Chapter 7 - Recapture Slussen!
The next day...
At long last, plans for a major offensive upon the town of Slussen were announced. It would be carried out on the 5th of February, in three days time.
The Mikkeli Temporary Airbase was suddenly bustling with activity. Forces were being assembled from all over Suomus for this co-ordinated effort between the army and air-force. Units were arriving one after another.
The main force of the army were Witches, just like Tomoko and her comrades. These young girls also equipped Striker Units, but were part of the 'Mechanised Armoured Infantry'.
The army garrisons had been established right next to the Mikkeli Temporary Airbase, and each of the girls assembled there wore a type of Striker Unit that would not be very familiar to a member of the air-force.
“They seem like they'd be too heavy to fly don't they~” Katherine said in a mock serious tone while watching the scene from the window of their quarters.
Flying Officer Elma stepped in and corrected her just in case; “That's not what they do Pilot Officer Katherine! Those aren't 'Aerial Strikers', they're 'Land Strikers'.”
“So how are they different then?”
“We fly through the sky, they do not. You know what tanks are don't you?”
“Of course I know what tanks are~”
“Well, in a sense, Tank Witches take the role of mobile infantry don't they? Because naturally, a normal solider wouldn't even be able to get close to the Neuroi.”
While looking on at girls moving around the garrison shouldering large artillery weapons, Katherine let out a sigh.
“Even before those girls came here, we had such a large responsibility~”
“I know what you mean. Their safety, and the success of this mission falls on our shoulders!”
F/O Elma made a show of firmly clenching her fist in determination.
“Flying Officer Elma, what on earth are you doing?”
“I'm getting myself motivated! Fired up!”
“Hmmm? You really are an interesting girl aren't you~ You even had Tomoko appointed as the Squadron commander...”
“ Flying Officer Tomoko is the most suitable for the position. I don't think my decision on that matter was mistaken.”
“Tomoko is a capable girl for sure, I recognise that too...”
“Did you not also agree it was for the best back then?”
When F/O Elma had consulted the squadron at Tomoko's bedside, there had been no objections.
“But, if you stop and think about it, Tomoko really is a demon isn't she? Surely it'll be no laughing matter with her as squadron commander. It'll be a huge leap from the disorganised state we've maintained so far. And she gets this frightful look on her face whenever she starts yelling stuff like; 'Everyone shape up! We're training, now!' I just know I'm gunna get whipped~ And if I were to disobey an order, she'd slice me up with that scary samurai sword.”
F/O Elma began trembling when Katherine put it like that.
“Is, is it really going to be like that? Th, that's...”
Katherine squarely met F/O Elma's eyes, and nodded resolutely, “I'm afraid so, it really is.”
At this point, their exchange was cut off by the common rooms door slamming open.
“Ah! Tomoko!” F/O Elma flinched, and jumped up covering her head with trembling hands.
“What's wrong?” Tomoko asked in a blank voice.
“I, I, I'm sooorrrry~ Pleeease, don't slice me up with your katanaaaa~”
To which Tomoko gave a truly angelic smile. In every respect, her smile was as calm and pleasant as a spring breeze.
“Flying Officer Elma... What exactly is it, that I should not kill you for?” How very... suspicious!" Tomoko said in a manner that could even be described as cute, finishing with a smile.
Having been holed up in her room and wrapped in a futon just the other day, this seemed like a miraculous change.
F/O Elma and Katherine exchanged a glance with one another, their mouths hanging open in astonishment.
Tomoko was holding some flowers in her hand.
"...Tomoko, what're those? A new training method?”
“Of course not. How can flowers be used for training.”
Tomoko picked up a discarded wine bottle, placed it upon the table, and began to arrange the flowers using it as a vase.
“They're so pretty... I wonder what these flowers are called? Perhaps I could find a greenhouse and grow them there.”
“Tomoko... what's happened to you!” Katherine yelled as she rushed over.
Until this moment, Katherine could not have imagined that Tomoko would do anything like decorating the place with flowers.
“Ooou, you poor thing... It all finally became too much for you to bear didn't it...”
“Ahaha, what are you on about? Come on now, even a brutal battlefield needs a little something to liven the place up.”
Katherine folded her arms in contemplation; “...so a promotion to squadron commander can change a person to this extent~? I guess I've just been living in ignorance until now.”
In a surprisingly ladylike manner, Tomoko then moved in front of the table and called everyone to attention by knocking on the desk.
“I, Flying Officer Anabuki Tomoko, have now been appointed as squadron commander. So once again; let's do our best together.”
Tilting her head to one side, Tomoko smiled.
“Well then, as everyone already knows, a large counter-strike operation will be conducted in three days time. It is absolutely imperative that we give it everything we've got, and maintain air superiority in the skies of Slussen. The outcome of this operation depends on our efforts. So let's do our very best together.”
“Ah, Umm...” F/O Elma timidly raised her hand.
“Yes, Flying Officer Elma.”
“That good and everything, about the counter offensive but... which Striker will you be using? Has a replacement aircraft been delivered?
Looking a little embarrassed, Tomoko averted her eyes. After placing a hand on her chest and taking a moment to calm herself with a deep breath; “...I shall be using the Ki-44,” she said, as she gazed out of the window with coloured cheeks.
With the exception of Beurling, everyone was stunned at this development.
“Even though you hated the thing?”
“And you were making all that noise about not being able to use it, right~”
“Well, there was a lot going on... and perhaps that new model wasn't completely at fault... upon realising my own foolish mistakes...”
“What on earth happened! tell us slowly and thoroughly 'k? Otherwise there's no way I'll be able to understand!” Katherine enquired excitedly, with eyes like she was seeing some kind of new species unknown to mankind.
Beurling stepped in to keep her in check, “Well, it's a good thing isn't it? Because she's saying herself that she's going to use it.”
Beurling placed a hand on Tomoko's back and smiled. “Well then, we'll be relying upon you, squadron commander.”
Flying Officer Anabuki Tomoko's first order as the new commander was training in preparation for the offensive in three days time.
“Well then everyone; today we will be conducting formation manoeuvres. I was thinking that I'd like to focus on boom-and-zoom tactics.”
With Tomoko's instructions, they each went to equip their respective Striker Units.
Tomoko lead the ascent with her powerful Ki-44.
The first thing Tomoko tried was repeating a roll. The Ki-44's capabilities in this regard were one of its strong points. She hadn't given it much consideration before, but this would make locking on to targets very easy when striking them down at high speed.
The Ki-44 forcefully propelled Tomoko through the skies.
It's reminiscent of how Itokawa forcibly holds me in his arms, Tomoko blushed at the thought of it.
It was a mystery.
If it was that hard to handle up until yesterday, if I think about it...
“If I'm honest with my feelings, and give it a fair chance... 'that which is unseen may well become visible' indeed.”
Tomoko looked behind.
“Well then; Ursula, Flying Officer Elma, you two are with me. Beurling and Katherine, assemble into a Rotte. The practice will now commence!”
It happened just as she made that announcement over the radio...
The right leg of her Striker Unit erupted with smoke!
“Wh, what the heck?”
Tomoko eased off, but the smoke did not lessen. On the contrary, with an alarming *Pusun sound; the left engine ground to a complete halt.
With just one side of the unit still functioning, the Ki-44's powerful engine forced Tomoko into an uncontrolled spin.
In exchange for its sensitive tail-plane, the Ki-44's balance was easily disrupted. Only an experienced ace could handle such a fastidious kind of aircraft to begin with. As such, the malfunctioning Ki-44 instantly collapsed into a tail spin.
While rotating violently... Tomoko was struck into the ground, and her consciousness was no more.
When Tomoko awoke, she was in a bed in the hospital wing.
Surrounding her were the worried faced of her lined up comrades.
“Thanks to her magic field and the accumulated snow her body is safe. But, I guess she should rest in bed for a while due to the shock right?” Katherine was saying.
“Is that so?.. Thank goodness.” Tomoko said with her hand placed in front of her chest.
Seeing that Tomoko had awoken, everyone let out a sigh of relief.
“Umm well... I understand that you must be very angry after an accident like that but...”
Tomoko just looked around in confusion..
“Huh? Why aren't you angry~?” Katherine was ignored.
“The Ki-44, where is it?”
“It's here but...”
The Ki-44 that had recently been removed from Tomoko was placed nearby. One of the Striker Unit's engines was dripping oil all over the place.
Everyone braced themselves.
In a fit of rage Tomoko pounces...
“Just like I said; it's useless! This new model! Why is it leaking oil! I'm going to kill him!” She yells with reckless abandon...
Striking fear into everyone's hearts, brandishing her frightful samurai sword around wildly...
However, those kinds of expectations were not met.
Appearing reassured, she let out a sigh of relief, “Thank goodness... it wasn't completely destroyed like the Ki-27.” She just muttered something like that.
Everyone shivered in a cold sweat.
Flower's are good, speaking in a calm tone of voice is good, that somehow ladylike manner is good, and on top of that she's not flying into a rage...
Tomoko, what on earth has happened to you...
At that point,the door slammed open, and Itokawa rushed in.
“Are you alright!?”
The entire room froze, the tension could not even be compared with what it was just now. Itokawa was the engineer who developed this Ki-44 after all. If her wrath wasn't directed at the Ki-44, surely it would all come crashing down upon Itokawa instead. The explosion was imminent...
But her reaction completely transcended everyone's preconceptions.
“...Itokawa,” she began shyly with coloured cheeks.
With their mouths hanging open, everyone looked on tentatively as Tomoko's eyes clouded over like she was about to burst into tears.
“I'm sorry... the Ki-44, was damaged...”
“That's nothing to worry about, I'll repair it at once. The counterstrike operation is in three days time isn't it?”
Itokawa continued his efforts to console Tomoko, who was shedding a few modest tears. The tension in the room had somehow dissipated, as everyone just looked on.
“She's actually a very easy woman to understand isn't she~” Katherine said with a sigh.
“So she changed so suddenly because of something like this. Before one even realises...”
“So even Tomoko, who thinks of nothing but the sky, and is not the type to go out with some guy, will score a home-run if she acts a little more kindly~ I'm just kidding... seriously, I understand.”
F/O Elma led everyone outside so they wouldn't disturb Tomoko and Itokawa, who were now holding hands.
Noticing that everyone had left, Itokawa leaned in to kiss Tomoko.
“N, Stop that.”
“This is a medical facility... it's not an appropriate place for stuff like that.”
“It's fine. Because it'll help cure your injuries...”
“What injuries!.. ah,”
Itokawa had placed his lips upon Tomoko's. After a moment they separated and Itokawa reached out his hand, gently slipping it into Tomoko's hospital gown.
Seizing the offending arm, Tomoko twisted her body in reflex.
“I, I said stop...”
“It's just, that...”
“Is it your first time?”
Without making eye contact, Tomoko nodded.
“I understand. It must be difficult to hold back like that. I too, should restrain myself.”
Itokawa gave a light-hearted laugh, and then left the room carrying the Ki-44. Tomoko was left alone holding her burning cheeks with both hands.
“Don't... What should I do... What he wants me to...”
Conflicting feelings spiralled around through Tomoko's mind.
All things considered, I couldn't begin to imagine myself going out with a man until recently.
I didn't need anything so long as I had the sky.
Flying freely through the sky, only having to shoot down the enemies, that was my youth.
But this too, is a part of one's youth I guess...
Indulging herself in those kind of reflective musings, *Gatan! the door flew open once more, and a white blur came flying in.
“What! What the heck!” Tomoko pulled the sheets towards her in panic.
The thing that had entered, was a trembling Haruka. Her body was wrapped in white clothing, and her eyes clouded by tears.
“Excuse me! I'm so very sorry!”
Haruka suddenly collapsed, prostrating herself on her hands an knees with her head bowed.
“What's all this about?”
“It's my fault...” Haruka cried without delay.
“Pilot Officer Tomoko... no, it's Flying Officer now isn't it, congratulations on you promotion, but what I mean to say is that it was me who sabotaged your Ki-44! I damaged the lubricant pipeline to the Ki-44's magic engine!
“Wh, what did you just say!” Tomoko's tone rose in surprise.
“I'm sorry... this, making you crash, and injuring you, it wasn't my intention! I just thought it might be good if your mood was ruined, just a little. But, but, something like this happened!”
“Why... Why did you...”
“I just couldn't bear it!” Haruka yelled with remarkable volume. “It was too much... seeing you get so close with that engineer Itokawa, I just couldn't bear it any longer. But seeing you two embracing each other just now, I, I realised what a heinous thing I had actually done. You love is real. My one-sided feelings... will never be returned; an unrequited love.”
“It was disgusting of me to put you at risk because of my own feelings! Not only am I not fit to be your wingman, I'm not even fit to be a human being...”
Kneeling upon the floor, Haruka took out a dagger from a hidden pocket.
“Wait, What are you d...”
“Therefore, I shall humbly apologise with my life...”
Grasping the dagger tightly in both hands, Haruka prepared to thrust it violently into her spinal cord.
Leaping up from the bed, Tomoko practically threw herself on Haruka, knocking away the dagger at the last moment. She was about to strike Haruka across the face, but her hand stopped.
“I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Flying Officer, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry...”
“Jeez, what the heck are you thinking! You're my wingman aren't you? What kind of wingman would choose such a simple death! That sort of wingman; I don't need!”
In response, Haruka began to cry, very loudly. “Uu, Uue... Uuehhhhhn...”
When she saw Haruka crying, Tomoko couldn't possibly admonish her further.
Come to think of it... shouldn't I be the one to blame for pushing Haruka this far?
“Come on... everything's alright. I forgive you, so don't cry.”
“But... but, but...”
“I too was at fault. No matter what, saying something like 'I don't need you' to my wingman is not at all appropriate. I surely suffered a such a great loss due to my temper. And so, I would also like to apologise; I'm sorry Haruka.”
“Uu, Uuu, Fl, Flying Officerrr...”
Haruka buried her face in Tomoko's chest.
While affectionately stroking that head, Tomoko spoke as if to herself;
“I... until now, I think I was a slave to my previous style. I even began to fail at dogfighting. 'Being honest with oneself', is surely a valuable thing.
Haruka's muffled sobs calmed down a little *kusun... *gusun...
“If one can't be honest with oneself, certain choices will be overlooked. Even regarding the enemies' methods of attack. Despite having possibilities scattered about before my eyes, I haven't tried any of them. And it's not just about aerial combat... What kind of people are the most important to me for example. Until one asks themselves honestly, the answer might not be visible.”
“Flying Officer Tomoko...” Haruka looked up at Tomoko with teary eyes.
“What is it?”
“I have a favour to ask of you, since you have become so honest with your feelings.”
“Sure, what is it?”
“Umm, one time, just once will do...” She requested, bringing her face closer to Tomoko's.
“Just one what?”
“Just that, and, I... I'll give up. Because that, the memory... it would be the most beautiful memory of my life...”“What are you... that's, a bit too...”
Haruka reached around and slowly stroked the back of Tomoko's neck.
“Hn!” Tomoko flinched at the touch. Haruka's fingers began to assault all kinds of sensitive areas with unbelievable precision.
“Wai... n, no, that, ah, Haruka, st, wait... n!”
What is this girl doing!
“Wh, w why, hiu, w, wh wh, why, are you so, s, skilled at this?”
“I can't say for sure. However, I... so that I can serve Flying Officer Tomoko, will pass on what my body received under the supervision of Flight Lieutenant Ahonen.”
As soon as she said this, Haruka slipped off Tomoko's gown and began running her lips across Tomoko's exposed chest.
Tomoko's mind went blank... becoming utterly incapable of thought. In that state she could offer no resistance when Haruka pushed her down onto her back.
Three hours later... Tomoko, who had been shot down by Haruka no less than five times, was staring up at the ceiling in a daze. Accompanied by the sound of Haruka's light breathing as she slept beside her.
“I... what have I..!”
Having gone with the flow, and given up her body, Tomoko's hear was awash with conflicting feelings.
“Wh, with a girl... Aah, I'm so ashamed of myself...”
Tomoko tried to justify her current circumstances somehow.
It can't be helped. I did promise to sleep with her a while back.
It was only to keep my promise to her...
Thinking about it, we've bathed together, and washed eac...
Tomoko's face turned bright red.
It's not possible. That's just... I'm just being foolish.
“Oh god, what kind of noises did I make~”
It's like my head has been split in two. Until now I haven't been thinking about this small girl.
“It's not like I confused about anything...”
But... but, if I try to be honest with myself about it, this might have been a good thing.
Haruka, who has achieved a long cherished desire, might consider fighting earnestly.
Even for me, that, in reality, felt good. So good I almost died.
“How can she induce such feelings in me with her fingers and tongue... no, she's been studying how. Well, not studying exactly...”
Nevertheless, nothing can be done about the main problem with all this...
“Have I not betrayed Itokawa?”
Aah~ doesn't this mean that I've given away my first time to Haruka?
Or, does it not count because Haruka's a girl?
Being honest with myself, I should now be able to summon the courage I need thanks to Haruka.
“There's nothing scary about this is there? It's fine... it's only physical intimacy, an essential part of a relationship.”
If this strategy succeeds... at that time for sure, Itokawa will take my...
With her head writhing in chaos, Tomoko's mind descended into dreams.
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