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RP: YSS Miharu Epilogue: Yamatai's blood

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"Kikyo succeeded in the palace." Nyton replied with a shrug. "Do not mind me. I have incurable paranoia." he added softly giving his voice a rest.
The Premier seemed nice enough, but Tom couldn't help but feel that the niceties being exchanged were just for show.

Yuumi was playing her part expertly. She was courteous and professional, but the way she carried herself, and the subtle clues she dropped when greeting each of them, it made things abundantly clear:

She knew what had transpired on Miharu, and, therefore, had all the power. Tom had seen Hanako take Miharu's core; surely Yuumi would have gleaned information from it... made choices based on what she found.

It was decided that Miharu and her crew were to be honored for what they had done. And they would behave like the good puppets that they were.

How could all the brass waiting for them be so smug? How could Yui, could Yuumi, be so smug knowing what they knew, knowing what their kind had unleashed on the universe?

And all Tom could do was bow and keep a straight face about it. He bowed deeply to the premier, he listened intently to her instructions, wearing a mask of professionalism while these thoughts spun in his head.

He found himself asking why over and over again, until it suddenly dawned on him.

Because I have to. Because Mom and Dad and Ralt are watching. Everyone is watching. They need heroes. They need someone to believe in. Our desires are nothing before those expectations. We're all just part of this machine, and I have to accept it... we all have to accept it.
As the Premier of the Empire suddenly appeared, Masako decided it would be best to keep silent and bow respectfully to greet the much older Neko. Though the Warrant Officer couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at the two ‘technicians’ leading Rolf into cover to change his clothing. Well, at least that mild nuisance was settled.

"Kurohoshi-Juni, yes? A pleasure to see you. Thank you for protecting the Mokuren so well.
Masako was slightly startled as a major political figure decided to speak to her. The Raven-haired Nekovalkryja bowed once more before replying, “I was only doing my duty, Premier-sama.”

Once all of the pleasantries had been dispensed, Masako reviewed the directions they had received and nodded her affirmation silently. Her expression had become more mask-like now to hide her growing anxiety over being involved in her first formal award ceremony and being recording for posterity no-less.
"Miharu Yuzuki-san. Such a serious one. What does it take to get you to smile, I wonder?"

For a moment, just a moment, Yuzuki stared uncomprehending at the Premier, unable to decide whether to smile, or not. In the end, at least she remembered enough of herself to bow, with proper military discipline, from a standing position. Yuzuki could be casual, sitting; standing she was all polished formality.

She was also a half a head taller.

After straightening, Yuzuki left her seat and instead stood beside it, on the other side of Yukari, in front of one of the battle murals. From there, she observed the Premier, her face carefully expressionless - but that said a lot, too.

She was thinking, My sisters are dead, and Okaa-san is gone forever. My negligence caused the deaths of thousands of innocent people. I have stared at death.

I don't feel like smiling today.

Maybe she wasn't thinking that, exactly verbatim; but it seemed as if the sentiment lurked darkly behind her cool blue eyes, lacking only a voice.
Rolf stopped abruptly as he met Yuumi at the mouth of the hallway, eyes wide at the sight of walking into such a high ranking individual. He almost fell backwards in surprise, before she began to speak to him, by name. It was shocking, considering that the only time he had ever even spoken to any officer, it was to report an order or to be ordered. To say the least, it was extremely humbling to be recognized in such a way. Was this what it was like to be seen for your achievements? These thoughts piled on and colluded his mind thickly, to the point where he didn't even hear her mention changing his uniform. He snapped back to reality when he felt the two girls flanking him to the corner.

"Whoa! What tha-, where we goin'-- Hey Hey Hey Hey!" yipped Rolf as he was taken into the corner and then suddenly obscured from sight. "You two don't listen well, do ya?"

Suddenly a yelp of slight pain.

"Fuck me! What tha' hell!"

Following that, the sounds of shifting, of changing clothes.

"Ey. Ey! Ey! I didn't Ah! Shit! Wuh! Uh! Uhuhuh!"

There was the slight sound of a struggle.

"Listen girls, if you two wanted me wit'out clothes on, y'probably shoulda' 'proached me outside tha' palace, yeah?"

Suddenly, silence.

"I may not look it, but I have worked ova' two nekos at once, b'fore. I can take ya."

Another yelp of pain.

"Gyaaugh-damn it! That doesn't come off! Dawh! Shit! Quit pulling!"

Once more, silence save for the shuffling of clothing.

"Ooh, comfy. A little tight. Ahhh... Thass' betta. Huh, this ain't bad."

A few seconds later it died down more.

"Oooooooh... I know y'just stylin' it, but could you juss' scratch a lil' to tha'... Ooooh man... Thass' tha' stuff..."

And then, the camouflaged veil came down. Revealing a much different Rolf, standing with the two-technicians. His hair wasn't messy now, instead it was brushed back into a refined sweeping style, his chin spike was groomed to an almost molecular point. Though most immaculate, was his white dress uniform, with fresh red paneling and nicely ironed shirt and pants.

"Man. I nevah' wore one a'dese b'fore, y'know. But shit." said Rolf, looking down at the floor, before looking back up at them. "I look good."He spun around on one foot, stopping with his back to them in a little pose.

"I look really good."

He spun back around, splaying his front to them.

"Man, I'm suddenly seein' what all this award and promotion shit's about. Fuh-huck yeah!" He pointed out at the rest of them. "Hey! You guys! Who's ready t'look like heroes, who's gettin' fucked up afta we're done, and who's gettin' laid tonight?"

He then pointed his thumbs back at himself.

"I know at least one person is!"
"Miharu Nao-san, yes? Don't worry, dear. You're in the right outfit, and it fits you well!

Nao bowed deeply out of respect. This woman, The Premier, knew them. All of them. Just by speaking to each of them in turn, knowing their names, she established her dominance over them all. Because it implied she knew everything that was deemed worth knowing of them. Moments like these, several of them had come at Nao one after another, made her realize just how small and insignificant she was. In the face of the universe, and perhaps others as well.

She watched as the one standing nail in their group was struck down too. And he was happy about it even. Rolf that is. But who could blame him? She hadn't seen much of the man, but he gave off the impression it was nearly impossible to truly tick him off. Nao wondered, did she really like these white dress uniforms? Uniforms tended to make people look cookie cutter, as was their design, but if they all wore their duty uniforms, they'd most certainly stand out from the crowd around them.

The crowd. Now that she thought of it, how did they see and want to see the crew of the Miharu? In these clean, perfect snow-pure uniforms, or in their tired, grunt-like attire? Did they want to see people who were 'just like them' or a 'fair folk' which simply appeared superior? Who knew? She didn't quite know Yamatai, or its people, being born in a ship which was now gone and lost. But she still fought for them. So what did they think of her? Of everyone here?


The mental image of them so sorely standing out in their usual clothing made her giggle, which she fought to stifle. It ended up bursting into full laughter at Rolf's invisible debauchery though.
Kyou simply nodded in response to the Premier, not entirely sure how to take Yuumi's comment about her hair, and with her current mood, not particularly caring to focus on it. She took in the instructions just like the others, only really paying attention to the fact about the rank to notice that she was probably the first person to get called, with the possible exception of Rolf. Speaking of Rolf... she had to admit to herself, even as depressed as she was feeling right now, she almost started giggling at the spectacle of him being dragged off to get his uniform changed. Even in such violent, sad times, he was probably the only person who would still be able to find satisfaction and happiness that easily. It was comforting, almost, to have someone so easily satisfied around.

Kyou just wanted to get the ceremony over with, though. If she had to take part in the ceremony despite not feeling like she deserved anything, she at least didn't want to spend too long on it. At least it seemed like some of the others were happy to be here, even if she wasn't. It didn't really feel appropriate to ask the Shosa what was going on, either, and that was the only thing she really cared about around here right now.
Yuumi considered Nyton for a few seconds, her red eyes not blinking as she held the Nepleslian native in her gaze.

"Such is the mark of a true hero," she said to him. "Never again to trust, for he has no innocence left to trust with."

She faced Yukari, looking decidedly more stern. "As lovable as Rolf is, have him in proper form by the time the cameras are recording, Shosa."

"Yes Ketsurui-dono," she said, bowing deeply again. Her mind raced with ways to put Rolf in the correct mindset, but many required swift violence.

"Good. You have a few minutes." Yuumi took one last account of the troops before her, nodded, and went to greet the various officials in the antechamber.

Yukari rose after Yuumi had passed, then threw glittering emerald daggers at Rolf's chest. Rolf's grin did not dissipate, but he came back to the group as the two Neko assistants returned to the antechamber.

"Everyone," she said, gesturing them to gather around her with her hands.

" ... This is not how I believed our careers with the Miharu would end. Those who should be here are not, and we who are do not feel up to it."

She slowly looked around her family members. "I will not speak of duty. We have fulfilled ours. We know this is not a reward for us, but a reward for Yamatai, who needs heroes to revere. We are the best substitutes available to them, and it is not a burden we were meant to shoulder.

Her eyes lingered over Tom, then Hinoto. "We must do this as Miharu taught us to do all things — " She swept her gaze over all of them " — gracefully, no matter what pressures us."

She swept the crew one more time. "Does anyone have anything more to say?"

Tom stepped forward and stopped next to Yukari, where he turned to face the group. When he looked at everyone before him, he felt something stir within, his sour mood lifting as he saw his comrades and friends in arms.

"I can only speak for myself, but I want you to know that it has been an honor and a privilege to serve with each of you. I do not know where life will take us after this, but I want you to know that you are welcome to stay in Ralt as long as you'd like. I will have a house built that you can call your own."

He let out a silent chuckle.

"I am tired after all of this, for sure, but I promise to find the energy to cook for you as well! So come hungry!"

When he finished, he looked to Yukari with a pleasant smile. Despite the reservations deep within him, this small moment held a spark of hope which he cherished.
"Hell yeah! Fuckin' eats baby!" piped Rolf, keeping a marked distance from Yukari's reach out of caution of her wrath. The now jovial and well-dressed Santo Hei cleared the way around the room with a pep in his step as he went in to thickest part of the group. He rounded up Kyou with one arm, hooking her by the neck, and doing the same to Nao, drawing both of them in close with a big grin. "But let's jack this shit up, yeah? I know we're all bummed out 'cause a'buncha' people died, but shit! We're heroes! We lived!"

He shook the two people he had taken in arms. If they struggled, his big strong arms did not seem to care. Neither did his grabby hands, as both girls could suddenly feel on their chest.

"Mara, Ichigo, an'all of our brotha's an'sista's are watchin' us right now, wit' us. Miharu too, wantin' big smiles from all a'us. All our friends who fought so 'ard so that we'd live t'see tomorrow, t'come 'ome an start up our lives again, an' start new'uns! I'd forgot that ova' these past few days, but what's important is 'dat we're alive. We fought 'trough a mission we were supposed t'die in and we lived! We've earned everything 'dis country feels like it owes us, and more, but 'dat don't matta'."

That blood-red gaze washed over them as it had done many times before with its inappropriately excited grin.

"We won, and we lived. So let's rock dis' shit out, and fuckin' show tha' world what real soldia's look like and make Miharu proud! Ha ha!"
"As much of a moron as he may sound- No offense, Rolf- He's right. Even if we aren't really heroes, we DID survive, and it'd be a dishonor to those who've fallen to help us achieve that if we just sat here and moped about it" Kai interjected, Nodding at the vulgar Malifaran clone.

"Yamatai needs heroes, and we're the closest they can find, so let's just play the part, pretend for a bit. Pretend that it doesn't hurt. Pretend that this was a victory. And if we can't do that. Let's at least accept these honors in lieu of the fallen, who can't accept them themselves."

Kai stepped forward, moving just a bit closer to the doors, trying to remember where in the line he was supposed to be. "Well, are you guys coming?"
Nyton let out a small sigh as he listened. Everyone was trying their best to remain upbeat. Despite how he felt he had to keep up some sort of appearances. "Well said Nakamura. There is no need to pretend this was a victory. Regardless of our losses we were victorious. We thwarted the Empire's most notorious criminal Eve. We beat Melisson and killed the mother of the Mishhuvurthyar. Those of us who survived have become legends." he stated.

"The fact that you would trade all this to have our beloved crew members back makes me proud to have served with you. The price of victory was steep but we earned it so do not discount the cost. It is the least we can do for the dead."

Nyton was suddenly cut short by a cough fit. His throat was still rough and speaking so much irritated it. During the fit he managed to squeeze a harsh "I am done. Let us go." before he coughed harder for another moment.
Nao listened and solemnly nodded at Yukari's words. She was, naturally, right. There were a lot of people that should have been here. Not only Junko, but Mara, Ichigo and so many others. So many others that Nao hadn't been a sister was a depressing thought; finally deciding to be a part of the family, but only to stand by and watch as half of it was lost to the breeze like so many seeds of a dandelion. During the days that had passed, Nao had swore to -

Rolf touched her! Brought her in close! She could feel him...she could smell him! His words barely registered in her ears; he was right of course, but still - this was only her SECOND time being so close to another person - it made her bright red! The Neko tried to listen to Kai and Nyton, but their words wouldn't quite stick too! She shakily raised a hand as Yukari asked if any of them had any questions.

" Rolf going to grope me?" The awkward sprite asked fearfully, her voice small.
“I would have to agree with Eastwood-hei on this,” Masako suddenly said…from behind the man formerly known as Asher. The Yamataian man would suddenly find a hand going for his right ear. If he didn’t move quickly, he probably would have to deal with said ear being pulled upon as if he were an unruly child.

“But while we should be proud of what we have accomplished, we should still try to act like soldiers and not hooligans, understood,” the Raven-haired Neko stated coolly.
Glittering green blades once again seemed to pepper Rolf's body. The grin did not fade, but his hands did, for the moment.

"No, he most certainly will not, Nao-san." Rolf's grin grew.

Yukari sighed, then looked at the crew of the YSS Miharu. Rolf, Tom, Nyton, Kai — they all were right.

"Let us go once more."

* * *

The lights were bright on their faces as they stood in line at the left side of the antechamber, in a line two-across and several people deep along the wall. They were, at that moment, unseen the camera at the back of the antechamber. The room itself was remarkably unremarkable — it substituted the marble walls and floor for a fabric-looking light gold wallpaper, some wood rails mid-wall and red-silk trim, and a floor of stiff blue carpet. The back of the room was a large blue field of fabric, and before it was an elevated piece of the floor several meters wide without extending too far from the wall. A volumetric projection of the Yamatai Star Empire's flag was behind a wooden podium, which hand a Hinomaru attached to the front of the podium.

About 40 Star Army officers, none lower in rank than Shôshô, sat in the room. They were in four columns of 10, with the columns spaced apart in a way that each seat had plenty of space around it. They did not speak to each other, but each had a communicator on their belts. Yukari just assumed they were using telepathy through those communicators, which was why they could not hear static.

Yuumi also was off to the left, against the wall, eyes closed. She was waiting for a signal from the camera operators to begin.

Yukari was at the end of the line of Miharu's crew, next to Hinoto. Rolf was at the front, with Rin.

A signal was given because Yuumi suddenly moved with a fluid grace Yukari rarely saw even in Neko. She approached the podium from the side, and faced the main camera unit.

"Good morning," she said. "Twelve days ago, our nation was confronted with the most heinous attack on its soil in modern times. Our greatest enemy, the Neo Mishhuvurthyar, confronted us in space and sought to destroy our capitol planet, the center of our society, in order to break our will and send us down a path of despair.

"Instead, it was our enemies who left in despair for their lives and their future as a scourge in this galaxy. Thanks to the successful strategy of Ketsurui Yui-Taisho, Mistress of the Star Army, the NMX horde was repelled, and despite the great loss of life, and the destruction of some of our greatest cities — Malifar, Mezerit, Jskita, Port Xenn and Winstonville — Yamatai was victorious."

The last word was punctuated by Yuumi leaning forward, a clenched fist raised just above the podium for the camera to see.

"Our military destroyed more than 4,400 ships in the NMX fleet, crippled its command structure, and, in a attack coordinated by Ketsurui Kotori-hime, a Taisa, targeted and killed the NMX's top military leader. The blow we have dealt the NMX is one from which they will not soon recover from.

"That blow was made possible because of the crew of one ship — YSS Miharu."

A floating camera unit started to float down the inside of the line of Miharu's crew, slowly scrolling along the line to view their faces as they stood at attention. A hand tapped Yukari on the back, and she backed up so she was not seen.

"These brave soldiers freed a long lost fleet of Star Army ships from its dimensional prison ... captured a high-ranking NMX official while killing one of their top broodmothers ... destroyed an NMX flagship ... killed the criminal Naraku and her traitorous gang, and eliminated countless enemy ships and troops. They did so over the course of years, never once faltering during their mission to defend and strengthen the Empire."

The camera held on Nyton's face.

"Ketsurui Kotori is so dedicated to this Empire, she already has left to pursue the remnants of the NMX fleet and its associates. Her crew she left here with us, as a defense against what might yet come."

The main view returned to Yuumi, but from a higher angle, almost looking down on her, as a small, folding blue box rested on the podium between her hands. The Hinomaru was emblazoned on it.

"Fellow citizens of the Empire, it is indeed right and salutary that we should at all times and in all places offer our thanks to these soldiers. Without them, we would not be here. Allow me to be the first to offer the congratulations you so richly deserve. I will call each soldier up before you, Yamatai, so that you might see the faces of your heroes, and know their good deeds."

* * *

Rin was the first to approach. Yukari could see she was putting on the bravest face possible, even if her lower lip trembled a bit. She stopped right on target, bowed a little too quickly, but at the right depth, then came up and, next to Yuumi, faced the seated officers. Several floating cameras now went to various points of the room, out of sight of the viewing audience, capturing the moment.

"Miharu Rin. A shipborne crewmember. Technician. Suffered grievous injury at the hands of the NMX, but helped end the reign of horror that was the NMX's broodmother, and personally assisting in the death of an illegal NH-18 doppleganger. Your wounds warrant your being presented with the Tomoyo's Kikyo medal."

A pause. Yuumi presented no medal.

"However, it was your courage on board the XSS Shlarvasseroth that was extraordinary. Cleaved in two, you still clung to life, determined not to die, knowing that your comrades needed you still. Few Neko can say they survived such an attack, but none can state they fought like you."

Yuumi's hands opened the box. Inside was a golden medallion, attached to a dark-blue ribbon, with a red, iron-ribbed fan spread in the center. Hinomaru was imprinted in the center of the red fan.

"For displaying courage beyond what their duty demands, while engaged in honorable combat with an enemy of the Yamatai Star Empire, I award you the Red Tessen, Miharu Rin."

Yuumi placed the medal's ribbon around Rin's neck just so. Rin appeared struck by the moment, but remained at attention.

"Star Army Command also has decreed you be promoted to the rank of Nitô Hei."

A small blue heart sprouted behind Rin's rank pin to represent the change.

That is my cue, Yukari thought. When Rin rose, Yukari shouted.

"OFFICERS!" she shouted in Yamataian.

"HAU!" they shouted in reply, making Rin suddenly look very worried.


The sound of 40 officers simultaneously standing up was loud, filling the room. A beat or two passed.


The 40 officers made no sound when they bowed, dipping to 60 degrees, then rising, but the cameras saw it all — flag officers bowing to a simple . They then took their seats, almost as silent. Rin, stunned, marched to her position on the other side of Yuumi, with the cameras following her until she stood again at attention.

* * *

Rolf was surprisingly serious when he bowed, doing so at just the right speed and depth. When he presented himself, his eyes looked like pools of blood reflecting the bright light.

"Rolf Eastwood. From Malifar. Infantry. Defeated all enemies in his way, never slowing in the face of adversity, always completing the objective. As fierce a fighter as the Star Army has seen. Your actions will bring you several Combat awards."

A pause.

"The true nature of your capabilities was shown not just on the Shlarvasseroth, but on the XSS Tiamat. There you faced an NMX "Render" type frame, at times with no assistance, let alone the damage you inflicted on the flagship from within, despite overwhelming odds against you. Your doggedness during the fight against the NMX broodmother is the pinnacle of determination that all Star Army soldiers should reflect."

Yuumi's hands opened another blue box. Inside was a gold medallion, attached to a grey ribbon, with a pure-red Hinomaru at its center, with 10 red beams emanating from it.

"For displaying extreme courage and valiance, at the risk of your own well being, beyond what their duty demands, while engaged in honorable combat with an enemy of the Yamatai Star Empire, I hereby award you the Order of the Blazing Sun, Rolf Eastwood."

Rolf's demeanor remained stoic as the medal was placed around his neck.

"Star Army Command, as well as your superior officers onboard the Miharu, have determined your actions and prowess, as well as your potential, also warrant your promotion to Nitô Heisho."

A blue circle formed behind Rolf's rank pin.

"Finally, your occupation no longer befits your station, and is hereby changed to Terrestrial Infantry."

"OFFICERS!" Yukari shouted from the back. Rolf started to grin.



The officers stood.


The officers bowed, this time at perhaps 75 degrees, and Rolf's grin grew.


They bowed once more, then took their seats. Rolf took his place near Rin, his grin still on his face for all the Empire to see.

* * *

Kyou was calm and poised as usual when she bowed to Yuumi and took her position.

"Gunshin Kyoufuu. Nekovalkyrja. Power armor pilot. Always level-headed, always able to approach a situation without breaking her concentration. Even four Mishhu Elites was not enough to keep you from protecting your comrades at arms. At least one Combat Lifesaver award is due you."

"That kind of 'smooth under pressure, cool under fire' response to combat is something the Star Army of Yamatai impresses upon its troops as much as it can, but there is no doubt that you exemplify this trait to its desired maxim."

The medallion she brought out had the red fan and blue strap.

"For displaying courage beyond what their duty demands, when engaged in honorable combat with an enemy of the Yamatai Star Empire, I hereby award you the Red Tessen, Gunshin Kyoufuu."

She placed the medallion around Kyou's neck.

"Also, Star Army Command has seen you fit to be promoted to Ittô Hei."

A brown heart slowly formed behind Kyou's red triangle pin.

Yukari shouted for the officers to stand, and then bow once. Kyou took her place with Rolf and Rin.

* * *

Nao gulped before she approached. Yukari heard it from where she was at nearly the back of the room; she wondered if the cameras heard it too. The young Neko's bow was steady, however, and she put on her bravest face.

"Miharu Nao. Shipborne crewmember. Technician.

"To be born for war is the Nekovalkyrja's destiny. But to be born for a specific battle, to defend the only home she knows, is the fate of many Nekovalkyrja sisters. Never do they see a dawn that includes the warmth of the sun or the chill of the frost. You did not see those things until you landed here, Miharu-san. You did not know how to appreciate them to fight for them.

"Yet you did so. You defended your mother vessel, your crew and this Empire to the fullest extent of your abilities, and ensured your family was able to return to Yamatai to defend it. If not for your repairs on Miharu at that crucial time during the fight with the enemy flagship, all might have been lost.

"Such selflessness is the greatest quality of Nekovalkyrja."

Yuumi opened one of the closed blue boxes and brought out a medallion with a red fan.

"For displaying courage beyond what your duty demands, when engaged in honorable combat with an enemy of the Yamatai Star Empire, I hereby award you the Red Tessen, Miharu Nao."

She slipped the medal around Nao's neck. Nao looked close to buckling from how overwhelming it was.

"Also, Star Army Command has seen fit to promote you to Nitô Hei."

A blue heart pushed itself up behind the red triangle.

When Yukari shouted for the officers to prepare to bow, Nao's eyes started to become wet with tears. She held them back just long enough to watch the officers bow to her.

The cameras watched as they fell by the time she took her position next to Kyou.

* * *

The other Santô Hei crew of shipborne Nekovalkyrja came away with Red Tessen medallions and promotions to Nitô Hei, except Nimura.

Yuumi did not go into details, but she said that Nimura's actions had earned her a Chiharu medallion.

Nimura also was given the Order of the Blazing Sun. Yukari looked to see if the "heat" of the award was enough to melt some of the ice from Nimura's eyes, but the Neko's gaze looked as cool as ever.

A gold heart formed around the red triangle of Nimura's rank pin. She now had a rank befitting her capability as a superior soldier — Jôtô Hei.

* * *

Yuzuki came next. With an engineer's precision, she bowed, turned and stood. She had her edge about her, Yukari thought, a consistent edge, as if she always were ready to be judged.

"Miharu Yuzuki. Shipborne crewmember. Technician. A perfectionist in finding solutions to problems, but not so out of touch to deny the realities of a situation. Whether it was blasting open a door or combating an NMX Render frame, repairing coolant lines inside of your home or debating how to destroy a Chiharu-class flagship, you always approach things with the same analytical mind, Miharu-san.

"That power of analysis has served this Empire well, yes. But this power of yours is one that the Empire will continue to need in the coming months, years — decades. The blend of willpower and critical thinking you possess, Miharu-san, is your greatest weapon. The citizens of this Empire are blessed that you use it for good."

Yuumi took out a medallion with a grey strap and red disc.

"For displaying extreme courage and valiance, at the risk of your own well being, beyond what their duty demands, when engaged in honorable combat with an enemy of the Yamatai Star Empire, I hereby award you, Miharu Yuzuki, the Order of the Blazing Sun."

The medallion was slipped around Yuzuki's neck.

"As well, based on your actions and your ability to marshal those below you, Star Army Command and your superior officers have seen fit to promote you to Jôtô Heisho."

The circle below Yuzuki's red triangle rank pin turned from shiny blue to glittering gold.

She did not seem to be affected by the bowing officers, though afterward, Yukari believed she saw the smallest of smirks cross the engineer's lips.
Miyoko came next, looking as proper as she could, being one of the few Neko who had green panels against her white uniform. Her bow was spotless, and she presented an appropriately blank face to the crowd — though just before Yuumi spoke, her eyes darted over to look at Yukari.

"Saito Miyoko. A Nekovalkyrja, now Yamataian. Medical officer. Suffered death in order to protect her crew, her home. Without failure, she defended all and nursed those who were injured back to health. Without her, many of the heroes Yamatai now has would be gone forever. Considering how often you were under fire during your work, you deserve many Combat Lifesaver awards."

A pause.

"Your analytical skills and technological aptitude helped seal the fate of Naraku and her criminal gang. The contents you extracted from the datacore you helped slice produced leads our best intelligence had not obtained up to that moment. That service alone was worth much to the Empire.

"But that is not as impressive as the totality of your story. You could have, at almost any time, transferred from a mission that grew increasingly dark, violent and hopeless. You did not. Instead, you remained with your ship, your crew, and your duty. There can be no more accurate a barometer of honor than that."

The medallion that Yuumi produced was unlike the other two that had yet been seen. This one's ribbon was blood red with pink bars within it — flesh-colored, Yukari thought.

She swallowed a gasp. The medallion was a profile of the eldest sister to all Neko, the Mistress herself. The Neko seemed to have her head tilted back, looking up toward an eastern sun the viewers did not see. The medallion itself was gold, but across its length was a curvy ribbon of red ... a stain.

A blood stain.

"By the power granted me by the Mistress of the Star Army, Ketsurui Yui-Taisho, for extraordinary service that positively affected the future of the entire Star Army, and of the Empire itself, I hereby present you with Yui's Blood Medallion."

She placed the medallion around Miyoko's neck. Miyoko, for her part, appeared frozen in what Yukari could only read as unbelieving terror.

"The Taisho herself has recommended your promotion to Santô Juni, and commands you begin work at the Kyoto War College. SANDRA has need of your caliber of researcher."

The rank pin on Miyoko's chest changed from red to blue, while the circle behind it changed from blue to brown.

"OFFICERS!" Yukari shouted, not letting disbelief capture her. Miyoko jumped a bit.



The officers stood extra sharp this time.


The officers bowed at a full 90 degrees, a limit normally reserved for those of vastly superior rank.


They bowed again. One appeared to have tears in her eyes.


They bowed a third time.


The officers stood upright. But everyone else — including Yuumi — bowed.

Miyoko practically floated away from the stage, her face caught in a state of mild panic.

* * *

Kai came up next. Yukari noted that no matter how pretty he was, he looked every inch the soldier as he bowed to Yuumi and faced the audience.

"Nakamura Kai. Enlisted. Power armor pilot. You did not have to fight this war. You did not have to die for it. You did not have to kill for it. But that is you. You begged to be here, a part of this war, a part that always was ready to die in order to protect his crew. Whether it was battling Naraku's powerful minions, combating Mishhu Elites on board of an enemy flagship, or facing the Interpreter herself, you chose to fight. You chose Yamatai."

A pause.

"But you are a man who knows where he fits best. Where he is needed most. If that is on board the ship, assisting the crew to the fullest extent of your abilities, arming, coaching, prepping, protecting, it doesn't matter. You never stop caring for others. A quality rare in medics, rarer in soldiers and most infrequent in power armor pilots, the front line of Yamatai's defense against the spears of our enemies. For that, it is indeed right we thank you for blessing us with it. You deserve many Combat awards for your actions, but I have but one medal for the moment."

The medallion Yuumi produced had a grey ribbon and red disc.

"For displaying extreme courage and valiance, at the risk of your own well being, beyond what their duty demands, when engaged in honorable combat with an enemy of the Yamatai Star Empire, I hereby award you, Nakamura Kai, the Order of the Blazing Sun."

Kai graciously bowed his neck to help Yuumi slip the medallion around his neck. She smiled at him, something the cameras saw.

"As well, based on your actions to marshal those below you, Star Army Command, with the recommendation of your most recent commanding officer, hereby confirms your battlefield promotion to Nitô Heisho, and further promotes you to Ittô Heisho."

Yukari shouted for the officers to stand, smiling, after the disc of Kai's rank pin turned from blue to brown.


The officers bowed.


They bowed again, and sat.

Kai, stoic, took his place with his crew.

* * *

After Ashitaka-Heisho, stiff as ever, received his medallion — a Red Tessen — it was Masako's time. Yukari thought that the cameras actually adjusted themselves to make up for her height.

"Kurohoshi Masako. Nekovalkyrja. Power armor pilot. A sharp, by-the-book fighter who never acted with undue haste or without good cause. As painful as it has been for you to fight your fellow sisters, you knew your duty to Yamatai and never failed to follow through. Even above Yamatai itself, your prowess in a power armor is a credit to the Star Army, but without your steely determination, all the training in the galaxy would not serve our Empire."

A pause.

"That determination kept the defensive line around your vessel hard despite onslaught after onslaught of mindless soldiers. You held the line as others died around you. You held the line as you were threatened with death. No matter what, you held the line."

Yuumi produced a medallion with a blue ribbon and a medallion with a rusty red fan.

"For displaying courage beyond what their duty demands, when engaged in honorable combat with an enemy of the Yamataian Star Empire, I present you, Kurohoshi Masako, with the Red Tessen."

She slipped the medallion around Masako's neck — but this one was not the same as the others.

Along the blue ribbon, near the medallion, were blood-red metal dots the size of a coin, one on each side.

"A second Red Tessen is yours, as well, for your singular defense of the Mokuren as it fought to save Yamatai. In addition, Star Army Command has determined you should pursue an officer's rank at the Kyoto War College. Should you accept, you will be promoted to Shoi Kohosei."

Yukari shouted for the officers to stand as Masako wore a cute, rather happy smile. The officers bowed once, then sat down. Masako left the stage, a little extra spring in her step.

* * *

Tom looked solemn when he took the stage.

"Tom Freeman. Yamataian of Ralt. Engineer. A man of many talents, be they violent or peaceful, who never stops looking after the well-being of his crew. Cook, engineer, soldier, yes, but above all else, someone who struggled mightily against the horrors he saw and the deaths he watched. You did not let what happened during your previous tours to dampen your immense spirit. No other soldier embodies the description of the Good Conduct award."

A pause.

"Your wellspring of cheer and good will was a bulwark against the NMX. Against Naraku. Against the broodmother. Your comrades did not even have to look to you in order to receive help in bolstering their own spirits. You were the positivity not just of a ship, but an entire mission. The Empire forever can hold you up as a model of the power of optimism, of the brighter side of any situation. Even in your darkest moments, in your most perilous moments, you chose to believe in your comrades, in their goodness. It saw everyone through. It saw the mission through. And it will see us through now."

The medallion Yuumi produced had the blood-and-flesh ribbon, but the stain on the medal itself was different than Miyoko's — individual, Yukari thought. Each one was different from the one before.

"By the power granted me by the Mistress of the Star Army, Ketsurui Yui-Taisho, for extraordinary service that positively affected the future of the entire Star Army, I present you, Tom Freeman, with Yui's Blood Medallion."

Tom's eyes looked wet. Yukari wanted to reach out to him, to hug him, kiss him, damn SAINT and anyone else. She was torn between how proud she was of him and her desire to comfort and shield him.

The medallion around his neck, Yuumi continued. "Star Army Command has determined you should be promoted to Ittô Juni."

The color behind Tom's rank pin turned to gold.

Yukari, through welled tears, yelled for the officers to stand.

They did. They bowed — once, twice, three times.

Yukari kept her voice steady, somehow, as she let all present know that her future husband, a simple man from Ralt, was worthy of the most precious blood Yamatai had ever known.

Tom's tears rolled over his stony face, though he cracked an impossibly wide smile through them anyway when he joined his crew.

* * *

Hinoto was gracious and beautiful, as expected, when she stood to receive her medallion. She was given the Order of the Blazing Sun, and was promoted to Chui. Every move she made embodied Miharu's motto, and Yukari hoped that was impressed upon the viewers watching.

The volumetric makeup did wonders for Nyton, though Yukari thought it was more his posture that made up for his tired eyes. He was ramrod straight.

"Nyton Claymere. A Nepleslian by birth. Tactical officer. A man of infinite possibility. Growing up on the streets of Funky City, no one could imagine you would have been here. But you thought. You planned. You executed. It is your way, in all things and at all times, ever vigilant and always prepared with a plan. No path was too much for you to consider, for you knew, better than anyone, that any path might lead to victory. Might lead to peace. The Combat awards due you all involved meticulous detail on your part."

A pause.

"No matter the strategy, however, you put yourself at the front. You made sure that if anyone else were to come in harm's way because of a plan you crafted, you would go before them. Be it a ruse or a frontal assault, this was your ethos. Never once did it waver as you served your commander from the beginning of the mission to the end. Always steadfast. Always firm. Always ready. That is who you are, and this Empire was saved because of that."

The medallion Yuumi produced had a stripe of blood across Yui's eyes.

"By the power granted me by the Mistress of the Star Army, Ketsurui Yui-Taisho, for extraordinary service that positively affected the future of the entire Star Army, I hereby award you, Nyton Claymere, Yui's Blood Medallion."

Nothing about Nyton — his posture, his face, even the position of his spine — changed as Yuumi slipped the medallion around his neck.

"Star Army Command has deemed you not only fit, but desirable for command of a starship in the Ninth Standard Fleet, where your aptitude for unconventional tactics suit you for combat against an unconventional enemy."

By the time the officers stood to bow for Nyton, he seemed renewed. In fact, he seemed energized, and when the three bows had finished, he marched with renewed vigor to his position.

The camera caught his lips mouth something when he took his spot, head not quite bowed all the way: "Thank you, grandfather."

* * *

With everyone living having received their awards, one might have thought the ceremony would end. But the camera centered on Yuumi.

"There are several awards that must be given, but their recipients are not here. It is beyond rare for someone to die in the Star Army of Yamatai and not be returned to duty. In an age where the divine spirit of Yamatai's place in the galaxy is in question, we still retain the power of everlasting life.

"Yet that is the case here today. Several of the Miharu's crew gave their lives knowing they never would be brought back. The ship's Soul Savior Pod was lost in the Blue Rift Expanse, leaving the crew with just one chance — one life — to give. Those that did will be forever memorialized."

An image of the exterior of the palace replaced Yuumi, showing a bronze station. The camera angle circled from on high as it showed a scale YSS Miharu thrusting toward the sky on a tall, wide pedestal. The entire memorial was perhaps 20 meters tall, and down the pedestal portion, in giant kanji on two sides, were the names of those who died during the mission and were lost to time — the many members of the Miharu Clan, including Mara and Ichigo, as well as Kimura Takuma and Mizuno Yoroko.

"It is indeed right that this memorial is here, close to the palace whose inhabitants these brave souls died to save along with the citizens of our Empire."

Yuumi looked to Nimura and called her back to the pedestal.

"Miharu Ichigo gave her life to save you, her twin sister. I cannot fathom how hard it would be to lose a sister you cared so deeply for, and I cannot sympathize with you enough over this loss. Her actions have warranted this honor, the Order of the Blazing Sun." Yuumi produced the medal box, but did not open it, instead giving it to Nimura, who took it and bowed.

"May your sister's light shine on us all."

Nimura bowed and began to walk back. Yukari saw the ice finally melt in her eyes, but she held herself together. Hinoto then was called. Yuumi's words were softer this time.

"Miharu Mara gave her life and saved us all. No other soldier's singular sacrifice could surpass hers — a shipborne avatar crewmember committing herself to a suicidal attempt to destroy an NMX flagship in order to buy her crew time to escape. That distinction is crucial. She did not give her life for the Empire. She did not give her life for its citizens. She did not give it for its ideals.

"She gave it for her crew. She gave it for her family. This Empire and its citizens are blessed to be included in that extended definition."

Hinoto did not hold it back. Tears fell, for all the Empire to see. Yuumi produced a blue medal box, and she bowed as she held it out for Hinoto to take.

"Please take this with our unending love and gratitude. Yui's Blood is the highest gift we can give, though were it in our power, all would give a little to have Yamatai's most honorable heroine return to us, so that we could praise her name."

Hinoto returned the bow as she took the box with shaking hands and clutched it close to her chest. "Thank you," she choked, and returned to her space.

Yuumi faced the camera once more, though this time the view was expanded. She was on the far right of the frame, while the Miharu crew stood in formation, at attention.

"Yamatai! These brave soldiers are your saviors this day! HONOR THEM!"

Across the Empire. In the largest mansion, in the most battered farmhouse, in the smallest apartment. In the halls of Ketsurui Zaibatsu. In the smallest workshop in Ralt. From Yamatai to New Vicky and Miyamae.

For a fleeting few seconds, that no one would ever forget.

Millions. Billions. All. The Empire itself.

It bowed. It bowed for them.

* * *

The camera light shut off. The ceremony was over. The crew of the retired YSS Miharu was, for the moment, without a mission.
"Phew. I'm glad das' ova'." said Rolf, rubbing the edges of his eyes as he made his way off the stage. The Malifarian seemed somewhat weighted by the way the ceremony had carried out. Perhaps it was the pure gravity of what had just happened. The whole world had seen it, the entire empire that had tuned in had seen it all. They all knew who they were, and they all had an idea of what they had done. Everyone knew. Everyone.

Except the ones that really mattered. Mom. Dad. His Sister. His friends. Why, at the point where everything paid off, did it not matter? Realizing this, the gravity which he felt seemed to dissipate into nothingness. There was no pride in his victory, not when you couldn't show it to the people you wanted to prove yourself to most dearly.

With that, Rolf made his way out, with nary more than the first words he spoke after the ceremony's end.
For a few seconds it was as though the thunderous cheer from throughout the Empire could be heard within the confines of the ceremony chamber. Once it was over and ceremony officials dispersed the heavy silence seemed to return. It was broken for a moment by Rolf's grumbling before a louder cry was heard.

"We did it! Mama's gonna be so proud!"

The ever exuberant younger Shimabumi jumped up and down excitedly next to her elder sister. Akiko's frizzy hair bounced around her smiling face while Shizuka watched. "Yes Akiko-chan I cannot wait to see mama again. She said she would throw a party for us when we return home."

"Ooooooh I can't wait to see mama again. Let's invite Masa-chan to visit mama! Let's invite all our friends! We can cheer everyone up with a party!" Akiko happily shouted well in earshot of all those around them.

Before Miyoko could go too far a familiar nekovalkyrja stepped in front of her. "Congratulations on your promotion Saito-Juni." said Ayumu and bowed. With a smile the nurse beamed at the newly promoted warrant officer. "I also wanted to wish you well on your new assignment."

Nyton Claymere in the meantime still pondered his next move. He had been offered command of his own ship. The implications stunned and thrilled him. Yet he felt as though there was still something holding him back. He needed closure before he moved on. He decided and walked over to where Yukari and likely Tom were standing. "Shosa, I understand that you are leaving?" he asked.
Yukari had a lot of emotions in her head at that moment, but the largest one was a kind of grey-colored relief.

It was over. Years of fighting was over. Was it not? That was the grey color.

She was sure it was not over ... not entirely. But part of it was. A chapter, maybe. It was something. Too many had died for one chapter. Too much pain and hurt, none of which she could help soothe. Everyone had to address their pain on their own.

"Claymere-Taii," she said, smiling at him, face slightly blank. "Congratulations. I ... I am not going away, I believe. They want me to stay, to talk to Melisson and process the mission files from Miharu while I am training. There was not a choice in the assignment — "

Yuumi approached from Nyton's back, toward the rear of the room. She had two medal boxes in one of her hands.

"Shosa," she said. "For you and Kotori-sama, when you see her again. Yamatai owes you the same as your other senior crewmembers."

"Hh — ah. Yes, Ketsurui-dono. Thank you." She bowed as deeply as she could as she received the medal boxes. She could imagine what was in them.

"As well, I bring you some bad news. It seems Star Army Command is not satisfied with your current rank, and they will not take 'no' for an answer. However, there was debate as to what it should be, believe it or not, so the disagreements officially leave you at Shosa for now. Consider yourself 'peacetime'-promoted to Chusa."

"Ch-Chusa?" Yukari stammered, then looked down at the rank pin on her black-paneled uniform. It had not changed color. "Is this for certain, Ketsurui-dono?"

"It'll be sorted later. My apologies for interrupting. Carry on, Chusa. Taii." Yuumi nodded her head to both, then departed.

On the other side of the room, an officer approached Hinoto. She was one of the ones from the audience, a Shôshô. Her rank pin showed her as belonging to the Eighth Standard Fleet, but as Hinoto quickly wiped tears away from her eyes she caught something about the Neko.

The ship patch on her uniform did not match up to an 8th SF vessel. It was for a fleet designation that she expected to not ever see again — the Second Draconian Fleet.

"Miharu-Chui," she said, then bowed deeply. "A favor, please."

"Favor, Shôshô?" Hinoto said, gasping back a sob before it took her again, wiping still at her eyes. Nimura came close by, protective but subtle enough.

"Yes. I am Kakitomo Musume. I was responsible for the Divine Arrows Wing." The Neko pushed a few locks of jet hair behind one ear. "Your crew not only saved us from the hell we were in, but gave us the pathway to reach heaven."

Hinoto shook her head. "We did little, and your unit died with great honor."

"Because of your crew," the Shôshô said, steel encasing her words from further argument. "The Divine Arrows owe you a debt they no longer can repay, but I can see their sacrifice lives on among those who most deserve to carry their divine duty."

She slipped a datapad from her skirt's lap pocket, and ordered it to display a volumetric representation of something. What appeared made Hinoto very briefly forget about the medal around her neck and the medal box in her hands.

"Are they ... ?"

"Yes," she said. "I spoke to Ketsurui-dono before they were commissioned, to ensure this was adequate. I was told under no uncertain terms that it was."

Floating above the datapad was a sword. The datapad's projected image was in real color, as the hilt of the sword was hilted in a very pale white metal and wrapped with rough, red leather. The blades were blue.

The image expanded. A series of weapons formed — several swords, a spear, a few shorter swords, a greatsword. Each had two sets of kanji beneath them. Hinoto recognized the bottom pair as the names of the crew, but the top ones she did not.

"I don't understand, Shôshô. These are to be ours?"

"Yes." She zoomed in on one of the larger swords, which had Rolf's name under it along with the ship name Hitodama (Fiery Soul). "Each has come from one of the Divine Arrows. One for each of your crew. I am sorry not all are the same. But I was told to speak to Miharu-Hei behind you, and she informed me of what was best."

Hinoto looked back at Nimura, who barely shrugged and maintained a blank expression.

"Eastwood-san, you might wish to return" Hinoto sent. "There is something you should know."
Every step seemed like a miracle.

Yuzuki Miharu, Joto Heisho, stopped near the edge of the room and had a drink of water from a canteen there - a canteen in some place like this. It was difficult for her to maintain a straight face, but she managed it. They were heroes but it didn't change the fact that a lot of them were dead heroes. The entire empire had bowed to them, to them specifically, but it was an empire she had never seen or cared for particularly before that moment. Now, it was her world, and she was a hero. She would have traded the whole Empire to be aboard the Miharu again, to listen to Ichigo prattle on about how awesome she was. She hadn't been all that cool - she'd been flat! Yuzuki wanted to tell her that joke. It was too late now. But that was all gone and here she was with a medal and a rank and a sword, apparently, but a whole lot of nothing else.

Yuzuki sat down in one of the vacated chairs from the ceremony, one of the ones near the front with the plush cushions so that their occupants wouldn't chafe. Yamatai had spared no expense.

She kept the smirk. It was that or laugh. Or cry.
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