95 Ch 95: Smoking, Hesitation, Flirting

Author's Note:

"Lately, I've been busy and feeling tired, my mind is a bit fuzzy...

For now, I'll take a break with a cigarette and a Bacardi rum."

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─It's not a workplace friendly to smokers.

During the lunch break, which also served as a midday rest, Moore, dressed in military uniform, was located behind the Central Government Army Command Headquarters building.

The intention to separate the smoking area for the sake of smoke prevention and health is understandable, but why are there only two oases for smokers? Despite having an abundance of resources and money, he thought while burning two cigarettes in three minutes, furrowing his brow.

This outdoor smoking area seems to be for ordinary soldiers. High-ranking officers like him might be allowed to use the indoor one, but apparently, only colonels or higher can use it according to an unwritten rule. Though they are all potential lung cancer candidates, he doesn't voice such thoughts; that's the way of those serving in the palace.

However, it seems there are few people like him who enjoy smoking rolled cigarettes. In fact, there are only a few cigarette butts in the ashtrays provided. Most of them seem to be electronic cigarette liquid or the like.

It doesn't seem like he can make smoking buddies here either. Moore, exhaling a sigh and purple smoke, crushed the embers of the cigarette he had just smoked to the ashtray.

Leaving the smoking area while wearing his military cap, he took a few deep breaths, exhaling the lingering scent of purple smoke from his lungs. It seems that the smell of cigarettes is a disliked factor. It's the third day of training in this building, but on the way back from the smoking area, he has received disapproving looks from passing soldiers several times.

The soldier who came out of the smoking area after him is evidence that he is using deodorizing spray to eliminate the smell of cigarettes remaining on his uniform.

Surprised that someone would go to such lengths just to smoke, Moore observes, but well, it's a personal choice, so it's not his place to criticize.

After all, he has no right or qualification to preach about smoking when he himself, who loves smoking something harmful to the body and highly addictive, does it willingly.

"...In the afternoon, is it marksmanship training?"

Recalling the training schedule, he exhales a sigh. It's fine to have thorough safety management during shooting. It's only natural when dealing with dangerous things.

Not that the safety management rules at the forward base shooting range are lax—yet he can't help but feel a sense of discomfort. Moore exhales a sigh.

Knowing it's training in the underground shooting range, he starts preparing but,

"Take your time eating. No one will take it from you."

Suddenly, a familiar voice is heard. Intrigued, Moore changes his direction to head towards the passage between the warehouse buildings.

Next to a furball, a small figure squatting down, chewing on dry food laid on the paved ground, comes into view.

"...Admi-kun?"

"─!"

"No, you don't have to stand. You can also skip the salute."

As soon as Admi, a small figure wearing a white jacket of the Central Government Army, is addressed, he recognizes the voice and hurriedly tries to stand up. Anticipating his move, Moore prevents him from doing so.

"...Captain Moore, I mean, Major. Long time no see."

"Yeah, good to see you're well. ─A stray cat?"

"No, it seems to be an abandoned cat."

While permitted to skip the formalities, Admi, despite being from a different unit, still hesitates. He slowly stands up so as not to startle the cat and turns to face Moore.

"...The recognition tag for the owner is..."

"...There's a collar, but... it seems to have been removed."

In Ark, there is an obligation to attach a recognition tag to pets, especially dogs and cats, with the owner's current address and name recorded. It's a similar item to the one hanging around Moore's neck.

By its presence or absence, it can be distinguished whether the animal was legally bred or not. However, the collar of the cat chewing on dry food next to Admi lacks such a tag.

"...Do you like cats?"

"...Yes."

"...I see."

"...What about Major Moore?"

"...I don't dislike cats, and I'm not allergic, but... I think the cat probably dislikes me."

Moore decided to try crouching down and extending his hand slightly. However, the cat raised its fur and emitted a threatening growl. It seemed to be a defensive attack behavior, a term Moore unfortunately didn't know.

Acknowledging this, he shrugged his shoulders and withdrew his hand obediently. At the same time, the cat returned to its meal, resuming its crunching.

"...I thought it was used to people."

"...Strange. Wild wolves usually follow me, though."

"Huh? Wolves?"

"Yeah, wolves."

In Admi's mind, images of the animals Moore had mentioned took shape. Considering their habits—wild and possibly ferocious, mixed with some exaggeration—she tilted her head in confusion.

"Wolves... you mean that wolves?"

"Yeah. They wag their tails and lick my face."

"Wolves... really?"

"Without a doubt."

She couldn't grasp it. Feeling like her own sense of reality might be overturned if she thought about it any further, Admi decided to steer the conversation back.

"I... I'm thinking of getting A.C.P.U to take care of this one."

"That would be for the best."

"Yeah..."

Moore nodded in agreement. He wouldn't suggest she take it if she liked cats; she had her duties and was a busy person.

"Hoping to have one?."

"...I can't do that."

"Why?"

"..."

Even if the current situation doesn't permit it, there's the possibility that the opportunity will come eventually. She takes the trouble to feed a stray cat; one can easily imagine her to be a person with an affectionate nature and an inherent love for cats.

However, Admi insisted that she can't. Not that she can't have one, but that she can't.

"Luckily, we have some time. Want to talk about it?"

"With Major Moore?"

"Even though we're from different units, well, different factions too, there might be things you can talk to strangers about. More importantly, I'm a commanding officer belonging to the Nikke Management Department. I can listen to your stories."

Moore took off his military cap, bent his left knee, and knelt down, lowering his posture to bring his gaze closer to Admi's as he spoke.

Affiliation, department, faction—though different, he is a commander, and Admi is a Nikke. Moore interprets one of the roles of a commander to include mental care for the Nikke members. He asks again why she says she can't do it.

"..."

"I'd be happy if you talked... Is it because I'm not suitable?"

"Why are you concerned about me?"

"Do I need a reason to listen to the troubles of a girl?"

"Girl...?"

To Admi's puzzled expression, Moore nodded in response. He naturally doesn't know how many years have passed since she became a Nikke. However, based on her appearance and gestures alone, she looks like a typical girl.

"Major Moore is... a strange person."

"That stings a bit."

"Sorry... but being allowed to raise animals is not something I can expect. We're tools... so..."

"Hmm..."

Referring indirectly to being a tool—meaning a Nikke—Admi voiced her thoughts.

"And besides..."

"Besides?"

"If I act selfishly, Yurha's burden will only increase. Even now, I'm causing trouble because of myself and Privaty... I can't afford to be more of a nuisance."

"I see."

Her responsible demeanor, despite her girlish appearance, felt strangely fitting. It might be one of the reasons, and he could inexplicably sense it.

Moore's deep brown eyes focused on the cat, still crunching its food with a crisp sound, next to Admi. It must have been quite hungry.

While she watched without saying anything, the cat, having finished its meal, began a satisfied post-dinner grooming. It seemed considerably calm.

Then, as if thanking Admi for the food, the cat rubbed against her legs and purred loudly.

Lured by this gesture, her hand reached out to the cat's head, but the hand was quickly withdrawn.

"...Not going to pet it?"

"..."

Moore asked a simple question. In response, Admi, tilting her head, after releasing a small sigh, began to explain in a soft voice.

"...I think that the act of petting is a manifestation of pouring affection. It's like a kind of beginning, saying, 'It's okay to open your heart because I'm pouring affection'..."

"Well, I can kind of understand what you're trying to say."

"...Even though I know I can't take responsibility until the end... petting is hypocrisy. Relationships where the end is known from the beginning are better off not starting in the first place."

...The words hit home.

With many points hitting close to home, Moore lightly scratched his cheek with his fingertips. Well, those wolves were, in fact, wild, and above all, they just followed him without any particular reason. While Moore internally defended himself, Admi lowered her gaze.

"...Like a hand that pets as if pouring all the affection, it makes you happy, and you're made to believe that it will continue forever... One day, suddenly, the misery of being abandoned... I know it well."

Ah, I see.

A vivid scene didn't come to Moore's mind. However, it was more than enough to suggest that there was something in Admi's past that he didn't know.

Knowing well, in other words— that's what it probably meant.

"Oh... I'm sorry. For bringing up weird stories."

"No, it's okay. You're a kind person."

Moore lightly patted Admi's back with his right hand. They weren't that close. From the conversation, it seemed that Admi had an aversion to acts that built relationships beyond what was necessary, such as patting heads or being patted. Hence, Moore didn't casually pat her head.

"...You didn't want this cat to experience the same feelings as you did?"

"..."

He interpreted her silence as affirmation.

Still looking up, her round, dahlia-colored eyes subtly trembled. Recognizing this, Moore took out a handkerchief from his military uniform pocket and handed it to Admi.

"I don't know what experiences you've been through, or the circumstances that led to them. But I can guess and imagine. It may sound cliché, but... you're a kind person. Without a doubt."

Once again, he lightly tapped her back as if bouncing it, then stood up, putting on his military cap.

"I'd like to watch the cat a bit longer, but it's time to go to the underground shooting range. Can I leave the contact with the police A.C.P.U to you?"

When Moore asked, Admi nodded silently.

"But, well... it's probably okay to wait a little longer. It's 12:40... the police officers will be having lunch soon."

He gently patted her slender shoulders again as she nodded.

There was probably another 10 or 20 minutes of leeway. How she would use that time was entirely up to her.

With himself being a source of intimidation, the cat wouldn't settle down. He turned on his heel to leave.

"Major Moore."

"What is it?"

Called out to, he turned around over his shoulder, and his deep brown eyes met Admi's dahlia-colored eyes. She remained squatting, searching for the right words—

"...Will you listen to my story again?"

"Of course, gladly. I am the commander, after all."

To the somewhat hesitant request that was carefully woven, he responded with a nod without any reservation.

.

.

.

"Huh!?"

"What's wrong, Anis?"

"Commander... is he flirting with Nikke again!?"

"Rapi. What is Anis talking about...?"

"It happens occasionally."

---

A.C.P.U officers!! Here! Here, there's a villain deceiving innocent Nikke!! Quickly, please arrest him!

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