Chapter 28

“She doesn’t want my help,” Fumiko finally said aloud. She had sunk to her knees after Aina caught her arrow and hadn’t moved since. “Does she hate me now?”

“Perhaps she is,” the monk ventured, “the reason your father sent you to me?” Fumiko ignored the question, wallowing in her own feelings until the two of them felt one of the magical girls flying towards them.

“Let’s go,” Fumiko quickly said, standing in one smooth motion.

“Good idea,” the monk agreed, his gaze focused on the black ship approaching from the south.

The former Captain of the Macedonian stood on the bridge of the Yamato as it slowly floated toward the central spire. He kept a respectful distance from the captain’s chair, where the Yamato’s captain sat, her eyes focused on the energy readouts on the screens in front of her. He had been surprised when she had extended an invitation to him to observe the mission. The black ship captains all operated independently, and they weren’t very close with each other. He suspected that she sympathized with his plight, since the Macedonian might be caught within the Wave Motion Gun. Other captains might be offended by the sympathy, but he didn’t hate it.

Kyaputen,” the helmsman called out, “we’re receiving reports that the defense minister is dead.”

“From whom?” the captain snapped to attention. “Can you get verification?”

“They’re probably true,” the Macedonian’s disgraced captain said softly. “I leaked his whereabouts to a man allied with the education minister.”

Naze would you do that?” the Yamato’s captain asked calmly.

“Simple fukushuu. Before the education minister took control of my ship, the defense minister attempted to seize it for himself. His meido killed my entire bridge crew.”

“I’m sure I couldn’t hear anything you said over the engine noise,” the Yamato’s captain said diplomatically. Then, speaking louder, she ordered her crew. “Take us to the front lines. We’ll fire once we’re clear of the machi.”

“We won’t have anything to anchor to,” the helmsman protested.

“We don’t need one,” the captain replied, “as long as we fire from a high altitude.”

“I didn’t mean to affect your plans,” the ex-captain of the Macedonian apologized. “Please, don’t alter them on my account.”

“Actually, I’m relieved. We still don’t know how far the beam will spread. If we fired it from here, some projections indicate we could take out more than an eighth of the machi. I wasn’t looking forward to being the bakemono responsible for that, but I also didn’t feel that I could disobey the defense minister. Even if I tried to deceive him, he assigned most of my crew. I could face a mutiny, and he’s vindictive. I decided the best thing to do was remain in command and do everything in my chikara to make it a clean shot. Now that he’s dead, that burden has been lifted from me.”

“There are still advantages to firing from here. You could anchor, you won’t risk taking Soviet fire, and the education minister would undoubtedly be caught in the blast.”

“More fukushuu?” The Yamato’s captain raised an eyebrow. “If we advance, the Macedonian will probably move out of the line of fire. Shouldn’t that be more important to a kyaputen?”

“It would serve to warn the Soviets. Besides, it’s not just fukushuu. I don’t want to live under the oppression of the goshujin forever. This private sensou of theirs has endangered the entire machi. Political change could come from the barrel of the Wave Motion Gun. Demo, the education minister is more strong-willed than any of the remaining goshujin, and the meido he commands are powerful. As long as they live, they would remain a threat to this ship.”

“I have no desire to become a revolutionary.”

“No one ever wants to become a revolutionary, they do it because they think they must. You are still the kyaputen, the choice is yours, but do you really think we can survive another go-jyuu years under goshujin rule?”

“Don’t swing that!” Akira warned as he recognized the polearm Naomi had pulled from the Gate of Babylon.

“Why?” Asked Naomi. “What does it—Oh, I see. The GINZUISHOU is feeding me information faster than I can make sense of it. Since it never creates anything too dangerous, I thought some limits applied. From now on, I’ll wait until I understand something before I attempt to use it,” she promised, returning the Silence Glaive to the Gate of Babylon.

“The sensha are still advancing,” Chikako reminded them.

“I suppose I’ll just have to kick them until they explode,” Naomi joked. “Mme Chikako, Mme Jin, get out of the way.” As Jin retracted her funnels, and the Macedonian retreated, Naomi began to inhale deeply, and her abdomen inflated as she continued to breathe in. Her body stretched grotesquely to accommodate the air, and when she exhaled, she emitted a loud screeching noise which sent shockwaves rippling out in front of her. Shells fired from the artillery exploded in midair upon contact with these soundwaves, and tanks found themselves tussled and thrown around. Still, most remained mobile, and they continued their advance.

“You can’t let them do that,” Aina said, aghast.

“I can’t interfere,” Koharu informed Aina, “due to our contract. They wouldn’t fire from here unless ordered to, and since the defense minister is issuing the orders, it’s safe to assume he intends your goshujin to perish in the crossfire.”

“Demo, you don’t know that,” Aina pointed out. “Maybe they don’t want to risk taking fire from the Soviets.”

“The Yamato can take some hits,” Koharu shrugged.

“In extreme circumstances, you were willing to breach our contract. I would say this is an extreme circumstance. Let’s renegotiate.”

“Sure, but what’s in it for me?”

“Preventing the Wave Motion Gun from doing incredible damage to the machi, for starters.”

“Not as much damage as the Soviets would do, or Naomi-sama.” Koharu leaned close to Aina and spoke softly. “This has Naomi-sama’s fingerprints all over it. If the Soviets were serious, they would have overwhelmed this machi as soon as the hole in the GINZUISHOU was large enough. Soshite, Naomi-sama is attempting to use the situation to increase her power. I don’t know what she’s offering the Soviets to work with her on this, and I’m not sure I want to find out. If the Wave Motion Gun can take her out, I’m willing to live with the damage it causes.”

“I understand your position. Honestly, I’m worried about what Naomi-sama’s planning too, but I don’t think the Soviets are pulling their punches. She was certainly going all out,” Aina said, gesturing to the dead Soviet a few feet away.

“Even if the soldiers are fighting for their lives, it’s the commanders who decide the tactics.”

“Fair enough. Even so, no matter what Naomi-sama’s planning, the consequences of firing the Wave Motion Gun are worse. If you’re not going to help me stop it, at least honor our agreement by staying out of my way.”

“Iie,” Koharu said flatly. “I think I’ve gotten all out of this deal that I can. Akira-sama will be in no position to help me once he’s dead.”

“We have a contract!” Aina protested.

“Lots of people think that making a contract with a mahou shoujo is something mahou, but it’s the same as any other contract. Contracts are only useful as long as the benefits of adhering to them outweigh the penalties for breaking them. It was never expressly stated, but you implied violence should I back out. Demo, I’ve seen the limits of your chikara, and you don’t scare me.”

“You don’t know what I’m capable of.”

Sou ka? Kakatte koi. Enforce our contract, if you can.”

“Iie,” Aina said after a pause. “You’re not my teki. We can still resolve this without violence. What do you think will happen after they fire that gun?”

“Naomi-sama, Akira-sama, and the Soviets will perish,” Koharu shrugged. “Much of the machi will need to be rebuilt.”

“After that?”

“After that, the sekai knows we have a powerful deterrent. That should make my job easier.”

“That would be nice, but that’s not what’s going to happen. If we fire it, the other nations of the sekai will take it as a declaration that we are now a superpower, one that could single-handedly destroy the others. They’ll realize that, with the GINZUISHOU damaged, this will be their best chance to destroy a threat, and we will be bombarded with nuclear missiles.”

“You give them too much credit. The GINZUISHOU is already healing. By the time they can organize an attack, we’ll be impenetrable.”

“Until another mahou shoujo comes and burns it to the ground. Even if we survive, the defense minister didn’t commission the Yamato for defensive purposes. He has greater ambitions, and those ambitions could hasten the demise of Chikyuu. Faced with the certainty of death at the hands of the Wave Motion Gun, do you think the other superpowers will sit back and accept their unmei? They’ll unload their entire arsenals and reduce the sekai to cinders, just to spite us. GINZUISHOU or no, we won’t survive long, alone on an irradiated hellhole.”

“You have a knack for imagining the worst-case scenario, I’ll give you that, but the Wave Motion Gun is a defensive weapon. In the anime, the Yamato never conquered other sekai with it.”

“Iie, but the Iskandar-jin did, and it not only destroyed their teki, it ended up destroying them as well. They learned first hand that wave motion energy must not be weaponized.”

As Aina said those last words, the GINZUISHOU began to glow, its normal cobalt hue giving way to a bright teal. It formed stalactites above where the Yamato was sailing. The hole in the GINZUISHOU temporarily grew as it drew more and more of its mass into the stalactites, which thrust downward and skewered the Yamato. For a minute, the Yamato hung there, dangling like a rodent from a cat’s mouth, before the GINZUISHOU retracted. The Yamato listed to port, falling slowly towards the ground. By the time the crew were able to right her, they could only manage to land her in the Seine. She was in no shape to launch again, let alone fire the Wave Motion Gun.

“Hmph,” Koharu grunted. “If the GINZUISHOU agrees with you, there’s not much that even I can do about it. I guess we’ll have to deal with Naomi-sama ourselves.”

“This is actually boring,” Akira observed.

“I guarantee you it’s not boring for those toy soldiers in their toy tanks,” Naomi responded, “but you’re right, war is mostly boring.”

“It stopped being exciting once I felt my life was no longer in danger,” Akira mused.

As if in answer to his boredom, six red funnels buzzed past Akira’s position and out towards the enemy. Following close behind, an MSN-04 Sazabi flew above and then landed in front of Akira.

“Don’t let your guard down, Akira-dono,” Kiyoshi’s voice boomed from the mech. “This feels like a distraction.”

Akira pulled out his phone and tapped the screen a few times, linking Kiyoshi’s comms system to his own. “Kiyoshi-dono. How good of you to join us.”

“Gomen for not coming sooner,” Kiyoshi replied. “The agriculture ministry was reluctant to hand over this Sazabi.”

“Oh good, another toy,” Naomi interrupted, sounding irritated. “You focus on the tanks. Leave the artillery to me. I’m learning a lot of useless anime trivia, but nothing that would help in our situation. How do anime protagonists usually deal with tanks?”

“With other tanks,” Akira and Chikako said simultaneously.

“Wonderful,” sighed Naomi. “Just keep them from reaching the city. I’m sure I’ll eventually learn something useful.”

“What about a kamehameha?” Akira offered.

“I could already do that,” Naomi replied, “but it wastes too much energy.”

“As long as it—” Akira started to say, but he stopped himself when he saw the latest barrage of artillery shells impact on an A.T. Field Naomi had erected in their path, its orange hexagons flashing and disappearing as the shells exploded against it. “Oi, you said you wouldn’t use anything dangerous.”

“Relax,” Naomi said impatiently. “A.T. Fields aren’t dangerous by themselves. I’m not going to accidentally trigger Human Instrumentality.”

“As long as you understand the risks,” Akira huffed.

“Akira-dono, they’ve stopped their advance,” Kiyoshi reported. “Perhaps they’re in awe of my Sazabi.”

A few uneasy minutes passed in which no movements were made, and then, quickly and orderly, the tanks retreated. Shortly after, Akira’s phone began to ring.

“Ambassador, what can I do for you?” Akira answered.

“Howdy, education minister, y’all still out on the battlefield?” The ‘Murican ambassador greeted. “Our boys in Houston just forwarded me some disturbin’ information. It appears the MIR-14 Battle Colony is comin’ over for a visit.”

“Are you telling me they’re going to colony drop us?” Akira asked incredulously.

“That’s the long and short of it,” the ‘Murican ambassador confirmed.

“Good for you, master” Naomi quipped. “Things are getting exciting again.”