This was a story I had sitting as a rough plan for a very long time. A conversation over lunch recently dared me to revisit it.
It is unashamedly inspired by Kantai Collection, AKB0048 and Macross Delta.
“Hi, I’m the Spirit of Earth, and I’m here to tell you all how we’re doing in our ongoing war against the evil alien empire! I’m a light cruiser, which means my guns aren’t all that but I’m fast and agile and just full of enthusiasm to kill some of those troublesome aliens!”
The girl on the screen gave a cute hand gesture and smiled with one eye closed in a fashion that was, apparently, adorable.
“In a couple of days I’m going to be joining the 16th Fleet at the planet Goral, and we’re going to launch an attack on an alien supply base! Isn’t that exciting!”
The Spirit of Earth was embodied by a flat-chested blue-haired girl wearing a metal bikini and armour-plated hotpants with high boots and winged gloves gyrating three times the size of a pedestrian on the massive projection screens that surrounded Admiralty Square.
“It’s so very exciting to have a brave human captain commanding me~”
Far below her obnoxiously cute posing a very real brave human captain tried not to associate himself with the display above.
“Of course it’s a bit scary having to fight, but that’s why I’m so glad Big Sis Soyokaze and Auntie Thousand Cherry Trees are looking out for me, look, here they are!”
Two more girls, fuller-bodied and moving with the sort of plastic seductiveness and faked experience of a tawdry relationship comedy entered the picture, wearing distinctly more clothes but with significantly less innocence. They represented, of course, larger ships within the fleet. The embarrassed man trying to push himself into a light-pillar in the square to hide from the cloying inanity above knew the commodore currently assigned to the Soyokaze and knew that she was a stern woman in her late forties who would never be caught listening to the sort of “vile screeching” her namesake would be producing in a few moments.
Together, the Heavy Carrier Thousand Cherry Trees, Battlecruiser Soyokaze and – to be strictly accurate – Reconnaissance Cruiser Spirit of Earth began singing the latest sure-to-be number one hit, Monday to Saturday Every Month. It was, when not cleaned up for mass consumption and pitched up an octave or two, a common drinking-song in fleet bars. Of course, its lyrics were now about the permanent readiness of the Earth Fleet to defend humanity’s colonies. Indeed, he had vague memories of those being the official lyrics he had learned during his time in the Io Station Military Choir. The lyrics sung in Io Station’s recreational decks by newly-qualified officers on their first pay-cheque during drunken karaoke sessions had certainly been about the readiness of the Earth Fleet to do something, but it had not often been fighting.
There was momentary peace and quiet as he entered a transport-way, but the long advertising hoardings that lined it still showed the sickly smiles of the current members of the idol sensation, Cute Earth Defence Force. The closer one got to the angular grey-and-orange buildings of the United Humanity Admiralty the more pervasive promotion for their songs became. They appeared in their absurd outfits, which vaguely – it was claimed – resembled the armaments and distinguishing features of common ship classes. They never shut up about patriotism, appearing in the interstitial filler clips that came between other television broadcasts, and as honoured guests on news features.
It was, to the mind of a ship captain who had seen his share of battles, repulsive. But his disgust came with a strange disquiet. Nothing that these asinine mascots of war said was actually wrong. The war reports they delivered were, broadly speaking, accurate within the bounds of confidentiality. And the constant queues at the Enlistment Lives seemed to show that this was a kind of propaganda that worked – sign up for a tour of duty and get a handshake from your favourite idol! Donate to the Shipyard Fund and receive gravure postcards of the ship you paid for!
He did not know how much the idol strategy was helping in itself, but he did know that the mood in the corridors of the Admiralty was generally positive. Humanity was winning.
– A Week Later –
Spirit of Earth was wearing a comically oversized cast, eyepatch and head bandage.
“I’ve been a clumsy girl and I’m afraid I won’t be able to make the next Enlistment Live!”
There was canned sympathy from a non-existent audience.
“But I’m going to work really hard, and next time I’m not going to trip over! I know everyone’s relying on me, and I’m doing my best!”
Soyokaze was notably absent.
“I’ve got to work doubly hard because Big Sis has had to take some time out – she’s very tired, and- and-”
The young captain knew from internal memos Soyokaze had been recovered thirty-six hours after the battle with over ninety percent of her crew killed following a reactor breach that had torn out three quarters of the lower decks.
“She tried so hard and it’s so sad, isn’t it? We’re all trying really hard here to fight for you brave fans and sometimes- and sometimes-”
Commodore Yashima had died at her post. A second salvo from the alien dreadnought that had been refuelling at the supposedly undefended supply base had completely destroyed Soyokaze‘s bridge as it had begun to drift, powerless. The damage had been so total that it had taken a day and a half for recovery ships to locate the hulk in the debris field that had been left of the frontmost elements of the 16th Fleet.
“But we’re going to try our hardest to live up to Big Sis’s example, and I hope you’ll do your part too!”
They had a song for these situations. Warship March, a sombre song full of deep, sweeping strings and mournful sighs redolent of the saccharine ballads sung by drunk officer workers at throwing-out time.
Warship March opened with the fanfare played at shipboard funerals for those lost in the void. Only a fleet officer would know that, of course. Officers heroic enough to get a public funeral received the national anthem instead.
“But with every parting, as you know, comes a new friend to join our group. Meet Ms. Ise! Would you like to introduce yourself?”
Soyokaze had had long green-black hair in braids, and worn a deep blue bodysuit with turret-like epaulettes.
Ise had long blonde hair in braids, and wore a deep red bodysuit.
Soyokaze had walked in a way that meant one of her shoulders would rise a little higher than the other. The young captain couldn’t help but notice Ise had the same physical tic.
If he had closed his eyes, when they started singing Warship March, he could not have told the two women apart.
They produced warships by the dozen in great honeycomb-like dry docks in orbit above mineral-rich planets, or at the meeting-points of space lanes. Line upon line of hulls in various stages of completion, from skinless skeletons of metal to almost-complete vessels sitting lifeless and unpowered.
The young captain could not shake from his head an image of a honeycomb of dormant young women in various states of maturity, ready to open their eyes and fill a gap in the lineup made vacant by a sudden, terminal retirement.