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  • 📅 December 2022 is YE 44.9 in the RP.

RP The Southpaw Sojourn

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RP Date
25日 1月 YE 43, during the celebratory period following victory over the Interstellar Kingdom of Kuvexia
RP Location
NSS Southpaw in orbit over Planet Yamatai
NSS Southpaw, Flagship of the 1st Assault Fleet
Planet Yamatai

The flagship of the 1st Assault Fleet sat in geostationary orbit over Yamatai as the Victory Day festivities went on. Sitting amongst a group of its escorts, shuttles were coming and going at regular intervals to allow the crew to cycle down to the planet for the celebrations. One such shuttle on the way back up to the massive carrier only contained a handful of passengers. One such passenger was an imposing ID-SOL, another a samurai, and lastly there was a Yamataian princess.

William sat back, leaning his head against the bulkhead as the shuttle made its way into the queue for landing. The pilot of the Nepleslian shuttle looked back at the three of them.

"This might take a second,” the pilot said. “The CAG has his hands full coordinating all craft in space at the moment."

William nodded.

"Understood sir," he replied, looking over to Aiko and Rei. "Sorry for the delay. It will take a second before we can touch down. “

"There is plenty of life ahead of us, Wil-kun," Aiko said from her seat with a touch of excitement escaping through her typically stoic demeanor. As a Nekovalkyrja, she didn't have much concern for doing things quickly unless some critical situation called for practiced military timing. "We are meeting the Sky Marshal of Nepleslia, after all, and do so at his pleasure."

And that's why she wore her Class A uniform again today — now common attire for the Ketsurui Princess in these times of intergalactic triumph — and held her blue officer's cap neatly in her lap as they rode to meet Gaelan Sanders. Surely William's father, if not the nominal leader of Nepleslia, deserved to see Aiko at her finest when they met. All of her pins and award bars and the crimson-ribboned Order of the Blazing Sun that hung from her neck were compressed between her chest and the seat's straps for now, though, ever since she'd tightly secured herself just before liftoff.

The shuttle's ride was much smoother than Aiko had expected, but she'd kept herself secured to her chair just in case. While the Neko girl was brave and trusting in the Nepleslian Star Navy's equipment, the long green shuttlecraft simply didn't look as sturdy and refined as the Yamataian tech she was so familiar with. But the little mule of a ship had brought them up from the surface safely and comfortably thus far, so Aiko’s background concerns with its appearance had quickly faded during transit even if she kept herself tied down.

"Is there anything particular I should say to him?" Aiko asked William. She wasn't nervous and knew this was a personal call, but had been trained in diplomacy and so reflexively wondered if the Nepleslians had some kind of secret handshake or ritual face-punch one should give when meeting the Sky Marshal.

Next to the Ketsurui clan daughter was her yojimbo and William's teacher, Rei. She was prepared to admit her nervousness. Not many years ago, Nekovalkryja were not allowed in Nepleslia — let alone a Ketsurui. Regardless, she had seen many a Nepleslian tourist in Yamatai: backwards hats, fanny packs, and all. Though she found it hard to convince herself they would be meeting similarly comedic men and would not be arrested and executed on site.

William looked over to Aiko and smiled. "No, nothing special. He just would like to meet the both of you is all," he replied to the Princess. Looking between the two, his eyes softened. Today his two worlds would meet. The two most important women in his life meeting the most important man in his life. He had to admit he was nervous himself. He just wanted the meeting to go well — and for his father to not embarrass him.

He was dressed in his own dress uniform, medals and ribbons pinned to his chest with his beret tucked underneath his shoulder board.

The shuttle banked towards the ship once more and the pilot's voice came over the intercom. "We are headed in for landing,” he called. “We'll touch down momentarily.

Looking back to Aiko, William gave her hand a quick squeeze before the shuttle touched down on the flight deck. Once the shuttle had landed, the ID-SOL was out of the harness faster than either of the Nekos could blink. Looking down at the two of them he asked, "Need any help?"

Aiko was already unbuckling one of her own chair straps and pulling her left shoulder out when he spoke. She looked up at him with a grin and shook her head to indicate she could handle exiting the shuttle herself. Once standing, she put her officer's cap atop her head and picked up her white-and-gold katana from its place stowed away below her seat.

Rei's nervous chuckle was followed promptly by a resolute, "Iie, no."

"Do not overdo it, Wil-kun," Aiko said while she patted the wrinkles out of her jacket. She didn't sound like she was chiding him so much as she was trying to ensure that he maintained his image and future. "You might have to lead these men and women around us someday. There is no reason for any Nepleslian's only living memory of the great William Sanders to be one of him waiting on a Yamataian girl aboard one of his father's own flagships," she continued before letting out a brief, amused huff.

"Are you to take us to the Sky Marshal or are we expecting more of an escort?" Aiko questioned once she'd moved a few steps away from where she was sitting and toward the shuttle's exit.

"Oh, yes. Right," he said rubbing the back of his head. As the ramp lowered and before William was allowed to reply, a pair of rather imposing ID-SOLs who stood on opposite sides of the ramp interrupted.

"Hello, William," said the one standing to the right of the shuttle. "Your father sent us to fetch you."

William stepped off the ramp and grinned, stretching out his hand. "It's been awhile, Yuri. You too, Dmitri," he said, shaking both of their hands. Turning back to the ladies he explained, "This is Yuri and Dmitri. They are the Sky Marshal's personal bodyguards."

The Ketsurui girl inspected the two ID-SOL with a steely gaze as she descended out of the shuttle and onto the flight deck, continuing to approach them as her eye level dropped to their chests. She circled the gargantuan soldiers and looked at them with some obvious scrutiny while she studied their details and stances as warriors. By the time Aiko had finished her review and stopped pacing, she stood beside William.

"You must be among Nepleslia's best," Aiko told them in Trade, shifting her stare from Yuri's eyes to Dmitri's and then finally up to William for a moment before speaking to Gaelan's men again. "I am Taii Aiko Ketsurui of the Star Army," she told them, giving her name in the Nepleslian style rather than the way Yamataians did it. The way she spoke their language was immaculate, but still carried an obvious Yamataian accent. "It is my honor to make your acquaintance, as it is my samurai yojimbo Rei's pleasure."

Rei bowed deeply to the two men. She had to crane her head at quite an angle, as she did for William since he had become an ID-SOL, to look them square in the face.

"In your language," Rei began, "you are goodfella." She finished her statement with a cursory glance to William. He hadn't spent a long time in Nepleslia, but she wanted to know if her studying of Neplslian culture was passable.

The two body guards looked impassive for a moment before Dmitri showed a smirk.

"I like her," he said to the group, pointing to Rei. William moved quickly for his size and smacked Dmitri on the back of the head with force.

Yuri laughed at the two, before waving to Aiko and Rei. "Don't worry,” he said. “Dmitri likes to tease William. They do this often. I am Yuri Sokolov and this is my brother Dmitri Sokolov."

Rei bowed once more to each of them after tucking her hands into her sleeves.

Dmitri stood and looked back at William. "What? All I say is I like her. Is complement."

Giving the guard a sidelong glance he let out a sigh and gave Dmitri a shove. This, however, didn't move the bodyguard very far.

"Let's get moving, we shouldn't keep father waiting," Dmitri said, turning to Yuri.

The two bodyguards nodded.

"Of course," Yuri replied in Yamataian. "Follow us."

Aiko went along after giving her own nod back to their new Kuznyetski ship-sherpas. Proceeding through the Shaika Assault Carrier's halls and past its myriad of crewmen and marines, the Neko's face and demeanor betrayed her best efforts at keeping her interest subtle. Even despite the spark in her eyes, she didn't stare too long at anything or anyone — interestingly, this ship's corridors reminded her of a lot of some Star Army vessels — except maybe for counting each and every one of the heavy Xaser turrets that lined the ceiling at regular intervals.

Whatever Aiko's demeanor, though, a Nekovalkyrja was a rare sight aboard any NSN warship. There had been a few Neko exchange officers from the Star Army but one so comparatively well-known among her kind drew as much attention from passing crewmen as anyone could expect, ranging from crude humor and catcalls to outright disgust. Some, too, didn't seem to care about Aiko's presence at all and went about their duties uninterrupted. The Princess did well to ignore both the flattering and derisive reactions she was getting and marched forward with her samurai and the contingent of three ID-SOL.

"William is lucky to have trained with you," Aiko said as they traversed the Southpaw's corridors, assuming from Dmitri's physical familiarity that he was used to roughhousing with William. "I am sure your attentive influence is what made him so proficient in the grapple after his NSMC training," she joked, more sure it was Dmitri's teasing that had given William his quick draw and sharp reflexes than anything.

As the group walked, Dmitri and Yuri walked a few paces ahead with William in between them a step behind. William was doing his best to not pummel the people they passed and to keep his face neutral. However, at one catcall William was about to step out of line. That was before Yuri's hand shot out and popped William in the chest.

"You are still too hot headed."

"Ya, take breath little brother," Dmitri replied as they continued to walk.

At Aiko's comment Dmitri chuckled, and Yuri cracked a smile. "It's true, we may have taken William under our wing. He is a quick study."

Dmitri snorted. "He is still novice. Little brother could not pin me once."

"Well there was the time when—" William began to say before Dmitri cut him off.

"No I was drunk that doesn't count."

Yuri then piped up. "Don't forget the time when—"

Dmitri was quick to reply again. "No, that can't count either. It was just after hell week and we had not slept in days."

"Well I hadn't slept either," William retorted.

"Still does not count," Dmitri replied.

The three ID-SOLs looked between each other and began to laugh.

Although Aiko didn't really get the entirety of their inside joke, the humor of the moment still struck her. Getting to know more about her Nepleslian companion's time away from the Kaiyō made her happy. She couldn't stifle a small smirk from curling across her lips, if only for a moment.

After another turn, the five found themselves at one of the many conference rooms. Yuri and Dmitri stood to either side of the door before a commanding voice ordered "Enter!"

There wasn't a lot of time to make a decision, so Rei chose to act quickly and enter through the imposing doorway that the two bodyguards had stopped short at. Still upholding the needs of her ward, the yojimbo went into the room, scanning it quickly with a hand on her pommel. After clearing the room, she gave a shallow but lengthy bow that lasted well into William and Aiko entering after her, before she sequestered herself to the side of the doorway within the room.

Aiko followed Rei in without concern, both because she was genuinely unconcerned with her present safety and because she was confident in the prowess that backed the samurai's ceremonious display. She removed her hat, wedged it under her left arm (which also held her sword parallel to the ground and close above her hip), and bowed to the grizzled old Sky Marshal who waited inside. The Yamataian gesture was as brief as the deep respect it intended to convey would allow, however, and Aiko stood at attention before snapping a crisp salute with a pointed right hand that she pulled up from her side. And then she waited for William to enter, holding the salute until dismissed from it — as she thought was befitting meeting a Yamataian ally of Gaelan Sanders's stature.

Gaelan stood tall at the head of a long metal table. His face was hard and imposing until all three of them had stepped inside. Yuri shut the door behind them leaving the room in silence for a moment. William stepped forward and snapped a proper military salute.

"PFC William Sanders reporting as ordered, sir," he stated.

Gaelan remained stern for another second before his face finally cracked into a small smile. "At ease," he said before walking out from behind the table and up to the three of them. Patting William on the shoulder, he looked at the two women in the room.

"William, be a proper host and introduce your friends."

William relaxed as his father finally broke the charade. "You are the host aren't you?" he retorted, which got him a smack to the chest. "Why does everyone keep hitting me today?" he asked, his father laughing in response.

"Knowing you, you probably deserved it. Now get on with it," he ordered.

"This is Princess Ketsurui Aiko," William said, holding a hand out to her. "She holds the rank of Taii amongst the Star Army and is the sixth daughter of Ketsurui Yui," he said, smiling at her. He then moved over to Rei. "And this is Rei, a Ketsurui Samurai, royal bodyguard to Princess Aiko, my teacher, and..." he looked back to Gaelan and took a deep breath before adding, "and my mom."

Rei seemed pleased with her introduction, bowing for the umpteenth time, but when she heard the last word her face flushed in a very uncharacteristic blush that turned her pale skin red.

"That is not—" she stammered. "I have not told him we—" she tried to begin again, looking with an ashamed face to the Sky Marshall. "Not to say I would no— ah!"

Initially content to let Rei introduce herself first, Aiko quickly acknowledged the samurai's unease with such familiarity. Rei was more a woman of action who showed her affection through her care and teaching than she was someone to gush about how she'd all but raised the young Nepleslian soldier. So Aiko stepped forward to offer her right hand, now free after dropping its salute, to Gaelan.

"Rei-san is very proud to have taught your son in the arts of combat and the ways of the galaxy itself," Aiko told the Sky Marshal. A very big smile crossed her face, and even her teeth and pointy Nekovalkyrja canines showed for this one. "She assuredly finds herself as lucky in knowing him as I do. Thank you for loaning him to me for all of these years."

Rei seemed relieved the attention was off of her faux pas and simply nodded, eyes more wide than normal while she kept her vision on a lamp on Gaelan's desk.

Gaelan smiled warmly, an odd expression for his scarred face. He stepped up to Rei and spoke. "Miss Rei, words cannot describe my thanks for taking care of my son." He bowed low to Rei. "I couldn't have asked for a better caretaker. From the bottom of my heart thank you," he said, standing once more. He then turned to Aiko and extended his hand to her's, giving it a firm shake. "And thank you for taking such good care of William. I have been told many wonderful things about you."

William smiled and looked to Aiko, mouthing 'thank you' to her. He then looked back at Gaelan as he spoke, his face looking mortified. If looks could kill the Sky Marshal might have died on the spot.

"Eeto..." With an obvious confusion, Rei looked away from Gaelan, to William. Then, her expression grew more calm and confident as she looked back to the Sky Marshal. “It has been an honor helping to raise William. I would have never expected to have a son, but I couldn’t imagine my life without him in it.”

Aiko made sure to squeeze Gaelan’s hand tightly in return, since she’d heard that Nepleslians from Nepleslia respected strength in all things even so small as a handshake. Not a vise grip by any means — Aiko really didn’t know how much of a Nekovalkyrja’s strength any non-enhanced life form could take — but still strong enough, she expected, to leave the right impression.

“Nothing too wonderful, I hope,” Aiko said, ever-modest regarding her place in the universe and skill as a warrior. She released her grip and continued. “The war reporting on our ship’s exploits against the Kuvexians failed to tell the entire story, I am afraid. Wil-ku — excuse me, William — probably saved our skins many more times than I ever did.”

Her eyes flickered with excitement when she recalled some of the fights they’d had during the Kuvexian War. Aiko was a Neko and, of course, longed for the thrill of combat even now. Especially as she stood remembering moments of carnage and ultimate triumph. Memories of William rending countless Kuvexians apart in the arena as she clubbed them, power armor sorties against the L’Kor, and personal combat against their comrades’ own doubles in an alternate universe flashed through Aiko’s mind in that instant.

“You will let me keep him a while longer, I hope,” Aiko said after her fleeting war remembrances faded. “We certainly have many more battles ahead of us together.”

Gaelan laughed and motioned for everyone to sit down. He pulled out the chair next to him and motioned to Rei. He then sent a mental command for William to do the same.

William pulled out Aiko's chair and smiled at her.

As they sat Gaelan replied, "Of course, Ms. Aiko. I wouldn't dream of pulling William away from you," he said, pushing Rei's seat in. "He would leave the Marines if I tried," he added, giving his son a coy smirk.

“Oh, of that I have no doubt,” Aiko said back, peering up at William with a hint of playfulness to match the Sky Marshal’s. She took her seat, put her cap down on the table, and let the younger Sanders scoot her in. “He is clearly an exemplary Nepleslian and owes his ultimate loyalties to you,” she added. The Ketsurui girl didn’t want to get him in trouble with the notorious IPG or anything.

“Still, I am glad that I can count on him in the course of my service to Yamatai,” Aiko continued. “His assignment as an exchange officer is unquestionably a credit to Nepleslia. Enough with these pleasantries, though. Rei-san and I have kept him away from you for so long. What secrets can we tell you about William?” she asked.

This might be the Sky Marshal of Nepleslia, but Gaelan was still Wil-kun’s father and so Aiko felt comfortable being friendly with him just as she did with William. Quite unlike the unease she felt at hearing the name “Flint Vanderhuge,” which Aiko assumed must be some held-over animus from her creation process and being Yui’s daughter.

William looked back at Aiko and smiled, blushing slightly as he moved to sit himself. Gaelan caught the look then grinned and turned to Rei, and then to Aiko. "Please tell me secrets about him. He is very private about his time with you all," he explained.

William looked back at Gaelan and inwardly groaned. This was going to be interesting.

Rei’s small brows shot up on her forehead, then they lowered as she answered. “I have known William too many years to think of the things he does as abnormal.” She was quiet for a moment, then went on. “You might think of his fumbling with utensils or the song he sings to himself when he thinks nobody can hear or even the face he makes when Aiko-sama compliments him as embarrassing but to me they are what make him him.”

A deep pink blush lit up Aiko’s alabaster face and she put her hands straight into her lap when Rei mentioned her. She hadn’t noticed William making any particular expression when she paid him his due, but perhaps she was always too focused on the moment to tell. This banter was supposed to be about William, anyway, not her!

“I was only going to say that the way he says some words in my language remains unlearned in some respects,” Aiko said as the redness on her cheeks faded. It wasn’t entirely true — though few spoke in as an exacting Yamataigo tone as Aiko did — but she’d had to think of something quick after Rei’s revelation regarding her companion’s reactions. “Or that he is very sneaky, even with his enhanced ID-SOL body,” she added, more genuinely now. “He has surprised me more than once, and while I will not question Rei-san’s abilities, I could swear that he has caught her unawares more than once. William would give any operative in the sector a run for their money were he not so dedicated to his current duties.”

His “current duties” being Aiko herself, of course.

“And he is very kind,” the Princess added (probably a little too wistfully) while thinking about what all of their years together had entailed beyond combat and war and training. “But this must not be a secret to you, nor Dmitri and Yuri.”

Gaelan laughed as William's face literally went beet red. His hands went to his face as they spoke.

At Aiko's words, Dmitri could be heard laughing on the other side of the door. Then a meaty thwack could be heard along with Yuri telling him, "Stop eavesdropping, dumbass."

Then Dmitri replied, "What? He is teddy bear…" followed by another thwack.

Gaelan turned back to William, then gave a knowing smile. "It seems that my son may have been bitten," he replied, sharing a glance with William, who could only look on in horror. "Miss Aiko, you have him wrapped around your finger."

“Yes, he has been chomped a few times,” Aiko confirmed, not understanding Gaelan’s Nepleslian idiom about romance but still acknowledging the many scars she’d seen William receive from the maws of Kuvexians, Rixxikor, and other monstrosities they’d encountered in their time. “I try my best to ensure he is not always following my lead, though,” she added, again not fully comprehending the extent of what William’s father meant about her fingers. “William showed extraordinary initiative during the battle at Glimmergold.”

He nodded. "Oh, I know William's combat prowess is exponential. But he is quite inexperienced when it comes to…"

"Father please… don't," William said, reaching for a glass of water. Gaelan smirked as his son took a sip.

"So when are you two going to officially become a couple?" the Sky Marshal asked. William spit his water out in spectacular fashion away from the women.

Aiko didn’t immediately catch the feeling of her cheeks filling up with color this time around, but definitely noticed warmth fill her face after Gaelan asked his direct question and made her feel a tingle at a place deep in her abdomen. The Sky Marshal’s question was almost too uncouth for her to dignify, which would be for most other people. Nonetheless, she did not snap back at him both due to his rank and because he was William’s blood, and she could see much of her closest compatriot’s self in Gaelan.

“I believe it is clear to anybody that serves with us that William is my companion and the most trusted soul in this existence, and that where one of us goes the other can be found closeby,” she said, her words spilling out quite quickly. “What would ‘officially’ mean beyond SANDRA broadcasting it to the sector — have they already broadcast this to the sector?” Aiko asked, all of the words still seeming like a single, really long sentence. She was very flustered for now, though everything she said seemed to acknowledge what Gaelan had asked, and appeared almost as rosy as her captain Taiyo Hoshi’s skin naturally was. “Who wants to know? We are soldiers, Sky-Marshal-sama, and do not have the time nor need to tell everybody about how we eat dinner or wrestle or relax in the bath house after wrestling or—”

Rei put her hand up, softly making a noise through her lips. “Maybe I am not the only one that has said too much,” the samurai mused. Looking to Gaelan, she answered, “Yamataians are not fixated on such things in the same way Nepleslians are,” she offered, without going into any details of asexually produced grandchildren.

William's face was white as a ghost. His mind raced before Aiko answered. He looked to her, eyes softening as she spoke.

Gaelan sighed. "Alright, alright," he said placatingly. His job was done after all. "You must forgive. William doesn't divulge this kind of information to me. I'm sorry, Miss Aiko, I was merely curious as William's father," he added, looking to Rei. "Thank you for explaining Miss Rei," he said, offering her a cup then pouring her some tea. He then poured himself a glass of scotch and leaned back his chair.

A few sputters of what might be laughter could be heard from Rei’s teacup before she sipped.

William smiled and grabbed Aiko's hand under the table and gave it a delicate squeeze. "Yes, well please refrain from making the Princess uncomfortable father. You invited her here, after all."

“It is nothing, Sky Marshal,” Aiko said, feeling comforted by William’s grab and Rei’s quick intervention that had saved her from further embarrassed jabbering. She sat up a little straighter, even despite William clutching her right hand and probably because of it, and looked Gaelan in the eyes again. “You are only interested in your son’s life, which none could fault you for. And I did say that we would tell you his secrets. Do not worry for his future,” she smiled.

“And what of your life?” the Princess asked in turn. “To have made it so long and to such heights in this harsh galaxy truly proves your mettle. What can you tell us of your many days that your IPG would not mind Yui’s daughter and a Ketsurui Samurai knowing?”

Gaelan smiled, looked back to Aiko. "Oh, I'm quite an old man. I've seen plenty. I was around before Nepleslia was officially founded," he said. His cybernetic eyes had no iris, but William could tell they were unfocused. "I was one of the Greens in the gang wars. I worked my way up and became a marine as soon as the NSMC became a reality. From there I climbed my way up from a green lieutenant all the way up to Field Marshal," he explained.

William smiled as Gaelan spoke of his history. He enjoyed listening to his father's stories. "What about when you were part of Operation Dynamo?" he asked. Aiko could easily see the excitement as his father spoke. He looked like a child hearing his favorite bedtime story.

"Oh, you don't want to hear that old story again," Gaelan teased before taking a drink of his scotch.

“I would like to hear it,” Aiko said. Much of her early years had been spent alone in study aboard the Kaiyō, so she was quite the history geek and knew she was taking the old soldier’s bait despite his words to the contrary. “Even though those people abandoned the Empire, it is good somebody saved them. Dynamo, as best can be told based on what I have read and watched, marks the beginning of contemporary Yamataian-Nepleslian relations. Jiyuuians were our people once and are from our culture in spite of their self-proclaimed differences. Many of the ones who made it back to the Star Empire brought their fondness for Nepleslia back with them.”

He smiled. "It's true. The fighting was fierce both on the ground and in space," he explained. "This was back when I was a captain in the marines. My men and I were tasked with defending one of the evacuation sites." As he spoke he explained how his men were arranged on the field, using the glasses to demonstrate on the table. He showed how the NMX began breaking through his lines, an event that had caused the injury to his face. Even still, he’d remained on the battlefield ordering his men until he was forced to retire from combat.

William watched with rapt attention. He had heard the story many times but still looked enraptured even now. Even still his hand never left Aiko's as the story went on.

"After the operation had been completed I finally got my eyes fixed, which is why I have the eyes I do now," Gaelan explained, poking the cybernetics on his face.

“Thrilling, Sky Marshal,” Aiko said alongside a happy nod, smiling after his story wrapped up. “The Second Mishhuvurthyar War was one of Yamatai’s most interesting conflicts. This opportunity to hear an account from someone who wasn’t a member of the Star Army is absolutely amazing, thank you.”

She paused for a moment, shifting her gaze to the highball glass battlefield diagram Gaelan had made and studied it as she brought the 4th Fleet’s old operation to life in her mind. She recalled other battlefield histories she’d learned about and the many conflicts she’d fought herself during the Kuvexian War, drawing parallels between what had happened to the Sky Marshal in his younger days to the modern battlescape. Seeing the evolution of interstellar strategy and warfighting in her thoughts, Aiko couldn’t help but bring her hands up from her lap and begin arranging the glasses around herself.

“These are Kuvexian power armors situated at a two meter elevation overlooking an enclosed courtyard,” she explained while pointing to a cluster of cups she’d just re-ordered, “and these are a squad of Star Army Mindy armors below. What would you have done in this situation?” she asked Gaelan. “Other than not be there in the first place.”

Her makeshift battlemap, of course, represented a fight that William and her had participated in with the Kaiyō II’s crew. They’d obviously survived, but in Aiko’s memory it hadn’t been their most well-executed tactical moment.

Gaelan looked at the problem, standing and pacing around the table to get a new look at what Aiko had presented him.

"If there were any assets nearby, I'd have had them begin long range fire support to allow the friendly PA's to get out the courtyard and into better cover,” he explained. “If not, I'd have set a few of the Mindys to begin suppressive fire on the ridge and pop smoke. The remaining Mindys would then climb the sides of the cavern and flank from either side while they were pinned from below."

“No, we did not have any assets nearby,” Aiko replied, giving away that it’d been her and William in that particular predicament. “We executed a similar maneuver to what you suggested, except we did not employ smoke, which could have helped. It was a difficult fight, truth be told,” she said before going into detail about how they actually overcame their Kuvexian foes back then.

That story led to another from the Sky Marshal, and then more from Aiko and William. Every once in a while, Rei would add her thoughts on the war stories or correct her students’ accounting of their triumphs and failures. The four spent quite some time exchanging memories of their experiences in battle, and often with the assistance of makeshift drinking glass dioramas. What else would four warriors speak about other than their accomplishments?

Eventually, they ended up at the topic of the Battle of Glimmergold where all of their military careers — both long and relatively short — had converged in one way or another.

“Having your son’s Cyclops suit fighting at my back proved to be a great boon,” Aiko said toward the end of her recounting of that final battle. “Throughout my own years piloting a Kirie armor, I often found its combination of speed and size to be a great advantage. The NSMC’s so-called ‘breakthrough armorsuit’ was quite complementary to my Kirie, however, and provided me and the troops supporting my efforts at Glimmergold with some much needed brawn. Elsewhere in the battle, I am told Nepleslian Cyclops formations fared well, too. I can only imagine its effectiveness planetside rather than in a space engagement.”

Gaelan nodded, stroking his beard. "We have had great success with our Cyclops armor," he admitted. "It is definitely handy for close quarters combat," he added looking over to William.

"I have to agree,” William replied. “Plus, since it is specifically designed for ID-SOLs, they are very comfortable. Like a second skin."

“Piloting a Kirie is similar, except that it’s as if the armor itself becomes its master’s body,” Aiko explained. “Not so much a second skin for a Nekovalkyrja as we become the machine’s brain. The Kirie is not worn, it simply is a new fighting form. Its sister armor, the Keiko, has much the same capability.”

The Ketsurui Princess paused in thought for a moment as a consideration formed in her consciousness. She wasn’t normally the apprehensive sort. Aiko was nonetheless mindful of her station as a mere taii in the Star Army and didn’t want to overstep her place. But she was Yui’s daughter, too, and one of the most famed Yamataian warriors of the current era, so decided that the future she envisioned was worth saying aloud.

“It would be splendid to see how the two armors compare on a larger scale than wherever William and I are deployed,” Aiko said. “While my position does not allow me to offer you anything in return, I could secure a place in Legion 777 for a unit of Nepleslian exchange marines to see their strengths tested alongside Keiko and Mindy 4 armors there. The division’s legionnaires — and its commander, more importantly — have chosen me as the inspiration to their service, so I am sure it would be a simple matter to arrange. Between training and whatever combat duties arise for the legion, there is much our two armies could learn from one another in this endeavor. Especially if Wil-kun’s performance at my side is any indication.”

Gaelan looked thoughtful, stroking his beard once more. He remained silent for several seconds as he considered the offer.

William watched his father and turned back Aiko, giving her hand another squeeze as the silence stretched on.

After a few more moments, Gaelan smiled. "I believe that this is doable." Leaning back in his chair, he looked back to William. "I have the perfect company in mind as well. It will have the majority of the men you trained with anyway," he explained

William sat up a little straighter. "Wait, do you mean Berserker Company?"

Gaelan nodded.

Aiko was lost for a moment as the Nepleslian father and son had their brief exchange, though she was certainly glad her idea hadn’t been shut down by the Sky Marshal.

“I hope this opportunity for the Star Army and NSMC will not deprive you of Yuri and Dmitri’s companionship,” Aiko said with some rare sarcasm on her breath, finally assuming something about this Berserker Company based on what was said. She didn’t actually expect Gaelan’s personal bodyguards to come along. “Any soldier in their mold would be a boon to have at Yamatai’s side, especially within Legion 777. It will give me an excuse to visit them for parade review more often, if for no other reason than to keep your son in line,” she teased, giving William a lighthearted elbow jab in his arm. “No longer will we worry that he is not participating enough in Nepleslian culture.”

Gaelan laughed. "No, Yuri and Dmitri will stay with me. They are too amusing to send away. However, William will know many of the members of Berserker," Gaelan said.

William let out a low 'oof' as Aiko playfully jabbed his side. In response, he poked the side of her abdomen before retreating the hand back to his lap. The Princess stared daggers back at her ID-SOL companion but otherwise maintained her cool composure.

"I'll be glad that he gets to spend more time with other ID-SOLs. But I'm sure he is happy that this will give him more opportunity to remain at your side," Gaelan said, looking at Aiko then over to Rei, and smiled.

Rei herself nodded, though she didn’t look back up but instead at her lap. The young man — boy even — she had brought from his orphanage to the fighting high school had grown in more ways than one.

“I am happy to see William’s family is as supportive as he deserves,” Rei offered, knowing his family on the Kaiyō as well as his father were a huge boon to the man.

Aiko grinned, having so quickly recovered from William’s retaliation, and glanced between her samurai and the two Nepleslians sitting with her. The visit so far had been joyful, and she thought it truly worth the trip up from Planet Yamatai’s surface (not to mention worth enduring her parade past a rowdy Nepleslian Star Navy crew). William’s poke had roused something within the Ketsurui girl, though, which demanded immediate attention.

“He promised us a feast,” Aiko said. William had probably conveyed something more modest about a quick lunch, but that did not stop Aiko from embellishing with royal expectations. “If it is not too much, Sky Marshal, perhaps we should all continue getting to know one another over a meal,” she told him more than asked, sounding exactly as presumptuous as she wanted to now that she’d developed a feel for Gaelan as a man.

Gaelan laughed at the Princess's question/demand. "Is that so? I believe that you may be right Miss Aiko." Looking off to the side, he sent an order to the ship's galley for some food to be brought up to them. "There, it is done. They will bring us some food shortly," he said as everyone settled in and began to casually chat while waiting for lunch to arrive. As the conversation flowed, Gaelan looked to William and Aiko then asked, "So when am I getting some grandkids?" Which caused William to perform another spit take.

“Maybe you should have watched your own child a little closer since you want more now…” Rei murmured under her breath, taken aback by Gaelan’s constant inquiring into something he couldn’t care for to begin with.

Aiko blushed again at Gaelan’s prying inquiries. Not so much as she had earlier, however. And her first reaction this time was to give a hearty laugh that sounded less nervous than she felt about the question.

“As Rei-san alluded to before, most people from Yamatai are long-lived whether they are Nekovalkyrja or some civilian form,” the Princess said once she’d cooled off from Gaelan’s sudden interrogation. “I will have a successor someday to be sure. But for now, my focus is on the present and serving my family’s Star Empire during the vast lifetime still laid out before me. Do not fret about such things so much, Sky Marshal.

“Now tell me more of your ship.” Aiko wanted to divert the topic as quickly as possible, especially because of Rei’s comment. “These Shaika-class are impressive, I was very much in awe during our final approach. And the gun turrets everywhere inside! They reminded me that Nepleslians have so justly earned some of their stereotypes.”

Gaelan turned to Rei having heard the jab. "That's fair Miss Rei. I'll drop the matter. My apologies," he said, refilling her tea. He then turned to Aiko and added, "And please, Miss Aiko. Please just call me Gaelan."

“Then tell me about your NSS Southpaw, Gaelan,” Aiko said with a smile.

The conversation between Gaelan, William, Aiko, and Rei proceeded from there for the day, through lunch and for a while after. They spoke of more battles, mostly glories with some defeats, and of ships and power armors, and of life to discuss the sorts of things that made each of them who they were. Although their time together was brief, they shared much between one another. By the time Aiko, William, and Rei said goodbye to Sky Marshal Sanders, they would part ways with a greater understanding of both each other and the space empires that they strove to advance.

Gaelan Sanders, William Sanders, Dmitri, Yuri, and the Nepleslians by @Gunhand4171
Ketsurui Aiko by @raz
The Ketsurui Samurai Rei by @Ametheliana
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