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RP: YSS Kaiyō Aside: Sekijitsu


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Private Ryokan at Kaiko Park
Kyoto, Yamatai

The white and cerulean hair of Taisa Taiyou Hoshi brushed past the shoulder of her muted sweater as she slowed her flight path. She was hovering about her ryokan, moving things ever so slightly at times and at others, carrying big bundles between the washer and the cabinets. Her deep ocean blue eyes fell on the table to her right where she had bought an assortment of snacks and finger foods and realized one of Aiko's favorites was missing from the zataku table. She bounded into the kitchenette in gravity assisted hops, making her sweater fly up and reveal to the empty room that she was wearing not much else underneath it save it for a red pair of side-tied swimsuit bottoms. The fluffy slippers below them threatened to fall from her feet as she hovered about.

Between pulling linens and the freshly laundered futon linings from the wash and plating foods, she was double checking her personal items were gone from the little inn. She was getting the place ready to take on visitors while she was away while simultaneously preparing it for one Ketsurui Aiko to stay over before she left. Though Aiko had stayed before and there was no great precedent for a stately reception, Hoshi still found a calm in the work in preparing for her friend and comrade.

Just then, Aiko arrived to the hidden house, up through a tree-lined path that obscured it from public view. It was 1300 hours on the dot, precisely when her captain had told her to come, the moment the imperial princess (and Star Army first officer) strode through the private ryokan's front entryway and into its foyer. She was dressed very casually, wearing tight black acid wash jeans and a white crop top t-shirt fashioned with its sleeves cut off. The shirt's plain front was emblazoned with the Yamataian word "剣聖" — kensei — in shodo style black ink calligraphy.

Although today's visit was ultimately a business call to iron out details before the YSS Kaiyō II's upcoming mission, Hoshi had invited Aiko discuss such matters during an overnight stay at Kaiko Park's private accommodations and have a soak in its wonderful onsen. So she'd decided against a uniform or something less casual; it wasn't as either of them would be signing autographs or greeting veterans today, so Aiko chose something comfortable to wear for this warm early autumn overnighter.

"Hoshi-san?" Aiko asked aloud, pulling off a pair of matte black acetate-framed sunglasses as she peered around the quiet room. The princess proceeded further into the building, searching for her busy friend without worrying that she hadn't been greeted yet. "Captain? Have you stepped out?"

"Just in here!" Hoshi called out as she closed the cupboard from which she had pulled the medjool dates. Due to the building's design, the kitchenette was concealed from the main quarters and Hoshi could hear Aiko before either could see one another. The Taisa floated into the sitting room and gave a curt bow before putting the palm fruits on the zataku table. Upon seeing the Ketsurui princess, Hoshi's pink face brightened in a smile. With it, her calm reverie while prepping the house began yielding to her enthusiasm.

"That's an apt moniker, Aiko-sama," Hoshi said as she pointedly looked to the shirt Aiko wore. Hoshi always admired Aiko's style without feeling the need to compliment it directly and instead segued to the mission at hand. "It's perfectly fitting for the hero of Hanako's World. Think you've celebrated your victory in retaking the planet enough these past few months and are ready to get back out there?"

While Hoshi spoke, she sat down atop a pillow near the low table strewn with treats. The little pink captain was all eyes on Aiko for the time being, but she was facing enough of the wall-to-wall window that faced the lake to later look out at its panorama views. The hot clutches of the summer as it passed were making one last stand. Such as one the leaves of the maple trees that lined the water, turning them bright yellow hues. Hoshi would again be missing the fall season at Kaiko Park and was keen to lap up the views before her starship set sail once more. But, for now, her dark blue eyes had eagerly settled on her first officer, looking to hear what she already knew — that Aiko was just as intent as her to set out to the stars.

"Yes," Aiko replied with a big grin, her eyes darting up from the spread of snacks Hoshi had arrayed for them to share to look her captain in the eye when she answered. "In truth, battling the Empire's foes comes easier than remaining idle here for too long. The Mishhuvurthyar are an exhilirating nemesis, too, so to hear their threat warrants intervention beyond the assistance we rendered to Uesu is welcome news," the princess continued, gracefully taking a seated seiza position on her knees while she talked. "I am joyed that Yui and Himiko have decided to send more of our Star Army friends out to fight alongside us among the stars."

Aiko's smile never fell as she spoke, nor even as she picked up one of the dates Hoshi had put out just for her. Even the idea of bringing glory to Yamatai was as sweet for Aiko as the natural confection she soon plopped into her mouth, and the reality of actually attaining it again was all but guaranteed in her mind.

"Knowing what they're capable of firsthand makes the news that their threat warrants extra attention harrowing. Between us, I haven't fought like we did on Kessica in years. Not for so long and not as hard," Hoshi said, always the pessimist between the two of them. She thought of the underground battle with the Enhanced Nightmare, something dubbed a Phantasm by Intelligence. Its magenta lightning and Hoshi's broken Kaiyo sword were something she hadn't been able to shake and she let her honest truth hang there for Aiko to know.

"What would the Mistress-Taisho and Empress have our Kaiyō do this time, then?" Aiko asked, getting to the point. For all she'd enjoy simply trash talking the Mishhu, she could do that while helping Hoshi plan for the coming expedition. "Something that will put us face-to-face with a fight like Kessica sooner than years, perhaps?"

Though Aiko's first question had been to the point, her latter one seemed to pull Hoshi's somber expression aside to be replaced by the beaming smile she had only just greeted the Ketsurui clan member with.

"I would be more than gratified if we arrived at a fight like that again sooner than it had been for me, my friend. Despite the horrors, we are among the ones to fight them. All of our other battles and wars aside, our campaign for Uesu against the Mishhu proves we are among the best to do such," Hoshi said this not with pride but with grim understanding. She pulled a strawberry from its nestled bunch and dipped its end in the whipped top of cream next to it. Only when the juice swelled in her mouth did she realize it was the first bite she'd had all day since starting chores. She quickly popped another berry in and gulped it down before she spoke.

"The Mishhuvurthyar are disparate. The ones we fought in Uesureya are likely working for the same military, but are not the same group as the ones the second fleet fought in far Northern space. While they're so discordant, the Star Army is focusing on building allies and building frontier facilities."

Much of what Hoshi had said she expected Aiko to know and Hoshi swept another cream-laden strawberry into her mouth before leaning back and looking out the window. Her pink face was bright but not cheerful as she found her next words.

"But I haven't even answered your question of what the Star Army would have us do," Hoshi admitted. "How much do you know about the wormhole networks they use?"

"Nothing," Aiko said. She grabbed a bottle of carbonated lemonade from a silver ice-filled bucket that was tucked in between the plates of nibbles, which disturbed the beads of condensation that had formed on the container's surface and cut lines through their frost. "I assume you have been briefed on the matter and will fill me in, Captain."

The princess twisted open the cap that held her drink within its glass bottle, releasing a nice hiss into the room. She took a tiny sip and savored the cool, soury citrus flavor in her mouth, smiling again for a second as she formed her thoughts on the matter.

"My knowledge of wormholes is limited to the theoretical concepts that all Star Army starship officers are taught, as well as how we have used the Kaiyō's Transuniversal Teleportation Drive to route quicker paths to far-off places," Aiko continued. Their original trek to meet Emperor Uesu was assisted at the start by hopping through dimensional wormholes so they could reach his far-off Yamataian breakaway without spending months in hyperspace fold. "I trust the Mishhu did not learn from us," she said, knowing the Empire's archenemy had not.

"No, you're right. They've been getting around beyond the galaxy through a network of wormholes. Theory is they were not naturally formed but created long ago. My money's on AvaNet, but that's neither here nor there," Hoshi said as she looked to Aiko, half wondering if her first officer would know after having received information from an Avatar years ago. She spoke on though, "We've been throwing scouts through every wormhole we can find. One of them turned up some unnerving evidence."

The Kaiyō's captain momentarily left off on her cliffhanger to pick at a lemon meringue tart. It was something she had put there not for Aiko but for herself and her face puckered slightly after she ate her first bite. She pulled at a round white ball of meringue from the side of her lip as she went on.

"The wormhole empties out into a somewhat advanced alien species' system where they are aiding the Mishhuvurthyar in building an outpost on one of their unused habitable planets." Hoshi's face had soured beyond even that of the tart lemon treat. "The task force will be on standby behind us but we'll go in alone like old times. The aim is to not alert the Mishhuvurthyar to our presence. If we can talk these guys out of aiding the Mishhu, though, that's best case scenario. You and I both know the second the squids can, they're using their new friends for fates worse than death. It's just a matter of getting that across to them."

Aiko's eyebrows crumpled closer together as Hoshi explained the situation their ship would be tackling next. She looked incensed, though at precisely what remained to be seen.

"And SAINT is sure this intelligence is accurate?" the princess asked. Her voice was incredulous, having never doubted the information that served as the basis for any Star Army mission before this moment. "The Mishhuvurthyar do not work with any civilization outside of their own. They conquer them and subjugate them. Eat their people as livestock. Do we know more about these Mishhu allies, perhaps something that would explain their ability to find common ground with beasts? Or is that our forthcoming duty to find out?"

Lifting her dark blue eyes to look at Aiko, Hoshi beamed with pride. "You sound like a Mishhuvurthyar War veteran, Aiko-chan!" The captain couldn't help but giggle a bit at what she had said. It was a playful name she would never use in public but a way to remind herself of the young woman Aiko had been when she'd first met her at the start of the Kuvexian War. She had grown a lot and the contrast between the competent warrior that sat before her and the cutesy name Hoshi had just used was strong.

"What the scouts noted are resources being transferred from the alien's homeworld to a nearby developing planet with a low population. That's where the Mishhuvurthyar outpost is located," Hoshi said. "It's unlikely the Mishhu are working with them in earnest. It's possible they can't outright attack at the moment and thus are biding their time or else have changed tactics in the past decade and a half and have found allegiances. Either way, it is our duty to find out and make judgements on what needs to be done when we do know."

"Then the enemy remains disorganized in the region we are to visit," Aiko said before taking a sip from her lemonade bottle. "I understand the mission and what Kaiyō must do, and will ensure our crew is prepared," she added, already making mental notes and checklists in a partitioned section of her digital brain. "Once we are finished here, of course. When should we expect to launch?"

Hoshi shrugged, "The task force is packing things up on Tami as we speak, so by the end of the week everything should be prepared and finalized. The Uesureyan Mishhuvurthyar we fought are allegedly a different beast entirely than whatever it is that nabbed the Second Fleet's attention."

"Have you seen the war declaration?" Hoshi pushed her hands off of the low table and set up to leave the room. She grabbed a handful of blueberries and held them in her pink palm as she padded through the tatami-lined hallway floors of the ryokan. "Despite SANDRA and YINN putting our pursuance of the squids on the headlines, Command would rather say the Wakaba started it all."

"What is a 'Wakaba,' Hoshi-san?" Aiko asked, sounding less sardonic than her question would otherwise suggest. The princess, herself recognized as a champion across the Empire, knew very little regarding the inflated misadventures of some lost warship. "In any case, I am satisfied to have humiliated the Mishhuvurthyar at Kessica to such an extent that they feel the need to strike back against Yamatai. We will repay those squids a thousandfold for what they did to the Second Fleet."

Leaving her lemonade half-full on the table, Aiko stood and followed Hoshi away from the bounty of snacks. But not before taking one last date to slip between her lips as a parting treat.

"To think that this is considered a new war is nonsense, anyway," Aiko added as she tread elegantly on her feet beside Hoshi. So measured were her steps that she appeared to glide steadily uninterrupted across the floor with not a hair disturbed as she walked. "Simply because Uesu chased them out of the Kikyo Sector does not mean that for even a moment those fiends ceased their designs to destroy us and everything else that does not serve their masters.

"War against the Mishhuvurthyar was started the moment they were created, and credit for it lies neither with us nor anyone else but the Mishhuvurthyar themselves," Aiko said, her conviction absolute when it came to the matter. She may not have yet been born when the Mishhu last fought against Yamatai but she was nonetheless Taisho Yui's daughter — a Nekovalkyrja created to end the conflicts that others started, whatever the cost.

"I don't know what I was expecting to hear, my friend." They had gotten to the end of the hall and she stood at the sliding door of the changing room. For a moment, Hoshi's expression was earnestly introspective as she fully processed Aiko's words. Then her gracious smile filled her whole face and she excitedly opened the door and pulled her sweater up and over her head. She was wearing only the bikini bottoms but felt neither intimacy nor shame in front of her first officer. She shared her smile with Aiko as Hoshi looked up to talk to her.

"But I'm glad I opened up to you because that's just what I needed to hear!" Hoshi said while setting up to lightly wash off her body with one of the room's showerheads. "Still, I never set out to be the type of ship captain that would care about the machinations above me, but a part of me wishes they would recognize our fight against the Mishhuvurthyar as a part of this war. Because they don't, we'll be redirecting our efforts away from the Southern Mishhuvurthyar that Uesu struggles with, but the ones that have utilized the wormhole networks that the rest of the Star Army is being aimed at."

"Whether he will feel abandoned by Yamatai is not a discussion I have been privvy to, but it is a concern of mine. We worked hard to open that dialogue with him and for what?" Hoshi had cleaned off her half-nude body off and was squatting on the wooden flooring as she bundled her blue and white hair off of her pink shoulders and into a bun atop the crown of her head.

"I doubt Emperor Uesu worries himself with such thoughts," Aiko said decisively, tossing off her t-shit and jeans like Hoshi had. "We found him on orders and you offered him assistance of your own volition as a Star Army captain. If nothing else, what we did for Uesu was a token of goodwill after his help at Glimmergold. And considering that an entire Uesureyan fleet still stands guard over Yamatai, he likely needs our Star Empire's help far less than he appreciates it."

For a moment the princess stood naked with her captain, equally unbashful, but soon raised a black volumetric one-piece swimsuit with an extremely high cut that revealed much of her robustly athletic waist and tummy above the thigh. The garment came up to a turtleneck collar that appeared to hold it all together on her body (despite being a holographic illusion) with a fully cutaway dorsal that showed off the supple strength of her back.

"We are revered by his people as much as we are here at home," Aiko added, tugging at the waist of her bikini not so much to make sure it fit as to keep her ability to maintain the volumetric image as second nature. "You worry too much about what our friends think than you do about how Yamatai's enemies plot to destroy us all."

Something about Aiko's unyielding optimism had battered away at Hoshi's concerns. She didn't have much of a reply, but just stepped out and into the rocky rear garden. It was small, not fit for a large party in the least. But its coziness was comforting to Hoshi and she took a place on one of the rocks, able to dip her toes in to the steamy warm water that was fed from a spring below Kyoto. She had her pink arms crossed over her knees as she mulled Aiko's words over.

"Maybe I'm upset about something more," Hoshi murmured. "It's hard to put my finger on, though, so I should just not let it matter. Worrying about 'how Yamatai's enemies plot to destroy us all,' though, that's a concern worth having. But it's one I've lived with for almost two decades. Maybe this new rank or new award is making me take on new uncertainties. The Mishhuvurthyar and fighting them are second nature, but understanding my place in the war against them is an engagement I'm new to."

"I should have stayed a Chusa," Hoshi lamented, then a wan smile raised her tone to be more spirited as she realized what that would mean. "Then again, if I had you would have been promoted to that rank and wouldn't have remained my XO. Which, the latter will eventually happen. When are you going to have command of your own ship and no longer be tethered by my silly worries, Aiko-san?"

Aiko waded delicately into the warm onsen bath, and as she did the tight bikini wrapped around her lusty, well-built form melted away from view at the waterline. When she turned and sat the volumetric garment had fully disappeared, but by then her bare body was largely obscured beneath the pool's dancing refraction and those airborne eddies of hot steam that rolled in gentle spirals only inches above its calm surface.

Just when Hoshi finished speaking, the princess had taken a big breath in and was ready to slouch even lower so that her mouth was just under the water. One of her favorite parts of taking a bath — whether communal or private — was the sensation of blowing tender bubbles beneath her nose. But Hoshi's question came too soon so Aiko peered up with her eyes toward the pink captain and sat more upright in the rocky onsen with her freshly wet shoulders kissing the much cooler air.

"You have asked this of me several times before," Aiko recalled. And indeed, Hoshi had made a habit about inquiring when Aiko planned to become a starship captain. "I do not require my own vessel to lead Star Army soldiers. The Kuvexian War and other more recent conflicts prove such," she continued, not boasting about her bestowed status as one of Yamatai's greatest heroes but examining the facts of her life with an objective eye.

"Serving as your First Officer is a fine position for Ketsurui Aiko," Aiko stated. "Even if Yui saw fit to make a Taisho of me, I would fight by your side and provide my advice as I have since you first met me as a Shoi all those years ago. This arrangement is entirely suitable, and has never impeded my dutiful service at the spearhead of any battle. Plus your dress uniform coordinates perfectly with mine now," the princess added with a toothy, fanged smile. She certainly hadn't forgotten about Hoshi's new medal. "Congratulations. I am honored to have your fellowship in the Order of the Blazing Sun."

"Bad news about coordinating dress uniforms," Hoshi said with a overly sour tone laced with sarcasm. "I was planning on wearing my Order of the Blazing Sun on my ribbon rack, not around my neck. I didn't want to bite your style, bestie."

With her tone sobered, Hoshi said, "After all, you're the first person to get two of them. It's petty incredible, you're truly all that was promised. When I heard I'd be taking on a ship with a propaganda piece, I expected what you did to be more for show than action. But there is no way to downplay your considerable victories and hardest struggles."

"Yui made me to inspire our people by putting someone from the Imperial Clan in harm's way," Aiko said with a corrective tone that almost sounded annoyed. She wouldn't punish her friend for reducing her to simple propaganda. "This duty requires me to be the fiercest warrior in the sector, and I have never taken living up to that purpose lightly. Thank you for your kind words, however," she grinned, warming back up. "The recognition feels different from a comrade."

With a look up and over the slats of the fence surrounding the small onsen, Hoshi watched the clouds move in the blue sky with a smile on her face. It cracked open and she was beaming as she thought of what she had expected to hear versus the Ketsurui Clan member's certainty. Hoshi pulled her shoulders back as she sun pushed past the clouds and shone on her and Aiko, now. Her bare chest was touched by the rays of the sun and she thought how comfortable she was with her first officer as the warmth spread to her heart. Never had Hoshi experienced such platonic love and she was truly contented to know that her company was not something Aiko was looking to shirk.

"It makes me so happy to know you feel that way," Hoshi said finally. "I keep asking you about your next ship because I keep worrying how long this will last. I had adventures and I had my glory before I joined the crew of the Kaiyo, but it's only since being captain of her that I've felt like I've actually made a difference for the people I protect. There's no doubt in my mind your presence on the ship has been of import."

"I'm honored to have your fellowship simply aboard my ship, but I appreciate your same sentiment when it comes to the medal." She flipped her feet around in the water, thinking to get in soon. "I never thought to expect such an honor, but looking back at the battle on Kessica, I feel deserving. That's perhaps is the best feeling in the universe."

"Wear the honor well, if not around your neck then always upon your heart," Aiko nodded. She'd never felt specifically deserving of the accolades bestowed upon her, though did understand why she'd earned them, but was glad Hoshi's less fated mindset brought the captain a sense of pride and accomplishment. "Remembering the weight of it will help you fight harder the next time we are called upon to save Yamatai and our friends."

"Good thing we have a mission where we can do just that," Hoshi smiled as she spoke. It was harder and harder to contain herself, now, and Hoshi lifted herself off the rock and stretched wide. Instead of wading elegantly in as Aiko had, the pink captain made a small gravity assisted leap and bundled herself up mid-air. Her plunge kicked up water onto Aiko's hair and the rocks around the small pool while glittering droplets of water adorned the bright green leaves of the bamboo that flanked the rocky water. Hoshi's blue and white hair had unfurled in the water but now clung to her nude torso as she stood up out of the water and wiped the water off of her mouth to speak.

"Don't need a medal to remind me of the weight of what we do," Hoshi said. Her smile was electric as she looked up at Aiko's Ketsurui crimson eyes. "But it doesn't hurt."