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Honor and Duty - Baikal grapples with the feeling of betrayal while finding her place in an unfamiliar world.


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“Welcome aboard, Captain.” A man tells me as I board the Soviet heavy cruiser Baikal. 


“At ease.” I tell him. My first mate, Kanat, a young man from Kazakhstan, or more accurately the Kazakh SSR. Even before the establishment of the INPF system, the Soviet Union recruited from all around its various republics. Now, the fleet was more diverse than ever. 


I was only recently assigned to command Baikal. The Belles chose their own captains, so I was surprised that she wasn’t here to meet me.


“Have you seen the lady of the ship?” I asked Kanat. 


“No, she’s been missing all day.” He replied. “The rest of the crew has been hard at work to get her ready for you. The ship, that is.” 


I gave a nod of approval. Indeed Baikal looked freshly cleaned and painted. I surveyed the deck. The old German markings had been removed, replaced with livery more appropriate for the Soviet Navy. Even with the international mission of the INPF, the ships still belonged to their parent country. 


“Very well.” I said. “If you see her, please ask her to see me in my office.” We still had a week before our shakedown cruise, when we would receive our orders. 


Later in my office, I heard a knock on the door. 


“Come in.” I said. A young woman entered. She was dressed in the style of a Prussian general. 


“You wished to speak with me, Captain?” The woman said. 


“You must be Baikal.” I said. “Come, sit down.” 


Baikal sat down across from my desk. She did not show any expression on her face. “That is my name now, isn’t it. Did you know I was once the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen?” 


In 1939, the German government had signed off on a negotiated deal with the Soviet Union to trade three of their heavy cruisers for increased material trade. A few weeks after that, they had arrived in the Pacific ocean. Prinz Eugen was joined by her sisters Seydlitz and Blücher. Shortly after, she had been renamed and Baikal reassigned when her Belle awoke. 


“I have indeed studied your history, Baikal.” I said. “I wanted to get to know the Belle I’ll be serving alongside.”


“What is there to say?” Baikal replied. “I am at your disposal for the benefit of the INPF and Soviet Navy. That is the task they’ve assigned me, and I will carry it out.”


I raised an eyebrow at her. “You’re quite the soldier, aren’t you?” 


“My honor demands it.” She said, “I will follow my captain to the doors of oblivion should you order me to.” 


I wanted to probe her further. “Is that all you want to do? Follow orders?” 


A slight scowl appeared on Baikal’s face. “My Captain, if you doubt my honor and loyalty, please allow me to demonstrate my commitment.” 


“A demonstration? What are you talking about?” I asked. My question was immediately answered when a call came down to my office. ‘All hands, prepare for battlestations! Morgana have been sighted off the harbor!’


“Very well!” I told Baikal. “Show me what you’ve got!”


Baikal followed my orders to the letter, and with inhuman precision took control of the various systems on board her vessel, quickly dispatching the Morgana without incident. 


The following evening, I ran into Baikal leaving the mess hall. 


“Baikal! There you are. I wanted to continue our conversation from earlier.” I called out.


Baikal gave a sigh, but quickly hid it as she turned to me. “What is it, my Captain? Did you wish to discuss today’s battle?” 


I shook my head. “No, I think you performed admirably.” I said. “You never gave me an answer to my question earlier. You must have some ambition beyond carrying out orders. If that truly is your desire, that’s fine, and we can move on with our relationship happily.”


She gave another curt answer. “Whatever the Soviet Navy asks of me I am honor-bound to carry out. That is the truth.” She told me, and promptly vanished into the ship. I was unconvinced, but decided to leave her alone for now.


The following day, Baikal was nowhere to be found. I decided to seek out some of the few remaining crew from her original complement. I found a young crewman above deck named Klaus, who was assigned to one of her turrets. 


“Crewman Klaus!” I said. The young man was busy moving extra shells on board Baikal. He stopped the cart and gave a salute. “Kapitan!” 


“At ease.” I saluted back. “Do you have a moment to speak?”


“Of course, what can I help you with?” He said.


“Can you tell me about Prinz Eugen the ship? Back when you were serving in the Kriegsmarine.” I asked. 


His face sank when I asked. “Eugen was… Well I suppose we all felt a little different back then. The Fuhrer had just attended her launch, and we all dreamed of serving the Fatherland to keep everyone safe from the British and the French.”


I started to get a picture of how Eugen’s crew must have been even before she awakened. “What else can you tell me?” I asked him. 


“Not much, I admit.” He replied. “The day we all received the news that she had been sold… I suppose it was somewhat like a funeral. The previous Kapitan, he came from a proud line of navy men. I’d never seen someone so stoic until that day.”


He wrapped up his story. “Of course, after that you know how things went. Most of us were transferred elsewhere. One day we saw Eugen standing at the bow of the ship, motionless. When someone went to talk to her, she simply turned around and vanished, until you showed up. She had the same sort of expression as the Kapitan.”


I contemplated the man's story. “Very good, sailor. As you were.” Klaus turned back to his duties. I believed I knew what was bothering Baikal.


Later that day, I called for Baikal in my office.


“Reporting as ordered, Captain.” She said.


“Please, sit.” I said.


“Is that an order?” Baikal replied.


I nodded. “Yes. Please.” I gestured at the chair. Baikal sat down but did not speak. I had thought about how to broach the topic. “I understand you did not want this, Baikal. You weren’t built to serve the Soviet Union, nor did you expect to be sold.”


“What I want is-” She began.


“Irrelevant, I’m sure you were going to tell me.” I interjected. “Yes, I can tell you’ll follow your orders without question, but that won’t benefit either of us. Everyone here needs to be on the same page, including you.”


She frowned at me. At least it was an emotion, I thought to myself. “You may speak freely.” I told her. “That’s an order.” 


She bit her lip, but answered. “I was supposed to serve the Fatherland with honor and pride. All three of us.” She began. “But instead, my own government sold me off for scraps! How is that honorable?”


“You feel like they betrayed you?” I questioned.


“Betrayed? I… Do not know.” She continued. “I believed in Prussian honor. That we were a mighty and strong people who would see our nation uplifted to glory. How does one reconcile that with such actions?”


I sat on her words for more than a few seconds. “I wish I had answers for you, Baikal. All I can ask right now is you continue to be open with me, and I’ll do what I can to help you.”


She nodded silently. “There are more pressing matters to be dealt with.” She said.


I raised an eyebrow. “What are you-” I began. Of course, it had to be Morganas.


After the battle, I met Baikal above deck. 


“Good work back there, Baikal.” I said. 


“Thank you, Captain.” She replied. She paused for a moment. “I would have more words for you.”


I gestured towards her. “By all means.”


“It might have been tolerable, barely, were I sold to the British, the French, even the Americans. But to be sold to the Soviet Union… They are the very opposite of the Fatherland!” She said. A few sailors looked at her from afar when she exclaimed, but quickly turned back to their duties. 


“Baikal, please!” I said. 


Baikal calmed herself with a shameful look. “I apologize, Captain. It isn’t my place to question whom I serve.”


“That’s not what I meant.” I shot back at her. “You should question who you serve, why they ask you to do what you do; But you’re going to have to find a way to reconcile your beliefs with how things are now.”


“How can I possibly do that, Captain?” She asked me sincerely.


I gave her a pat on the shoulder. “It’s my job as your Captain to help you, so that’s what I’ll do. Why don’t you take the rest of the evening off? We’ve got orders coming tomorrow.” An alarm sounded across the harbor. “For now, we have Morganas to destroy.”


Baikal gave a solemn look. “Yes, Captain. At least we have our orders.” She vanished into the ship, and we began combat.


Very soon, our orders arrived. We were to sail around the island of Sakhalin and return to the harbor to verify Baikal’s combat readiness. Morgana concentrations were low, and regular patrols would keep us mostly safe if anything were to go wrong.


I made my way to the bridge. “Baikal!” I ordered. The young woman appeared next to me. 


“Orders, Captain?” She asked. 


I nodded. “We’re departing at once. Please spend the next few hours among the various parts of your vessel as the crew gets acquainted with their stations.”


Baikal hid a small scowl. “I will ensure our new crew is up to standards. If they are not, they shall be given immediate remedial training.” She ominously promised.


We sailed between the mainland and Japan, eventually coming to the Tartary Strait. I spied a telltale mist approaching, and knew a fight was coming. 


“Damage report!” I barked at the officers on the bridge. 


“Turret B reports a fire inside! We’ve got a flood on the lower deck, bulkheads have been sealed! Fires breaking out across the deck; No immediate threat!” My first officer replied. 


“Baikal!” I yelled. Nothing. Whatever Baikal was doing she wasn’t responding to my call. “Damn it!” I said. “Get everyone out of that turret! I want the ammunition room flooded at once! We can’t risk a detonation.” My commands were relayed down below.


Damage control was able to get the fire under control, and a detonation was avoided. After the battle, I furiously combed the ship for Baikal, who still had not reported to me. 


I did not expect to find her atop the observation tower, crying silently in a corner. 


“Baikal?” I asked. 


She looked up, tears on her face. “You.. should not see me like this, Captain. Please go away.” 


I shut the door behind me. “Baikal, are you okay? I was counting on your support in battle. Have you been up here this whole time? 

“I thought I would be happy. If they died.” She said.


“If who died?” I asked.


“The crew. That everyone would see what a waste they were, and I would go back to the Fatherland.” She replied. 


I couldn’t find the words to say back. Baikal continued anyway. “As quickly as I thought it, I hated myself for it. A Prussian fights for her homeland, but now my homeland is my crews homeland. When I hated them, I dishonored the memory of Prinz Eugen.” She looked up at me. “What do I do, Captain?” 


I sat down beside her and put my arm around her shoulder. “Baikal… What am I going to do with you?”


“It would have been better had I not awoken, like my sisters. Then I could serve without this folly of emotions.” She suggested. 


“Well, you’re here now, and we can’t very well dismiss you.” I thought for a moment. “I know you don’t wish these sailors to die. Why don’t you spend some time with them? I’ll get everyone together for movie night.”


Baikal looked at me. “I am to face their judgment?” She asked.


“What? No- You already told me you know these sailors fight for their homeland. If you spend some time with them, you might find something in common.” I said. 


She wiped her face. “Is that an order, captain?” 


I smiled. “Yes, Baikal. Captain’s orders.”


Baikal joined me that night in the ship’s mess. Many of the sailors were chatting among themselves, others had found snacks and refreshments. It did not take long for them to notice Baikal’s entrance, and their chatting became a murmur. 


Baikal stood tall, but unspeaking. I was preparing to break the silence, but crewman Klaus beat me to it. 


“Baikal!” He said. “It is good to see you again, my old friend.” The rest of the sailors joined in, each happy to see their lady joining them. 


Kanat came up to her once the enlisted had returned to their activities. “Greetings, my lady.” He said. “We’re all glad for you to join us. A ship and her crew must work together, must they not?”


“Yes.” Baikal said. “It is my duty to see everyone home safely through our missions.” 


Kanat gave a laugh. “And us you, my lady.” He gestured to two other sailors. A young African-American woman and a young Japanese man. “Miss Lincoln and Mr. Takeda are in charge of the drinks and snacks. I believe one of the American belles is quite fond of a popped corn, as they call it?”


“Thank you, Commander.” Baikal replied. “It does smell quite good.” She turned back to the crowd. Klaus was mingling with the rest of the crew. 


She went up to the two making popcorn. “Greetings,” She said.


“Ah! Miss Baikal, right?” Lincoln said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you at last. We’ve heard a lot about you.”


“You have?” Baikal asked. 


“Of course!” Takeda interjected. “Klaus has only said kind things about you since we met. He even gave us letters from your old crew to read. They were all wishing you well.” 


“I- I did not know that.” Baikal replied. “Are they well?”


“Oh yes, they said that they hoped you could meet all kinds of people and see all kinds of things out in the world. Far more than you could see in Germany alone.” Takeda answered. 


“Say, do you want some popcorn?” Lincoln asked. “My sister got it from a Belle named Wichita. She said it’s grown right there in Kansas in America.” 


“I believe I will try this popcorn,” Baikal said. She took a handful and threw it into her mouth. 


“Ish quide good,” she said, not even finishing her bite. Lincoln and Takeda laughed. 


“My father would scold you if he were here,” Takeda said with a smile. “I did not know our Belle had such poor table manners!” 


Baikal turned red. Lincoln gave her a reassuring pat. “Don’t take it too seriously,” She said. “He’s always like that. Why, you should see what he says after a cup of that sake he likes so much. Why one time he-” 


“Okay, okay. I apologize, Miss Baikal. Can you forgive me?” Takeda asked.


Baikal turned her head in exaggerated thought. “I will forgive you… If you share some of this sake with me when we return to port.” 


“You have a deal!” Takeda said. They all laughed together.


Baikal turned to me. “These men and women trust each other,” She said.


I gave an inquisitive look. “How do you figure that, Baikal?” I asked.


“I know the look of a crew who fight as one. Who live as one. When I was torn from my country, I did not believe another crew would be able to help me reach my potential as a proud Prussian warrior,” She said.


“But you believe that now?” I asked.


She smiled. “No. I am no longer a proud Prussian warrior. But I can be Baikal, and these men and women will help us forge a new destiny. One that protects not only them, but all of mankind.”


I gave a nod of approval. “I’m glad to hear that, Baikal.” I turned back to the crowd. “Tomorrow we’ll be heading back to Vladivostok. Reports suggest a major Morgana presence between Sakhalin and Hokkaido. Rest up for now, and be ready to fight come tomorrow.”


Baikal gave a salute. “Understood, Captain.” She returned to her popcorn. I was happy to see her having a good time.


The next day, I met Baikal on the bridge. “Good to see you.” I said. “How is the crew?”


“Ready and able.” Baikal replied. “I inspected every station personally. We’re ready for them.” 


An ever more familiar sight was on the horizon. The Morganas were right where they should be.


The battle commenced. Baikal fought more fiercely than ever before. A group of Morganas fired at us, but Baikal effortlessly dodged their attacks. She retaliated with a mighty roar and shells flew true towards their victims, annihilating a group of Morgana destroyers before they could even launch torpedoes. A Morgana battleship fired a broadside at us. Baikal turned her turrets and fired in retaliation. Somehow, she managed to intercept their shells with our own. I had never seen anything like it. 


As good as Baikal was, even she could not see everything at once. A Morgana cruiser managed a lucky hit on one of the rear turrets.


Kanat gave me an update. “Captain, #4 is out of action, but Takeda was wounded. We can’t get him out.


“Damn!” I said. “Get someone on that right away. Baikal and I will-” I turned, but Baikal was gone again. I didn’t know what to think, but I had to get my crew through the fight. 


What remaining turrets I had left turned to destroy the cruiser that hit us. A few hits sent it to the bottom of the ocean. The battle was quickly wrapped up after. As soon as it was safe, I ran to Takeda’s turret. 


A group had gathered outside. “Out of the way!” I yelled. I forced my way through the door. A weak voice called for help.


No sooner had I made my way into the turret than a huge piece of metal nearly crashed into me. I looked at its source, and saw Baikal ripping equipment and metal clear off the walls and tossing it aside. 


“Captain! It’s not safe! Get out of here!” She yelled. 


I made my way over. “I won’t leave a crewman behind! Or my Belle!” I exclaimed.


Baikal continued to clear rubble. I could see Takeda trapped behind a gun breach. He seemed injured, but not grievously. Even so, without medical attention he wouldn’t last. 


“How can I help you?” I asked Baikal. 


“Please, Captain,” she said. “Leave this to me. Is the deck ahead of the turret clear?” 


“Yes.” I answered.


She simply said ‘good.’ With a mighty heave, she gripped her hands along the back of the breach, and pushed it clear out of the front of the turret. A crash echoed through the ship. 


“Help me get him out of here,” she said. 


Baikal and I both grabbed Takeda and brought him out. The medics were ready to take him. Before he left, he grabbed Baikal’s sleeve. “Thank you,” he whispered. 


The battle was over.


We arrived in Vladivostok without further incident. I met Baikal on the top deck. 


“We’ll be in for repairs for quite a while. Those Morganas did a number on your hull. Not to mention your own work with that gun barrel.”


“Do you doubt my decision?” She asked.


“No, no.” I answered. “Simply observing.” We stood for a moment. “Takeda is going to make a full recovery. He’s banged up pretty bad, but he didn't suffer any internal damage.”


“That is good to hear,” Baikal said.


We stood some more, until the sun began to set. “What do you think about your future now?” I asked her.


“Pardon?” She asked.


“What lies ahead for the mighty cruiser Baikal?” I clarified. 


“Ah, I’ve given your original question some thought these past days.” Baikal said. 


“Sometimes we grow too attached to the idea of something. The symbols in our lives that define us. But sometimes we lose those symbols, and are left with nothing but ourselves. I am Prinz Eugen, but I am also Baikal. Both are parts of my life. My name did not give birth to my existence, nor does it sustain it. Our values and beliefs transcend nationality, and I will one day seek to carve a path of my own, independent of nations. But until then, I will be Baikal, defender of the Soviet Union, defender of Humanity.”


I stood in silence, taking in her speech. “You’ve really matured these past few days,” I said.


“These are uncharted times for both of us,” she said. Baikal turned to me as the sun set behind her. “Will you follow me on my journey, Captain?”

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