Editor: Thor’s Stone
I woke up due to the feeling of someone poking me on the cheek.
I looked up at the familiar ceiling while still feeling half-asleep. The room’s lighting was dim and easy on the eyes.
I moved my neck to try and get away from the finger poking my cheek, but it was in vain. The devilish finger still continued to poke my cheek.
I guess I have no choice. I gave up and opened my eyes completely to see who the offender was.
The culprit was Elma. She peered at my face with a grin resembling that of the Cheshire Cat’s.
“Oh, nothing. I was just thinking about how innocent your sleeping face actually looks, Hiro. It was so cute.”
“Now look here……”
Well, I sure as heck don’t have a face resembling a damn boulder or something, but I don’t really think I’m anything close to being baby-faced. Oh, didn’t they say something about Asians looking younger than their age from the perspective of Westerners back on Earth? Maybe I looked younger than my actual age in Elma’s eyes.
“Well, I guess I’m still just a brat compared to Elma-oneechan.”
I retorted sarcastically as I got up from the bed with a yawn. No matter how you looked at her, she only seemed to be in her early twenties. Heck, she could probably pass off as a teenager even. But, as evidenced by her long and pointed ears, Elma was an elf. Contrary to her young appearance, she was actually twice as old as me. I’m not sure what her exact age is though.
In her eyes, perhaps someone who hasn’t even reached his thirties like me was still just a young brat.
I turned my gaze toward Elma who suddenly got all quiet and found her displaying a surprised expression that was strangely frozen in place. What’s up with her? Was there something that made her all stiff like this?
“I-It’s nothing. Yeah, nothing. C’mon. Hurry and get up already.”
Elma, whose face turned bright red, hurriedly turned away and quickly left the room. Since it was so sudden, the moment I reacted, I was only able to get a glimpse of her retreating back.
“……What the heck?”
Seriously. What the heck was that all about?
“Boss, did you have a fight with Elma or something?”
A lady who looked like a young girl with bright red hair prodded me from across the table. She wasn’t really as young as she looked. In fact, she was actually the same age as me.
“No. I haven’t really done anything to upset her, I think……”
I took a quick shower after getting up and proceeded to have breakfast in the dining area of the break room. I was just doing my usual routine, but for some reason, Elma kept avoiding me. As soon as she catches sight of me, she would either hide quickly or leave the room.
“It was Elma-san’s turn to wake big brother up today, right? Did something happen when she did so?”
A blue-haired lady whose face looked similar to the red-haired lady inquired. She was the red-haired lady’s twin sister. They were actually not humans, but dwarves. The women of their race all looked like young girls even as adults. Even though they looked delicate, they were physically much stronger than an adult human male, so if you hit on them thinking that they were powerless to resist, you’d get another thing coming.
“No, I don’t think I did anything that would make her angry back then. …Well, she did keep poking my cheek and said my sleeping face was cute, so I acted like a kid and called her Elma-oneechan. That’s all I did.”
“It certainly doesn’t seem like something worth being angry about, right?”
Well, it did involve age so I suppose that’s something that might get on the nerves of some people. But in the first place, Elma wasn’t the type to get angry if you mention her age. The twin sisters in front of me haven’t spent as much time with Elma as I have, but I could tell that much since we’ve been together for a while.
“Right! Wasn’t Elma the youngest child in her family?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
Elma had an elder brother and an elder sister. She was actually the youngest daughter.
After hearing her twin elder sister Tina’s words, the little sister Whisker hit her palm with a fist as if in realization.
“Wasn’t she simply surprised because you suddenly called her Elma-oneechan?”
“Eh…… That’s a thing?”
It was something hard for me to relate to. In other words, she was hit by the so-called gap moe effect? Elma was? And I caused it? Really?
“Well, she’ll probably get back to normal after a while. In any case, we’re about to arrive, right, Boss?”
“Yeah. We should be arriving soon.”
The mother star system of the elves, the Refill system, was just around the corner.
“Good morning, you two.”
“Good morning, Hiro-sama!”
“Good morning, Master.”
When I entered the cockpit of our mothership, Black Lotus, I found two women already inside. Both of them greeted me back in turn.
The girl with light-brown hair who called me Hiro-sama was Mimi.
I saved her from a dangerous situation while wandering around a colony a while back, and after some twists and turns, she became a part of my crew. At first, she was a total amateur. But she gradually increased her skills, and now, she not only served as a first-class ship operator but also handled everything related to supplies and trading with our mothership, Black Lotus. She was now an invaluable part of our crew.
In fact, she was actually an emperor’s grand-niece. In other words, she was the granddaughter of the emperor’s younger sister. She could have managed to join the imperial family but said that she would rather be just a regular colony citizen from Termaine Prime instead. And now, she’s still with us.
The name of the jet-black-haired beautiful lady who called me ‘Master’ was Mei. She looked like a regular human at first glance, but she’s actually a maidroid – in other words, a maid robot.
She was generously customized with high-end parts, and she boasted exceptional performance as a maidroid. She not only worked as a maid but also a starship pilot, combat specialist, among other things. She was my ideal vision of ‘the ultimate maid’ given form. She also served as my mentor in swordsmanship. She was a strict mentor whose training policy was the embodiment of the saying『No pain, no gain.』
“We will be arriving in the Refill system soon. The estimated time of arrival is twenty-two minutes from now.”
“Gotcha. Once we arrive in the Refill system, we’ll sortie with Krishna first to facilitate quick response to possible emergencies before heading together to Refill Prime colony with the Lotus.”
Mei nodded and accepted my instructions without any qualms. On the other hand, Mimi tilted her head curiously.
“Wouldn’t we still be able to perform a quick emergency sortie in case something happens even if we stayed inside the Lotus?”
“Yeah, we could. But that’s assuming nothing really serious happens……”
“Ah…… I see.”
The light disappeared from Mimi’s eyes as she showed signs of resigning herself to fate. I was probably making the same expression.
“Judging from the usual patterns we find ourselves in most of the time, it’s very possible that we’ll encounter some sort of trouble along the way. So we’ll get into formation first so we can flexibly deal with anything that might come our way. I see. It’s a very rational plan.”
Mei concluded things on her own. Or rather, an advanced AI like Mei actually confirmed there really was a regular pattern after all. Ain’t that kinda bad?
“Anyway, that’s how it is. Sorry, but I’ll have to leave the Lotus to you again, Mei. Head on over to Krishna to prep for launch, Mimi.”
“Please leave it to me, Master.”
I nodded back to the two of them and headed out of the cockpit along with Mimi.
“So that’s why Elma’s acting a little bit weird.”
“Un? So something like that happened?”
I continued discussing with Mimi until we got to Krishna’s cockpit and found Elma already standing by inside it. I did send her data terminal a message earlier so I suppose she immediately headed for the cockpit as soon as she saw it. The Black Lotus’ cockpit was located near the center of the ship, so it was a bit far from the hangar that Krishna was parked in.
“I’ve finished the systems check. I’m now running the ship’s diagnostic program.”
“Thank you. I’m glad you’re back to your usual self now.”
“It was nothing, okay. Just forget it.”
Apparently, Elma didn’t want to talk further about her strange behavior in the morning. Well, maybe letting things slide here is an instance of what you’d call a warrior’s compassion huh. I’m no warrior though.
“The ship’s perfect. She’s practically like she’s brand new.”
She muttered the result she got from the diagnostics program. Afterward, Tina and Whisker appeared on the cockpit’s main screen.
『Well of course she is. We’re very thorough y’know?』
Tina placed her hands on her hips and puffed out her meager chest on the other side of the screen. The dwarf sisters Tina and Whisker were both excellent starship engineers. However, they’re not official crew members of Krishna and Black Lotus but were instead sent to us by the company they’re working for, Space Dwerg, along with my purchase of the Lotus from them… But they’ve recently become quite familiar with life on the ships. Isn’t it about time for the two of them to resign from Space Dwerg and become official crew members already? That’s what I think anyway.
“I guess we have to take our hats off to you guys huh. By the way, have you guys prepared your hearts yet?”
『『Prepared our hearts?』』
“We’ll be staying around the Refill system for a while, so we might use the ship to bait pirates again.”
After hearing my words, the two exchanged looks, nodded to each other, and took out a spanner and wrench from who knows where.
『Please do it in moderation, okay?』
『Don’t go overboard, okay, Boss?』
I succumbed to their not-so-subtle persuasion. Well, even though I spoke surrender, I don’t plan on holding back though. Even if they weren’t official crew members, I still want them to focus their effort on working as long as they’re still tagging along with us. And then we’ll make more money together. Perfect, ain’t it?
 TL Notes: Gap Moe is when a character does something completely contradictory to what their usual habits/personality/character/appearance dictates. For example, a super serious and super strict character suddenly acting like an innocent maiden. Or in this case, Hiro acting like a younger boy. It triggered Elma’s inner shotacon XD