169 – To the Imperial Capital
Editor: Thor’s Stone
I was woken up by a call.
I rose out of bed after getting annoyed by the loud electronic ringtone and operated the terminal to top the ringing while fighting the urge to go right back to sleep.
I opened my heavy lids and let out a groan the moment I read the name of the caller. I honestly wanted to just ignore her, but there will probably be really scary consequences later on if I did that…… And so, I resigned to my fate and pushed the receive icon.
『Good morni– Just what kind of outfit do you think you’re wearing?』
A projection of a red-eyed, blonde-haired beauty appeared and lit up the dim room. I wanted to ask if that was how she greeted people in the morning but refrained. She was slightly transparent and glowing, but it’s not like she’s a ghost or something. This room has a hologram device installed, so utilizing it, a life-size image of her got projected inside the room after the signal bypassed several layers of thick hull plating, with outer space in between.
“I always only wear boxers when I go to sleep. If you don’t want to see me nearly naked with only my underpants on, then at least don’t call me directly so early in the morning and contact Mei first so I can have some time to get dressed.”
『Don’t you think it’s quite late in the day already? You call this early?』
I waved my hand dismissively at the squinting beauty in front of me.
“Mei is usually the one who handles it, but she also needs her periodic maintenance y’see…… So I ended up on night watch yesterday and stood awake until early morning.”
After saying so, I let out a big yawn and turned to her life-size hologram once more.
“So, what’s your business with me today, Commander Serena Holz?”
After glaring at me, who was still a bit out of it due to lack of sleep, she displayed a strained smile.
『I’m still a Lieutenant Commander, you know.』
“Ara? Someone’s early today.”
It can’t be helped since I’m already wide awake, so I headed to the dining room after freshening up a bit. I found Elma already chilling out in it.
“Lieutenant Commander Serena woke me up…… Sheesh. Why’d she wake me up for something so trivial anyway?”
“My condolences then.”
Elma displayed a bitter smile after hearing what happened.
She was part of my crew, but she wasn’t human. Elma was an elf. An elf in this SF dimension filled with laser guns, starships flying in the void of space, and gigantic space colonies felt quite mismatched, don’t you think? But maybe this dimension has already influenced me since I didn’t particularly find it weird now.
“What? Why are you suddenly staring at me like that?”
“I was just thinking you’re as lovely as always, Elma.”
“What are you on about……? Even if you praise me like that, I won’t give you anything other than coffee.”
Elma got up from her seat with a helpless look on her face and went over to the corner where our trusty auto-cooker, Tetsujin V, was installed.
I decided to get spoiled by her and sat down while admiring the view of her lithe back. Cute, pointy ears poked out from delicate silky strands of silver hair. Yep. No matter how you slice it, she’s an elf alright. And said elf sported your standard SF mercenary outfit complete with a laser gun strapped to her waist. Yeah, as I thought, it’s still a bit surreal.
“Oh? You’re quite early, Boss.”
“Good morning, Big Brother.”
As I watched Elma while she prepared coffee using the auto-cooker, the voices of other people rang out from the entrance of the dining room. When I turned to the source of the voices, I saw two girls with similar looks but different hair colors (one red and one blue) enter the room.
“Good morning. I got woken up by a call from the great Commander Serena y’see.”
“Whoah. My condolences, Boss.”
The red-haired girl, Tina, sat down right next to me. The blue-haired younger twin, Whisker, sat next to her sister.
“Big sis Elma, can you get me some tea as well? I’ll have a strawberry jam with it as usual.”
“Okay, okay. How about you, Whisker?”
“U-Um…… I’ll have the same as sis. I’m sorry for the trouble.”
Elma dismissed Whisker’s apology with a wave of her hand and keyed in additional orders on the auto-cooker.
“What are your plans today, you two?”
“Mm, well, we did finish all the necessary repairs and maintenance on Krishna and Black Lotus yesterday. I’ll probably just hang back and relax in our room or watch some holo-vids. How about you, Whisker?”
“Un, I’ll probably do some research…… Ah, big sis, have you finished your report yet? We’ll have to hand them over once we arrive at the capital.”
“Ugh, I completely forgot. Ah, already! I guess it’s desk work for me today…… And I thought I could finally relax too.”
After her younger sister’s reminder, the older sister was plunged into the pits of despair and slumped on the table.
They looked a lot like young human girls, but they’re actually dwarves. They didn’t seem older than middle school students, but both of them were apparently legal adults. The ages on their IDs proved they were as old as me. I couldn’t help but feel the deep mysteries of biological life whenever I looked at the two of them. Even if they greatly resembled human girls, they do have proper dwarven characteristics.
First, they were both crazy strong. I can’t possibly win against any of them in arm wrestling. Or rather, both of them can easily lift and throw me using only one hand. I even witnessed them lift 120 kg barbells without breaking a single sweat in the training room a while back. Just what were their muscles made of? I’m sure you’d ask the same question if you ever witnessed the two of them in action.
Of course, their dwarven characteristics aren’t limited to physical ones. Uh, well, I guess you could say they were still part of their physical ability in a sense. Both of them were the stereotypical alcohol-guzzling dwarves. They had extremely high tolerance too. It was entire dimensions apart compared to me who was utterly weak to alcohol. And their appetite was enormous. Just where were they storing that amount of food and drink in those tiny bodies of theirs?
“Reports huh…… What stuff do you normally write anyway?”
I won’t get anywhere mulling over what sort of mysterious stuff they write about, so I simply expressed my interest honestly.
“Nn? We write about all kinds of topics, but the main points are still about ship repair logs and our accumulated data. Um, like, we need to identify what caused the problem, what kind of effects it had, and how exactly we fixed it up. We need to identify which parts were damaged or broke down, and exactly how they were damaged. We also need to put in the details whenever we found unknown materials or customization techniques. The rest is about our daily lives here, the results of our periodic stress-level examinations, and other private stuff.”
Tina pouted her lips as she explained. Her expression made obvious just how troublesome she found the entire thing was.
“It’s because you procrastinate a lot, big sis.”
“You’re just too earnest, Whisker.”
“Alright, you two. Don’t fight.”
Elma appeared in front of us and got between the bickering sisters. She took my coffee (100% artificial concentrate), two cups of tea (like substances), and a pot of strawberry jam (fake) from the tray she brought over and placed them in front of each of us. Just what did Tetsujin use to make that fake strawberry jam though? As I mulled over that mystery, the two dwarven girls immediately put some in their tea and drank happily. Oh, so they drank it similar to Russian tea huh.
“Mm, delish. There’s nothing like some good morning coffee to start your day.”
“You put in plenty of sugar and milk though. You have surprisingly childish tastes, don’t you, Hiro?”
“I’m not particularly against bitter stuff, but I’m just no good against bitterness combined with acidic sourness.”
It’s a matter of personal taste after all. There are plenty of people who prefer their coffee black, but as Elma said, I have the taste of a kid, so black coffee is impossible for me. I find it more delicious to have coffee with plenty of milk and sugar.
“Anyway, what exactly happened with Lieutenant Commander Serena?”
“Oh, well, it was kinda weird. She kept asking me if I was properly learning swordsmanship and formal etiquette. She grilled me and kept insisting I do my best mastering them.”
“Yeah, that’s all. Anyone would get annoyed if they were woken up early in the morning just to be pestered like that.”
I really don’t get it. Even if I didn’t go on night watch duty, it’s still not something worth bothering me for so early in the morning. Perhaps Elma and the mechanic sisters had an idea about Lieutenant Commander Serena’s intent since they exchanged subtle glances.
“Um, maybe she just wanted to see you, Boss?”
“That’s a scary thought.”
Whisker’s lips curled into a strained smile.
“C’mon. Don’t you think getting a morning call from an Imperial Military Lieutenant Commander just for that reason is scary?”
“Aren’t you going too far with that?”
“Now look here, Tina. I have absolutely no intention of getting into that sort of relationship with Lieutenant Commander Serena, and I’ve told her straight about it as well. And despite that, she still gave me a morning call due to such a reason. That’s quite terrifying.”
“Y-You hate it that much……? But why? Lieutenant Commander Serena’s a noble young lady and a successful high-ranking military officer, right? You’d be marrying up if you went for her, right?”
I see. Marrying up, huh. That’s certainly true as well. But the question is whether or not Lieutenant Commander Serena’s family will approve of me.
“Think about it. The other person is a bona fide Noble lady from the House of a Marquis, as well as a high-ranking military officer. If a mere mercenary from who-knows-where were to lay his dirty hands on such a precious young lady, there’s a big chance her scary papa and grandpa would take up their swords in order to consign said mercenary to oblivion. Or rather, if I were in their shoes, I’d absolutely murder the unlucky guy. No mercy.”
“Well, I guess. But you can’t know if that would happen for certain you know.”
Elma muttered such words and looked away. Well, yeah, I guess.
“That’s the problem? But wouldn’t everything be fine and dandy as long as Lieutenant Commander Serena acknowledges you, Boss?”
“Mm, I wonder? Don’t nobles often dabble in stuff like political marriages and childhood engagements, big sis? If you think about it like that, there’s still a good possibility of getting into trouble, right?”
“I see. You’re pretty clever, Whisker.”
“It’s just hypothetical though.”
I was a bit curious why Elma suddenly clammed up as the dwarven sisters continued to discuss the topic. Come to think of it, Elma’s past and origin were still a great mystery to the rest of the crew…… Since she was behaving strangely, maybe there was something in the discussion that was bothering her.
Elma flinched and drew back a little when she noticed me staring at her.
“No, nothing. I was just admiring your beauty, Elma.”
“W-What’s with you…? I won’t serve you anything else, you know.”
Elma’s face reddened. She then turned away again.
“Wow, how nice– How about me, Boss? How about me?”
“Ah, yeah, yeah. You’re cute as well, Tina. You too, Whisker. I mean it.”
“Ahaha. Thank you very much.”
“It sounds kinda noncommittal.”
I sipped my slightly cooled coffee, or rather, my café au lait, as Tina hit my arm because she wasn’t satisfied with my nonchalant compliment.
“Elma-san’s behavior is weird?”
“That’s what I think. Do you have an idea, Mimi?”
After that little episode in the dining room, I proceeded to have some light breakfast, went to the training room for my daily workout, took a shower to wash off the sweat, and immediately headed to Mimi’s room afterward. Mimi’s room was rather girly… Oh, who am I kidding? It was sorta, uh, hip and stylish.
My own room was rather spartan, but Mimi’s room was filled with cool-looking stickers and posters, as well as chain accessories and gun belts along the walls. The laser gun I bought for her a while back was also displayed on a handgun rack on top of a nightstand near her bed. Mimi was rather good at decorating stuff, it seems.
“Mm…… Come to think of it, she did seem rather down at times after it was decided that we would be going to the Imperial Capital.”
Mimi declared as such and tilted her head in puzzlement.
The young girl who was battered both physically and mentally when I first met her has already transformed into quite the energetic lass. It was probably thanks to her getting enough meals and exercise. Perhaps her daily work as a ship operator has also done some good for her mental and emotional state.
“So you also have no idea why either, huh.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t really think of a plausible reason why she’s like that.”
“No, it’s nothing you have to apologize for. It’s something I should take responsibility for as your captain. But, really though…. Just what’s going on? I guess I’ll either ask her directly or just ask Mei……”
“Maybe Mei-san really does know something.”
“It’s Mei after all……”
I know I was the one who basically designed her, but Mei’s specs are really borderline overkill. I kinda feel that it wouldn’t be strange if one day, we’d find out that she actually knows more information about ourselves than we do personally. Honestly speaking, Mei gives off the feeling that she’s capable of literally anything and everything.
“But on the other hand, Elma’s a proper adult already…… I don’t think it’s really a good idea to snoop around regarding her background without her mentioning anything herself.”
“That’s true as well……”
Elma must have a reason why she’s keeping things a secret from us. Maybe she feels that it won’t do any good even if she does come clean, or that we might get into some sort of trouble if we found out what she’s hiding. Those kinds of reasons are easy to infer.
“But I wonder though. Based on her personality, it’s highly possible that she might actually decide to disappear from our side instead of bringing trouble to us, right?”
“She’s the spontaneous and rash sort after all. That Elma-san.”
Mimi and I exchanged glances and nodded to each other.
“So, that led you to ask me about the matter?”
“That’s right. Do you have any idea about what’s going on?”
Mimi and I went ahead and decided to visit Black Lotus’s cockpit. We came here to find Mei; a super high-spec maidroid who I poured all my hobbies and obsessions into when I designed her. She had big breasts, long black hair, and wore a maid outfit coupled with glasses. She also sported a high-performance positron brain and was the main pilot and custodian of Black Lotus.
“I do not know what Elma-sama is worried about exactly.”
I was disappointed a bit. So even Mei has things she didn’t know huh.
“However, I do have some conjectures regarding the cause. I believe it has a high chance of being right on the mark.”
“Okay? Go on.”
“Yes. Elma’s family is likely living in the Imperial Capital. Perhaps the matter she’s worried about is related to that.”
“So her home is in the capital huh.”
“Well, I did have a bit of an inkling. She does know a lot when it comes to nobles and noble society.”
I did suspect at one point that Elma was a runaway noble lady. As for her family living in the Imperial Capital, she did start acting strange when she heard we’ll be going there, so it wasn’t really unexpected.
“Elma-sama is probably the daughter from an Administrative Viscount House residing in the capital.”
Mimi gasped in shock when she heard Mei’s bold claim.
Administrative Viscount House. In other words, they were nobles without their own territory and served in some kind of official position in the Imperial Capital. I first thought that the Graccan Empire was a nation in which only humans held all the power, but it looks like I was wrong. In a sense, the Empire was a textbook example of a multi-ethnic nation.
“So it ended up being the most troublesome pattern huh.”
“Eh? Eh? So Elma-san is actually a noble lady?”
“Technically, she is. However, she seems to have an older brother who is poised to inherit the position of the Head of the House, and she also has an elder sister as well, so there is little chance for Elma-sama to become the heir of the Administrative Viscount House.”
If the brother gets married and has his own children, they would have a greater chance of inheriting the House compared to Elma. And even if her elder brother encounters some form of misfortune, she would also not be in the running as long as her older sister and the rest of her family do not pass away as well.
“If she formally renounces her right to inheritance, Elma-sama will be treated as a commoner. Even though she’ll be technically a commoner, she would still retain the privilege of being a first-class Imperial Citizen. According to my investigation results, she has not completed the procedure for renouncing her right to inheritance. And since she wasn’t disowned by her family as well, she is still formally registered as an Imperial Noble.”
I did keep harping on about never having to do anything with people from aristocratic families after all. So she was worried because she was actually from an Administrative Noble House herself.
“She might be worried about how to explain your relationship to her family and how to make them accept it, as well as how to confess her background to you and how you would react after finding out.”
“Yeah, I get it. I should talk to Elma about it before we arrive at the capital.”
The earlier things like this are resolved, the better. I don’t have a taste for skirting around each other while trying to guess the other’s feelings and all the bittersweet developments that may result from such acts.
“Okay then. Everything we’ve planned out for today is canceled. I’ll go and talk to Elma right away.”
“Understood. I will readjust the schedule and move them to tomorrow. However, I’ll be sure to make up for it thoroughly, so please prepare yourself.”
“……Please go easy on me, instructor.”
Good luck, tomorrow’s me. What? It’s okay as long as I don’t die, right? The med-pods installed inside Black Lotus are excellent high-end models you know! Hahahaha! Haaah……