Translation of Sword Art Online’s volume 13, interlude 4.
6th July AD 2026
There were twelve decks on the self-propelled mega-float that boasted an overall length of four hundred meters and a width of two hundred and fifty meters, the «Ocean Turtle».
Considering how Oasis of the Seas, the world’s biggest cruise ship—though smaller than the Ocean Turtle, of course—could hold eighteen decks, it appeared to be a slightly extravagant use of space. However, it was not constructed for cruises, but for oceanographic research, and apparently needed specifications capable of fitting all sorts of observation and analysis machinery. Naturally, not even Asuna had any dissatisfaction over the ceiling’s height.
The first floor from the waterline was the floating deck, the engine room took the second floor, while the third to eighth floors comprised of all kinds of research facilities, such as marine biology, deep-sea resources, and plate tectonics. The ninth and tenth floors held the cabins, the eleventh floor was the recreation deck with the lounge, gym, pool, and such, and aside from the radar and antenna installed on the final floor, the twelfth floor, it had an observation platform as well.
The ship belonged to the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, that was merely half of the truth.
Aside from the link in utilizing a domestic pressurized water reactor, its construction was carried out in cooperation with the self-defense forces and its members were constantly aboard, actively guarding it even after its completion.
That wasn’t all. The composite titanium pillar—nicknamed the «main shaft», stabbed through the hull’s core was left completely under the self-defense forces’ management and a top-secret research with absolutely no relation to the ocean was being carried out there. One that duplicated a newborn baby’s soul, brought up a virtual world, and seemed to have given birth to the world’s first bottom-up artificial intelligence—named the «Alicization Project».
6th July 2026, Monday, 7:45 AM.
Having paid a visit to Kirito—Kirigaya Kazuto, undergoing treatment in the upper half of the main shaft, called the «upper shaft», Yuuki Asuna had her breakfast at the eleventh deck’s lounge with Koujiro Rinko, a researcher of fulldive technology.
She figured she had no room for complaints, seeing as she was no guest on some luxurious passenger ship—or rather, she would have been escorted to the detention barracks (though she didn’t know if one existed) if not for the decision of Lieutenant Colonel Kikuoka Seijirou, who supervised the project, but she had no choice but to admit the buffet-style meal was fairly splendidly done.
Rinko, who inserted a knife into a battered white fish on the other side of the table, spoke as she stared hard at the cross-section.
“I wonder if this fish was caught from the Ocean Turtle?”
Having taken the same onto her dish, Asuna timidly brought a small piece to her mouth. The tender white flesh shredded easily yet kept its mellow texture when chewed. She had no doubt it was reasonably fresh, but she had no idea if fish could actually be caught by throwing a rod into these open seas.
Putting down the knife in her right hand, Asuna turned her eyes towards the window on the left of the table while bringing up her glass of iced tea. The calm ocean surface was pitch-black, without a single fishing boat in sight, let alone fishes.
Now that she thought about it, Asuna hadn’t heard anything about the Ocean Turtle’s current location, aside from it being in the «sea near the Izu islands». Even if it was around the Izu islands, that was a long distance from north to south. If she recalled right, even Hachijyou Island near the middle was almost three hundred kilometers from Tokyo.
She could just start up a location application and display her current location on the portable terminal she brought from Tokyo if she could use it, but unfortunately, she didn’t have permission to connect to the shipboard Wi-Fi due to security or something. She could play the music files and such stored in the local memory, so she felt lucky enough that it didn’t get confiscated, but frustration certainly did accumulate when stuck in a situation incapable of doing an «instant search whenever a thought struck her». She didn’t feel this disgruntled back in SAO, where she couldn’t even get a single piece of news from the real world, let alone perform a search, though.
Gulping down her sigh along with the iced tea, Asuna thought to refresh her mood.
She only got this irritated at not being able to use the internet due to that lingering sensation that she wasn’t kept in the loop enough.
Was the «project» Kikuoka Seijirou, Higa Takeru, and the rest worked on truly limited to those details they explained yesterday? Were there not still many concealed secrets hidden in the experimental world, «Underworld»? Also—would Kazuto, receiving treatment on the Soul TransLator number 4, awaken when tomorrow comes as Nurse Aki Natsuki had said…?
No, putting the first two aside, she had to cast off her doubts over the third. She could only believe entirely in it now. When tomorrow—7th July comes, Kazuto’s damaged neural network will have been regenerated and he will regain consciousness. Asuna had no choice but to return to Tokyo via the helicopter departing from the Ocean Turtle on the seventh’s evening, but there should be enough time to exchange some words. And the time for Asuna to firmly embrace the body that protected her.
Having regained some of her spirit by imagining that moment, Asuna continued eating while asking Rinko on the opposite side.
“Rinko-san, do you have any details on this ship’s current location? I haven’t heard anything more than it being in the sea near the Izu islands.
“…Now that you bring it up, I think I know as much as you…”
Having finished the battered fish, Rinko lightly tilted her head and put her hand into the pocket of her white robe. She appeared to be retrieving her portable terminal, but apparently recalled that she couldn’t connect to the internet immediately after and faintly frowned.
“Erm, I believe Higa-kun mentioned that we were a hundred kilometers or two west of Mikura Island… or wait, was it Miyake Island…”
While voicing out those vague information, Rinko turned her eyes towards the window that was large for a ship. Asuna, too, gazed upon the blue-black sea surface once again.
The morning sun shone in from the opposite window, so the direction their two faces turned towards should be west. If the Ocean Turtle truly was west of the Izu islands presently, neither Mikura Island nor Miyako Island would be visible, much less Honshuu…
A soft “Ah” escaped from Asuna who gazed at the ocean from right to left with those thoughts in mind. She didn’t notice it when she looked at the window earlier, but it was shining white in the light from the morning sun. Something slender and man-made, floating in the distant sea—a ship. Grasping its scale was difficult without anything to compare it to, but it appeared rather large.
“Rinko-san, over there.”
Asuna placed the knife before pointing, making Rinko squint her eyes and nod.
“Oh, that’s a ship, isn’t it. Maybe the fishing vessel that caught the fishes earlier…… or not, it seems…”
“Eh, it’s not?”
It’s much too large for a fishing vessel and its color is plain too… besides, that’s an awfully lot of antennas.
Rinko left her seat and walked towards the window, so Asuna went to her side. Her eyesight couldn’t be said to be bad, but the faraway ship slowly swayed, blurring its details, perhaps due to the vapor spraying off the sea surface. However, there certainly was a great number of circular antennas installed on the mast towering at the ship’s center. Very much similar to the large antenna mast standing at the top of the Ocean Turtle, which would be right above this lounge. The ship’s frame had a linear design as well, so rather than a fishing vessel, it would be closer to a transport ship, no, instead…
The moment Asuna muttered so, a somber voice rang out from behind.
“That’s a Japanese vessel. Japan doesn’t own any warships.”
She turned back in sync with Rinko. The one who stood there holding onto breakfast with both hands was a man in a pure white uniform with short sleeves—Lieutenant Nakanishi.
When the pair greeted him, the tall Nakanishi conscientiously placed his tray on a nearby table before bowing his upper body and returning the greeting.
“Good morning, Professor Koujiro, Yuuki-san.”
“A chance like this is rare, so wouldn’t you have your meal at our table?”
He considered Rinko’s invitation for a little while before nodding with a “I’ll take you up on your offer, then”. Waiting until Nakanishi moved his tray, Asuna and Rinko then sat back at their original seats. Taking a look at the self-defense forces member’s breakfast portion, it was large as expected, with eggs, bacon, and salad heaped onto a large plate.
“How does the taste compare to meals at the self-defense forces?”
Nakanishi let out a slight strained laughter at Rinko’s considerably difficult question and spoke as he picked up his fork.
“Honestly speaking, the Ocean Turtle’s a little better, I suppose. And these tomatoes and cucumbers were even grown aboard the ship.”
“Wah, there’s a vegetable garden?”
The self-defense forces member showed a somewhat proud smile this time at Asuna who had her eyes opened wide.
“Yes, at the back of the eighth deck. I believe it was an experiment for large-scale agriculture on the sea, however.”
“I wonder if that’s what gave the tomatoes that slightly salty taste.”
And at that joke from Rinko,
Looking at Nakanishi, chewing the tomato wedges with a grave expression, Asuna and Rinko broke into laughter. Just as she took up her fork and knife to resume her interrupted meal, Asuna recalled Nakanishi’s first line from earlier and tilted her head.
Japan didn’t own any warships, he said, but that shouldn’t be the case. Wouldn’t his original workplace as a member of the maritime self-defense forces be on a warship… no, the self-defense forces weren’t an army, so the ships they owned wouldn’t be warships, or so logic would dictate, huh. In other words, the ship visible on the other side of the window would be…
Asuna turned her eyes towards the window once again and stared hard at the linear silhouette of the large ship as she spoke.
“Then, that’s… not a warship, but erm, a Japan defense ship…?”
“That’s close. Vessels belonging to the maritime self-defense forces are termed escort ships.”
Nakanishi gave a toothed smile, then turned his own eyes towards the faraway ship and continued.
“That ship is a newly manufactured destroyer, DD-127 «Nagato»*. As for why it cruises around this sea region, unfortunately, I am not at liberty to…… hmm…?”
His clear words cut off unnaturally and Asuna looked at Nakanishi’s face before she returned her sight to the sea.
When she did, the grey warship—no, escort ship just happened to start changing its direction. Turning its stern towards the Ocean Turtle in less than ten seconds, it continued off into the distance.
Having seen that, Nakanishi stood up without warning and turned his back to Asuna and Rinko, taking out a nondescript portable terminal from his pocket. Putting it to his ear in a nimble motion, he began speaking in a soft voice.
“Lieutenant Colonel Kikuoka, I apologize for disturbing your rest, this is Nakanishi. However, regarding «Nagato», was it not supposed to be escorting this ship until 1200 the day after tomorrow… no, it changed course towards the west just a… yes, I’ll be immediately there.”
Finished with his phone call, he turned quickly around with the terminal held in his face. An abrupt rigid expression had plastered itself upon the self-defense forces member’s face.
“Professor, Yuuki-san, I apologize, but I’ll be excusing myself here.”
“Good luck with that. I’ll clear up the utensils for you.”
“I’ll accept your kind offer, then. Excuse me.”
Immediately after bowing in his upright posture at Rinko’s words, Nakanishi left the lounge at a speed close to running.
“…I wonder what was the matter?”
Tilting her head slightly, she took another look beyond the window.
Feeling a baseless, faint uneasiness while witnessing the escort ship disappear beyond the morning mist, Asuna gently clenched her left hand.
DD-127 in the real world is Isoyuki, a Hatsuyuki-class destroyer. However, the real question is why DD-128 wasn’t used instead…
- Translation – Tap