158 – It Ain’t My Fault!
Editor: Thor’s Stone
After we had our dinner with the officers, it was decided that we go on a scouting patrol around the star system after a short breather and resupplying. Since ours was a small combat ship, it was pretty suited for scouting duty, or so I was told. Well, it was quite an easy job because I only needed to pilot the ship around the star system while Mimi and Elma monitor the radar. It wasn’t required to constantly monitor the radar either. We just need to set an alarm to ring out whenever the radar detects signs of crystal lifeforms.
“It’s pretty tranquil out there, isn’t it…?”
“It’ll be another hellish battle once a crystal lifeform swarm appears though.”
“Uu…… That certainly won’t be tranquil anymore.”
I piloted the ship while listening to Mimi and Elma’s chatter. Well, it wasn’t just us out on patrol though. A good number of other mercenary ships and small military scout ships were sent out earlier as well.
“Just take this as another break. There are already a lot of starships out on patrol, but we haven’t found any signs of crystal lifeforms yet after all.”
“Hiro…… Why do you always say things like that at times like this?”
“Hiro-sama…… I don’t know if it’s a good idea to keep setting up flags like this.”
“Hey!? Don’t say things like that! At this rate, we really are gonna encounter trouble.”
Uh, I admit there were already several times in the past when we encountered trouble after bantering like this… But it can’t possibly always turn out that way every damn time, right? In the first place, Krishna’s sensors weren’t geared for scouting, so we probably won’t be able to pick up anything if the specialized military scout ships weren’t able to.
“I’m almost convinced enemies would pop out all of a sudden after Hiro says things like that.”
“Hahaha, c’mon. Stop joking, you two.”
“But from our experiences so far–”
The alarm suddenly rang out before Mimi could finish. All of us tensed up greatly. Phew. It wasn’t an emergency alarm. We were just being contacted via comms.
“Uh…… I wasn’t worried, okay. Don’t look at me like that!”
“Yeah, fine. Just answer it already.”
I turned to face my control console and pulled away from Elma’s critical gaze. May’s image then popped up from the cockpit’s main monitor.
『Master, Imperial scout ships confirmed that they’d picked up warp out signals within the system. Orders have been sent from command. All allied ships in the star system are to gather at the designated coordinates as soon as possible. I will send the coordinates to you now. Please confirm.』
“Black Lotus is also ordered to go, right?”
『Yes, we will move in concert with the Imperial Fleet. We will meet up with you over there.』
“Roger. We’ll see you later then.”
May made an elegant bow on the other side of the screen and disconnected the call.
“……Hey, this ship wasn’t the one that found them first, so it’s all good. I’m safe.”
“It’s an out, I think. Timing-wise, that is.”
Don’t you think my ship’s crew members are a little too harsh to their poor captain?
The gathering point was on the other side of the star at the center of the star system, so most of the allied ships have already gathered the moment we got there.
“It looks like they’re gonna unleash a full-on barrage the moment the enemies warp out huh.”
“We managed to detect them early after all.”
Our mixed fleet’s battleships, heavy cruisers, and other combat ships capable of long-range bombardment like our own Black Lotus already had their sights firmly fixed on the estimated warp out coordinates. Just as I said, they were fully intent on unleashing a full power barrage on the enemy crystal lifeforms once they warp out.
“Where’s our position?”
“Right behind the destroyers in the vanguard. Depending on the situation, we may end up engaging the enemies in a dogfight after the bombardment lets up.”
“So we’re jumping in the middle of a crystal lifeform swarm again……”
I’d jump in right away if I manage to see an exploitable gap later, but I don’t plan on getting overwhelmed by the enemy’s numbers. There’s a great risk of getting swarmed from all directions after all. It might look like I’m rushing in without a care, but I have to instantly assess the risks and act accordingly whenever I do stunts like that. It’s definitely not recommended for amateurs.
“What’s the estimated enemy warp out time?”
“Less than two minutes and thirty seconds from now.”
“Soon, huh. Activate weapon systems. Start the routine system check.”
“Aye, aye, sir. Performing routine check.”
I activated the weapon systems and Elma started checking out the main and sub-systems. We managed to finish our maintenance and resupply earlier, so there should be no problems, but we should still do a check just in case.
The warp out time dwindled gradually as we did so.
『All ships, prepare for a focused barrage. Barrage coordinates– Stop!! Barrage canceled!』
Colonel Broadwell’s flustered orders rang out from the comms. I wondered what was going on, and the ‘enemies’ finally warped out. What came out was a battered medium-sized combat ship with several parts of its hull already crystallized. It was probably a mercenary ship.
After that, more ships with eroded hulls warped out one after another. Most of them were mercenary ships at first. But many more military scout ships warped out after them. They appeared even more battered and eroded compared to the mercenary ships.
『Continue gathering information via scout ships. The Fleet is to retreat back toward the system’s star and regroup. All ships, change course!』
According to Colonel Broadwell’s command, the allied fleet reversed their heading and retreated back to the central star in order to regroup.
“The ones that appeared are the 3rd and 4th Recon Fleets, right?”
“Yeah. They probably lost to the crystal lifeforms and ran away.”
“It looks like they escaped without putting up much of a fight.”
Their numbers are obviously reduced by a lot compared to when we sortied from the base.
The star systems around here are all unexplored, but the hyperlane nodes can be grasped to some extent by using observation tech like sub-space radars. The survivors of the 3rd and 4th Recon Fleets might have escaped to the star system we’re currently investigating based on the data gathered from their radars.
“What will happen after this, Hiro-sama?”
“Let’s see… The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Recon Fleets were roughly equal in strength and numbers at the start, so if the 3rd and 4th Fleets suffered that much damage, there’s an option to retreat back to the Izrooks system to regroup and reorganize first. After that, we’d rush back to the system where the 3rd and 4th Fleets got defeated and attack it with all our strength. Or maybe–”
“They can choose to fully withdraw and leave it as is. If there isn’t much of a guarantee that they can eliminate the enemies, it would be better to fortify the defenses of the Izrooks base instead of expending all their strength in an uncertain battle.”
Elma shrugged her shoulders and finished my words.
“Eh…… Is that allowed?”
Mimi wrinkled her brows after hearing Elma’s words. She’s a genuine citizen of the Graccan Empire after all. She should have a level of distrust for the government due to her experience of being abandoned without getting any form of help from the local administration when she was in trouble, but she still held some respect for the Imperial Military that protects the subjects of the Empire. Well, she’s also met Lieutenant Commander Serena several times now, so she might have warmed up to them due to that.
“The level of damage is quite severe after all…… The 1st and 2nd Fleets are mostly intact, but a lot of losses have been incurred by the 3rd and 4th Fleets. They have almost been annihilated. By my estimate, only thirty percent made it out and seventy percent had already fallen.”
“It looks like it. It wouldn’t have been strange if they all fell.”
Looking at their present state, I suppose they didn’t even attempt a counterattack. I feel like they immediately turned tail and ran away the moment they got swarmed.
“Um, so this mission is over?’
“We’ll probably retreat to the Izrooks system first…… We can’t continue the scouting mission like this after all. Those beat-up chaps are gonna hand in the relevant data anyway.”
Subsequent responses are up to the Imperial Military. There’s still some remaining time on the contract period, but they probably don’t want to incur any more costs by continuing to hire mercenaries like us at expensive prices without getting anything in return. They would probably terminate the contract early, and we’ll be free to go.
“That depends on whether or not they decide to mount a retaliatory counterattack after we return.”
“Hahaha…… If that happens, I bet we’ll get assigned to the main attack fleet.”
Krishna made a big splash against the crystal lifeforms and achieved more than stellar results. Even Black Lotus is playing a big role as both a gunboat and a supply ship. We also have excellent pro mechanics onboard coupled with complete maintenance facilities and equipment. Well, there’s no reason to refuse if they’re willing to pay. There’s a lot of time left on the contract period after all.
“……It would be nice if the mission gets canceled.”
That would really be nice. Hahaha.