Hoshi strayed from one of the ginkgo tree-lined paths to walk up a steep set of stone steps. The pathway was unobtrusive and blended in with the natural scenery. The sappy green spring trees projecting overhead while ferns and undergrowth nipped at the stonework underfoot. In front of her, she could see the wooden garden gate to the ryokan open wide and invitingly. Its cedar gabled roof caught the dappled lighting splaying from the trees overhead. A hint of wood smoke was visible on the air, but the scents of what the grill within the garden was cooking was ephemeral and hard to discern.
Hanako arrived at the ryokan where Hoshi said she was headed. She had left behind most of her entourage and well-wishers and it was just her maid/yeoman Honoria, and her supply specialist and bodyguard Victory. "Hoshi! I hope I didn't keep you waiting too long," she smiled.
"Hanako-sama!" With a start, Hoshi looked up from her seat next to a squat grill and waved a small arm, still clad in the purple and greys of her suit. Hoshi stood and stepped around the stoney rocks and sakura flower-topped pond to walk over the flowing waves of firm moss surrounding short shrubs towards the Taisho.
Hanako's big golden eyes lit up when she spotted Hoshi and she smiled and gave Hoshi a enthusiastic wave. She quickened her pace and came to a halt in front of the Kaiyō II's captain and grinned. "I am glad I found you. How are you?"
"Still thinking on your words from earlier," Hoshi said candidly. With a slight turn to the green-haired woman flanking Hanako, she added, "Speaking of, you must be Victory Kuroki? Your captain spoke highly of you earlier today."
Victory gave Hoshi a polite bow. "Yes, a pleasure to meet you," Victory said, "I'm the Eucharis's chief of supply and helper. And this is Honoria, her yeoman who waits on the Taisho," she said, introducing the curvy redhead in pink panels that trailed Hanako around with a data pad in her hand. Hanako said, "This will be my first time at the ryokan here, although I have been to the park before on opening day."
With a bow to both women, Hoshi looked to the entrance of the ryokan, then back to the fire. "I would offer you a tour of the inside, but I have been tasked with tending the fire. I guess the best I can offer you is a seat by the grill until Saiga gets back from collecting some meats from inside." There were a few camping chairs near the grill with a smattering of a handful of cushions were underneath the overhang of the engawa of the building proper. Having brought up her one role, the short pink woman took to the task. She lifted the top of the grill and prodded a piece of blackened wood, forcing it to splinter into bits of charcoal before placing a fresh piece in its place.
Hanako nodded and took a seat nearby the fire in one of the camping chairs. Victory stayed standing and kind of looked around scoping out the surrounding areas while Honoria continued to work on her datapad answering some of Hanako's mail on her behalf. There was so much these days. "It reminds me a little of the time I spent on Planet H. There was a lot of chopping wood and fire-tending involved. I heard you blew the planet up?"
Hoshi's pink cheeks brightened to a blistering red. Her first word was drawn out as she thought of those to follow, "Technically the enemy blew it up." She laughed at herself as she heard the questioning tone to her voice, so she leveled with Hanako more frankly. "Kuvexians installed some machinations within it and, yes, I did give the order to destroy it. I'm sorry, I never really knew what it meant to you."
"Such sentiments we often ascribe to nostalgia," Hanako shared with Hoshi, her words drifting on the wind. "When one invests time and effort, shaping the world with their own hands, an enduring bond forms. I spent a year in such toil, building a farm, carving out a shelter within a cave. Now, they exist merely as memories, ephemeral echoes of a bygone time. No eyes will witness the fruits of my labor again."
The teal-haired Taisho paused, her gaze distant. "In epochs past, life was a finite experience. Now, with mind transfers and replacement bodies, the boundaries of our existence have expanded beyond our comprehension. Yet, this does not render time any less precious. War, be it through the finality of death or the ravages of destruction, seizes our time, erasing our efforts."
Hanako's gaze refocused on Hoshi, an intensity burning in her big golden eyes. "We are left with a lingering question - does our labor, the time we devote to our endeavors, truly reflect the best usage of our existence?"
With a crease of her eyes, Hoshi looked up to the verdant canopy overhead. Her crew had explored the places Hanako had worked and spent her long year and seen the bond she had made, but there was no sense in bringing that up. Hanako had spoken about the ephemeral nature of that work and it was true that the longterm affects of her efforts on Planet H were able to be washed away by time, like many pursuits.
"The lasting impact on you -on whoever sees their labor through, I suppose- are what are to be celebrated. The best usage of our existence, though," the pink captain chewed on the words. "Is something I'm still reckoning with, personally. I'm sure you have a better answer for yourself than I."
"Indeed," Hanako agreed, "in the end, it is not the monuments we build, nor the landscapes we alter that define us, but it's how the events in our lives changed who we are as people and how we use that to do good. It is the transformation within us, the growth and wisdom acquired through the process, that truly matters. Even the pain I had to endure helped make me who I am. My advice simply not to give up. There is always a new frontier."
Having been listening while prodding at the older log on the flame, Hoshi's deep blue eyes stayed on the fire as she absorbed Hanako's words. The Premier was certainly thoughtful and inspired the same in the Kaiyō captain.
"I think there was a time not too long ago where I didn't consider a need for growth or wisdom. Everything was carried on the back of each mission and I never stepped back to consider my own choices or the consequences therein." Hoshi said, "But, ––not to add another question to the pile I've laid on you–– how do you know what is good, simply put? Sometimes it feels like even with good intentions, things go awry or were too complicated for pure motives alone. Does that just come with enduring enough to know from experience?"
"That is an excellent question without and singular answer. I can elaborate on what my intent was. When I spoke of good, I mean virtuous, just, and kind. Although the Star Army and Yamatai are strong, we should be using that strength and a force for positive change. Let us leave an impression on the people we meet that earns their respect."
"You're right," Hoshi replied. There was a touch of compassion in Hoshi's eyes as her blue brows above them raised towards the center. "I don't think I could thank you enough for sharing your thoughts and experiences with me." For a moment she thought to hug Hanako, but held back out of habit, which she had learned from the premier's Ketsurui sister.
= = =
JP by Wes and Ametheliana