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RP: YSS Kaiyō Mission 25: Modori


Head in the Stars
Staff Member
🌸 FM of Yamatai
🎖️ Game Master
((OOC Note: Modori means return. Kaiyō means ocean.))

7日 7月 YE 44 (Ocean Day)
Kikyō Sector
Near Vicky
Ikoi Starbase
Swimming Pool

"Try opening it again!" came the excited and exasperated request of a mousy Nekovalkryja as she pushed her towel under her hand in order to try opening the swimming pool doors once more.

"Ugh, it's locked for good," another person at the door waiting to go into the swimming pool scoffed, jutting their feathery plume of hips out to lean against the wall once more. "We're station crew, we should get priority for pool hours! Plus, see that steam coming out from under the door? Only an officer can make the water in the pool that hot. No way is MEGAMI going to tell them to open up for a couple of kashikan like us."

The Neko perked, "Who do you think's in there?"

"We can ask the MEGAMI."

When prompted, the computer told them: Taiyou Hoshi.

The Neko's voice pitched up as she said, "Excuse me, what?"

"I've seen her on YINN a bunch! Are you kidding me?!" the wader-to-be exclaimed. "Wait, do you know her ship-"

"The Kaiyō, yeah of course."

Laughing, the random alien shook their feathered head, "No, do you know that her ship has any empty infantry roster?! It's meant to be!"

The Neko's eyes squinted, "No way... I'm pulling up my request for orders and polishing my cover letter. She has to let us interview to join, right?!"

"Me too! Right!"

On the other side of the swimming pool's doors was Hoshi. She was swimming a few feet under the unperturbed surface, then twirled and slowed. Her slim body sunk in the water momentarily before she twirled again, then pushed her foot against the deep end of the pool and shot to the surface. Steam ebbed and coiled away from the water as it broke around Hoshi's face. Her perked up pink nose broke it first, the same triangular shape as her elven ears that came out behind her blue eyes and wide open mouth. She was taking in a deep first breath after a long time under and the exclamation as she took in that breath broke a 30 minute long silence in the pool room a she had swum below the water.

A rush of steam pooled off of her body in the chill of air. The wet of the pool clung to her all over and the dew on her lashes made her blink and rub them. Her dark and deep blue set in the crimson of her face. She was still smiling as she floated on her back, breathing in giddily.

"Taiyou Chusa," the MEGAMI chimed over comms to her.

"Yeah yeah," Taiyou Hoshi laughed off the starbase's electronic suite that often told her not to exceed her limits opened her eyes, breathing in more. "I shouldn't stay down longer than twenty minutes, yada yada. But it was wonderful! I think that's a new personal record!"

"Taiyou Chusa, there are two non-commissioned officers outside of the swimming pool doors who have been requesting access to the swimming pool for 26 minutes."

Hoshi looked completely shocked and stared towards the door. "Oh! I am so sorry, please let them in!"

When the waiting station crewmen saw the doors open to the swimming pool they excitedly burst in. Somehow two more had gained their ranks and fell in behind them. These new two were at least wearing uniforms and not just swimsuits and trunks like the NCO with their cover letters out.

"Sorry about the wait. Please, join me," Hoshi called through the steamy fog of the swimming pool's large chamber.

"Excuse me Captain Hoshi! I meant Captain Chusa, uh.. Taiyou-chusa," the Neko was the first one to speak with a sharp salute. Her introduction fell apart when she saw realized she was saluting in a bikini, "Are you, uh, looking for infantry members aboard the YSS Kaiyō?!"

Hoshi, red faced in the center of the pool like a boiled lobster, was speechless. She took a deep breath, remembering her breathing techniques for when she did these low oxygen breathing augmentation swims. Her deep breathing was betrayed as her translucent white swimsuit clung to her ribs and shoulders as she breathed in to regain lost oxygen. The fabric stretched as droplets fell from it ceaselessly in the dewey environment above the simmering water. With her wet sapphire hair clinging to her back and arms just as much as her suit was doing to her torso, Hoshi pushed from the deep end of the pool to near the shallows.

She took her time as she waded and worked with her hands to wrap her hair up into three segments. By the time she was out of it, she had begun a wet braid of her long blue and white locks that trailed over her pink clavicle and white one piece swim suit.

"Oh I, uh-" Hoshi stammered once out. "Nice to see your enthusiasm, but this isn't a good time! Have a good swim and good luck in your transfer request!" Hoshi had already grabbed her towel and then opened the door. Clouds of steam rolled out of the pool room alongside her, a faint whisp of her quick exit after her drawling walk. The four were dejected and speechless, having been able to do nothing but watch her go.

As she walked back to her ship, MEGAMI spoke to the pink captain once more.

"Captain, Saiga-chusa has scheduled your briefing for 0800 hours tomorrow."

Hoshi's jaw dropped, "Oh thank Yui!" She had stopped mid-stride in the hexagonal passageway and he strip lighting on the side of the hallway lit her blinking, surprised expression. Quickly, she jolted up as punched the air with her hand holding her towel.

"I was getting sick of dry dock and transfer requests, that's for sure. Woooo! We have a mission!!" Her teeth were gritted as her clenched hands clasped as if ready to punch from the waist.

Hoshi tilted her head to look up at the starbase's interior. The exterior was like the inky black of space, though the interior felt like anything but the free planes of space. The little captain looked up through the ceiling of the starbase, towards where she would soon be.

Her arm raised, hand grasping towards the stars- towards her future. She just wanted to be out there already seizing it.

She knew what it was like to lose that.
Samurai Sector
YSS Kaiyō II

"All hands on deck?" Hoshi asked once she was sitting in her captain's chair. "Here's the brief."

While her bangs had dried well enough after her final voyage to the pool at drydock, the rest of Taiyou Hoshi's ultramarine, powdery blue, and white hair was damp with the memory of the final foray in the basin, a luxury not on her Fuji gunship, the YSS Kaiyō II. The captain's sinewy strands were braided over her uniform jacket's shoulder and across her flat chest panel, which was officer white and immaculately pressed for the occasion of mission launch.

Under her Type 35's cleanly piped epaulettes, her slight shoulders were snapped together, straightening her whole five foot frame as she looked about the epicenter of her ship. Being back here officially with her shiny patent leather flats right where they belonged, crew looking readily from their stations to her, and the thrum of the engines awake and alive, it felt right.

"We're ready, Captain!" Asuka chirped from her sensors panel.

"Here it is," Hoshi said, leaning back in her chair to go over the essentials, "We're going to need to have a go well beyond the forward line of our current troops. That means a long haul on the engines, Ashen, so I'm going to need an update on the power our recent reconfigs can pull. See to your station in engineering after bringing me those reports. Dismissed.

"That also means we're going to have some time between here and then so save your excitement," Hoshi explained to her remaining senior staff. "And when we get to our destination, we'll be doing system surveying, looking for these here."

Hoshi opened up the specs of the handful of ship classes and compositions within her digital mind and sent it to her chair's volumetric display. The scattered light showed small scale models of what they could be looking for glowed teal. Because of the sheer scale and variety of classes present, the forward thrust of the mission was clear to those present just by the volumetric display alone.

Hoshi added a bit of context, though, "Reports from the YSS Resurgence have made some pretty unflinching people among the higher-ups nervous," Hoshi's blue eyes flitted to her XO, staying on her.

"If all goes well we'll show up right around where they're stationed so scanning for them will be a breeze. We'll learn what we can and then head back home. Classic special reconnaissance, putting the expeditionary in Fuji Expeditionary Gunship. If that won't work, we can go for another round of diplomacy, since IRC was so fun this year, and find out that way, too." As she finished with a buoyant smile the captain looked to her raven-haired First Officer, whose role on this ship had led to statecraft almost as often as it had battle.

Ketsurui Aiko peered back at Hoshi from her XO's station with a pleasantly amused look in her big crimson eyes. She'd prefer a good fight for the Kaiyō instead of an assignment like this one, but Hoshi was right. Her royal lineage had made their ship the top pick for any missions of the nature that the Kaiyō was now assigned to.

"We have already contacted their admiral via traditional channels to no avail," Aiko said, doubting any sort of personal visit would yield better results. "But they are still our allies. Family to Yamatai even. So that will work to our advantage if 'diplomacy' is what you want, Captain."

Systems were powering up and a series of teal and orange lights flickered on consoles as new diagnostics showed in a popup on the bridge crew's view screens.

"Let's get set for launch!" Hoshi said with the chiseled cadence that betrayed her earnest interest in the really starting the mission at hand. She took in a deep breath as she spoke to the helm, "Ready, Shoi? "

The fair-skinned Nekovalkyrja Shoi who sat at the Kaiyō's helm had a milky greenish-blue ponytail that fell down from the crown of her head and rested in a sort of cape behind her neck. Her flowery pink colored and blood red-colored eyes glowed brightly each time the volumetric screen projected from her Type 35 Starship Chair, which blinked as new information and course vectoring data scrolled past. She looked down her narrow nose and watched where her hands were going to go before they did, tracking them quickly before pausing to speak again.

"Fold drives ready to engage with coordinates set, waiting for your nod."

"Nice to have a fresh face during fleet downsizing." Hoshi leaned back in her chair, "Take us away!"

For a moment the ship felt as if moving before it even was to Hoshi. She was so prepared, so excited to launch the ship that had won the war that she was floating in her chair. Her internal gravity kept her small body floating and her blue and white hair stayed as aloft as her smile. As she looked towards the viewport into space, the sublight auxillary engines had begun disengaging. The forward deflector on the underside of the ship was thrumming subtlety as it readied to augment the many nested asymmetric peristaltic being created by the combined field system.

With a compound burst of acceleration, the YSS Kaiyō II launched off in a composed burst of Aether. Within a fortnight, her southerly destination would be reached. But right now the trail of aether dust slowly dissipated into the inky blackness like bright blue snowflakes evanescing on the background radiation of the cosmos.

Just outside the bridge stood the Ketsurui Samurai named Mao. The black-furred tips of her Neko ears twitched about when the Kaiyō entered its hyperspace fold, acclimating her to the almost imperceptibly altered hum that the change in propulsion manifested across the ship. Otherwise unmoving in her vigil for the Princess Aiko nearby, she wore the unmistakable red hakama and white kimono that made warriors of her order an icon throughout the Kikyō Sector and that garb had become a welcome presence for the Kaiyō's Star Army personnel by now. But none of the crew were as familiar with Mao as she was with them. The girl made it her job to study anybody who crossed paths with Aiko as to arm herself with knowledge on top of martial skill in pursuit of her yojimbo duties.

Still, there was some distance that Mao found impossible to bridge with anybody right now. There was nothing in life beyond her Ketsurui charge's safety, especially because the senior samurai, Rei, had ostensibly failed once (although Aiko would deny it, spinning a justification involving how Rei was there to rescue her in the end). Doubly because Mao herself had failed Hanako in some way to the point of the yojimbo's dismissal as that Ketsurui's protector.

It made her wonder why Aiko had asked for another failed yojimbo to guard her. This princess needed neither Rei nor Mao, not even to fend off the specter of vengeful Kuvexian assassins that ostensibly warranted their service, yet here the Princess was with both of them in her company.

"Hey, I'm comin' through," the ship's engineer Ashen called down through the corridor. She'd noticed him coming long before catching sight of his dark purple hair but didn't react to his approach, though his words did break her almost meditative awareness. He was tall and brash but seemed to be a good enough person in the samurai's summation. Mao wasn't impeding his entrance to the bridge and so didn't budge.

"Hey," he said, pushing at the doorway for half a step. "You ready to head down to the dojo and teach me some of your karate moves yet?"

"No," she said coarsely, remaining undisturbed. Ashen simply grinned and then proceeded onward to give his reports to Hoshi on the bridge.

Aiko's other samurai was not present. With the addition of Mao to take over junior duties and the subtraction of Wiliam, whose training once took most of her spare time, Rei found herself learning what boredom was. The former ronin had tried and failed to busy herself by pacing and prowling her shared rooms. When that didn't work, the grizzled samurai had found that checking for any possible risks in the ship by crawling in accessible venting was a satisfying use of her new free time. Ducts and open paneling throughout the ship would find Rei scampering about them, unknown to those that walked its halls.

Within the ship, the effervescent machinations of the crew had began once more. Topside her blackened hull bore little life. Kaiyō's discerning markings had been scorched off. Gone were her Hinomaru, blue livery on her nacelles, her IRN, and her glittering silver hull. They were now covered up in the shrouding black of espionage missions.

Such changes to its facade were well within the crew's expectations considering the expeditionary gunship's past missions, but knowing the outcome was never certain for them. All those within the ship felt the surge of hope at a new mission and a new chance to tackle those uncertainties, whatever they may be.
Southerly Space
YSS Kaiyō II

"H-hold position!" Asuka chirped from her console.

They had been flying more than two weeks now, and were now scanning system after system without much success besides the small quirks and interests that stellar cartography often yielded. The Kaiyō was now further south than any Star Army expedition ever traveled. Much of the ship's old guard had found enjoyment just from being back aboard and underway on a mission. The old hobbies and pastimes that their homely Fuji-class yielded had been often-used over the years, and now was no different. Unlike most of the crew training or socializing, though, Deio Asuka had been glued to her sensors seat scanning one planetary cluster after another and punching in new coordinates to no avail for three days.

But now was different.

"Boss, where is Hoshi?" Asuka asked, very aware of the empty captain's seat. She ran from the sensors station and off the bridge.

The MEGAMI's reply was cool and calculated but it made Asuka flush red. "She is on deck 2 in the MEGAMI room with me."

"Oh!" Asuka said. "Well have her know that I-uh..."

Boss again replied in an unflappable voice over comms, "I can see you have scouted a skirmish over a planet in the system ahead and have informed the captain."

"U-uh... thanks, Boss," Asuka dabbed at the bead of sweat on her forehead and went back to her sensors station until the captain arrived.

"So you've found a portion of the Uesureyan fleet, huh?" Hoshi asked after she had come down one deck to the bridge. Asuka nodded astutely and Hoshi's voice grew rigid as she went on, "Boss, inform the XO of an imminent away mission and to meet us prepared to do so on the bridge."

"Hai, Taiyou-chusa," the MEGAMI replied over bridge comms.

"Asuka, you'll be in command," Hoshi informed the sensors operator, who nodded, prepping herself mentally already. "With our best efforts, you'll stay stealthed here without a worry in any known world."

"Got it, Hoshi-chusa," Asuka said, still nodding with a confident look. "Have fun out there."

"It's our former emperor and creator's ships we're dealing with," Hoshi said in a low voice. "You know I will."

Within a few minutes, the bridge crew and away team were assembled. It was an odd assortment because the ship's infantry team was still being organized. The two Ketsurui yojimbo -one new to Aiko and one familial to her- would go along with the Shosa and Chusa. There was almost nobody else Hoshi knew on the ship she trusted more to do what they were about to do.

"Ready to suit up and launch?" Hoshi asked, rapping the teal and blue suits displayed on the flat of her console next to her. "These are to wear. We'll blend in. But if we don't, the SAINT commando team will be on standby to simply seize the ship if we fail."

The First Officer stood in awe of the planet displayed on the Kaiyō's main viewscreen. Lush and verdant, though according to sensors only barely habitable due to its extreme humidity and temperatures, a fleet of older Yamataian ships was planted in bombardment formation above it. All around these ships lay the burning and decimated remains of what could only be a Mishhuvurthyar task force. The winner's hulls were emblazoned with not a Hinomaru but the crest of the Uesureyan Star Empire, and the multitude of blue hulled Yui-, Irim-, and Ayame-class vessels among their number rivaled any of Star Army's venerable Standard Fleets.

Violent trails of molten vapors sunk away from the silent carnage in orbit and down to the surface, and secondary video feeds overlaid at the edges of the main screen showed at least one downed enemy battleship and space dock whose fires burned high into the atmosphere. Another NMX dreadnought lay crippled in high orbit where the main battle had occurred. Its hull swarmed with the dying remnants of its once-substantial crew.

"Look," Aiko said, using the nearest interface to enlarge one of the smaller feeds. It showed the charred and burned-down remains of grotesque constructs that Mishhu called architecture on the planet. "All of this Mishhu sprawl was destroyed days ago," she added after studying the sensor data and the visuals. "Maybe the battle even happened before we departed. And their bombardment continues! I knew the Mishhu were a tough enemy to root out but this is like watching something out of the textbooks."

"No doubt we'll be able to implant ourselves undetected," Hoshi said, then quickly pointed to the viewscreen with a straightened pink index finger. "See that? That Chiharu's rear bay is open for its shuttlecraft." Her finger trailed around the battlefield, finding the Fox shuttle destined for the huge ship's rear.

"Well at least one of the two have a way in," Mao said, noting the firepower that had been laid to bare in the still-simmering battlezone. "I wonder how many more they brought in the beginning."

"A second Chiharu... The Uesureyan army really can send out tons of tiny fleets, leaving behind its many goliaths to complete the culling. Good for them," Hoshi said, staring grimly at the enemy's justly ransacked planet. "All seems well enough for us to slip in on that shuttle. Let's walk and talk on the way to the power armor bay, away team. Asuka, bridge is yours," Hoshi said with a snappy salute to the sensors operator taking her command chair. The captain waited for the away team to be out before bowing resolutely at the threshold out into the hallway.

Hoshi told the nervous looking Asuka, "You have my trust to stay out of sight and out of trouble, love," before going out into the hallway and heading for the power armor bay. The samurai took up positions behind the ship's two leaders, trailing Hoshi and Aiko like a pair of long-tailed shadows.

Deck 5
Power Armor Bay

Once in the bay and suiting up, Hoshi had a good view on the two samurai, but she spoke to the senior yojimbo only.

"Maybe this mission is a good opportunity for you to test her mettle," Hoshi said to Rei, referring to Mao.

"The opportunity is hers to test me," Rei replied as they entered the power armor bay and the team began changing into what would be their new uniforms for the mission. The Type 32 Type 32 Nekovalkyrja Skinsuits used by the Star Army of Uesureya were an interesting evolution upon the Yamataian AMES and bodysuit uniforms together, sporting a pop-out bubble helmet for low pressure conditions (such as the spacewalk they were about to take) and a radio communicator in its collar. But otherwise it was a completely serviceable uniform for space duty, and looked sharp in its dark teal and cadet blue fabrics.

Aiko expediently removed her Type 35 and slipped into the legholes of her Uesureyan suit, which fit very snugly around her from its enclosed stirrup heel to her hips and was owed to the fact that the princess was simply bigger than any Uesureyan Neko the Star Army had encountered to date. The suit's shirt came next. Once her arms were in, its fabric hung open at the front with only her legs and arms really covered under their tight wrappings. After a moment of searching and patting around her body, Aiko found a big zipper pull exactly at the small of her back and then began tugging it down over her rear without hesitation. She stood on her toes and pulled the fabric away from her skin when the zipper went between her thighs, more slowly dragging the closure together until it was to her bellybutton before finishing it off with speed to the collar.

"I will not put Hime-sama at risk for any sort of test," Mao insisted as she stepped into a pair of cadet blue boots that matched the skinsuit's blue bike shorts patterning. "Do not believe that I'm unprepared for any danger, though."

Buckling her belt first at her waist and then around the thigh, Aiko stood upright and stretched around in the slightly-too-small uniform, and quickly decided it was only uncomfortable in good ways. She smiled at Rei and Mao's exchange, not feeling any compulsion to stop such healthy camaraderie between warriors before a dangerous task. It would be unwise to enter harm's way without a little fire pumping through one's veins, after all.

There was an amused expression on Hoshi's face as she was completing the airtight seal on her boots, listening and thinking about the mission. There had been a lot of time between the many joyous times of war and now. Back then the ship was brimming, sparkling, and virile. Now the warship had gained a cozy professionalism that she equally appreciated. Its skeleton crew was a mix of fresh faces and the ship's oldest warhorses mingling in a demonstration she hadn't seen in a while.

One of those newer crewmembers hopped up, laden by a footling crate whose clamshell closure was cracked open and stuffed with what appeared to be spare NSP magazines. The sleeves of her Nataria green coveralls were smeared with dark grease and solvent stains from long hours already spent in the ship's armory.

"Here are those Type 28s you called for, Ketsurui-shosa," said the ship's new armorer: Nitô Heisho Kobayashi Maja. She was a stout Neko who looked about as near to the minimum height a Neko could be made in, and had bushy dark red hair with orange eyes. She dropped the unwieldy box she'd been carrying down onto a bench near to where the away team was preparing. "Ship still had this gasket case of 'em in inventory from some kind of ceremonial thing years back."

Aiko stepped over and began putting spare magazines into purpose-fit pouches on her disguise's hip rig. Two fit on the holster and two more fit horizontally along the belt. There would be no place for her sword on this mission, nor for the blades of her samurai protectors. They would all have to rely on their skinsuits' hard light fist projectors in the event of close combat.

"Great," Aiko said as she pulled out one of the five wooden-gripped pistols that had just been delivered. These examples even had the Mindy inlay on their grips; TYPE 28C NSP was etched along its barrel and marked it as a later model of this pistol that had been long-replaced in Yamatai's Star Army. "Thank you, Heisho," she added while checking out how it felt in her hand before slamming in another magazine and holstering it.

Where the ship was once a vibrant pool of varying people and species, this mission necessitated Yamatains solely. Hoshi liked seeing this coalescence, especially around Aiko whose retinue had only recently been shaken up with William now serving alongside the Nepleslian exchange troops that were part of Legion 777 instead, plus the addition of Mao. She possibly wanted to test the new samurai more than anyone else there. Aiko had been lost under her command during the Kuvexian War just as much as from under Rei's nose.

The captain knew the extra yojimbo being on the mission took the place of a science officer that would be better suited to the mission specifics. But a selfish part of her wanted to know that not just a princess was safe in Mao and Rei's hands, but that an officer Hoshi valued was safe, too. Aiko had surpassed the standard and helped the little pink captain do so, too. Mao being able to protect her was important to Hoshi, as were many things that had taken place on this ship revolving around her.

Hoshi often regretted not recommending Aiko for a Yui's Blood Medallion for the excellence and superiority she saw in her. But something about telling a mom to hang a medal around her daughter's neck felt like an embarrassing request she didn't have the stomach for.

The Captain wondered amusedly as she suited up that maybe that's why she wan't Taisa yet, perhaps it was because she couldn't make a request she should make. Maybe that was also why Hoshi was still a Chusa despite her strong standing as a hardened captain. Even Legion 777's commander and officer corps of samurai had taken Aiko on as a royal patron after numerous battles alongside her during the Kuvexian war. Realizing this in her old power armor bay, Hoshi resolved to do better to show her appreciation for her crew and herself with those requests.

A former colleague of Hoshi’s had been told about one person thinking the Ketsurui-leaning force they worked alongside had been awarded to them based on name and not merit. Hoshi had been there and had fought hard for victory after a long campaign. The scraps of honor had been appreciated by Hoshi. To have them mocked would have incensed her. The diminutive but feisty pink captain wanted to rip off any head that dared disrespect the hard fought victories of her past with all such forces.

She slammed her hand on the Type 32's zipper near her butt as she thought of such things, then pulled it quickly through her legs and up her small front. Such acts of retribution against those people that Hoshi did not think much of was better left for the power that be such as Yui, fate, Gods, or Avatars. Hoshi huffed a little as she got used to the new teal blue skinsuit and got over her angry thoughts, instead focusing on the calming thought of Yui.

"Today we go out for Yamatai, as we always have, sisters! We go out into the intrepid unknown. Never has our ship been one where we speak words over actions. And so, too, never have we been one to balk from a challenging mission! For the Empire we continue out, returning again and again to risk it all to protect it all! Follow me, sisters. I'll spearhead the group," Hoshi said with her rousing speech inciting even her soul.

The new armorer Maja looked starry-eyed hearing Hoshi's words, holding her hands together in front of her chest while she listened. The only others present were Aiko and her bodyguards, however, and so the audience reaction was muted. With a wide smile on her alabaster face the princess nodded to her little captain in agreement anyway, never one to ignore such inspiration even the whole thing seemed more like Hoshi's pep-talk to herself.

Hoshi kicked the sky blue foot of her skinsuit against the power armor bay's door where armors launched from and off into the intrepid unknown as she had said she would. Talk was one thing but Hoshi, Aiko, and their crew had always spoken loudly with their actions. If somebody didn't hear that war cry then they must not be listening.


Like on a busy warehouse floor, Uesureyan units moved resources to-and-from the planet and between the warships staged in orbit above. They droned about through shrapnel and wreckage from the past few days' battle as their ships and power armors conducted post-engagement cleanup operations.

The Chiharu classes loomed tranquilly like whales as the much smaller vessels flew around them much like tiny pilot fish swimming beneath their respective shadows. Hoshi could make out one such shuttle that they were moving towards ever still. It was destined for one of the flagships, the one that was positioned in higher orbit of the two. On that ship's central superstructure was its registry number and name: UES Ravenoak. There were a few intricately sculpted scenes of many Nekovalkyrja victorious in battles across the Uesureyan Empire fixed and etched to the ship's hull, as was a familiar tradition in for ships of the class in Yamatai as well.

The art on the flagship imitated real life as it bombarded this planet of their enemy. The teal megaship was sporadically dropping torpedoes out of its ten launchers, totaling 20 a second at times. They tumbled delicately down to their targets on the surface as her sister ship did the same.

Captain Taiyou used her gravitational controls to jet from one position to another, finding clear spaces through the drifting post-assault flotsam. She trailblazed through the towering and clumsy masses of the rubble, finding herself with a bad taste in her mouth the more she looked at the remnants of enemy Mishhuvurthyar ships. At the end of the day, the glory belonged to the honorable Nekovalkyrja who spent her energy rendering them dead. She looked to the shuttle with that thought in mind, all the more motivated to get on board the tealish blue hulled ship through it. She pounced closer still, avoiding a sparking and possibly dangerous hunk of detritus by ducking down from its current linear path. She flew below the triangular vehicle bay from a destroyed Irim gunship, then pushed right energetically.

The captain turned the corner of rubbish and saw an Advanced type Mishhu's body. She steered clear of it, almost to the target shuttle but chilled to see such a sight. The captain kept her eyes on it as it hung suspended, tentacles splayed like hair in water. The bad taste in her mouth thickened, but soon the pink captain and her team were in position and each jumped to and landed silently on the Uesureyan Fox shuttle's aft hull plating. They would need to utilize the shuttle to gain entry the Chiharu class through its rear bay, but right now Hoshi was just happy to utilize it as a quick ride away from the haunting Mishhuvurthyar, dead as it was.
UES Ravenoak
Rear Bay

When the shuttle was nearer the titanic Chiharu class, the four slipped under the Fox aeroshuttle's triangular wings as the small craft had finished its journey to the Chiharu class. The immeasurable blackness of space had been replaced in quick order by the intense electronic light and technological luster of the larger vessel's innards. Hoshi unceremoniously fell from the shuttle with her gravimetric controls. While her team and the shuttle were obscured by shadow, Hoshi dropped down behind a stacked row of containers.

For Aiko's part, the princess gracefully stepped off of the shuttle when it came into this hangar bay and walked over behind the crates Hoshi had chosen to group behind. The captain saw a route from there for them to get out of the rear bay that was out of sight. She looked back just as the two samurai flickered into view behind the safety of the crates after having made themselves invisible for the infiltration.

"It does not seem very busy," Aiko said, pressing a toggle on her suit's neck that popped her teal bubble helmet off and retracted it back into storage. And indeed this particular hangar wasn't bustling with any sort of wartime fervor but was rather a distribution hub for crates upon crates and boxes and barrels of supplies that needed to go out (or come back in) where only a handful of crewmen were present to move and manage in-and-out operations from here. "The deck plan should be as expected. Investigation of one of the ship's several medical facilities or even risking interface with the KAMI would certainly yield useful information. Where do you think we should proceed to first, Captain?"

"To check out that medical lab. On this deck it's in the forward section." With her own helmet retracted into her suit's jutting second collar area, the captain's wave of blue and white hair was in a ponytail with chunky side-swept bangs over her pink face. Without delay she had begun down the route out of the bay and into the ship's internals.

They passed a few passageways which routed to power armor bays and terminals, another huge part of this deck and likely more active than the rear bay right now. But for their needs, the Kaiyō team kept a steady sprint to the forward section of the ship and only really slowed their pace when passing groups of Uesu Neko as not to arouse suspicion. They also passed the captain and first officer's multi-level quarters, rousing memories of past Kaiyō missions within Hoshi as they did.

"The first time and last time I was in this area of a Chiharu class," the captain said quickly while sidled next to Aiko, "it was in the alternate universe. The one where Eve had risen to power. Remember that?"

"Of course, Captain," Aiko affirmed from her place in formation beside Hoshi. In the time since then, the princess had visited this type of flagship once again during some ceremony at which she was required to provide an Imperial presence. "Just as then, this one feels so familiar in an uncanny way. In the very least it is more like home here than how those IYS villains kept things. Here I can imagine the Hinomaru displayed rightfully in place of the Uesureyan seal and it seems that I am still in the Kikyo Sector."

Other than the replaced Hinomaru she mentioned, the aesthetics were largely similar to a Yamatain Chiharu's. Maybe not KFY's bright new design choices that were dominated by clean white paneling and pretty mood lights. But the decks here remained the same gloss black that one might see while aboard older Star Army of Yamatai ships and bases, and its grey walls still had the glossy black strip of interface screen paneling ubiquitously running along every corridor that the Kaiyō team had passed through thus far.

Then there were the teal-clad Uesureyan Nekovalkryja everywhere, too, whose presence did as much to change how everything felt as dimmer lights or Emperor Uesu's black-and-white insignia. Even in passing they all seemed very determined and to-the-point, usually going about their duties with at least one other soldier, exactly as Aiko remembered the Star Army of Yamatai operated during the Kuvexian War.

"We say that the Mishhuvurthyar Wars ended," Aiko said as the coterie of Yamataians proceeded closer to their first stop at the medlab. Her two samurai still kept their silence, ever-watchful despite their body language betraying little more than the Uesureyan Neko they were pretending to be. "These Nekovalkyrja continue that fight to this day. They are lucky to live this way in pursuit of Yamatai's enduring enemies while we in the Kikyō Sector sits and wait for whatever next assails us."

"Only too true. Then again," Hoshi had the stony face of bitter agreement. "Maybe that's why you and I never were much for waiting around the Kikyō Sector. We found the fight on the frontlines when no others had the gall, much like our sisters here today." Hoshi swiveled her pink head to look around at any that might be about. There were none and so she nodded behind her shoulder to the samurai behind the XO/CO duo before diverting their course. She turned for one grey and back passageway tot he right of where they had seemed to be walking.

The words UES Ravenoak - Laboratory Entrance was marked above the double doors that opened as the short captain approached. The scale of the medical facility was obvious by the entrance, which had a wall paneling that included a map, which Hoshi had to stud. There were more soldiers outside in the corridors than most other places they'd passed so far owing to the recent battle, mingling with doctors as they filtered out after treatments or resurrections. Soon she was leading them again. They went further into the forward section of the ship, away from the crowds near the medical labs. It took a few minutes, but soon the four were walking the tight white hallways alone. Hoshi slowed when they had reached a certain facility, obvious of little importance in a battle scenario like this one.

"This section will be more empty than the section more aft of here," Hoshi explained, then turned to the samurai as she entered a subsection of the facility. "Let's spread out here. This forward portion contains body synthesis experimentation. Happens to be our M.O.

"The Northerly portion of Uesu's fleet in Yamatai has been taking genetic samples and old PNUgen equipment for Nekovalkryja cloning. Look for that here however you can. Something like the genetic makeup of a new Neko, you know, nothing too specific," Hoshi ended her direct order with a soft jest that certainly highlighted the importance of their task.

Mao and Rei both looked to Aiko when Hoshi gave her order, and then nodded a moment later after the princess telepathically split them up. Certainly neither of the samurai yojimbo could tolerate leaving their charge's side, but when that charge was the First Officer of a Star Army ship they were often forced to. Even moreso because they'd been brought along on a mission.

"Hime-sama has commanded that I search independently or alongside you, Hoshi-san," Mao said as she took a step away from her senior counterpart and Aiko. Rei remained in her place beside the princess for now with her hypervigilant watch belied by the flat scarlet of her iris-less eyes.

"Keep in regular contact if you find yourself alone," Aiko reminded the team. It was a customary checkup, but was mostly aimed at Mao since Hoshi would do whatever ship's Captain wanted to do. "I will check this way," she continued before striding off down a hallway and into a smaller lab with one hemosynth tank, one bed, and an array of other equipment. Rei followed her close behind without a word, and moved off to invasively study the lab's tech while Aiko sat down at a desk and began trying to access information on its volumetric console.

"Mao, with me," Hoshi said in a succinct tone. She traced through the laboratory. Unlike a personnel synthesis factory, the synth experimentation labs were not able to create millions or even thousands of Neko at once. It was more so able to create and house sole test variants of "Doll Weapons" within their walls. But this one seemed filled. Hoshi looked at each door to each housing facility: they were all filled.

On the trail, the captain and the junior samurai hunted down a synthesis vat with a console station nearby. The clear orange liquid was unmoving as well as securely covered and powered down. Hoshi and Mao powered up the station and input enough information to get out cylindrical segments of genetic samples for a new Nekovalkryja type that Uesu had currently been making, likely with help from his old cloning facilities in the Kikyō Sector. It was exactly what SAINT had asked them to gain intelligence on.

Hoshi had Mao secure the samples onto pouches attached to her belt and drop holster. The pink-skinned captain handed the cylindrical tubes to Mao, making sure she had them securely by patting them before she got up from her console. The filled black pouches fit snugly against her dark pistol on her thigh, almost seamlessly blending in.

"I've sent Rei a message to meet them where we parted," Hoshi said to the rusty goldenrod-eyed samurai.

Mao slid the sample cylinder into her long, black braid and ensured it was secured there. With little else to find here she began moving back to their rendezvous point, doubtlessly eager to set eyes upon Aiko again.

"She's worthy of my respect and yours to work alongside." After a few moments, Hoshi spoke to Mao mentally on a more personal note as they ran back. "Since I have you alone for once, Mao, I trust Rei with my life, sure, but I also trust her with the whole of Yamatai. Same goes for Aiko-sama, but not many others are on that list. I hope you can appreciate my honesty when I say I fought your position opening," her mental tone grew as they slowed and neared their destination, "But now it is filled, I expect that same level of trust to develop from me to you."

The samurai simply nodded in thanks, bound by her order's traditions from displaying any emotion in public. It was gratifying to hear from the diminutive captain, who it was clear wanted to test Mao more than her comrade Rei ever did. The truest test of a samurai counted on events that none would ever wish for, however, so the young Nekovalkyrja warrior remained unsure as to whether her performance proved anything to Hoshi. Or to herself. Soon enough, she had found the princess and Rei again at the same place where they'd split a while before.

"We were able to find some information about current cloning practices within the Star Army of Uesureya, Captain," Aiko said when she saw Mao and Hoshi. "Manuals, genetic data and the like. Rei has taken scans of the hardware itself for intelligence review."

"It's time to get back to the ship," Hoshi said, "because we were able to, too. Glad they chose our ship for the job; this was an easy in and out."

"The fortunes bless our endeavor," Aiko agreed. They were truly lucky to have not encountered any Uesureyan Neko up close. "Let us remain unseen and unnoticed until we are back. We will hitch a ride on a supply ship back out?" she assumed.

"Leaving should be as simple as before." Hoshi kept them on the route out, but there was still a lot of ship to cover and the four fell into a content quiet from there on. Hoshi was satisfied with their mission's pique and was playing over how she would write the mission report when back in her ready room when a grey cat-eared Neko stood in their path outside of the power armor bay.

"Sumimasen," the grey cat-eared Neko who stopped them said. "Where are you going right now?"

Aiko stood at ease with her stance wide and her arms folded across the small of her back. "We are reporting for duty on our scheduled repair detail, sir!" she responded, not seeming at all like it was made-up on the spot. Rei and Mao did not flinch at the newcomer blocking their way. Nor did they flinch at all now that this silvery Neko was here addressing them, ready to strike not at her but at threats from any direction.

Narrowing her eyes, the Neko asked, "What section are you reporting to?"

"Rear bay 24," Aiko said, remembering they'd passed bay 24 on their way in and seen shuttle and small craft repair work occurring there. "It is time for a shift change at the mechanic shop there. Why do you ask, sir? Is something the matter?" she inquired while peering in disbelief at Hoshi as if to seem like it was unusual to be asked about their goings-about.

"Four lively Neko like yourselves should be utilized elsewhere in this ship condition," the freckled Neko said sharply as she raised her arm towards the power armor bay. "I'll transfer one soldier to your duty post at the mechanic shop. If anything goes wrong I, Usada Chikako-heisho, approved the transfer." She looked straight up at the four of them, then narrowed her blank eyes, "Say... do I know you?"

"You do not," Mao said, taking a few steps forward so that she was in front of Aiko. "Maybe we've seen each other here on the ship. Our shift change passes your armor bay so it would make sense. Now you must let us be on our way. The wrath of our commanding officer is not worth whatever you need us for."

Aiko nodded in agreement. Normally, she would not tolerate her samurai acting without command but the situation called for such. The princess would need to commend her later lest the yojimbo find herself wanting.

"As my sister said, we really must depart," Aiko said.

"Huh, I was in the Kikyō Sector recently..." Usada Chikako said, but she looked hard pressed and her ears were furrowed behind her short grey hair. She was squinting her sharp feline green eyes between the pair that had originally been spearheading the Kaiyō team: Hoshi and Aiko. Both of them had certainly had their share of screen coverage for the Kuvexian War and Usada had been on Nataria for Victory Day, at the peak of the televised ceremony about the thrilling conclusion at Glimmergold and the combatants whose role it was to end it, like these two.

The Heisho kept chewing her lip and it looked like Mao's interception had worked completely when the doors to the power bay opened and two soldiers were standing there, looking as if they had been searching for this heisho.

Chikako was galvanized by the added numbers now, with an audience, said, "For right now you're needed in here. Ladies, see to it that these four suit up, high priority. Then come to me for what you needed."

"Yes, sir!" one of the two newest Uesu Neko shouted, who leapt close to Hoshi. The captain reacted by nodding slightly to her comrades.

"Yes sir," Captain Taiyou Hoshi mimicked the verbiage of the ensign as she growled to Chikako. Although the mission had been deterred, they had not been trapped. If anything their sister Neko may have helped them escape more easily. Aiko telepathically called her guards off as soon as Hoshi spoke, trusting in whatever her captain was up to.

They went into the power armor bay with the Uesu Neko and began donning what seemed to be an updated version of the Mindy 2 along with the many other Neko in the bay. It wasn't long until they realized it fit all of them well save for the odd one out when it came to height- Aiko. Standing a full five inches taller than any Nekovalkyrja serving Uesu's Fleet, the princess had to remove even her teal skinsuit disguise before climbing into the divergent power armor's fleshy core. While she was able to find a larger suit, it was still a couple inches too short for her in an ideal situation. So where a Yamataian Mindy 4 would feel much like a second skin, this ill-fit Mindy 2 clung to Aiko's skin as much as she wore it and reminded her of its presence squeezing into her wherever it touched.

"You are going to tell us what the goal in this is, Hoshi-chusa," Aiko asked telepathically, sounding rather insistent in the away team's minds. "Escape will be more difficult among their troopers."

"You've been pretty quiet, Rei-sama," Hoshi said to all within their minds' communications. "I was just telling Mao here how you and Aiko could hold the whole of Yamatai on your shoulders. But here Aiko is thinking we can't deal with a hiccup. What say you, do you trust us to get the job done?"

"Eeto..." Rei thought, leaving a draining silence as she walked into formation with the rest of the Mindy-clad troopers. Hoshi had followed and in doing so Rei had simply readied them for launching with the many armored-clad warriors like them. In a sense, her answer to Hoshi was in her actions.

"Nice choice!" Hoshi chuckled to the veteran samurai of her ship. "Don't you think there's more honor in helping their assault, Ketsurui-shosa?"

"If this is how we must get our data back to the Kaiyō then I cannot object," Aiko admitted privately to her crewmates, sounding maybe even a little excited. She was getting used to how the smaller armor fit her now and couldn't foresee it hampering her much in a fight, especially because it made her feel more immersed in the youthful conjurings of Yamatai's past glories against the Mishhurvurthyar that sped through her mind now. "Plus, it would not be prudent to waste an opportunity to see their soldiers in action. Honor, glory, and all within our mission parameters," she continued, making explicit her approval both as XO and as Ketsurui Aiko.

"Let us hold nothing back."
Surface Battlezone
Mishhuvurthyar World

For Hoshi and her crew, Mishhuvurthyar had become the defeated enemy of old. Once a threat, their numbers had evaporated from the Kikyō Sector, but had clearly remained strong in these deep Southern regions.

This contrast was exemplified within the airspace above this planet's charred remains as carapace laden tentacle monsters were pitted against the agile Nekovalkryja warriors of Uesu's Fleet. The orbital bombardment continued unabated even as the slew of combatants continued to fight to the bitter end. The air was thick with smoky artillery fire from days and minutes past. Within this theater of operations was an extremist stronghold of the Mishhu that Uesureyans still raised arms against. It was obvious from the pitiable Mishhu resistance now being swept down by the Uerureyan soldiers that they had only been a small cog in the archenemy's weightier machinery.

It looked like there wasn't a safe spot to get a shot off, but Hoshi watched from her marksman's perch from afar as Aiko cleaved through another NMX Nekovalkyrja's power armor with Mao and Rei by her side. The princess had just finished off another assailant before catching the plummeting trench axe of her current enemy in a parry, and then forced a hard light blade though the warped Neko's throat. It seemed that Uesureyan Mindy 2s had upgraded particle projectors to match Yamatai's Mindy 4, as well as on the hands of their own teal-and-blue skinsuits.

Hoshi was yoked up on an orange and charred piece of rubble some good distance away from the fighting due to her aether beam saber's phased pulse rifle. She had the bullpup-style butt snug on her shoulder as she looked down the sights at the battlefield. She followed her three crewmen through her scope as they led five Uesu Mindy into a bombed-out building's wall and a waiting nest of enemy troops. Aiko and her samurai seemed particularly confident in close quarters fighting while the soldiers inspired to follow showed fleeting moments of trepidation before committing to their assault with the undercover Ketsurui.

For the most part, Aiko seemed to savor direct assault with hard light blades compared to her samurai. Mao made use of her forearm weapons and NSP in combination with projected swords like Aiko, fighting with an adaptation of the traditional Ketsurui Samurai style that combined katana and energy pistol use. Rei eschewed any handheld weapons and used the long range weaponry in her Mindy's forearms to provide Aiko support. During the powerful weapon's cooldown and when anything came in too close she opted for the blades like those her samurai kin knew all too well.

Their style of fighting had a tenor that was distinct compared to regular soldiers in either empire's Star Army.

Mao found herself tackled by an NMX Reaper, brawling on the ground as its spikes crushed into her body even through her armor. She could feel blood pulsing through her Eihei veins as the blind scramble ensued between them. Her NSP fired off at least three times to no effect before she saw a bright flash in her helmet's visor and experienced the weight of her assailant going limp.

The samurai shoved the dead enemy Neko off of her with great ease while gulping down some amount of irritation that she nor Rei could fight to their full effectiveness lest they stand out too spectacularly. Or at least suppressed the modicum of shame she felt for getting tackled. Aiko was the first thing Mao saw when she turned on the floor to push herself up.

Three unarmored NMX infantry who were no doubt guarding some kind of underground entrance nearby had the princess pinned against a wall and were trying to get their bayonets and claws between her Mindy's armor plates. Two held down her arms at the same time as another assaulted the princess in the front.

Their advantage didn't last long, however, as Aiko headbutted the one straight ahead of her, crushing the shrieking girl's face with her power armored helmet and turning out whatever light kept that Neko fighting for the Mishhu rather than surrendering. The other NMX held Aiko's arms down for a few seconds more still before the princess broke free, swinging her left arm in a hugely wide hook and all the way around to the opposite enemy's head. With her right hand free, Aiko swung back the other way and grabbed the final Neko by its throat. She'd rip the villainous Neko's skull clean off, sending it screaming along with its spine across the rubble and out of its body now collapsed twitching on the ground.

Mao finally stood only a moment later, helped up by her newfound Uesureyan comrades. She breathed heavily inside her Mindy as her heartbeat surged and brought the world more broadly into focus again. A shot rang out from her NSP and it struck another unarmored NMX Neko who was charging through a destroyed doorway at Aiko's back, and it downed them immediately.

"Hime-sama!" Mao prompted as the squad of five Uesu Neko marched through to clear the rooms of rubble beyond and try to find where they were coming from.

"I am well and uninjured, Mao-san," Aiko replied, sounding a little strained anyway. The sized-down power armor was a very new way of feeling for the princess. "And Rei-sensei?"

Mao's head swiveled around and up to look where she had last seen Rei. The small samurai had been working against an Advanced-Type Mishhuvurthyar on the roof above. She had seen them descending in the shadows, its target was Rei's own raison d'être. And so the samurai had attacked mercilessly.

Rei was now stoically standing aloft the half-toppled roofing and foundational pillars with a large fragment of Mishhuvurthyar skull in one her Mindy 2's hands. Without looking to the beast, she shot her forearm's weapon into the felled enemy's body and the remnants burst into innumerable bits of amber carapace and sickly wet innards behind her. She hopped down towards her ward and Mao and fell low to the floor next to Aiko, checking her over as she did.

"Ganbatte kudasai, Mao-chan! " Rei said ecstatically, using an informal suffix for Mao and an honorific for Aiko next . "Watashitachi wa Aiko-hime o mamoru!" Rei had said in Yamataigo that they would protect Aiko.

"You need not protecting, Aiko-sama." A little text popped up on Aiko's HUD with Rei's round chibi face featuring her newly crimson eyes.

The extermination of the disgusting vermin that screeled and screeched at Hoshi's friends, new and old, was like a beautiful song's pique to the pink captain. Conversely, the warcries of the Mishhuvurthyar taunted, "Huhuhuhu!" Their pathetic attempt at a rallying shout made the little Neko's triangular ears lower significantly. But Aiko had halted their joyless attack and cleared Hoshi's line of sight of enemies. Hoshi swiveled her rifle to where her target was reappearing behind a cloud of dust and grit. Her finger moved to go straight through the narrow opening over the trigger as she steadied her rifle. Narowing her aim on two of the eyes in the exoskeletal skull, she was looking straight into its slimy little eyes in that one opening.

Her finger instantly punched into the trigger to load a heavy pulse onto her target's braincase. It was an Advanced Mishhuvurthyar who had been directing an attack, but the ASBR's impact made it sidle away from danger limply. Hoshi had been ready and tracked its second eye, unloading another shot deep into the inner part of the Advanced-Type. It hung staggered momentarily before its psionic anti-gravity field no longer worked within it, then it fell down to the surface far far below.

"We should follow the rest of the squad down!" Mao said over a private comm channel between the Ketsurui trio and Hoshi outside, a hint of bloodthirsty readiness on her voice. "The sooner we help them clean up this nest, the sooner we can get back to the Kaiyō!"

"No," Aiko replied almost immediately. "Right now they are focused on whatever enemies lie below. This is a perfect opportunity to slip away with the intelligence we have gathered. Or at least one of us."

"Hai, I'll cover you from up here," Hoshi acknowledged the request. The last thing we need is someone spotting the extra cylinders the samurai were carrying.

"Which of you will it be?" Hoshi followed up.

"Well, however tempting, I do not think it is enough to simply teleport away," Aiko explained. "One of us will 'fall' in battle here. After the fight has passed and the others are back aboard the Ravenoak, then the thief can teleport back to Kaiyō. The Uesureyans will be none the wiser."

"I'll stay, Hime-sama!" Mao declared nervously, falling to a knee. She was loath to leave Aiko's side. But having now fought alongside the princess in a real fight rather than simply during practice in the dojo, the junior samurai was beginning to realize that Aiko could take care of herself quite well under duress. If fate were to take Ketsurui Aiko during a Star Army mission, Mao could see that her intervention would matter little.

"Simply tell me what I've got to do," she added, already accepting her role as volunteer thief.

Though the surge of blood and sweat of battle lapped at Rei's senses, the senior yojimbo’s heart rate slowed and she turned slowly from her ward to Mao. Part of her wanted to ask Mao to repeat herself, but she knew she had heard Aiko's junior protector just fine.

“Your duty is to the princess,” Rei hissed. “Why step down already? Chotto…” Rei wondered curiously and she took a knee and faced Mao. In an awkward motion, she took Mao’s armored hands into hers.

Rei asked, “Did it take you one battle to learn, only? One to learn what took me so long?” With a tone of awe, Rei added incredulously, “Do you already see?” Her tone had grown less harsh and more curious as she found herself speaking more than her usual curt self.

"What?" Mao wondered, not understanding exactly what Rei meant even though they were in truth of the same mind. Now she was worried that the chief samurai had found her in dereliction of something, or perhaps Hoshi's earlier comment about Mao needing to prove herself was wearing on the girl.

"I will do anything Hime-sama requires, and am the most junior member of the team. My experience does not outweigh my prowess as a samurai, and neither Hoshi-san nor Hime-sama should take the risk as senior officers on a Star Army mission. It only makes sense for me to stay behind with the intelligence."

"Iie, no," Rei's arms sunk as she shook her head. She had let go of Mao's hands as she stood. She was speaking to Mao only, now, "You see our ward clearly. If you can do this, then you see her for who she really is."

"You will have to tell me more later, sensei," Mao admitted, still not quite understanding. "Give me the samples you are carrying, quickly, before our Uesureyan friends or the Mishhu return."

"That will have to come later. For now, I honor your insight. I will 'fall' here, sister." Rei's certain words were highlighted by how she had taken off her Mindy's helmet. Aiko and Mao saw that on her alabaster forehead and across her cheek gooey hemosynth became exposed gradually. Rei looked to be concentrating on the task as her Eihei's body dedicated itself to creating passable, but fake, wounds with her external hemosynthesis capabilties.

"Yes, sensei!" Mao confirmed without question. Only Aiko could truly give her ultimate orders, but she always deferred to Rei in times like these (or at least would, as they had experienced so few real fights until now). So Mao handed the cylindrical case carrying a sample of Uesu Neko DNA over to Rei with a nod.

"She will remain safe until we see you again, sensei," Mao said telepathically to Rei. "Trust in it."

Aiko, too, handed something to Rei. A data card containing the information she and Rei had scraped from the Ravenoak's laboratory. With those now in the samurai's possession and the other DNA sample she already had strapped to her power armor, Rei had everything required for their plan.

"Go quickly after we have departed with the others," Aiko told her. "I am glad you are the one to be entrusted with these things, and know the task will be done because of it."

With her helmet now off, Rei's dark hairline starkly contrasted with her white and blood-splotched face. Conversely, she seemed more optimistic than normal and in the presence of just the other two Rei's sharp lips creased her red eyes warmly in a smile- if only momentarily.

She didn't have to speak to mirror the trust she had in their mission's end. As the samurai watched the her ward and the new apprentice take their leave, Rei could feel something welling inside of her. Though she knew she would want to consider them more deeply later, she felt a warmth in knowing she would do so a little less alone.

She tugged her dark brunette ponytail out of the back of her armor a bit, watching intently as she saw Aiko and Mao join up with an Uesureyan troop. To Rei they looked to be regrouping, jetting up closer to the flagships in orbit, and eventually she felt it was a safe time to leave. When that moment came, Rei donned her Mindy 2's helmet again and teleported away toward the Fuij-class gunship deeper in the star system above this world.
Planetary Orbit
Mishhuvurthyar World
UES Ravenoak

Alongside the Uesureyan Nekovalkryja, the trio from the YSS Kaiyō returned to the Chiharu-class from which they had come. Aiko, Hoshi, and Mao were more than ready to be back on their own ship by now with their mission done. But because of the nature of this clandestine combat insertion that their planned special reconnaissance had become, it felt natural to unsuit with their cousin Neko from Uesureya they had just fought amongst. With any luck, they'd slip off as soon as all of their equipment was doffed and sneak back to the Kaiyō where Rei and the others were waiting for them.

Hoshi patted the arm of Usada's Mindy just over her Uesureyan patch.

"You did great out there, Sister," Hoshi joked as she breathed in her first breath of fresh air after the battle. Her blue and white bangs were matted to her pink forehead with sweat as she opened her mouth and let her tongue loll out.

Usada's expression wasn't obvious but the pointed ears of her helmet cocked as she looked at Hoshi. Usada's hands were on her Mindy-clad body's hips as another Neko unhelmeted.

"The accolades are yours, pinkie. You and your comrades fought incredibly."

"Yeah," piped up someone next to Usada. "Great fighting with you, you really had our backs!"

Hoshi's eyes wrinkled. "Thanks, but the praise really goes to-"

"Are you guys for real? You don't recognize them?" Cutting her off, Usada spoke via her Mindy's voice emitters. "Pfft you guys don't pay any attention at all, do you?"

Hoshi's triangular ears fell an inch as her expression balked.

"It's the captain of Yamatai's frontline warship," Usada chuckled. "Or at least they were... what are you doing here, kitty?" Her freckled expression was so smug that Hoshi saw her canine glint protrude through Usada's tight grin.

"Mmmpph..." Hoshi stewed, "Are you confused? My post is here. I'm Jotô Heisho Uhh..." Hoshi hadn't planned this whole clandestine insertion bit, so making up code names and the like hadn't come up yet. Her big blue eyes were huge saucers in her face as she looked to Aiko.

"Yes, I believe you have us mistaken," the princess said with a little wobble on her voice as she finished taking her own helmet off a moment too soon. Not that she would have changed her mind even now, having been encased in it for so long.

Her cheeks had a deep red blush on them and Aiko stood up straight in the sized-down Mindy she'd been forced to fight in. Like Hoshi, sweat flattened her thick bangs to her face and neck. Quickly, her fingers fumbled over to the armor's release near her neck and activated it, commanding the armor to split open down its chest with a hiss and rush of steamy air that'd been trapped inside for the sortie. Aiko let out a satisfied sigh, now breathing easy despite Usada's recognition of them.

From the state of her, it seemed princess Aiko had received a fully vintage Neko combat experience.

"The Star Army of Yamatai has many frontline ships and we are very standard model Nekovalkyrja," she insisted. Her voice carried its usual deadpan confidence now that her armor wasn't squeezing every time she took a step. "As my Heisho was saying, you are confused. And now we must be going. Our boss in the mechanic shop will definitely punish us now, even in spite of the glory that we have earned with you today. Sisters."

“You really think they’re Star Army of Yamatai?” asked a soldier near Aiko who was looking out up at her ears. “She is tall... really tall, Chikako-heisho.”

Aiko stepped out of her Mindy's legs and onto the deck making little wet plaps when her sweaty feet touched the floor. Luckily she'd been naked for the mission, which made it easier to hide a volumetric change in her height after she was out of the Mindy.

"It was only the armor adding to my stature, see?" Aiko insisted with a totally confident expression on her face. But she absolutely could not have sounded convincing to any Uesureyan Neko.

“Huh, armor only adds four inches. Fore real, you can’t fool us, Princess,” said the softly chuckling doubter, Usada Chikako. "Not with any kind of new Yamataian dance you've made up even. You know-"

Usada had grown even more sure of herself after Aiko’s helmet had been removed. The silvery-haired Uesureyan Nekovalkryja removed her own helmet to show her freckled face, stricken with happy superiority over the trio she had found out. She looked like she was ready to say more when a new sound other than excited giddy laughter erupted from the crowd forming around the four of them; Usada, Hoshi, Aiko, and Mao.

"Shh!" was the first new noise, then a "Is that the Taii?"

It was true. Their armor wing's pink-haired leader had made her way through the gathering Nekovalkyrja to the front, clearly interested in all the commotion. Her eyes were deep black all the way to their edges where the whites should be, and a series of four one-inch thick genetically-tattooed chevrons banded her head, pointing down from her roughly cut mop of hair proceeding across her glistening ricepaper skin to the bridge of her nose. Her awesome presence struck Hoshi with how they didn't make Nekovalkryja like that back in Yamatai anymore.

"I'd come to roar honor for your boldness in the fight," the Taii grunted through a smile in tough, crawling tones. "But here we find the great Captain Hoshi and the last Kitsurugi among us."

Indeed, word of the Kaiyō's heroics had made it even here to Uesu's Fleet, mostly through the words of soldiers who'd fought at Glimmergold and witnessed everything. Aiko was regarded by many Uesureyans as the greatest warrior in her bloodline since Yui herself, hence their nickname for her. Little did Hoshi and her XO know that their reputation preceeded them and they were beloved here as they were in Yamatai (but perhaps through a more violent lens). Trying to pull cover stories from their minds and salvage their clandestine presence would be impossible now.

Hoshi crinkled her nose. Something about hearing the past name of Aiko's clan made her head lose its hemosynth. She put her pink hand up to her head as the feeling washed away from her. Saving face she sighed deeply, waving her hand as if waving away any accusations of her well-known exploits.

"Aiko-hime and what I assume is her yojimbo fight like samurai, too," the Taii chuckled before remembering that Rei had ostensibly fallen in combat. "Your samurai? That was your samurai who died in battle on the planet! Taii Chizu Vilom will make this right!" she cried, unsheathing a combat knife from her belt as she went.

Mao stepped forward immediately, ready and moving to rip the Uesureyan Neko apart. But Aiko put a hand between them and stopped her junior yojimbo from striking.

"No, it is very alright," Aiko said, moving toward Chizu and her knife, who had plummeted to her knees on the ground and presented her tough infantry Neko's belly. The princess scooped up the Useureyan's blade and tugged the woman up by her skinsuit's shoulder. "Come on, up with you, Taii. My samurai did her duty. There has been no failure for you."

"Yes!" Chizu cried happily, already turned around from her impulsive despair. "Thank you, Ketsurui-sama! Now I must escort you up the chain of command."

Aiko looked to Hoshi with rare concern in her eyes, though not yet fear. "This could be a good opportunity to escape, there will be fewer of them on the way," she telepathically said to the captain and Mao.

"Understood, Taii," Aiko said aloud as she silently communicated with Hoshi and moved toward the locker where she'd stowed her disguise. "Allow me to suit up."

Moving around them at the words, the Uesureyan Nekovalkrja made a path for Chizu to back out of the power armor bay and into the grey and black corridors of the ship's innards. Usada snapped a look at the trio and her taii leaving with a bit of that same concern in her green eyes. Hoshi caught it and wondered about it momentarily before her thoughts moved on. With them donning their disguise Type 32 skinsuits, Chizu had begun moving through the Nekovalkryja in the power armor bay, who had by now moved on to their daily tasks and routines.

With a surreptitious nod from Hoshi to Aiko, the nude Kaiyō trio retrieved their clothing. Hoshi kept her skinsuit's top tied around her waist after pulling up the legs of it and putting on the soft blue boots. Her naked top and openly bared pink skin complimented the teal of the Type 32. Aiko and Mao simply wore theirs normally, though Aiko kept her suit's neck unzipped to the collarbone.

While Hoshi had breathed a sigh of relief that their plan and Rei's sacrifice had seen the intelligence gathering side of their mission accomplished, there was still the survival side yet to complete. The taii escorting them to her superiors only complicated matters and Aiko's telepathic message solidified that.

"Hai. Let's make our escape." With eye contact to Aiko, Hoshi had sent her telepathic reply.

"There will be few good opportunities," Aiko told her captain, who'd know as well as she did that they couldn't linger and needed to choose when to make their disappearance wisely. "And Captain, you might be wise to wear your skinsuit all the way," she added, her eyes drawing dashed lines through the air to Hoshi's chest; the princess' concern was more out of utility than modesty. "The excess fabric from your unworn arms could catch on something while we are sneaking. What is it that Saiga-chusa laughs about when he's imitating the regulars? 'You need to be high-speed-low-drag, banzai!'"

Hoshi’s face had turned a beet red at the mention of Saiga’s training proverbs, knowing she herself was in that aerodynamic category. She made no hesitation to fix her skinsuit to go up and over her shoulders, but not before noticing the Neko that had found them out in the first place, Usada, was back part of the crowd of her peers.

"Chikako-heisho!" Hoshi called out. "Usada Chikako, will you- yeah! Come here."

As if Hoshi had been her commanding officer, Chikako reported to the pink skinned captain as she led herself and her crew to the long-waiting Taii.

"Hai?" Chikako asked with a bow.

"Thanks out there, I'll keep a look out for you in the Kikyo Sector. Do the same," Hoshi said with a soft bow of her own to the Uesureyan comrade.

"Chikako-heisho." In a gravelly tone, Chizu-taii addresssed the silvery-haired Neko, "You're now assigned to watch over this princess."

Hoshi looked flatly at Chizu's strikingly black eyes as they slid to the corridors that she began leading them down. Hoshi followed in step, noting the difficulty having Usada's verdantly watchful eyes in tow would add.

"Although I will not question your actions, Captain," Aiko said, looking incredulously to Usada and then to Hoshi and back-and-forth between them. "Now we must contend with more heat, as it were, with Usada apparently becoming Rei-san's new replacement," Aiko joked into Hoshi's mind, though it didn't really sound like a real joke at all and seemed more annoyed than anything else.

Mao kept her eyes sidelong on Usada too, aware of how much trouble the Uesureyan Neko had caused them already over the course of the mission. She thought back to Rei and how the senior samurai had been left behind, seemingly killed by the Mishhu when none of the Uesu Fleet soldiers were looking. Although Rei's injuries were cosmetic and the result of her Eihei body's hemosynthetic abilities, Mao nonetheless carried Rei's sacrifice and the risk of being left alone with great respect. Not only that but Rei had intrusted her solely with Aiko's safety.

"Make sure watching Hime-sama is all you do," Mao said, her eyes narrowing a bit toward Usada before she looked forward and fell in step closer to Aiko. "You saw us down there. We could take on your entire ship if we had to and you know it," she added.

Mao said it not so much as a snarled threat but what the young samurai thought was a matter-of-fact. With that said, Usada's tall grey ears flattened against her similarly desaturated hair. She kept her green eyes on Aiko's back with her own back rigidly straightened while her hands were on her belt awkwardly. If Mao was to believe her eyes, Usada was playing at some kind of caricature of a samurai. Mao's forehead grew red at the insult and she instincively moved her hand to draw a katana but found only the old Type 28 NSP she'd been made to carry for this mission. So she gripped at that and seethed but kept her eyes forward, focused on protecting Aiko despite "ignoring" Usada in a huff.

"Taii Chizu, was it?" Hoshi heard the chatter behind them and sped her pace to speak with the captain, as those behind her chatted too. With no response, she went on, "How long have you served with your military?"

Chizu's black eyes blinked as she turned her attention to Hoshi, then turned back to the halls she walked in an undistracted and hurried pace. With their narrow chance for escape missed, the three Yamataians could do little but proceed along to the ship's commander.


They were quickly led to the aft section of the bridge's command level. Though there were three levels to the bridge, on this ship's sub-level there was a conference room had been set aside for their small meeting. Waiting for them there was the ship's captain, a lightly tanned Neko with dark green hair and black "racing stripe" tattoo bar running down her face through her left eye and probably all the way down to her left foot. Judging by her taisho rank insignia, this short Neko with thick eyebrows could only be the battlegroup's commander as well.

Hoshi and her crew gave their bows respectively alongside Usada Chikako, who had never met her taisho despite working the very bridge they were on often. She marveled momentarily before noticing Mao's stoic posture next to her. Usada emulated it and the focused forward gaze of the samurai next to her.

This taisho scrutinized them down her nose for a long few moments, never once forsaking any sense of approval or disapproval. Mao recognized the look well because she always had it herself, and did now. This admiral was sizing them up, the samurai was sure, but that did little to change her own alacrity.

"I am Taisho Asuri Anukampa," she said at last, her arms crossed around her chest. She wore a teal-colored duty uniform that served the same purpose as the Star Army's Type 35's. "They told me that I'd need to review some combat merit citations for the last sortie but then they bring me a Yamataian captain and our Emperor's kin. What are you doing here?"

Although Asuri was quick to her point she did not sound harsh or agitated.

"Chusa Taiyou Hoshi, captain of the YSS Kaiyō II. My ship's infamy led to your plucky birdge bunny ascertaining our true identities. I would think Taii Chizu has informed you of such," Hoshi said as she looked to Aiko.

With visual transmission from one eye and a wink with the other, Hoshi spoke telepathically to her XO, "Roll with it." To the battlegroup commander, she said aloud, "But what nobody has informed you of is why we are really here. I will let my first officer, Ketsurui Aiko, tell you as much."

Aiko was rarely at a loss for words and never one to be caught umming and ahing, but she very nearly hesitated just then.

"I," she said followed by a thick pause. "I am here on Clan business."

She looked at Hoshi, whose frantic telepathic message to Aiko was a confused, but resigned "Wha- ah... Yui guide us." Her passive pink expression betrayed almost nothing.

"Yes!" Aiko confirmed emphatically. The princess did not lie often but Hoshi had wanted her to "roll with it" and so here she was tumbling along for the mission's sake. "I need to tell my grandfather something important. To his face. It's from Yui."

The princess nodded with a look of decisiveness on her brow.

"It is from Yui," Hoshi said with a pointed finger and a hop of her blue boots.

"Ah, yes," Asuri said contemplatively. The gears in her mind turned for a few moments after, and they entirely glossed over the question of exactly how the Kaiyō away team had come aboard and found themselves fighting alongside her soldiers. "This can be arranged. Especially if it is something Yui-taisho cannot communicate to the Emperor herself over a secure channel," she said in a way that almost sounded like a question.

Aiko nodded decisively again just in case it was.

There was an awkwardly filled pause in the room before it seemed the battlegroup commander had fully thought up all that entailed.

"Would you like quarters aboard the UES Ravenoak?" Asuri asked expectedly. "We'll disengage from this secured victory and reconvene with the central fleet and our Emperor's flagship- your clan's flagship. We'll make as many accomodations as you can need during our voyage to best suit your needs."

Hoshi almost eyed Aiko, but thought better of it. Her thoughts were wondering what exactly they had signed up for.

"We have a ship in the vicinity," Hoshi said. "But we would appreciate any escort you can offer to guide us there."

"Hmh, a ship in the vicinity?" Asuri questioned. "The Kaiyō II. Fuji-class. We have not got Fuji-class ships just yet." She was clearly more interested in the ship itself and its novelty having diverged from Uesu Fleet technology. "Two Yui-class Scouts can guide you to the Emperor's core group, then. That will get you on your way more quickly. Would you like a shuttle back to your Kaiyō or will you bring it out of its hiding place for us to see up close?"

Above a smirk, Hoshi's blue eyes swept to Aiko before her body language changed, relaxing incredibly as she nodded at Taisho Anukampa.

"You know my former XO helped design the Fuji-class? I've sat at her chair for the past five years and my ship is the second of her class. Anything you want to know, I can tell you... But there are some questions I have for you."

Asuri was quick to snap back, "I don't know if a mutual line of questioning is up for discussion."

Hoshi's mellow smile matched her words, "I like painting and want to get a good look at what uniforms your girls are sporting to draw. It's nothing incredibly state of the art like our newest class of ship or anything." Knowing she was right, Hoshi went on with a smile. "Hypothetrically the Chiharu can fit a 300 meter long ship, right?"

"Simple requests, I see. You would be better docked with us," the taisho replied. "Star Army of Yamatai ships can still interface with a Type 28 lift shaft airlock, correct?"

"The answer is yes." With a smirk, Hoshi asked, "Also tell me everything you've been doing for your officer swords. When I took command of my vessel I, well, it's another hobby of mine I would love to know what you've done with here under Uesu's rule."

"Then you will dock with us and transfer back," Asuri confirmed, pulling the Uesureyan version of a communications pad from her belt to read something or other. "Your scout escorts will be ready in an hour. You have until then to study our uniforms and swords, Captain. And Ketsurui-shosa, please do feel comfortable until then," she added, looking with a grin more at Mao than Aiko. "Your samurai should not worry about any threats from Uesureyan soldiers."

Hoshi was more than pleased with herself. Not seeing that enthusiasm reflected in her two shipmates, she simply turned to Usada, "You will continue to be our liaison, no?" before leaving the briefing room to look about the bridge's three levels more thoroughly with Aiko and Mao following soon behind her.

Usada Chikako looked stricken after having been put through the ringer by the intrusive pink captain. Her once sparkling green eyes looked blank and deadpan on her palid freckled face as her jaw hung low.

"She makes herself right at home quickly," Asuri noted.

In an exasperated tone Usada said, "That she does, Taisho Anukampa. Trust me."
Uesureyan Space

The well-maintained area of space immediately around the shimmering flagship of the Uesureyan Empire was lively and the edges of the (system?) were inky black with inactivity, but the darkness was soon besmerched with the shimmering of three fold drives exiting FTL. The two Yui-class Scouts and the Fuji-class picked their way through the avenues and space lanes until they were nearer the flagship.

One of the two Yui scouts had already opened a communication line with the flagship and patched it through the foreign Fuji ship's captain, Taiyou Hoshi.

"From the Star Army of Yamatai." pressed her pink fingers into her seat's armrest, speaking confidently over the voice-only line. "I am Chusa Taiyou Hoshi. With me is my first officer, Aiko of the Kesturui -or as you may know them, the Kitsurugi Clan. We are here to call on her grandfather, Emperor Uesu, on, uh," her confidence had waned, "clan business."

A huge part of Hoshi hoped the Nekovalkryja hearing her request denied it, that way she could take her ship back home with the intel they had. Their mission to find out more about why Uesureyan ships were snooping around cloning technology could be accomplished only if they got back to SAoY with it. Even though they had found the evidence on the UES Ravenoak and gotten it back to the ship, in a comedy of errors they had finagled their way out of trouble by being presented to Emperor Uesu on that faulty exaggeration about clan business. It was quite a stretch to suggest Taisho Yui's orders as Commander of the Star Army were somehow a family matter but the Uesureyans didn't need to know that.

"Welcome, Ketsurui," came the voice of the Uesureyan ship. "May your visit be pleasant. We shall inform Emperor Uesu of your presence and that of your accompanying vessels."

"Hai," Hoshi said and with a nod to the Kaiyō pilot, auxiliary engines were quick to propel the gunship forward towards the vessel, eventually docking within her wide bay. Despite the 300 meter length of the Fuij-class the Uesureyan vessel she was inside of accommodated her.

After docking, Uesu sent a pair of his Kitsurugi Samurai to the airlock to bring Hoshi to meet with him. A short pink Chusa floated inches from the ground next to her much taller XO. Both wore crisp white paneled Type 35's, though Aiko wore the red ribboned Order of the Blazing Sun Medal at her collar. The interior of his ship was quite stately, with wide, elaborate palace-style corridors filled with art displays and arched ceilings with chandeliers shaped like bellflowers. The samurai brought Hoshi to a large hall in the ship where Uesu was seated on a comfortable leather sofa in front of a bookshelf. He was an old but handsome half-Yamataian, half-Nepleslian man dressed in a white dress shirt and some teal military uniform pants.

"Hello!" he greeted Hoshi. "What bring you all the way out here?" he asked her.

Aiko and Hoshi were enamored with the ship itself and were only taken out of that reverie when faced with the man -Emperor- they had been to all Uesureyan knowledge been very eager to meet with.

"Ah, hello!" Hoshi perked, imagining herself comfortably sitting on that same sofa as Uesu chatting nicely instead of continuing the lie that had kept them after him so long. Hoshi's next words came out of her mouth too slowly to hold up to scrutiny, "We have been sent by Yui."

"Yui? For what purpose?" the Emperor asked. "Usually she just calls."

"Esteemed grandfather," Aiko used the formal Yamataigo word ojiisama rather than the familiar sofu when she addressed him, but still sounded rather enamored to meet him. "My captain means to say we have been sent by the Star Army of Yamatai to solve a mystery and the best way to accomplish that is by asking you. We may have stretched the truth to make this audience possible, but is seemed a better path than the alternative."

Uesu stood up and kind of paced around in front of his bookshelf. It was weird for him to be called a grandfather. That would be something to get used to. He didn't really know either of these Ketsurui that well despite them being supposed family, and they were being pretty vague. He wondered what their real reason for being here was. "Well..?" he prompted them to continue. "Go on..."

"May we sit?" Hoshi asked, gesturing to one of the leather sofas.

"Of course."

"We were sent by the Star Army," Hoshi said as she sat, "after we observed your Kikyo Sector ships gathering data from your old facilities.Though my XO and I both acknowledge they are your former labs, knowing the nature behind your ships explorations into that technology is our true reason for being here with you."

Uesu rubbed his short-trimmed beard, pondering how much to tell him, if anything."There were just some old things we needed. Things left behind when we went on our grand crusade against the Mishhuvurthyar, and things that will help us have a better advantage against them and their attacks."

Hoshi's blue and white brows furrowed as she sat back, nodding as if understanding Uesu's points, but said nothing.

Instead Aiko spoke, "Surely you could have asked the Star Army or Empress Himiko for assistance in these matters and avoided confrontations between our forces and yours." The battle she and Hoshi had been roped into that was still fresh in her mind, too. "When we first encountered your fleet they were easily mopping up Mishhuvurthyar resistance there. What advantage can some archaic tech provide that you do not already possess?"

Uesu walked over to his desk and rang a bell, and the door slid open and some samurai stepped in. "This way, if you please," one of them said. They were being kicked out!

Hoshi uncrossed her legs but made no motion to stand as she put her hands out in front of her. She made little wooshing noises out of her mouth and her expression looked giddy, but still shocked.

"I was actually hoping -because we don't have any kind of formal and real need to answer these type of questions, really. I was hoping to ask you if you have any questions. I know I had non-military focused questions myself- if you'd let us stay, that is?" Hoshi's voice had gotten a little strained only when she looked from Uesu to the imposing samurai. Looking back to Uesu, her deep blue eyes looked pleadingly to him.

"Let's try again tomorrow," Uesu said and left the room.

Hoshi stared at the leather sofa he had occupied for a moment before they were ushered away.

"We should have kissed his feet a bit more, Aiko-sama," Hoshi grumbled.

"That has to come later," Aiko responded, seeming a little preoccupied now that they'd been shown out. "I thought the mission had to come first with getting to know the scientist who created your mom and warrior race as a secondary concern."

"Hai," Hoshi mused as she stepped onto the ship. "Maybe they're one in the same."

- - -
JP by Wes and Ame
Next Day
UES Ayame II

Like the day before, the Kitsurugi Samurai met Hoshi at the airlock, though this time she was alone. She walked casually with her hands tucked into her teal pants -the same style that Uesu had worn the day before- and looked with wonder and curiosity at the interior decorations of the Emperor’s Flagship as she did. Her slightly translucent white swimsuit was a simple one piece that she wore under the teal trousers, which she had cinched with a cornflower blue belt. The Uesureyan teal and ubiquitous cornflower purple color of the Yamataian military melded well and was Hoshi's nod to the two Empires speaking now.

When she was done being guided to the Emperor, Hoshi stood less casually than she had walked and looked courteously to Uesu. She bent deeply to bow to him and stayed there patiently with due respect.

Uesu nodded in return, quickly stashing his reading glasses and running a hand through his hair to make sure it was looking alright. "Ah, welcome back, Ms...Hoshi," he said, setting down the data pad in his hands. "I hope you're not going to try to interrogate me again," he chuckled.

"I'm not. Something tells me we'll enjoy ourselves more because of that." With a raise of her pink palms and a laugh of her own, Hoshi had shaken her head. Her blue and white hair spilled out over her shoulder then in front of her completely as she turned to look to Uesu more fully. "I've heard the interiors of the Empress' Palace are just as splendid as your current residence."

"I wouldn't know, I haven't been there in 14 years. Perhaps they've been remodeled since I lived there," Uesu shrugged. "I'm surprised you haven't been there."

Hoshi's brows creased as she replied, "No, no. Not yet- I reference architectural magazines sometimes. They're ones that the palace has been featured in. Some of the photographs aren't new, so I think I've seen your handiwork."

"Are you asking for a tour?" Uesu asked Hoshi.

Hoshi nodded before she spoke, "I think I am. Unless you have any better ideas; it is your ship."

Uesu grinned a smile to himself as he got up from his chair. "You're more than welcome." He nodded as he began to leave the office with Hoshi following. "After I left I tried to rebuild what I'd left behind and the nation I grew up with," he began. "I had plenty of military resources but not a lot of civilian comforts. I decided to try to make this ship into a sort of mobile palace, a place worthy of being the center of a nation and to receive guests of other worlds," he explained.

"I suppose I'm helping it live out its purpose, in a different sort of way," Hoshi mused, mulling over some of the other purposes for his flagship. "Seeing as my homeworld is Yamatai, I don't know if I count."

The Emperor led Hoshi down the corridor to some of the various rooms nearby. He started with the generous and spotlessly clean kitchen where there were several Nekovalkryja working, making dishes for the Emperor and his crew. She could see some lasagna being put together for dinner, which smelled amazing. Next, Uesu led her through a fancy dining area fit for a huge feast or banquet.

The slow build from kitchen to banquet hall had the deep blue of Hoshi's eyes sparkling with possibilities, so she asked, "When was the last time you were able to use this room?" Her head tilted up, looking out for any epic murals of Nekovalkryja battles like those she had seen in pictures of the palace.

"I've been trying to build alliances with some of the locals in my sphere of influence, and I've invited them over on more than one occasion within the last few months," Uesu told Hoshi. The ceiling did indeed have paintings, which showed various eras of Uesureyan history, from the legendary old Earth, to the Tron Wars, the Knight Wars, the Mech Wars, and finally to the founding of Yamatai and the refounding of the Uesureyan Star Empire in YE 30.

"Spoken like a true Emperor. I can only assume you've wowed them as you have me," Hoshi said earnestly as her smile and eyes stayed on the murals. Hoshi's interest had become absorbed between the Tron and Knight Wars murals as she sat with her thumb propping up her chin, but as her words settled in her mind, she looked back to Uesu.

"Would you continue to show me your home?" Hoshi asked lightly "I don't want to take all your time looking at the small minutia on the wall."

"Of course," Uesu nodded, giving her a slightly sped-up tour. They visited some offices, an ornate library, a command center room resembling a small starship bridge, and even Uesu's personal chambers, where he had a nice looking four-poster wooden bed and some fine furniture. Everything was pretty tidy except for a pair of swim trunks Uesu had left out on an armchair. "I suppose everything is fit for an Emperor but I still feel a little embarrassed getting all this luxury. I have always thought of myself as a practical man, a problem solver first and foremost. Using science and engineering to fix things is kind of my thing."

Uesu looked up at a big painting of Yuumi on the wall. "That's why I made the Nekovalkyrja, to see if I could solve some of the human condition. But I'm actually kind of remorseful about it because instead of making them on my own, I sold out to a big corporation and while it would have been way harder to invent them without their resources, what I ended up really doing was making a race of slaves doomed to be sold or to go into harm's way...at least at first. And then PNUgen got even worse over the years..."

There was a lot a Nekovalkryja captain could relate to what Uesu had to say, at least at first. Hoshi lived by any means necessary, lavishly or minimally. As long as she was leading from the front, she felt like her surroundings were less than secondary. But then Uesu's experiences outclassed her and her digital mind has to think only in the hypotheticals of his life. Here dark blue eyes caught the four-poster bed and her body followed. As she idly held at the fine wood, her mind churned on Uesu's words.

"Looking back at choices with such impact with the clarity to know that there was a real need for what you did while still having the burden of remorse... If you could go back to when it was just you and three original Nekovalkryja creations in YE 1, would you create a different future for yourselves?" Hoshi added, "A different Yamatai than the one you saw after Glimmergold?"

"Looking back, it seems impossible that Yamatai would have survived without the Nekovalkyrja or some other manufactured army of people to defend us against the threats of the universe. Then again, if it wasn't for the Nekovalkyrja program, the Mishhuvurthyar might not have been created either. It's a messy history but it's ours. I and I can't change the past but we can try to make good choices in the future...and maybe correct some mistakes along the way," he said with a grin.

"Even if you can't change the messiness of the past, there's some solace in knowing the future might be just as much the same. Even through all those mistakes," Idly the pink captain looked about and picked up the pair of bathing shorts by the waist, feeling the material without thinking gently before she put them back down. "I think you created something beautiful; something worthy of such introspection. What's more, you don't seem like a sell out anymore, at least not to me." Hoshi added with a grin of her own.

"Depending on who you ask, I either ran away from my problems back in Yamatai or I solved Yamatai's problems with the Mishhuvurthyar as I plowed through them at the end of the First Mishhuvurthyar War as I left to go form the new Uesureyan Star Empire. Well, it first out building an empire from scratch isn't as easy as it sounds. We've had a lot of problems down here. My fleet isn't as large as it used to be. I miss Yamatai. Sometimes I just want to go home. A lot has transpired in Yamatai since I left but I've seen it's still the same great Empire I left. Better, even. Is it allowed for an Emperor to be a little jealous of his Empress protege?"

There were few words, but Hoshi's expression stayed on Uesu as she tried to reach the feelings from that of a hard to reach perspective.

"If you wanted to take that part of the human condition out of Nekovalkryja, you didn't do it, Uesu." Hoshi said flatly, letting the dry sarcasm coat the tough subject when she did speak.

"Even I would feel that way from time to time. But I'd probably also feel the pride you feel, too," Hoshi said, her measured gaze still on him. "You have a lot of concerns, but many of them I could solve in a matter of minutes. Jealousy, I already solved it; we all feel it so who cares? Sick rumors have created resentments towards you? Those people are chumps and their opinions don't matter. That's easy, but homesickness..." Hoshi sighed deeply, the sardonic tone gone was gone as her shoulder slumped.

"That's something I can't talk you out of getting to you. I know Yamatai, too," Hoshi said bitterly -sad for him and herself, "I was gone for four long years fighting a war far from home recently, so I know. It's not long, but when I came back..." her blue and white brows raised as Hoshi eyes were swept away in happy memory. "I want that for you."

"Ultimately I wanted to give them the ability to be, or to become, people just like us. I didn't want the Nekovalkyrja to simply be robots. If you have robots, the power is in the hands of one person with a remote control. But that's false power. Real power is being able to get people on your side," the Emperor explained. "People who join you of their own free will because they know you're right."

"Do you think you can convince those people not on your side to do so? The people who say you ran away from your problems or caused more, are those people stopping you from returning?" Hoshi asked. She looked around his quarters and wondered as she pointed to the bathing suit nearby, "What's stopping us from touring your pool facilities?"

"Oh, nothing," Uesu laughed. "I actually had this tailor-made in just in case of visitors," he told her. "That's why they were sitting out where I could find them. You see, I don't normally need them," he chuckled.

Hoshi's face turned as she smiled, "Well what do you normally do for fun, for leisure? When visitors like me aren't dragging you around?" She headed for the door to his chambers that they had come through.

"Truth be told, I spend almost all my time working," Uesu said. "Running the new empire doesn't really leave me a lot of free time, even though I try to delegate, I spent a lot of time in that office."

"When you said you wanted Nekovalkryja to become more like, well, people some things cam to mind. Things that make me feel like I am living out that legacy you want. I've done so much, I have a ranch and paint and I couldn't tell you how many hours I've spent gardening or on a yak, oddly enough. I even started swimming. All things that help me be here." Hoshi said.

"Those fun things that make me feel like I'm living out your dream of free will and personhood for Nekovalkryja," Hoshi said, baffled, "I can't believe you don't have at least one thing like that for you... Maybe we need to get you in the pool sooner than later, it might be your next favorite hobby."

- - -

OOC: JP by Ame and Wes
UES Ayame II

"I feel like those things sound like a lot of work. I'm not trying to sound lazy, but I think about the time commitment required to run a ranch and care for all the animals. I know it's rewarding but I also have started to value my free unstructured time more and more as I get older. If I ever retire from being Emperor and all the work that comes with that, I think I'd like to relax as much as possible and just float around doing whatever suits my whims of the day. I'm sure I would contribute work somehow, but more a hobby instead of daily grind. Wow, I really went off on a tangent there. It's ofter smarter not to talk than to talk too much," Uesu said, stroking his beard.

"It's true," Hoshi admitted, having been happy to listen. "My ranch operates thanks to retirees from the Star Army. Sometimes I imagine myself there when I'm in the stars, imagining the ditches that need to be dug and all sorts of hard work that is rewarding, like you said. But the time and place for that isn't always the present. Sometimes just the ideation keeps me going through the daily grind. We're the same in that-"

Hoshi had intended to say more, but her tongue caught in her mouth as she realized what she was saying. It's not that she was putting herself on the same level of Uesu, but the level of comfortableness their conversation had garnered in her gave her pause before she began a new train of thought.

"Those aren't your hobbies, though; what would you float around finding to suit your whims?" she asked.

"Maybe photography and spending a lot of time around family, like trying to start a traditional family with lots of babies and kids."

Hoshi cooed without really thinking as she heard that. "Mmm, that is a dream. You've got to have somewhere nice for that, then. Maybe not a ranch, but I'll secure the palace for you if you want!" The tiny woman's words were full of half-baked sarcasm before she went on more seriously. She turned to study his face as her own blue eyes welled, "Your family there misses you, I think. Don't you think they want you back?"

"Where?" he asked, not sure what she meant. "I don't really have much of a family."

"Respectfully, your daughters." Hoshi added, "Though maybe starting anew would allow you to follow your desires more fully. I understand the difference between creations, like me, and a real traditional family. One day, for myself I hope for the same. It's just..." Hoshi didn't want have to lace her words with a joke coup to tell him he was loved by many in Yamatai. Still, the words were choked in her throat. "I-is this the pool?"

"I mean, I have a closeness with Yuumi who is basically my daughter or at least my invention. Himiko was my second attempt at making a Yuumi after she was captured. Yui and I mostly get along, and I know Hanako and Tsuya and some of the others, but other than them I don't really have many family connections anymore. I packed up and left Yamatai and left them, which wasn't easy but I did it. That sort of makes me a loner, doesn't it? Yes, that's the pool."

"It only takes a closeness with one," Hoshi said, thinking about her own true love. Opening the door to the pool, she breathed in the humid air right away, smiling further. "You're strong for making that sacrifice. If things really got so bad that it led to you doing something so difficult personally that you thought was right for Yamatai, well I respect that decision." She had removed some clothes, then asked with a furrowed brow and quick turn, as if the thought just struck her, "Do you stand by that decision, still?

"It was sort of a suicide mission to go out and destroy the Mishhuvurthyar for good, at all costs. I didn't know if we would make it or not. But it was also running away from the problems of Yamatai, which wasn't noble or brave. I wanted out and to focus on something else. I didn't care if I died out there as long as I could protect Yamatai. When we beat the Mishhuvurthyar back, I started thinking about how to provide a civilization for the Nekovalkyrja with me and about the old empire and I decided why not bring it back? Something I recognized more than present day Yamatai. So I did. But the Mishhuvurthyar kept coming and so we hunkered down and kept fighting. The short answer to your question is yes, logically, but no emotionally."

With just her white one piece swimsuit now on, Hoshi had sat down on the heated tiles at the pool's edge and slipped her legs in. With her hands gripping the edge, she jutted her legs slightly underwater to create ripples on the water above.

"We wouldn't have defeated the enemy without you protecting us out there," Hoshi said in a heavy voice before looking over. Some of her blue and white hair was caught between her chin and the shoulder she rested it on. "So thank you for running away. Few could have done so in such a way that saved countless lives. I get that it could have been predicated on something more constructive. But life is messy and complicated and you made the best out of it."

"Now I have two homes and I can only be in one of them at once," Uesu told Hoshi. "I've got to choose where to spend my time. The Nekovalkyrja of the Uesureyan Star Empire have served me well and I owe them everything. But Yamatai is also my home and I miss it too."

Hoshi made a soft "Mmm," sound before she pushed off the edge, shimmying her hips as she did, to slink into the water with more than just her legs. She went in until the water was up to her bottom lip and she was just barely able to continue speaking.

"That's good to hear. I suppose I feel like i was leading you into saying something like that. If it's not family that tugs at you, what in Yamatai makes you call it 'home' enough to miss it?"

"Places and memories have a character of their own," Uesu said, watching her with amusement. He wondered if she expected him to get in there too.

"I thought so!" Hoshi said, glad for his succinct answer as her next question was biting at the back of her mouth. With a bounce of her feet against the pool's bottom, she had popped up slightly with a twirl of her arms about her. She seemed like she was spreading out in the pool, happy to take it all up with her small form.

"What about this home? When we came yesterday we were here to solve a mystery- which you did. The technology and supplies you were pulling from your old facilities is to fight the Mishhuvurthyar here. If you could wipe out those in Yamataian space so forcefully, it's concerning to us -my XO Aiko and I- that maybe there is more to the threat here." Hoshi remembered Uesu's guarded response yesterday and didn't know if she would be met with much of the same. Widening her eyes, she moved them off of him, letting him respond without her concerned stare.

"I don't recall saying anything about my intentions here in Yamataian space," Uesu chuckled softly.

"But you did when you left before, why not now?"

"I simply said what I was doing," Uesu said. "There's a difference. What I'm doing is collecting things that will help us win."

Hoshi nodded, understanding enough to quietly slip into the water more fully once more. She floated on her back, closing her eyes to take in the warmth and comfort of the water's embrace. With a deep breath in, the transparent fabric stretched over her torso and some of the water droplets slid from her sternum into the water below.

"If you ever want one more thing to win, my ship would be able to help take on these threats." Hoshi's voice turned from soft musing to a bit more of a chipper one when she went on. "Oh, that would be tough to do, actually. My task force's mandate is to investigate threats and it sounds like there's no threat here." She turned on her side slightly and softly pumped the arm she had in the water to keep her afloat as she shot Uesu a very distinctive half smile that had flown well past her button nose.

Uesu stroked his chin. "Are you suggesting I ask Yui to loan you and your ship to me?"

"I don't think I could if there's no real threat, Uesu... err, Emperor." She had righted herself and swum to the edge of the pool he was at, then flopped on her back there comfortably. The captain kind of laughed, wondering if the formality was necessary only because she was being less than sincere.

Changing that, Hoshi said, "I don't know what you're really fighting. From what you've said, Yui and my ship have no reason to worry about you or your second home. But something tells me, Taiyou Hoshi, that you could use a helping hand. If I knew, then yeah I am suggesting that. I just don't know if you really need it or why."

"Then perhaps it's time," Uesu suggested, "for a trip to see for yourself."

- - -

OOC: JP by Ame and Wes
YSS Kaiyō II

After dressing and leaving the pool room, the Kitsurugi samurai led Uesu and Hoshi to the YSS Kaiyō II in the Uesureyan flagship's bay, where Taiyou Hoshi took him through the starboard ramp and into the power armor bay, pointing out the Mindy 4 very quickly. It was no doubt an armor he and the rest of the Uesureyan army had seen before at the Battle of Glimmergold. Not wanting to delve too much into their semi-shared but still differing technologies , Hoshi moved them along to the hallway of the same deck. She tapped the flooring below them, noting the golden edged floor plating they walked on.

"Our ship was the frontline Yamataian vessel while we fought Kuvexia. At one point we were boarded here." She tapped it once more perfectly and made a sharp chime. "Through some bartering behind the enemy's back while actually in their backline, we were able to repair the ship, albeit with the Kuvexian equivalent of Zesuaium. That's why it's gold only here."

"On to the wardroom," Hoshi said, admitting, "it's one of the my favorite parts of the ship. Usually very lively... But we have a skeleton crew right now and our XO's probably pacing in her room worried about the threats to your -and our- empire, so I doubt anyone's here."


Ketsurui Aiko stood tall over one of the galley's stainless steel work tables, staring down at a white plate that had two thin rings of periwinkle bracketing its flat edge with a bellflower perfectly positioned at its 12 o'clock.

Upon the plate sat a big, juicy burger that looked as immaculately prepared as the Type 35 uniform she wore. Its fresh ground Yamataigyu from Anisa was topped with verdant butter lettuce plus purplish brandywine and rich gold sunray tomatoes from the wardroom's hydroponics, and all wrapped up in a plump sesame seed bun that Aiko had baked just before. A thin layer of mayonnaise peeked out from under the juicy beef's cheddar-draped patty, and a reddish special sauce she'd concocted oozed down between the lettuce's green folds.

But it did not look perfect to her yet.

She scrutinized it for a few more seconds, as much with her nose as with her eyes, and then picked up a long toothpick topped with a blue flag and the YSS Kaiyō's patch that she planted through its center.

Now satisfied, Aiko leaned forward over her feast at her hips and picked the burger up. Droplets of oil and sauce rained down onto the otherwise clean countertop. Not one ounce of mess touched her uniform, though, for she'd done this many times before. And right when the door opened to Uesu and Hoshi, Aiko pressed it into her face and bit down as her eyes darted sideways to see them both in the threshold of this sometimes-sanctuary.

Immediately, her cheeks flushed a crimson as deep as her eyes. She dropped the once perfect sandwich back down on its plate in a wet splash that peppered the front of her command whites with little meat-and-sauce colored spots and then stood at attention, only for a moment before swiveling away from the door to stare at the wall.

Emperor Uesu gave Aiko a nod. His hair was still damp and he was now dressed in what was essentially a teal exercise uniform from the Star Army of Uesureya. "Captain Hoshi is giving me the tour," he explained, "She clearly takes a lot of pride in this ship."

The gulping sound of her burger being swallowed came before Aiko turned to face Uesu and Hoshi, the latter of which was stifling a laugh behind a widening smile.

"Uesu-sama," Aiko said. "All of us that serve on the ship do, for it is our home away from Yamatai among the stars." It was obvious she was speaking through immense embarrassment as a deep blush remained on her cheeks, despite her officious tone.

"Everyone needs a home they can rely one, some place to come back to at the end of the day," Uesu nodded.

"Yours on the Ayame II is quite magnificent from the brief glimpse I had the pleasure to witness." Aiko messy face peered over at the plate she had been standing over, as well as the ingredients at the ready. "I would be remiss to not offer you both a burger, though I understand you may be busy with the ship tour."

"I love a good burger but they only let me eat things my staff prepares," Uesu apologized. "Security protocol and such."

With a nod and a look of relief, Aiko said, "This is more of a hobby for me, anyway. I understand."

Hoshi interjected, "There's always more of the ship to tour, though at this rate I don't think there's anything else of interest."

"Why don't you show me the bridge?" he asked Hoshi.

"Why don't I?" Hoshi asked, seeing him out of the wardroom with a cheeky smile back to her XO, who was looking down at her soiled duty jacket and for a rag to wipe her face clean. The captain stepped into the nearby zero gravity tube that would take them upwards with a lasting smile.

"I half expect my grey panels up there to be trying out some kind of new circus performance after that!"

"I've always loved the bridge of a starship. It's a place where big decisions get made and you can make a difference or at least change your own perspective," the Emperor said. "I suspect you feel the same comfort here too. Sometimes things happen but on the bridge often you get to make them happen."

"The way you said that makes me worry I'm not a very proactive captain. Something yet to learn, I suppose." Hoshi's eyes squinted over a strained smile as she floated next to him down the short hallway between the passageway's exit and the bridge doors.

"Arigatou, Boss." The captain thanked the MEGAMI extended her pink hand out as the doors opened, though given the ship AI's odd name, it could have seemed she was referring to the Nekovalkyrja creator himself.

The circular bridge itself was unmanned and quit, as Hoshi had expected the wardroom would be. Tidy and with all of its chairs facing forward, it looked less lived in than one would expect. Hoshi stood at the doors with her hands clasped behind her back, pressing into her teal surplus pants.

"We fought ceaselessly in the war. In the interim since then, we've been without a mission profile. Perhaps the next mission she sets out I'll try to encompass your perspective; less reactionary and more of making things happen."

"You could just tour the Kikyo sector like the Resurgence," Uesu chuckled. "Kaiyo is part of the First Fleet now. But I think you came out here because you want something a little more...exotic, something out on the real frontier where things are little more dangerous. Am I right?"

There was no hiding Hoshi's amazed expression as Uesu mentioned the ship whose intel had led hers here, though his observations kept the wide-mouthed smile on her rosy cheeks.

"Y-yes sir. I feel a bit bad saying it, but being in the Kikyo Sector feels like what you said to my XO and what it seems you could use, too. It feels like a place to relax and feel at home. There are threats and there are interests, but it' a place to kick my feet up. The frontier, well, yes. You're right."

"I'll ask Yui if your ship can work with us as sort of a starship-level exchange program. How does that sound?" Uesu offered.

"That sounds really fun." The starship captain tried to save herself from calling Uesu's fight against his enemies in his new Empire as something trivially fun, "I mean, it would be an honor. I hope Mistress Taisho approves such an endeavor. We operate within a larger taskforce and they are likely to follow where their flagship –the Kaiyō– leads, of course at her approval and with yours." Taiyou Hoshi went up the bridge to the crimson red captain's chair and held the back of it as she stood proudly.

"This feels like a real opportunity." Her deep blue eyes stayed on the Emperor as her words echoed how he had described the frontier. "It's exotic and dangerous, sure. But it feels like more than that."

"Yes. I also think Yamatai needs to be made aware of the threats down in our space and there's no better way of doing that than by showing them directly through your ship's experiences. We'll tell you everything we can but you'll also get to face them firsthand as you join forces with our Uesureyan Empire Forces," Emperor Uesu agreed. "I'll make the arrangements with Yui as soon as possible, provided she's willing, which I expect. She's a warrior and always looking for the next fight."

Recalling the many fights in Kuvexia in which the Kaiyo had exhibited the enemy and her fights against them to Yamataians back home, Hoshi nodded. Confident they could do so once more, she had swiveled the chair to look at the seat where she had made many decisions before, wondering what she would be doing differently in the future, knowing Uesu's words had ignited some new type of thinking in her.

"As a warrior myself, I look forwards to that next fight," Hoshi said.

"Excellent," Uesu smiled. He had a thing for warriors with a knack for victory, especially female ones. That's one reason why he'd designed the Nekovalkyrja as a female species. "Is there anything else you wanted to ask or had need of?" He looked around the area of the bridge and noticed the captain's cabin but resisted the urge to go in and snoop without permission.

"You said 'real power is being able to get people on your side' and you have real power, Uesu." Hoshi said as she turned from the captain’s chair and went behind it. With a soft hiss of air, the door behind it opened gently. In the room, she glided her fingers over an empty fish tank that was built into the cabinet before they touched a few black books strapped into the cabinet with leather fastenings. "I’m happy to be on your side because I know you're right. But also because I think you deserve to see your Empire flourish and would fight to that goal for you."

"I’m happy to be on your side of my own free will," Hoshi said, "because I know you're right. But also because I think you deserve to see your Empire flourish and would fight to that goal for you."

OOC: JP by Wes and Ame
YSS Kaiyō II
A Few Minutes Later

After Hoshi had seen Uesu off she put her hand against the angular walnut desk, then dipped down as she pulled open a drawer, rifling into the back of it. She was looking for something and her face lit as she found it. She held a simple brass compass meant for seafaring. The directional tool sat in her palm for awhile as new thoughts swarmed her mind. Hoshi had not been the type of person to truly sit with her past actions and reflect on them, but the Emperor's words had tugged down a veil that she had kept up to shroud herself from them.

"Sometimes things happen but on the bridge often you get to make them happen."

Now she wondered what kind of captain she had been if not a proactive one. How often had she only responded to what had happened or responded to orders, trickling them down from those above her to her subordinates, and how often had she made things happen? It felt like the burden of the latter had never been something her slight shoulders had hoisted.

She looked around her office, at the trappings of a woman who had served Yamatai well. Her ship had been at the forefront of the Kuvexian war, but did she ever make something happen enough to end it? Her eyes flickered to the traditional looking portrait of a dark-haired and sullen man on the wall, a man who had, then looked back to the compass in her hands. Her blue brows knit together as she clenched the brass and felt her warmth transfer to it momentarily before setting it on the edge of her desk, looking at it.

"Aiko-san," Hoshi said over comms, hoping her XO had gotten into a clean jacket by now. "I would see you in my ready room to prepare for our return journey. We have some friends to pick up before we come back here again."

"Yes, Chusa," the princess replied in short order. A breath of relief draped itself over her simple acknowledgment. "I will see you in five."