The sun was setting, slowly turning the skies from its bright blue into vibrant pink and orange colors in the waning light. The gentle rocking back and forth of the broken ship deck she lay upon had an oddly soothing sensation on her emotion plug-ins. It was a curious sensation, but certainly far better than the…stabbing, shattered feeling she had felt when Maya was revealed to be nothing more than a puppet. The sounds of collapsing metal and the smell of burnt ordinance and ionized air from her super gravity cannon was slowly beginning to wane. The…cold…lonely feeling that had been plaguing her chest was still there, but ebbing quickly. She had not dared imagine that these sensations would come from having human form. The Fog did not need emotions, for they went against the Admiralty Code. So why then could she not stop feeling these feelings? Her eyes were closed as her own thoughts swirled chaotically in her mind. All of that stopped however, when the soft, warm hand in hers twitched lightly, and gripped her own just a little bit tighter. Her ruby eyes opened and she turned her head slightly to look at the white haired girl that also lay on her back on the battleship's shattered deck. The yin and yang resemblance caught Kongou off guard and almost made her miss the girl's query.
"Come with us, Kongou."
Kongou paused, running all manner of simulations, trying to formulate her answer. The damage she had wrought in her blinded attempt to correct a so-called error, the crusade she had brought against not only I-401, but Hyuuga and the others, the destruction of Maya, the Nagara-class cruisers and the Western Patrol Fleet blockading Hawaii, her own wreck of a hull riddled with crystal spears and deformed from the merger that would take some time to make sea-worthy again; all of these factored into the response. It only took a split second, but to that strange feeling in her chest, it seemed an eternity.
" …is still difficult for me to accept right now." The battleship finished.
This pain she felt was too fresh and the memory recordings of what she had done would not allow her to do such a thing so quickly. I-400 and I-402's deception, Maya's deactivation, the absorption of Maya and the other cruisers, the destruction of her allies in the west, these things seemed to keep repeating themselves in her processors and would not stop, no matter how many attempts she made to abort the logic routines. The ache in her chest pulsed slowly at each memory, stabbing her when she relived Maya's deactivation. Was this feeling her emotional processor generating regret? The girl she lie next to seemed to sense where her thoughts had fallen to, the hand holding her own twitched and squeezed almost imperceptibly and brought her back yet again. Was this the power of being 'friends'? She turned her head to look at Iona, her bangs falling away from her eyes, revealing the submarine looking intently but patiently at her.
"It'll be alright. Even if we're apart, we're connected." She closed her eyes then, allowing that feeling in her chest to have a little freedom to access her vocal processors, "I believe we always have been. If I get lonely, I'll come by for tea."
Her smile widened, almost imperceptibly, at the soft response. It was short and simple, without any insistence at all.
She opened her eyes and glanced at the girl, seeing her looking back and smiling. Her eyes returned to the sky, the breeze continuing to blow gently over them. A question came to her mind, spurred on by that same feeling.
"Yo-mara-ichi, what norms constitute the basis for your existence?"
"My own will."
She couldn't help but smile a little, despite the slight frustration the answer gave her. It appears there was quite a bit of what humans called circular logic in this 'will' that they referred to, and also a near limitless amount of power if the fight against I-401 was anything to go by.
"I see. Thank you."
The conversation died off a little after that as the conglomeration of superstructures and ships continued to fall away. Kongou sensed I-401's form floating in the water a few hundred meters off her port bow. She closed her eyes again, wanting to hold onto this moment a little longer. That fact and that desire startling her a little. Human emotions, it seemed, were going to take a little bit to get used to. She could not help but let out a little sigh and with more regret than she thought possible, let go of the soft hand holding her own as she moved to stand up. Iona propped herself up on her elbows and looked up at the sandy blonde woman. She was still very worried about her friend, despite knowing that she had managed to break through and get to her before anything worse could have potentially happened. She shuddered inside as her memory reminded her of just how Kongou planned to sacrifice herself right alongside her.
The blonde woman did something then that came as a pleasant surprise to Iona. She stepped over and offered her hand to Iona. The submarine smiled up at her and took the offer, gripping her hand gently as the battleship helped her to her feet. She dusted off her dress and turned to Kongou who was studying her. She had a feeling what was on the blonde's mind. Without a word she stepped closer and gently wrapped her arms around Kongou's waist, turning her head and laying it on the blonde's shoulder. She could feel the soft silken material of Kongou's purple dress cool against her skin and slick to the touch. What was more was when she felt Kongou wrap her arms around her as well, she inhaled. The battleship smelled of the ocean and of burnt ordinance, she smelled of steel and oil, scents that naturally come with sea-faring vessels. But the scent she didn't expect was one of sakura and apple blossoms. That very slight, almost imperceptible scent combined with the feeling of her dress made Iona smile. For someone who insisted that her outfit was what the Admiralty Code had supposedly dictated as most practical, Kongou had to have taken the time to add those other plug-ins to her mental model. Filing that information away for later, she soon loosened her hold on the battleship, pulling back slightly to look into ruby eyes.
"It'll be okay, Kongou. Hyuuga can utilize the remains of the nano-materials here to get you back under power and under way. The others will help as well. I will too."
Kongou felt her throat tighten, as tears welled in her eyes.
"Will they offer their assistance despite what I have committed?"
"Ask them yourself." Iona replied, turning slightly but keeping an arm around Kongou's waist as she looked over the ship railing.
The superstructure they had been on had finally settled back onto the sea, Kongou's hull being mostly intact however numerous breaches were beginning to allow water to come raging in. The battleship was quickly developing a minor list to port. She looked to where Iona's eyes had turned and saw the submarine's crew sidling their ship up alongside her own. On her decks stood the entire crew, including Hyuuga, Haruna, and Kirishima, all of whom were glowing as their interfaces were activating. Hyuuga's glowing larger than the others as Haruna and Kirishima, as well as Takao who's union core currently resided in I-401's hull, linked up to the fast battleship to offer their processing powers as she hopped onto her floating egg platform and began moving her fingers around, scanning the severely damaged ship in front of her.
"Ne, Kongou. You've really done a number on yourself, eh? Six different hull breaches over 3 meters in diameter, numerous other smaller ones all along the hull, Klein Field generators fried, super gravity cannon looks like a cracked piece of safety glass, torpedo launchers impaled, main armament batteries and turrets almost completely fused into scrap metal." Hyuuga sighed dramatically, "You're lucky these three are here to help me with this. I'm not sure even *I* would have been able to keep you afloat long enough to fix your hull in time to keep you from sinking."
She smirked a little, not being able to avoid ribbing the humbled battleship.
"G-gomen nasai." Kongou frowned a little, looking away. She wasn't used to apologizing, but it was her own fault she was in this state to begin with.
"Eh? Daijobu. It's all easily fixed." Hyuuga replied with a smile and a wink, "But you owe me a cup of tea as payment for services rendered, you know."
"Hai." She agreed.
Iona's interface flared to life as she linked up with Hyuuga as well, but also forming a link to Kongou in an effort to help her seal off bulkheads and watertight compartments to keep her afloat a little longer so the others could finish their patchwork. Kongou could feel the tingling sensations all along her sides and keel, as the same tingles raced up and down her torso. She could feel the hull breaches sealing and cutting off the ocean's attempt to claim her. She let out a shaky breath, one she had not realized she had been holding in. She brought her own interface online; starting the water pumps to clear out the sea water from inside her hull and bring her list under control and eventually righting it. The tingles continued as nano-materials streamed out from the ocean surrounding them and into the battleship. The spears disintegrated, holes were fixed, weapons systems repaired, and the ship brought back to an even keel. The tingling continued long after the most obvious damage had been repaired as Hyuuga continued to work.
After over an hour of work, the repairs were complete. Kongou now floated on her own and was able to move under her own power once again, fully functional. Iona was still aboard her and Gunzou called out to her.
"Iona, it's time we get underway again for the United States."
"I'll be right there Gunzou-kun." She said before turning back to the battleship's mental model. "Is there anything else you need before we leave, Kongou?"
The blonde looked up at her, before turning her head slightly and looking at an empty spot upon her deck just forward of her number 1 turret. Iona saw the slight frown before looking at where Kongou's eyes lingered. Running through her memory files she tried to place what it was that was missing but failed to find anything in ship schematics for the Kongo-class fast battleship.
"I would ask you for a small box of nano-materials…there is something missing that I wish to replace."
"Hai. I will have Hyuuga gather us some." The submarine replied, sending the request through the concept comm system to Hyuuga.
A few minutes later, Gunzou appeared from the top of I-401's top hatch with a small metal briefcase. Climbing down the ladder, he crossed over the makeshift bridge Iona had conjured. Walking across the deck, he met the two mental models as they stood watching him approach. He set the briefcase down by his feet and stood back up, looking at Kongou.
"Iona, please return to the ship. I would like to speak with Kongou alone."
"Eh?" The white haired girl looked surprised at that, but did not deny her captain his request. "Understood."
She gave Kongou one last hug, whispering in her ear that everything would be okay, before walking back the way Gunzou came and crossing over onto the submarine.
"I am sorry it came to this to finally get you to see that being weapons and fighting are not all that there is in this world. I regret that there are not more like you and Iona from the Fog that could somehow get them to understand that co-existence isn't impossible."
"Chihaya Gunzou, I too am sorry. It appears there is more to this error than simply classifying it as an error to be corrected." The blonde woman responded, pausing before she continued, "I need time to myself to sort through this new information and come to terms with recent events. I will not impede your trip to America, nor seek yours or I-401's destruction any further."
"That's a start." The young man smiled at her. "We may yet return to Iwoto. Perhaps abandoning it may not be necessary after all. You are welcome back at anytime you grow weary and need rest, or if you just want to take a break and have some fun."
"I see. Thank you, Chihaya Gunzou."
He nodded before extending his hand. The battleship paused, not quite knowing what the offer entailed, before returning the handshake. Gunzou turned and began walking away, but before he got too far he stopped and looked over his shoulder.
"What was it you needed the extra nano-materials for, Kongou?"
"A…memory…" was all she replied, looking at the metal case, "Tell I-401 and the others thank you."
"I see." He smiled as he paused, before adding, "You know, friends generally refer to each other by name. I'll tell Iona what you said."
Before she could respond, he stepped over the railing and across the bridge, meeting up with the submarine's mental model on the secondary deck of the conning tower. In a few moments, the sub began to pull away from the battleship, the bridge disappearing after Gunzou was safely back aboard. Kongou watched them move away from her side and get back on course for America. She floated there a while until they eventually sunk back beneath the waves a few kilometers away. She turned back to the briefcase before stepping toward it and picking it up. Her interface activated and she scanned it, finding that not only did the case contain nano-materials, but the case itself was comprised of them as well. A small audio file was embedded in the case's structure and she downloaded it. The file name identified it as 'Silver Sky - Nano' and stated it was a musical selection. Intrigued, she set it to play while she began dissolving the case and reconstructing the materials slowly into an object. Soft piano music began to float around her, shortly joined by a violin. Then a woman's voice began to sing gently. Kongou wasn't sure why, but that aching feeling in her chest made its presence known once more as she continued her work. Her eyes teared up again as the song continued and the lyrics flowed through the air. The last addition to her ship was complete.
'You know, friends generally refer to each other by name. I'll tell Iona what you said.'
The jet-black, baby grand piano sat anchored to her deck, a silver engraving of Maya's symbol on its front.
"Thank you, Iona." She whispered.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own Arpeggio of Blue Steel, but if I did and I could make it real, I would. And I'd probably fall in love with my tsundere kawaii Kongou-chan. =^_^= I need to find a Kongou body pillow! *runs off through the internet*