161 – Commencing Operation in……
Editor: Thor’s Stone
It’s been two days since that call with Lieutenant Commander Serena. The planned counteroffensive against the crystal lifeforms by the Imperial Military garrison stationed within the Izrooks system has been finalized, and all mercenaries who would participate have received orders to prep for the start of the operation in 24 hours. Most of the mercenaries responded positively and were relieved to finally escape the monotony and boredom after remaining on standby for an extended period of time.
Surprisingly, there wasn’t even one mercenary who broke the contract and opted out of the operation. I was expecting at least a number of them to hesitate and retreat for fear of losing their lives, but my expectations were splendidly betrayed.
“If they tucked their tails and ran away in this situation, I’m sure they’ll have a harder time landing successful contracts in the future. Instead of paying a hefty fee and running away miserably, most of them are probably thinking of participating in the operation in a half-baked manner while prioritizing their safety above anything else. If they manage to pick a winning ticket, they’ll just have to come forward to get a share of the spoils.”
“Hmm…… So that means we’re gonna stand out again huh.”
Elma’s expression seemed to exclaim ‘Just what is this guy saying?’ or something like that.
“I meant that if the rest of the mercenaries will more or less hold back, later on, we’re probably gonna stick out like a sore thumb. It’s inevitable, really.”
I have absolutely no intention of holding back like the rest of them, so that would be the most probable outcome. Or rather, if the small, high-mobility ships refuse to come forward to lure away the Guardian Crystals, it would be the medium and large-sized ships that would take the brunt of their attacks, and may suffer considerable losses as a result. Once that happens, our chances of winning would be lowered drastically, and the smaller ships might get trapped in the middle of enemy lines as a consequence.
“That’s why I’m sorry, but I’m gonna have to step up to the plate this time.”
“It’s okay. I trust Hiro-sama.”
“I’ll leave it to your judgment. You aren’t the kind of guy who opts to die in vain, right?”
I don’t have a hobby of getting shot down after all. Reckless assaults and self-sacrifice aren’t worth a damn. I’ll just do my job properly as long as I can keep myself from dying.
The role of small, fast combat craft in raid battles against crystal lifeforms is basically acting as evasion tanks. They have to aggro the enemies in order to prevent them from going after the medium and large ships in the backline who are in charge of DPS duties. The risk was relatively high, but I’m long used to the job. I’ll just have to be careful not to be cornered and crushed by the enemy’s numbers, keep an eye on the battlefield situation, unleash hell, and then run away at full speed afterward.
You’d be fine even if your weapon loadout was mostly comprised of peashooters as long as you had a sufficiently fast and mobile ship, so these types of raid events are actually very suited to noobs in SOL. Of course, most noobs would still rush right into a bad position and end up getting destroyed though.
“It looks like the Black Lotus’s hangar bays are finally free. Shall we go back?”
“Yeah, okay. It would be best to get Krishna serviced properly before we launch out.”
“I wonder how Tina-chan and Whisker-chan are doing? May-san should be fine as usual though.”
“Welcome back, everyone.”
“Y-Yeah, we’re back……”
The mechanic sisters, Tina and Whisker both welcomed us when we came back to the Black Lotus, but they looked pretty… terrible.
“Did you guys actually get any sleep?”
“We did. We took a quick nap whenever it was okay to leave the job to the maintenance bots.”
“There are some quick intervals between jobs where we don’t have to directly manage them ourselves.”
They were saying such things with powerless smiles on their faces while sporting heavy eyebags beneath their eyes. Judging from their current state, they must have not gotten much sleep at all. Their faces and work overalls were stained with oil and other substances I couldn’t quite recognize.
“This is bad. Hey guys, let’s throw them into the bathroom to wash them up and then put them to sleep. Help me out here.”
After hearing Mimi and Elma’s reply, I carried both sisters one under each arm and took them toward the living area with Mimi and Elma in tow.
“Wait up? Don’t we still have to do maintenance on Krishna?”
“Leave that for later. We still have 24 hours before we sortie and it would take another 60 hours to get to our target destination. We have plenty of time for that left.”
“U-Um, we haven’t had a shower for days, so we probably smell b-ba…… auu.”
I shot Tina down quickly when she tried to propose working more, and I hugged Whisker tighter in order to prevent her mind from wandering as she flailed in my arm.
By the way, they didn’t really smell bad contrary to what Whisker claimed. Instead of body odor, they both smelled of oil and other stuff. I might be able to smell their body odor if I opened up their work overalls and pressed my face on their chests or something, but I have no intention of ever performing such a high-level perverted act. No way, no how.
When we arrived at the bathroom, I threw both of them inside the shower room and told Mimi and Elma to help them wash up and put them to sleep afterward. I then headed for the cockpit.
“Welcome back, Master.”
“Yeah, I’m ba– Whoah!?”
As soon as I entered the cockpit, May rushed over with tremendous speed and gave me a tight hug. Her chest assets were really soft and felt absolutely great. May didn’t hug me all that tightly, but I still felt I wouldn’t be able to squeeze out of her embrace if I tried. Just how does she do it, I wonder.
“It’s been about 149 hours since I saw you last, Master. Just a little bit more.”
I guess I should just let her hug me. Or rather, I’ll hug her back as well. May finally released me after five minutes of affectionate hugging.
“That was a blissful few moments. Thank you, Master.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it then. But anyway, what happened to you?”
“Is there something wrong with my actions?”
May tilted her head with her usual deadpan expression as if she was wondering what I was confused about.
“No, uh, I was just surprised by the sudden skinship.”
“Master, to put it simply, I was just feeling lonely.”
May was a machine, but she also sported intelligence and feelings as an advanced AI android. So when she was placed in a situation in which she couldn’t meet her Master for a long time, she became lonely and stressed, and needed physical contact with me in order to relieve those feelings. Is that it?
“Understood. I’ll try my best not to let a situation like this happen again.”
“Thank you, Master.”
“……What the heck are you doing?”
“I’m listening to the report about the time we weren’t in the Black Lotus.”
“In that position?”
“Is there a problem?”
Ten minutes after I met up with her, May and I moved to the break room together and she gave me a lap pillow as we made ourselves comfortable on the sofa. She was affectionately stroking my head as she gave me a report about the six days we were absent from Black Lotus. Elma and Mimi just came back from taking care of the mechanic sisters but looked at me with conflicted expressions when they witnessed my current situation. But caring for the crew’s psychological and emotional states was also part of a captain’s duties, so I wasn’t doing anything to feel guilty about. Probably.
“I know what you guys are trying to say, but can you just let me off this time? There’s a really good reason for this.”
“I don’t get it, but okay.”
“Well, I don’t really care though……”
Mimi sat down next to May while Elma sat a little distance away. May continued giving her report.
“We haven’t encountered any particular troublesome incidents these past six days. Some of the mercenaries were surprised about the amenities present inside the ship and tried to inquire about details regarding them. A few of them had somewhat crude manners, so I proceeded to pacify them by using earnest persuasion.”
“Earnest persuasion, huh.”
It wasn’t just me. I bet Mimi and Elma were also thinking the persuasion method in question was more of a ‘physical’ kind. Judging from their expressions, I shouldn’t be wrong. Let’s just pray that the ‘persuaded’ mercenaries didn’t acquire lasting trauma against the existence known as a ‘maid’.
I ended up accompanying May all day today. Yep, all day. Forgive me for not elaborating guys, but you know what I’m getting at, right?
I managed to wake up four hours before the operation starts. I was inside a room in the Black Lotus. I don’t see May anywhere, so she’s probably already in the cockpit or dining hall. In the end, it looks like I’ve successfully managed to alleviate May’s stress. I have to be more careful not to let stuff like this happen again. I mean, seriously.
I really can’t win against her who doesn’t get tired no matter what……
“Are you alright? It’s just a little bit more before the operation starts you know?”
“I’m good. I’ll get my energy back after eating and resting a bit.”
I had breakfast consisting of a hotdog and a high-nutrition green-colored juice drink as Elma gave me a scornful gaze. If the hotdog was replaced with some shady-looking nutrient paste or something, this would be an excellent example of a dystopian dish from a post-apocalyptic future.
“What about Tina and Whisker?”
“They’ve been awake for a good while already. They’re now happily servicing Krishna. Mimi also went to the hangar saying she wants to do a final check of the supplies.”
“I see. I guess I’ll go check on them after I finish my meal.”
“Please do so. It looks they really pushed themselves hard this time after all. They were in a pretty bad state yesterday you know? They fell asleep the moment they got shoved inside the bathtub. I and Mimi took care of bathing them both and had to join them in the end.”
“That sounds pretty bad. I’m glad you two took care of them.”
I tried to imagine the sight of the mechanic sisters taking a bath together with Mimi and Elma. I kinda wanted to witness it for myself. As if she read what’s on my mind, Elma quickly pinched my thigh. Ouch.
“You really have no sense of seriousness whatsoever huh…… And we’re about to embark toward a deadly battlefield too.”
“It’s because I don’t think it’s particularly dangerous.”
Considering the current scale of the Imperial Forces participating in the attack, I don’t really feel we would lose.
The total forces heading out this time consisted of 6 battleships, 20 heavy cruisers, 25 destroyers, and 42 corvettes. Honestly though. Do they even need us mercenaries? It’s not unexpected though.
Once the Imperial Military gets serious, you really felt their overwhelming might and their intention of achieving total victory. Even if we combined the 1st to 4th Recon Fleets dispatched earlier on, this current force was still about five times stronger. And this time, we already know the exact position of the enemies, so there’s no need to disperse our forces. We were free to launch a concentrated attack.
In other words, compared to the 3rd and 4th Fleets that suffered major losses a few days back, we would be charging in with at least three times the total firepower. That’s without taking the mercenaries to account. According to my instincts cultivated by years playing SOL, this was close to an excessive amount of force. And as long as we performed the correct strategy without a hitch, even the Recon Fleets dispatched a few days back would be able to pull this counteroffensive off.
“And that’s how it is.”
“I see. So you do have a basis for your confidence huh.”
“That’s right. We still can’t let our guards down since there are quite a lot of enemies, but once we eliminate the Guardian Crystals, the overwhelming combined firepower of the battleships, cruisers, and destroyers would be able to crush the Mother Crystal with little effort.”
In other words, if we mercenaries and the Imperial corvettes do our jobs properly and lead the Guardian Crystals away, the battleships, cruisers, and destroyers of the Imperial Military will clean everything up for us. Afterward, we’ll just have to deal with the small crystal lifeforms spewed out by the Mother Crystal and we’re done.
“So you’re saying unless something unexpected happens, the battle would be over once the Imperial Forces make their move huh.”
Even with the massive losses incurred, it can’t be said that the recon operation a few days back was a total failure. Sure we did suffer a lot of casualties, but we were also able to achieve our goal of pinpointing the enemy base. There was great merit in successfully bringing back such critical info.
“In other words, there’s no need to worry, but we still can’t let our guards down, right? Same old, same old, then.”
Elma smiled when she saw me shrugging my shoulders nonchalantly.
There are four more hours until the operation begins.