it can’t be helped. Or rather, get a grip, girls. I’m sure Lieutenant Serena didn’t mean it in ‘that way’ when she said ‘prey’.
“Uhh, I’ve already refused you quite a few times, I think. I have absolutely no intention of signing up for the imperial military.”
“Yes, I’m aware. It’s truly unfortunate.”
Lieutenant Serena’s smile vanished, and her expression turned to that of sadness as she let out a forlorn sigh. It was a truly perfect performance. This person is unexpectedly quite the mischievous sort, ain’t she?
“I truly think it’s unfortunate, but I guess I just have to give up on that end. I can’t have the Mercenary Guild eyeing me for being too pushy after all. I want to keep an amicable relationship with the Mercenary Guild as much as possible.”
If that’s the case, then what the heck did this person come to us for? I’m not enlisting in the military. If she’s already acknowledged that, then why did she even find me? She even went as far as boarding the Krishna and declaring me as her ‘prey’.
“You aren’t thinking of flaunting your power as an imperial noble, are you?”
“I wouldn’t even think of it. If I ever did so, you probably wouldn’t hesitate to head to the Vereverem Federation, correct?”
My silence was enough of an answer. But honestly saying 『Yup, that’s right.』in this situation was bad, so I refrained. My discussion partner was an imperial soldier after all.
“Oh, by the way, I’ve already been promoted. The higher-ups regarded my performance during the Termaine Prime defensive campaign quite highly, you see. Here, my rank insignia has already changed, see? I’m now Major Serena Holz.”
“Congratulations on your promotion then.”
I gave an honest compliment to Lieutenant– no, Major Serena, who was pointing at the rank insignia on her shoulder with a smile as she reported her successful promotion. Did she come here just to report her promotion? Nah, that can’t be. I heightened my sense of caution towards her.
“One of the greatest contributors to my promotion was your impressive performance during the defensive campaign, Captain Hiro. The matter of crystal creatures suddenly attacking the enemy fleet was also quite the stroke of fortune, wouldn’t you say? I wonder what caused it though?”
“Hahaha, we were really lucky huh. We just managed to break through to the middle of the enemy fleet back then, so I also got quite the scare when it happened.”
I was inwardly sweating bullets. It should be okay. There shouldn’t be any evidence of me using the Singing Crystal to summon the crystal creatures in order to attack the Vereverem Federation fleet left. Calm down, me.
“Fufu, I see. Your timing was excellent then. Well, it’s not like we intend to pursue the matter anyway. Please be at ease.”
Major Serena smiled broadly. She displayed an expression that seemingly implied we owed her one. Dammit. I didn’t even plan to owe her anything in the first place. But if I didn’t do what I did back then, there’s no doubt the imperial fleet would have suffered a significantly greater amount of losses. In fact, I think they’re the ones who owe me.
“Hahaha. I actually have no idea what you’re talking about, but I’m glad my actions were of use to Major Serena.”
Mimi was visibly shaken by my and Major Serena’s exchange and ominous laughs. She was trembling all over.
This woman did lead me by the nose back then, but I’m not the kind of guy who falls for the same mistake twice. This time, my caution meter is already at MAX. I can’t have myself falling for this woman’s tricks again.
“How about we get down to business already, Major?”
“Of course. After my promotion, I was granted command of a new unit.”
“I suppose I should congratulate you then.”
“Yes. I also find it quite pleasing as well. The higher-ups finally granted my petition to form an independent anti-pirate mobile fleet and I was put in charge of it after all.”
“Independent anti-pirate fleet…?”
“Yes. The imperial military can roughly be divided into two main groups: a defense fleet stationed in various colonies and stellar garrisons of each system that are in charge of preventing foreign military incursions and maintaining security, and an interception fleet in charge of directly eliminating enemy forces.”
“The overall strength of the mobile defense fleets is quite substantial. However, in order to cover the entirety of the empire’s vast territories, it is inevitable for them to be scattered about, thus losing the edge in numbers. As a result, proactively attacking pirate fleets and space monsters prowling about carries with it a considerable amount of risk. Thus, they tend to prefer a passive approach most of the time. This is because there’s a danger of being unable to maintain the security and stability of the sectors they are assigned to if they ever mess up and incur unexpected losses. As such, as long as the threat level doesn’t reach a certain threshold, the imperial fleets are unable to proactively eliminate such dangerous elements.”
“I get that.”
If the imperial army ever incurs massive losses as a result of an extermination operation, news of them losing their ability to actively respond to threats would probably be swiftly passed down to the pirate groups in the immediate area, and they would most likely capitalize on the opportunity. Even if they did manage to suppress the information to some extent, the fleet would still need to be grounded temporarily for maintenance and repairs, so the military patrols would become less frequent, leading to a possible increase in rogue pirate activity.
If the worst-case scenario occurs and the entire fleet ended up virtually crippled, an increase in rogue pirate activity would be the least of their problems. It may even develop into a colony getting attacked.
“This is why the mobile defense fleet cannot be made to sortie without good reason. The imperial star fleet is the empire’s sharpest sword, as well as its strongest shield. Their operation and maintenance cost a considerable amount of money, and there’s an ever-present danger of neighboring nations taking advantage of the situation if we ever mobilized them without proper consideration.”
“In other words, the search-and-destroy capabilities of the imperial forces are lacking. So that’s why you rely on us mercenaries for that.”
“Exactly. This is why I proposed the formation of an independent anti-pirate fleet. It would allow the military to obtain a force capable of seeking out and destroying threats instead of overly relying on mercenary contractors to do the job for us.”
“Makes sense. But I still don’t get why Major Serena, who’s the commander of such a fleet, would bother to expressly visit my ship.”
In other words, the imperial space forces are preparing to build up their own forces that will serve as a kind of business rival to us humble mercs. That said, it would just be a matter of keeping away from the sectors the independent anti-pirate fleet is active in, cause they can’t possibly cover for the entirety of the empire anyway. To be honest, I can’t think of any other reaction except for ‘Okay. Good luck then.’. So I don’t get why the commander of such a fleet herself actually even bothered to pay us a visit.
Well, I came here in order to recruit you, actually.”
I gave her a disgruntled look. ‘I told you I don’t plan on joining the military already. Cut it out, lady!’
“If you refuse that vehemently, it actually gets me even more excite–Mmph! I’m sorry. Please pay that no heed. In other words, I’m here to make a request. And I need the cooperation of pirate hunting professionals such as you people.”
“A request, is it?”
Well, if she’ll put in a request through the Mercenary Guild, I guess I can consider taking it depending on the particulars. I think I heard some rather disturbing words earlier though. Let’s just ignore them for now. I’m not an idiot who would proactively step on such a land mine.
“Can you run me through the specifics?”
“We, of the imperial space forces, have enough know-how when it comes to attacking enemy fleets and assaulting enemy bases. Conversely, we lack the necessary knowledge and experience when it comes to tracking down pirate groups that stay under the radar and only surface to attack civilian ships.”
“I get that.”
The standard tactics they’re used to don’t match the types of foes they would be hunting down in the first place. Any unlucky pirate who manages to encounter the imperial fleets would be turned into space debris within seconds, but most pirates aren’t that stupid. If they notice that the imperial forces are closing in, chances are they’ll immediately escape and go into hiding again.
“And so, I wish to get the cooperation of pirate-hunting professionals such as yourselves in order for us to acquire the necessary know-how.”
“I see. I understand what you’re getting at.”
Major Serena’s eyes shined in anticipation.
“I’m afraid I’d have to refuse.”
And her smiling expression froze up at my reply.
“M- May I know why……?”
“Well, it’s not like this request has to be taken up by me specifically, right? Rather, I think it would be better for you to take this request directly to the Mercenary Guild and learn the required know-how from them, correct? Instead of someone with a suspicious background such as me, they would be able to provide you with a more appropriate instructor for your needs.”
I said all that, but the biggest reason is that I find it really troublesome. I haven’t heard of the compensation amount yet, but it would probably not exceed the amount we can normally earn by hunting down pirates by ourselves. And no matter how you think about it, the contract period would probably take a fair bit of time to fulfill. The rewards aren’t worth it and we would be detained for a long period of time. There’s nothing but demerits as far as I’m concerned.
“But I want us to learn from you.”
“Why are you so obstinate?”
Major Serena cutely puffed up her cheeks. Un, she’s definitely a first-rate beauty, even with that kind of cutesy act. But my reason for refusing is simple and reasonable.
It’s because you really seem like a woman who would invite a whole boatload of trouble if I ever got involved with you further! I mean, just look at you!
But I can’t exactly say that to her face, so I just screamed that in my head. She’s an imperial noble after all. I’m not that familiar with imperial laws, but I don’t want to risk breaking them by insulting a member of the nobility.
“It’s mainly because I can’t expect that much compensation and we would be under contract for a prolonged period. Why are you so fixated on me in the first place?”
“It’s because you possess both bold ideas and the courage and skills to execute them. Out of all those mercenaries, only you were able to propose a plan, which seemed reckless at first glance. However, you managed to pull it off and delivered impressive results.”
To think I’d get praised for that kind of reckless stunt. It kinda feels awkward.
“And there’s the part with the crystal creatures. You used Singing Crystal for that, didn’t you? Ah, you don’t have to answer that. There’s no evidence anyway. If it’s someone like you, who’s able to employ such bold and ruthless methods without a shred of hesitation, I’m sure we will be able to obtain the means to make full use of the imperial star fleet’s power in order to crush and obliterate those dirty pirate scum. That’s what I think anyway. That’s why I want your help. I actually want to have you as my subordinate, but you find that disagreeable, don’t you?”
I blurted out my second ‘I refuse’ for the day. But this person doesn’t seem like she’ll give up anytime soon. Isn’t her mentality too strong?
“I will give up on having you as my subordinate – for now, anyway. In return, I want your cooperation. If you think that the compensation offered by the military isn’t enough, I am prepared to pay you with my personal funds if need be. I’m the daughter of a Marquis house after all. And I’m also a senior imperial officer. I believe you will find my connections to be useful in the future.”
Major Serena smiles confidently at us once again. I turned my gaze toward Mimi, who shook her head, as if to say she can’t make a decision about the matter. I then turned toward Elma, who whispered a reply.
“I think refusing an imperial noble who has already gone to such lengths would actually result to even more troublesome things in the future.”
In other words, she’s suggesting I accept. I honestly don’t feel like it though. I don’t feel like it, but I guess what Elma’s saying does make sense. There’s definitely a chance of inviting even more trouble if I continued to stubbornly refuse, given the circumstances. The Major has already sent me countless love calls in the past after all. And now she’s even come to the ship to visit me personally. She didn’t even inform me beforehand. Most likely, it’s in order to heighten the chance of successfully getting a hold of me. I’m honestly not one bit happy about it at all.
“Let me propose some conditions then. Make sure to run the contract properly with the Guild. I believe they have guidelines for designated requests like this.”
“Let’s set the contract period to thirty days. You’ll be treated as a senior officer directly below the rank of major for its duration. In other words, within the independent fleet, the only one who would outrank you is me alone.”
“I would like to avoid being gradually incorporated into the imperial military, so please limit the total working hours to about ten hours each day. I’ll be sure to put in the required hours no matter what happens.”
“Tsk…… That’s fine then.”
This lady just clicked her tongue, didn’t she? Just what was she planning on doing? Scary!
“Also, the know-how I’ll be imparting will primarily be tailored for mercenary work. It’s geared toward engaging and hunting down pirates with a single ship. Of course, I’ll try my best to fulfill the contents of the contract, but I can’t guarantee to be able to make full use of the advantages of the independent mobile fleet.”
“Yes, of course. That’s understandable. But it all boils down to us being able to take in and absorb your knowledge well. Our imperial soldiers are excellent, so you need not worry on that front.”
Major Serena confidently answered while still smiling. She mostly succeeded in roping me in, so I guess her mood’s better now.
“Next would be the compensation amount… How much would be the appropriate amount, Elma?”
“That’s a bit hard to say. There’s no precedent for mercenaries being contracted to serve as military instructors after all. But, based on the rate for long term escort missions, 30,000 to 50,000 Enels would be the standard amount.
“It’s not a life-threatening escort mission, so can’t you bring down the price a little? And that rate is actually geared toward an escort fleet instead of a single ship, correct?”
Major Serena swiftly objected to the price proposed by Elma. She’s quite shrewd, ain’t she? She probably did some research before coming here already. You really can’t let your guard down against this lady.
“But Hiro normally makes 200,000 Enels per day hunting pirates you know? Having our income for one month go down to a fourth of the usual amount doesn’t seem worth the trouble. Us mercenaries don’t run charities, so we won’t work if there isn’t enough profits for us. It’s just common sense.”
Elma shrugged as she launched a sharp response to Major Serena’s objection. Honestly, we won’t really be able to make 200,000 Enels a day normally, so we can’t possibly earn 6,000,000 Enels in a month because we still need to take occasional breaks.
On the other hand, we also wouldn’t be able to take up any other requests during the contract period, so we’d still be making a loss if some high-paying ones did appear while we were under contract.
“Mmrrgh…… How about 40,000 Enels per day……”
“It should be at least 60,000 Enels. 40,000 isn’t nearly enough.”
“Let’s settle for 50,000 then. How about it?”
Elma turned her gaze toward me. I shrugged my shoulders as if to say I’m leaving the decision to her.
“That’s fine then. Do you have anything to add, Hiro?”
“If you don’t understand the overall performance of your ships, you won’t be able to put up effective maneuvers. I’d like to get the data for the overall specs and armaments of the fleet’s ships if possible. It’s also necessary to test them via simulator as well.”
“We’ll at least send you the non-classified data. We will send the simulator data to the Mercenary Guild directly.”
“That’s it then. Please send the particulars to the Mercenary Guild as well.”
I and Major Serena nodded at Elma’s words.
And thus, we were contracted to serve as official instructors to the Graccan Imperial Space Force’s independent anti-pirate mobile fleet for thirty days.