“Come in, come on in!”
An old man’s voice cheerily called out from the other side of the office door. A young women carefully opened that door, and edged inside.
Everything looked exactly as she had remembered it on that day. The smell of strong coffee, old papers, and typewriter ink was the same. The warm rays of sunlight shining through the two oversized windows was the same. The brightly polished oaken floor was the same – her reflection peered anxiously back at her.
Of course, Admiral Taylor’s desk was as cluttered as ever, too. She thought to herself as she stole a glance at the planning table pushed aside into the corner. Maps with flags and pins, well-bound books and hand-transcribed notes, it’s all there. As she had remembered.
The only thing missing was sound.
No aide ran in and out carrying enveloped messages. No well-dressed Senator lingered to talk the latest news on the hill. No slightly irate engineers with their stacks of blueprints.
No Admiral Taylor, either.
The young woman looked around. The office was empty. She was the only person there.
“Well, no, don’t bothering looking. I’m, well, obviously not actually alive. But I’m alive in a sort of way. Think of it as a legacy and a facsimile, in something of that order. Time, after all, have no meaning here. I mean I’d never think to call my office this, but this place we’re in, it’s … It is like the blissful havens of the life beyond. Like in those books.
Ahem, well. If you are here listening, then it means that things have gone well. Very well, in fact. It means that you’re ready to head out there and show ’em what we’ve got!”
The shipgirl stared at the small, thin, black rectangular box that had Admiral Taylor’s voice coming out. A word – or concept – flashed through her mind. Recording.
“Everything is changing. Everything changes. By now you have a very good idea as to the sort of thing you must do. Sorry if I’m just rambling a bit – this is all very exciting for me, and I can only wish that I was there to see you in person. What a remarkably fine and great young woman you must be. Had my grand-daughter survived the Abyssal War, she -”
She noticed that the voice paused for the tiniest of seconds.
“- would have dearly loved to meet you. Ah, but, of course, that’s … a tale for another time. She did not. We did not. Sometimes that’s just how things are.”
The shipgirl nodded.
“Normally, if this is an ordinary war like all others, I’d have given you the information you need. The strength of the adversary, our own capabilities, some patriotic uplifting of the spirit, and a reminder that Americana shall triumph against all odds.
The issue of the matter is, well, you’ve got all of that already. It’s there available to you whenever you need it. So, I thought, before you step outside of my office door and enter the world anew, I thought I’d tell you a little story. One that you might appreciate. Or maybe not. I’m not exactly known to be a man strong of will and heavens know, I’ve been persuaded to follow through a great many things.”
The shipgirl couldn’t help but to smile at Admiral Taylor’s self-depreciating candor. Some things don’t change.
“Now, you go out there and you’re going to meet plenty of fine young women like yourself. Some will have pedigrees and accomplishments the stuff of legends. I’ve got no qualms or doubts that they’d be up to par, too. You’re going to meet them, and it’s easy to get caught up in greatness. You’re going to have a few nicknames too. The Grey Ghost. The Blue Ghost. The Grand Old Lady. Lady Lex.
I’m going to tell you. My favorite, and the truest of them all, is always going to be the Queen of Flattops.”
The voice paused thoughtfully for a moment as sunlight danced on top of the cassette player’s black plastic.
“Now, you might be wondering. What an odd saying. What an un-American saying. We Americans don’t have kings and queens! We broke away from that two hundred some years ago!
You are right. But let me explain. Perhaps you’ll like it then.
Moffett and I had a soft spot for that ship. CC-1. CV-2. What’ll ultimately become the foundation for every aircraft carrier America will ever field. At first we had something of a sardonic approach to things. See, Lexington, you are absolutely correct. Americans don’t have queens. A queen was quaint and archaic and old-fashioned. America, by contrast, is ordinary, modern, and progressive. We’re damn proud of the fact that all men are born equal, and all shall measure his own worth by the act of his deeds.
Yet royalty – in all its old-fashioned glory – was supposed to represent something great. The monarch of a country ruled because he was supposed to be the greatest of his land. He was the personification of the kingdom and his people.
What you, or shall I say, your namesake was supposed to be was the greatest warship we had ever seen. A ship fast enough to chase and defeat any of her adversaries, innovative enough to face down any new threat we’d ever face, and far-sighted enough to be as modern as we need she to be.
We moved heaven and earth to build her. Toiled endless hours to make her into something worthy of her name. CC-1 was supposed to be the Queen of the High Seas, and she was.
It’s just that the world no longer needed kings and queens.”
The voice paused again, as if thinking back to some by-gone era. When the recording continued, Admiral Taylor sounded wistful, almost a little sad.
“A new era dawned, and with it came a new type of warship. Moffett and I are old friends and adversaries, but this is one thing that I will give to that old sea dog. He was right about aviation. Right about how things would be. Right about how war was going to take place.
I agreed, reluctant as I might have been. We cancelled most of the Lexington battlecruisers and I signed the authorization that would ultimately enable your namesake’s conversion. All for the sake of our home and our people’s safety. On that day the navy of yesterday met the navy of tomorrow, and the navy of yesterday was honorably relieved. The coming times would prove us all right, and history was ultimately kind.
Fitting, isn’t it? An old, old man like myself, handing over my greatest creation to the next generation. I grew up in the era before aviation, and it is with some envy and a great deal of amazement that I saw mankind take to the skies.”
The recording crackled. The room slowly darkened as clouds begin to cover the sunlight.
“Naval air, like aviation itself, would rapidly develop. It is here that I speak with a great deal of pride, and I hope you’ll understand just why we had settled on that nickname.
Your namesake, Lexington, carried with her a regal lineage. No American speaks of Lexington – that eminent event in our nation’s history – without a touch of awe and reverence. Whether it’s fighting for independence, to preserve our union, to protect our shores, or to safeguard our homes, she served her country with the utmost distinction.
Lexington. Hull number 2. She, too, would be proud of her accomplishments were she a living being. Every American aircraft carrier is built from the lessons learned from the operations of herself and her sister ship. She set a standard for excellence and valor that those who came after would strive to surpass.”
The shipgirl fidgeted. She opened her mouth, as if wanting to speak, struggled, and remained silent.
“Now, I know what you’re thinking. It’s true. It’s a tall order. Tall boots to fill. She was not perfect. She had many disadvantages. Her design, with the benefit of hindsight, had many flaws. Yet she waded into the forefront of the hardest battles, and gave her all and more. Men that served on her, the likes of Butch O’Hare and Bob Dixon and Aubrey Fitch and Ducky Duckworth and Marion W. Dufilho and Ted Sherman and Jimmy Flatley and Felix Stump and so many more would go on to greater glory. It is her legacy that made it possible for these men.
A queen does not inspire by her crown alone, but by how she burdens herself with the responsibility of that crown. She endures where others falter, persists where others flee, and always carries out her duties with the majesty of her station.
I know you are thoughtful and kind. I know you question constantly if you are worthy of that title. I would say, had you felt yourself comfortable with the title…”
The voice paused again. Lexington could see the twinkle in the old man’s eyes in her mind.
“…it would have been proof that you were not.”
The recording became quieter.
“I hope I’ve made my point clear. Sure hope I did. Would be a terrible shame if you took it the wrong way, hah.”
The recording grew quieter still as Admiral Taylor paused. With a light creasing sound, a wind blew from somewhere and opened the office’s door a tiny bit. Light – as bright as the sun outside – flooded through.
“Well, it’s time. Time for an old man to say farewell.
United States Ship-Girl Lexington. When you step through that door you’ll be entering a world that is both alien and familiar. We all expect that you shall face many challenges, and we have no doubts that you – together with your fellow patriots – shall overcome. Never, ever doubt that you will make us all proud. For you already have done that and much more.
Thus, I end this message with one final remark.”
Lexington nodded. She placed her hand on the doorknob, gently opened the door, and stepped forward.
“Good luck and godspeed, and may God bless the Queen of the Flattops!”
“SHIPGIRL IDENTITY CONFIRMED. CERTAINTY: 100.0 PERCENT. HEART OF AVALON ENTERING DORMANT STATUS.”
A feminine albeit mechanical voice blared out across some sort of loudspeaker system as Lexington stepped out the door and into a brand new world.
Thousands of fairies fluttered and flew about the gigantic marble-walled, dome-like cavern. Strange lights blinked and glowed atop her, on top of cables and machines located in a ring-like alcove. Several young women are already present.
“Well, golly! I think that’s her. Hey, everyone, we’ve got a new shipgirl!”
One pointed at her excitedly and ran off.
“Michael Yin, United States Navy Special Task and Evaluation Command. And you are?”
In front of her stood a young man in a sharply pressed USN uniform, hand extended. Other than the star on his shoulder and the bar on his cuff, he wore no decorations except for a … horned dolphin and a simple patch that Lexington did not recognize.
Lexington couldn’t help but to crack a smile.
“Lexington. Standing by for orders.”